Chelsea's improbable march to the Champions League final has
raised the stakes as the battle for places in next season's
competition resumes in the Premier League this weekend.
With leaders Manchester United not facing second-placed
Manchester City in their heavyweight title duel until Monday, all
eyes are on the race for a top-four spot between Arsenal,
Newcastle, Tottenham and Chelsea.
Chelsea's miraculous elimination of Barcelona on Tuesday means
that the once fanciful idea of the Londoners winning the
competition now has to be taken seriously by their Premier League
Chelsea, who are currently four points adrift of the top four in
sixth, would be guaranteed a place in next season's Champions
League if they beat Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena on May 19.
Most worrying for Arsenal, Tottenham and Newcastle is the fact
that should Chelsea finish outside the top four, their inclusion
in the 2012/2013 Champions League will be at the expense of the
team who finishes in fourth place.
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew, whose side stormed into fourth
last weekend after their sixth straight win, admits that he is
spooked by the possibility of the Magpies missing out if Chelsea
are crowned European champions.
"If that happened with us finishing fourth but missing out on the
Champions League, it would be a kick in the teeth for us," Pardew
"We don't want Chelsea to win the Champions League because we
want that spot. It would be very harsh if we finished fourth and
then missed out."
Newcastle will be chasing their seventh win in a row on Saturday
when they travel to relegation-threatened Wigan. The Magpies are
three points behind third placed Arsenal with a game in hand.
Arsenal, who have stumbled recently with a home defeat to Wigan
followed by a draw at the Emirates against Chelsea, face a
potentially awkward trip to Stoke, where they have lost on three
out of four of their last visits.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has acknowledged that the prospect
of Chelsea usurping the team which finishes fourth is
"We would not be happy but it's the rules and we have to accept
it," Wenger said. "We cannot change the rules just because it's
Chelsea meanwhile will attempt to build on the momentum generated
by the elimination of Barcelona in a potentially explosive
meeting with Queens Park Rangers at Stamford Bridge.
Premier League chiefs have tried to defuse controversy by
abandoning the pre-match handshake at Sunday's game because of
racism allegations involving John Terry and Anton Ferdinand.
Chelsea skipper Terry is facing a July 9 court case over claims
he racially abused Ferdinand during QPR's victory over their
fellow Londoners in October.
Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard has meanwhile challenged his
team-mates to kick on from the heroics at the Camp Nou.
"We can enjoy it, but we certainly need to keep focused," Lampard
"We're on a decent run of performances for sure, but the last
thing we want to do is lower our standards," he said.
"There's a determination among the players, people may have
watched us against Wigan and Fulham recently and thought we were
on our last legs, but you can't knock this team down because
we'll keep coming back."
Tottenham meanwhile host struggling Blackburn in a game they can
ill-afford to lose if they are to stay in touch with in-form
Spurs fell out of the top four for the first time since October
after last weekend's defeat at QPR and now trail the Magpies by
Harry Redknapp is refusing to be unsettled by the possibility
that Tottenham's quest for Champions League football next year
might be doomed if Chelsea lift the title next month.
"We've got to make sure we finish fourth or third, make sure
we're in a position to qualify," Redknapp said. "If we don't, it
doesn't matter what happens.
"It's still wide open - Arsenal, Chelsea, ourselves, Newcastle -
it's still any two from four.
"We've got to go on a good run now. If we pull off good results
in these last four games we'll be in the Champions League and I'm
very confident we'll do that."
Saturday (1400 GMT unless stated):
Everton v Fulham, Stoke v Arsenal, Sunderland v Bolton, Swansea v
Wolves, West Brom v Aston Villa, Wigan v Newcastle, Norwich v
Liverpool (1630 GMT)
Sunday: Chelsea v QPR (1230), Tottenham v Blackburn (1500)
Monday: Manchester City v Manchester United (1900)