A lot of the attention in the Premier League has been on the fascinating battle at the top of the table and, the fight between Liverpool and Manchester City looks set to go to the wire, with just one point separating the two teams and plenty of games to go.
Such is the competitive nature of the Premier League that there are fascinating contests all the way down the table, including the race to earn a top-four spot. England is one of only three European football nations that earn four qualification places for the Champions League, so if you can’t win the league, finishing inside the top four is also regarded as a significant achievement.
That explains why there is such a wide interest in the top four betting markets. Fans looking to claim a free bet or other sports betting promotions at online bookmakers in the final weeks of the season will sometimes choose to use their bonus on outright top four wagers. The question for Premier League fans right now is: can we call the top four, or could the line-up still change before the end of the season?
Top Three Settled
We can take it for granted that Manchester City and Liverpool will be in the top four. Technically, neither team is mathematically certain to finish in the Champions League places, but that won’t be the case for long, as both have a near 20-point lead over Arsenal, the current fifth place team.
Chelsea’s situation isn’t quite so clear-cut. At the time of writing, with eight games to go, they are eight points clear of fifth. That’s a solid cushion. In order to slip out of the top four, they would have to be overtaken by two of the teams below them. They also have important games coming up against three of their pursuers: Arsenal, West Ham and Manchester United. Nothing is certain in the Premier League, of course, but it would take a major collapse for Chelsea to miss out on the top four.
With the top three settled, it looks as though the chasing teams will be fighting for just one place in the top four. The team currently in the driving seat is Tottenham Hotspur.
Antonio Conte has made it very clear on several occasions that he is not happy with the Tottenham squad and that turning the team around has been the toughest managerial challenge of his career so far. Yet they appear to be hitting form at exactly the right time. They’ve beaten West Ham, Newcastle and Aston Villa, scoring 12 goals in the process. If Harry Kane and Heung-min Son continue to bang in the goals and they can retain their currently strong defence, they will be looking good.
They face two tough games on the run-in: a trip to Anfield and the North London derby on 12 May. With Arsenal their main challengers in the race for fourth, that promises to be a ferociously competitive game. Other than that, they have a simple run of games and a great chance to finish fourth.
A month ago, Arsenal was looking booked in for fourth, but a run of three defeats in four games has caused doubts to return at the worst possible stage of the campaign. Losing to Liverpool was not the end of the world, but a 3-0 thrashing by Crystal Palace and a 2-1 home defeat to Brighton both came out of the blue and have dropped the Gunners three points behind Tottenham, although with a game in hand.
Like Spurs, they will be focusing on the North London derby, but they also have to play Chelsea, West Ham and Manchester United. If they are going to get back into the top four, they will have to do it the hard way. Above all, Mikel Arteta will want his team to rediscover the defensive solidity that has characterized their improvement this season.
Consistency is the problem for Manchester United. In recent weeks, they’ve drawn with Leicester and Watford, beaten Tottenham and lost to both Manchester City and Everton.
Besides consistency, Ralf Rangnick’s team could also do with a boost in creativity and confidence. On the plus side, they have the firepower to go on a winning streak. The flip side of that equation is their woeful defensive performances, which leaves them vulnerable against almost any opponent.
Currently, they are six points behind fourth-placed Tottenham. To finish in the top four, they will most likely need to win at least four of their last seven games. That’s a tall order and they will only have one game against a top-four rival to come.
That visit to London to take on Arsenal is looming significantly in the fixture list. That said, they will have winnable fixtures against Norwich, Brentford and Brighton, so there are opportunities out there. Whether they can take them remains to be seen.
West Ham United
The Hammers are clinging on just about, but it appears that their Europa League successes are catching up with them. A lengthy injury list, a congested schedule and a loss of form and confidence appear to have come together to damage their late season hopes.
Defeats to Tottenham and Brentford were particularly disappointing – they are now six points from fourth place, having played one game more than their rivals. The schedule has not been kind either with their final six games including fixtures against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal. Realistically, they would need to win at least two of those as well as their other three games, to get back into the top four.
So, while a top-six place looks feasible, right now it looks like the Hammers’ best chance of qualifying for the Champions League next season will be to win the Europa League.
With time running out, the top four contenders are feeling the squeeze – but there are still enough games left to see a change in the top four as Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United battle for the final Champions League qualifying place.