Eight points. That’s all that separates Arsenal from tenth and Chelsea from fourth.
Both have ambitions in the Champions League, and then of course there are everyone in between: West Ham, Liverpool, Everton, Aston Villa and Tottenham.
Everyone believes they have a chance, and given the development of this top 4 race, there is no reason to assume that it won’t last until the last 90 minutes of the season.
Chelsea continued their revival on Monday as they rose to the top four
Current champions Liverpool have seen form breakdown this season and are now struggling
Now is not the time to trip over your own two feet, but Merseyside has plenty of problems on the eve of an Anfield derby. Everton is fighting as well as Liverpool.
Then there is Manchester United, who stutter to a tie at West Brom, viewing their crown as the best of the others who slip by the tail with a chase.
Optimism is now in London – west and east London to be precise – where an undefeated Thomas Tuchel has Chelsea on the sidelines and West Ham, with David Moyes’ experience, seems to be finding cogwheel rivals stalling.
Sportsmail goes through each of the top 4 competitors after another fascinating round of Premier League games.
Actual position: 2nd Points: 46
Manchester United should – and most likely will – do it, but results like a 1-1 draw at West Brom last time around don’t help.
Harry Maguire felt hit hard, feeling that decisions weren’t going their way, but he was sidelined even though he didn’t think he’d committed a foul by calling for a penalty.
United, whether they agree or not, were in the title fight a few weeks ago. In fact, when City put their gig together, United was on top.
Now the focus seems to be on getting the best from the rest, rather than letting a multi-team season come apart.
Harry Maguire (left) groaned over decisions but Manchester United can’t make excuses now
In the projected table of the CIES Football Observatory, United is in second place with 72 points, 26 more than currently.
The problem for United is that they stutter at exactly the wrong time.
A win in the last five league games – the 9-0 demolition in Southampton – is a cause for great concern. With this win they earned three out of a possible twelve points – simply not good enough.
“We’re not going to let them (City) run away with it,” said Solskjaer after the West Brom draw.
“We’ll play it soon and won’t give it away prematurely. This season is so unpredictable that we obviously won’t be satisfied with the second. ‘
He said the right things but with Chelsea, City and West Ham, three of their next four in the league, he has to be careful not to be blinded by ambition and pride.
City is, to be very clear, a class that is currently different from all of its rivals and rightly at the top. United are stumbling and if this continues against their top four rivals there will be a storm at Old Trafford.
As much as they should hit the top four, a four-point gap is far from being comforted by a safety net. Form has to change.
The 4-0 win against Real Sociedad on Thursday evening in Turin – inspired by – who else? – Bruno Fernandes with two goals was a real statement that United are ready for it – but now it’s time to prove it in the league.
TOP FOUR ODDS (via Betfair): 1/4
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (right) knows United will have to turn around to avoid a Top 4 dogfight
Bruno Fernandes scored two goals in the Europa League on Thursday and remains the key man
Actual position: 3 .. Points: 46
By the end of the season and when Leicester is in the top four there will be doubts.
They impressed last season until they passed it on to Manchester United on the last day. It meant Thursday evening in Europe instead of Tuesday and Wednesday. It felt particularly disappointing considering how much of the season has played out.
Brendan Rodgers doesn’t need memories of how they shot themselves in the foot. Neither does Jamie Vardy.
The question now is: did you learn a very painful lesson?
The win over Liverpool suggests they did. Liverpool played well but the win was emphatic in the end, a two-goal margin between the teams.
Jamie Vardy (left) slows no signs of slowing down as he leads Leicester to the top three
It took them four to break away from the chase, a small but still significant buffer of a game.
They have more wins than Manchester United but fewer draws and more losses and the key now is consistency.
Villa, Arsenal, Brighton and Sheffield United represent four very winnable league games before they face the power of Man City they hammered at Etihad earlier this season at King Power Stadium.
“I said before the game (Liverpool) it would be a good measure of the team’s development,” Rodgers said. “A year ago, a backlog would have disappointed us. But our reaction during the game was very good.
‘We started the game really well in the 4-0 game last year. But as soon as we went back, we got too frustrated and lost convincing. This time when we went back we still had the confidence and mentality to keep pushing. ‘
Rodgers believes things are different than they were 12 months ago, now he and his players have to prove it is.
TOP FOUR ODDS: 8/15
Vardy (right) is fit and firing and Leicester must prove they learned lessons 12 months ago
Actual position: 4 .. Points: 42
Thomas Tuchel seems to have the Midas touch.
Tuchel’s new regime reverted to a three-point system, scoring 13 out of a possible 15 points. Chelsea have only conceded one goal this run.
Monday night’s 2-0 win over Newcastle put Chelsea back in the top four a pivotal month for the season, and any fears at the end of Frank Lampard’s reign that they would miss Europe were quickly dispelled by the German tactician.
“We will never stop pushing, there is no other way,” said Tuchel. “We knew if we were getting results this could be on the right track for us.
“If we won today, we would know that we would be in the top four. But I can only tell everyone that there is still a long way to go.
Chelsea found their groove again when Thomas Tuchel got them back on track
‘A lot of teams are very, very close. There are lots of great games to be played and lots of points to be won.
“Now it is important for me that we take two days off, relax mentally and physically and then prepare ourselves 100 percent for Southampton. That is the next challenge.”
Tuchel will lose at some point, one might think, but few would bet against a Chelsea team that reached the top 4 in this form.
Tuchel’s first big test was the away win at Tottenham and he will need similar performances with Manchester United and Everton two of the next three in the league.
Tuchel has an embarrassment of fortunes that is now beginning to maximize its potential.
If this is Chelsea still pushing and walking the aisles, they may become a train that no one can stop until May.
TOP FOUR ODDS: 8/11
Mason Mount and Co have been unbeaten since taking over Tuchel and look to be strong competitors for the top 4
Actual position: 5 .. Points: 42
“The teams around us are top teams and we have to play incredibly well to be there,” said David Moyes on Monday night.
“But I think we still have a piece of equipment or two for what we showed tonight.”
Take that as a warning. West Ham takes this top 4 hunt seriously and no one else can convince them.
“We have five games before April and if we can make it there it could be hot. But it almost feels uncomfortable to talk like that, ”added the Scot.
West Ham’s good form continued when they beat Sheffield United aside on Monday night
‘I can’t tell how well the players played and I think we’re on a different level. It’s a very good result, very few teams will score three goals against Sheffield United. ‘
The only difference is in keeping them out of the top 4, but the challenge now is to find that extra gear that Moyes says they are capable of.
The next four games are, as for many teams, of great importance.
Tottenham, Manchester City, Leeds and then Manchester United are the quartet of the upcoming games and this is the biggest test of their qualifications.
Get away with seven or more points and suddenly your belief will rise again.
If you start a losing run, the bubble in your pursuit of the top 4 can burst.
TOP FOUR ODDS: 15/2
Ryan Fredericks finished a good performance with the third goal when West Ham finished fifth
Actual position: 6 .. Points: 40
When Jurgen Klopp sat down to answer reporters’ questions after the Leicester defeat, he uttered the words he had hoped he never had to say all season.
“Yes, I admit,” said Klopp in a hushed tone when asked if the title race was dead and buried for his squad. “I don’t think we can fill the gap with City.”
He added: “We’re not worried about the title. We are not stupid. We have a tough game on Tuesday (against RB Leipzig) and on Saturday we have the derby again. These are the things we think about and if we still want to have a good season we have to win. ‘
On the way to the title last season, Liverpool were often referred to as “mentality monsters” who were ruthlessly efficient as they rolled teams under steam. Somehow Klopp and his players need their bragging back or the top 4 could slip off of them.
Jurgen Klopp admitted that the title defense ended after his team was beaten by Leicester City
For 70 minutes in Leicester they could claim they were the better team. When the final whistle sounded, they lost 3-1.
The results are currently all sides in this race and Liverpool just won’t get them.
In fact, Liverpool are 30 points less than after the same number of games en route to the title 12 months ago. Injuries have played a huge part, but still it would be a devastating decline in a year to miss Europe.
Klopp said this week he doesn’t need a break after growing concerns after his mother’s death, and with winning the title, the German must hope that his announcement in the top 4 race can have an galvanizing effect on his side.
They may be in miserable shape – they only take nine points out of 30 and lose four of their last six league games – but there’s little like a Merseyside derby where the momentum shifts back in their direction.
Klopp has to stop the rot – and quickly.
TOP FOUR ODDS: 2/5
Liverpool are in dire form, having lost four of their last six league games
Actual position: 7 .. Points: 37
Complacency is killing Everton and while Carlo Ancelotti promised to prepare for the Fulham game as if preparing for Inter Milan for Barcelona, it hasn’t done too well.
No fans at Goodison Park matter. The Toffees have brilliant support that creates an incredible atmosphere, but every team is at home with no support.
There can be no excuse for losing four of their last five home league games and losing the other to Leicester after losing to City on Wednesday.
They lost on West Ham, Newcastle and Fulham, two of which will be stranded in the bottom half on the final day.
That should be a friendly run, a chance to improve her points before the really tricky ties came. Instead, Everton must regret the missed opportunity after the missed opportunity.
Everton’s home form is hampering their European hopes and the games are not getting any easier now
And that hurt the bookies’ confidence as they slipped to 20/1 to get into the top four.
One of their two games took place on Wednesday against the Imperial city. Given the way Fulham – Harrison Reed and Josh Maja to be precise – dismantled them, the expectation of an Everton win was almost unmatched.
Next up is a Merseyside derby at Anfield. Then come Southampton and then Tuchel’s Chelsea.
Ancelotti still has hope but loses the next two and there won’t be many more Everton persuasions to agree with him.
TOP FOUR ODDS: 20/1
Josh Maja impressed as he scored both goals to ensure Fulham’s 2-0 win at Goodison Park
Actual position: 8th .. Points: 36
With the easiest series of games among the rivals, at least on paper, a Brighton stalemate wasn’t why Aston Villa wanted their attack to begin in the top four.
The Seagulls are no weakling, not under Graham Potter, but there is a feeling that Villa really needs to use her chances to win a highly competitive Champions League race.
Two games in hand are key here. While rivals get themselves frenzied, ditching expected points and missing opportunity after opportunity, Villa knows exactly what it takes to climb the table.
From today’s perspective, Dean Smith’s team know that winning both games would bring them level on points with fourth-placed Chelsea. It couldn’t be any clearer.
Aston Villa only has one team on them until April 10th and that has to count
And so the critics of Villa who believe this site has no realistic chance of making it have to reconsider. This side has as many chances as any other in the race and they believe it.
Smith remains firmly in discussion for Manager of the Year given his job – now it’s about ending the season with a stunning European finish.
Villa is an ambitious club with a rich history. Co-owner Nassef Sawiris approved £ 150m in new player spending ahead of the 2019-20 season and another £ 80m last summer.
“Our owners came out at the beginning of the season and when they first came to the club about what they want to build on,” Smith said earlier this season.
“It takes time, but we hope we can continue to build, which we believe can help rise to the top of one of the top four football clubs.”
Only one game against a team above them until April 10th. If Villa really wants to climb the mountain, now is the time to get moving.
TOP FOUR ODDS: 9/1
Dean Smith (left), John Terry (center) and Craig Shakespeare (right) impress in Villa
Actual position: 9 .. Points: 36
In mid-December, Tottenham was at the top and questions were being asked … could Jose Mourinho really do it again?
It is now mid-February and the answer seems to be a resounding no.
Not only were Tottenham beaten by Manchester City at the weekend, it wasn’t close either. The city was in a class of its own, and even Mourinho could barely complain when he shuffled in front of the television cameras to talk about it after the game.
In the event of a defeat, they are in ninth place with 36 points and six points under the top four.
“I am concerned about where Tottenham is in terms of returning to a top four club,” Jamie Carragher told Sky’s Monday night football Show.
“I think they are far from that. And the actual football they are playing to get there must have results to play that way and they are not getting results right now. ‘
Jose Mourinho’s job is under increasing pressure as Tottenham run the risk of missing out on Europe
Mourinho was brought in by chairman Daniel Levy to increase the likelihood of winning big titles. Now they are months away from completely missing out on European football.
As Sportsmail revealed on Monday, MourinhoPosition as Tottenham After this gloomy run, in which they were eliminated from the FA Cup and beaten by City in two consecutive games, the boss is scrutinized more and more closely.
The troubling downturn in the team, which has only scored 12 points in its last 12 league games, is now a cause for concern in the Spurs hierarchy.
The work of the Portuguese is not in immediate threat, but the pressure gauge is beginning to enter the dangerous red zone. Mourinho needs results – and fast.
The 4-1 win in the Europa League against RZ Pellets was a step in the right direction, albeit against limited opponents, especially since Gareth Bale finally showed a look at what he can really do.
Sunday’s trip to West Ham in shape feels huge and will show which side the outside threat really lies. Bale, who was deposed Thursday to save him for West Ham, could still be the key.
TOP FOUR ODDS: 9/2
The spurs were beaten by Manchester City and now face a crucial game against West Ham
Gareth Bale (left) is finally in shape in the Europa League – so can he bring that to West Ham?
Actual position: 10 .. Points: 34
A fitting and firing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang means Arsenal have one thing: hope.
On his day, the Gabonese star can be the best striker in the Premier League. He’s a world-class talent who got lost this season, albeit with mitigating factors that are off the pitch due to his mother’s illness.
But now he seems refreshed and ready to breathe life into Arsenal’s unlikely ambition to secure European football for 2020-21.
The odds are stacked against them as they are in 10th place in mid-February, ahead of a Leeds team that has a game in hand.
Arsenal got their mojo back against Leeds when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored a hat trick
Sky Sports ‘Graeme Souness devastated Mikel Arteta’s side ahead of Leeds’ 4-2 win, and it’s further evidence that outside of north London there is little or no belief that the Gunners are in that top four – Have a say in the fight.
“I don’t pay much attention to them. That says it all, ”said Souness.
‘Arsenal are one of the big clubs historically and right now they are in midfield with nowhere to go. That’s how I would describe them. ‘
Five of their next six league games – Man City, Leicester, Tottenham, Liverpool and West Ham – will play against teams above them and thus in combat.
If Arteta and Co really do something spectacular, it will be the next six games that will determine or break which direction this group is headed.
TOP FOUR ODDS: 17/1
Mikel Arteta’s side still have a lot of doubts but they are preparing for six games