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The Premier League’s Top Four Is Now Decided—and Liverpool Are in It

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The race is over. Chelsea and Arsenal will miss out on the Champions League places this season.

Chelsea v Liverpool - Premier League Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

The title race is over the in the Premier League and Manchester City are champions. This has been known for some time. Over the first couple of months of 2018, though, there has been uncertainty—or, depending on how you look at it, competition—for the next three places that round out the top four and grant Champions League qualification.

There isn’t any more. That race, too, is done, if not quite mathematically than at least practically. The teams sat on the outside of it, Chelsea and Arsenal, will be hoping their clubs go on unprecedented for this season winning streaks—but even if they do they will need the clubs ahead of them to stumble to have any chance whatsoever.

In Arsenal’s case it’s most stark. Tottenham, currently in fourth, are on pace for 76 points. Arsenal, to reach 76 points, would need to find a way to collect 31 in their final nine matches. For those keeping score at home, there are just 27 points available to Arsenal in those nine remaining matches—their maximum points total is 72. They’re done.

To show just how done they are, Tottenham need just 14 points from their remaining nine games to get to 72, a measly 1.56 points per game after having averaged an even 2.00 points per game so far this season. They can drop 13 points to get there, and need just four wins and two draws to get as many points as Arsenal if Arsenal win out.

The Top Four Race

Club Points PPG Points Needed for 76 PPG Needed for 76
Club Points PPG Points Needed for 76 PPG Needed for 76
Liverpool 60 2.07 16 1.78
Man United 59 2.03 17 1.89
Tottenham 58 2 18 2
Chelsea 53 1.83 23 2.56
Arsenal 45 1.56 31 3.44

Liverpool and Manchester United, meanwhile, are even better positioned, and all three look nearly as comfortable in their advantage over Chelsea following the London Blues’ pitiful performance against Manchester City as they do over sad sack Arsenal. For Liverpool in particular, currently sat in second, the a top four finish looks sorted.

Liverpool are this season recording 2.07 points per game, putting them on pace for between 78-79 points. Reaching that over the final nine games would mean getting 18 points out of the 27 available—it would allow them to drop nine points in their final nine games. Even if one worries about a few remaining matches, that’s a comfortable cushion.

For Chelsea, currently in fifth, to get to 78 points would require them to earn 25 of 27 possible points the rest of the way at a rate of 2.78 points per game after having earned 1.83 points per game over the first 29 games of the season. For Chelsea, it would mean only being able to drop two points—and it would mean not being able to lose even once.

Liverpool, though, are along with Manchester City the league’s in-form side. Over the past ten games they’ve gone 8-1-1 and earned 25 points. So what happens if they fall off that pace? Based on their form earlier in the season, not much—before the last ten they went 9-8-2, good for 1.84 points per. Regress to that and they still end up with 76-77 points.

That’s the same points total Tottenham are on pace for, and for Chelsea to equal that they’d still need 23 points from the final nine games. That’s 2.56 points per game from a Chelsea side that until now has managed 1.83. That’s being able to drop just four points from their final nine games. In short, Liverpool’s top four finish is secured.

Even if Chelsea hit a rich vein of form and Liverpool stumble, their position is safe by any reasonable measure. It might not be mathematical certainty—Liverpool could lose every game from here out while Chelsea and Arsenal both win every game and both leap past them in the final table—but statistically anything but a top four finish is improbable.

The 538 model, for one, currently suggests Liverpool’s top four chances are at 98%. This is not unreasonable. Meanwhile, while United and Tottenham might be ever so slightly more tenuously positioned, realistically their top four places aren’t in doubt at this stage, either—not if they get results over the final nine like they have over the first 29.

Of the trio, United are arguably most in danger because they have weaker underlying numbers than Liverpool and Spurs—numbers that over the first 29 games goalkeeper David de Gea has helped them to over-perform. The realistic expectation will be for him to continue to do that, and if he does, their top four finish is also assured.

Liverpool have, for all intents and purposes, secured their top four finish. Arsenal are done. A few Chelsea fans will hope for an exceptional, unlikely final nine games for both themselves and at least one of the sides ahead of them but, realistically, their fate is sealed, too, and next season’s Europa League and a new manager awaits.

The Premier League’s title race has been over since at least the new year. Now, the top four race is over, too.