European soccer is the holy grail of English soccer these days, what with the multi-millions of dollars on the line and the increased exposure of international television as well. However, the competition for the six spots is perhaps the fiercest of competitions in all of UEFA these days.
For a side like Chelsea or even the suddenly in-form Manchester United, it appears their spots in the Champions League are well secure. The Blues lead the EPL on 70 points and are seven points clear of second place Arsenal, let alone the nine-point gap between them and fourth place.
Yet, for a few sides with hopes of making either Champions League or even Europa League play next season the last week hasn’t helped their opportunities very well. For sides like Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton this past weekend was nothing short of disaster.
At the same time, Man City, ‘Pool, and Spurs all are in the drivers seat for European spots. The amazing thing is which competition each side plays in is still up in the air. It’s a thought few had earlier this season as Man City was still the main challenger to Chelsea’s run to the EPL title.
Instead, the blue half of Manchester is sitting fourth in the table on 61 points, just seven points clear of both Liverpool and Tottenham with seven matches left on the schedule. It looks like City are pretty safe based on that, but then there is what took place on Sunday as City were taken down by mid-table Crystal Palace 2-1.
City were lucky on the weekend though, as the fellow contenders all stumbled as well.
Liverpool were done in badly in a 4-1 loss to Arsenal at the Emirates. Tottenham were held to a scoreless draw by Burnley at Turf Moor and Southampton were dropped 1-0 by Everton on the road as well.
That certainly doesn’t bode well for the three potential contenders for Champions League places, as missed points this late in the season aren’t likely to be made up.
However, the question remains, just which side’s result this weekend was most indicative of where they are heading.
It’s tempting to see Tottenham as potentially the biggest challenger left to City, if for no other reason than it was the only side of the four to pick up a point on the weekend. Well, that and the fact that in the next seven matches the side takes on the likes of Aston Villa, Newcastle, Stoke, Hull and Everton.
Smashed between the trip to Newcastle and Stoke are the two matches that give Spurs the biggest chance — on the road to fellow contender Southampton and home to Manchester City.
As for City, they’ve got three massive matchups down the stretch. It all starts with the Manchester Derby this weekend against Man U and it will also feature the Spurs match and the season-ending matchup with Southampton. Drop two or all three of those matches and there’s an easy path for Spurs and/or Liverpool to make up the seven-point difference.
The reality is, City’s Champions League place is pretty secure based on recent form and the tendency of the competition to blow games they have no business blowing.
As for the competition for Europa League spots, Southampton’s loss this past weekend may tempt some to think it showcased why the side is likely to slip away from European competition. It didn’t have much in the way of attack over the weekend and that was a scary sight for most Saints supporters.
However, this is a team who hasn’t been held off the score sheet much this season. Southampton is seventh in the table, but its +20 goal differential is fifth in all of the EPL.
But lately things have begun to change in a not-so-good fashion on that front. The side has been held scoreless in seven of its 12 matches since the New Year.
Yet, with Hull, Stoke, Leicester and Aston Villa all left on the slate outside of matchups with Spurs and City there are some good opportunities to put pressure on both Spurs and Liverpool over the last few months of action.
What this all indicates is that while it would be tempting to say Liverpool, Southampton and Tottenham are all screwed in the main European hopes…a weekend like this last one shows anything is possible on any matchday in the EPL.
Don’t write anyone off in the races for both European competitions just yet, and that makes the last few months of this season in the EPL so intriguing.