A Top-4 finish in the Premier League guarantees Champions League football for the following season but, with Manchester City are Liverpool expected to dominate once more, that effectively leaves just two spots up for grabs. Chelsea and Tottenham grabbed those spots last season, but they could face sterner opposition from Arsenal and Manchester United this time around.
Top-4 Premier League Challengers
Frank Lampard may have been a hero when he was a player at Stamford Bridge, but his lack of management experience at any level, let alone in the Premier League, could hinder Chelsea’s chances of playing Champions League football next season. Of course, having qualified for this year’s Champions League, Chelsea also have a chance of qualifying for next year by becoming Champions League winners, but playing European football is more likely to cost them valuable league points.
The Blues have also talisman lost Eden Hazard and a lack of summer signings could see Chelsea fall behind their fellow contenders in the race for a top-4 spot. They also have a tough start as they travel to Old Trafford for their opening game of the season.
There was and still is plenty of speculation about Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino leaving his position, but he starts the season still in charge. A new stadium means the club didn’t bring in any new players last season but Pochettino still did a great job with what he had. Tottenham looked sure to finish third until a great run in the Champions League and a late-season injury to Harry Kane saw them fade into fourth place.
The signing of Tanguy NDombele Alvaro and a couple of big late deals before the transfer deadline have added some strength to their squad and an opening game at home against Aston Villa should see them get off to a good start. That makes Tottenham look a good bet for a top-4 spot, but odds-on prices make little appeal.
Last season was a roller coaster ride for Manchester United, with the early season lows of Jose Mourinho soon forgotten as Ole Gunner Solskjaer motivated United into a mid-season peak that took them within clutching distance of a Champions League spot. However, their form fell away steeply in the final throws of the Premier League season and they ended it looking a distant relative of their former glories.
The signings of Maguire and Wam-Bissaka could give them solidity at the back but they still have to prove they can gel as a unit alongside Lindelof and Shaw. However, a bigger concern is United’s lack of a goal scorer that can match 20+ goals a season of the likes of Salah, Aguero, Kane, and Aubameyang. United’s top scorer last season was Pogba with 12 but it’s hard to know how the unsettled Frenchman will perform in the Premier League this season. Their second-highest scorer Lukaku is on his way to Italy, so United need Rashford or Martial to step up, and they have plenty to prove.
A run of 20 top-4 Premier League finishes for Arsenal ended in 2016/17 but, after three years of playing Europa League football, the Gunners could be ready to bounce back into the big time. Unlike Chelsea and Manchester United, they have a proven goal scorer in Aubameyang, who is ably assisted by Lacazette.
Manager Unai Emery should also know what to expect in his second season in charge and he’s been jettisoning the dead wood ruthlessly all summer. He may have missed out on some of his summer transfer targets but he’s still managed to bring in some quality players in the shape of Nicolas Pepe, William Saliba, and Daniel Ceballos.
The Gunners are expected to come out firing against a new-look Newcastle side managed by Steve Bruce and are fancied to claim a top-4 spot this season at an acceptable odds-against price.