Premier League top-four race for Champions League qualification analysed by form, fixtures and Sky Sports pundit Alan Smith

With Manchester City pulling away at the summit and Liverpool and Chelsea on course for a top-three finish, West Ham, Man Utd, Arsenal, Tottenham and Wolves look set to battle it out for a top-four finish.

As it stands, six points divide fourth-placed West Ham and eighth-placed Wolves, setting up what looks to be an intriguing race to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Here, we assess the runners and riders in the battle for fourth, their form and their fixtures until the end of the season…

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The table…

Smith: Top three look set

Sky Sports’ Alan Smith on current top three in the Premier League:

“There’s a seven-point gap to Chelsea in third. It looks like it will be difficult to catch Chelsea, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, and the league leaders Manchester City.

“I know there are games in hand for plenty of teams but City, Chelsea and Liverpool are the three best teams in the country.

“Pep Guardiola’s side are the best by some distance, to be honest, but those three teams will make up the top three I’m sure.”

The fixtures…

West Ham

Position: 4th
Games played: 24
Points: 40
Top-four Sky Bet odds: 9/1
Active cup competitions: Europa League and FA Cup

West Ham had a fantastic start to the season. Under David Moyes, the Hammers were flying high and looked real contenders for the top four. Despite wins at home against Liverpool and Chelsea though, they suffered a bit of a blip with back-to-back defeats to Wolves and Man City in November before successive defeats to Arsenal and Southampton in December.

They responded well, though, and wins against Watford, Crystal Palace and Norwich put them firmly back in the race for Champions League qualification. But a defeat to Manchester United on January 22 saw them concede fourth place on a weekend in which Arsenal dropped points and Tottenham lost to Chelsea.

The win over Watford has got them back on track but West Ham’s run-in to the season looks tricky, with trips to Leicester, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Brighton to come. They also face Wolves, Arsenal and Man City at home and have played at least one more game than the teams around them.

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If they are going to reach the top four, West Ham will have to do it the hard way.

Key fixtures: Leicester (A) – Sunday Feb 13; kick-off 4.30pm (live on Sky), Wolves (H) – Saturday Feb 26; kick-off 3pm, Liverpool (A) – Sunday Mar 5; kick-off 3pm, Tottenham (A) – Saturday Mar 19; kick-off 3pm, Chelsea (A) – Saturday Apr 23; kick-off 3pm, Arsenal (H) – Saturday Apr 30; kick-off 3pm, Man City (H) – Sunday May 15; kick-off 3pm, Brighton (A) – Sunday May 22, kick-off 4pm.

  • West Ham fixtures

Manchester United

Position: 5th
Games played: 24
Points: 40
Top-four Sky Bet odds: 5/2
Active cup competitions: Champions League

Consecutive league wins at the start of Ralf Rangnick’s interim tenure were followed by three wins in six to put Manchester United firmly back in the race for the top four.

After a disappointing loss to Wolves and a draw with Aston Villa, United bounced back with successive victories over Brentford and top-four rivals West Ham, however, dropped points at Burnley and at home to Southampton in their last game have dented United’s charge.

It also promises to be a tricky second part of the season for Cristiano Ronaldo’s team. The club could face further potential stumbling blocks with fixtures against Brighton and Leeds in February and more clashes with top-four contenders will follow in March and April.

Having reduced the size of their squad with the departures of Anthony Martial, Amad Diallo and Donny van de Beek (all on loan) in January, United face a huge test of their Champions League credentials.

Key fixtures: Man City (A) – Saturday Mar 5; kick-off 3pm, Tottenham (H) – Saturday Mar 12; kick-off 3pm, Liverpool (A) – Saturday Mar 19; kick-off 3pm, Leicester (H) – Saturday Apr 2; kick-off 3pm, Arsenal (A) – Saturday Apr 23; kick-off 3pm, Chelsea (H) – Sunday May 15; kick-off 3pm.

  • Man Utd fixtures

Arsenal

Position: 6th
Games played: 22
Points: 39
Top-four Sky Bet odds: 6/4
Active cup competitions: None

Arsenal endured a torrid opening to the campaign, losing their first three matches to suffer their worst start to a season in 67 years. They were rock bottom of the Premier League with Mikel Arteta under pressure, but the Spaniard has overseen a remarkable recovery at the Emirates Stadium.

The Gunners currently sit in sixth and have two games in hand on Manchester United. Their contentious New Year’s Day defeat to Man City brought to an end a run of four successive – and impressive – wins.

Their draw against Burnley prevented them from making further ground on the top four, but a gutsy win at Wolves – achieved despite another red card – took them to within a point of West Ham.

Having been knocked out of the Carabao Cup by Liverpool, Arsenal are no longer competing in any cup competitions and will be dedicating their efforts solely on achieving a coveted spot in the Champions League.

Key fixtures: Wolves (H) – Thursday Feb 24; kick-off 7.45pm; Leicester (H) – Saturday Mar 12; kick-off 3pm, Brighton (H), Saturday April 9; kick-off 3pm, Manchester United (H), Saturday April 23; kick-off 3pm, West Ham (A) – Saturday April 30; kick-off 3pm, Chelsea (A) – TBC, Liverpool (H), TBC, Tottenham (A) – TBC

  • Arsenal fixtures

Tottenham

Position: 7th
Games played: 21
Points: 36
Top-four Sky Bet odds: 2/1
Active cup competitions: FA Cup

Tottenham are looking much more threatening under the guidance of Antonio Conte, but, as the head coach himself has admitted regularly since arriving in north London, there is still plenty of work to be done if they are to finish inside the Premier League’s top four. They have games in hand to take control of the top-four race, but can they convert those into the required points?

Spurs’ fixture list has been complicated by three postponements since Conte’s arrival, meaning they have multiple games in hand on all the teams around them. Having played three games fewer than fourth-placed West Ham, for example, Tottenham would move ahead of their London rivals if were they to win them all.

After losing to Chelsea in the two-legged semi-final of the Carabao Cup, Tottenham were defeated again by Thomas Tuchel’s side at Stamford Bridge, bringing Conte’s nine-game undefeated league run to an end. He also suffered his first home league defeat when Southampton won 3-2 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on February 9.

Having brought in Juventus’ Rodrigo Bentancur and Dejan Kulusevski on Deadline Day and four points behind fourth-placed West Ham, Spurs are in with a chance of making the top four by the end of the season.

However, trips to Manchester to face both City and United in the run-in could complicate their chances, in addition to facing Liverpool at Anfield before the season is out. That’s not to mention the postponed games that still have to be fitted in, which could lead to fixture congestion as we reach the business end of the season.

Key fixtures: Wolves (H) – Sunday Feb 13; kick-off 2pm, Man City (A) – Saturday Feb 19; kick-off 5.30pm (live on Sky), Manchester United (A) – Saturday Mar 12; kick-off 3pm, West Ham (H) – Saturday Mar 19; kick-off 3pm, Brighton (H) – Saturday Apr 16; kick-off 3pm, Leicester (H) – Saturday Apr 30; kick-off 3pm, Liverpool (A) – Saturday May 7; kick-off 3pm, Arsenal (H) – TBC

  • Tottenham fixtures

Wolves

Position: 8th
Games played: 22
Points: 34
Top-four Sky Bet odds: 40/1
Active cup competitions: FA Cup

Wolves had a rocky opening to the season with three successive 1-0 losses under new manager Bruno Lage that left them 18th in the league. One of those losses came against Nuno Espirito Santo’s Tottenham, who had left last season to take charge of the north London club.

However, Lage has since overseen an improvement in his side’s form with impressive victories against Aston Villa, West Ham and Brighton. Though they are the third-lowest scoring team in the division with 19 Premier League goals, their defensive nous has been a key component of their rise up the table. They have conceded just 16 times this season, a record that is bettered only by Pep Guardiola’s Man City.

Their start to 2022 has been impressive as well, with successive victories over Manchester United, Southampton and Brentford, but defeat to Arsenal was not a great start to a difficult February in the league.

Key fixtures: Tottenham (A) – Sunday Feb 13; kick-off 2pm; Leicester (H) – Sunday Feb 20; kick-off 4.30pm (live on Sky); Arsenal (A) – Thursday Feb 24; kick-off 7.45pm; West Ham (A) – Sunday Feb 27; kick-off 2pm (live on Sky); Man City (H) – Saturday Apr 16; kick-off 3pm; Brighton (H) – Saturday Apr 30; kick-off 3pm; Chelsea (A) – Saturday May 7; kick-off 3pm; Liverpool (A) – Sunday May 22; kick-off 4pm

  • Wolves fixtures

Watch the race for Champions League qualification unfold live on Sky Sports.

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