Chelsea back in the mix for European football contention

With recent results going their way, whether in their control or not, the Blues are back in contention for Europa League football next season with three matches to go.
Chelsea v Arsenal - UEFA Europa League Final
Chelsea v Arsenal - UEFA Europa League Final / Michael Regan/GettyImages

Chelsea, Manchester United, and Newcastle United are all vying for the final Europa League spot, currently held by the Magpies in sixth place. They're separated by just two points from the two English giants in seventh and eighth positions respectively.

Following Crystal Palace's recent 4-0 victory against Manchester United at Selhurst Park on Monday evening, Chelsea now lead on goal difference. With some enticing fixtures ahead for these three clubs, including a wildcard scenario that could change qualification routes, the season finale promises to be a gripping spectacle, filled with both heartbreak and relief.

Just as a reminder, fifth place in the Premier League guarantees qualification for next season's Europa League, granting direct entry into the new league phase without the need for additional qualifying or playoff matches, which is what you get for finishing sixth. Conference League qualification will be given to the team who finish seventh.

Tottenham Hotspurs currently occupies fifth place, six points above the Blues’ and it might be a lot to ask for to snatch their position. However, there is a second automatic Europa League spot available, a wildcard opportunity for Manchester United, even if they finish outside of sixth place. But before delving into that, let's begin with the 'Pride of London'.

Chelsea’s remaining matches: Nottingham Forest (A), Brighton & Hove Albion (A), Bournemouth (H)

The Blues have two consecutive away trips ahead, first to The City Ground to face Nottingham Forest and then down to the south coast to take on Brighton at the Amex Stadium. CFC will conclude the 2023-24 season back at Stamford Bridge against Bournemouth, aiming to secure Europa League football by finishing above both Newcastle and Man Utd.

Among the three clubs competing for sixth place, Chelsea arguably have the easiest run-in compared to their Northern counterparts. However, this mindset can be dangerous, given CFC experience of dropping needless points throughout this bumpy season. Nonetheless, with Chelsea's recent form, there's reason for optimism.

Newcastle United remaining matches: Brighton & Hove Albion (H), Manchester United (A), Brentford (A)

The Magpies are regaining form with recent dominant wins against already-relegated Sheffield United and relegation-threatened Burnley, scoring nine goals in the process.

Chelsea are banking on Newcastle to drop points, especially against the Red Devils in a crucial 'six-pointer' that will decide both clubs' fate for next season.

Either result would suffice for the Blues, but if Chelsea can win their games leading up to that point, a Manchester United victory would greatly benefit them. Newcastle will conclude their season with a trip to west London, facing Brentford at the Gtech Community Stadium.

Manchester United remaining matches: Arsenal (H), Newcastle (H), Brighton & Hove Albion (A)

On paper, Man Utd have the hardest run-in out of the Blues’ and Magpies. After being hammered by Oliver Glasner’s Crystal Palce 4-0 Monday evening, morale is at an all time low at Carrington and will need to find a way to get ready to host the league leaders,

Arsenal, who’re still fighting for the Premier League title. Up next for Erik ten Hag’s team is of course Newcastle United and will decide whether they get Europa League or Conference League.

Man Utd will then wrap up their miserable season at Brighton ahead of their FA Cup final showdown against their ‘noisy neighbors’, Manchester City.

The FA Cup final to bail Manchester United out?

Here's the wildcard I've been holding onto: Imagine if Manchester United were to lose their remaining matches 10-0 and finish outside of any European places. No matter the score, and no matter where they finish in the table, if they miraculously defeated Pep Guardiola's Man City, they would secure a Europa League spot, pushing the team finishing sixth down to the Conference League instead. While highly unlikely, anything can happen in football, especially in a one-off final.

It would be devastating for Chelsea to secure Europa League playoff qualification via league standings, only to have it slip away due to a freak result at Wembley. On the contrary, the same could be said if the club finishes in seventh, securing Conference League football.

In such a scenario, the final Conference League spot would then be awarded to the team in sixth place, leaving the team in seventh with no European football for next season. However, for now, we must focus on taking it one game at a time. UTC!