Cleat Geeks

Who will finish in the top 4 and why does it matter so much?

With only eight matches remaining until the 2014/15 Premier League season comes to a close, here’s a look at who will make the top four and Champions League football next season. ucl

As if the lure of playing in football’s most prestigious club competition wasn’t enough of an incentive, there are substantial financial gains to be had for ending the season as one of the Premier League’s top quartet.

At the end of last season, the prize money differential between 4th place Arsenal and 5th place Everton was $1.2 million. Manchester United finished in 7th in 2014, earning $17.3 million for their efforts, $3.7 million less than the Gunners.

But this variance in final league position is just the tip of the iceberg. UEFA all have set aside a prize pool of $1.257 billion (over $912 million) between the 32 Champions League participants each year from next season until 2018. Each team that reaches the group stage of the competition receives $12 million and earns a further $1.5 million per win and $500,000 per draw at this stage.

An additional $5.5 million can be earned for reaching the last 16 of the competition, the stage where Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City exited this years tournament.

On top of the prize money, when you factor in TV revenue from being in the competition, $482.9 million between the final 32 clubs, the Champions League is a gold mine in financial terms. The possibility of playing in the Champions League can often persuade a player to sign for a club, and with the new $5 billion Premier League TV deal soon to come into affect, there is almost no transfer target to unrealistic for a top four finisher at the end of the season.

So, who will finish in the top four in the Premier League and have a chance to milk the cash cow that is the Champions League next season? Well, with eight games remaining, here’s how the race is shaping up:

 

1. Chelsea                           67pt +36 gd                                                                                                                                                                                                                         2. Manchester City           61     +34
3. Arsenal                          60     +27
4. Manchester United     59     +25
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5. Liverpool                       54     +12
6. Southampton               53      +21
7. Tottenham Hotspur    53       +5

I’m not sticking my neck on the line by saying Chelsea look assured of Champions League football next season; and I’m going to add Manchester City in there too. So it looks like it’s a battle between Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, Southampton and Spurs for the last two places. wenrodgaal

Despite the fact they still have to face Liverpool (home), Chelsea (home) and Manchester United (away) in their last 8 league games – and have an FA Cup semi-final to contend with, I’m going to suggest that Arsenal have more than enough to secure, at the very least, a 4th place finish.

This season was the 17th consecutive year that Arsenal have featured in Europe’s elite club competition. Arsene Wenger manages to keep Arsenal at Europe’s top table with remarkable consistency. If there is any doubt over their top four credentials going into the last two games of the season, then home ‘bankers’ against Sunderland and West Brom should see Wenger leading his side to yet another top four finish.

That leaves just one more space between the remianing four contenders, and, following their win at Anfield, Manchester United are in the driving seat to return to the Champions League for next season.

Louis Van Gaal and his team have been criticised for the majority of the season for their slow build up play and poor performances – but they have been winning. Without being scintilating, The Red Devils have lost just five times this league campaign, and have the third best defence in the division.

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The performances seem to be coming now too, they were utterly dominant against the Spurs at Old Trafford and controlled the game at Anfield, even before the hosts were reduced to ten men. Their new found potency in front of goal has followed Wayne Rooney’s advancement back into a more attacking role. Ander Herrera has been impressive in midfield in recent weeks too, helping United to five wins from their last six league matches.

However, with the exception of Liverpool, United were expected to win their last half dozen games, but their last eight matches provide them with some stiffer opposition. Home games against Manchester City and Arsenal, as well as trips to Chelsea and Everton mean that the five point cushion they have between themselves and Liverpool could, quite conceivably be eroded between now and May 24th.

Brendan Rodgers’ side are more than capable of finishing ahead of their bitter rivals and clinching the final top four spot. Before that defeat to United, Liverpool had won five league games in a row and were unbetaen in 13 Premier League contests.

That form propelled them into contention for Champions League football, they can regain their winning thread over their final seven matches, but a top four finish for the Merseysiders hinges on Saturday’s visit to Arsenal.

But Liverpool’s record at Arsenal is poor. The Merseysiders have won just once in their last 18 visits to Wenger’s side and defeat this weekend could see them fall eight points behind 4th place United this weekend. That would probably be to much to claw back in the remaining seven matches, but win at the Emirates, and Liverpool are still very much in the hunt.

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There are a few awkward looking fixtures remaining for Liverpool, but besides a trip to Chelsea in May, the highest placed team they face between now and the end of the season is 10th place Stoke City.

Should both Manchester United and Liverpool both slip up then Southampton could be well placed to take advantage. The Saints have exceeded all expectations so far this season, many had them tipped for relegation at the start of the campaign, but they still have a shot at reaching the Champions League for the first time in their history.

At the same time, Ronald Koeman’s men can’t afford anymore slip ups – and they still have Manchester City and Spurs to play. Whilst it’s not unrealistic to think that United will lose twice and Liverpool once before the end of the season, The Saints would most likely need to win each of their remaining matches to finish in 4th.

Spurs have already played 49 matches this season and looked fatigued in defeat to Manchester United a couple of weeks ago. A lot depends on the performances of Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane especially, and following the strikers exploits for England this week, he may well run out of steam before the end of the season.

Tottenham will drop points over their final eight matches that include vists to Southampton, Everton and Stoke as well as a home clash with Manchester City. In fact, five of Spurs’ last eight matches are away from White Hart Lane, increasing the difficulty Mauricio Pocchetino’s side have in amassing enough points to overhaul three sides above them in order to snatch 4th place.

It’s too much to ask for Spurs and Southampton to finish in the top four. The top three as they are now should have enough to stay there between now and season’s end, leaving one place up for grabs between Manchester United and Liverpool.

United’s win at Anfield was huge and a five point buffer back to Liverpool makes it easy to predict a top four finish for United. However, if – and it’s a big if – Brendan Rodgers’ men beat Arsenal at the Emirates on Saturday, then I fancy them to overturn the deficit and reach the gold mine that is the Champions League.

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