Premier League: Who will win flawed race for fourth and fifth? – Chris Sutton analysis

The Premier League title race might be done and dusted but, with 11 games to go, at least one Champions League place is still up for grabs.

“It could be that fifth place gets you in if Manchester City’s European ban is upheld,” said BBC pundit Chris Sutton.

“But even if not and it is only the top four, then there is still a lot to play for and it is the only thing to be decided at the top of the table, with Liverpool so far ahead.

“The rest of the top three, Leicester and City, look pretty safe to me too, but after that it is up for grabs.

“It is exciting because you have got the likes of Sheffield United punching above their weight but the big clubs involved in this particular race have all been in a bit of a mess at different times this season – they were expected to be doing much better than this.”

Four of the contenders play each other on Sunday, with Everton hosting Manchester United and Tottenham playing Wolves.

Here Sutton takes a look at the strengths and weaknesses of all eight – from Chelsea in fourth down to 11th-placed Everton – before he gives his verdict on who will finish fourth and fifth.

4th Chelsea – 44 points

Sutton: “Frank Lampard’s side have had some extremely good results, but also some very bad ones, losing to West Ham, Southampton and Bournemouth at home.

“The Blues do not have a problem creating chances but they do not convert enough of them and they have looked fragile defensively at times.

“It feels like fourth place is theirs to lose, but Lampard got it right when he said after last week’s defeat by Manchester United that their season starts now, and they responded with an important win over one of their main rivals, Tottenham.

“What Lampard does with France striker Olivier Giroud now is going to be interesting, because he did well against Tottenham in his first Premier League start since November.

“Maybe he is exactly what they need for the last couple of months of the season – an experienced head to come into the side and carry on a bit of momentum to get them over the line.”

5th Man Utd – 41 points

Sutton: “Bruno Fernandes seems to hold the key for United to finish the season on a high note.

“If he continues to shine, then he can inspire them. If he does not then they are in the same boat they were in before he joined in January – when they lacked creativity and were just not good enough.

“The big problem with United so far has been that you cannot trust them.

“They put a couple of wins together and you think they have cracked it, and then they lose to someone where you just did not see it coming.

“That has been their issue all season and it is going to be very interesting how they get on at Goodison Park on Sunday. They have got to prove they can carry this on.”

6th Tottenham – 40 points

Sutton: “Yes, Spurs have got injury problems but I don’t agree with the way Jose Mourinho has dealt with them.

“Has he got a point, blaming all their problems on being without the likes of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min? No.

“This Mourinho, who is throwing his toys out of the pram, is the one I think a lot of people thought we would see at Spurs, so it is not a surprise.

“Of course it is not ideal to lose your star striker and his main back-up but they have still got lots of quality in their squad.

“Rather than moan, Mourinho’s job is to get the best out of the other players in his squad – but he is not doing that at the moment.

“I am going to rule them out, for him being so mopey.”

7th Sheffield United – 40 points

Sutton: “If the teams around are under-achieving, then the Blades are doing better than anyone could have expected.

“I don’t think they are done yet, though. Chris Wilder seems to be the type of manager to say ‘we have had a great start, but now we need to finish it off’.

“He will keep demanding more from his players, so I don’t see them tailing off – why should they?

“We know now how well organised they are, and how strong they are at the back.

“They have one of the best defences in the Premier League and they create chances as well, so I would expect them to accumulate plenty more points before the end of the season.”

8th Wolves – 39 points

Sutton: “It felt like Wolves made quite a slow start to the season but they soon hit their stride – and they have never really slowed down too much.

“It is easy to see why because they have got a decent back-line, creative midfielders and strikers who can score. Diogo Jota in particular has just hit a bit of form.

“Sunday’s game at Spurs could be pivotal for where their Premier League campaign goes next, though.

“Win, and they go above them. Lose and a bit of a gap could open up between them and fourth and fifth.

“So this is a big game for them but they will fancy themselves to win it.”

9th Arsenal – 37 points

Sutton: “I have been very impressed by Arsenal under Mikel Arteta. In Sunday’s win over Everton you could see the improvement he has made, compared to how they were under Unai Emery at the start of the season.

“There are still some issues to sort out but there is hunger and togetherness in this Gunners team and they are definitely on the rise.

“Their fans know it too. It has been so volatile at Emirates Stadium in the past few seasons but there seems to be some patience right now, even when mistakes are made.

“Overall it is obvious they are better organised, especially out of possession, under Arteta but it is still slow, slow progress and they are going to have the odd slip-up.

“They are not out of contention for Champions League places yet though. If you are an Arsenal fan you are thinking they are four points off fifth place, which may get them in.

“They just need to carry on doing what they are doing, and stay disciplined, because they have got tremendous firepower.”

10th Burnley – 37 points

Sutton: “It looked like they were getting sucked into the relegation scrap when they lost four straight games at the turn of the year but only Liverpool have been in better form in the past few weeks.

“Burnley’s rise has been built from the back – they have only conceded two goals in their past five league games – and Sean Dyche keeps showing that you do not have to spend big to be well-organised and effective.

“Dyche has done an unbelievable job because he also has instilled the belief in his team that it does not matter if they are on a bad run because they can dig a result out from anywhere.

“They won’t make the top five, but yet again they will be fine when it comes to securing their top-flight status and I count that as a success.”

11th Everton – 36 points

Sutton: “They are very similar to Arsenal in that they changed their manager in December and look a lot better for it.

“They were unfortunate to lose to the Gunners at the weekend and it is not just results that have improved under Carlo Ancelotti – they looked a yard sharper than they did when Marco Silva was manager, and played with a greater intensity and attacking threat.

“I have enjoyed seeing Dominic Calvert-Lewin come to the fore, and Ancelotti has shown great faith in him.

“You cannot rule them out of the top-five running, but what I would ask whether this is the same group of players who, for whatever reason, were not playing at the same level for the previous manager?

“So Ancelotti has got to hope those flaws in character that we saw under Silva do not show up again in the next couple of months.”

The verdict – who will make it?

Sutton: “You cannot look at the run-in for any of these sides and say they have easier or harder fixtures than their rivals because most of them have dropped points in unexpected places this season.

“The only thing consistent about all of these teams from fourth down to 11th – and even if you wanted to chuck in 12th-placed Southampton as well – is their inconsistency.

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“It feels like they can drop points at any moment, whoever the opposition are, and Chelsea are a very good example of that.

“Had they beaten Bournemouth and Saints at Stamford Bridge like they really should have done, then they would be up with Leicester and we would be talking about the top four being a done deal.

“Chelsea are still in the driving seat at the moment, though, because they have got the points on the board, which is a big thing.

“It will come down to them and United for fourth, but I think the Blues will hang in there.

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“Giroud will have a big say up front but they have plenty of other attacking options, although they are vulnerable defensively, they have got the right keeper in goal now – they should stick with Willy Caballero.

“Chelsea boss Lampard said last week that ‘their season starts now’ and the same applies to everyone else too.

“United have not managed to string any results together before now, but it looks like Fernandes might provide them with the spark they need.

“If he carries on to the end of the season in this form then maybe, just maybe, they can push Chelsea but I think he means they will finish at least fifth.”

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