By PARTH SONECHA
With only two weeks left in the Premier League season, the race for the top four continues to heat up.
Just below the intense title race, four teams are having a fight of their own. Finishing third and fourth in the Premier League guarantees a path to the group stages of the UEFA Champions League, possibly the most lucrative club football tournament in the world.
Hence, we can expect this fight to get in to go to the final whistle of the season. All teams, from Tottenham, who are in third place at the moment to Manchester United, who sit sixth, have a chance of making the Champions League next season, so let’s take a look at what each team needs to do to get in.
What do they need? Spurs are nearly through despite their loss to West Ham at home over the weekend, but that has more to do with all the other teams below them stumbling.
Fixtures: Mauricio Pochettino’s team had to contend with a feisty Ajax side over the week in the semi-finals of this season’s Champions League. They follow that up by travelling to Dean Court to take on Bournemouth in what might be a tricky game.
Tottenham’s squad is being stretched to their limits, especially in attack, as they look for answers up front with star forward Harry Kane out for the season.
After travelling to Amsterdam for the second leg of the semi-finals over the following week to overcome a 1-0 deficit, they will welcome a hungry Everton team to the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
The Toffees, who themselves will be chasing seventh place and a spot in the Europa League, should give Spurs plenty to think about in what will be their final game of the season.
Prediction: 3rd. Facing a potential exit from the Champions League, the Spurs are likely to hold on to their position in the Premier League.
What do they need? A draw with Manchester United has left the Blues needing to win both their games to hold onto fourth spot. However, they do control their own destiny.
Fixtures: Chelsea have their own European commitments over the week as they travel to Frankfurt for the semifinals of this season’s Europa League. Winning the Europa League does guarantee a spot in the Champions League, so that might sway the club’s priorities a bit.
At the weekend, Maurizio Sarri’s side are at home to a Watford team with a cup final on their mind.
While both teams might use the depth of their squad for this fixture, Chelsea must put the Hornets to the sword.
That fixture is followed by the return leg of the semifinal of the Europa League at Stamford Bridge. Following that, Chelsea go to the King Power to face giant-killers Leicester on the final day of the season in what should be an entertaining game.
Prediction: 4th. Commitments in Europe and a tough away game at Leicester might take its toll on the London side but their superior goal difference should see them cling on.
What do they need? - A disastrous defeat at Leicester over the weekend summed up the Gunners' away form for the season and left them needing results to go their way over the last two weeks of the season.
Fixtures: The other English team left in the Europa League, Arsenal, are at home to Valencia on Thursday night. Like Chelsea, the Gunners will be aiming to win the competition to book their ticket into the Champions League regardless.
They follow that up by welcoming Brighton to the Emirates in what should be an extremely cagey game. The Seagulls are four points above Cardiff in 17th and will look to guarantee safety with a result against what looks like an already jaded Arsenal team.
Following the return leg at the Mestalla over the next week, Unai Emery’s team will head to Turf Moor of their final game of the season. The Gunners have been dreadful away from home all season long and Burnley have managed to get their act together in recent weeks, so it should be an interesting fixture.
Prediction: 6th. Miserable away form and their own European commitments should affect the Gunners as well.
What do they need? - A miracle. A run of one win in their last five games has left United praying for a miracle to happen over the last two weeks of the season.
Fixtures: United must do their bit and hope that results from two other teams go their way. But they have the easiest run-in on paper. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team will look to end a run of seven consecutive away defeats when they travel to Huddersfield at the weekend.
The already relegated Terriers have nothing but pride to play for and should be brushed aside by a United team desperate for results.
Solskjaer’s reign comes full circle on the final day of the season as Cardiff visit Old Trafford. The Norwegian started his reign with a 5-1 thumping of the Welsh side and will be looking for his players to replicate their performance in Wales as they try to break into the top four.
Prediction: 5th. While United have best fixtures on paper, it is difficult to imagine a +8 goal difference swing in their favor over Chelsea.