Premier League state of play: Champions League qualification as it stands before restartPublished on: June 4, 2020Author: Daniel Hubert
Liverpool’s enormous 25-point lead at the summit means that the Premier League title race is all but over, but Champions League qualification remains competitive.
Jurgen Klopp’s side require just six more points to win the club’s first league championship since 1990.
There is plenty to play for elsewhere, though. Only three of West Ham United, Watford, Bournemouth, Aston Villa, Norwich City and Brighton & Hove Albion can succeed in the battle against relegation.
Higher up the table, clubs such as Burnley and Crystal Palace will have half an eye on Europa League places.
The most intriguing race, though, is for the Champions League qualification.
Leicester City are in an excellent position to qualify for Europe’s preeminent competition and 1/6 with Betfair for a top four finish, while Liverpool have already booked their place in next season’s edition.
Manchester City would ordinarily expect to join them, but Pep Guardiola’s side have been hit with a two-season ban from continental competition for breaching UEFA Financial Fair Play rules.
The club has appealed their punishment to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but as things stand City will be absent from the Champions League next term.
That makes the competition for the remaining two spots behind Liverpool and Leicester all the more interesting.
Chelsea have strong case for Champions League qualification
Chelsea are in the healthiest position ahead of the Premier League’s resumption later this month. They are 1/5 with BetVictor for a top five finish and 8/13 for the top four.
Frank Lampard’s side currently occupy fourth place in the standings and are five points clear of Wolverhampton Wanderers in fifth.
Since Roman Abramovich assumed control of the club in 2003, Chelsea have grown accustomed to challenging for the Premier League title.
Indeed, in that time no team has won more championships than the Blues, who have lifted the trophy on five occasions in the last 17 years.
Yet mounting a title tilt this term was always an unrealistic objective. The Blues were hit with a transfer ban last summer that prevented Lampard adding to his squad.
His appointment and subsequent promotion of young players demonstrated that, for the first time in Abramovich’s reign, Chelsea were prepared to put in place a longer-term strategy that wouldn’t necessarily yield immediate success.
Relatively speaking, though, a top-four finish would be a fine achievement in Lampard’s first campaign at the helm.
There is still work to do in that regard and there have been notable weaknesses in the team this season, including their struggles in breaking down deep defences at home.
However, Chelsea are clearly on the right track and will fancy their chances of qualifying for the Champions League, especially as more than half of their remaining nine games are against teams in the bottom half of the table.
Possible that Man Utd could make up deficit
Manchester United beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in one of their last matches before the pause in play.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer found himself under significant external pressure at times in the first half of the campaign, and heavy criticism was present as recently as late January when United lost 2-0 at home to Burnley a few days after defeat by Liverpool at Anfield.
However, the acquisition of Bruno Fernandes in the winter transfer window provided the Red Devils with some much-needed spark.
United went five games unbeaten after that reverse against Burnley, beating both Chelsea and Manchester City while also drawing with Wolves.
In that regard the Red Devils were one of the teams most harmed by the enforced break, yet while it robbed them of momentum it has also allowed Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford to step up their recovery from injury.
United arguably have a more straightforward set of fixtures than Chelsea, so it’s not too hard to envisage them overturning the present three-point deficit.
There are 7/4 for a top four finish with William Hill and odds-on at 1/2 for the top five.
Break in campaign a plus for Wolves
Wolves are the current occupiers of sixth place, with just two points between them and United. The break will have done them good.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s men started the season earlier than anyone else due to their participation in the Europa League qualifying rounds, and a three-month break will ward off some of the fears about fatigue.
Wolves are a tricky team to play against, as evidenced by the fact that only Liverpool have lost fewer matches than them this season.
Turning draws into wins can sometimes be a problem for the Molineux men. They have drawn the joint-most games (13) in 2019-20, but they are still in with an excellent chance of finishing in the top five.
Wolves are 7/4 with Paddy Power for that and 8/1 for the top four. This would be a magnificent achievement regardless of the substantial investment in the squad.
Blades already defying all odds
A place among the division’s leading quintet would be an even more impressive accomplishment for Sheffield United. They were among the bookmakers’ favourites for relegation last summer.
Chris Wilder has done an extraordinary job at Bramall Lane, so it would be foolish to dismiss their chances of Champions League qualification after the season they have had.
The Blades have the advantage of having played a game fewer than their fellow competitors. Indeed, if Sheffield United beat Aston Villa on 17 June, they will climb above Wolves and Manchester United and into fifth place.
Wilder’s side still have to take on United, Wolves and Chelsea, so it is fair to say that they will have a big say in Champions League qualification one way or another. BetVictor go 7/1 for a top five finish for the Blades.
Spurs and Arsenal up against it for Champions League qualification
Further back are the Premier League’s two north London sides, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal. While both teams are only a little clear of Newcastle United in lower mid-table, Jose Mourinho and Mikel Arteta will be looking up rather than down.
Arsenal are five points behind Manchester United in fifth as things stand. That sort of gap is far from insurmountable, and Arteta has succeeded in making Arsenal tougher to play against.
Like Wolves, however, they have been guilty of drawing too many matches, so that could ultimately cost them.
Spurs have been inconsistent throughout Mourinho’s tenure, but their chances receive a boost by the return of Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min. Both star forwards were initially ruled out for the season through injury.
Tottenham are four points short of fifth, but have the quality in their squad to turn the situation around. They are shorter in the market than the Gunners at bookie odds of 5/1.
There may be little to play for at the very top of the Premier League, but the race for Champions League qualification holds plenty of intrigue.