With Liverpool on the brink of clinching the Premier League title, you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s little to look forward to when the season returns this week.
But think again, as eight teams prepare to renew their bid to secure a top-four finish and qualification for the Champions League in a battle which is sure to sustain plenty of interest.
And the fact Manchester City are banned from Europe next season, pending the outcome of an appeal, makes it all the more interesting.
Third-placed Leicester stuttered in the weeks leading up to the suspension, but remain well-placed.
Chelsea and a resurgent Manchester United occupy fourth and fifth spots but Wolves, Sheffield United, Tottenham, Arsenal and even Burnley and Crystal Palace are within striking range if they can hit form.
Here, Mirror Sport ranks the the teams’ chances…
4th Chelsea, 48 points
Chelsea prepared for the season’s return with a friendly against Reading last week
(Image: Chelsea FC via .)
Chelsea lead the contenders with a three-point advantage over nearest rivals United. The Blues produced one of their best performances of the season in their final game before the break, beating Everton 4-0.
But they only claimed one win from their previous six Premier League games as the Red Devils closed the gap on their top four spot.
The Blues resume their campaign with a trip to Aston Villa before hosting Manchester City, and we sense they are going to be pushed all the way for their Champions League spot.
5th Manchester United, 45 points
Fernandes’ arrival kick-started United’s impressive form
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United were one of the in-form teams in the country prior to the coronavirus-enforced suspension.
The Red Devils put their inconsistent 2019 behind them and – after faltering in January – put together a formidable run of 11 matches without defeat.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men looked renewed by £47million arrival Bruno Fernandes and the appointment of Harry Maguire as club captain has proved a masterstroke.
And with Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford returning from long-term injuries in time for the Premier League’s resumption, United are going to be hard to dislodge from the Champions League spots.
6th Wolves, 43 points (GD +7)
Jimenez’s 13 goals have spearheaded Wolves to sixth
(Image: FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA/EPA-EFE/REX)
Wolverhampton Wanderers may edge Sheffield United to sixth spot on goal difference as it stands, but they will be wary of having played one more game than the Blades.
Wolves remain in this season’s Europa League – their last 16 tie with Olympiacos still hangs in the balance – but are eyeing up a spot in Europe’s premier club competition next season.
Wolves ease back into action with matches against three relegation threatened sides – West Ham United, Bournemouth and Villa – and are a real threat to Chelsea and United if they can gather momentum.
7th Sheffield United, 43 points (GD +5)
Sheffield United have enjoyed a truly remarkable season after promotion from the Championship last year.
Though they trail Wolves on goal difference, the Blades can leapfrog the west Midlands club with a draw against Aston Villa in their game in hand on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a win at Villa Park will see them claim the Champions League spot currently occupied by Manchester United.
Strikingly, no Sheffield United player has scored more than five goals this season, but the effort of each player in Chris Wilder’s squad puts them on the brink of a remarkable achievement.
8th Tottenham, 41 points
Kane has returned to fitness after injury on New Year’s Day
(Image: Tottenham Hotspur FC via . I)
After a season marred by the sacking of Mauricio Pochettino and a serious hamstring injury sustained by top-scorer Harry Kane on New Year’s Day, the break gave Tottenham a chance to regroup.
Now buoyed by the return of Kane and Son Heung-min from injury, Jose Mourinho is presented with the task of closing the gap on ‘big six’ rivals Manchester United and Chelsea.
Spurs are winless in their last three Premier League games and face a resurgent Red Devils side in their first game back before hosting London rivals West Ham United.
It looks like an uphill battle for the north London club to finish in the Champions League spots
9th Arsenal, 40 points
Arteta has impressed since his appointment in December
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The Gunners trail their local rivals by one point but, like Sheffield United, boast a game in hand.
However, that game in hand is against Manchester City and given their inferior goal difference to Spurs, Arsenal will need a victory over the reigning champions to claim eighth spot.
There have been signs of improvement and a more attractive style of football after the sacking of Unai Emery last November and Mikel Arteta’s appointment one month later.
The Gunners are unbeaten in their last eight Premier League games but drew half of those matches. Such slip-ups will cost them a Champions League spot if they persist in the run-in.
10th Burnley, 39 points (GD -6)
Dyche led Burnley to the Europa League play-off round in 2018
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Though they share the same number of points and both have a goal difference of -6, Burnley edge Crystal Palace to a top half of the table spot by virtue of scoring more goals (34) than the Eagles (26).
The Clarets are unbeaten in their last seven Premier League matches and held Arsenal and Spurs to draws in that time, but – like those above them – will need to start claiming three points instead of one in the run-in.
Realistically, Sean Dyche’s men will harbour outside hopes of a Europa League place after entering last season’s competition in the qualifying stages but failing to reach the preliminary round.
They will need top-scorer Chris Wood – who has netted 11 league goals – firing in the run-in if they are to rise up the table.
11th Crystal Palace, 39 points (GD -6)
Palace’s hopes rely on Zaha finding form
Though Palace are in the bottom half of the table and six places behind Manchester United, only six points separate them from fifth spot.
The Eagles’ hopes of landing European football will rely on Wilfried Zaha hitting form in time for their final nine games.
The Ivorian star has endured a lacklustre season by his standards, scoring just three times and leaving Jordan Ayew as the main source of goals.
In their last 10 games before the break, Palace drew four games then lost three before winning the final trio. They will need to pick up where they left off to land an unlikely European spot.
Ancelotti’s Everton lead the trailing pack
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Though Everton are currently on 37 points – eight points behind fifth place – they warrant a mention on account of the European pedigree of the man who manages them.
Carlo Ancelotti is one of only three managers who has won the Champions League three times and the Italian will be desperate for the Toffees to be playing European football next season.
After a dire start to the campaign under Marco Silva, Ancelotti looked to have steadied the ship.
However, the Toffees slumped to two losses and a draw in their last three games before the break and will need to bounce back in the run-in.
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