The Premier League’s top four race to Champions League qualification analyzed by form, fixtures and Sky Sports pundit Alan Smith | Soccer News

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With Manchester City slipping away to the top and Liverpool and Chelsea on course to crack the top three, West Ham, Man Utd, Arsenal, Tottenham and Wolves look set to battle for a top four spot. first.

As things stand, six points divide fourth-placed West Ham and eighth-placed Wolves, setting up what looks to be an intriguing race to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Here we assess the runners and runners in the battle for fourth place, their form and their encounters through the end of the season…

Table…

Smith: the three best looks

Sky Sports’ Alan Smith in the current Premier League top 3:

“There is a nine-point gap with Chelsea in third. It looks like it will be difficult to catch Chelsea, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and league leaders Manchester City.

“I know there are games going on for many teams, but City, Chelsea and Liverpool are the top three teams in the country.

“Pep Guardiola’s side are the best by far, to be honest, but these three teams will make up the top three, I’m sure.”

The light fixtures…

West Ham

Position: 4th
Games played: 24
Points: 40
The four best Sky Bet odds: 9/1
Active cup competitions: Europa League and FA Cup

West Ham have had a fantastic start to the season. Under David Moyes, the Hammers were flying high and looking like real contenders for the top four. Despite home wins against Liverpool and Chelsea, they suffered a minor blow with back-to-back defeats to Wolves and Man City in November before back-to-back defeats to Arsenal and Southampton in December.

They reacted well, however, and wins over Watford, Crystal Palace and Norwich put them firmly back in the race for Champions League qualification. But a loss to Manchester United on January 22 saw them concede fourth place on a weekend in which Arsenal dropped points and Tottenham lost to Chelsea.

Victory over Watford put them back on track, but West Ham’s run-in for the season looks tricky, with trips to Leicester, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Brighton to come. They also face Wolves, Arsenal and Man City at home and have played at least one game more than the teams around them.

If they want to reach the top four, West Ham will have to do it the hard way.

Main meetings: Leicester (A) – Sunday, February 13; kick-off at 4:30 p.m. (live on Sky), wolves (H) – Saturday February 26; kick off 3 p.m. liverpool (A) – Sunday, March 5; kick off 3 p.m. Tottenham (A) – Saturday, March 19; kick off 3 p.m. chelsea (A) – Saturday April 23; kick off 3 p.m. Arsenal (H) – Saturday April 30; kick off 3 p.m. City of Man (H) – Sunday May 15; kick off 3 p.m. Brighton (A) – Sunday May 22, kick-off 4 p.m.

Manchester United

Ralf Rannick

Position: 5th
Games played: 23
Points: 39
The four best Sky Bet odds: 2/1
Active cup competitions: Champions League

Back-to-back league wins at the start of Ralf Rangnick’s interim tenure were followed by three wins from six to put Manchester United firmly in the hunt for the top four.

After a disappointing loss to Wolves and a draw with Aston Villa, United bounced back with back-to-back wins over Brentford and top four rivals West Ham, however, points dropped at Burnley in their last game shook United’s charge .

It also promises to be a tricky second half of the season for Cristiano Ronaldo’s side as they look to hold on to their place in the table. The club could face potential hurdles with fixtures against Southampton, Brighton and Leeds in February and further clashes with the top four contenders to follow in March and April.

Having reduced the size of their squad with the departures of Anthony Martial, Amad Diallo and Donny van de Beek (all on loan) in January, United face a huge test of their Champions League credentials.

Main meetings: City of Man (A) – Saturday March 5; kick off 3 p.m. Tottenham (H) – Saturday March 12; kick off 3 p.m. liverpool (A) – Saturday, March 19; kick off 3 p.m. Leicester (H) – Saturday April 2; kick off 3 p.m. Arsenal (A) – Saturday April 23; kick off 3 p.m. chelsea (H) – Sunday May 15; kick off 3 p.m.

Arsenal

Sound system - Mikel Arteta

Position: 6th
Games played: 21
Points: 36
The four best Sky Bet odds: 9/4
Active cup competitions: Nothing

Arsenal endured a torrid start to the campaign, losing their first three matches to suffer their worst start to the season in 67 years. They were at Premier League lows with Mikel Arteta under pressure, but the Spaniard oversaw a remarkable recovery at the Emirates Stadium.

The Gunners are currently in sixth place and now have one game less against Manchester United after the postponement of the North London derby against Spurs. Their controversial New Year’s Day loss to Man City ended a run of four successive – and impressive – wins.

Their draw against Burnley prevented them from gaining ground in the top four and Arteta will want his side to bounce back from the result in their next Premier League outing against Wolves on February 10.

After being knocked out of the Carabao Cup by Liverpool, Arsenal no longer participate in any cup competition and will focus their efforts solely on securing a coveted Champions League spot.

Main meetings: wolves (A) – Thursday, February 10; kick off 7:45 p.m. wolves (H) – Thursday, February 24; kick-off 7:45 p.m.; Leicester (H) – Saturday March 12; kick off 3 p.m. Brighton (H), Saturday April 9; kick off 3 p.m. Manchester United (H), Saturday April 23; kick off 3 p.m. West Ham (A) – Saturday April 30; kick off 3 p.m. chelsea (A) – to be confirmed, liverpool (H), to be confirmed, Tottenham (A) – to be confirmed

Tottenham

Antonio Conte talks to Tottenham's Lucas Moura during the Europa Conference League Group G soccer match against Vitesse (AP)

Position: 7th
Games played: 21
Points: 36
The four best Sky Bet odds: 9/4
Active cup competitions: FA Cup

Tottenham look much more threatening under Antonio Conte but, as the manager himself has regularly admitted since arriving in north London, there is still a lot of work to do if he is to finish in the Premier League’s top four. They have games in hand to take control of the top four race, but can they convert them into the required points?

Spurs’ fixture list has been complicated by three postponements since Conte’s arrival, meaning they have several games in progress across all the teams around them. Having played three fewer games than fourth-placed West Ham, for example, Tottenham would be ahead of their London rivals if they won them all.

After losing to Chelsea in the two-legged Carabao Cup semi-final, Tottenham were again beaten by Thomas Tuchel’s side at Stamford Bridge, ending Conte’s nine-game league unbeaten streak. They also suffered their first league defeat at home when Southampton won 3-2 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on February 9.

After bringing in Rodrigo Bentancur and Dejan Kulusevski from Juventus on deadline day and four points behind fourth-placed Tottenham, Spurs have a chance of finishing in the top four by the end of the season.

However, trips to Manchester to face both City and United could complicate their chances, in addition to facing Liverpool at Anfield before the end of the season. Not to mention the postponed games that have yet to be integrated, which could lead to fixture congestion as we reach the end of the season.

Main meetings: wolves (H) – Sunday February 13; 2 p.m. kick-off, City of Man (A) – Saturday February 19; kick-off 5:30 p.m. (live on Sky), Manchester United (A) – Saturday March 12; kick off 3 p.m. West Ham (H) – Saturday, March 19; kick off 3 p.m. Brighton (H) – Saturday April 16; kick off 3 p.m. Leicester (H) – Saturday April 30; kick off 3 p.m. liverpool (A) – Saturday, May 7; kick off 3 p.m. Arsenal (H) – to be confirmed

wolves

Wolves defenders Romain Saiss, Max Kilman (centre) and Conor Coady have impressed this season (PA)

Position: 8th
Games played: 21
Points: 34
The four best Sky Bet odds: 1/28
Active cup competitions: FA Cup

Wolves had a difficult opener to the season with three successive 1-0 defeats under new manager Bruno Lage which left them 18th in the league. One of those defeats came against Nuno Espirito Santo’s Tottenham, who left last season to take charge of the north London club.

However, Lage has since overseen an improvement in his side’s form with impressive wins over Aston Villa, West Ham and Brighton. Despite being the third-worst team in the division with 19 Premier League goals, their defense has been a key part of their rise in the standings. They have conceded just 16 times this season, a record only bettered by Pep Guardiola’s Man City.

Their start to 2022 has also been impressive, with successive wins over Manchester United, Southampton and Brentford. With a tough list of fixtures awaiting them in February, could Wolves’ new additions to their squad help them push forward to secure European football next season?

Key matches: Arsenal (H) – Thursday, February 10; kick off 7:45 p.m. Tottenham (A) – Sunday, February 13; kick-off 2 p.m.; Leicester (H) – Sunday February 20; kick-off at 4:30 p.m. (live on Sky); Arsenal (A) – Thursday, February 24; kick-off 7:45 p.m.; West Ham (A) – Sunday, February 27; kick-off 2 p.m. (live on Sky); City of Man (H) – Saturday April 16; kick-off 3:00 p.m.; Brighton (H) – Saturday April 30; kick-off 3:00 p.m.; chelsea (A) – Saturday, May 7; kick-off 3:00 p.m.; liverpool (A) – Sunday, May 22; kick off 4 p.m.

Watch the race for Champions League qualification unfold live on Sky Sports.

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