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Leicester City’s road to the Europa League

It’s still technically possible; the best kind of possible!

West Ham United v Leicester City - Premier League
Rodgers has done the maths and determined that we’re in!
Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

With three weeks remaining in the 2018/19 Premier League session, there are a surprising number of teams with something to play for. At the top of the table, Manchester City and Liverpool are neck-and neck. The next four teams (Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester United) are vying for for two places in the Champions League and are separated by three points. At the other end, Southampton, Brighton and Hove Albion, and Cardiff City are trying to avoid joining Fulham and Huddersfield Town in relegation to the Championship.

For Leicester City fans, the most compelling remaining competition is the race for “the best of the rest”, the 7th spot on the table that may be rewarded with an opportunity to qualify for the Europa League next season. One point separates the four clubs in the hunt for this position. The Foxes must finish ahead of Wolves, Watford, and Everton in order to reach this lofty goal. Is it going to happen? Let’s take a look at the run in for each of these clubs.

Everton Position: 7th Points: 49

Matches Remaining: 3

Day Opponent Do they have anything to play for?
Day Opponent Do they have anything to play for?
04/27/19 @Crystal Palace No
05/03/19 Burnley No
05/12/19 @Tottenham Yes-Champions League

You don’t hear as much about Everton as a challenger for the 7th spot on the table as you do the other clubs, but they’re very much in the mix. Everton might have the most talent in their side of any of the other contenders, but they’ve been plagued by inconsistency and a mediocre year from Jordan Pickford. Their convincing win over United on Sunday suggests that they’re up for it.

Everton FC v Leicester City - Premier League
Nope. Still don’t like that kit.
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Key Match: Palace on 4/27.

Everton are going to have to get a result away from Goodison Park if they’re going to swoop in to the final Europa League spot. Palace have a lot in common with Everton and they’re starting to come together after a disappointing start to the season (which seems like an annual pattern at Selhurst Park). A win against the Eagles would place Everton in an excellent position to come out on top even if they don’t get a result against Spurs.

Watford Position: 8th Points: 49

Matches Remaining: 4

Day Opponent Do they have anything to play for?
Day Opponent Do they have anything to play for?
04/23/19 Southampton Yes-avoiding relegation
04/27/19 Wolves Yes-Europa League
05/04/19 @Chelsea Yes-Champions League
05/12/19 West Ham No

Watford lead City by a point, have a game in hand and end the season against a team who will finish the term comfortably mid-table, which is sort of West Ham’s “thing.” That should be enough for them to get their nose across the line first, but the Hornets have a couple of complications to contend with: Troy Deeney will miss the next two matches through a richly-deserved suspension, and they will have their eyes on the FA Cup final after the end of the league season.

Watford FC v Leicester City - Premier League
Jon Moss failing to show Troy Deeney a richly-deserved red card (I assume).
Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Key Match: Wolves on 4/27.

If I were a betting man (and I am not, much to the relief of my wife), I would guess that the winner if this match will finish 7th. Should it end in a draw, however, we could be in for a wild finish.

Leicester City Position: 9th Points: 48

Matches Remaining: 3

Day Opponent Do they have anything to play for?
Day Opponent Do they have anything to play for?
04/29/19 Arsenal Yes-Champions League
05/04/19 @Manchester City Yes-Premier League Champions
05/12/19 Chelsea Yes-Champions League

The Foxes were in free fall prior to the arrival of Brendan Rodgers or, perhaps more accurately, the arrival of Youri Tielemans, an event which improved Rodgers’ prospects enormously. After a run of relatively kind fixtures, Leicester have the unenviable task of facing three of the divisions top five clubs to close out the season.

Chelsea FC v Leicester City - Premier League
Hamza Choudhury is just. that. quick.
Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Key Match: All of them.

With one more match played than Wolves or Watford, every match is crucial if the Foxes are to take the final place in Europe next season. City did take 6 of 9 points against these clubs the first time through, but replicating those results is a big ask.

Wolverhampton Wanderers Position: 10th Points: 48

Matches Remaining: 4

Day Opponent Do they have anything to play for?
Day Opponent Do they have anything to play for?
04/24/19 Arsenal Yes-Champions League
04/27/19 @Watford Yes-Europa League
05/04/19 Fulham No
05/12/19 @Liverpool Yes-Premier League Champions

For Wolves to be in the top half of the table the first year after their promotion is incredible. It would be an incredible achievement for them to reach the Europa League as well. If that sounds like I’m giving them a pat on the back before telling them that they’re going to fall short, I’m genuinely not. There’s nothing fluke-ish about Wanderers’ position on the table. They do have a more difficult set of remaining fixtures than do Watford, but they do face each other and the match against Fulham should be a simple three points for them.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Leicester City - Premier League
Not a handball. Nope. Not at all.
Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Key Match: Arsenal on 4/24.

Yes, the match against Watford is crucial, but the key for Wolves will be to avoid looking too far ahead. Getting a result against Arsenal at home is a must if the match at Molineaux is going to mean anything.

So who will win it?

I’ll be honest: It doesn’t look good for us. There’s no guarantee that a club with “something to play for” will put in a good performance, but in theory they should have a little more motivation than a team whose fate has been decided. The fact that we face three top clubs and every match is going to be crucial for them gives us a massive hill to climb.

The bookies don’t much like our chances. They have Watford at 1/1 to finish 7th, Wolves at 23/10, Everton (before the win today) at 11/4 and Leicester at...22/1. If I had to make a prediction, and I am contractually obligated to do so, I’d say we’re not going to be in Europe next year. Still, 22/1 is about 227 times more likely than 5000/1, so this should present no serious difficulty for us.

Does it really matter?

That’s an excellent question! The answer is: “It depends on who you ask, so maybe?” Finishing 7th would be the second-best finish in the Premier League in the history of the club and it would be a pretty spectacular accomplishment given where we were a couple of months ago.

Conversely, you might want to ask Burnley about the cost of getting European Football. The term “poisoned chalice” is often used to describe the Europa League and while I have no clue what that means, it sounds like something one should be wary of.

In the end, I suppose it’s all about how the players feel about it. Does finishing 7th make our top players more likely to want to stay? Will it help our recruiting? Anything that makes James Maddison and Harvey Barnes and Youri Tielemans more likely to stay is worth striving for and if there are any negatives to playing in the Europa League, we’ll deal with them when we get there.


What will be Leicester’s final position on the table?

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