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Champions League chasers have 10 games to secure a spot in Europe

Manchester City may be cruising to the Premier League title, with Pep Guardiola's team 16 points clear of the pack and needing only five wins from their final 10 games to be certain of finishing the season as champions.

But with 10 games to go, the battle for Champions League qualification is entering its decisive stage.

Just six points separate Manchester United in second from Chelsea in fifth, with Arsenal still retaining faint hope of a top four finish despite being 10 points adrift of fourth-placed Tottenham.

So how do we think the top four will end up? Which clubs can prepare for the Champions League next season and what will missing out mean to those who fail to make it?


Key Game: Last Sunday's 2-1 victory over Chelsea at Old Trafford gave United breathing space in the race for the top four; another win at home to Liverpool next Saturday would put Jose Mourinho's men on course for runners-up spot and a place in next season's Champions League.

Key Player: Romelu Lukaku. The £90 million forward has struggled to reproduce his early season form, but he scored one and created another in the 2-1 win against Chelsea, so if that performance sparks a resurgence from the Belgian then his goals over the next 10 games will see United comfortably finish in the top four.

Impact of missing out of top four: Financially, United can survive a season in the Europa League, as they did last year, but the blow to the club's prestige by not competing with the elite would be the real issue. To keep pace with the best, United have to be among them.


Key Game: Of the top six, Liverpool must only face United and Chelsea over the final 10 games, so they have a comfortable run-in. But the Merseyside derby against Everton at Goodison Park on April 8 could spark a wobble if they lose.

Key Player: Loris Karius. If Mohamed Salah stops scoring, Liverpool can rely on Roberto Firmino or Sadio Mane to fill the gaps, but the big issue is keeping the ball out of the net. Karius has now been given a run in the team ahead of Simon Mignolet, but is he good enough?

Impact of missing out of top four: Liverpool are still playing catch-up with the elite in terms of their financial strength after so many years out of the Champions League, so missing out again would be a major setback and one which could force the sale of a big star.

Tottenham need European football to keep hold of their big names.


Key Game: The trip to Chelsea on April 1 is huge for Tottenham, in every sense. A win could keep them ahead of Chelsea in the race for the top four, but Spurs have not won a league game at Stamford Bridge since February 1990, so a win in this one would be a defining moment for Mauricio Pochettino's players.

Key Player: Harry Kane. Pretty simple really. If Kane stays fit, the England forward will surely score the goals to secure a top four finish and maybe even secure glory in the FA Cup and Champions League too. No Kane and Spurs will begin to worry.

Impact of missing out of top four: Massive. Ahead of the move to the new White Hart Lane, Spurs need Champions League football to ensure that they can hold onto Pochettino and the likes of Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen.


Key Game: Spurs at home on April 1 is the decisive fixture, but Antonio Conte's team must also visit Manchester City this weekend and host Liverpool on May 5, so the reigning champions have a tough run-in to navigate.

Key Player: Eden Hazard. Chelsea have a proven matchwinner in their Belgian No. 10 and they will need him to perform in the big games against City, Spurs and Liverpool. If he can reignite his early season partnership with Alvaro Morata it could be crucial for Conte's men.

Impact of missing out of top four: This summer promises to be another of change and upheaval at Chelsea, but the absence of Champions League football to attract new players, and most probably a new manager, will be a major issue.


Key Game: Arsenal are now in such a mess, with top four hopes dwindling by the game, that every fixture matters from now on. They simply have to win all 10 remaining games to have any chance of making it into fourth.

Key Player: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Arsenal need to win games, so they need goals and Aubameyang was signed from Borussia Dortmund in January to deliver them. Still lacking match fitness, he has managed just one so far, so he needs to find form quickly.

Impact of missing out of top four: Arsenal's operating profits have fallen by more than 60 percent as a result of missing out on this season's Champions League, so the financial impact is obvious. But beyond that, Arsene Wenger's future would be under scrutiny again. This could be a summer of serious change at the Emirates.

Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_


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