If last season’s fight to finish fourth in the Premier League was dramatic, the race for Champions League qualification this season may be even more so.
With Man City and Liverpool dominating the league throughout 2018/19, and Spurs sitting comfortably in third for much of the season, the battle for the final spot was contested between Arsenal, Chelsea and Man United.
Though as season entered its final weeks, all three sides were guilty of repeatedly dropping points against lower-placed opponents. Additionally, an alarming dip in Spurs’ form in the second half of the season led to them also facing an increasing possibility of missing out on a top four position that had earlier in the year been considered a given.
Chelsea eventually sneaked into third place, with Spurs holding onto fourth by the smallest of margins. Arsenal and Man United missed out.
What had helped those teams hang on to a top six place was that they’d collected enough points earlier in the season to have established enough of an advantage over the next group of clubs, such as Wolves, Leicester and Everton. There was enough margin for slip-ups without putting European football in any real jeopardy.
This season could yet deliver even more drama in the fight for a place in the top four or top six of the Premier League, with some of the regular European qualifiers not holding the same advantage at the same stage this season.
Chelsea’s inconsistent results has seen them surrender much of what was a comfortable gap separating them – in fourth place – from the teams in fifth and below. Only last month they were 12 points ahead of Spurs, yet almost saw that advantage completely wiped out earlier in December and are no longer in a position in which they can afford to drop points so easily. The Stamford Bridge outfit still hold fourth place but will be looking to produce a run of good results in order to strenthen their position.
Should Chelsea fail to end the season in the top four, there’s a quartet of teams sitting within a couple of wins of catching Frank Lampard’s side. It won’t surprise many fans that Man United and Spurs are amongst the chasing pack, but Wolves have recovered brilliantly from their early season struggles and could pose a genuine threat if key players remain fit and they can stay within touching distance of the teams around them.
Further down the table, the significantly improved results at Everton since parting company with Marco Silva has led to them climbing the table at a pace which could see them in the mix for a Europa League place at least.
There’s certainly no shortage of ambition at a club which has attracted one of the world’s top managers, and if there’s to be further big investment in players over the next couple of transfer windows, there may be members of the current squad looking to ensure that there’s still a place for them in what is hoped will be an exciting period for the club.
Over the past five games, only Liverpool are in better form than the Toffees, and with just under half of the season to play there’s certainly enough time for a club such as Everton to threaten any team hoping to achieve European qualification.
There is, of course, a possibility that the so-called bigger clubs will improve as the season progresses, and once again manage to finish in – or around – their usual positions.
But with the exception of the current top three, there hasn’t been a team which has stood out above the rest and that could open up a great opportunity for a less fancied team to take advantage of and if the next five months see any repeat of the levels of inconsistency shown throughout 2019 by the likes of Man United, Spurs and Chelsea, there’s every chance that the Premier League table will have a very unfamiliar look about it next May.