An in-depth analysis of the battle for Champions League qualification

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Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola observe their respective teams from their technical areas during Man City vs. Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium MANCHESTER, United Kingdom.
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Jack Hallows analyses Liverpool’s season run-in with the short-term future of the club hanging in the balance.

Sunday the 21st of May. As it stands, that’s it. The final day of the 2016/17 Premier League season. For Liverpool, only nine games and 27 points remain in their hunt for Champions League football and it’s promising to be a nervy couple of months as the battle at the top of the table heats up. With the international break giving us an unwanted disruption to the Premier League season, let’s take a look at the remaining fixtures each team in contention faces when they return to Premier League action.

Chelsea – 1st – Current Points: 69 – Remaining Games – 10

I’m going to keep it short and sweet in relation to Chelsea because, for me, they’ve won the title and did so a long time ago. Antonio Conté has done a superb job at the London club, cleaning up Mourinho’s mess and restoring the Blues to where they should be given the quality within their squad.

Their remaining 11 fixtures are admittedly not the most straightforward but given their ability to win regardless of circumstance and opponent so far this season, I’d be very surprised to see them drop masses of points.

The stand out fixtures are, of course, a visit from Manchester City and trips to Everton and Manchester United. For Liverpool, it would be hugely beneficial if the Blues continue their good form this season and take big wins against all three of these opponents, especially the two Manchester sides.

Spurs – 2nd – Current Points: 59 – Remaining Games – 10

If I were to pick one other side that I feel will not drop out of the top four, it would be Spurs. Admittedly, without Harry Kane, they may struggle in coming weeks but with a favourable fixture list across their next four games, I’d be very surprised to see that happen.

A London derby with Arsenal and a crunch clash against Manchester United both come within their final four league matches of the season and if they were to win both of those, it would be huge for Liverpool as like I previously said, Spurs are nailed on for the top four for me while Arsenal and United are Liverpool’s biggest rivals.

Those two mega clashes aside, the London club’s run-in is very, very kind and if the likes of Dembele, Alderweireld, Dele Alli and Eriksen can stay fit, I’d be very surprised to see them finish lower than third.

Manchester City – 3rd – Current Point: 57 – Remaining Games – 10

Pep’s men have recovered superbly from a poor mid-season blip to look one of the strongest contenders for a Champions League finish this season and they showed against Liverpool this past game week just how good they are on the front foot.

If they can take 4-6 points out of the next two fixtures – clashes against Arsenal and Chelsea – then for me, they’re nailed on for one of the top four spots. Aside from these two games against the London clubs, they only have a Manchester derby to contend with when it comes to fixtures against any of the top six sides while hosting the likes of Hull, Palace, Leicester and West Brom will have Guardiola licking his lips.

They’re always capable of a bizarrely awful performance but I just think if they can get through their next two fixtures relatively unscathed then they’ve got too much firepower up top to slip up now.

Liverpool – 4th – Current Points: 56 – Remaining Games – 9

Nine games remain between Liverpool and Champions League football. It’s indicative of how bizarre Liverpool’s season has been that their run-in fixture list is probably the kindest, yet that worries the fans the most. For Klopp, there’s also got to be an air of trepidation. Their draw against Man City ended their remarkable run of games against the rest of the top six for the season – five draws, five wins from 10, the best record in the league.

However, despite the Reds having a less than impressive record against the lower-palced sides in the league, there is a positive.

Klopp’s men have lost five games this season but haven’t lost a single match to a team placed higher than 12th at the time of playing them. Of their remaining nine fixtures, only three are against sides in the bottom eight and two of those matches are at Anfield. The Reds record against the sides currently placed 7th through 12th – 11 points from 18 available – is still impressive and Klopp will definitely take heart from this.

These sides are less likely to park the bus and with five of the fixtures at Anfield, Liverpool will back themselves to take the three points in the majority of their remaining games. Trips to Watford, West Brom, West Ham and Stoke aren’t going to be straight forward but take seven points out of 12 there and win the five home games and Liverpool are in with more than a shout.

Manchester United – 5th – Current Points – 52 – Remaining Games – 11

I mean, they’re out of sixth. That’s a positive for them.

The issue for Manchester United is, every time they seem to take a step forwards, they take one backwards too. It’s not like they’re losing games – they’ve remarkably not lost since game week nine, that’s 18 games without a loss – but they’re not winning enough either.

The Red Devils have drawn 10 games this season, seven of those at home. Add to this the fact that if Zlatan doesn’t manage to get involved, they often don’t score – the Swede has contributed to 21 Premier League goals this season for United, that’s half of their league total.

With a packed fixture list about to hit them hard and fast due to their Europa League commitments, a very tough run-in – they play Everton, City, Arsenal, Spurs, Chelsea and Southampton in their final 11 games this season – and Mourinho’s own admission that league position isn’t his highest priority, I’d be surprised to see them finish in the top four. They will, however, probably win the Europa League let’s be honest, so for United fans, it won’t be all bad.

Arsenal  – 6th – Current Points: 50 – Remaining Games – 11

Good lord, the wheels are falling off aren’t they?

The current rift being drawn between the fanbase over Wenger In/Wenger Out is evidently emanating through the players and the Gunners look in danger of dropping right out of the Champions League race.

Four losses in their last five league games is their worst run in 22 years and despite a decent run-in to come, the lack of confidence and leadership in that dressing room means that things could be in danger of getting worse before they get better.

A trip to Spurs and visits from both Manchester sides make up their only real high profile fixtures left this season but visits from a resurgent Leicester and a flying Everton, accompanied by a trip to Southampton could also prove to be stumbling blocks. Add to that Mesut Ozil’s seeming inability to stay fit currently and a potentially serious injury to Alexis Sanchez ankle and Arsenal could be a real recipe for disaster.

Final word

For me, there is no doubt in my mind that Chelsea will win the title this year. They’ve been incredible throughout the entire season and have honestly just been on another level to the rest of the Premier League.

The top four, however, is all to play for still.

Spurs, Manchester City and Liverpool all stand a great chance of retaining their current positions until the end of the season but Manchester United and Arsenal will certainly be keen not to allow any further breathing room over the last two months of the season.

Solely focussing on our Reds for a moment and you feel that out of Liverpool’s final 27 points available, they will have to take a minimum of 22 – 7 wins, 1 draw, 1 loss – if they are to successfully secure a Champions League spot. It’s certainly doable and it’s now time for Klopp and his men to prove they have what it takes.

If you enjoyed Jack’s analytical view on the fight for Champions League football, be sure to follow him on Twitter!

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