Two Champions League spots up for grabs with three games left
The UEFA Champions League trophy. Photo courtesy of Getty Images
Co-founder, Impact Sports Media
With the announcement Monday morning that Manchester City's appeal of a two-year UEFA Champions League ban would be accepted, only the top four teams in the final Premier League table will make next year's tournament among Europe's top soccer teams.
Originally banned for two years for violating Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, City won an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). City will occupy the second of two spots already clinched for next year's Champions League, along with Premier League champions Liverpool, who clinched their first Premier League championship with City's loss to Chelsea on June 25.
Three matches are left in the Premier League season, and with just two spots left for the 2020-21 Champions League, three teams are in serious contention and several other teams are close enough to have an outside chance. The table currently sits like this behind Liverpool and Man City:
3. Chelsea, 60 points
4. Leicester City, 59 points
5. Manchester United, 59 points (behind on goal difference, +29 to +26)
6. Wolverhampton Wanderers, 55 points
7. Sheffield United, 54 points
8. Tottenham Hotspur, 52 points
For Chelsea and Leicester City, all they have to do is win their last three matches and they will be in next year's Champions League. If they drop points in any of those games, they will be eagerly hoping for a Manchester United defeat.
To finish with three consecutive wins, Chelsea play champions Liverpool and Wolves in their final two games after playing bottom and already relegated Norwich City. United has an easier slate, with games against Crystal Palace, West Ham United and Leicester, which is likely to be a Champions League play-in game in Championship Sunday on July 26 (all 20 teams kick off at 11 a.m. EST, final day of the season).
With just one win in six matches in all competitions since the Restart, Leicester are in serious danger of losing out on the Champions League, which seemed impossible when they were 14 points clear of fifth-place Manchester United after Matchweek 21.
United has an easier slate, with games against Crystal Palace, West Ham United and Leicester, which is likely to be a Champions League play-in game on Championship Sunday on July 26 (all 20 teams kick off at 11 a.m. EST, final day of the season).
(They also face Chelsea in the FA Cup semifinals at an empty Wembley Stadium on July 19.)
Wolves, Sheffield and Spurs need to win each of their last three matches and get help from outside the top four, but with both Sheffield and Spurs facing a struggling Leicester, the opportunity is there to at least grab an automatic qualification to the Europa League with a finish in fifth.
Among the teams in third through eighth, current form seems to suggest that Manchester United and Chelsea will finish in third and fourth and earn a Champions League bid. However, if Leicester can regain mid-season form, their closing match against Manchester United could be their chance to stay in the top four.
Based on current form and the match-ups that remain, here is my prediction for how the table will look by mid-afternoon on July 26:
3. Manchester United, 66 points
4. Chelsea, 64 points
5. Wolves, 62 points
6. Leicester City, 61 points (currently ahead of Tottenham +29 to +9 on goal difference, Sheffield +5)
7. Tottenham, 61 points
8. Sheffield United, 61 points
With a catalog of in-form talent (Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba and Mason Greenwood), the Red Devils of Man United look unlikely to slip up now, but a 2-2 draw in their last match against Southampton exposed some holes. Chelsea have enough to finish in the top four, but Leicester is overtaken by Wolves, who grab a big draw against Chelsea on the final day.
The Foxes (Leicester) benefit from their phenomenal start to the season and goal-scoring ease to hold sixth on goal difference, but their poor form since Project Restart leaves them out of next year's Champions League.
Whatever happens, with three teams within one point of each other and fighting for two spots, the Premier League still deserves close viewing as their season reaches the last stretch and should produce an exciting finish, with current third versus fifth, and fourth versus sixth on the final day.