With no Premier League matches—and therefore no fantasy football—until February 21, now is as good a time as any to look at where things stand for the all-important battle for the Champions League places for the 2015-2016 season. Chelsea and Manchester City are both pretty much dead-certs for qualification at this point, and it's even questionable as to whether any of the chasing pack can supplant either team in the top two spots of the Premier League table.
With 25 of the 38 matches in the 2014-2015 Premier League season completed, we're now officially past the 2/3 mark, and still no closer to having any idea which teams will join the current and future (?) champions in the world's top competition next year. In fact, as of Mario Balotelli's unlikely winner against Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday, the race has never been so closely contested.
Liverpool's victory in midweek brought Brendan Rodgers' side up to 42 points for the season, a mere 5 points behind Manchester United despite the Reds currently being in seventh place and the Red Devils in third. Also in the race are perennial qualifiers Arsenal, Harry Kane-driven Spurs, and the surprise package of the season, Southampton.
Let's take a quick look at the clubs still in the hunt to see what lies ahead for the remainder of the season and assess their chances of a top four finish:
Manchester United (47 points)
Louis van Gaal has managed to improve upon a dreadful start to the season, and while United have rarely looked like a Champions League quality side this season, they are currently the front-runners of the pack chasing Chelsea and their cross-town neighbors. However, the Red Devils still have to face off against both clubs ahead of them in the table to cap off a five-match stretch that also sees them take on Liverpool and Tottenham. They have the most matches against top-7 opposition in the final third of the season than any of the other Top 4 contenders.
Southampton (46 points)
Ronald Koeman and his charges have been the Cinderella story of this season, and despite having a relatively thin squad compared to the other Champions League contenders, they're still in contention with a good shot at qualification. Their remaining matches against Liverpool and Tottenham will both take place in front of their home fans at Saint Mary's, and if they can get results against them they'll put themselves in a very good position that could see their fate decided by their final day match against Manchester City.
Arsenal (45 points)
You can never count Arsene Wenger out of the race for the fourth, though by now we've learned that's about as high a position as his Gunners will achieve. Still, the Frenchman's record speaks for itself as Arsenal are going on 18 consecutive seasons of Champions League football. Though injuries have continued to play their part in the London club's struggles for a title challenge, they arguably have the easiest remaining schedule of the pack, with only three of their remaining 13 matches against top-7 opposition.
Tottenham (43 points)
After enduring a difficult season last year following the sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid and the poor performances from the players brought in as his replacements, Spurs have begun to put all the pieces together. Harry Kane is the form player in the League at the moment, while consistent displays from Christian Eriksen and Hugo Lloris, among others, have seen the club mount a serious challenge across multiple competitions this season. Away matches against the Saints and Red Devils present potential stumbling blocks, but otherwise their schedule is fairly kind, with their most difficult opposition coming to White Hart Lane.
Liverpool (42 points)
It's eerie how similar Liverpool's trajectory this season is to Brendan Rodgers' first season in charge of the Reds. After a very poor beginning to the season, presumably while Rodgers acclimates to his new players and figures out the best tactical set up for them, the Merseyside club are surging in the second half of the season. Liverpool are top of the form table, undefeated in their last nine matches in the Premier League. The Reds have a tough upcoming run, with matches against Southampton away and Man City at Anfield in addition to the two-leg Europa League tie against Besiktas. Rather cruelly, they'll repeat last season's heartbreaking title run-in with consecutive matches against Chelsea and Crystal Palace before closing out the season against Stoke City.