The Blog

Looking at the Premier League's Real Contenders for the Top Four

As a long-standing Spurs sympathiser, it's faintly disappointing to see them slide their way back out of the top six, but it's hard to seriously argue that it's not deserved.

While Chelsea and Manchester City have been pretty much flying free at the top of the Premier League table this season, the battle for the minor placings has been more interesting than ever.

That's not necessarily because of an increase in quality - there are teams in Champions League contention who would've been laughed out of the top eight in other seasons - but with just four points separating five sides between third and seventh, it's compelling viewing.

Here's a quick run down of the teams in the picture.

5. Tottenham

As a long-standing Spurs sympathiser, it's faintly disappointing to see them slide their way back out of the top six, but it's hard to seriously argue that it's not deserved.

Without the 13 (thirteen!) points gained from goals scored in the last five minutes this season, they wouldn't even be in the top half right now. There's something to be said for the fight this shows and what it says about the squad's fitness levels, but the club's packed fixture list will surely put paid to that extra bit of fitness soon. From there, the only way is back down the table.

Spurs have a stronger team and better manager than last season, but may still finish lower in the league. That's kind of impressive in its own way, right?

4. Liverpool

Liverpool are weird. Daniel Sturridge is made of plasticine. Steven Gerrard is falling apart at the seams. ​Mario Balotelli is.... Mario Balotelli.

Liverpool haven't lost a league game in 2015. Daniel Sturridge is, for now, fit again. Steven Gerrard is getting ready for a big goodbye. Mario Balotelli is scoring again.

The league's in-form team are just three points off third place and closing fast. The defence is finally starting to look less error-prone than an under-13 side, and goals are beginning to flow.

It's not going to be quite as dramatic as last season's title challenge, but the Reds are developing a habit of coming good in the second half of the season. It isn't just that a Champions League place isn't beyond them - they should be disappointed if they don't secure it from here.

3. Southampton

There's a strong temptation to talk about how the club are punching above their weight when talking about the Saints, but it's well past time to knock that on the head. They proved their worth last season, and they've built on that success with shrewd work in the transfer window, and they don't deserve to be patronised like that.

All that being said... They probably aren't good enough for a top four place this year. Their defence is starting to show signs of cracking, and there aren't enough goals in the team. Top scorer Graziano Pelle has eight goals in the league this season, but only one from his last nine games.

They've got the players to go on a late-season run and challenge for a Champions League spot, but they're more likely to end up in a scrap for 6th with Spurs.

2. Manchester United

​I do not understand Manchester United. You don't understand Manchester United. If you think you do, you're wrong. I'm fairly sure that Louis van Gaal doesn't understand Manchester United.

They've looked absolutely terrible for about 80% of this season, and they sit fourth in the league. They've lost to the league's worst club, and they sit fourth in the league. Their £265,000-a-week loan signing's finishing has been worse than a blindfolded five year old and, defying any explanation, they sit fourth in the league.

When they finally put together a good, cohesive performance against Swansea on the weekend, they suffered their first defeat in seven games.

If pressed for a prediction, a mixture of calamity, brilliance and dumb luck will probably land them in fifth place. But equally, don't be surprised if a sudden and unlikely series of events see them win the league on goal difference. It's been that kind of season.

1. Arsenal

Good old Arsenal. For the last five or six years they've just been a couple of players away from having a title-winning team. This season has been absolutely no different, despite the addition of the spectacular Alexis Sanchez who, when playing up top with Olivier Giroud, completes possibly the best-looking striker partnership in Premier League history.

They're the most complete team in the top four dogfight though, and it would be a massive shock to see them fail to obtain Champions League qualification for the first time in almost 20 years.

With Giroud firing, Santi Cazorla absolutely tearing things up in midfield and Mesut Ozil back near his mercurial best, the Gunners really ought to finish 'best of the rest' once again.

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