Ah yes, the annual race for that final most sought-after Champions League place is finally upon us. 4th place, a place which defines the type of club you are. If you finish 4th you can declare yourself a ‘big 4’ club. If you finish 5th, well..God help you.
For the past three years its been occupied by three different clubs, two of London descent and the other, hailing from Merseyside fresh from their long-standing battle with Everton. Last year became the first time Tottenham had qualified for a European competition of this magnitude and my oh my, how they impressed. Destroying Inter Milan on their own turf and also screeching past Inter’s cousins AC at the San Siro, you don’t see that very often for a team in their maiden season in the Champions League.
Right now, its Manchester City who occupy the world-renown 4th Champions League spot but their season has fallen apart of late. First came their dismissal from Europe at the hands of European minnows Dynamo Kiev, then they suffered heavy defeats at the hands of Liverpool and Chelsea which have let 5th placed Tottenham back into the fray. A season which had started so promisingly – going top for a brief period of time before city rivals United knocked them off the perch – they began to rely on talismanic skipper Carlos Tevez so heavily that it forced Roberto Martinez to say that no other player in the team could score a goal. Alas, Tevez – like all players – has had his problems this term and having saved himself from the wrath of public hatred around Christmas time, he’s been the main source of income for City’s front three. In fact, let’s discuss City’s front three. Mario Balotelli, – the troublesome trouble-maker – joined City last summer for a fee in the region of £24 million. He has repaid City by scoring 9 goals, collecting 9 yellow cards and picking up two red cards just for good measure. When ‘bib-otelli’ isn’t playing for Manchester City you can find him crashing his car into walls or if that fails, he’ll probably be in the foyer throwing darts at City youth players ‘mistaking’ them for dart boards. January signing Edin Dzeko has been fairly quiet during his time at Eastlands so far, scoring a mere 4 goals in 15 appearances albeit some from the bench. With a manager who’s under copious amounts of pressure to win silverware I fear this may be his last season unless, y’know, somehow he pulls a rabbit out of the hat and beats United in the FA cup semi-finals tomorrow.
Off to London now to assess Tottenham’s chances. The Lilywhites are priced at 2/1 to beat City into 4th but if you already have your wallet at the ready I’d advise you to slowly put it back where it came from. Although they may only be 3 points behind City with a game in-hand the run-in looks incredibly hard to Spurs to pick up some much needed points. First they have Arsenal next Wednesday, then ten days later its off to Stanford Bridge and two matches later they do battle with faltering Manchester City before its on the road one last time to Merseyside to take on a rejuvenated Liverpool side. Tell me that’s not incredibly difficult to gain maximum points off? Gareth Bale’s opinion is somewhat different. He told the press in the post-match conference after Spurs’ exit from the Champions League that
“We need to win every game and we will go out there to win every game. We know that we are capable of beating all the other teams. We beat them all last season at some point so there is no reason why we can’t get maximum points. “We don’t fear anyone. We have the players and are capable of scoring goals. We are just going to go out there, show what we can do and hopefully finish in the top four.” Bold words from the Londoners’ most prized asset and although he seems somewhat optimistic, the chances of Tottenham finishing for a second successive season in 4th look undoubtedly slimmer every week.
Of course these two are the front-runners for 4th spot but we can’t underestimate a newly reformed Liverpool side. Since ‘King Kenny’s return Liverpool have looked every inch of the side that very nearly won the league under Rafa back in 2008 and to be honest, there doesn’t look like a team that can stop them. Beating Man City and United rather comfortably shows that the Merseysiders are back in business. And the interesting thing is they only lie 8 points behind Man City. With a consistent run of form and Carroll and Suarez banging in the goals, its hard to see their form coming to an abrupt stop. But mind you, it will be incredibly difficult for them to achieve such a feat as they would have to win their remaining 6 games to even stand a chance. Still, that’s what makes the Premier League what it is.