6 into 4 – 4 into 2: the Premier League’s ‘top six’ battle it out for lucrative Champions League spots

With 15 games left to play in the Barclays Premier League, the race for Champions League positions is tightening up. It would be fair to say that, as it stands, it is a 6-horse race for the 4 places allocated to English sides in Europe’s top football competition, and the wealth it offers.

Barclays Premier League Table (Courtesy

Barclays Premier League Table (Courtesy

As the table stands right now – the six so-called “top clubs” have broken away from the pack – with a gap of 9 points between Manchester United in 6th, and Watford in 7th. Leaders, Liverpool are 4 points ahead of last year’s runaway Champions, Manchester City – who seem to have found form again after their unexpected losses to Leicester City (A) and Crystal Palace (H). City recently beat league leaders Liverpool 2-1 at the Etihad, having drawn the corresponding fixture at Anfield on Matchday 8.

That loss to Manchester City three weeks ago was Liverpool’s first and only loss of the EPL season. It was followed by a loss to Wolves in the FA Cup 3rd Round – but, like City, they seem to have regained their imperious form of 2018. In third place, Spurs have been riding high under Pochettino at their adopted home, Wembley. Recent injuries to Kane and Alle, with their other star Son on Asian Cup duty means that they face a difficult time ahead – as foreshadowed by their last-gasp win over relegation fodder, Huddersfield.

Old rivals: Liverpool's Klopp and City's Guardiola go head-to-head for Premier League honours

Old rivals: Liverpool’s Klopp and City’s Guardiola go head-to-head for Premier League honours

These factors have helped make this season one of the most unpredictable in recent years, which makes Premier League betting all the more exciting. Most punters predict that one of these two clubs will win the league – and bookie’s odds seem to reflect that: where Liverpool (4/5) and Man City (11/8) have them as almost even-favourites. Gunners Town writers would seem to agree, with Liverpool topping their prediction charts.

Chelsea, too, are staring down the barrel of a player revolt under new gaffer Maurizio Sarri – who openly criticized his team after their recent convincing defeat to Arsenal. Trying to overhaul the bus-parking style that has defined Chelsea’s tactics in recent years is going to be no easy task, and financial complications related to their Russian oligarch owner means that they may not be able to necessarily buy their way out of this problem – they may very well have to start financing their football fairly, by selling their top players, starting with talisman Eden Hazard – who is rumoured to be headed to Madrid.

Arsenal have had a topsy-turvy season: after starting with a pair of expected losses to Manchester City and Liverpool, they went on a 22-game unbeaten run in all competitions, and a feel-good factor returned to the Emirates after the toxicity of the final years of Wenger’s tenure. A North London Derby in which they battered neighbours Tottenham, seemed to signify a power shift in Arsenal’s favour. However, that game was followed by a disappointing loss to Tottenham in the League Cup, and some lackluster performances against Southampton and West Ham. The 2-0 victory against Chelsea will have gone some way towards restoring Gooners’ faith in Unai Emery, and a victory against Manchester United tomorrow in the FA Cup may kickstart a surge up the table, as Chelsea and Spurs deal with their current woes.

Chelsea's recent loss to Arsenal may well be a defining turning-point in their season.

Chelsea’s recent loss to Arsenal may well be a defining turning-point in their season.

Manchester United, mired in mediocrity under Jose Mourinho, have had new life breathed into them by Ole Gunnar Solksjaer – a former striker for the club, and Old Trafford favourite. Under the new boss, they are on a 6-game winning streak, albeit against lesser opposition. Friday’s FA Cup clash against Arsenal will test their new-found resolve, and may have big ramifications for how these two arch-rivals fare in the latter third of the 2018/19 Premier League season… Unai Emery is certainly wary of a ‘dangerous’ resurgent Manchester United.

Two of the top six – Spurs and Liverpool – have never won the Premier League; could this be the season that finally brings crowns them Champion in the world’s toughest football league? Or will Pep Guardiola’s squad depth see out Jurgen Klopp’s rock’n-rollicking challenge to their title defence? With Liverpool, City, Tottenham and United having progressed to the knockout stages of the Champions League, the fixture-heavy season could play an important role in how their Premier League aspirations play out.

Whatever happens – two of these six clubs will find themselves playing in Europe’s other competition – the Europa League, against opposition whose names could win Scrabble games.

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