Chelsea to finish 5th?

With the title challenge over for a year, the race for the final Champions League places and relegation will certainly be the most gripping for the final few weeks of the Premier League season.

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There are 7-8 games left for each team in the league, whilst 3 Premier League teams remain in both the Europa League and FA Cup.

Chelsea remain in both of those cup competitions. To add to the European Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup that they have already featured in this season and making it to the double-legged semi-final of the League Cup, it has been a busy season for Roman Abramovich’s side.

The cup distractions are part of the reason I have doubts over Chelsea making the four this season. Others include Fernando Torres still appearing in the first team, the lack of faith show in, and consistency from Rafa Benitez. And a tough fixture list for their final eight games.

Let’s take a look at Chelsea’s remaining schedule:

Thursday 4 April – Europa League quarter-final 1st leg – Rubin Kazan (home)
Sunday 7 April – Premier League – Sunderland (home)
Thursday 11 April – Europa League quarter-final 2nd leg – Rubin Kazan (away)
Sunday 14 April – FA Cup semi-final – Manchester City (neutral)
Wednesday 17 April – Premier League – Fulham (away)
Sunday 21 April – Premier League – Liverpool (away)
Thursday 25 April – possible Europa League semi-final 1st leg
Saturday 27 April – Premier League – Swansea City (home)
Thursday 2 May – possible Europa League semi-final 2nd leg
Saturday 4 May – Premier League – Manchester United (home)
Saturday 11 May – possible FA Cup final
Sunday 12 May – Premier League – Aston Villa (away)
Wednesday 15 May – possible Europa League final
Sunday 19 May – Premier League – Everton (home)

That’s a compact schedule full of midweek games in what has already been a busy schedule. A few additional injuries would really hinder Chelsea’s hopes of a top four finish.

Not only does the number of games make this a difficult challenge for Chelsea to finish in the top four this season, but the quality of the opposition adds to that. Fulham away hasn’t been the easiest of fixtures in recent seasons, winning just one of their last four visits to Craven Cottage. That game comes midweek, 3 days after an FA Cup semi-final match with Manchester City.

Liverpool away is the following game, on Sunday, Chelsea’s fourth game in 11 days that starts with a trip to Russia. Manchester United will have already won the title by the time these two are due to play in May, but don’t expect Sir Alex Ferguson’s side to roll over in that one.

Aston Villa could well be scraping for their Premier League survival when these two meet in their penultimate game of the season. Although should Chelsea reach both the FA Cup and Europa League finals, one would assume the Aston Villa game gets pushed back until after the final weekend of the season which would make things interesting. And beneficial for Chelsea to get some rest.

Everton if they have anything to play for on the final day won’t be an easy task for Rafa Benitez’s side. David Moyes already holds a grudge with the former Liverpool manager and if he doesn’t extend his contract at Goodison Park beyond this season one will want him to sign off on a high.

In comparison, Arsenal have the most favourable run in of the three London sides battling it out for a top four finish. Arsene Wenger’s team are out of both the FA Cup and European competition and of late have put a run together.

Five wins in their last six have sprung Arsenal back into Champions League contention. Chelsea with their game in hand could move into third place, 1 point above Tottenham. Whilst Arsenal with their game in hand could move to within 1 point of Spurs.

Arsenal travel to out-of-form West Brom this weekend, before hosting both Norwich City and Everton. There’s mid-table Fulham to come before a home game with Manchester United at the end of April. After that, Queens Park Rangers (away), Wigan Athletic (home) and Newcastle (away) all look winnable right now, although all three could be battling relegation heading into those fixtures. Which often means either a dangerous team to play or an easy three points.

Meanwhile Tottenham host FC Basel on Thursday night in the Europa League. The English side are favourites to progress to the final four, although the Swiss side have produced some good results in this season’s competition. I have not seen them play to be able to judge them.

Off the back of that game is an important home tie with Everton. I’d fancy Andre Villas-Boas to win at the weekend should he play a weakened side in the Europa League. Then came the news that Jermain Defoe is set to miss this game and you realise they’re left with no option but to play Emmanuel Adebayor up front. And for a striker for a top four side to only have two league goals this season is unimpressive and doesn’t inject me with any confidence.

A 10-day break follows their Europa League second leg before hosting Manchester City in the Premier League. A huge game with Tottenham currently 5 points behind the defending Premier League champions. Although for Roberto Mancini’s side not to finish in the top four now would require some breakdown.

Finishing the season with Wigan (away), Southampton (home), Stoke (away) and Sunderland (home) should equate to a fair few points. In between those fixtures could be some Europa League action.

Put Arsenal and Tottenham’s projected points in and you’ll get a similar picture in your head to mine that it really is possible that Chelsea will miss out on the top four for a second consecutive reason.

The Blues are currently 1.49 to lay finishing in the top four. That’s 2/1 that they don’t finish in a Champions League spot. I like those odds.

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