Note: This is the final piece looking at the title/relegation races across English football. Click on the links to see the Championship, League One, and League Two.
The Premier League joins the Championship on an international break this week, and will resume action on 30 March. But in the meantime, we wanted to take a look at the standings… that haven’t changed much all season.
As a reminder, the top four clubs in the Premier League qualify for the Group Stage of Champions League, while the fifth place team does the same in Europa League. These competitions are great for worldwide exposure – not to mention the prize money – but it’s also for bragging rights across Europe. No English club has won the Champions League since Chelsea did so back in 2012, though we are only two seasons removed from Manchester City claiming the last English Europa League title.
The Top of the Table
The other two spots in Europa League go to the cup winners in England, and with Manchester City already locking up the EFL (Carabao) Cup, as well as being favored to win the FA Cup, those two slots will likely fall to the 6th and 7th place clubs, making the fight for seventh perhaps the most intriguing thing to watch down the homestretch of the season.
The Race for Champions League
Now that we’ve cleared that up, here’s what the top of the league table currently looks like:
Liverpool and Manchester City are likely going to go down to the wire fighting for the first spot, and I’ve already tentatively penciled them in for next season’s Champions League (Man City remains the favorite for this year’s tournament as well). The next two spots will, most likely go to two of the next four clubs – Tottenham Hotspurs, Arsenal, Manchester United or Chelsea – as they’ve separated themselves from 7th place Wolverhampton Wanderers. It’s honestly not all that interesting at the top, unless you happen to be a fan of the two clubs that end up missing out on the Champions League (I have the Spurs and Chelsea coming up just short right now).
The Battle for Seventh
Unless Brighton & Hove Albion, Watford, or Wolves manage to knock off Man City in the FA Cup, the seventh finisher will clinch a spot in next season’s Europa League, entering in the second qualifying round (similar to Burnley’s run this season). Brighton faces off against Man City in the semifinals on 6 April, at which point City could have clinched a spot in Champions League regardless, so the rest of the middle of the table will continue to fight for that seventh spot regardless.
These five clubs likely have the best chance of finishing in that coveted seventh spot, though that could change over the next few weeks:
The Wolverhampton Wanderers won the Championship last season going away, and their presence at the top here is surprising based on their inconsistent play earlier in the season. Since Boxing Day, however, they’ve averaged 1.64 points per match, thanks to a 5-3-3 record over the past 2+ months. Second in points per match of the group was Watford’s 1.45, so it’s kind of fitting that they will face off against each other in the other FA Cup semifinal. Plus, having an extra game to play over the other three clubs here could ultimately help them find some extra points and put them over the top.
Back to the Championship
The same five clubs from the last look at these standings is the same, though they’ve managed to shuffle themselves up a bit on top of Fulham and Huddersfield Town:
Those bottom two clubs have all but assured themselves of relegation, so for Fulham, it would be one-and-done after gaining promotion via playoff last season. As for the Terriers, they were nearly relegated last season after scoring 28 goals all season. They would need to score ten goals over the next seven matches to reach that total this season, which isn’t likely since they average less than half a goal per match.
Burnley is on the cusp of relegation after that Europa League trip this season, which is pretty remarkable. Still, they’ve average 1.5 points per match since Boxing Day while winning more than they lost, so I think they’ll be able to stave off relegation for at least this season. Southampton is in the same boat, though they have a smaller margin for error with an extra game left to play.
The third club likely to join Fulham and Huddersfield Town looks to be Welsh club Cardiff City. Should that happen, next season would be the first Premier League season since 2006-07 without a club from Wales, unless Swansea City (currently 15th) makes a miraculous run down in the Championship. The “Battle for 17th” won’t likely be as exciting as the one for seventh, but we’ll keep an eye on it nonetheless.
Until next time…