Premier League Top 6: Who Will Finish Where and Why
More than one team will be disappointed to miss out on Champions League football next term.
In recent years it would be unheard of for the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea to not be competition in Europe's Premier club cup competition, while Liverpool also eyed a return. But Europa League action is a very real possibility due to Tottenham's ascent.
Meanwhile, there is the little matter of a strictly Manchester title race being decided as we are now well and truly in the business end of the season.
An emphatic 3-0 win in the Merseyside derby addressed a worrying slide which saw Kenny Dalglish's men lose their previous three games.
Liverpool's form since the turn of the year has seen any talk of Champions League qualification fade away. With the team already having qualified for the 2012/13 Europa League via the Carling Cup the emphasis is now on merely on finishing as high as possible.
One key fixture will be the trip to the Sports Direct Arena where Newcastle will seek to cement their current place above the Merseysiders.
It remains to be seen what effect the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas will have on Chelsea's league campaign, although the Champions League victory over Napoli will doubtless do wonders for morale.
A 1-0 win at home to a 10-man Stoke City will not have those teams in front looking over their shoulders, but they are at least returning to winning ways.
Interim manager Roberto Di Matteo will have his work cut out, as Chelsea visit the Etihad Stadium, the Emirates and Anfield before the season is out, as well as hosting Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United.
Arguably the toughest run-in combined with a team in transition will likely mean no Champions League football at the Bridge next season.
4. Tottenham Hotspur
It doesn't seem too long ago that Spurs were being discussed as title contenders. Then came the dismissal of Fabio Capello from the England national position and Harry Redknapp's men have found themselves in freefall.
Whether it is the shadow of England weighing heavily on their manager's shoulders or simply a tough run of fixtures which led to three back-to-back defeats is debatable. But Tottenham now sit only one point above their North London rivals after what has been perceived as a terrific season for Spurs and a dire one for Arsenal.
A visit to Stamford Bridge at the end of March could prove key in the final positions of Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea.
It was tempting to simply write "Robin Van Persie" and leave it at that. There are, of course, far more reasons to Arsenal's resurgence than simply the Premier League's leading scorer.
The extremely impressive Oxlaide-Chamberlain has begun to feature regularly. Theo Walcott's improved form and decision making has provided the Gunners with serious ambitions of finishing above Tottenham and qualifying directly for the Champions League.
They saw how tough the qualifying stage could be after a brief scare with Udinese last summer. But it is tempting to think that the worst Arsenal team in recent years finishing above the best Tottenham team would be of greater consequence to the fans, if not the club.
2. Manchester United
It has been a remarkable season for Alex Ferguson, and more to the point, a direct indication of the talent of Alex Ferguson. Despite a squad not nearly as talented as in previous years, Ferguson has dragged his team back to the top of the table.
The deficiencies can only be papered over for so long (see a 37-year-old reserve team coach coming out of retirement), however. The truth is Manchester United have not played particularly well for large parts of the season—but the caveat is that they have still retained a winning mentality.
1. Manchester City
Ultimately, the best team will prevail. City may have fallen behind their rivals by one point with 10 games remaining, but the quality in the squad should ensure that Roberto Mancini's men lifts the main prize in May.
After topping the table for the past five months, the Blues will be itching to restore the balance. Having scored the most goals and conceded the least in the 28 games previous, you would not put it past them.