The 2020/21 Premier League season has been one of the most surprising in recent memory, with some of the biggest teams in the country falling into the bottom half of the table while last campaign’s relegation battlers briefly became this year’s title challengers. Even now with roughly ten games to go, three of the top six are teams who haven’t traditionally placed there. There is still much left to play for, though, with form constantly changing, and the Premier League European places still wide open and up for grabs.
Premier League European Places Still Largely Unpredictable
Champions League Qualification
It is reasonable to assume, even at this late stage of the season, that any of the top nine could finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League. Some are far safer than others, but even Manchester United, who are currently in second, could see themselves fall down the table with a turn of form. A similar fate befell champions Liverpool at the start of 2021, and they have been unable to recover since.
If anyone is safe in their spot, though, it’s Manchester City. The Sky Blues sit 14 points clear at the top of the table, with their only realistic challengers being city rivals United. It would be a miracle if the Citizens didn’t win the league this season, let alone fall out of the top four. They even have a kind run-in, with just one match against the traditional “big six” left to play. Everton and Leicester City could also provide them with a challenge, but nothing more than they have already overcome.
Although it is much more possible that they drop outside of the Champions League qualification positions, Manchester United are also likely to make the top four. They have lost just once since the beginning of November 2020, and recently beat leaders City in a magnificent performance. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s men still have to face the likes of an in-form West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, and Leicester City, as well as a trip to Molineux to face Wolverhampton wanderers, but if they can build on what we saw in the Manchester derby, United should be safe to compete in Europe’s most elite club competition next season.
Below the two Manchester sides is where things start to become a bit closer, however, with just ten points separating Leicester in third and eighth-placed Liverpool. This gap seems even smaller when you consider the Foxes’ current injury crisis. The likes of Harvey Barnes, James Justin, and James Maddison all out for prolonged spells. This is accompanied by a particularly difficult final ten games, having to face four of the “big six”, including the mighty Manchester City. Both of these combined will make the final two months of the season particularly stressful for Leicester fans, especially as West Ham have a game in hand to help them overcome the five-point deficit to Brendan Rodgers’ side.
Right behind the Foxes are Chelsea, whose new manager Thomas Tuchel has been highly successful since arriving there, and has made huge progress towards securing Premier League European places. The Blues are yet to lose under the German manager who has taken them from ninth to fourth since his appointment. The London side face Manchester City, Arsenal, and Leicester in their last four games, which might cause a late panic for fans, but they will hope to have their top-four finish all but sealed by then.
Outside the Top-Four
Currently outside the top-four are many others who could still make it into the Champions League. Regardless of who does so, there will certainly be some surprise packages achieving European qualification this season, with as many as three Europa League places available for those who miss out.
West Ham United and Aston Villa have been the two biggest surprises of the season. The former will enter the top four if they win their game in hand, looking to knock Chelsea out of the last Champions League qualification position. Their not being in any other competitions will allow them to focus solely on the league, and could give them the upper hand on the surrounding teams, with a fairly mediocre run-in. Fixtures against Leicester and Chelsea could be crucial. Meanwhile, should Villa win their games in hand, they would be just four points away from the Stamford Bridge side. They do, however, still have to face all of the traditional “big six”, as well as an away fixture at Everton, making the Villains something of a dark horse for this season’s Premier League European places.
Everton, Tottenham, and Liverpool are also still in the fight. The Toffees have to face five of the current top nine in their remaining league fixtures, and have many key players out injured, but could pull something out of the bag in the final stretch, having recently won the Merseyside derby for the first time since 2010. Spurs certainly have the quality to qualify for the Champions League, with the likes of Harry Kane undoubtedly world-class, but a run-in that includes Manchester United. Everton, and Leicester will certainly make this hard for them. Meanwhile, Liverpool don’t have many difficult fixtures left on paper, but have been struggling against all levels of opposition recently, and look highly unlikely to qualify for the Champions League domestically.