Manchester United to struggle, Tottenham worries, but Arsenal have hope? Top four rivals rated by run-in difficulty as race for Champions League heats up

talksport.com, 27 February 2020, 05:52
Manchester United to struggle, Tottenham worries, but Arsenal have hope? Top four rivals rated by run-in difficulty as race for Champions League heats up
The race for Champions League qualification is shaping up to be one of the most exciting in recent memory, with SEVEN teams battling it out for two spots.

Leicester and Chelsea are currently in the driving seat, but the five teams below them are hot on their heels, all the way down to Arsenal in ninth.

Just seven points separate the Gunners from fourth-place Chelsea, with 11 matches remaining, and the gap could be wiped out in a matter of weeks.

Things could be made even more interesting if the Court of Arbitration for Sport upholds Manchester City’s two-year European ban, which could open up fifth place for Champions League qualification.

We'll have to wait until May 17 to find out the answers for sure, but with the help of SoccerStats, we can begin to speculate.

We've ranked the seven top-four contenders based on the difficulty of their remaining fixtures, which helps paint a clearer picture of the task at hand for each team.

So, who has the most favourable remaining fixtures? Here are the results, with '7' being the hardest and '1' the easiest…

How is it calculated?

Soccer Stats adds up the points per game of all remaining opponents and averages it out to give a score.

The higher the number, the more difficult the remaining fixtures.

What's more, it distinguishes between home and away points, to give a more accurate reflection on the remaining matches.

7. Manchester United

Average points per game of remaining opponents: 1.50

Fixtures: Everton (A), Man City (H), Tottenham (A), Sheffield United (H), Brighton (A), Bournemouth (H), Aston Villa (A), Southampton (H), Crystal Palace (A), West Ham (H), Leicester (A).

What’s being said?

Man United left-back Luke Shaw: "This club is known for playing in the big competitions. We all miss the Champions League nights so much, that is what we want next season.

"We need to fight and earn it."

Verdict

United face a season-defining month, with four seriously tricky fixtures coming up.

However, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men have fared quite well against the better teams this season, while coming undone against clubs towards the bottom of the table.

So, bizarrely, a difficult run-in might actually suit them.

6. Arsenal

Average points per game of remaining opponents: 1.46

Fixtures: West Ham (H), Brighton (A), Southampton (A), Norwich (H), Wolves (A), Leicester (H), Tottenham (A), Liverpool (H), Aston Villa (A), Watford (H), Man City (A – not scheduled).

What’s being said?

Arsenal legend Ian Wright: "They'll be looking forward to playing anyone at the moment.

"You look at it now, see the way the league is going, they've got momentum, and their next three are quite winnable, so you've got to say fingers crossed [for top four]."

Verdict

Wright is correct about Arsenal’s upcoming fixtures, but after that, things get tricky.

The Gunners face Leicester, Spurs and Liverpool – with their fixture against Man City also likely to be rescheduled during that run.

With a seven-point gap to close, Arsenal have probably left themselves with too much work to do.

5. Chelsea

Average points per game of remaining opponents: 1.34

Fixtures: Bournemouth (A), Everton (H), Aston Villa (A), Man City (H), West Ham (A), Watford (H), Crystal Palace (A), Sheffield United (A), Norwich (H), Liverpool (A), Wolves (H).

What’s being said?

Manager Frank Lampard: "We have a lot of games to go with it in our hands, to see if we can get to the top four.

“It's going to be tough. We're not going to be given anything, we have to go out and fight.

"I think whenever I speak to fans, they understand this season is a transitional year.

"We can't please everybody but they recognised the way the team is trying to play.”

Verdict

Chelsea have a three-point cushion over fifth-place Manchester United, but still face tricky games against Manchester City and Liverpool during their run-in.

Lampard will hope the Blues have got out of their rut with the 2-1 victory over Tottenham on Saturday – which kept their fate in their own hands.

4. Sheffield United

Average points per game of remaining opponents: 1.33

Fixtures: Aston Villa (A), Norwich (H), Newcastle (A), Man United (A), Tottenham (H), Burnley (A), Wolves (H), Chelsea (H), Leicester (A), Everton (H), Southampton (A).

What’s being said?

Manager Chris Wilder: “People will talk about looking up and I want us to look up, I want us to go and reel in the teams above us.

“I can’t go into a team meeting in half an hour and just say, ‘Let’s be careful of staying out the bottom three’. It’s an extremely competitive league and we’re proud of our position at the moment.

“We’ve worked extremely hard to get into that position. We’ve done a lot of things right and we’re going to have to do a lot of things right between now and the end of the season. We need the bounce of the ball, to stay clear of big injuries.”

Verdict

Sheffield United need slightly more than the bounce of the ball to get into the Champions League next season.

They’ve got a four-point gap to close, plus matches against United, Tottenham, Wolves, Chelsea and Leicester to contend with.

But, in fairness, it’s incredible that they’re even in the conversation.

3. Tottenham

Average points per game of remaining opponents: 1.31

Fixtures: Wolves (H), Burnley (A), Man United (H), West Ham (H), Sheffield United (H), Everton (H), Bournemouth (A), Arsenal (H), Newcastle (A), Leicester (H), Crystal Palace (A).

What’s being said?

Manager Jose Mourinho on talkSPORT: "It's very, very difficult. But like the boys did today, we are going to fight until the end.

"Today, we fought until the last second of the game and in terms of fourth, we are going to fight until it's mathematically impossible."

Verdict

You look at Tottenham’s remaining fixtures and four stand out: Wolves, United, Arsenal and Leicester.

But here’s the thing, they’re all at home. So don’t count them out just yet.

It’ll be a tall order with their injury crisis, and their recent performances suggests they’ll be heading in the other direction, but four points isn’t the mountain that Mourinho is making out.

2. Leicester

Average points per game of remaining opponents: 1.24

Fixtures: Norwich (A), Aston Villa (H), Watford (A), Brighton (H), Everton (A), Crystal Palace (H), Arsenal (A), Bournemouth (A), Sheffield United (H), Tottenham (A), Man United (H).

What’s being said?

Defender Jonny Evans: “We know it’s going to be a difficult run-in, but it’s one we’re relishing.

"We know Saturday [against Man City] was obviously a chance to pick up a point or three but it hasn’t happened.

"We’ll go to Norwich and will have to be top of our game because they’re a good side. But this is one we have to win if we want to guarantee one of those Champions League spots.”

Verdict

Leicester would have to drop nine points to fall out of the top four – and it’s difficult to see where they’ll do that.

A few more wins and you can nail Brendan Rodgers’ men down for a Champions League spot next season.

1. Wolves

Average points per game of remaining opponents: 1.20

Fixtures: Tottenham (A), Brighton (H), West Ham (A), Bournemouth (H), Aston Villa (A), Arsenal (H), Sheffield United (A), Everton (H), Burnley (A), Crystal Palace (H), Chelsea (A)

What’s being said?

Manager Nuno Espirito Santo: "We're going to stay focused because the difficulty is to sustain your performances through the season.

“After that, we'll see, but it's about building your team and getting them ready to compete whenever, wherever."

Verdict

Besides the tricky trip to Stamford Bridge on the last day of the season, Wolves’ fixtures provide them with a superb chance to break into the top four, even with five points to make up.

They don’t face any of the Premier League’s current top three, and their crucial matches against Arsenal and Tottenham are both at home.

The away trip to Sheffield United could decide which underdog gets to play in the Champions League next season.

The race for Champions League qualification is shaping up to be one of the most exciting in recent memory, with SEVEN teams battling it out for two spots.

Top News
I'm a Zlatanero Barcelona earned the most money from the 2018/19 Champions League Maldini's five stars of the future Transfer Market LIVE: Marcos Alonso to Inter, Reina and Piatek to Aston Villa... Lyon vs Brest Predictions & Tips Mbappe's market value reaches 265.2m euros Tuchel: The transfer market isn't a game of Monopoly Guardiola: I will never train Man United or Real Madrid... I'd rather be in the Maldives Transfer Market LIVE: Atletico meeting for Cavani, Barcelona in for Brazilian youngster Leicester City vs Aston Villa Match Preview Transfer Market LIVE: Jorge Jesus disagrees with Reinier fee Transfer news and gossip LIVE: Solskajer warns Man United players, Leicester want new Maddison contract, Ashley Young linked with Inter Jones a 'special' talent says Chirivella as Liverpool consider loan moves for young stars 'Kane will be a miracle man if he's back in April' - England legend Owen fears for injured Spurs striker 'Gerrard comparisons were unfair for Henderson' - Liverpool captain now 'complete midfielder', says Murphy Saha 'concerned' by Lingard form & backs Man Utd move for Maddison Zidan: Klopp told me I was better than Salah but I lacked Liverpool star's professionalism Lukaku is Ibrahimovic-esque & built for success in Serie A, says Inter legend Bergomi Higuain: I could have done better but Chelsea move wasn't a failure Salah could soon be itching to leave Liverpool & Mane may be tempted by Real Madrid, says McAteer Solskjaer: Man Utd can't go 30 years without a Premier League title like Liverpool 'Impossible for special Liverpool to lose title from here' - Redknapp expecting Anfield coronation Leicester target Bertrand as Chilwell replacement with Chelsea & Man City interest building 'I can't tell you now' - Solskjaer issues update on Rashford's availability for Liverpool clash Solskjaer issues update on Rashford's availability for Man Utd's game at Liverpool 'Arsenal need more from Pepe with Aubameyang out' - £72m man challenged by Nicholas Salah not competing with Mane at Liverpool & counters critics of supposed selfish streak 'I could've won the league if Liverpool were bankrolled by a country!' - Carragher takes a swipe at Man City spending Bristol City 'working hard' after losing out on Arsenal's Nketiah - Dean Holden Iniesta: A coaching partnership with Xavi at Barcelona doesn't sound bad at all!
HT: FT: ET: PN: