The battle for Champions League qualification in the English Premier League took another twist at the weekend with all of the contenders for a top-four finish bar Liverpool winning.
Chelsea, six points clear at the summit with a game in hand, appear destined for the title and with it a place in the Champions League, leaving six teams to fight it out for the three remaining qualifying berths.
With eight matches of the season remaining (nine for Chelsea), AFP Sport assesses the runners and riders in the race for a spot in Europe’s elite competition.
2. Manchester City (played 30; points 61; goal difference +34)
Consecutive away defeats by Liverpool and Burnley, allied to a chastening Champions League exit against Barcelona, have left the defending champions looking vulnerable. Having been level on points with Chelsea on New Year’s Day, their grip on second place is now under threat from a resurgent Arsenal and Manchester United.
Remaining fixtures: Crystal Palace (a), Manchester United (a), West Ham United (h), Aston Villa (h), Tottenham Hotspur (a), Queens Park Rangers (h), Swansea City (a), Southampton (h)
3. Arsenal (played 30; points 60; goal difference +27)
In trademark fashion, Arsene Wenger’s side appear to have timed their surge for a top-four finish to perfection. Saturday’s hard-fought 2-1 win at Newcastle United was their sixth in succession and their ninth in their last 10 league matches.
Remaining fixtures: Liverpool (h), Burnley (a), Chelsea (h), Hull City (a), Swansea City (h), Manchester United (a), Sunderland (h), West Bromwich Albion (h)
4. Manchester United (played 30; points 59; goal difference +25)
Following months of underwhelming performances under new manager Louis van Gaal, United have suddenly clicked into gear, beating Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 and then recording a superb 2-1 victory at Liverpool. Back-to-back fixtures against City and Chelsea will test the durability of their resurgence, but there are signs of a swagger returning to Old Trafford.
Remaining fixtures: Aston Villa (h), Manchester City (h), Chelsea (a), Everton (a), West Bromwich Albion (h), Crystal Palace (a), Arsenal (h), Hill City (a)
5. Liverpool (played 30; points 54; goal difference +12)
Last season’s surprise runners-up saw a 13-game unbeaten run ended by Sunday’s loss to United, which left Brendan Rodgers’s team five points below the Champions League places. Had shown scintillating form since Christmas, but with trips to Arsenal and Chelsea awaiting, another top-four finish looks a tall order.
Remaining fixtures: Arsenal (a), Newcastle United (h), Hull City (a), West Bromwich Albion (a), Queens Park Rangers (h), Chelsea (a), Crystal Palace (h), Stoke City (a)
6. Southampton (played 30; points 53; goal difference +21)
Ronald Koeman’s side continue to bely expectations and have come through a sticky patch that saw them draw at home to West Ham United and lose to Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion. A Champions League place now seems unlikely, but Europa League qualification (requiring a top-six finish) would still represent a fine achievement.
Remaining fixtures: Everton (a), Hull City (h), Stoke City (a), Tottenham Hotspur (h), Sunderland (a), Leicester City (a), Aston Villa (h), Manchester City (a)
7. Tottenham Hotspur (played 30; points 53; goal difference +5)
Inspired by the sensational form of Harry Kane, Tottenham have enjoyed memorable wins over Chelsea and Arsenal, but inconsistency means they have never won more than three games in succession. A Europa League place may now represent the summit of their ambitions, although a relatively benign run-in could yet offer more.
Remaining fixtures: Burnley (a), Aston Villa (h), Newcastle United (a), Southampton (a), Manchester City (h), Stoke City (a), Hull City (h), Everton (a)