As the curtain is drawn on the English Premier League tomorrow, Manchester United, Chelsea and Leicester will be battling for a top-four finish to book a place in next year’s UEFA Champions League. Champions, Liverpool and runners-up, Manchester City have already booked their places in Europe’s top contest next term. Attention will not only be at the top of the log, as Bournemouth, Watford and Aston Villa will also be battling for survival
One of Manchester United, Chelsea or Leicester will end up thwarted in the bid for Champions League qualification as the battle for Europa League qualification is also going down to the wire.
Champions Liverpool and runners-up Manchester City have long since rubber-stamped their places in Europe’s top contest next term – though Pep Guardiola’s men needed a Court of Arbitration for Sport victory to confirm it, Manchester United, Chelsea and Leicester will fight it out for the other two berths. United face a trip to direct rivals, Leicester, while Chelsea host Wolves in Sunday’s final round of league fixtures. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United only need a draw to secure that all-important top-four finish.
With Leicester and United facing each other, a draw would also be good enough for Frank Lampard’s Chelsea to seal that Champions League berth. The only way Leicester can guarantee a top-four finish is to beat United, although a draw would be enough for the Foxes should Chelsea lose at home to Wolves – owing to superior goal difference.
The teams who finish fifth and sixth in the league will qualify for next season’s Europa League. Should Chelsea beat Arsenal in the FA Cup final, then seventh place will also earn a Europa League spot. The team to qualify in the lowest league position goes into the Europa League’s second qualifying round. Wolves and Tottenham are fighting it out for sixth place. Wolves are one point ahead of Spurs heading into the final round of fixtures, with Jose Mourinho’s Londoners taking on Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. A win will guarantee Wolves sixth place then, but Spurs could still leapfrog the Molineux men.
The complication to all this would be the scenario of both major European trophies this term being won by English teams who finish outside the Premier League’s top four. Were Chelsea to win the Champions League and Wolves the Europa League – and both finish outside the Premier League’s top four – then both sides would qualify for next term’s Champions League. In that scenario fourth place in the Premier League would only be good enough for a Europa League berth. Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United and Wolves will all be in European action next month. Should any win their trophy they will qualify for the Champions League regardless of their Premier League placing.
Meanwhile, Manchester United captain says he’s ready for Sunday’s Champions League shootout with former club Leicester, saying “you’re in the wrong sport” if you cannot get up for the high-pressure clash.
Solskjaer’s men were far from being at their best against West Ham on Wednesday, but the 1-1 draw at an empty Old Trafford was enough to see them break into the top four for the first time since September.
Solskjaer’s men will secure a return to European football’s top table if they avoid defeat at the King Power Stadium, with Maguire returning for the first time since last summer’s big-money move to Old Trafford.
“We’re disappointed,” the United skipper said after the 1-1 draw. “It was an important game – a very important game not to lose – but we want to win the game.
“We want to win the game, want to score goals. We have scored numerous goals of late and we started the game really well. We started the game on the front foot, high tempo, big intensity and we should really take the lead. And then we had a sucker punch before half-time, which was disappointing.
“Great reaction from the lads to come out second half. It was a great goal from Mason Greenwood: great feet, great finish and nice play from Anthony Martial as well to find him.
“It’s a huge game. We’ve got three days now to prepare for it, which with our schedule being what it’s been, it’s generally been two days and then play.
“So, you don’t get time on the training ground, it’s more about recovering.
“It’s nice to have three days, which seems a bit crazy to say but the schedule has been hard for the lads. But we’ll be ready on Sunday.”
Teenager Greenwood may well have a key role to play against the Foxes, having capped another promising display with an emphatic goal to cancel out Michail Antonio’s penalty.
“It was a great goal,” Maguire said. “When he gets in that box and he can manoeuvre his feet and he can manoeuvre it to either foot, he’s a nightmare for defenders. I know from training.
“But he’s been excellent, it’s great to see him playing with confidence.
“He always seems to be on the scoresheet, especially since we’ve returned from lockdown.
“He’s a special talent and he’s going to have a big future at this club.”
The point not only put United in the top four but guaranteed West Ham’s survival, with David Moyes looking to kick on next season having been allowed to leave after staving off relegation in his first spell.
“We’re under contract anyway so whether we were Premier League or not I was going to be at West Ham unless the owners chose different,” he said.
“Last time I only had a short contract so the owners were entitled to do what they wanted to do, this time I am under contract and I can see shoots of improvement.
“The owners can see shoots of improvement too and I think they understand the way we would like to go and the idea we have got.
“I think there is a great opportunity to improve a great club with big ambitions.”