• Saurabh Nagpal

In the Premier League, the race to Europe is spiced up


 

Jam to Stressed Out by Twenty One Pilots while reading this piece https://open.spotify.com/track/3CRDbSIZ4r5MsZ0YwxuEkn?si=VaDNllJOShiy4hjPdlgc-Q

 


Written on: July 14, 2020


Sitting high and holy at 93 points now, Liverpool had secured their Champions League spot very early in the second half of the season. The Reds, who have been sacrosanct throughout the season, ended their 30 year-long, despairing wait for the Premier League crown in some style and with some authority. They already are the fastest team to clinch the title – with seven games remaining, and if they win their remaining three games, they can also set the record for the highest points achieved in a season.


The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) recently ruled that Manchester City’s two-year ban from UEFA competitions has been lifted. A big relief for The Citizens, this piece of knowledge became a killjoy for an assortment of clubs that are entangled in the race for Europe. Well below the champions, well above the chasers, on 72 points from 35 games, City have safely secured that second Champions League berth.


Despite a crunching 3-0 loss away at Sheffield United, Chelsea are leading the pack in its tussle for next season’s Champions League football, but only by a whisker. This season, the Blues have often played fluent football in the attacking half of the pitch but it is their defense which has been very detrimental for them and has leaked way too many goals.


If they wish to be a part of the European royalty next season, then they’ll have to remain on their toes for the remainder of the season because their fixture list isn’t kind: they face Norwich at home which is followed by Liverpool away and ultimately they end their campaign in a mouthwatering tie against Wolves at home.


“As a squad, we're very focused on achieving it [Champions League qualification] and we'll fight to the final whistle," Brendan Rodgers said before their game against Arsenal. And to fight till the final whistle, they will have to.


Located one place above Manchester United at 59 points, Leicester are only above them on goal difference. Gaining merely six points from a possible 18, things have spiraled downwards for the Foxes since the restart. Before the coronavirus-induced break, Rogers' men were sitting comfortably in the third spot.


They let that slip away, and now they will have to face the wrath of their fixtures. Amidst their contenders, they have the toughest run of games which includes facing Sheffield United at home, Spurs away, and finishing it off with Manchester United at the King Power Stadium – a blockbuster tie that could decide the fate of the Champions League race.


Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United has been the most sparkling team since the restart. With four wins out of six, their unbeaten streak, after matchweek 35, has climbed up to 18. The front three of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and Mason Greenwood has bedazzled. The midfield bromance of Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes has been a sight to behold.

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Fifth in the table, level on points with Leicester, United have a very winnable remaining fixture list. They have matches against Crystal Palace, West Ham, and Leicester. A return of the Red Devils to Europe’s finest is on the cards.


With 5 wins from 6 games after the restart, Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves have been simply brilliant. The machine-like oiled unit of Nuno has hunted down its opponents like a pack of ferocious wolves. Sixth in the table, four points adrift from the fourth-placed Leicester and five points from the third-placed Chelsea, Wolves shouldn’t be ruled out from the Champions League race yet, especially considering their upcoming fixtures and their form.


Wolves arguably have a better run of fixtures than their competitors Leicester and Chelsea. They face Burnley away, Crystal Palace at home, and finally Chelsea at Stanford Bridge – which could very well have the potential to be the deciding game.


Sheffield United have been the fairytale story of the season and this story can truly have a fairytale ending. Promoted twice in three seasons, the Blades are on the verge of European qualification for the first time in their club’s 130-year history. The chances of Champions League football are considerably less than those of Europa League football, but any European qualification would be a miraculous achievement for a club of the stature of Sheffield United.


However, all is not settled just yet, and their manager, Chris Wilder is wary of that. “We will never get carried away. That can be very dangerous. We are enjoying all this. My players have been outstanding.


“I will let others talk about Europe. If I hear any of my players saying it they get a rollicking. Here we are staying grounded.” Wilder said after his team thrashed Chelsea 3-0. 


With 54 points, the Blades are positioned seventh in the standings, and still have to confront Leicester, Everton, and Southampton up next.

While Europa League can be holiest of the holy for some, for others it is merely saving grace. The likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal fall in the latter category.


Even though the recent North London derby lacked in quality, the result was no less than enormous for Jose Mourinho and his side. Overtaking Arsenal, Spurs are now eighth in the table with 52 points. Two points behind Sheffield United and three points behind Wolves, Spurs have a tough task ahead of them.  


“It is a fans’ view [to want to finish above Arsenal] – I have to be more ambitious than that. I would love to play Europa League. It’s not a competition I am in love with but when you cannot play Champions League, you play Europa League. I have played it twice and won it twice. It would not be bad to play it a third time and win it a third time,” said an elated Mourinho after the derby win.


The remaining games for Tottenham Hotspur are Newcastle United, Leicester, and Crystal Palace.


Before the Leicester game, Mikel Arteta said, “This club has to play in Europe and this club has to play in the Champions League…If we don’t have the choice to do that then obviously it is better to play in Europe than not to play.”


While the former outcome has become near-impossible now, the chances of the latter are also very grim. Placed ninth and with just 50 points on board, the Gunners have not had a season to remember.


Yet, another path to Europe is available to them. If they win the FA cup, they will automatically qualify for the Europa League. However, a herculean in the form of a semifinal against Pep Guardiola’s City at Wembley awaits them.


While this season’s champion was decided bright and early, the race for Europe has been nail-biting and is set to go right down to the wire.

#PremierLeague #ChampionsLeague #EuropaLeague

 

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