Liverpool are now confirmed as Premier League champions, as Jurgen Klopp’s team sealed the title with seven games left to play, but the 2019-20 season is still on course for a dramatic race in pursuit of Champions League qualification.
Unless Manchester City are successful in their bid to overturn a two-year ban from UEFA’s club competitions — a verdict on their recent appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport is due in July — fifth place will be enough to guarantee a place in next season’s Champions League.
Going into the midweek fixtures, six points separate Leicester City in third from Manchester United in sixth, with Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham four points adrift of United in seventh spot. The race for the Champions League now looks set to boil down to a battle between Leicester, Chelsea, Wolves and United for the three remaining qualification berths, although Spurs will still claim to have faint hopes of crashing the party.
So how will it shake down in the final weeks, and which clubs are most likely to clinch a passport to Europe’s premier club competition?
RUN-IN: Everton (a), C Palace (h), Arsenal (a), Bournemouth (h), Sheff Utd (h), Spurs (a), Man Utd (h).
Make no mistake: Leicester are clinging on to their place in the top five, and their best hope of staying there may rest with the chasing pack running out of time to catch them.
On Jan. 1, Brendan Rodgers’ team were in second position, 15 points clear of sixth-place Spurs and 14 points ahead of fifth-place United, but their form has since evaporated and they have won just two of their past 10 league games.
Leicester now sit 14th in the Premier League table, and their slump has coincided with star striker Jamie Vardy‘s. The 33-year-old had netted 17 Premier League goals before the end of December, but he has scored just twice in 2020, with both goals coming in a 4-0 win against Aston Villa in March. Vardy has stopped scoring and Leicester’s results have dried up as a consequence.
Crucially, Leicester have points in the bag and remain third, but their final two games are beginning to look huge. It may all come down to their final-day clash against United at the King Power Stadium.
RUN-IN: West Ham (a), Watford (h), C Palace (a), Sheff Utd (a), Norwich (h), Liverpool (a), Wolves (h).
Chelsea have emerged from the 100-day shutdown looking refreshed and ready to rediscover their early-season form, which has been enough to keep them in the top four throughout the campaign.
Prior to the shutdown, when they suffered a potentially damaging home defeat against Manchester United in February, Frank Lampard‘s team looked to be hitting a wall and Champions League qualification was beginning to slip from their grasp. But with Christian Pulisic producing some inspiring performances in the post-restart wins against Aston Villa and Manchester City, Chelsea are now looking to climb to third rather than attempt to hold on to a top-five spot.
On current form, they should expect to bank maximum points from their next five games, but the crunch will come in their final two. They may need to beat champions Liverpool at Anfield to ensure that their final-day clash at home to Wolves does not become a Champions League decider.
With Wolves and Manchester United both having comfortable run-ins, Chelsea may need to win six of their last seven games to be sure of a Champions League spot.
Frank Lebeouf believes Wolves will push Chelsea and Man Utd all the way for the coveted Champions League spot.
RUN-IN: Arsenal (h), Sheff Utd (a), Everton (h), Burnley (a), C Palace (h), Chelsea (a).
Only Liverpool have taken more points from their last 10 games than Wolves, who have won six and lost just once — against Liverpool — since Jan. 1.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s team started their season way back on July 25 with a Europa League qualifier against Crusaders, but the Portuguese coach has been able to keep his players on course for the Champions League, despite the heavy fixture workload. Three successive wins against West Ham, Bournemouth and Villa have put Wolves firmly in contention for a Champions League spot, and they have not conceded a goal in any of those victories.
Saturday’s clash with Arsenal at Molineux is a major test for both teams — the Gunners need to win to keep their Europa League hopes alive; Wolves need to keep their winning run going — and three points against Mikel Arteta’s men will give Wolves the belief that they can finish as high as third.
Raul Jimenez‘s goals — he has 15 in the league this season — are keeping Wolves in the hunt. They might even secure qualification for the Champions League for the first time since 1959-60 before they travel to Chelsea on the final day.
Shaka Hislop looks to Man United’s last game of the year vs. Leicester with both teams vying for a UCL spot.
RUN-IN: Brighton (a), Bournemouth (h), Aston Villa (a), Southampton (h), C Palace (a), West Ham (h), Leicester (a).
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team are unbeaten in 14 games in all competitions. They travel to Brighton on Tuesday knowing a win will move them to within just three points of third-placed Leicester.
United have momentum and the shutdown worked in their favour, with both Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba able to overcome long-term injuries in order to rejoin the battle for Champions League qualification. The contribution of January signings Bruno Fernandes and Odion Ighalo has also given United a lift, and they will believe they win all of their remaining fixtures.
Inconsistency has been United’s problem all season, though, and any dropped points against strugglers or mid-table teams in the coming games could derail their charge for the top five, especially with Chelsea and Wolves in such impressive form. But if United win their next six games (and that is certainly feasible) they can travel to Leicester on the final day with qualification already secure.
THE OUTSIDERS: Tottenham, Sheffield United, Arsenal
The best hope for Spurs, Sheffield United and Arsenal is a place in the Europa League, but a winning run between now and the end of the season could be enough for one of them to sneak into the top five if the teams ahead slip up.
However, it looks to be a tall order for all of them. Thursday’s clash between the Blades and Spurs at Bramall Lane is a must-win for both sides, while the North London derby between Spurs and Arsenal on July 12 could be crucial or, by that stage, just a battle for local pride.
Arsenal simply have to win at Wolves this weekend to have any hope, but with Leicester, Spurs and Liverpool still to play, Mikel Arteta’s side look to have a mountain to climb.
FINAL PREDICTED STANDINGS
3rd – Chelsea
4th – Wolves
5th – Manchester Utd
6th – Leicester City
7th – Tottenham
8th – Arsenal
9th – Sheffield United