It’s shaping up to be one of the most enticing battles in the Premier League this season. Arsenal, Manchester United, Southampton, Liverpool and Tottenham all remain in the hunt for a Champions League spot, with only four points separating Arsenal in 3rd and Tottenham in 7th place.
Tottenham and Liverpool have recently exited the Europa League and although winning the competition could have been a realistic target for both clubs, this now means that they can focus on their league form, providing further competition for Southampton, Manchester United and Arsenal. Tottenham probably face one of the toughest challenges to secure Champions League football due to their league position.
Although they are only three points away from getting into the top four, the outcome of the League Cup final could make or break Spurs’ season. If they lose to Chelsea at Wembley on Sunday, this could really affect the team’s morale and form. Losing out in two cup competitions in a week would be hard for any team to take. However, if Spurs win the League Cup, confidence will be brewing and they will throw everything they have at a shot of qualifying for the Champions League.
In terms of Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers will be encouraged by the club’s recent form as they are really starting to push up the table at the right stage of the season. Their recent 0-2 victory over Southampton was a huge result for the club as they are now within touching distance of their top four rivals. Gerrard will want to be aiming for the top four in his final season at Anfield and Liverpool have the momentum and ability to qualify for the Champions League for the second season in a row. The Europa League exit was a setback but Rodgers will be quick to amend the issue when Liverpool crucially face Manchester City at Anfield this weekend. If they win this fixture, the cup exit will quickly be forgotten.
Southampton still remain in the mix at the top of the table despite many expecting them to slip up at some point. The football played at Saint Mary’s has been a breath of fresh air to the Premier League this season and it would be a fantastic story if the Saints qualified for the Champions League against all odds. Ronald Koeman has encouraged Southampton to play attractive, attacking football whilst also maintaining a very strong defensive core.
Their impressive goal difference could be the key to finishing in a Champions League spot and the lack of pressure on the side will encourage them to really upset the apple cart. It looks like a tough challenge ahead for the Saints but they have withstood the demands of a top four chase so far. If Koeman can continue to keep his Southampton side playing in the same manner they have done all season then a top four finish is a very realistic aim.
The likes of Manchester United and Arsenal would have expected to qualify for the Champions League at the beginning of the season. Arsenal are so consistent when it comes to finishing in the top four and Manchester United spent heavily in the summer in order to get back into the biggest club competition in Europe. Although United currently sit fourth in the table, their performances have been far from convincing in recent weeks. A last-gasp draw against West Ham was far from impressive and United’s recent 2-1 loss to Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium means that Van Gaal still has it all to do if he wants United to finish in the top four.
The Red Devils have been far from convincing for the majority of the season and they could be in trouble if teams like Southampton and Liverpool continue to pick up results, keeping the pressure on Van Gaal’s side. United should have enough to make it but their erratic form this season could suggest otherwise.
Finally, Arsenal will be looking to cement yet another season in the Champions League by finishing in the top four once again. They were abysmal at home to Monaco earlier in the week and look set to exit the Champions League at the last 16 stage yet again.
Although Arsenal fans expect the club to finish in the top four, they will want to see improvement in the Champions League and the Premier League this season. It seems that Arsenal always maintain a certain standard but never overachieve and this will undoubtedly frustrate the Gunners’ support. Although their Champions League qualification is almost a dead-cert, Arsenal fans will not be satisfied if Wenger leads the team through another trophy-less season once again.
There are a number of teams still competing for the Champions League spots at this stage of the season and hopefully it proves to be one of the most intriguing battles in the league from now until May. No team has shown any signs of backing down just yet but there is still a long way to go for all the clubs in contention.