Premier League top-four contenders limp towards line
Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United all failed to muster a win for the second consecutive Premier League weekend as the contenders for a place in next season’s Champions League stumble towards the finish line.
Spurs, in third place behind runaway pacesetters Manchester City and Liverpool, are best-placed to secure a fourth straight season of Champions League football.
Their 1-0 win over Brighton on Tuesday is the only time in the past 10 games involving the four sides that one of them has won.
Chelsea are in pole position for fourth, two points ahead of Arsenal, with United’s chances now looking slim — they are a point behind Arsenal with a significantly inferior goal difference.
AFP Sports looks at why all four have hit the wall as the season reaches its climax.
Tottenham – 70 points
A first defeat at the club’s new stadium, against West Ham on Saturday, means Spurs have now lost 12 times in the league this season.
Yet it has still been a campaign of overachievement by Mauricio Pochettino’s men.
Despite not signing a single player, spending most of the season at their temporary home of Wembley, and losing talismanic striker Harry Kane for two prolonged spells through injury, Spurs are still the best of the rest in the Premier League behind City and Liverpool and have reached the Champions League semi-finals.
“The stress and the fatigue arrived, We are competing with circumstances that are not the best,” admitted Pochettino after a sixth defeat in 10 league games.
Spurs’ skeleton squad have understandably ran out of gas, but thanks to the profligacy of their rivals, one more win from their final two games against Bournemouth and Everton will guarantee much-needed Champions League cash again next season.
Chelsea – 68 points
Maurizio Sarri launched an uncharacteristically staunch defence of his first season in charge at Stamford Bridge after a 1-1 draw away to United on Sunday consolidated his side’s place in the top four.
“We played the final in the League Cup, we are fighting for the top four, we are in the semi-finals of the Europa League. I think we have done a good season.”
Sarri has had his troubles this season. He publicly criticised his players’ mentality followed capitulations on the road at Arsenal, Bournemouth and Everton, while his demand for the loan signing of Gonzalo Higuain in January has reaped precious little reward.
Worse could come, with Eden Hazard reportedly closing in on a summer move to Real Madrid and the club currently banned from signing any new players to replace the Belgian for the next two transfer windows.
Therefore, it is all the more imperative that Chelsea get back in the Champions League next season.
Arsenal – 66 points
Much of the good work done by Unai Emery over nine months to rebuild the Gunners in the first season since Arsene Wenger’s departure has come undone over three defeats to Crystal Palace, Wolves and Leicester in eight days.
The defensive issues that dogged Wenger’s final years in charge still need to be resolved, while Emery constantly chops and changes his formation and personnel in midfield and attack.
A three-time Europa League winner with Sevilla, that competition may now prove Arsenal’s best route back to the Champions League but a tough tie against Emery’s old side Valencia awaits in the semi-finals.
Manchester United – 65 points
Despite a run of seven defeats in nine games, United remarkably still had a good chance of hauling themselves into the top four had they held onto an early lead against Chelsea on Sunday.
However, United’s current malaise is personified by a dramatic dip in form for goalkeeper David de Gea, who has so often been his side’s saviour in recent seasons.
The Spaniard was at fault for Marcos Alonso’s equaliser, which secured Chelsea a point and left Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitting his side now have a “mountain to climb”.
A trip to hapless Huddersfield and Cardiff’s visit to Old Trafford on the final day of the season at least offer an excellent chance to lift the mood heading into the summer.
“We need to focus on our two games, win games again,” said Solskjaer, but a big rebuilding job remains ahead for the Norwegian.
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