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Race for the top four

The Premier League season is almost exactly a third of the way through. The international breaks, all three of them, have meant a disjointed campaign so far but there is no international calendar until well into 2015. So, players can now make club football their main focus for several months.

With the busy Christmas programme to come, we can therefore get some idea of who are likely to be in the top four and who will struggle to avoid relegation.

We look here specifically at the top four and who are likely to be in amongst that group at the end of the season. Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal, possibly in that order, are among the favourites. The Betfair odds take a closer look at the situation and we can also analyse what might happen at the end of the season.

Manchester United

Liverpool came so close to upsetting the betting and lifting the Premier League title last season, however, after Manchester United’s season from hell in that last campaign, the natural order could be back. United are already well-placed and could improve as the season proceeds to comfortably get into a Champions League place.

Chelsea and Manchester City, barring a massive collapse, will be first and second, so there are two places up for grabs and United will feel confident of finishing in one of the pair. The spending spree conducted by Louis van Gaal has paid dividends in that, after the predictability of their attacks last season, they look a more coherent unit.

Angel di Maria is a class act as he should be for the money United paid for him, although there are concerns about a latest injury. The Argentine has made a difference and there is a greater sense of urgency within the team. Robin van Persie had been struggling for form before his goal against Hull City and captain Wayne Rooney was carrying the attack. United also have Radamel Falcao back from injury.

Though the defence urgently needs some work and Van Gaal will be expected to strengthen that area in January, United will nevertheless score more than they concede and should get back into European contention after just a single season of missing out.


Arsenal fans, in their most recent game away at West Bromwich Albion, unfurled a banner calling on Arsene Wenger to resign. That followed two successive defeats in the league but a win at the Hawthorns put the Gunners back towards the top and they sit sixth, just two points off Manchester United in fourth.

The win at West Brom shouldn’t paper over the cracks and there are some problems at the Emirates. Several of the goals conceded this season have been as a result of the opposition counter-attacking and taking advantage of Arsenal pushing men forward. So, while the Gunners have lots of possession, they are vulnerable to breakaway goals.

An FA Cup win last season at last brought some silverware back to the club but another Premier League title looks as far away as ever. Last season they were flat-track bullies, beating teams they were expected to, but struggling badly against their rivals at the top of the table. In this campaign, they look to have a little more than some of those competing for a top-four place, but are surely short of the quality needed for a tilt at the title.

Top-four hopefuls
What of the other contenders? Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool are stuck in mid-table and, after arguably over-achieving last season, are struggling, looking predictable and suffering a shortage of goals. They are clearly missing the sold Luis Suarez and the injured Daniel Sturridge.

Tottenham suffered a similar problem the previous season, selling Gareth Bale and spending all the transfer fee but not having success with the replacements. With a new manager in Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs are on the same number of points as their great rivals Arsenal and, if they can get some consistency in their play, have at least a chance of sneaking into fourth.

Though Southampton have started the season magnificently, most would dismiss their chances of a Champions League place. Everton, however, seem to always finish the season well and could be the other contenders. Romelu Lukaku has not been in the best form since his permanent move to Goodison Park. However, if he shows his best form and, with Ross Barkley providing some inspiration, they could also be in the race for a Champions League spot come the end of the season.