London (AFP) – Manchester City already have one hand on the Premier League trophy but the battle for the top four is likely to go down to the wire as a clutch of clubs seek to join Europe’s elite next season.
AFP Sport takes a look at the contenders as the 2020/21 campaign enters its final stretch, with nine games remaining for most teams.
Manchester City, Manchester United, Leicester and Chelsea currently occupy the top four places in the English top-flight.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United are eight points clear of fifth-placed West Ham and are on track to finish in the top two for only the second time since they were last champions in 2013.
United’s run-in does not appear too tricky, although they still have to travel to Tottenham and host Liverpool. They also play top-four rivals Leicester at Old Trafford.
Leicester came agonisingly close to qualifying for the Champions League for only the second time in their history last season but missed out on the final day, beaten by United.
Brendan Rodgers’ side, who last month beat United in the FA Cup quarter-finals, look more robust this year and are just one point behind the Red Devils.
Leicester face Manchester City this weekend before a run of kinder fixtures, but they will be keen to maintain a buffer, with a difficult set of matches to end the season — against United, Chelsea and Spurs.
Chelsea, still unbeaten in all competitions since Thomas Tuchel took over from Frank Lampard in January, are in fourth spot but have less margin for error and are also still involved in the FA Cup and Champions League.
Tuchel’s side have been remarkably tight at the back, not conceding a single goal since February, but they have also lacked sharpness in front of goal.
They also face a challenging run-in, with consecutive matches against City, Arsenal and Leicester in May.
Could West Ham do the unthinkable and join Europe’s big guns next season?
David Moyes’ men are in fifth place in the Premier League, just two points behind Chelsea, and aside from matches against Leicester and Chelsea, their fixture list looks relatively kind.
But the Hammers, who have been lifted by the loan signing of Manchester United forward Jesse Lingard, have taken just four points from their past four matches and must ensure they get back to winning ways away to Wolves on Monday.
Moyes’ side finish their season with games against Brighton, West Brom and Southampton, all of whom are in the lower reaches of the table.
Tottenham, who looked rank outsiders a few weeks ago, are just one point behind West Ham after four wins in five league games.
Manager Jose Mourinho remains under pressure after a season in which Spurs have flattered to deceive but a win against City in this month’s League Cup final or a top-four finish would give him a huge boost.
The club’s run-in looks relatively straightforward, with the exception of a match against United, whom they beat 6-1 in October.
Champions Liverpool are desperate to salvage something from the wreckage of their title defence and they may be pleased they are not playing Arsenal at home on Saturday.
While Jurgen Klopp’s men, currently five points behind Chelsea, have not won in the league at Anfield since December, their results on the road have been much better.
Everton are level on points with Liverpool and have a game in hand but they do not have the experience of their city rivals at the sharp end of the table and have not finished in the top four since 2005.
Manager Carlo Ancelotti last month talked about the club’s Champions League dream but successive defeats to Chelsea and Burnley have damaged their hopes and they look unlikely to bridge the gap.
Arsenal are nine points behind Chelsea and are rank outsiders to return to the Champions League, where they last played in the 2016/17 season.
Chelsea v West Brom (1130 GMT), Leeds v Sheffield United (1400), Leicester v Manchester City (1630), Arsenal v Liverpool (1900)
Southampton v Burnley (1100), Newcastle v Tottenham (1305), Aston Villa v Fulham (1530), Manchester United v Brighton (1830)
Everton v Crystal Palace (1700), Wolves v West Ham (1915)