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Premier League top-four race for Champions League qualification analysed

Tottenham, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea in hunt for top-four place

WT24 Desk

Manchester City and Liverpool have broken away in a race for the title – but which other teams will secure Champions League qualification?

Tottenham, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea look set to battle it out for the final two qualifying spots as the season draws to a close.

We look at each club’s form, stats, fixture list and commitments to see how their chances fare.

Tottenham

Tottenham hit peak form during the festive period after a crushing 4-2 defeat at Arsenal – capped with a 6-2 win against Everton.

Despite suffering defeats against Wolves and Manchester United, Spurs maintained their title tilt until Mauricio Pochettino conceded the race was all but over after back-to-back defeats against Newcastle and Chelsea last month.

Man Utd

The graphic below shows how Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s appointment in December transformed the team’s results – kicking off his reign with a season-topping five goals against Cardiff.

Since then, the Norwegian has maintained that staggering reversal in form – only dropping points with draws against Burnley and Liverpool.

Arsenal

Arsenal’s best run of form came after losing their opening two games, proceeding to win seven in a row and not suffering defeat until losing 3-2 at Southampton in mid-December.

The Gunners have been inconsistent since suffering a 5-1 thrashing at Anfield in the final game of 2018 but gained momentum with three successive wins during an easier run of fixtures leading up to the draw at Tottenham on Saturday.

Chelsea

Like the Gunners, the Blues started the season impressively, remaining undefeated until a 3-1 defeat at Tottenham in late November – proceeding to lose against Wolves and Leicester before New Year.

However, the pressure ramped up for Maurizio Sarri after a 2-0 loss at Arsenal was followed by a 4-0 hammering against Bournemouth in late January – before a humiliating 6-0 hammering at Manchester City just 10 days later.

Who has the best attack?

Arsenal lead the way with 61 goals scored, ahead of Manchester United (58), Tottenham (56) and Chelsea (49), despite taking fewer attempts than their rivals – striking nearly 100 fewer shots than the Blues.

Arsenal’s tally is largely down to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, who have contributed to nearly half of the Gunners’ goals with 16 and 12, respectively – but the club have lacked a creative talisman this term.

Harry Kane drew level with Aubameyang’s tally on Saturday after recently returning from a five-week absence through injury, while the Gaban star was unable to convert a late penalty to earn Unai Emery’s side all three points at Wembley.

Romelu Lukaku is charging up the chart with four goals in just two games for Manchester United after initially falling out of favour under Solskjaer’s new regime, extending his season league tally to 12 – level with Eden Hazard and Lacazette.

Chelsea have lacked firepower, with only primarily wide players Hazard and Pedro (eight goals) in the top-10 scorers among the four clubs. Sarri will need January signing Gonzalo Higuain to hit form during their remaining games to seize a top-four finish.

Defence & passing

Arsenal may have scored more goals than the other top-four contenders, but Emery’s men have also conceded the most with 39 shipped – followed by United (38), Chelsea and Spurs (both 30) – despite completing the most tackles.

However, United’s defence has improved considerably since Solskjaer was appointed, while Chelsea have kept the most clean sheets (12) and attempted far more passes with their Sarri-ball style.

David de Gea may have conceded more goals than his counterparts, but the Spaniard has also made far more saves with 97 to date – followed by Spurs’ Hugo Lloris (76), Arsenal’s Bernd Leno (73) and Chelsea’s Kepa (59).

In terms of snuffing out danger, Toby Alderweireld has completed a chart-topping 140 clearances for Spurs, followed by Arsenal’s Shkodran Mustafi (126), Chelsea’s David Luiz (114) and United’s Victor Lindelof (102).

Chelsea’s summer acquisition Jorginho has been the Blues’ distribution hub with a league-topping 2,403 passes, while team-mates Antonio Rudiger, David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta are the next most prolific passers among the four clubs.

Upcoming fixtures

Tottenham

Fixtures TBC: vs Crystal Palace

Based on current league standings, Tottenham face their easiest opponents before mid-April with fixtures against Southampton, Brighton and Huddersfield – with the exception of playing Liverpool at Anfield on March 31

Things get slightly tougher for Spurs during the second-half of the run-in, travelling to Manchester City on April 20 and closing the season with fixtures against mid-table opponents West Ham, Bournemouth and Everton.

Man Utd

United face a particularly tough run-in, softened only with their final two fixtures against relegation strugglers Huddersfield and Cardiff – although the Bluebirds could be fighting for survival on the final day.

Solskjaer’s side must still face three more top-six opponents, kicking off against Arsenal and hosting rivals City on April 24, before playing Chelsea at Old Trafford just four days later.

Arsenal

Fixtures TBC: vs Wolves

The Gunners’ run-in appears to be favourable after hosting United this weekend, with only two top-half opponents – Everton and Watford – to play in their schedule before ending the season against Brighton and Burnley.

Chelsea

Fixtures TBC: vs Brighton

Despite having one game in hand over their three rivals, Chelsea must still face six top-half opponents – including Liverpool and United – before facing a tricky final two fixtures against Watford and Leicester.

Commitments & injuries

Tottenham are battling on two fronts with an odds-on passage to the Champions League quarter-finals as they travel to Borussia Dortmund with a 3-0 aggregate advantage on Tuesday.

Spurs have also been lifted after a poor run of form by Dele Alli’s imminent return – having been sidelined through injury for nearly two months.

United’s European adventure is hanging by a thread after a 2-0 defeat against Paris Saint-Germain at Old Trafford last month, but still face an FA Cup quarter-final with Wolves in mid-March and potentially a semi-final before the final day.

Solskjaer has also had to contend with a growing injury list, with Alexis Sanchez joining Ander Herrera, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, Nemanja Matic, Anthony Martial, Matteo Darmian and Antonio Valencia on the treatment table.

Arsenal are progressing in their Europa League campaign with a first-leg round of 16 tie in Rennes on Thursday evening, with progression in the competition perhaps mitigating a relatively easier run-in to their rivals.

Chelsea have matched the Gunners’ Europa League run and host Dynamo Kiev on Thursday before facing the trip to Ukraine next week.

Conclusion

Arsenal and Spurs have the easier run-in, but while Emery’s side have the advantage in current form, Pochettino’s men already sit four points clear of their north London rivals – while both clubs could progress in Europe.

United are the most in-form side, but still face FA Cup distractions, while the chances of Champions League progression appear slim. However, a tough run-in and a mounting injury list could hamper a top-four finish.

Chelsea appear to have stabilised after a rocky start to the year, while Sarri remains under pressure to justify his much-criticised Sarri-ball tactics – but the Blues must make their game in hand count with a tough fixture schedule to come.

All factored, the two north London clubs appear to hold a slight, overall advantage – but if United can maintain their form and Chelsea can stabilise results and capitalise on their one-game advantage, then the race could go to the wire, Sky Sports reports.



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