You would think Champions League football wasn’t all it was cracked up to be!
Manchester City and Liverpool have riveted us all throughout the season in the tightest title challenge in recent memory that seems almost destined to play out until the last minute of the season. Unflappable and unflagging, the two sides are aeons ahead of the nearest competition and the rest of the so-called ‘Big Six’.
City and the Reds have made participation for the premier European competition for next season a certainty, of course, Pep Guardiola’s incumbent champions having to wait a week after their title rivals from the beginning of April, secured by victories over Crystal Palace and Southampton, respectively.
It’s remarkable to think that Tottenham Hotspur were once considered a stallion in a potential three-horse race, Match of the Day pundit Alan Shearer even proclaiming in a passionate article that “it is a little disrespectful that not many people are talking about Tottenham as potential Premier League winners, because they are in the title race - and they have shown they are not going away.”
At the beginning of February, two-thirds of the season gone, the Lilywhites were within five points of league leaders Liverpool. The gulf between Manchester City, Liverpool, and the rest of the league is no better illustrated by the fact Spurs now sit a huge 21 points from second spot, having been embroiled in a top-four battle.
Aside from Spurs’ slide - though admirably played out on the backdrop of a remarkable run to the Champions League semi-finals in this year’s competition - their three other immediate rivals have failed to produce a solid grip on a top four spot.
Neither Spurs or North London rivals Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United have shown a fervent desire to secure a qualifying position for next year, though now with two games of the season left, there appears to be some definition and semblance of final positioning. Spurs will guarantee a place with a win over Bournemouth or Everton, but two draws could suffice with their superior goal difference. The current reading after 36 games of the 38-fixture season places Spurs in third (70 points, +29) followed by Chelsea in fourth (68, +21) after the Blues secured a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.
Of the 12 games those four sides have played between them in the last three gameweeks, they’ve accumulated just six points combined; no side seemingly want a share of the €2billion plus prize pool and a pursuit of the most revered trophy in European club football.
Arsenal are on a dire run of three consecutive defeats, Chelsea are two points ahead but winless in that same amount, whereas United - after appointing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as permanent manager - have won just two of their last seven games and are now all but confirmed for Europa League football next season following that stalemate at Old Trafford, and are one point behind Arsenal in sixth.
The only way the Red Devils could possibly have a slither of hope of making a qualification spot would be achieving back-to-back wins over relegated Huddersfield Town and the apparently doomed Cardiff City in their remaining fixtures. Chelsea also hold a superior eight-goal advantage on United, so it’s fingers crossed for consecutive losses to Watford and Leicester City for Maurizio Sarri’s side for the red side of Manchester.
It would be of the utmost convenience for United to finish in fifth, rather than sixth, and not just for the £2million difference in prize money. Should United finish fifth they would go straight into the group stage of the Europa League next year.
However, if they do indeed finish sixth there’s the likelihood of a qualifying round. The first leg of this potential fixture is scheduled for July 25. United are due to play a friendly with Spurs on this date. Unfortunately, that’s in Shanghai, the Europa now potentially jeopardising their pre-season tour.
However, if Manchester City - having already won the League Cup - win the FA Cup against Watford on May 18, their place in the Europa League group stage would go to United and allow them to avoid that potential clash.