English Premiership

OPINION | Solskjaer vs Lampard for Champions League place?

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard (Getty Images)
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard (Getty Images)

It has been a whirlwind Premier League campaign with runaway champions-elect Liverpool (82 points) set for their first title in 30 years and doing so in emphatic fashion.

Second-place Manchester City (57 points) are currently 25-points adrift while their two-year Champions League ban is set to kick in next season if their bid against Uefa’s decision fails.

However, if the ban sticks, City’s Champions League spot will go to the team that finishes the campaign in fifth position.

With Liverpool only six-points away from officially being announced as Premier League champions, the season is pretty much anti-climatic.

The Reds were simply superior and dominant in their hunt for glory – no argument there.

However, what the rest of the world is keeping their eyes on is who will finish in the top four?

City seems all but certain to finish as runners up while Leicester City (third) and Chelsea’s (fourth) places are potentially up for the taking.

Leicester (53 points) side have 10 games remaining which includes a tough FA Cup quarter-final encounter against Chelsea (48 points) in the coming weeks.

This weekend they travel to Vicarage Road for a tricky Premier League clash against relegation-threatened Watford.

Meanwhile, the Foxes also have league matches against Everton, Brighton, Arsenal, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Sheffield United, Tottenham and Manchester United.

These teams are all hunting for three points and for various reasons.

Leicester have recently recovered from a dip in form and star striker Jamie Vardy is in the goals again – perfect timing to clinch a Champions League spot.

Chelsea are another side finding form following their triumphant victories against Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton.

Solskjaer vs Lampard for top-four

Frank Lampard has dealt with many issues in his first season as club boss.

The Blues suffered a transfer ban which kept the former midfielder from signing players for a year but their appeal in December to lift the ban was successful and Chelsea have already secured the services of Hakim Ziyech from Ajax Amsterdam next season.

However, the silver lining in the transfer ban allowed Lampard to use Chelsea’s academy players – which has been successful in the United Kingdom for the past six years.

Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Reece James, Fikayo Tomori, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Billy Gilmour are the star academy players who have helped guide Lampard’s charges to fourth place in the Premiership.

Chelsea’s remaining Premier League matches: Aston Villa, Manchester City, West Ham, Watford, Crystal Palace, Sheffield United, Norwich City, Liverpool and Wolves.

In between these matches, Chelsea have to face Bayern Munich in a second leg quarter-final Champions League clash while also taking on Leicester in an FA Cup encounter.

While Chelsea and Leicester are in the driving seat to participate in next season's Champions League, five teams are breathing down their necks to break into the Premier League top four.

Manchester United (45 points) are favourites to do so as they have gone 11 games without a loss - their last defeat coming at the hands of Liverpool mid-January at Anfield.

The addition of Bruno Fernandes in the January transfer window has uplifted the Red Devils while star midfielder Paul Pogba continues to nurse an ankle injury.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s charges recorded their first league double in 10 years over rivals Manchester City on Sunday and are eager to push for a top-four place.

United’s fixture schedule looks a bit tricky with encounters against Tottenham, Sheffield United and Leicester but if they continue to grind out results, Solskjaer’s side could be hearing the Champions League theme song on a regular basis next season.

Manchester United’s remaining league fixtures: Tottenham, Sheffield United, Brighton, Bournemouth, Aston Villa, Southampton, Crystal Palace, West Ham and Leicester.

United could enter next season’s Champions League by winning the Europa League - a situation which Solskjaer would welcome as it gives his side a taste of silverware as well. The Red Devils are also still in the hunt for FA Cup honours which could either favour or deter their top-four chase.

Waiting in the wings - Wolves, Sheffield, Tottenham and Arsenal

Wolves (43 points) are also in the Europa League and have so far shocked many by maintaining a top-six push while doing well in Europe’s second-tier Cup competition.

Wolves remaining league fixtures: West Ham, Bournemouth, Aston Villa, Arsenal, Sheffield, Everton, Burnley, Crystal Palace and Chelsea.

Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United (43 points and a game in hand) have been one of the Premier League’s entertaining teams to watch this season as their defensive press constantly catches teams by surprise. Wilder has already penned a new contract that will see him at the club up until 2024 while an FA Cup run continues as they take on Arsenal in the quarter-final.

Sheffield's remaining league fixtures: Aston Villa, Newcastle United, Manchester United, Tottenham, Burnley, Wolves, Chelsea, Leicester, Everton and Southampton.

Tottenham (41 points) were maintaining a top-four position without Harry Kane (injured) last season and went on to the Champions League final under the tutelage of Mauricio Pochettino. A few months into the 2019/22 season, the Argentine was sacked and replaced by Jose Mourinho. A top-four place is what Mourinho has to deliver as club boss Daniel Levy has stated the importance of Champions League football.

Tottenham’s remaining league fixtures: Man United, West Ham, Sheffield, Everton, Bournemouth, Arsenal, Newcastle, Leicester and Crystal Palace.

In just under two years since Arsene Wenger opted to depart the Gunners after 22 years at the helm, Arsenal (39 points and a game in hand) are on their second manager, Mikel Arteta. Arteta relinquished his position at Manchester City for the role of managing the London side. The former Everton midfielder has already enforced changes which will hopefully prove fruitful for the Gunners next season.

Arsenal’s remaining league fixtures: Man City, Brighton, Southampton, Norwich, Wolves, Leicester, Tottenham, Liverpool, Aston Villa and Watford.

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