The Premier League has four teams battling for two spots in next season's Champions League. Here's a closer look at the battle as the season hits the stretch run.
With the Premier League season in its penultimate month, there are three distinct races still to be decided.
At the top of the table it's Liverpool vs. Manchester City, a battle of two heavyweights that are still among the eight survivors vying for Champions League glory as well and whose matches are then immediately followed by scoreboard watching. As it stands, Liverpool leads Man City by two points after Friday's come-from-behind win over Southampton.
The relegation race is two-thirds of the way settled. Cardiff, hard done by the assistant referee and the lack of video review vs. Chelsea, is the the last side currently in the drop zone with a remote chance at securing safety, with Huddersfield and Fulham having already cemented the drop. Cardiff is five points behind Burnley in the all-important position of 17th place.
Then there's the matter of the top four. As it stands, four clubs with top European aspirations are within three points of each other for the league's two final berths in next season's Champions League. Arsenal, Tottenham, Man United and Chelsea all fancy themselves as elite clubs capable of winning both home and abroad, but for two of them, that dream could be put on hold. There's the caveat that winning the Champions League (where Tottenham and Man United remain alive) or winning the Europa League (where Arsenal and Chelsea are among the quarterfinalists) offer another way in, but securing a top-four finish domestically is the route that removes the chance involved in a knockout competition.
Here's a closer look at the four clubs vying for two places in next season's Champions League (all records through April 8):
Record: 20-7-6, 66 points, +23 goal differential
Remaining schedule: at Liverpool, vs. Burnley, at Man United, vs. Watford, at Leicester
Outlook: Chelsea arguably has the toughest road, with away matches at Liverpool and United certain to be daunting tasks and mixed in with Europa League travel. Given the Blues have the most ground to make up, maximizing its points in a race where every single point matters won't be easy. They were given a lifeline in controversial fashion after salvaging a recent 2-1 win over Cardiff, but the quality level will need to be increased in a major way if they're to pip their rivals for a top-four finish. That was the case vs. West Ham Monday, with Eden Hazard stealing the show with his double. The Europa League route is also still a viable one with a favorable quarterfinal vs. Slavia Prague on deck.
Manager's future: Of the four managers involved in this race, Maurizio Sarri is the one standing on the thinnest ice. His defiance and methods have come into question for weeks now, yet he's avoided the quick-trigger wrath of Roman Abramovich for the time being. Returning to the Champions League, either via top-four finish or by winning Europa League, would probably be enough to salvage a return next season. Anything short of that, and Chelsea figures to be back in the market for yet another manager–all while having a two-window transfer ban looming.
Record: 21-10-1, 64 points, +26 goal differential
Remaining schedule: vs. Huddersfield, at Man City, vs. Brighton, vs. West Ham, at Bournemouth, vs. Everton
Outlook: Tottenham opened its new stadium Wednesday, an odd thing to do so late in the season and a true wild card for the club. There's the excitement and relief of finally having its new home after so many months of delays, but there's also the curveball of having to make a new venue feel like home so soon after finally becoming accustomed to the confines of Wembley Stadium. Four of its final six league games will come at the new park, so there's ample opportunity to break it in right away, which it began to do with a 2-0 stadium-opening win over Crystal Palace.
The most glaring match on the schedule is the one at Man City, which comes three days after a Champions League quarterfinal second leg against Pep Guardiola's side at the Etihad. The result and fallout of the Champions League tie can surely paint the remainder of Tottenham's season, but its strength of schedule is otherwise quite favorable. That's a nice boon for a club that has let what was a sure top-four finish–and a potential title challenge–slip away by going 0-4-1 in its last five league matches before Wednesday's win.
Manager's future: Mauricio Pochettino appears to be staying put, largely because his two would-be destinations, Real Madrid and Manchester United, both filled their vacancies with long-term solutions. He's made it clear the club needs to spend to compete, and after two straight windows of signing nobody, Tottenham may become more of a player in the world market. Regardless of Tottenham's finish both in the league and Champions League, Pochettino is here to stay.
Record: 19-7-6, 63 points, +25 goal differential
Remaining schedule: at Watford, vs. Crystal Palace, at Wolves, at Leicester, vs. Brighton, at Burnley
Outlook: Arsenal's road the rest of the way has some pros and cons. On one hand, there are no head-to-head matchups remaining with any of other top-six clubs and the Gunners have a game in hand on their chief competitors. On the other hand, four matches are away from home, where the Gunners have an unremarkable 5-6-4 record. That, coupled with Burnley's potential desperation on the last day of the season, could wind up complicating matters for a team that is currently in the driver's seat for third place.
Manager's future: Unai Emery has done a fantastic job in what could have been an impossible task, that being replacing a club legend. There's a difference in replacing Arsene Wenger, whose chief triumphs came years before his departure, and the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, who largely went out on top. But Arsenal appears to be in good hands with Emery. No, he's not going to win any domestic silverware in his first season, but a Europe League title (which would be a fourth for him) remains in play, and a top-four berth and return to the Champions League would mark an all-around successful year–something made even more impressive given the turnover in player recruitment roles above Emery.
Record: 18-7-7, 61 points, +18 goal differential
Remaining schedule: vs. West Ham, at Everton, vs. Man City, vs. Chelsea, at Huddersfield, vs. Cardiff
Outlook: Man United is in O.K. shape, but its loss to Wolves Tuesday did not help matters, especially with Tottenham and Chelsea following with wins of their own. Its season will ultimately come down to one decisive two-week stretch, when it concludes its Champions League quarterfinal vs. Barcelona and then goes back-to-back vs. Man City and Chelsea. At the very least, those two league games are at Old Trafford, but that's where this season will either be salvaged or lost. That Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could potentially seal relegation for Cardiff in the season finale after being at the helm for the Bluebirds' relegation in 2014 is a poetic twist.
Manager's future: Solskjaer is at the wheel for the long haul, being given a three-year contract after restoring the good vibes around Old Trafford. In order to keep those good vibes flowing, he'll need, at the very least, to get the Red Devils into the top four, but he at least is not in any danger of being dumped after stabilizing Jose Mourinho's wobbly ship in a caretaker's role.