With just 9 games left to go of this Premier League season, 7 points separate four teams from 3rd to 6th as the fight for the top four enters its final round.
Chelsea moved back up in 3rd with their 2-0 victory over West Ham on Sunday and the Blues will feel, after occupying that place for the majority of the season, that is no more than they deserve.
However, London rivals Tottenham have an axe to grind after the Blues claimed their place in the Champions League this season by winning the competition last time around.
Spurs had enjoyed a decent run of form in recent months – going 12 games unbeaten – however their 1-0 defeat to Fulham on Sunday is now their third successive defeat in all competitions.
Since the second North London derby of the season earlier this month which ended 2-1 to Spurs at White Hart Lane the pendulum of bragging rights in North London seemed to have swung into Tottenham’s favour indefinitely.
However, Arsenal’s 2-0 win at Swansea on Saturday means they trail Spurs by 4 points with a game in hand.
Having been knocked out of the Champions League by Bayern Munich last Wednesday, the Gunners have only one objective left to focus their efforts on this season – making the top four and securing Champions League football next term.
Breathing down their necks, however, Everton have been keeping the pace with the pack for much of the season – they are certainly the outsiders but they will likely play a huge part in the overall make up of the top four come May.
Tottenham v Everton – 7th April
This will be a crucial clash. Back in December Everton beat Spurs 2-1, after securing a 1-1 draw with Manchester City the previous week. Everton then went on a run of 7 games unbeaten in the league in a period in which they took important points off City and Arsenal.
If Everton can take points off Tottenham again, they might just be able to edge their way back into the top four or, at the very least, put together a good run of form to finish off the season.
However, should Tottenham win they will set themselves up very nicely for what are likely to be a tough and testing few weeks ahead of them.
Chelsea v Tottenham – 14th April
The following week Spurs face the Blues and Andre Villas-Boas will be looking for revenge over his former employers once again. The Blues beat his side 4-2 at White Hart Lane back in October when their manager was then his former assistant Roberto Di Matteo.
Chelsea have underperformed this season and there has been more turbulence and turmoil than triumph since the arrival of Rafael Benitez. Just a point separates the two clubs at present and this fixture is likely to be a ‘six-pointer’.
I wouldn’t be surprised by a draw here as I suspect this is game that neither side can afford to lose.
Arsenal v Everton – 16th April
Just a couple of days later Everton will travel to the Emirates where they’ll face an Arsenal side that held them to a 1-1 draw at Goodison Park back in November. The Gunners have, like the Blues, underperformed this season and similarly to their London rivals it has been a season of frustration and facture.
However, their 2-0 victory over Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena seems to have, despite having no bearing on their Champions League exit, galvanized the team into action. They have now kept two clean sheets in a row and look to be gaining pace on pack.
Their game in hand could prove all important – if the Gunners win it, they’d be just a point off Spurs in fourth (currently), lose it and they’d be all but out of the running.
Tottenham v Manchester City – 21st April
Manchester City probably don’t have too much to worry about in terms of the top four – although their 2-0 defeat at Everton provided two very important reminders to the teams vying for the top four.
Firstly, no team is safe for certain and, secondly, anyone can beat anyone else on their day. City are currently 2nd and Manchester United’s 15-point lead means they will be very very unlikely to catch them now. United are pretty much out of sight.
However, City are only 9 points from falling out of the top four – again it would be highly unlikely. However, that’s just 3 defeats in 9 games. They must be mindful of complacency.
When these two teams met at the Etihad in November just one goal separated them in the end and I imagine it’ll be as much as that this time around. It will be a very close game.
Chelsea v Everton – 19th May
On the final day of the season Everton travel to Stamford Bridge. By all means, the landscape of the top four may have already been drawn to a close by then but I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes right down to the wire.
What happens between now and 19th May is anyone’s guess but, if I had to guess, I’d say these five fixtures will be the deciders. Pretty much everyone single one of these games is a ‘six-pointer’ and it is in fixtures like these that teams earn their right to play Champions League football next season.
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