Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton in near-impossible battle for Premier League top-four
The top Champions League spots in the Premier League are a foregone conclusion with Arsenal, Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs regularly occupying the top four spots. Will the other Premier League clubs ever get a chance to play in the Champions League?
Champions League football is quickly becoming the highest echelon of the global game, with an argument to suggest that Europe’s top club competition has even usurped the World Cup in the prestige stakes in the modern era.
While the likes of Diego Maradona and Pele will be remembered for their legendary exploits for their countries, the current superstars of the game such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo seemingly save their best performances for their clubs.
Champions League football brings a definite allure; the best players want to play in the competition, with a club that qualifies for it given a springboard to increase the quality in their squad as a result.
However, despite the prestige of playing in the competition on the pitch, away from the action the financial boost from participation has become staggering.
Last season, beaten finalists Juventus are said to have netted an estimated €86 million from their progression through the tournament, topping the monetary charts of earners through their performances.
As such, the battle to qualify for participation in the Champions League is a vicious one, with qualification being the ultimate goal for a host of clubs across the continent.
Looking at English football as an example, the race for the top four each year is just as eagerly contested as the one to win the title or to avoid relegation.
Club fans want their teams to be playing in the Champions League to see them progress on the pitch; club owners will be motivated by the windfall that comes with it.
However, looking at the Premier League in reality, qualification for Europe’s top tournament is more difficult than ever for teams that historically have not been in the top four.
The mega-wealth of Chelsea and Manchester City have dominated the Premier League title race in recent years and the duo seem perennially destined to command half of the available spots, even if the current English champions have started this season in underwhelming fashion.
Arsenal have qualified for the Champions League for a staggering 17 season in a row under Arsene Wenger, with no indication that the North London club are set for anything other than a top-four berth again this term.
Finally, Manchester United have splurged in recent transfer windows in an attempt to fill the void left by legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson, with their financial power eclipsing most other clubs on the planet.
Premier League race: Three teams, one spot
Looking at the other contenders, despite the strong starts to the current season of Crystal Palace, West Ham and Leicester, it will surely be one of another three clubs that breaks into the established order if it is to occur.
Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton have all finished in the top four in fleeting campaigns over the last decade or so, but face a more sizeable challenge in doing so now than at any time in the recent past.
The Reds even won the competition in 2005 and finished second in the Premier League under Brendan Rodgers in 2013-14, but this was initially before City’s newfound wealth and latterly in the same campaign as United’s fall from grace.
Spurs had their solitary Champions League season in 2010-11, beating the likes of Inter and AC Milan along the way, but have not qualified since; fifth place has become a familiar finish.
David Moyes led the Toffees to fourth place in 2004-05, but the Merseysiders were beaten by an impressive Villarreal outfit before they even made it to the group stages.
Looking at the current day, the challenge is huge.
All three clubs have smaller stadiums than the current elite, hence less gate revenue, while the calibre of player they can attract is not at the same level as the top four.
As a result of not regularly playing in the top tournament, the best players from these three clubs quite rightly have eyes on moves to a side that does, as Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez have all done.
However, probably the biggest obstacle to one of these clubs becoming a regular finisher in the top-four is the growing gap between the teams that play in the Champions League and those who do not.
Not only is the prize money significant, but extra gate receipts and television money make it a notable payday for any side in the group stages.
As such, while the rich effectively get richer, those not in the competition stagnate and as a result are being left behind.
Unfortunately money talks in the modern game and the richest teams are those that play in the Champions League – fact.
There is nothing stopping Liverpool, Everton or Tottenham from finishing in the top four this season if elements on the pitch correlate, but doing it consistently like Arsenal or Chelsea have becomes decidedly more difficult in the respective clubs’ current structure.