Which clubs will win the Premier League top 4 race?
With eight games remaining in the Premier League season, there are twenty-four points available per club. Of the top six, Manchester City is running away with the title and a Champions League place, while Arsenal is running on empty. Between the two, only nine points separate second and fifth place. Just three of the four sides will qualify for the Champions League and all would prefer direct entry into the group stage to summer qualifying.
All four clubs have top-level managers, although Pep Guardiola is leading the pack this season. Only Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho have won Premier League titles. Only Mourinho (among the four) has won the Champions League.
The Italian and Portuguese had an entertaining spat over the New Year, coinciding with the Blues dip in form. Hatchets were buried when Manchester United won at Old Trafford last week.
What remains unresolved is which clubs and managers will be playing Champions League football in 2018/19 and who will not?
Mourinho’s side is still in the Champions League and FA Cup. The Red Devils consolidated their hold on second place and group stage entry with a comprehensive victory at Old Trafford over Liverpool.
David de Gea is the Premier League's in-form keeper. It will take an almighty drop to see his spot taken in the PFA Team of the Year. The Red Devils boast the league's second-best defence, conceding less than a goal per game. Beating Liverpool this past weekend was a giant step in the right direction.
Suddenly in fourth, Klopp’s side have the leakiest defence but arguably the most lethal attacking trident in the top six. They’ve already sailed through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. After their loss to United, qualifying for next year's continental tournament is the primary concern. Their run-in is fairly straightforward. Only the penultimate game against Chelsea matches the Reds with another side in the top eight. Can they get back into the direct entry places?
The Lilywhites remain in the FA Cup quarter-finals and have pipped Liverpool to third spot with their Sunday win over Bournemouth. Their biggest remaining games are against Chelsea away and City. Beating Chelsea should all but seal fourth place. Creating distance with Liverpool to avoid the the qualifying round would be a bonus. Harry Kane is still their main source for goals but Heung Min-Son's recent form has been a positive with Dele Alli having a disappointing campaign.
Deep in fifth place, the Blues are the most likely side to finish outside the top four, unless they can turn their recent form around. Conte’s side have lost four of their last five but are still in the Champions League for now. They’re also in the FA Cup and yet to face Spurs and Liverpool. Any more losses for the Blues and it could be curtains for their top four prospects.
When you consider Chelsea and Spurs were the top two clubs last season, it’s amazing they’re now in fifth and third respectively. United finished sixth last season, below Arsenal, who are now an isolated sixth. City are a runaway train this season after barely staying on track for third last campaign. The only difficult call in this race is whether Tottenham will hold off Liverpool for third. Spurs will be rested after their Champions League ouster, and have the better defence. Expect them to hold their edge despite a more difficult schedule. One thing is certain, however, the Premier League remains the most competitive league in Europe.