Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool face play-off prospect to determine qualification for Champions League. The three teams occupy the Premier League’s third to fifth places, and are separated by a mere three points entering the final round of matches on Sunday.
However, since the number of goals scored and goal difference of these teams are identical, there is a realistic possibility of two clubs to finish joint-third or fourth place with identical records – calling the need for a play-off match.
While the top three sides qualify directly for the Champions League’s group stage, the fourth-placed team will enter in the preceding play-off round, whereas the fifth-placed team will make their way to the Europa League.
Rules of the Premier League state: “If at the end of the season either the league champions or the clubs to be relegated or the question of qualification for other competitions cannot be determined because two or more clubs are equal on points, goal difference and goals scored, the clubs concerned shall play off one or more deciding league matches on neutral grounds, the format, venue and timing of which shall be determined by the board.”
Last season, there was a possibility of West Ham and Liverpool finishing with identical records and competing in a play-off for the Europa League place.
So, how exactly could it all happen?
For this, Liverpool will have to seal a thumping win against relegated Middlesbrough at Anfield, while City need a high-scoring draw at Vicarage Road.
For example, a 3-0 win for Liverpool and a 3-3 draw for City would make this scenario a possibility, with both the sides tied for third in the standings and that Champions League spot:
The teams could also finish with identical records if Liverpool won 4-1 and City drew 4-4, and so on and so forth.
However, this scenario cannot be affected by Arsenal. Even winning would take them no higher than fifth place.
If City suffers a heavy defeat, it will raise the prospect of finishing on equal points with Arsenal. If Arsenal manages a narrow victory (1-0) against Everton, and City loses 4-0 at Watford, the teams would finish:
Similarly, if Arsenal sneaks home 1-0 and City loses 5-1, the same permutation can be achieved. Surely, you get the picture!
But a third/fourth place play-off could be a possibility if the Reds lose at Anfield, or a fourth/fifth place play-off if Liverpool beats Middlesbrough, making this scenario a lot more complicated!
The third and final scenario is also the most plausible of the lot. It would leave Arsenal and Liverpool battling for fourth on the knife’s edge since they last fought for the title on the last day of the 1988-89 season.
If Liverpool loses 2-0 against Middlesbrough and Arsenal draw 1-1 to Everton, the sides would finish tied for fourth like this:
A 3-1 Liverpool defeat coupled with a 2-2 Arsenal draw, or a Middlesbrough 4-2 win at Anfield or a 3-3 Arsenal draw would also leave both the teams level.
Under this scenario, though, Manchester City fans will rejoice as they would finish third, regardless of the result at Watford, allowing them to secure that highly-contested Champions League spot.