There really is a lack of drama at the top of the Premier League, with the top six clubs all but guaranteed a spot in European competition next season – Liverpool has clinched a spot in Champions League, while Manchester City and Chelsea have clinched at least a spot in Europa League. Manchester City is doubly qualified at the moment, having won the Carabao (EFL) Cup last month, and will aim for a double in the FA Cup final next month.
The double qualification for Manchester City has expanded the list of clubs qualifying for Europa League next season to the 6th spot in the standings; a win by City in the FA Cup final will expand it down to 7th. And it’s that 7th spot that is the most intriguing position remaining in Premier League, especially considering that 6th-place Manchester United are currently 14 points clear of 7th-place Leicester City at the moment. Batting an epic collapse – or a substantial run – the Top 6 is likely out of the question for clubs currently outside of it.
Over Half the League Can End Up in Europa
For eleven clubs in the Premier League, it’s going to be a mad scramble down the stretch to get to that 7th position. These eleven clubs are still technically in the race for that lucrative 7th spot, but some have a better chance of fighting Cardiff City for the final relegation spot than playing in Europe next season.
That said, it’s likely a four team race when all is said and done. While the other eight clubs will likely put up a fight, they have likely played themselves out of contention for a variety of reason: horrible recent stretches – AFC Bournemouth and Newcastle United with only four points over their last five matches (1-1-3) – difficult schedules down the stretch – Burnley plays three clubs in the top five – or big goal differentials that will be hard to overcome – West Ham United‘s -9 stands out in that regard.
The First Eliminations
Using last season as a template, Burnley claimed the 7th spot in the table with 54 points, which would seemingly eliminate any club that can’t reach that number over the final five weeks of the season. Southampton (max of 51 points), Newcastle (50), Burnley (51), and Bournemouth (53) all fit this description. None of those teams, even my beloved Cherries, seem to be capable of going on an extended winning streak while every club above them loses.
Brighton & Hove Albion is in an interesting spot as the only Premier League club that has seven matches yet to play. Win those seven matches, and they reach that magical threshold of 54 points, but they are only 2-1-7 over their last ten matches, not exactly instilling confidence.
Time to Split Some Hairs
Crystal Palace has been inconsistent this season, failing to find any positive momentum. For example, a 22 December victory at Manchester City was followed immediately by a draw at home to Cardiff City on Boxing Day. They haven’t won more than two matches in a row all season, and have spent the past six weeks alternating wins and losses (4-0-3). The rematch with City looms this weekend, so expect that pattern to continue. I simply cannot see them reaching 7th position.
West Ham United has had a similar season, though they did have a four match unbeaten streak in December (albeit against Newcastle, Cardiff City, Crystal Palace, and Fulham). But their season was likely doomed when they started the season dropping the first four matches – and six of their first ten – digging them into a hole that they have failed to get out of. Sure they’ve been as high as 9th in the table, including after that December winning streak, but they haven’t been able to stay there consistently, meaning that a finish in the teens is probably in the cards again this season (they finished 13th last season).
And then there were four…
Watford obviously has the “easiest” path to Europa League riches next season, though a Wembley Stadium showdown against Manchester City in the FA Cup final doesn’t sound all that easy. Watford has already completed their season series against the defending champions and… it hasn’t gone well. The Hornets needed a late goal in their first meeting to make it look a little more respectable in losing 2-1 (at home). In the rematch at Manchester City Stadium, Raheem Sterling netted a hat trick before Watford score, and the champs walked away with a convincing 3-1 victory. Expect much more of the same at Wembley.
Failing a surprising victory in the FA Cup, Watford may not have what it takes to reach seventh place. They do play three of the clubs featured here down the stretch, while also having an additional match remaining on most of these clubs here. But they will need to improve their recent play – a 2-0-3 in their last five matches and 4-1-5 in their last ten – to give themselves a shot of heading to Europa League without an FA Cup victory. With the FA Cup final happening after the season is over, that could be extra incentive for them to go for the win and knock a rival out of the spot, but they shouldn’t rely on that option.
And the favorite is…
Everton is a perfectly fine team, one of a handful of clubs to never leave the Premier League since it began. And they’ll likely end in a top ten position this season and be happy with the results. We had them as the 7th club before the season, but I think they’ll come up just short this year.
The same goes for Wolverhampton Wanderers unfortunately. They only club more inconsistent than Crystal Palace, the Wolves have been impressive at times this season, their first back in the Premier League after dominating the Championship last season. But they have also given last place Huddersfield Town two of their three victories on the season, and the Wolves tend to play to the level of their competition. A difficult schedule down the stretch may help them in this regard, but it could also lead to some unexpected results.
My personal favorite to reach the promise land is Leicester City, if only because they have been the best team on this list in over the past five matches, going 4-0-1, including wins in their last four. Jamie Vardy has scored six goals over those five games, and helping the club return to European competition might be a great finish to a season of tragedy for the club.
It’s Why You Play the Games!
All these words won’t matter much if the result on the pitches across the league end up being different than I expect. And it could all be moot if Watford beats a tired City team in that FA Cup final after the season is over. With the Big Six fighting it out at the top all season, it hasn’t always been fun to watch most Premier League matches this season, especially if you root for a club outside the top six. This race for seventh place should be entertaining though, and we’ll be here to follow along as it happens.
Until next time…