Saturday, May 18, 2024

Remain or Leave? The Battle for European Places

Seven games have come and gone in the Premier League since its mid-August return, and now European football is back on the menu. There has been an explosive start to the 2019/20 campaign already; the trend of playing out from the back and VAR have had a huge influence on goals, individual errors, refereeing decisions and largely controversy.

Amid the excitement, the fight for European places looks very competitive with a large variety of clubs, both the traditionally bigger as well as those usually closer to mid-table are battling it out to march into Europe for the 2020/21 season. I’m going to analyse and assess those fighting it out for the European spots and give my thoughts on which clubs will remain within European competitions and the clubs that I feel could possibly be leaving Europe behind.

Manchester City and Liverpool – The Top Two

First and foremost, undoubtedly, the first two Champions League spots will be secured once again by Manchester City and Liverpool. By far and away, the current Premier League and European Champions are levels ahead of any other team in the Premier League and quite possibly in Europe. The real big question between these two teams is which one will lift the Premier League trophy come May.

Liverpool have come firing out the blocks, securing comfortable and excellent wins in all seven of their games. City, though five points behind the Reds, have more squad depth overall than their title rivals. With that being said, despite the brilliance of so many individuals in that light blue side, Pep Guardiola’s team look like they can be hurt defensively as Aymeric Laporte is out injured. City have to rely on Fernandinho to step into center-back and partner Otamendi, as it is clear the Argentinian international and John Stones are not trusted at the back together after their collapse at Norwich.

The title really could go either way this year, I expect the first and second-placed teams to have around 15-20 points more than the side that finishes third, such is their level of dominance.

Image result for man city liverpool
For the second year running, I expect both Manchester City and Liverpool to occupy the first two Champions League spots.

With that being said, the remaining European places are very much there to be snatched by those bold enough to win them. Very rarely would I say that so many teams have a chance of finishing anywhere from third to seventh in a single Premier League campaign. Below are two of the sides that I think are capable of finishing in a European spot and how likely I think they are to do so.

Tottenham Hotspur – Pochettino’s future in doubt?

Spurs are peculiar this season. If I was to make a prediction based purely on the squad, as well as the manager at the helm, I’d have Spurs to finish in third and somewhat comfortably at that. However, it’s been a disappointing start to the season for the North London club. Though currently only a point off the top four, a home defeat to relegation candidates Newcastle, a third-round league cup exit to League Two side Colchester, as well as a wounding 7-2 home battering against Bayern Munich in the Champions League makes for absolutely terrible reading where Spurs are concerned.

There seems to be growing unrest at Tottenham. Though still a team full of real quality, one can’t help but feel that this side should have won some silverware by now, even if it was just the Carabao or FA Cup. Pair the lack of trophies with what appears to be Daniel Levy’s invisible wallet and it’s understandable that manager Mauricio Pochettino casts a frustrated shadow. The Argentinian took Spurs to the Champions League final without signing a single player last season, you feel that if they are to continue to reach that kind of level, the North London club will need further investment into the squad.

It’s not only the manager that is cause for discussion at Tottenham. Questions have been asked of England captain Harry Kane and his future in North London. As one of the best strikers in world football, a player of Kane’s caliber, World Cup and Premier League golden boot winner, should be winning League and European titles. Though that potential may still be there at Spurs, I believe that if Kane really has true ambitions of accumulating a fantastic silverware haul, his best option would be to move on from North London.

Despite their current woes, I do think Pochettino and Spurs are capable of turning their situation around and I still expect them to qualify for the Champions League. However, if things don’t change at the North London club, Tottenham could well be without both Europe and Pochetinno come the end of the season.

Remain or Leave: Pochettino's future could hinge on European football
This season could very well decide Pochettino’s future with Tottenham.

Arsenal – Any Difference Under Emery?

After missing out on Champions League last season and losing the Europa League final to London rivals Chelsea, I feel Arsenal fans would have been completely justified had they felt disappointed by the 2018/19 campaign. Should the red side of North London find themselves without Champions League football at the end of this season, I expect to see an absolute meltdown on Arsenal Fan TV, and rightly so.

Yet the problems that have nibbled away at Arsenal since the dissembling of the Invincibles appear to be chomping at the Gooners once again, only this time Arsene Wenger is not the man in charge. Unai Emery’s side is devoid of leaders, never before has this been so badly illustrated as the squad were allowed to pick their own captain, which resulted in the office being bestowed upon Granit Xhaka. Defensively, the Gunners are still poor and have been for over a decade now. More worryingly, £70 million record signing Nicolas Pepe appears to be a lackluster signing so far. The young Ivorian still has time to turn it around but for the money spent, I feel signing a player like Wilfried Zaha would have been a better move for the gunners.

The saving grace for Arsenal is their strikers. In Aubameyang and Lacezette they have two fantastic goal scorers, yet lack the creativity in order to be a real menace going forward in the way City and Liverpool are. I feel their defensive frailty and lack of creation played a crucial part in their 1-1- stalemate away at Old Trafford against what many Arsenal fans have considered to be the weakest Manchester United side since the inception of the Premier League.

Losing Aaron Ramsey was huge and Emery appears to have no faith in World Cup winner Mesut Ozil, who’s £350,000 per week contract makes it almost impossible for the Gunners to sell him. Due to the deficiencies of their usual rivals, Arsenal should certainly be targeting a place within the top four, it is certainly within their power to get there. Yet, if they are unable to improve defensively, I fear they may miss out on Champions League football and Emery could well be on his way out of North London.

European Place at stake For Arsenal
Unai Emery has to earn Champions League football this year if he is to maintain his current position at Arsenal football club.

To Be Continued…

As with Brexit, there are many factors when it comes to which Premier League teams will remain in European football competitions and those that may end up missing out. In Part Two of this article, I will be discussing the chances that Chelsea, Manchester United, Leicester and other sides have of getting into Europe.

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