UCL Qualifications – Liverpool has wrapped up the title but there is still plenty to play for at the top of the league as Manchester United, Chelsea and Leicester City look do secure qualification for the 2020/21 Champions League.
United lead the running
With just one game remaining it could hardly be closer in the final two Champions League places with three sides separated by a single point. It was thought that all three could have qualified due to second-placed Manchester City’s ban from UEFA competitions for breaching FFP regulations. However, City’s successful appeal to CAS means that they are now able to take their place and one of United, Chelsea, and Leicester will miss out.
All three have been inconsistent at times this season but will be desperate for a chance to enter the lucrative competition at a time when clubs’ finances are likely stretched due to coronavirus. United and Chelsea are currently on 63 points, a point ahead of Leicester, but the Foxes’ goal difference is vastly better than Chelsea’s.
UCL Qualifications – Manchester United (away vs Leicester City)
What they need: United are in pole position so a point will be enough against fellow contenders Leicester. If they lose then they will need Chelsea to do the same.
It has been a season of two halves for Manchester United but their form since January has catapulted them into third place with just one game remaining. When football was suspended the Red Devils were three points adrift of the top four and eight points off Leicester but they have looked sensational since the restart. In their last eight fixtures they have picked up six wins and two draws and their defensive record has improved significantly. They have not lost a Premier League fixture since January and have conceded just seven goals in thirteen matches in that time.
Potential Hero: Bruno Fernandes
It can be no coincidence that United’s mid-season revival came around that time that the Portuguese playmaker arrived from Lisbon and he has slipped seamlessly into their midfield. He has been involved in 14 goals (scoring seven and assisting seven) in his 13 Premier League matches and is central to the 4-2-3-1 system favoured by Solskjaer. His eye for a pass has unlocked the potential of United’s pacey front three and has eased the creative burden on Paul Pogba. He will want to end his debut season in England in style.
Manager’s Thoughts: (Ole Gunnar Solskjaer)
“We’ve given ourselves a great opportunity. We wanted to give ourselves the chance to head there and get into the Champions League by beating them.
“Now, we’d be OK with a draw, but we’ll be going there to win. You’ll prepare as you always do to go and win the game.”
UCL Qualifications – Chelsea (home vs Wolverhampton Wanderers)
What they need: With the other two taking points off each other a draw will be enough for Chelsea to qualify. If they lose then they will need Leicester to do the same.
Frank Lampard’s first season as a top-flight manager has seen a lot of good progress and a few glaring weaknesses. They booked a place in the FA Cup final last weekend but Champions League qualification would make this a successful campaign regardless of the result at Wembley on 1 August. Lampard was brought in to bring through the young players and Mason Mount, Reece James, and Tammy Abraham have all impressed this season.
However defensive fragility has been an issue all season and no team in the top half has conceded as many as the Blues. Their 5-3 defeat at Anfield on Wednesday was typical of their gung-ho style and they will need to tighten up if they are to avoid defeat at Molineux on Sunday. Wolves are still fighting for Europa League qualification and will be a tough proposition.
Potential Hero: Christian Pulisic
The young American performed well in the first half of the season but it has been his form since the restart that really showed him to be one of the most dangerous attackers in the league. He has provided four goals and four assists in eight games since lockdown, despite not always starting, and showed his incredible talent against Liverpool on Wednesday. Jamie Carragher described his direct dribbling style as “Eden Hazard-like” and he should get some space to run against Wolves’ back three.
Managers’ Thoughts: (Frank Lampard)
“If we want to get to where we want to be, then the moments and pressure like this is what it is all about.
“It comes with the territory of playing for a top club. If we were offered this at the start of the season, not many expected us to be in the top-four race but we have it in our own hands and we are at the Bridge.”
UCL Qualifications – Leicester City (home vs Manchester United)
What they need: A win against their rival will guarantee a top-four finish for the Foxes. Failing that, their superior goal difference means that a draw will be enough if Chelsea lose.
If you had told Leicester fans at the start of the season that they would need a home win on the final day to secure Champions League football they would have been delighted, but the Foxes looked to have it wrapped up at the turn of the year. In January Leicester were 14 points clear of fifth and a thumping 9-0 victory over Southampton had given them an impressive goal difference.
But since the halfway stage Leicester has had the twelfth-best record in the Premier League and have only managed the same number of wins as relegation-threatened Watford in that time. Wins over Crystal Palace and a draw at Arsenal in recent weeks hinted at a change in fortunes but a demoralizing 4-1 reversal to Bournemouth suggests that they are still low on confidence. They will need to rediscover their early season form if they are to defeat an in-form United side.
Potential Hero: Jamie Vardy
Leicester have been struck with injuries to James Maddison and Ben Chilwell in recent weeks but have at least enjoyed the return to form of top goal-scorer Jamie Vardy since the Premier League’s resumption. The Golden Boot front-runner only scored in one of his first ten appearances in 2020 but appears to have rediscovered his touch since notching his 100th Premier League goal against Palace. He now has four in his last five matches and will be desperate to get the goals that fire the Foxes into the Champions League, just as he did four years ago.
Managers’ Thoughts: (Brendan Rodgers)[i]”I don’t want to be too negative [about recent form]. We go into a game [at Old Trafford] with a fantastic chance to get into the Champions League.
“It will be absolutely perfect. It will be all in. The players have been fantastic and we’ve got one last opportunity.