Premier League 2015: the race for the top four
Chelsea, Man City and United, Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool and Southampton prepare for what could be a barnstorming Premier League season climax
The battle for the top four places in the Premier League hots up this Bank Holiday weekend, with Arsenal playing top four challengers Liverpool as Chelsea look to maintain their cushion at the top of the table against Stoke.
The league leaders are six points and a game in hand ahead of rivals Manchester City, and 19 points out of a possible 27 will guarantee them the title.
With less than two months to go until the season climax, what do the top six need to do – and where are the potential upsets?
As it stands
Team by team
Six points clear and a game in hand, the title is still in Jose Mourinho's hands. Arsenal will hope to claw back some of the gap when Chelsea travel to the Emirates at the end of the month, but ties with Man Utd and Liverpool should favour the West Londoners.
QPR, Leicester and Sunderland are locked in a relegation battle, though, and that added desperation could throw up a surprise or two – remember, Chelsea did lose at home to Bradford in the FA Cup.
4 April – Stoke H (live on Sky Sports 1)
12 Apr – QPR A (live on Sky Sports 1)
18 Apr – Manchester United H (live on Sky Sports 1)
26 Apr – Arsenal A (live on Sky Sports 1)
29 Apr – Leicester A (live on Sky Sports 1)
3 May – Crystal Palace H (live on Sky Sports 1)
9 May – Liverpool H (live on Sky Sports 1)
16 May – West Brom A (live on Sky Sports 1)
24 May – Sunderland H
The Manchester derby, Spurs and surprise package Southampton at first glance seem the only stumbling blocks in a relatively kind run-in for City. Safe mid-table teams like West Ham and Swansea should mean easy points.
However, United manager Louis van Gaal has finally begun to pull together his scraggy stars, and could deal a fatal blow against a City side that has lost its way. That could mean the reigning champions slipping behind their Manchester rivals in the table – who'd have thought it?
6 April – Crystal Palace A (live on Sky Sports 1)
12 Apr – Manchester United A (live on Sky Sports 1)
19 Apr – West Ham H (live on Sky Sports 1)
25 Apr – Aston Villa H (live on Sky Sports 1)
3 May – Tottenham A (live on Sky Sports 1)
10 May – QPR H (live on Sky Sports 1)
16 May – Swansea A (live on Sky Sports 1)
24 May – Southampton H
So much depends on Arsenal's match this Saturday against Liverpool. Win, and it could set the Gunners up for a storming late season charge (and dent Liverpool's bid for a Champions League spot).
Lose, and all the momentum before the international break comes to nothing. Any wild Arsene Wenger notion that they can catch league leaders Chelsea look naive, and fans are left looking nervously to Wembley for an FA Cup semi final against Reading.
Many are predicting Arsenal to overtake City and finish second. Stop Liverpool's bid for a top four finish, and that hype might be justified.
4 April – Liverpool H (live on BT Sport 1)
11 Apr – Burnley A (live on Sky Sports 1)
18 Apr – Reading, FA Cup semi final (live on BBC1)
26 Apr – Chelsea H (live on Sky Sports 1)
4 May – Hull A (live on Sky Sports 1)
11 May – Swansea H (live on Sky Sports 1)
17 May – Manchester United A (live on Sky Sports 1)
20 May – Sunderland H (live on Sky Sports 1)
24 May – West Brom H
Louis van Gaal is on the cusp of turning last year's flop into an acceptable Champions League return in his first season in charge, despite still not appearing to know how to assemble his best XI.
Untied have the toughest run-in of any top four challenger, playing five of the top six teams as well as an away fixture at Everton. Villa and Hull have plenty to play for too as they look to ensure another season of Premier League survival.
How van Gaal or the fans want United to play doesn't matter at this stage. They just need that Champions League spot – and goalkeeper David De Gea knows it: 'We have to qualify for the Champions League, no matter what," he said. "We already missed out last season, and a team like Manchester United cannot do that two years in a row."
4 April – Aston Villa H
12 Apr – Manchester City H (live on Sky Sports 1)
18 Apr – Chelsea A (live on Sky Sports 1)
26 Apr – Everton A (live on Sky Sports 1)
2 May – West Brom H (live on Sky Sports 1)
9 May – Crystal Palace A (live on Sky Sports 1)
17 May – Arsenal H (live on Sky Sports 1)
24 May – Hull A
As we've already said, this weekend's crunch tie against Arsenal will determine the mood of the two clubs going into the final stages. Both have the prospect of FA Cup silverware as well as a top four finish to consider.
Contract controversy surrounding key player Raheem Sterling hasn't affected Liverpool's performances thus far, and Brendan Rodgers' side are unbeaten in the league in 2015. None of their rivals can match that record, but with five of their final eight games away from home, as well as an FA Cup replay away at Blackburn, it will be an uphill struggle to maintain that form.
4 April – Arsenal A (live on BT Sport 1)
8 Apr – Blackburn A, FA Cup quarter final replay (live on BT Sport 1)
13 Apr – Newcastle H (live on Sky Sports 1)
18 Apr – Hull A
25 Apr – West Brom A
2 May – QPR H
10 May – Chelsea A (live on Sky Sports 1)
16 May – Crystal Palace H (live on Sky Sports 1)
24 May – Stoke A
The surprise contenders this year only fell out of the top four in February, but rivals blessed with larger squads have kicked on since. they will be buoyed by the sight of their Italian striker Graziano Pelle scoring against England during the international break, given how his club form has dipped in recent weeks.
On paper their run-in looks relatively straightforward, but with several relegation-threatened teams still to play, there will be no gimmes. Europa League looks a more realistic prospect than the Champions League, and would still be a laudable achievement given how many players they lost last summer.
4 April – Everton A
11 Apr – Hull H
18 Apr – Stoke A
25 Apr – Tottenham H (live on BT Sport 1)
2 May – Sunderland A
9 May – Leicester A
16 May – Aston Villa H (live on BT Sport 1)
24 May – Manchester City A
The Harry Kane trump card means Spurs could yet close the six-point gap to the top four places, but their comprehensive 3-0 defeat away to United before the international break was a worrying sign that their rivals have found form at just the wrong moment.
Villa manager Tim Sherwood returns to his old club later this month, with both Southampton and City to follow. Both Kane and Spurs benchwarmer Andros Townsend excelled for England, but it seems too much to ask them to return and carry their club into a late season charge.
5 April – Burnley A (live on Sky Sports 1)
11 Apr - Aston Villa H
19 Apr – Newcastle A (live on Sky Sports 1)
25 Apr – Southampton A (live on BT Sport 1)
3 May – Manchester City H (live on Sky Sports 1)
9 May – Stoke A
16 May – Hull H
24 May – Everton A