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Premier League: Liverpool's win over Tottenham has blown the race for the top four wide open




The race for Champions League football has intensified after Liverpool managed to see off a spirited Tottenham side at Anfield last night.

With Manchester United and Southampton set to play on Wednesday evening, only three points separate the Saints in third and Liverpool in seventh.

The outcome of the battle for the final two Champions League places looks set to be more intriguing than the title race, with Chelsea seemingly back in control of the title.

But between United's lacklustre displays that somehow yield results and Liverpool being the most in form side in the league, exactly who will take up those ever so vital European spots?

Firstly, it looks likely that the top seven in the league at present will occupy those spots in some order come the end of the season. 

Barring a surge from an admittedly in form West Ham, the rest of the sides in the division are either battling to avoid relegation, or stuck in mid table limbo, the likes of Stoke and Newcastle with too many points to realistically go down, but too few to mount a challenge for a European spot.

One factor however that could shake up the dynamic further is if champions Manchester City drop more points. In recent weeks City have seen the gap behind Chelsea increase to seven points, whilst the gap to those behind them cut to only four points.

City play Stoke this evening having never won at the Brittania in the Premier League, and a slip up there could drag them from title contenders to Champions League scrappers.

So what about the five teams who are hot on their heels?

Southampton (3rd): Write them off at your peril. Pundits and fans alike have been waiting for the 'inevitable' dip in form in what has been a terrific season for Ronald Koeman's side. 

With a defence only bettered by leaders Chelsea, and perhaps the best overall transfer business in the summer, Southampton will simply not go away. Whilst fellow surprise package West Ham have slowly dropped away from the top four, the Saints have consistently delivered this season to stay in the hunt.

The only thing going against them is experience. They are a relatively young squad and few of their players have experienced playing in Europe, or indeed coping with the pressure of finishing in the top four.

Arsenal: The top four has been Arsene Wenger's bread and butter for the best part of two decades, but that's not to say it's been plain sailing in recent years.

Wenger has endured criticism from fans, some of whom even called for his sacking, but a recent upturn in form, barring their North London derby defeat at the weekend, and the return of the likes of Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott, has boosted the Gunners top four credentials.

They are also still in the FA Cup, which they must fancy retaining given the teams left, and the Champions League, with a last 16 encounter with Monaco coming up. How their squad copes with fighting on three fronts will determine whether they can make the top four, but history tells us Wenger's side always bring their best towards the end of the season.

Manchester United: Somewhat of an enigma so far this season. Whilst the Moyes era had pretty much been deemed a failure by this point last year, the Van Gaal regime has yielded more results, but questionable performances.

The Dutchman's rant about long ball statistics earlier this week has certainly shown his frustration at the questions asked over his side's tactics and team selections, but if under Moyes this side weren't playing 'the United way' at the moment they aren't even playing the 'Van Gaal way.'

And yet, they sit in fifth place, and could be up to third tonight after their match with Burnley. Whilst this side aren't firing on all cylinders by any means, the experience of the squad and their ability to get results from nowhere is an ominous sign for their rivals.

Tottenham: Earlier in the season, you could've been forgiven for thinking Spurs' best chance of getting into the Champions League would be to win the Europa League. But it seems that things are coming together for Mauricio Pochettino at the right time, with his side playing quick, pressing football, and beating your fiercest rivals always helps.

But whilst their North London neighbours have the luxury of the Champions League mid-week fixtures, if Spurs still want to have an impact in the Europa League, they will have to deal with the gruelling Thursday/­Sunday schedule once more, With one such game coming before their League Cup final against Chelsea.

Spurs must be wary of hedging their bets by trying to win the Europa League and finish in the top four, as they could end up doing neither.

Liverpool: The cloud left by Luis Suarez's departure finally seems to have lifted over Anfield after a first half of the season where Liverpool looked lost without him and the injured Daniel Sturridge.

But since switching to three at the back, Brendan Rodgers seems to found a way of getting the best out of his current squad, and with Sturridge now back and already scoring, Liverpool could be hitting form just at the right time.

Like Spurs they also have to handle the awkward Europa League schedule and decide where their priorities are, and then there's the thought of Steven Gerrard playing his final game for his beloved club at Wembley in the FA Cup final- on his birthday.

Whilst an FA Cup trophy for their departing captain hits the sentimental buttons, if Champions League football is once more absent from Anfield, how long would fans be willing to wait for it again?

So five teams, in varying levels of form, stature and Champions League pedigree, all fighting it out for two (or three?) Champions League spots.

Forget the title, this is the race that will be worth watching until the very finish.


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