Finishing in the Champions League qualification places is no mean feat and Arsene Wenger would stress how important it is until the cows come home. Placing in the top four is even more difficult when you’re one of the ‘lesser’ sides. The last team to finish in the top four unexpectedly was Tottenham in the 2011/12 season. However Spurs didn’t qualify for the Champions League as Chelsea won the competition that year and were therefore awarded with automatic qualification. In that same season Southampton won promotion to the Premier League from the Championship after finishing in second position.
Since then Southampton have gone on from strength to strength in recent seasons. They were one of few Premier League teams to make money in the last transfer window and after selling their young stars for big cash along with losing a few key players from the previous campaign they have somehow managed to grow and look stronger than ever. The Saints are currently sitting third in the league but can they even entertain the possibility of finishing in the top four?
The good news is for aspiring top four teams is that although the chance of a lesser side winning the title is more unlikely than ever, the gap between the sides who finish in the top half of the table and the Champions League positions is smaller than recent years. Manchester United have fallen from the very top and apart from last season, they’re more likely to finish outside of the top 4 than recent memories would suggest. Liverpool have struggled to get going this season following the departure of Luis Suarez and Arsenal’s injury curse threatens Wenger’s incredible fourth spot record.
Man City and Chelsea were predicted to occupy the top two spots and they’ve started how they mean to go on and will battle it out in a two horse race for the title. That leaves two spots for Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs, Man United, and Everton, who would’ve been the predicted Champions League spot finishers. Southampton will hope to crash the maximum capacity party.
However The Saints are yet to beat one of the above sides having played both Liverpool (L 2-1) and Spurs (L 1-0), who haven’t had the strongest of starts. Ronald Koeman’s men don’t face another top four contender until the end of November when they welcome Manchester City to St Mary’s Stadium. They could realistically expect to still be in the top four come that time with the decent fixture list they have.
Things will get tough for The Saints after that City clash when they play Arsenal and Man United in the following weeks. It’s safe to say that Christmas time will be the true test of this south coast side and if they manage to pass that test with a few victories and as little defeats as possible they could certainly entertain the possibility of a top four finish.
However the top sides in the Premier League usually have the staying power necessary to fill the top spots, after all the cliche ‘it’s a marathon not a sprint’ really rings true with England’s top division. These sides will be too strong for Southampton who are performing better than expectations due to a favourable fixture list. The Champions League will be a step too far for The Saints but it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the supporters to expect European football next season in the shape of the Europa League.