Race for the top four where the real drama lies in the Premier League

Race For The Top Four Where The Real Drama Lies In The Premier League
Thomas Tuchel, Alisson Becker, Jurgen Klopp and Brendan Rodgers, l-r
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By Tom White, PA Sport Data Journalist

Just three points cover Leicester, Chelsea and Liverpool going into a decisive final week of the race for Champions League places.

While the Foxes and Blues, who hold the final two qualifying places, were otherwise occupied with the FA Cup final this weekend – they meet again on Tuesday – fifth-placed Liverpool kept themselves in touch with goalkeeper Alisson Becker’s dramatic late winner against West Brom.

Here, we look at the state of play with two matches remaining and how it continues the trend of recent seasons.

The run-in

One wins separates third place from fifth in the Premier League (PA graphic)

Cup winners Leicester hold third place on 66 points, two ahead of Chelsea going into Tuesday’s rematch.

Liverpool are only a further point behind as they prepare to face Burnley on Wednesday, knowing a win would leave them in the top four whatever Tuesday’s outcome at Stamford Bridge.


Sunday’s final round of fixtures then sees Chelsea travel to Aston Villa, while Leicester and Liverpool have home games against Tottenham and Crystal Palace respectively.

Leicester can clinch their place with a win on Tuesday and, while the permutations beyond that can get complicated, any of the three teams winning both their games will guarantee Champions League football. One win for either Chelsea or Liverpool would end the slim hopes of Tottenham and West Ham, both currently four points behind the Reds.

Top-four drama outlives title fight

Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City have again won the title with games to spare (Martin Rickett/PA)

Looking at the last 10 Premier League seasons plus this one, there is a clear trend in the standings at this stage.

For the fifth year in a row, the teams ranked third, fourth and fifth with two games to go are covered by four points or fewer. In 2015-16 it was seven points but with fifth-placed Manchester United having a game in hand, with Champions League places again still at stake on the final day.

In contrast, 2010-11, 2013-14 and 2014-15 all witnessed a nine-point spread in those spots with two games to play.

The closer European races have largely coincided with one team pulling away to win the title comfortably – only in 2018-19 has top spot not been decided by this stage, and even then the top two finished 25 points clear of the pack.


Leicester won the league with two games to spare in 2015-16, as did Chelsea the following season, with the pair eventually finishing 10 and seven points clear respectively.

Manchester City and Liverpool’s battle to the wire in 2018-19 was sandwiched between the two clubs’ respective romps to the title, leaving only the remaining seats at Europe’s top table to play for.

Last season was the closest of all, with Chelsea third on 63 points after 36 games and Leicester and Manchester United one behind.

A draw for United was the only change in gameweek 37, lifting them to third and leaving the three teams separated by a point, and they and Chelsea finished with wins while another defeat for Leicester left them on the outside looking in.

Tottenham went into the previous season’s final game three points ahead of fifth-placed rivals Arsenal – five points had covered the teams from third through to sixth with two games to go. Spurs drew their last game with Everton to stay fourth by a point – goal difference was also in their favour as insurance.


Chelsea were only two points behind with a game left in 2018, though defeat to Newcastle saw a bigger gap in the final table, while in the two seasons before that three teams were covered by one win going into the deciding games – Arsenal missed out by a point in 2017 and United on goal difference the previous year.

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