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Sunday, July 5, 2020

Premier League: Top 4 Finish battle to go right down to the wire

Premier League: Top 4 Finish battle to go right down to the wire

With five rounds of Premier League fixtures remaining two spots remain up for grabs in the Top 4 Finish market, and Mike Norman expects nothing to be decided until the final day of the season...

As Liverpool bask in glory after winning their first ever Premier League title, and Manchester City cruise to a second-place finish, you'd be forgiven for thinking that in this most unusual of football seasons that there isn't much to play for in England's top flight.
You'd be wrong.
Champions League football is very much up for grabs, and while finishing in the Premier League's top five could secure a slot - pending Man City's appeal against their European ban - a Top 4 Finish will definitely earn you a place at Europe's top table next season.
Realistically just four clubs have a chance of claiming the two remaining slots, and with them all set to play one of their top four rivals on the final day of the season this is a battle we can expect to go right down to the wire.

Leicester - Final day drama beckons

Current Position: 3rd, 58pts, +32goals
Resumption Form: D-D-L-L-W - 5pts gained plus a FA Cup defeat
Remaining PL Fixtures: Arsenal (A), Bournemouth (A), Sheff Utd (H), Tottenham (A), Man Utd (H)
Top 4 Finish Odds1.94
The Foxes have been the least impressive team of the four contenders since the resumption, disappointingly drawing with lowly Brighton and Watford before losing away to Everton, a trio of results that really brought the teams below them back into the top four race.
Brendan Rodgers' men have since produced their best performance since the restart, beating Crystal Palace 3-0, giving them a two-point cushion over Manchester United in fifth, effectively three points if you believe they can maintain their much superior goal difference.
Leicester have a tough run-in however, having to face both Arsenal and Tottenham away from home before hosting United on the final day of the season. The Foxes are more than capable of picking up at least four points against Bournemouth and Sheffield United in their two other games, and nicking a point or even a win against the north London clubs will give them a great chance of finishing in the top four.
It's likely that they'll have to avoid defeat against Man Utd on the final day of the season to qualify for next season's Champions League, but at 1.94 I like their chances.
The question is, do you wait until after the Arsenal game before backing them? Fail to pick up all three points at the Emirates on Tuesday night and Leicester's Top 4 Finish odds will be much bigger.

Chelsea - Nervy times ahead for Blues

Current Position: 4th, 57pts, +16goals
Resumption Form: W-W-W-L-W - 9pts gained plus a FA Cup win
Remaining PL Fixtures: Palace (A), Sheff Utd (A), Norwich (H), Liverpool (A), Wolves (H)
Top 4 Finish Odds1.44
Chelsea have been in good form since the restart, taking nine points from a possible 12 with the highlight being a 2-1 win over in-form Manchester City. A win away at Leicester in the FA Cup also suggested that Frank Lampard's men are playing close to their best.
The disappointment of course was leading, but losing late in the game, to relegation-threatened West Ham, proving that in the Premier League, no matter how well you're playing or who you're facing anyone can beat anyone on a given day.
The Blues have very winnable games coming up against Crystal Palace, Sheffield United and Norwich, but fail to take at least seven points in those games and they'll be in a tricky situation, having to face Liverpool away in their penultimate game of the season before hosting Wolves on the final day.
Like Leicester, it may well boil down to the final game for Lampard's men, and given that this talented Chelsea side can blow hot and cold, in addition to their inferior goal difference, I'd much prefer to be a layer at around 1.45 than a backer for them to finish in the top four.

Manchester United - In-form Red Devils the safe bet

Current Position: 5th, 55pts, +23goals
Resumption Form: D-W-W-W-W - 10pts gained plus a FA Cup win
Remaining PL Fixtures: Villa (A), Southampton (H), Palace (A), West Ham (H), Leicester (A)
Top 4 Finish Odds1.40
The Red Devils have arguably been the best team since the resumption, drawing with Tottenham before recording three straight league wins - scoring 11 goals in the process - in addition to progressing in the FA Cup.
Some may say they've had an easy run of games, and that is hard to argue against, but their run-in looks on paper an even easier assignment. It's quite possible that they'll take maximum points - you'd be a brave man to bet otherwise - against Villa, Southampton, Palace and West Ham, meaning they'll already have secured a top four berth come the final day of the season.
Of course, it might not pan out that way, and should Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men slip up in one of those four games then Leicester are likely to finish above United with a win at the King Power Stadium on the final day.
It's building up to be a cracking end to a disjointed campaign but regarding United, I fancy they're the strongest of all the contenders to record a Top 4 Finish.

Wolves - Nuno's men left with too much to do

Current Position: 6th, 52pts, +9goals
Resumption Form: W-W-W-L - 9pts gained
Remaining PL Fixtures: Sheff Utd (A), Everton (H), Burnley (A), Palace (H), Chelsea (A)
Top 4 Finish Odds16.00
You have to feel a tad sorry for Wolves. They resumed the season with three straight wins but Saturday's 2-0 defeat to Arsenal has left them well and truly on the back foot.
Nuno Espirito Santo's men trail Leicester by six points, Chelsea by five, and United by three, but they also have by far the worst goal difference of the four teams chasing a Champions League slot, meaning they're effectively another point worse off than what the actual table shows.
They don't have the easiest of run-ins either, but in Sheff United, Everton, Burnley and Palace they face four mid-table teams with nothing to play for, so there is still a glimmer of hope.
You get the feeling that Wolves would have to win all four of those games to give them a fighting chance, and if they do that then they have the daunting task of facing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on the final day of the season.
It's been a terrific campaign for Nuno's men, but you sense they now have too much to do to finish in the top four.