With the Premier League set to return it’s time to analyse the all-important race for the Europa League and Champions League places. Of course with Manchester City’s ban still yet to be decided there is the tantalising prospect of 5th place meaning CL qualification, which would open up the door for a variety of clubs. In this article I’ll take a look at the clubs with the most realistic chances at European football as well as offering my personal predictions – starting with 9th placed Arsenal (yes the race is that wide open) moving up to 4th placed Chelsea. Both the Gunners and the Blues are only separated by eight points, which has the potential of offering up an interesting conclusion to the season.
It’s fair to say Arsenal are very much an enigma, having just lost 3-2 to Brentford in a pre-season friendly (to the amusement of many) it’s hard to tell what sort of shape they will be in. The defensive clips from the game circulating on Twitter were certainly a huge concern and it will be interesting to see how they will cope against hopefully better opposition in Manchester City.
While many flocked to Twitter to mock the North London side we have to remember they are under an inexperienced but promising manager in Mikel Arteta, who in fairness got them playing some tidy football before the abrupt break to the campaign. They currently sit on 40 points, five point behind Manchester United, who currently hold that potentially golden 5th place. If Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette can recapture some form while the team stay solid at the back they certainly have the chance to make waves in their last 10 games – however the Arsenal of recent years have flattered to deceive so you wouldn’t be surprised to see them struggle compared to some of the other teams in this list. In fact I’m not so sure they’ll make it to Europe, it will be close but I do not see them climbing the table.
Predicted Finish: 9th
Jose Mourinho has seen a mixed start to his Spurs tenure, but he is a born winner and that experience could be crucial as they look to hunt down United and maybe even Chelsea. Spurs currently sit on 41 points having played a game more than Arsenal, but a few wins on the bounce could see them close that four point gap to United quickly should they drop a few points. With such a quick turnaround momentum will be key, and with Harry Kane set to return they now have the potential for a strong frontline that could make a huge difference.
Mourinho did cause controversy by training one on one with some players during lockdown, while this is reckless you can see the sort of mentality he has. If Spurs can capture that winning spirit then you can expect them to be a strong side. They’re certainly a team you could label as ‘ones to watch’. Spurs, however, do have a tough start playing away to Manchester United first, followed by games against West ham, Sheff Utd and Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton. If they can start well though then you could see them easily push for top four – they do have a very talented squad. However, despite this they have been inconsistent and this could ultimately cost them in the end. Realistically I can’t envisage them scrapping out win after win.
Predicted Finish: 7th
Now on to one of the two ‘breakthrough’ sides in this race alongside Wolves. Sheffield United have been simply marvellous since their promotion to the top division with their system of overlapping centre-halves receiving much attention and praise from fans and pundits alike. Chris Wilder has worked wonders on a small budget and a team of players he has brought through League 1 and the Championship. They even recruited a big name in Sander Berge in January – a player wanted by Manchester United among other big clubs. With a rock solid defense and efficient front-line you could see them enjoying this return where many teams could struggle fitness wise and leave gaps defensively.
It must be pointed out that they don’t always have those match winners so they could drop more points than some of the ‘bigger clubs’. Having said that it hasn’t stopped their success so far. Aston Villa and Newcastle offer decent opponents to start to start off with before that huge game against the Red Devils on the 24th June. They are only two points off United with a game in hand so the chance of success is very much for the taking. We have still yet to see whether they can go all the way and get that prestigious Champions League spot. Without the support of their fans you could seem them potentially drop off They will fight for every point but I think they’ll just falter at the final stages.
Predicted Finish: 8th
The club in old gold and black have continued their meteoric rise. They are very much in the mix for the Champions League. Despite a very poor start to the season they managed to turn it around and were in fine form before the break. It is worth noting that they also lost their pre season friendly 2-0 against Nottingham Forest. So, similarly to Arsenal it’s tough to call what sort of form they will be in at the restart.
Their fans have played a huge part in helping the team push on this season with many fans hailing Molineux as having one of the best atmospheres in the league. Without those fans you have to question if Wolves can produce those same comeback performances like the one against Manchester City. They do arguably have the easiest fixture list out of the teams around them but having no support can harm a side. Despite those doubts they still have a squad filled with quality and if they recapture their form from before the break they are a huge danger to the top four or five sides. Signings like Daniel Podence and Leonardo Campana could help them kick on and add some extra elements to the team. I think they will have a solid return despite the lack of fans, they have some winnable fixtures and if the new signings bed in I can see them reaching potential Champions League football.
Predicted Finish: 5th
Manchester United are another hard team to pin down. They are a squad full of quality but they have been inconsistent with a ‘two steps forward one step back’ approach. The Red Devils managed to keep Odion Ighalo, which is a huge boost (who would’ve thought we’d be saying that?) as his link up play and tidy finishing have helped the team grind out results. If Pogba and Fernandes can gel in midfield they could genuinely blow teams away, however, Pogba has rarely featured this season and it’d be tough to seem him making an explosive return with all the speculation surrounding him – albeit a lot of it unjustified. Marcus Rashford has gained plenty of positive press for his actions during lockdown but his performances in this campaign can’t go unnoticed. He’s having the best season of his career and if he can fire again, United could be well placed for qualification.
There’s no doubt United have the talent to make the Champions League but they also have a tough fixture list with a decent amount of potential banana skins, with the amount of pressure that comes with playing for the club you could see some similar mistakes cropping up, which could swing their season either way. Defensively they have seen improvements with Wan-Bissaka proving to be an inspired purchase, this will prove crucial for them coming up against Sheffield United and Leicester City who can both defend very well. Whether they can maintain a solid backline is yet to be seen and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer still has a lot of work to do to get them close to being the finished article.
I do think United will drop a few points here and there, particularly against Spurs, and for that reason I have them finishing just outside the Champions League places.
Predicted Finish: 6th
This Chelsea team have been a breath of fresh air this season! Not being allowed to make big money signings in the transfer market has allowed their young talents to flourish. Similarly to a lot of these teams they have been very inconsistent at times and we could very much see that again after having such a long break. However with having a youthful and exuberant squad mixed with experienced pros such as Willian, Pedro, Mateo Kovacic and even N’Golo Kante I think they have enough to carry on their impressive first season under Frank Lampard.
Lampard knows how much this competition means to the club and that has to transfer to the players. His legendary status carries weights but alongside that he’s shown himself to be tactically astute. They need to be more consistent than the teams around them and so far they have been, a common theme with the race for Europe this season is that, like last season, clubs are almost saying ‘after you’ each week with an odd amount of dropped points and poor runs. You only have to look at the gap between Chelsea and the teams above them to see that. There is a lot of positivity at Stamford Bridge at the moment with the confirmed purchase of Hakim Ziyech and the potentially Timo Werner. With the team driven by the success they could have next season, the Champions League is something they will place under the utmost importance.
I do feel that Chelsea have a bit more balance to their squad and with the energy their style of play brings, I think they will adapt well to this restart and maintain their position in the top four.
Predicted finish: 4th
My Predicted Finished Table:
So there we have it, while putting Wolves in 5th seems controversial, with my predicted results and the fixtures for each team I believe this to be very much a realistic outcome. The race will remain close for the rest of the season and it would be unfair on any of these teams to miss out.
Feel free to drop your predictions in the comments below and we look forward to seeing how the league will turn out. Of course I’ll be hoping these come true!