Should there be play-offs for FOURTH place?

Depending on this Sunday’s results, London rivals Chelsea and Arsenal may be required to play-off for third place in the Premier League to decide on automatic qualification for next season’s Champions League.

Premier League officials have confirmed that, in the case that the Blues and the Gunners draw level on points, goal difference and goals scored, they will have to face each other in a one-off clash to decide who takes third and fourth place this term.

The likelihood of this happening, and the possible permutations of results from Sunday’s final day fixtures that could lead to a third-place playoff mean there are four different outcomes that would require a play-off fixture.

However, with the top-four spots becoming so fiercely contested in that last few seasons, is there reason to incorporate a play-off for fourth place into the current Premier League rules?

For several seasons the race for top-four, which secures Champions League qualification, has been contested by Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and in some seasons Everton and Liverpool.

In the Championship, the second tier of English football, there are play-offs played between the four clubs who finish between 3rd and 6th place to decide who will gain promotion to the Premier League.

There are both advantages and disadvantages for the clubs involves but overall it makes for a more competitive end to the season – for example, in the Premier League this term, Manchester United were crowned champions and Manchester City runners-up and Chelsea (if they finish 3rd) would be guaranteed Champions League qualification.

However, if there were play-offs for the final Champions League place Arsenal, Tottenham, Everton and Liverpool could book their places into the qualification rounds of the Champions League and that might be a fairer way of deciding.

There is no denying the table never lies – where you finish in the table after 38 games played is where you deserve to be and whoever qualifies out of Arsenal and Spurs undoubtedly deserves it more than their North London rivals.

However, given the quality in the sides that have in recent years competed for the top four, it could make the Premier League a more exciting competition and also ensure that it’s not always the same teams qualifying year after year.

Last season Tottenham finished fourth but due to Chelsea winning the Champions League in Munich Spurs were denied their rightful place.

Obviously, one could argue had they have finished 3rd, they wouldn’t have found themselves in that position but consider that the Blues actually finished 6th last term and failed to make it out of their group in the competition.

Last term if there had have been play-offs for fourth place they would have been played between Spurs, Newcastle, Chelsea and Everton – imagine how much the likes of Everton and Newcastle especially could have benefitted from the income generated by the Champions League.

It seems a little unfair and also quite regressive that the same teams make the top four year in year and out and therefore the same teams reap the financial rewards of Champions League football. They are already the wealthiest clubs in the first place.

Imagine how much more scope their would be for growth financially accross the 20 teams if there were play-offs for the fourth Champions League spot - a team could conceivably be promoted from the Championship one season and be playing in the Champions League a year later.

At present that kind of transition is near-impossible to achieve and it makes financial growth, development and progress for the other 16 teams that don't qualify each season a much slower and more arduous process unless, of course, they get bought by a consortium of billionaires which, at it stands, is pretty much the only route to success.

Having a fourth-place play-off would make the Premier League far more competitive and progressive league where prosperity and success was achievable and accessible to all, not the just the privileged few at the top. It would, in effect, be football equality.

image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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