Finishing in the top four of the Premier League has never been as coveted as it is today. Finishing in such places affords the teams entry to the premier club competition in the world: the UEFA Champions League. This comes with added riches, memorable nights and a chance to compete against the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid. For years in the Premier League, the same ‘big four’ would consistently finish in the top four, but as the league has become more open, clubs like Everton and Tottenham Hotspur have started to break the dominance. As for 2013-14 – the race for the top four is once again tight, here’s a look at the teams involved.
I’ll start off with a team that have been a custodian of a top four place for over a decade; my beloved Arsenal. Things are not well at the Emirates. A loss against Bayern Munich confirmed what many Arsenal fans had worried for a long time – that it is going to be yet another trophy-less season for The Gunners. In terms of the Premier League, Arsenal have stuttered to fifth place. At times they’ve dazzled with some brilliant football and at other times, it looks a shambles. Club captain Thomas Vermaelen has been shoddy by his high standards, and other experienced players like Bacary Sagna and Per Mertesacker have been sub-par as of late. It looks more and more likely as if Arsenal are going to miss out on the top four; with Chelsea and Spurs both in better positions and on better form. Top four is certainly not out of Arsenal’s realm, but it will be a tough task. Derby day next week will be huge. The winner of that will have the momentum.
As for north London rivals Spurs, they are currently enjoying some good form – with Welsh winger Gareth Bale at the heart of it. Under new manager Andre Villas-Boas, Spurs sit comfortably in 4th. Long-term injuries to Sandro and Younes Kaboul don’t look like affecting the Lilywhites in their quest for top four. After finishing fourth last year, Spurs were not in the Champions League due to Chelsea’s exploits in Munich. Whilst they are not a lock for the top four, if Gareth Bale continues to play like he is, you’d be hard pressed to find a better side in the race. Third is not out of the question.
Optimism was high for Chelsea at the start of the season. With good reason too, the European Champions started off lighting up the Premier League with £32 million signing Eden Hazard at the forefront of everything good. Since then, results have turned sour, Roberto Di Matteo has been replaced by Rafa Benitez and Fernando Torres is still not playing well. Despite all of this, Chelsea are third. The sheer talent in the squad means they are probably guaranteed a top four berth. With the ridiculous outlay in the summer – it’d be embarrassing for Chelsea to miss out on Champions League football. Ridiculous, but not impossible.
Last season, Newcastle United almost upset the party by missing out on fourth by one place. This season, Everton are doing the same. Whilst they do not play the most attractive football in the league by any means, they are effective. Marouane Felliani sums this up. The midfield maverick has taken leadership of this Everton side. With him, they can beat anybody. Goodison Park is one of the most difficult places to visit. I have them down to just miss out, but regardless of that, they won’t give up. A good season for Everton.
To conclude, a good team is going to miss out. Last season, Spurs cruised in third most of the season, only to collapse in the last part of the campaign – which ended up costing them Champions League football, and probably Luka Modric. This season they look mentally tougher. I think they’re going to make it. As for the other place, it’s down to consistency with Arsenal and Chelsea. On their day, I feel they are both better teams than Spurs – they just don’t have enough days. It’s hard to imagine the Champions League without Arsenal, yet the prospect of this is coming ever closer. What a big end to the season we have lined up.