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Musical chairs for European places the final act

Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, right, and Wes Morgan lift the trophy after winning the FA Cup Final against Chelsea last Saturday (Photograph by Nick Potts/Pool/AP)

The race for the two remaining Uefa Champions League spots up for grabs in the English Premier League has come down to the wire.

Champions Manchester City have already secured a spot in the 2021-22 group stage along with Manchester United, leaving Chelsea, Liverpool and Leicester City to battle it out during Sunday’s final day of the season to see who joins them in Europe’s elite club competition.

Chelsea and Liverpool are in pole position as they sit third and fourth respectively and need only to match fifth-placed Leicester’s result to finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League.

Any slip-up for either team would be catastrophic in their quest, a sobering thought they certainly won’t need reminding of with plenty at stake.

A maximum of five English teams can play in the Champions League next season.

England’s team quota would be fulfilled if Chelsea win the Champions League final against Premier League champions City on May 29 but finish outside the top four.

However, England does not get any extra Champions League spots if English teams win one or both European tournaments and finish in the top four in the Premier League.

Meanwhile, the race for Europa League will also be decided on Sunday.

The fifth-placed Premier League team will qualify for the Europa League group stage, as will the sixth-placed team.

Under normal circumstances, the fifth-placed team and FA Cup winners qualify for the group stage of the Europa League.

However, newly crowned FA Cup champions Leicester can finish no lower than fifth; therefore, their Europa League spot will go to the next highest-anked team not qualified for Uefa competitions.

West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton are all in contention for sixth spot.

There are only two Europa League spots this season because of the introduction of the Europa Conference League, Uefa's new third-ranked competition.

That, too, will also be determined on Sunday with the eventual seventh place team in the Premier League going into the final round of Europa Conference League qualifiers next season.

Sunday

All matches kick off at noon

Aston Villa v Chelsea

Chelsea can clinch a place in next season’s Champions League group-stage with victory at Aston Villa who have nothing to play for other than pride having retained their top flight status and a spot in Uefa competitions beyond reach.

Chelsea thrust themselves in the box seat for a top-four finish after edging Leicester 2-1 at Stamford Bridge last Tuesday to avenge last weekend’s FA Cup Final defeat against the same opposition.

Prediction: 0-2

Liverpool v Crystal Palace

Liverpool will fancy their chances of clinching a spot in next season’s Champions League at home to thirteenth-placed Crystal Palace.

Jürgen Klopp’s team are ahead of fifth-placed Leicester on goal difference and will be keen to extend their three-game win streak and secure one of the remaining top four spots in one swoop.

Prediction: 2-0

Leicester City v Tottenham Hotspur

Leicester will be keen to bounce back from Tuesday’s loss to Chelsea and more importantly avoid missing out on the Champions League for a second successive season.

Tottenham’s hopes of clinching a Europa League spot hang by a thread amid speculation the match could prove to be England captain Harry Kane’s last.

The striker still has two years remaining on a six-year contract but according to media reports is keen to leave his boyhood club.

Prediction: 2-2

West Ham United v Southampton

West Ham enter this contest with one foot in the Europa League.

The Hammers took a giant step towards the Europa League on Wednesday as they won 3-1 at West Bromwich Albion, and now need just a point to confirm sixth place against the visitors who are playing only for pride.

Prediction: 2-1

Manchester City v Everton

Like Tottenham, Everton’s Europa League hopes are slim at best going into their match against champions Manchester City at Etihad Stadium.

City have taken their foot off the pedal after clinching a seventh league title and with their upcoming Champions League final against Chelsea to think about manager Pep Guardiola is expected to send out a weakened side.

Prediction: 1-1

Arsenal v Brighton & Hove Albion

Arsenal will be looking to capitalise on their last opportunity to clinch a spot in European competition next season.

The Gunners should come away victorious and go into the match among a trio of teams in contention for the sole Uefa Conference League spot which also includes Tottenham, Everton and Leeds United.

Prediction: 2-0

Leeds United v West Bromwich Albion

Leeds are still in with a shout of securing the Uefa Conference League spot.

However, they are facing a tall order as they must win by a 15-0 margin and rely on results elsewhere to go their way in order to seal the deal.

The match will be the last for Sam Allardyce in charge of relegated West Brom.

Prediction: 2-0

Fulham v Newcastle United

Newcastle should come away with maximum points against relegated Fulham.

The hosts have lost eight of their past ten matches but put in a spirited display away to Manchester United in midweek and were good value for their 1-1 draw.

Newcastle have ended the season well with only three defeats in their past 12 outings but could be without key players on Sunday.

Prediction: 2-1

Sheffield United v Burnley

Burnley will be keen to get back to winning ways and end the season on a positive note away to relegated Sheffield United.

Sean Dyche’s team are one place above the bottom three but safety is already secured.

Prediction: 0-1

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Manchester United

Manchester United have nothing to play for having already clinched their spot in next season’s Champions League.

As such, it’s anticipated Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will field an entire second-string XI on the last day of the season with his team’s Europa League final commitment against Villarreal next Wednesday just around the corner.

Wolves, likewise, have nothing to really play for having retained their Premier League status and European football beyond their reach.

Prediction: 1-0

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Published May 21, 2021 at 8:25 am (Updated May 21, 2021 at 8:25 am)

Musical chairs for European places the final act

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