Manchester United slipped out of the top-four for the first time since mid-February following Arsenal’s 3-2 win over Watford at Vicarage Road on Sunday afternoon.
United, who face Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford on Saturday, could have immediately moved back above the Gunners and into the final Champions League berth had they beaten Manchester City. However, despite producing an encouraging first-half showing, they were beaten 4-1 at the Etihad Stadium.
That has left United in fifth-place ahead of their huge clash with Spurs on Saturday, one point behind the Gunners and two clear of both West Ham United in sixth and seventh-placed Spurs. It means that just three points currently separate Arsenal and Spurs with around two months left in the season.
To make matters slightly more concerning for United — who have taken just one point from the last six on offer — both Arsenal and Spurs have games in hand. Mikel Arteta’s side have so far played three games fewer than the Reds and Spurs two fewer, which could allow the two north London clubs to pull clear.
As things stand, with 10 games left to play, the maximum points tally that United can achieve is 77 . While nothing is impossible, it does seem unlikely when you take into account that Ralf Rangnick’s side must still face the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool.
As for Arsenal, should they win their remaining 13 games, they would finish the campaign on 87 points. However, they still face a series of difficult games, meaning that is also unlikely.
Spurs, on the other hand, can secure a maximum of 81 points and West Ham, just like United, can reach 77. So, should Arsenal make the most of their extra games, they are favourites to secure fourth and leave United in the Europa League spots.
However, it should be noted that the clubs within the race for the final top-four spot still have to play each other at some stage. That means that only one side, as unlikely as it is, has the chance of ending the season with a 100 per cent winning record.
Looking back over the final Premier League table in most recent seasons, the average points tally to secure fourth-place has declined in recent years, dropping from 76 in 2016/17 to 67 last season. Although nothing, of course, can be guaranteed, United would need another 20 points from their remaining 10 games to hit that target – and hope that others around them slip up.
United, with that in mind, must target maximum points from their clashes with the likes of Leicester (H), Everton (A), Norwich (H), Brentford (H) and Crystal Palace (A). They are the types of games that United must win during the run-in to ensure they have a chance of scooping fourth.
In recent seasons, United have tended to average a points tally between the mid-60s and 70s, winning 74 points last season and 66 the season before. However, they have only managed more than 70 points in two of the last five seasons.
But with the top-four race out of their own hands, United can only focus on themselves, try and reach as high a figure as possible and hope Arsenal and Spurs, who still have to play each other, slip up. Their best chance of claiming fourth will be by beating the two north London clubs themselves.
United’s remaining fixtures:
- Tottenham (H) – March 12
- Leicester City (H) – April 2
- Everton (A) – April 9
- Norwich City (H) – April 16
- Arsenal (A) – April 23
- Brentford (H) – April 30
- Brighton (A) – May 7
- Chelsea (H) – May 15
- Crystal Palace (A) – May 22
- Liverpool (A) – TBC