Sunday, June 24, 2018

Can an underdog break into the top four?

Deke Hardman in Editorial, English Premier League 16 Nov 2015

Claudio Ranieri has hit the ground running at Leicester City

Claudio Ranieri has hit the ground running at Leicester City

The race for the top four has become one of the most talked about aspects of the Premier League season over the past decade or so.

The achievement of qualifying for the Champions League has become so prestigious it is surprising that there has not been a trophy made for it and such a notion may have been welcomed by Arsenal, who until their recent double FA Cup win had only entry into Europe’s top competition to celebrate in recent years.

The Gunners, Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea – collectively ‘the big four’ have been the preseason favourites to take the division’s top four places in the division’s history and this season was no different.

A familiar story

Three of those four sides occupy the most lucrative of positions in the table right now, with champions Chelsea the only absentees after a shock start to their title defence.

As the number of defeats for the Blues increases, the chances of them mounting a top-four challenge decreases but with over two thirds of the season left to play, which if any of the sides above them can continue their current form long enough to be real contenders?

Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool – the only other two sides from England to play in the Champions League in the past ten years are always there or thereabouts, and that is reflected in the eyes of the bookmakers who have them as fourth and fifth favourites respectively, behind the two Manchester sides and Arsenal.

Despite being thirteen points off the pace, Jose Mourinho’s side are next in the list though with England’s top flight more competitive than ever, surely this is the season where we could see a new name in the Champions League draw.

Leicester City have been the surprise package so far, with the Foxes currently in third just a point off the top, a point ahead of Manchester United and fourteen ahead of the champions.

Foxes still fighting

Leading their charge is man-of-the-moment Jamie Vardy. A must-start for England in this international break until he was ruled out through injury, the former Fleetwood Town man is by far the division’s top scorer with teammate Riyad Mahrez one of three players tied in second place in the race for the Golden Boot.

Their previous best showing in the Premier League came in 1999/2000 when they finished eighth and also won the League Cup. Since then there have certainly been more lows that highs for the East Midlands outfit but with a manager with the experience of Claudio Ranieri at the helm, they have to be worth considering.

Bet 365 offer a price 12/1 for Leicester to finish the season in the top four – the best price of any other than the aforementioned sides, Southampton and Everton, who were knocked out of the qualifying round of the Champions League in 2005, the season after neighbours Liverpool lifted the famous trophy in Istanbul.

Can Leicester City finish the season in the Champions League qualification places?


Deke Hardman

Freelance football writer with a love of the game that goes back to the mid nineties when both his beloved Nottingham Forest and England had genuine hope of acheiving some level of success. A regular contributor to both and, Deke also dabbles in music journalism with his heart and head still stuck in the latter years of the twentieth century.



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