It wouldn’t have locked the door to the Champions League, but a Chelsea victory over Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday morning certainly would have pulled it to.
Instead Manchester United won 2-0 and, as a result, the door has now been completely blown off its hinges.
Eight teams are now separated by just seven points, with even Arsenal and Burnley in 10th and 11th respectively still in with a – albeit slim – chance of sitting at Europe’s top table.
The European fate of Manchester City, who will almost certainly finish in the top four, is still unresolved, but if their ban is upheld then it is eight teams battling for the two spots alongside Liverpool and Leicester in next season’s Champions League.
Following the controversial victory for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team at Stamford Bridge, we look at the runners and rider and rate their chances of making the Champions League next season.
N.B. For argument’s sake, we are assuming UEFA’s current ruling regarding Manchester City’s two-year European ban WILL be upheld and therefore there are two spots up for grabs.
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Current position: 4th
Next five fixtures: Tottenham (H), Bournemouth (A), Everton (H), Aston Villa (A), Manchester City (H)
Chelsea are still in the driving seat for Champions League foot next season, despite their defeat to Manchester United this morning. The Blues hold a one-point advantage over fifth-placed Spurs but it is the current run of form they find themselves in which will be the biggest cause for concern.
Frank Lampard has seen his side now go four games without a win and have only managed four wins since the start of December which will be a huge cause for concern. They have some tricky fixtures coming up and should results go against them on the weekend they could find themselves all the way down in 7th place.
Chance of Champions League football: 7/10, but decreasing with every passing game.
Current position: 5th
Next five fixtures: Chelsea (A), Wolves (H), Burnley (A), Manchester United (H), West Ham (A)
Only Liverpool, obviously, and Everton are in better form that Jose Mourinho’s side at the moment and that has been shown with their rapid rise to within one point of the top four ahead of a huge clash with Chelsea on the weekend. Their recent form just goes to show that reaching the Champions League could be all about momentum and peaking at the right time, rather than being the best team this season.
Again, it’s not been smooth sailing however. Spurs were very fortunate to get past Aston Villa last time out and have been leaking goals, which is uncharacteristic for a Mourinho team. But since he arrived at the club, only Liverpool have won more points in the league and if they continue that form then they will succeed.
Chance of Champions League football: 8/10, but the next five games will decide it one way or another.
Current position: 6th
Next five fixtures: Brighton (H), Norwich (H), Newcastle (A), Manchester United (A), Tottenham (H)
Who’d have thought Sheffield United would be included in this conversation at the start of this season, let alone so prominently?! Chris Wilder has got his side playing some really good football and the signing of Sander Berge has shown that he is now ready for them to kick on to the next level.
And looking at United’s next few fixtures, there is a good chance they will be in the top four by the time they head to Old Trafford. The Blades will be eyeing at least three wins from their next five games and if they manage to stay undefeated against Man United and Spurs as well then they can start dreaming of Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday night trips on the continent.
Chance of Champions League football: 5/10, but they’ve exceeding all other predictions made for them this season so who really knows?!
Current position: 7th
Next five fixtures: Watford (H), Everton (A), Manchester City (H), Tottenham (A), Sheffield United (H)
Manchester United have been wildly inconsistent all season and failed to take advantage of the momentum they have worked so hard against the big teams to make. Solskjaer has only lost twice against a teams currently in the top half of the table but have so often come unstuck against the so-called smaller sides.
Consistency will be key for United in this run-in but it doesn’t look like they will achieve it, leaving them outsiders in the chase for a Champions League place. They have the potential to stumble against Watford and away to Everton before playing three other contenders on the bounce. It’s a tough run and it may turn out to be too tough.
Chance of Champions League football: 6/10, and expect plenty more unexpected results – both in the form of wins and losses.
Current position: 8th
Next five fixtures: Norwich (H), Tottenham (A), Brighton (H), West Ham (A), Bournemouth (H)
Wolves are probably the exact opposite to Manchester United in terms of consistency and getting what you expect from them. They win the games you think they will, draw the ones they’re predicted to and narrowly lose the ones you think they will put up a fight in. What United would do for that sort of predictability…
Wolves are currently five points adrift of Chelsea in fourth – and four of Spurs, if we’re assuming City remain banned – but looking at their next five fixtures there is no reason they cannot win at least four of them. Do that and we could be looking at the next step in Wolves’ progression in English football.
Chance of Champions League football: 7/10, but only if they keep up their predictability is an increasingly unpredictable season.
Current position: 9th
Next five fixtures: Arsenal (A), Manchester United (H), Chelsea (A), Liverpool (H), Norwich (A)
Not many Evertonians would have thought Champions League would be a possibility this season when they were languishing in the relegation zone under Marco Silva little more than three months ago, but here they are.
Carlo Ancelotti has the Toffees on a decent run on form since the turn of the year but their next five fixtures will be make or break and they will be desperate not to see Liverpool win the title at their own ground. That will bring a fresh air of determination but whether determination alone is enough is another matter.
Chance of Champions League football: 2/10, because right now Europe would be just a surprising bonus.
Current position: 10th
Next five fixtures: Everton (H), West Ham (H), Brighton (A), Southampton (A), Norwich (H)
Arsenal are a further two point back from Everton but because of their fixtures, they are certainly still not out of the race, especially after the 4-0 drubbing of Newcastle in the second half over the weekend.
If they beat Everton at home on the weekend the Gunners have a nice run of fixtures ahead of them against bottom-half teams. Winning them would very much haul Arsenal into real contention but given their patchy form this season, it’s far from a guarantee, especially when they are relying on seven and six points to be dropped by Chelsea and Spurs respectively without any of the other four teams between them picking up points either.
Chance of Champions League football: 3/10, and it looks like the Europa League is more of an achievable target.
Current position: 11th
Next five fixtures: Bournemouth (H), Newcastle (A), Tottenham (H), Manchester City (A), Watford (H)
Burnley are level on points with Arsenal so it would be unfair to include the Gunners in this discussion and leave out Sean Dyche’s side, but it would take some wild results to see the Clarets make the Champions League.
Burnley’s best chance is sneaking a Europa League place, which could go to seventh or eighth in the league at the end of the season, depending on cup winners and Manchester City’s appeal.
Chance of Champions League football: 1/10, it’s basically no chance.