Football Features

Favourites, under-performers and wildcards: The state of play in the Premier League’s top-four race

By Chris Smith

Published: 15:56, 14 May 2021

The 2020/21 Premier League is in its final stages and the race for Champions League qualification couldn’t be much closer.

Manchester City have already sealed the Premier League title while Manchester United are also safe in their Champions League spot, opening up a gap on the teams below them.

However, just eight points separate Leicester City in third from sixth-placed West Ham, while Tottenham and Everton are still mathematically in the race.

With pretty much every team involved in the Champions League qualification scrap already slipping up at some point or another, this could easily go right down to the wire.

So, who has the best chance of booking their seat at European football’s top table next season? Let’s take a look at the state of play.

(18+ only. All odds featured within this article are correct at time of publication. T&Cs apply. BeGambleAware.)

The favourites

Chelsea

Current position: 4th

Although the sacking of Frank Lampard may still seem harsh to some, the difference at Chelsea under replacement Thomas Tuchel is like night and day. After beginning to sink like a stone in a pond, the Blues have floated back to the surface of the Champions League race, sitting fourth, two points behind Leicester and four ahead of Liverpool, despite a recent 1-0 defeat to Arsenal.

Chelsea have lost just two Premier League games under Tuchel so far, while they’ve also booked their place in the Champions League and FA Cup finals, so have a busy few weeks ahead.

The Blues are 2/5 favourites with Sky Bet to finish in the top four but it’s all going to come down to that home tie against Leicester, coming just days after their FA Cup final meeting with the Foxes.

Remaining Premier League fixtures: Leicester (H), Aston Villa (A)

Liverpool

Current position: 5th

After blowing away the rest of the Premier League to win the title last season and starting this campaign with three consecutive wins, Liverpool fans must be wondering how they’ve ended up in their current predicament. The Reds have failed to put together a consistent run for most of this season, but it was their disastrous form just after New Year that caused serious concern.

Liverpool might have Golden Boot contender Mohamed Salah in their ranks, but Jurgen Klopp’s men have still been starved of goals at times. And their injury list is the stuff of nightmares, especially in defence. Virgil van Dijk tops the list, but he is joined by club captain Jordan Henderson, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez on the treatment table, while the likes of Diogo Jota and Naby Keita have suffered extended absences. Even replacement centre-backs Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies are now in the physio room.

But despite all these hardships, the Reds have put themselves in a great position to qualify for the Champions League with back-to-back wins over Southampton and Manchester United. Liverpool are 2/5 co-favourites with Sky Bet to finish in the top four. That’s because of the aforementioned fixture between Chelsea and Leicester. With at least one side guaranteed to drop points, Klopp’s men can seal Champions League football by winning their remaining three fixtures.

Remaining Premier League fixtures: West Brom (A), Burnley (A), Crystal Palace (H)

Leicester City

Current position: 3rd

Despite reaching the FA Cup final, Leicester City had a bit of a wobble at the start of April, losing back-to-back Premier League games to Manchester City and West Ham during a run of just two wins in six. Still, the Foxes bounced back to beat West Brom 3-0 and Crystal Palace 2-1 to remain third in the table and they demonstrated that durability again to beat Man Utd 2-1 after losing to Newcastle. But despite sitting third, the Foxes are priced at 8/15 to secure Champions League football according to Sky Bet, with Chelsea the favourites to win that all-important clash after the FA Cup final.

Brendan Rodgers has considerable firepower at his disposal in Jamie Vardy alone, while Nigerian striker Kelechi Iheanacho is enjoying a hot-streak of his own right now. In fact, Leicester have scored more goals than any other side outside the Premier League’s top two (65).

As mentioned, it’s all about that fixture with Chelsea, though ending the season against Spurs won’t be easy. Who knows, even that game might be a do-or-die affair.

Remaining Premier League fixtures: Chelsea (A), Tottenham (H)

The under-performers

Tottenham Hotspur

Current position: 7th

Remember when the title race was between Liverpool and Tottenham? Both sides have fallen off a cliff over recent months and that early-season battle at the top of the table now feels like a lifetime ago.

A three-game winless run at the start of April was enough to see Jose Mourinho’s time in North London come to an end, and Spurs won their first two league games without the Portuguese tactician, beating Southampton and Sheffield United either side of a Carabao Cup final defeat to Manchester City. But the old rot crept back in with Tottenham falling 3-1 to Leeds last time out.

The Lilywhites are seventh in the table but have a game in hand on the top four. But even that extra fixture and the collective firepower of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min won’t be enough to fire them to Champions League football with Spurs priced at 250/1 to do so with Sky Bet.

Remaining Premier League fixtures: Wolves (H), Aston Villa (H), Leicester City (A)

The wildcards

West Ham United

Current position: 6th

It may seem counterintuitive to class West Ham as a wildcard given they only sit six points outside the top four but such was their start to the season and relative lack of squad depth that absolutely nobody expected them to be there.

David Moyes deserves immense credit for his work during his second stint with the Hammers, even if they have come down slightly from the relentless run they enjoyed across New Year. Moyes’ “new Fellaini” Tomas Soucek is proving a wonderful threat in the final third, scoring nine goals so far, while the likes of Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen offer West Ham dynamic and very different options. And have we mentioned the inspired January acquisition of Jesse Lingard, who already has nine goals in just 1,156 minutes?

The Hammers are priced at 33/1 to be in the top four come the end of the season. But in all honesty, that will come as a disappointment to supporters, with Moyes’ side losing three of their last four games after putting themselves in such a great position.

Remaining Premier League fixtures: Brighton (A), West Brom (A), Southampton (H)

Everton

Current position: 8th

After back-to-back defeats to Fulham and Man City, Everton threw themselves right back into contention with a memorable 2-0 win over Liverpool in February and backed that up with a narrow 1-0 away win at West Brom. But after that, Carlo Ancelotti’s men went well off the boil, losing two and drawing three of their next five Premier League outings.

The Toffees sunk to eighth in the table as a result and remain there thanks to more inconsistent form. Beat Arsenal? Sure. But that’ll be followed up with a home defeat to Aston Villa. Win against West Ham? no problem, but we’ll only manage a point away at Villa.

Eight points now separate Everton from fourth place and that gap can be closed to five if they win their game in hand. But if they’re to stand a chance of closing that gap between themselves and Chelsea, Ancelotti simply must do something about his side’s nasty habit of missing chances. In fact, Everton have failed to score more than two goals in a Premier League game since a 3-3 draw with Manchester United at the start of February.

Everton’s odds have jumped right out to 750/1 to finish in the top four after that draw against Aston Villa, the very definition of a wildcard.

Remaining Premier League fixtures: Sheffield United (H), Wolves (H), Man City (A)