Tottenham and Arsenal are both heavy odds-on to finish in the top four but there are enough doubts about the north London giants to consider Manchester United a good bet at 11/8, argues Ben McAleer...
Eight games to go and there is still plenty to play for in the Premier League this season. Manchester City and Liverpool's title push is set to go down to the wire with just two points separating the pair at the top of the table, while at the other end of the table, any of the five teams from 14th to 18th could fall into that final relegation spot with five points the difference from Crystal Palace and Brighton to Cardiff.
In the race for a Champions League finish, too, there are plenty more twists and turns to come in this race. There is a four-point difference between Tottenham in third and Chelsea and sixth, with Arsenal and Manchester United sandwiched between the London pair.
Weeks ago, Spurs would've felt that had a Champions League spot wrapped up, but a run of three defeats and one draw put the brakes on the seemingly unstoppable push for top European football.
Tottenham too short given tough April
Yet in dropping points at Chelsea and then in their final league game at Wembley in the north London derby, Spurs not only lost ground in the race for the top four, but allowed their capital rivals to gain ground on them.
The international break came at an ideal time for Spurs, not to mention the lack of action the weekend prior to the domestic hiatus, which means Mauricio Pochettino's side will have had a three-week break from action to recharge and re-focus ahead of a crunch run of matches to see off the season.
They face a daunting trip to Liverpool to welcome their return to football and face a difficult April, which will see them face Manchester City three times in the space of 11 days, twice of which comes at the Etihad Stadium. Their new stadium will play a crucial role over the coming weeks, yet 1.57to secure a top four finish screams 'lay' rather than back at this stage.
Arsenal come in second at1.59 to secure a top four finish (shout to B.B colleague Alex Keble who backed them when they were 2/1 at the end of February).
That plunge in odds is no surprise with with Arsenal now unbeaten in their last five league matches and they were a late Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang penalty miss away from making it five successive victories in their 1-1 draw at Tottenham.
Will Europa League be Emery's priority?
No less, it's easy to see why Unai Emery's side are the joint-favourites of the aforementioned four sides to grab one of the two top four spots. In the league, Arsenal are done and dusted with their top six trials and tribulations, the last test of which they passed with flying colours as they comprehensively dispatched of Manchester United at the Emirates earlier this month.
A Europa League double header with Serie A powerhouse Napoli could prove a distraction, and progression past the Italian outfit may see attention change to European competition as a means of landing silverware and securing a Champions League berth as winners.
Yes, Arsenal have the easiest run in of those battling for a Champions League finish, but with a Europa League specialist manager in Emery at the helm, it wouldn't be a shock to see them switch their focus from domestic to European duties should they overcome Napoli to secure a semi-final spot.
So while it may be tempting to back the second favourite for a top four finish, you'll find greater value in Arsenal to win the Europa League at6.20. Even if they don't lift the trophy in Baku, you'll find more favourable odds in backing Arsenal in Europe and trading out; their odds will shorten massively if they overcome Napoli across two legs.
It's a similar story for Chelsea, who are the3.00 favourites to win the Europa League, and this is perhaps a key reason why they may fall short in the race for a top four finish.
The Blues are understandably keen to secure their first major European trophy in six years, while Maurizio Sarri is in pursuit of a first winners' medal of his career after falling agonisingly short in last month's Carabao Cup final.
Chelsea are at3.20 to secure a top four finish in the Premier League this season, so are the punters' outside bet to land a Champions League spot via the league, and given they have a tough run in to end the season, they're likely to remain that way, especially if they, as expected, secure a Europa League semi-final spot at Slavia Prague's expense.
With trips to Liverpool and Manchester United before the season's end, it's not difficult to see why few are backing Chelsea to finish in the top four, but even so; there is a way to profit on the west London outfit.
Manchester United are the ones to back
They sit just three points off fourth-placed Arsenal and return to league duties with meetings with relegation candidates Cardiff and Brighton. Like Arsenal and the Europa League, capitalising on the cash out option would help turn a profit should Chelsea return to domestic action with aplomb. Yet, it could prove to be that the meeting with United at Old Trafford in a month's time is pivotal as to how the top four looks come May.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may have been handed his first league defeat at the hands of Arsenal earlier in March, but then only rivals Manchester City (27) have earned more points than Manchester United (23) in 2019. The pair face off at Old Trafford next month, days before Solskjaer side welcomes Chelsea to Manchester in a season-defining double-header for United. The two league outings come after Champions League clashes with Barcelona in what is set to be, like Spurs, a crunch month for United.
That being said, Solskjaer has exceeded expectations since succeeding Jose Mourinho as United boss and at2.34, they are well worth a punt to finish in the top four. Solskjaer may have endured his fair share of injury woes since taking over at Old Trafford, but he's managed to bring out the best in this vastly talented squad, something Mourinho failed to do and it cost him his job.
United return to league duties with a welcome of Watford, a side they've beaten on each of their last five meetings at Old Trafford, and their first game back is one of the more navigable of the four teams vying for the final two Champions League spots.
Back Manchester United to secure a top four finish at 2.34