The race for the top four is becoming one of the most intriguing battles in the Premier League this season. The likes of Arsenal, Southampton, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur are all battling it out for a Champions League spot.
The surprise package so far this season is Southampton. Many tipped them to be dragged into a relegation battle before the season started but Ronald Koeman has successfully implemented an effective playing style at Saint Mary’s. Under Koeman, the Saints play attractive possession football that has brought them a lot of success. As well as displaying a lot of attacking flair, they are also very solid at the back. Koeman’s side have only conceded 19 goals in the Premier League this season, no side has conceded fewer in the league. Although they may still be outsiders for the top four, the football they have played across the entire season is enough to warrant a place in the Champions League. The recent defeat to Liverpool at the weekend will test Southampton’s character and they will want to collect wins against West Brom and Crystal Palace in their next two Premier League fixtures in order to maintain their momentum for a top four push.
A team with a slightly different story in this season’s top four push is Manchester United. Louis Van Gaal’s side have not produced the exciting attacking football that is normally associated with the Dutchman’s attacking philosophy. Instead, United have looked slow in attack at times this season and have struggled to unlock defences, often resorting to lofting long balls forward that can look rather desperate when the team is chasing a game. They have also had their fair share of problems at the back, with an unsettled defence that has been changed many times this season due to various injuries and poor performances. If Manchester United are to qualify for the Champions league next season, there is going to have to be a massive overhaul in the squad if the Red Devils want to perform at the highest level once again.
Although the final standings in the table will determine who truly deserves to finish in the top four, you would have to back Southampton over Manchester United at this stage of the season. Yes, United still have elements of quality about them but they are still failing to perform in the way van Gaal wants them to.
The total opposite applies to Ronald Koeman’s Saints side. They have been excellent throughout the season and have been mostly solid when they come up against the Premier League big boys. Southampton finishing in the top four would be a huge success story as well as an excellent advert for the Premier League. Having said that, United need to qualify for Europe’s biggest competition this season if they want to become one of the greatest clubs in Europe once again.
Southampton will backed by many neutrals to make it into the top four but the overall quality of United should not be overlooked despite their uninspiring performances this season. If Manchester United really start clicking as a unit from now until the end of the season, Southampton will have little chance of catching them.
However, looking at Southampton’s form so far, it’s fair to say that the Saints deserve a finish in the top four, which could be at United’s expense. Whatever happens, the race for Europe will certainly be one of the most intriguing battles from now until the end of the season.