After one of the worst top 4 races in the history of the Premier League which saw Tottenham finish fourth with 71 points in the 2018-19 season, the teams involved in this season’s battle for a spot in Europe’s premier competition, the UEFA Champions League, seem determined to do one worse this campaign.
Leicester City are the best of the worst in the battle for Europe this season. The Foxes started the season in threatening form, losing just twice in their first nineteen games and picking up 38 points out of a possible 51 including a 9-0 annihilation of Southampton at St. Mary’s Stadium.
At one point in the season they were even touted as potential title challengers. Then they played a wounded Manchester City team who were desperate to prove they still had pedigree, and were quite simply outclassed.
A 4-0 thrashing in their own house against title favourites Liverpool came next, and it all went downhill from there. Injury to Nigerian defensive midfield lynchpin Wilfred Ndidi has not helped matters either, with the Foxes limping to a miserable two points in their last four games since his injury.
They have only taken ten points from their last twenty seven, and would be much further down the table in a more competitive campaign. Yet they find themselves five points clear at third, with massive thanks to the abysmal form of the chasing pack.
How Chelsea Football Club are still in the top four is a real mystery. The self acclaimed Pride of London have only won five matches in their last fourteen games, and have desperately struggled to beat teams that sit back to defend against them, losing more matches to teams in the top half of the league this season than teams in the bottom half.
Injuries to players such as Christian Pulisic, N’Golo Kante, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Tammy Abraham and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have done nothing to help the cause, and the inconsistency of players like Willian, Jorginho and Kepa Arrizabalaga, the £72 million pound goalkeeper who has been benched by manager Frank Lampard for the past six games, means the Blues are in dangerously mediocre form.
To be fair to them they haven’t exactly been helped out by the refereeing decisions, with some egregious calls been made against them in recent games. Despite all this, they somehow still find themselves sitting in a UEFA Champions League place in fourth, three points clear of their closest challengers Manchester United.
Manchester United have had yet another lukewarm season in their prolonged fall from grace since the departure of the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson. The Red Devils had a measly 18 points out of their first forty five possible, with only four wins coming in those first fifteen games, and with their flamboyant talisman Paul Pogba out for a lengthy period due to a recurring injury, it all looked very gloomy for cult hero and manager Ole Gunnar Solksjaer ahead of an epic double header against top four rivals Tottenham Hotspur and their ‘noisy neighbours’ Manchester City.
United managed to pull off shock wins in both games, and things have looked up for the Mancunians since then. Fred the Brazilian (affectionately dubbed ‘Pastor Fred’) has been in the form of his life, marshalling the midfield to fantastic effect in the absence of Pogba. And the acquisition of Bruno Fernandes has given United the creative spark they do badly needed. Yet they still can’t take advantage of the slip ups of the teams above them, always dropping points themselves. They could soon have teams like Wolves catching up to them if they don’t maintain their focus.
Wolves are one of two teams in the top 4 race this season that are actually over performing instead of under performing. The Wolverhampton Wanderers are having another amazing season in the Premier League after taking the league by storm to qualify for the Europa League last season.
This season they are just three points away from top four, with a sweep of Manchester City and an away victory at Tottenham under their belt. They have in their ranks arguably the fastest footballer in world football in Adama Traoré, who seems to have finally vanquished his bane of having no end product with eleven goal contributions in twenty seven games so far this season, including both goals in the 2-0 away victory against Manchester City.
The ever dependent Raul Jimenez has a fantastic return of 13 goals and 6 assists in 28 games this season for the Wolves, whilst his strike partner Diogo Jota has also been in scintillating form of late, scoring 6 goals in his last 3 games in all competitions.
With just ten games to go to the end of the Premier League season, we’ll see if the Wolves can claw their way to a Champions League spot for next season.
Tottenham Hotspur have had a traumatic campaign thus far. They picked up just fourteen points out of their first thirty six possible, winning just 3 games out of a possible twelve in that time. It was a run which saw the end of Mauricio Pochettino, arguably the best coach in the club’s history.
His departure led to the appointment of legendary manager Jose Mourinho as new head coach, but his tenure so far hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing either. After a wonderful start with four wins out of five, the Portuguese great and his team have since picked up just fourteen points out of the next thirty three available with four wins in eleven games.
To add insult to injury, he is completely out of striker options, with talismanic captain Harry Kane and versatile forward Son Heung-Min both out injured. The Tottenham board were unable to get him any replacements up top in January and he has lamented about this fact. They did however get him exciting Dutch winger Steven Bergwijn, and he has lit up the league since his arrival, scoring the opener in a 2-0 victory against Manchester City.
The second of two teams in the race of top 4 to be performing way better than they were expected to and probably the most prominent overachievers are Sheffield United. The Blades have had an absolutely outstanding season in their first year back in the top flight of English football after thirteen years.
They were widely tipped by a large number of pundits (including myself) to be relegated this season, but have instead hit tremendously above their weight and are in serious contention for a Champions League spot, especially if Manchester City’s ban is not uplifted.
They play a remarkable brand of pragmatic football, attacking with a never before seen in the Premier League tactic of overlapping centre backs to devastating effect. It is very hard to pick a standout individual in this tightly wound system of individual parts which all function to help the team, but 22 year old goalkeeper Dean Henderson may well take that crown.
The English shot stopper had been in inspirational form for the Blades this season. He ranks third in the Premier League for clean sheets this season, with an unbelievable save percentage of 75%. With trustworthy players such as John Fleck and John Lundstram in midfield and the poaching of Norwegian wonderkid Sander Berge from under the noses of English giants Liverpool and Chelsea, the Sheffield fans dare to dream of Europe at the end of this enthralling season with just ten games left.
It has been yet another captivating Premier League race for top four this season, and with ten games to go, the best is yet to come. Can the big boys bully their way back to the top? Or will minnows Wolves and Sheffield shock us all and produce the most amazing of fairytale stories? Stay tuned.
By Nene Afadzinu
The writer is an intern at TV3