The race for the top-four in the Premier League is always one of the most intriguing battles. While the top-three is all but decided among Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, the other spot is way tougher to call. There are possibly five teams locked in a fight to the finish for the position currently occupied by Manchester United.
Was it a 👍 or 👎 #PL weekend for your team? pic.twitter.com/UotYLkDVhJ
— Premier League (@premierleague) February 21, 2022
However, though they have a lead over the chasing pack, the league is prone to throwing up surprises every season and nobody can rest easy. FootTheBall looks at the teams in the fray and who are best set up to reach the Champions League next season.
It has been a funny old season for the Red Devils, but everyone agrees that the loft expectations have not been met. Having signed Cristiano Ronaldo, Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho last summer, they were expected to challenge for the title but the ill-fated four months under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer extinguished any hopes. Ralf Rangnick came in with the club floundering in 8th-place and despite some shaky performances of late, especially defensively, United hold a four point lead over West Ham United just below them.
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The next month should prove to be the most crucial under the interim manager, with games against Manchester City (away), Spurs (home), and Liverpool (away). If United can avoid defeat in at least two of those matches, and pick up five-six points, that will be a very good haul. April should prove to be easier with must win games against Leicester City, Everton, Norwich and Brentford.
🔴 @ManUtd have scored in each of their last 14 #PL away matches – they are the only side to have scored in all of their away games this term#LEEMUN pic.twitter.com/DaMdvcxHbd
— Premier League (@premierleague) February 20, 2022
Jadon Sancho has slowly started regaining his form, while Bruno Fernandes and the wingbacks look more and more solid. If they can turn their dominance into goals and shore up the backline, United should be back in the Champions League.
West Ham United
The Hammers stormed the league to finish fifth last season and qualify for the Europa League, where they have already made it to the round-of-16. David Moyes has done a brilliant job with limited resources, and has overseen the rise of several squad players into superstars. Declan Rice is one of the best midfielders in the league while Jarrod Bowen is on the cusp of a England recall after a breakout season.
Jarrod Bowen's last 10 games…
— West Ham United (@WestHam) February 14, 2022
However, the new year has not been so hot for West Ham with damaging back-to-back defeats to Leeds and Manchester United in January. Their most recent two outings were hardfought draws against strugglers Leicester City and Newcastle United, leaving them with 42 points. A tricky run of fixtures is coming up with Wolves (home), Southampton (away), and Liverpool (away) all in good form.
West Ham have scored at least once in all 13 of their #PL home matches this season 🏡
That's the best such 100% record in the competition this term!#WHUNEW pic.twitter.com/N17Rpu6N73
— Premier League (@premierleague) February 19, 2022
April could be the most important month, with nine points very much possible against the likes of Everton, Brentford and Burnley. Their last match comes at home to Chelsea and could prove pivotal in their hopes of making the top-four.
The team best placed and still in danger of making the top-four. Confused? It is because the Gunners have three games in hand over both Manchester United and West Ham but are level on points with the latter. So, naturally, if they win those matches, they are up to 51 points which is five more than the fourth-place team currently has but the dates of those games are yet to be decided by the league.
✅ vs. Southampton
✅ vs. West Ham
✅ vs. Leeds United
✅ vs. Norwich City
❌ vs Man City (Rodri)
✅ vs. Burnley
✅ vs. Wolves
Arsenal have conceded 1️⃣ goal from open play in their previous seven Premier League fixtures. 💪 pic.twitter.com/LHdH9CwsIu
— Connor Humm (@TikiTakaConnor) February 16, 2022
Mikel Arteta’s youngsters have come up big this season with Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka coming of age while Martin Odegaard has settled nicely as the number 10. Out of their next five games, four are definitely winnable with the fixture against Liverpool the only major worry. However, one of the most important ties will come at the end of April as they host Manchester United in a must-win clash for both sides.
Most Premier League goals scored for Arsenal this season:
◉ 9 – Emile Smith Rowe
◉ 7 – Bukayo Saka
Hale end produces again. 🙌 pic.twitter.com/9OeeqgR8sF
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 19, 2022
Can Arteta really guide one of the most youthful teams back amongst Europe’s elites? The omens are good and now they just have to avoid any slip-ups, both in terms of results and player conduct.
It has been a sensational turnaround from Bruno Lage and his team after having suffered three consecutive losses to open their season. They have won four of their last five matches, with the sole loss coming against Arsenal. Wolves have conceded the joint second-fewest goals (18) while also scoring the second-fewest goals (23).
Wolves have now won five of their last six Premier League games. No team has won more in 2022.
Bruno Lage continues to do an outstanding job this season. 🇵🇹🐺#WWFC • #WOLLEI pic.twitter.com/3owOUgoYv0
— The Coaches' Voice (@CoachesVoice) February 20, 2022
That just goes to show how efficient the team has been in winning games and keeping the defence as solid as possible. Wolves are currently on 40 points with two games in hand and their next two fixtures are very crucial ones, away to Arsenal and West Ham. Win at least one while avoiding defeat in the other and Wolves can certainly feel even better about their top-four chances.
🐺 Four of @Raul_Jimenez9's five #PL goals for Wolves this season have ended up being the winning goal of the game#WOLLEI pic.twitter.com/ZBAL0eKefR
— Premier League (@premierleague) February 20, 2022
April will present them a chance to consolidate even further, with games against Aston Villa and Newcastle United. If the backline continues to remain airtight, one of the shocks of the season can unfold well.
There are certain points in a team’s season that act as the catalyst to achieve great things. Spurs will hope that their last gasp-win over champions Manchester City spurs them on to finish the rest of the season on a high. Antonio Conte has had a tough time righting the ship after coming in last year to replace Nuno Espirito Santo. January saw the arrivals of two exciting players in Dejan Kulusevski and Rodrigo Bentancur but the departures have left the manager unhappy.
Harry Kane v Manchester City, 19.02.2022. 🎥 pic.twitter.com/jEhTp4C9nP
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) February 22, 2022
Spurs are seven points behind Manchester United having played three games less. Their upcoming games are imminently winnable, against Burnley, Leeds and Everton respectively which should see them hot on the heels of the top-four.
A top four finish? Antonio Conte says Spurs only have a 'one percent' chance of making Europe 😳
They're eighth on the Premier League table, seven points from fourth with three games in hand.#OptusSport pic.twitter.com/7aDKJWEfVx
— Optus Sport (@OptusSport) February 16, 2022
March could be trickier with fixtures against both Manchester United and West Ham with any result having a great effect on all the involved sides. Anything less than Champions League football for Spurs will cause a sense of immense unfulfillment for both manager and owner Daniel Levy.