x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Uefa Champions League race for Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Everton

Four teams are fighting for two slots in the European competition. Jonathan Wilson analyses each team's chances.

Tottenham Hotspur, in white, had a good run in the Premier League after squandering away a winning position against Everton in December and whom they play again, but without kep players. Stu Forster / Getty Images
Tottenham Hotspur, in white, had a good run in the Premier League after squandering away a winning position against Everton in December and whom they play again, but without kep players. Stu Forster / Getty Images

Manchester United may have almost clinched the Premier League title and Manchester City look assured of a top-four finish, but the race to join them in the Champions League next year is just hotting up.

Liverpool in seventh look to have too much to do, despite their late run of form. They have played a game more than most of their rivals.

But Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and Everton are in contention. Here is a look at each hopeful:

Tottenham Hotspur - 3rd

If football were purely about logic, Tottenham would qualify for the Champions League with ease.

After losing at Everton in December - a game they arguably had the better of before conceding two late goals - they played some of the best football produced by any team in the Premier League this season in going 12 games unbeaten. But the ghosts of failures past lurk always just below the surface.

Not since 1995 have Spurs finished above Arsenal in the table, and successive defeats to Liverpool and Fulham awoke all the old neuroses.

A victory last week at a Swansea City side whose focus seems to have vanished since winning League Cup success at least restored some confidence, but today's game at home to Everton is an enormous test.

It is made harder, of course by the absence of Gareth Bale, Jermain Defoe and Aaron Lennon with injury - and the lack of alternatives suggests the folly the Tottenham's tentative business in the January window. Bale and Lennon could be back in a two weeks; Spurs desperately need them.

Arsenal - 4th

The pattern is familiar. After all the angst of November and January, the embarrassing Cup exits to Bradford City and Blackburn Rovers and the inevitable but spirited defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League, after giving Spurs a start, the chase is on again.

Recent league form is excellent: the defeat to Spurs is the only one they have suffered in the last eight games. Even Gervinho, much derided earlier in the season, is starting to look threatening, while Olivier Giroud is showing signs of having adapted to the Premier League.

While it feels slightly strange to see Lukasz Fabianski back in goal for them but his combination with Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny has added a measure of solidity that has been missing for most of the season.

Losing Abou Diaby is a blow - although Arsenal are used to doing without him, while Jack Wilshere should return in a couple of weeks. Arsenal probably have an easier run-in to Spurs - they must play Manchester United, but Spurs have both Chelsea and Manchester City still to face.

Chelsea - 5th

After Chelsea had beaten Manchester United to secure their place in the FA Cup semi-final, their manager Rafa Benitez noted they were on the verge of "a great season".

A 3-1 win over Rubin Kazan on Thursday in the first leg of the Europa League quarter-final brings that even closer.

But the key question is what would constitute a great season and, intriguingly, the answer is probably different depending who you ask at Chelsea.

The club line, one that Benitez professionally parrots, is that the priority is finishing in the top four and qualifying for next season's Champions League.

The manager, though, will not be there next season, and it may be that, deep down, he would rather add silverware to his CV.

Given Chelsea's comparatively slender squad, that raises interesting issues when it comes to rotation - which there must be if the players are not to become fatigued.

Benitez was criticised for selecting a weakened side that lost at Southampton last week; today, against Sunderland, he faces a fourth game in eight days.

Everton - 6th

David Moyes's side is the outsider for qualification without question, but it says much for their doggedness they are still in the hunt, despite having a much smaller squad than the other three contenders - and having seemingly drawn a huge number of games they should have won.

They have lost fewer games than any of the other three contenders and they have the advantage of playing all three before the end of the season; the final day fixture away to Chelsea could effectively be a play-off for Champions League qualification.

They have scored fewer goals than any of the other three - evidence of Nikica Jelavic's disappointing form rather than any negativity of approach - and their top scorer, Marouane Felllaini, and Stephen Pienaar, who has weighed in with five this season, will be suspended for this afternoon's game at Tottenham.


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