February 23, 2015

Go fourth, my sons

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

Don’t look now, but we have one hell of a race on for the Top 4 and the Champions League spots that come with them.

With Liverpool’s win over Southampton and Tottenham’s draw on Sunday, only four points separate Arsenal in third from Spurs in seventh.

Realistically, you could see a team go from out of Europe entirely to sitting in an automatic Champions League spot.

While the top two spots are all but locked up, this adds some intrigue for that next group of teams, who aren’t all that bad, if you haven’t noticed.

Arsenal is firing on all cylinders and has seemingly gotten over the injury bug.

Manchester United can’t seem to keep it all together despite having an immensely talented side.

Liverpool is coming on strong after some early season struggles.

Southampton is sticking around, despite getting outplayed by the Reds on Sunday.

And then there’s Harry Kane, keeping Spurs alive in this race and in the driver’s seat in the Europa League playoffs.

So who will end the season looking forward to a European trip next season?

Well you can’t count out the Gunners and their reputation for winning that fourth-place trophy. United has too much riding on finishing in Champions League, but might have to settle for Europa League if it doesn’t play its cards right. Southampton’s dream season seems to be going downhill and its attack can be spotty at times. That leaves Liverpool and Tottenham, but both are looking at a nice Europa League run and also have some domestic Cup ties in the future, stretching their squads.

What we do know for certain is this: The race for Europe is going to come down to the final days of the season and it’s going to be fantastic.


Manchester City was able to put a little bit of pressure on Chelsea this week, thanks in no small way to the refs at Stamford Bridge.

Burnley did its part in pestering the league leaders into some frustrated fouls – including the clattering challenge that saw Nemanja Matic sent off. The Clarets knew that they would never beat the Blues through skill and seemed set on just playing it rough and hoping for the best.

But what they weren’t counting on was the ref missing a clear hand ball in the box, denying the hosts a penalty and likely all three points. Instead, it was a draw and an opportunity for City to make up ground.

In a fixture that Manchester City always seems to excel at, the result was never in doubt. After a giveaway in the first minute led to a penalty call, you could tell Newcastle was always going to be on its backfoot on Saturday afternoon.

Five goals later, it was all over but the crying.

It’s these type of performances that City needs to remind people that there is a title race on the go. And it was especially nice to see City go full throttle and not really rest players ahead of the Citizens’ huge game against Barcelona midweek.

With Champions League on the go again, you can never be sure which games will get priority and what kind of squad rotation will go on.

With Chelsea playing in the League Cup final next weekend, it will be interesting to see how it deals with the fixture congestion later on.


Hey, Everton, we’re waiting. Wasn’t this team supposed to contend for a spot in Europe? Instead, it isn’t too far above the relegation fray and drawing against bottom-dwelling Leicester City isn’t easing worries … West Ham has lost Andy Carroll for the season, again. If he could ever stay healthy, he could become a world-class target man in front of the net for England … It should be noted that there were four clean sheets this week and two of them came in Sunderland and West Brom’s 0-0 draw.


Like it or not, Qatar 2022 is going to happen.

This week, reports were made that it will be taking place in November and December too. You know, because you can’t play soccer in the middle of the desert in the middle of the summer.

Hasn’t enough happened since the middle Eastern nation was awarded the tournament that it should’ve been moved by now?

There are human rights violations and construction workers deaths piling up every day, yet FIFA is giving it all a blind eye.

And now, with this move of the tournament to winter, it will throw a serious wrench in Europe’s domestic seasons. Considering how much money is at stake in TV deals with the Premier League, which just re-upped for about $5 billion, this could be a serious problem.

We constantly harp on the NHL for caving to the Olympics while only a small percentage of players actually go to the Games. It will be interesting to see if any leagues will continue play during Qatar 2022.

After all, League Championship doesn’t take international breaks. The German Bundesliga and some eastern European leagues have winter breaks already. How will this affect those leagues?

While there is still plenty to work out in terms of logistics, the 2022 World Cup is becoming more of a nightmare by the day.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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