Explained: Why the race for seventh between Wolves & Co. actually matters
With the Premier League entering its final few months the race for seventh is hotting up – and with good reason.
A seventh-place finish, in what is being dubbed the ‘best of the rest’, could provide Europa League football next season, providing Manchester City win the FA Cup.
Under the current guidelines, UEFA have granted three Europa League places to English clubs, two of which are afforded to the winners of the FA Cup and League Cup respectively, while the other is given to the club that finishes fifth in the Premier League.
However, should the winner of either domestic cup competition go on to secure European football via their league position, then the Europa League spot will open up to the next-highest ranked team not qualified for a UEFA competition i.e. sixth and seventh.
And so, with City all but guaranteed to finish in the top six this term, their League Cup win now means sixth is one potential route to Europe, while an FA Cup triumph – for which they firm favourites – could also open the door for seventh.
With that in mind, the race for seventh now looks an extremely mouth-watering prospect for those involved, but how are each side shaping up ahead of the run-in?
Remaining fixtures: Southampton (a), Brighton (h), Arsenal (h), Watford (a), Fulham (h), Liverpool (a)
Wolves are in pole position as things stand, currently occupying the highly-coveted seventh position. The newly-promoted side have excelled far beyond expectation and impressed with their organisation, discipline, and clinical approach in the final third.
Their destiny is certainly in their own hands, but given their tough fixture list, notably Arsenal and Liverpool, Nuno Espirito Santo will be stretched to the limit; these coming weeks will be a true test of Wolves’ mettle and resolve. However, Wolves have proven their ability to claim scalps this season, most recently a 2-1 win over Manchester United.
Remaining fixtures: Arsenal (h), Huddersfield (a), Southampton (h), Wolves (h), Chelsea (a), West Ham (h)
The Hornets have looked promising under Javi Gracia’s careful watch this term, producing performances of blistering excitement one week, but at times coming unstuck the next, particularly against the ‘big six’ where they have taken just three points this season.
The next six games will be challenging, but Gracia knows his system down to a tee and has his starting XI well-drilled and well-organised. Should they overcome hurdles against Arsenal and Chelsea they stand a good chance.
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Remaining fixtures: Huddersfield (a), Newcastle (h), West Ham (a), Arsenal (h), Man City (a), Chelsea (h)
Brendan Rodgers has been a habitual European manager for a number of years now and that is exactly where he will want to take his current Foxes side. Under his guidance the East Midlands club look a far more potent and attacking threat than during his predecessor’s reign.
Leicester have some tricky fixtures coming up, particularly the final four in which they play three of the perennial ‘big six’, but with three consecutive wins under his belt, Rodgers is certainly acclimatising nicely back into the Premier League environment, and could cause an upset or two.
Remaining fixtures: Arsenal (h), Fulham (a), Man Utd (h), Crystal Palace (a), Burnley (h), Spurs (a)
Things were looking bleak for Marco Silva on Merseyside just a few weeks back, but the Portuguese coach has enjoyed a resurgence in recent outings and looks to have finally found a winning formula with the exceptional talent at his disposal.
The challenge would have been to break into the top six upon his arrival, but Silva will certainly settle for seventh now, not that seventh is guaranteed, far from it in fact, as the Toffees have some difficult fixtures remaining, including Arsenal, Man Utd and Spurs.
West Ham United
Remaining fixtures: Chelsea (a), Man Utd (a), Leicester (h), Spurs (a), Southampton (h), Watford (a)
West Ham really are the Premier League’s mystery side, beating Arsenal and drawing to Liverpool one week, but capitulating against Cardiff and Bournemouth the next.
And things aren’t looking particularly rosy in east London if their latest showing is anything to go by. Against Everton they were diabolical with Manuel Pellegrini’s side registering just one shot on target and never really looking like putting up a fight. Three of their next four encounters are against a ‘big six’ side so the Hammers will certainly need to rediscover their spark if they are to have any chance of clinching European football.
Who gets into a combined XI?