Race for the Champions League: Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and City's remaining fixtures

Who has the easier run-in and who will come out on top?

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The Independent Football

The season is quickly coming to a close and the race for the top four is hotting up nicely after Liverpool’s win over Watford on Monday night.

The Reds, Manchester United, City and Arsenal are all vying for two of the four Champions League spots, with Chelsea and Tottenham almost certainly taking the other two.

But who are the favourites? Where can the contenders drop points or gain an advantage? The Independent analyses each of the four sides’ run-ins to see who is likely to be joining Europe’s top table next season and who will be fighting for scraps.

Premier League table

Third-placed Liverpool are suddenly in the driving seat for a return to the Champions League as they currently hold a four-point cushion over fifth-placed United, despite playing a game extra. Their destiny was put back into their own hands after this weekend’s fixtures, which saw both United and City draw and Arsenal lose.

City are in a similar position to Liverpool and have played a game less. Should they win that game by a margin of two goals or more then they will actually go ahead of the Reds with only three games remaining.

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United’s top four hopes are hanging by a thread after this weekend. Their 1-1 draw at home to Swansea meant their destiny was no longer in their own hands, and they will need either Liverpool or City to drop points if they are to make the Champions League. This week’s Europa League semi-final against Celta Vigo now presents their best route back to Europe’s premier competition.

If Manchester United’s hopes are hanging by a thread then Arsenal’s are as good as gone. They sit six points off the pace, and even if they win their game in hand, they will still be two points behind United.

Liverpool’s remaining fixtures

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Liverpool only have three fixtures remaining and on paper, they all look winnable. They welcome Southampton to Anfield this weekend, before travelling to the London Stadium to face West Ham and then take on relegation-threatened Middlesbrough on the final day of the season. However, Liverpool have struggled against teams in the bottom-half of the table this season, so don’t be surprised if there is another, excuse the reference, *slip* before the season is out.

Manchester City’s remaining fixtures

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City have four games remaining, but crucially three of them are at home and against sides with nothing to play for. First up is Crystal Palace, who should avoid relegation, at the Etihad, before the champions Leicester and then West Brom visit Eastlands. The last game of the season is an away trip to Watford but looking at the remaining fixtures, City are in a confident position.

Manchester United’s remaining fixtures

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This is where United can come unstuck. Of their remaining four games, three are away from home and two of those trips are to face title-chasing Tottenham and a six-pointer against Arsenal. The Gunners are first up on Sunday at the Emirates before another trip to north London to face Spurs the following week. Sandwiched in between these fixtures are Europa League games against Celta Vigo. They then finish the season with Southampton away and Crystal Palace at home, as well as the Europa League final, should they get there. Given their injuries as well, United may struggle to make the top four.

Arsenal’s remaining fixtures

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The Gunners have the most games remaining with five, but that also means the most opportunities to drop points, which they have been doing like it’s going out of fashion recently. The first test in Manchester United at home, before Southampton away and then the always tricky trip to face Stoke City. They wrap their season up with back-to-back home games against already-relegated Sunderland and Everton. The final game of the season could prove tough if they are still in the mix then but realistically, defeat to United on Sunday will spell the end of their top-four ambitions.

Who will come out on top?

The fixture schedule and the current state of the table weighs heavily in the favour of both Manchester City and Liverpool. Both have the easier run-ins and both hold a one-point advantage over fifth-placed United, should Jose Mourinho’s side win their game in hand.

Facing both Arsenal and Spurs away plus the added distraction of the Europa League, and their enormous injury list to first-team players, makes reaching the top four desperately tough for United. Mourinho is crafty and will likely think the Europa League is the best route to the Champions League – with the added bonus of another trophy – so expect his efforts to be more focused there.

Arsenal are as good as out of the race for fourth should they lose to United on Sunday. Even if they manage  to win all five of their remaining games, both Liverpool and City only require six points from their final fixtures to make sure they stay ahead of the Gunners.

All the signs point to City and Liverpool joining Spurs and Chelsea in the top four, with United joining them via the Europa League and Arsenal having to rely on the FA Cup to get into Europe at all this season. 

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