Champions League: The Battle for Fourth Place
Manchester City brushed aside Wigan 3-0 yesterday while Liverpool produced their best league performance in months to beat Sunderland by the same score line on Sunday, ensuring the battle for fourth place remains intriguing.
Let’s review each contender’s run-in and their respective chances of seizing the last Champions League qualification spot.
Currently fourth, Spurs are two points ahead of fifth placed Manchester City and have a game in hand over Liverpool, who occupy sixth.
Harry Redknapp’s side have done well to maintain their challenge despite injuries to key men Jermain Defoe and Aaron Lennon, amongst others.
They have the toughest run-in, with games against Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester City.
Spurs remain in the FA Cup and Redknapp and several of his players have an emotional semifinal reunion with former club Portsmouth coming up as a further distraction.
Verdict: sixth—too many hard games and one eye on the Cup.
Moved into fifth yesterday after a convincing win over Wigan, with a game in hand over sixth place Liverpool.
Big spending City's ambitious new owners sacked Mark Hughes and charged Roberto Mancini with bringing Champions League football to Eastlands.
Relying heavily on the inspirational Carlos Tevez, City have maintained their challenge despite doubts about Mancini's control over the dressing room.
They have a run of difficult games to rival that of Tottenham.
City face Arsenal, Manchester United, Aston Villa, and Spurs themselves, not to mention a number of clubs fighting relegation.
Verdict: fifth. The bridge is too far for City to cross. There will be another summer of splurging on the cards, but will Mancini still be in the hot seat next season?
Having slipped into sixth place despite their impressive win against Sunderland, Liverpool have the most to lose if they miss out on fourth place.
Financial meltdown, the departure of Rafa Benitez (for better or worse), and the loss of Torres and possibly even Gerrard have been touted as the potential consequences of missing out on the Champions League football that supporters have come to take for granted.
Liverpool are four points behind Tottenham and two behind Manchester City, both clubs have a game in hand over the Reds.
In their favour, the Merseyside outfit have a number of winnable games against teams with little to play for.
Their second to last game against Chelsea could be crucial for all concerned. If Rafa scrapes fourth place from their current situation, it would be a comeback worthy of Istanbul in 2005.
Verdict: fourth—another miracle from Benitez could be enough to buy the Spaniard (and the club) a stay of execution.
Martin O’Neill’s team have been the main threat to the hegemony of the ‘Big Four’ in the last two years before falling away in the second half of the season.
Villa are down in seventh place and are slipping out of contention following a draw with Wolves and a demoralising 7-1 thrashing at the hands of Chelsea.
At first glance they have the most favourable run-in, but closer inspection reveals tough away games against teams fighting relegation, a derby with stubborn local rivals Birmingham, and an away game against fellow fourth place contenders Manchester City.
They have a lot to do to snatch fourth place and will need all of the other teams to slip up.
Verdict: seventh—ran out of steam at just the wrong time (again).