MANCHESTER HAS THE two top spots in the Premier League all but sewn up.
But behind the title-chasers, the battle to join them in next season’s Champions League is anything but settled with four teams separated by a measly four points.
As things currently stand, the English entry to next year’s big cup would be confined to teams from North London and Manchester – not the greatest spread of wealth.
However, all that could change over the remaining five games. Let’s take a closer look at the contenders and what lies in store for each of them.
Any day in which Tottenham Hotspur lose is a good one for Arsenal, but this one was much more important as the Gunners had already bagged maximum points against Manchester City.
Many would have predicted the results going the exact opposite way, so the six-point swing has Arsenal sitting pretty in third place – 10 points behind City and two clear of Spurs with a game in hand.
That game in hand is tonight’s visit to Wolves. Add Terry Connor’s strugglers to the fixture list alongside Wigan, Stoke, Norwich and West Brom and Arsene Wenger seems to have the easiest run-in of all four teams.
But wouldn’t it be just like them to cough up points just when they are expected to win. Throw a home game with Chelsea into the mix and Arsenal will need to keep up their best form and get Robin Van Persie back on the score-sheet to remain in third place.
Prediction: 74 points (3rd).
Roberto Di Matteo’s side have the heaviest schedule between now and the end of the season. As it stands they have eight games still to play in all competitions and that could rise to 10 if everything goes according to their plan.
The Blues’ next league outing is at Arsenal, arguably the most pivotal game to their big four chances. And that is wedged tightly between two energy-sapping ties with Barcelona.
Of course, if all goes well, Chelsea won’t need to worry about finishing fourth. They can qualify for next year’s competitions simply by winning it this year. Easy.
After the upcoming four games that will define Di Matteo’s short tenure (Spurs in the FA Cup, Barcelona twice and Arsenal) Chelsea’s run-in is still anything but straightforward.
A London derby and another handshake-gate awaits with the visit of QPR and within six days they will also have to face Newcastle (home) and Liverpool (away).
That’s tough going in anyone’s language.
Prediction: 66 points (6th).
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The introduction of Papiss Cisse has ensured the late season slump, which ordinarily hits a team unaccustomed with a Champions League push, has been thwarted.
Cisse’s energy – not to mention his goals – have given the Magpies a new lease of life and as they have fewer games left to play than any of their rivals (five) the challenge does not look like abating any time soon.
The fly in the ointment for Alan Pardew is the quality, not quantity, of opponents. April should be closed off with wins over Stoke and Wigan but May looks a whole lot more complicated with Man City sandwiched between trips to Stamford Bridge and Goodison Park.
Prediction: 67 points (5th).
Spurs will have the luxury of avoiding their fellow Champions League hopefuls in the run-in to the end of the season. The FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea will be the only distraction from league achievment, but we all know how much Harry Redknapp loves a cup.
The problem with the north-Londoners is form, or lack of it. Since their 5-2 defeat to Arsenal at the end of February, they have played seven league games, winning just once.
Three of their remaining five games are away from home, but as they are against QPR, Bolton and Aston Villa; there is no reason Spurs should not be capable of winning every games between now and the end of the season.
Prediction: 72 points (4th).
Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP/Press Association Images
So, what do you think? who will join the Manchester clubs and mix it with Europe’s finest next season?