Champions League jostle goes to the wire this week
AS Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker stunned the football-watching world with a towering stoppage-time headed winner, the Brazilian blew the race for the Premier League top four wide open.
Needing to win all three of their remaining games to stand any realistic chance of sealing a Champions League spot, Liverpool battled to a dramatic 2-1 away win at already-relegated West Brom on Sunday to keep their hopes alive.
There are now just two games remaining in the 2020/21 season, both of which will be played this week, with the top two spots already taken by champions Manchester City and runners-up Manchester United.
While neither the title race nor the battle to avoid the drop made it to the final day of the season, the fight for a top-four finish certainly will.
And with Leicester and Chelsea – who currently sit third and fourth respectively – set to square off in a heated clash on Tuesday, the scene is set for a thrilling finale.
What’s remarkable is just how quickly the tide has turned. Just over a week ago, Chelsea beat City 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium to leapfrog Leicester into third place, with the Foxes losing 4-2 at home to Newcastle the day prior.
Liverpool, despite having a game in hand, sat six points off Leicester in fourth, and a point behind West Ham in fifth.
Since then, Chelsea have lost consecutive games, first at home to Arsenal in the league, then in the FA Cup final against Leicester.
Meanwhile, the Foxes claimed a vital win away at Manchester United, Liverpool have beaten Southampton, United and West Brom, and West Ham have taken one point from two games.
It means that with two games remaining, it’s now deposed champions Liverpool who are the favourites among the bookies to seal a spot.
This is because with victory in their final two games against Burnley and Crystal Palace, Liverpool can reach a total of 69 points, a target made significantly more difficult for Chelsea and Leicester to reach due to their impending clash this week.
However, the fundamental point is that even by claiming maximum points, Liverpool still might not finish in the top four.
Should Chelsea – who currently sit on 64 points – even draw with Leicester on Tuesday, then Liverpool would be handed the initiative, with the Blues’ maximum total reduced to just 68 points. The Foxes could still take third spot with a draw against Chelsea then a victory over Tottenham on the final day, which would take them to 70 points.
Even in that scenario, however, Leicester could still get to 69 points, meaning fourth spot would go down to goal difference. And with both Liverpool and Leicester on +21 as things stand, it could get very close indeed.
In fact, should the pair finish on the same points and goal difference, the place would be determined by goals scored. But their goals records are almost identical. Liverpool have currently scored 63 and conceded 42, while Leicester have netted 65 and let in 44, meaning that come the conclusion of the season, they could share the same points total, goals scored and goals conceded.
In this circumstance, fourth spot would be determined by their head-to-head record this season. In previous seasons, a play-off would be in order, but ahead of the 2019/20 campaign, the Premier League announced this would be changed to reduce the chances of a further fixture.
Incredibly, their head-to-head records are also remarkably close. Liverpool won 3-0 at Anfield, while Leicester won 3-1 at the King Power Stadium.
And if fourth spot does indeed go to head-to-head record, then Mohamed Salah’s goal at Leicester – which at the time seemed futile, with Leicester then scoring three to turn the game around – would cement a Champions League spot for Liverpool.
Of course, while it’s highly unlikely, it remains mathematically possible that one of Tottenham or West Ham could seal a top-four spot.
Neither can catch Leicester, but both could take fourth spot by winning their remaining two matches, so long as Chelsea lose both of theirs.
Due to goal difference, a single point for Chelsea will make it all but impossible for West Ham to finish fourth, but Tottenham – who are level with the Blues in that department on +22 – could still nick a place if both Liverpool and Chelsea collapse.
Nevertheless, with two games remaining, there are just three primary candidates fighting for the two all-important spots.
Source| BBC Sport
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