The Fight for Champions League: Who are the dark horses?

With Manchester City already having one firm hand on the Premier League title, they remain one of the main favourites for Champions League and will compete in the competition again next season regardless of how far they go in it this season. But who else could join them in Europe’s premier elite competition come September 2021? And which dark horses could join them along the way?

Aston Villa are certainly a side in the race of Europe. They are currently in eighth place and six points behind West Ham with two massive games in hand against Everton and Tottenham – both at Villa Park. Winning both along with a bit of luck with others above them slipping up, Villa could find themselves challenging for a place in the Champions League. They travel to Sheffield United on Wednesday evening knowing victory against the Blades could take them as high as seventh if Everton drop points against Southampton. Doing so would put immediate pressure on both Liverpool and Chelsea, who clash on Thursday night. Villa haven’t come close to challenging for Europe since the days of Martin O’Neill and they might not have a better chance now. In particular, their May fixtures consist of away trips to Everton and Spurs along with intriguing home encounters against Manchester United and Chelsea and that might prove whether Smith’s side are made of hard stuff and a potential force to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future.

Everton are another team looking to rock the boat in the fight for Champions League football, and under the guidance of Carlo Ancelotti they will not get a more clear direction to a competition the Toffees have gigantic aspirations of qualifying for. The job the Italian has done at Goodison Park has been nothing short of exemplary since arriving on Merseyside in December 2019 and his side could find themselves fourth by Thursday night should they win against both Southampton and West Brom. A draw at Anfield later on top of that would be welcome news for Everton adherents, with a trip to Stamford Bridge next Monday on the horizon as well. Winning there could be a priceless step in the race for Champions League football and May could be a pivotal month with their first two games against Aston Villa and West Ham who also harbour ambitions of Champions League football. They travel to Champions-elect Manchester City on the final day of the season hoping Guardiola and his side are already on the beach. Now or never for Carlo’s Blues.

Like their fellow Claret and blue counterparts, West Ham are also candidates for that top-four berth. They currently occupy fourth place but will be aware of the sides behind them, with games against the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, Leicester, Chelsea and Everton still to come – not to also mentioning that the Toffees will have played three league games before them. Should Everton win all three, the Hammers would trail them by four points so plenty of favours are going to be required between now and next Monday when they welcome Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds to the London Stadium. Their May schedule sees them welcome Everton as well as sides such as Brighton and West Brom who are fighting for their lives down at the bottom.

In the strangest of seasons, it would not be a massive surprise to see anybody in the top 10 put a run together and end up accidentally finishing in the top four. It is worth mentioning there are a number of final day fixtures such as Villa welcoming Chelsea to Villa Park and Everton facing City that could determine places for European qualification. All to play for in this extraordinary campaign.