With the leagues around Europe heading towards the stretch run, I thought it would be a good idea to review the current Champions League qualification situations, starting with the English Premier League.
At the top, the situation regarding Champions League qualification in England is very clear. It’ll take a miraculous meltdown for Manchester City to lose the title, let alone fail to qualify for the Champions League. Five teams remain in battle for the other spots. Manchester United (56 points), Liverpool (54) and Chelsea (53) are holding those spots at the moment, with Tottenham just a point behind Chelsea. Arsenal is further back, trailing The Blues by 8 points. There are 11 rounds left, meaning there’s plenty of time for The Gunners to close that gap. After the double-header against Manchester City (February 21 in the league, February 25 in the English Cup final), they don’t face another top 6 team until Round 36, when they travel to Manchester to face United. However, knowing Wenger team’s tendencies to scramble away points when nobody expects them to, I wouldn’t bet on Arsenal finishing in the top 4.
Who’s going to be the odd one out between the other four is much more obscure. Quite a lot will depend on their involvement in Europe and in the FA Cup. Only Liverpool has been eliminated from the latter, but it has all but secured a place in the CL quarter-finals after the 5-0 win in Porto. That means two more tough fixtures await to be added on the schedule. Other than its two trips to London (at Chelsea) and to Manchester (at United), Liverpool has a relatively soft schedule until the end. Although its unpredictability is scary, I would say The Reds hold on to one of those CL spots.
Manchester United’s road is a bit trickier. Next, domestically, it has to play Chelsea and Liverpool, albeit at home. Then, a date with Manchester City at The Etihad on April 7, and a meeting with Arsenal later in the month. If Mourinho’s squad fails in either the FA Cup or in the Champions League, it will make life a lot easier. Otherwise, the fight on three fronts might suck the life out of the players, and it could cost the club a CL berth.
Chelsea’s near future is rainy. Chelsea’s further future is less cloudy, making the overall forecast mild with a potential for the occasional thunderstorm. Hopefully for Chelsea fans, those thunderstorms aren’t too hazardous. Barcelona twice, plus both Manchester clubs on the road in a three-week period would be an intimidating task for any team. That’s what The Blues have to go through. After they weather the storm, home matches against Tottenham and Liverpool are as difficult as it gets. A winning streak there will ensure Champions League qualification. Antonio Conte will need to pull out some aces out of his sleeves to make that happen, but if he does, Chelsea will be back playing in Europe’s main competition again next season.
Tottenham is the wild card here. The Spurs have been playing some of their best football under Pochettino since he began coaching the team in 2014. Everything is coming together, evidenced by their fantastic display in Turin on Tuesday. Other than two games (April 1 at Chelsea and April 14 versus Manchester City), they are going to be the favorites in all the rest of their English Premier League fixtures. As with United, the amount of energy Tottenham will need to spend in the cup and in the CL will, to a large extent, influence its final position on the table. I believe the last spot will be determined between Pochettino’s men and United.