Manchester City fallout: Is the top four now a top five?
Background image: Higor Douglas, CC BY-SA 4.0.
Manchester City received their Valentine's Day gift in a sour parcel. The Blues are out of the Champions League for the next two seasons after breaking Financial Fair Play rules. There are many possible and extremely serious ramifications for the Eastlands outfit as Pep Guardiola's future, and that of senior players is now in doubt. However, City's loss could be another's gain with their position in European competition handed to another club.
UEFA will not bring an amendment to its qualifying structure. Therefore, if the defending champions finish in the top four [which they are expected to], teams who place fifth and seventh will gain access to Champions League and Europa League respectively. This is the same thing UEFA did with AC Milan last year.
League leaders Liverpool are in a comfortable place with a cushion of 25 points. The Merseyside club are winning it all and may yet go undefeated. Manchester City has 13 games left, though with little motivation knowing that the Premier League title is already decided. They face record 13-times Champions League winner Real Madrid in the Round of 16 this month. There has never been a better time for City to go all the way, though it won't be easy...
Brendan Rodgers' Leicester City are third in the table with 50 points, nine points off Chelsea who are fourth-placed. They drew to Chelsea and Wolves in their last couple of outings as the pressure begins to mount. Leicester's opponents in the last stages of the league involve Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Sheffield United, and Everton. With Jamie Vardy's form taking a dip, the Foxes could struggle and their place in the Champions League for ext term could come under pressure.
One must wonder how Chelsea are still fourth after their series of lacklustre performances. The Blues' change in managers, coupled with a transfer ban, has had a terrible impact on their campaign. However, Frank Lampard has done a decent job in his first term in the dugout. The lack of defensive discipline in an attacking-minded squad allows their opponent far too many chances. No doubt that'll be addressed in the summer, but will they have Champions League football on the table?
When Jose Mourinho joined Tottenham in November, they were 12 points off the qualifying spot. The gap has been reduced to one after a thrilling 3-2 win against Aston Villa, with Chelsea holding a one-game advantage. This is a reason why the club's CEO Daniel Levy brought the Portuguese boss back to England. He has instilled a combative mindset in the team and players look to relish their fresh opportunities. Top scorer Harry Kane is yet to back from the sidelines. Expect more from Mourinho when his talismanic striker returns.
The Premier League is full of surprises. Everton and Sheffield United are just two of many examples. If you had asked Chris Wilder in the pre-season, survival was the key for the Blades. Eight months into the term and Sheffield United are looking good for a continental place. Wilder's ambitions are big and he executes them perfectly.
The Toffees were on the wrong half of the table when Carlo Ancelotti replaced Marco Silva in December. Since his appointment, only Liverpool (24) have fetched more points than Everton (17). Four out of their next five opponents are fighting for continental football. This period will be make or break for their chances.
Wolves are definitely not a surprise name on this list after last season's heroics. Adama Traore continues to improve while Raul Jimenez is looking as lethal as ever. Nuno Espirito Santo's side currently sits in seventh, just five points off the top-four. Stranger things have certainly happened.
Manchester United and Arsenal have a lot of similarities. Ex-players managing the club and consistency in dropping points against weaker opponents being the main examples. Both are in turmoil, though they're still alive and kicking in the race for a European berth (only just, mind...).
City's ban coupled with the rise of Sheffield, Wolves and Leicester, while United and Arsenal continue to disappoint makes for a nail-biting finish to the Premier League race. It's not only limited to this season, either, though that all depends on whether the two-year ban holds up.
Another interesting catch is: according to the UEFA rules and regulations, a maximum of five teams can qualify in the Champions League from one country. If Liverpool, Spurs or Chelsea win the Champions League this year and City stay in the top four, there could be a top-six race for Champions League qualification. This is because the winners of the competition get a direct entry into next year's competition.
Everton and Arsenal have improved since their managerial changes but are least expected to make the cut. The Red Devils face Chelsea today. A win for either of the teams would offer a huge momentum boost. If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men lose, though, they'd be nine points adrift and left hoping for a miracle. Spurs look best-placed to force themselves in amongst it, while either Wolves or Sheffield United have every chance, but feel like a wildcard.