The Premier League season is now beyond the halfway mark and it looks like four teams will be competing for just one place in next season’s Champions League.
Arsenal look like they have played themselves out of contention while surely fourth is a step too far for Sheffield United. So, with just one spot seemingly available, who will be the team to join Europe’s elite?
Manchester United, Chelsea, Spurs and Wolves are battling to reach the Champions League
Chelsea – 4th – 35 points
Season at a glance
- Premier League
- Premier League
- League One
- League Two
- Scottish Premiership
- Scottish Div 1
- Scottish Div 2
- Scottish Div 3
- Ligue 1
- Serie A
- La Liga
Frank Lampard’s side have been in fourth place for a number of weeks now and retained the position with their superb comeback victory over Arsenal on Sunday.
The Blues are four points clear of their nearest rivals so imagine how far ahead they would be if they hadn’t lost three of their last four league games at home.
Away wins at Arsenal and Tottenham have come alongside defeats at Stamford Bridge by Southampton, Bournemouth and West Ham and that lack of consistency could damage their chances.
Inconsistency is bound to come with such a young squad but Lampard needs to find a way to provide the same motivation for a game against a team in the bottom half as against a top-four rival.
The Blues have been boosted by the news that they can buy players in the January transfer window and there are obvious gaps that need to be filled.
Tammy Abraham and Jorginho celebrate after both scoring goals in the win over Arsenal
Chelsea are expected to sign a left back and a striker, to ease the burden on Tammy Abraham, but any new signings will need to settle quickly ahead of a horrible run of fixtures between the end of January and middle of February.
Over the course of four games Chelsea play Arsenal at home, then go to Leicester before playing back-to-back home matches against United and Spurs.
That run of games could define their season while games against Liverpool and Wolves in the final two weeks of the season will determine where they finish.
Frank Lampard now has the ability to buy players in January after their transfer ban was lifted
Manchester United – 5th – 31 points
Two wins in a row have propelled United into fifth place. That’s the thing about the race for fourth, you feel if a team can put together a run of five or six wins then they can run away with it.
United bounced back from an embarrassing defeat by Watford before Christmas with comfortable victories over an in-form Newcastle and Burnley over the festive period.
They helped to close the gap to just four points to Chelsea and showed that United do have the capabilities to brush aside weaker opposition.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces a huge transfer window in January though as he looks to build on the success of his summer purchases next month.
Marcus Rashford celebrates the second goal in Manchester United’s 2-0 win over Burnley
Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Dan James have all added quality to the squad and Solskjaer needs a striker and a central midfielder if his team are going to compete for Champions League football.
Marcus Rashford has been impressive in front of goal but having a striker who can share the workload will inevitably help him and Anthony Martial while Paul Pogba’s unavailability and desire to leave the club mean a midfielder is necessary.
United also have the luxury of having a second chance to qualify for the Champions League through the Europa League. They have got Club Brugge in the round of 32 and will be hopeful of reaching the latter stages.
United play most of their rivals before the middle of March and then have an appetising run of games towards the end of the season. If they can come through this tricky period unscathed then they are in with a major chance.
Consecutive wins over the festive period have helped United climb up the Premier League
Tottenham – 6th – 30 points
Spurs are five points off Chelsea but it feels like their season could spark into life at any moment and they could go on a long unbeaten run.
Jose Mourinho’s arrival has not quite had the transformative effect many would have hoped but they are picking up results, even if the performances haven’t massively improved.
Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Norwich came after a hard-earned win over Brighton and a defeat by Chelsea and you feel Spurs need to rediscover their best form before playing Liverpool and Manchester City in the next five weeks.
Just two wins away from home all season is not good enough but trips to Southampton and Watford in their next two games are perfect opportunities to turn things around.
Jose Mourinho has improved Spurs’ form and will surely strengthen in the January window
Harry Kane scores an equaliser from the penalty spot to rescue a point against Norwich
There is no denying Mourinho likes to spend big and it will be interesting to watch how his first transfer window with Spurs plays out.
He needs a striker to provide support to Harry Kane while the inevitable departure of Christian Eriksen – perhaps in January but definitely by summer – means a creative force in midfield will also be on the shopping list.
For a coach usually lambasted for being defensive-minded, Spurs have kept just one clean sheet in the league since Mourinho arrived and that needs to be fixed if they are to compete for fourth place.
A first-choice right back may also be brought in with Serge Aurier looking alarmingly fragile in his defending in recent weeks. January is always a tough window to do business in though and there are more pressing issues to address.
Wolves – 7th – 30 points
Wolves’ performances earlier in the season hinted they would be another club that struggled to manage the Premier League-Europa League schedule.
They won just one of their opening seven league matches but are now flying, rising to seventh in the table and firmly in contention to snatch a place in the top four.
Their performances over the festive period also demonstrated their quality and that the squad has the tactical nous to pull off big results and beat their rivals.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s side came back from 2-0 down to beat Manchester City on December 27 before they were mightily unlucky not to leave Anfield with at least a point on Sunday after being harshly denied an equaliser thanks to VAR.
Wolves are in the race for the top four and were unlucky to lose at Liverpool on Sunday
Winger Adama Traore inspired Wolves to a sensational comeback against Manchester City
Wolves have largely the same squad that impressed on their return to the top flight last season and their experience is proving invaluable.
Raul Jimenez is impressing in front of goal with 17 across all competitions so far this season while Adama Traore is in superb form and causing teams all sorts of problems on the wing.
After a tough couple of games they now have more attractive fixtures against Watford, Newcastle and Southampton as they bid to return to winning ways before playing Liverpool, Manchester United and Leicester in the coming weeks.
Things also look good in Europe with Wolves safely through to the last-32 where they will play Espanyol, currently the worst time in La Liga.