Football news: State of play for the top four race after West Ham suffer damaging Newcastle defeat
Just 11 points seperate Leicester City, West Ham, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Everton and Arsenal in the race to qualify for the Champions League. Who has the best run-in? Who is finding momentum at the right time, and who is losing it? The top four race is where the excitement is in the Premier League right now.
Just eleven points separate Leicester City in third place in the Premier League table and Arsenal in ninth place. For context, this is the same lead champions-elect Manchester City have over Manchester United in second place. The race for the top four, and Champions League qualification, could barely be any tighter.
West Ham’s 3-2 defeat to Newcastle United has further pinched the pack with Chelsea, in FA Cup semi final action this weekend, now able to leapfrog their London rivals into fourth place with their game in hand. Liverpool will go level on points with the Hammers should they beat Leeds United on Monday night.
United look somewhat secure in second place with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side finding form at the right time - they have lost just one of their last 20 fixtures in all competitions. At the other end of the spectrum, Arsenal almost certainly have too much ground to make up to qualify for the Champions League through the Premier League. It’s all on the Europa League for the Gunners.
Everton and Tottenham Hotspur, who contested a 2-2 draw on Friday night, cannot be discounted, but neither team appear to have the consistency or momentum to finish the season with a string of wins. Spurs have won just one of their last five league fixtures while Everton are without a league victory since March 4th.
This leaves four teams - Leicester City, West Ham, Chelsea and Liverpool - scrapping for two places. The Premier League title race itself might have been a foregone conclusion for some time, but the race for the top four will be more than enough to compel between now and the end of the season.
Liverpool's English defender Trent Alexander-Arnold (L) celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Aston Villa at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on April 10, 2021
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On recent form, Liverpool appear to have the edge in the race to finish in the top four with Jurgen Klopp’s side taking 12 points from their last six fixtures (four wins, two defeats). Chelsea have claimed 11 points (three wins, two draws, one defeat) in the same number of matches while Leicester City have only taken seven points (two wins, one draw, three defeats).
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History might well be repeating itself for Leicester City who are once again losing momentum at the wrong time. What’s more, Brendan Rodgers’ side have the toughest run-in of any of their rivals, with the Foxes up against Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham in their final three fixtures.
No Premier League team is currently on a longer winless run (five matches) than Everton are right now, underlining how Carlo Ancelotti’s side must quickly turn their fortunes around to stand any chance of qualifying for the Champions League. The Toffees also have a challenging run-in with upcoming games against Arsenal, West Ham and Manchester City.
Leicester City's Turkish defender Caglar Soyuncu (L) Leicester City's Northern Irish defender Jonny Evans react during the English Premier League football match between Leicester City and Leeds United at King Power Stadium in Leicester, central England on
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West Ham’s next fixture will see them host Chelsea in what will be a pivotal match for both sides. If David Moyes’ team can get through that, they have a run of kinder fixtures (Burnley, Everton, Brighton, West Brom, Southampton) which could see them build momentum again after the shock defeat at St James’ Park.
Thomas Tuchel has made Chelsea a tougher team to beat since his appointment, but the Blues could find themselves at a disadvantage in the top four race through their continued participation in the Champions League. Of course, Arsenal, City and United also have this problem, but Chelsea could be affected most. There is that bit more riding on their league fixtures.
With proposed Champions League reforms set to offer ‘Wildcard’ places to big clubs unable to qualify through their league position, this season’s top four race should be savoured. It might not be long until this sort of sprint to the finish is a thing of the past.