With Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea looking almost certain to finish in the top three places in the Premier League, the fight for fourth place is well and truly on between big spending Manchester City and Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham Hotspur for the last remaining Champions League place. Qualification for football’s most prestigious and lucrative club competition would be a major reward on the Abu Dhabi Group’s investment into the Eastlands club, whilst Spurs have had their first outing amongst Europe’s elite and are keen to build on this season’s heroics.
The situation was not dissimilar this time last season, as with Liverpool’s drop in form an opening in ‘the big four’ had emerged for City or Spurs to grab with both hands. With the clubs neck and neck, Harry Redknapp took his side to Eastlands with two games remaining and his team outplayed the home side, with a Peter Crouch header securing a 1-0 win and fourth place for the London club. At the time of writing City hold the much valued fourth place on 59 points, whilst Redknapp’s men are four points back on 55 points and just five games to go. City have the superior goal difference of +21, compared to Spurs’ +8. While City are still to play Tottenham, the points difference, goal difference and lack of games mean City are favourites to play in the Champions League next season.
City manager Roberto Mancini is under increasing pressure to deliver the next step in the money men’s master plan, and the Manchester club’s failure to finish in the top four would certainly lead to the Italian’s stint at Eastlands ending. His side started the season well and up to Christmas were challenging their city rivals United for the title, but a drop in confidence and what looks like fatigue in the squad has led to faltering performances and results. The club has over-relied on captain and talisman Carlos Tevez to deliver goals and inspiration, and with the Argentine currently injured City are not the same potent attacking force.
Spurs have had a rollercoaster ride in their first season in the Champions League, with victories over both Milan clubs leading to widespread acclaim for their leading players and a quarter final appearance in the first time of asking. Unfortunately their progression in Europe has been their downfall domestically, as in the build up to their highly publicised European meetings with Milan and Real Madrid, the club dropped league points against Blackpool, West Ham, Wigan and Wolves.
Of the two clubs Tottenham have the tougher run in, as they still have to travel to Stamford Bridge and Anfield, however the defining match that will decide the fate of fourth place will occur on May 10th, as like last season, Spurs travel to Eastlands to take on City. The game will be a marker for the home side as Mancini can see just how far his team has come in a year, whilst Tottenham will know that they will need to win the game, as they did last year, in order to be rewarded with future trips to the San Siro and Santiago Bernabeu.