As the Premier League season draws to a climax, Into The Top Corner takes a look at the four clubs battling to qualify for the Champions League next season.
Which two teams do you think will be joining Manchester United and Manchester City in the next season’s competition?
Fixtures – Wigan (H), Chelsea (H), Stoke (A), Norwich (H), West Brom (A)
Arsenal find themselves best placed of the four teams trying to seal one of the two Champions League spots available this season. With 5 points ahead of 4th placed Tottenham Hotspur and with just 5 games to go, Arsene Wenger’s men would surely be disappointed to miss out on the third place that would bring automatic qualification for the Champions League group stages.
Champions League football next season looked a distant dream and the club appeared in huge trouble after they followed a home defeat to Liverpool with that 8-2 thrashing at Old Trafford. With the departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri in the summer and poor results at the start of the season, Wenger had to do some panic buying and he did it in form of Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker and Yossi Benayoun on deadline day.
Things didn’t get better but instead they got worse when successive January defeats to Fulham, Swansea and Manchester United left the Gunners five points behind Chelsea and a whopping 10 points adrift of arch-rivals Tottenham. The response since has been just brilliant. The huge 7-1 thrashing of Blackburn at the start of February saw things click into place and marked the start of a seven-game winning run that has lifted Arsenal to the brink of Champions League qualification. Only Manchester United have picked up more points from the last 10 games and with no cup distractions the Gunners appear to have the momentum to finish the job.
After a huge confidence boosting win over Manchester City at the Emirates, the showdown against Chelsea at home will be viewed as an opportunity to dash their London rival’s hopes of Champions League football. And with the Gunners facing Stoke, Norwich and West Brom in their final three games they are well-placed to secure Champions League football.
Fixtures – QPR (A), Blackburn (H), Bolton (A), Aston Villa (A), Fulham (H)
Tottenham’s dream season has quickly turned into a nightmare. For much of the season, Spurs’ free flowing football lit up the Premier League. The wide options of Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon coupled with the creativity of Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modric, provided a midfield threat that was envied by everyone in the Premier League. And Harry Redknapp’s summer additions of Brad Friedel, Scott Parker and Emmanuel Adebayor looked to have taken the North London side to a level where they could compete for top honours.
Many Premier League managers have praised Spurs for their football this season and were also title contenders. A home win against Everton in December took Redknapp’s men level with Manchester United and eight points clear of Chelsea in fourth. But the manner in which Spurs have fallen away since has been shocking. The derby collapse at the Emirates that saw Arsenal comeback from a 2-0 deficit to win the game 5-2 was the start of the downfall. It was followed by a sequence of three consecutive defeats. The stylish football that had so entertained the White Hart Lane faithful has been in short supply. After scoring in 22 Premier League matches in a row, Tottenham have failed to find the net in four of their last five away games.
With Redknapp himself rubbishing suggestions that his ongoing link to the vacant England manager’s position has proved a distraction, there are no excuses if Spurs fail to secure a top-four spot. And the North London side still have the fixtures to do just that. Home matches against Blackburn and Fulham on the final day should be easy 6 points in the bag, so the key to Spurs’ season could be whether or not they can find their away form in winnable trips to the home of relegation threatened trio of QPR, Bolton and Aston Villa.
Fixtures – Stoke (H), Wigan (A), Chelsea (A), Man City (H), Everton (A)
Many people expected Newcastle to take the praises for an impressive campaign and fade away once the business end of the season came. In fact, the opposite thing has happened. Alan Pardew’s men have are on a five-match winning run to renew hopes of Champions League football returning to the Tyneside.
The summer signings of Yohan Cabaye and Damba Ba provided the impetus in the early months of the season as Newcastle made an 11-game unbeaten start to the season, with the ‘signing of the season’ Ba scoring 15 goals in his first 19 games for the club. Just when Newcastle needed another inspiration when Ba started to fade, Pardew did the best bit of transfer business in January when he signed Ba’s international team-mate Papiss Cisse from Bundesliga club Freiburg. The striker has quickly settled to the life in the Premier League and is the league’s inform striker, scoring 10 goals in his first nine games to helf lift Newcastle above Chelsea and level with 4th placed Tottenham.
The first two of the five games remaining are against Stoke and Wigan, which represent an excellent chance to the Magpies to extend their Champions League hope into May. But the real test will surely be in the final three games of the season. Newcastle can’t afford to lose at Chelsea and will surely need to pick up something from their last home game of the season against Manchester City and whatever the outcome after the conclusion of their final game of the season against Everton is, the Magpies could surely look back at the season and be proud of it.
Fixtures – Arsenal (A), QPR (H), Newcastle (H), Liverpool (A), Blackburn (H)
Andre Villas-Boas was installed this past summer to win the Premier League and challenge for the Champions League but this season has been a complete disappointment. With just 5 games remaining the Blues are 6th in the league, two points behind Tottenham and 7 points adrift of Arsenal. The Blues are also in the semifinals of the FA Cup and the Champions League and now prioritising their aims could be the biggest threat to Chelsea’s ambitions of securing Champions League football next season.
Roberto Di Matteo got the club’s season back on track after restoring their Champions League campaign with an epic comeback win over Napoli at Stamford Bridge last month. But having also guided Chelsea to a Wembley FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham, the Blues risk becoming victims of their own cup success.
The critical Premier League encounter against Arsenal at the Emirates is sandwiched between both legs of their daunting Champions League semi-final against Barcelona. Even if Chelsea face defeats in both the semi-finals, complete focus on the Premier League run-in will be the minimum they can ask for if they are to secure a top=four finish. The home game against Newcastle on May 2nd could prove to be a key match in the race for the Champions League spots. But with consequential matches away to Liverpool and a home finale against a desperate Blackburn side, Di Matteo and Chelsea have a tough challenge ahead if they are to secure Champions League football for a club that has reached the final 16 of the competition for the past nine seasons.