Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal set for Champions League play-off?
By Jack Wilkinson
Last Updated: 21/05/17 1:30pm
Could the Premier League be heading towards an unprecedented play-off to decide who qualifies for next season's Champions League?
Champions Chelsea and runners-up Tottenham have already booked their places in next season's group stage, leaving Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal to fight it out for the other two qualification spots.
However, with just three points separating third-placed City and fifth-placed Arsenal, and with goal difference and goals scored similar, a one-off play-off could be necessary to determine who qualifies.
As we head into the final round of Premier League fixtures, we examine the play-off possibilities…
What are the current standings?
Manchester City took a big stride towards qualifying for next season's Champions League with their 3-1 victory over West Brom on Tuesday. If Pep Guardiola's men avoid defeat at Watford on the final day they will qualify for the Champions League.
Premier League 16/17
|Club||Played||Goals scored||Goal difference||Points|
Liverpool sit fourth on 73 points knowing they will guarantee Champions League qualification if they beat relegated Middlesbrough at Anfield on the final day.
A point further back, fifth-placed Arsenal are reliant on other results, despite beating Sunderland 2-0 on Tuesday to keep their slim hopes of Champions League qualification alive.
What are the remaining fixtures?
Remaining PL fixtures
- Arsenal v Everton
- Liverpool v Middlesbrough
- Watford v Man City
On Sunday, City travel to Watford, Liverpool host Middlesbrough and Arsenal play at home to Everton.
Top four finale live on Sky
Liverpool v Middlesbrough and Watford v Man City live on Sky Sports on Sunday
How would a Champions League play-off come about?
Champions League qualification would be decided by a play-off at a neutral venue if a combination of the three teams finish level on points with the same goal difference and goals scored. Unlike in other European leagues, head-to-head results are not a determining factor.
Section C of the 2016/17 Premier League handbook reads: "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, timing and venue of which shall be determined by the board."
Manchester City v Liverpool: A third-place play-off
The most-likely play-off scenario would see City and Liverpool lock horns to decide who finishes third and avoids next season's Champions League qualifying round.
This would require City being held to a high-scoring draw at Vicarage Road coupled with a high-scoring victory for the Reds over Middlesbrough, for example Watford 3-3 Manchester City and Liverpool 3-0 Middlesbrough.
This sequence of results would leave the two sides level on 76 points with 78 goals scored and a goal difference of 36, and would restrict Arsenal to a fifth-place finish, regardless of their result against Everton.
Man City v Liverpool play-off scenario
(Watford 3-3 Man City and Liverpool 3-0 Middlesbrough double, 485/1 with Sky Bet)
Liverpool v Arsenal: Champions League play-off
In terms of a Champions League play-off, a Liverpool-Arsenal showdown is the most likely possibility. It would require Jurgen Klopp's side lose 2-0 to Middlesbrough on the final day and the Gunners to be held to a 1-1 draw by Everton.
That would leave Arsenal and Liverpool level on 73 points with identical records for goals scored (75) and goals difference (31).
Arsenal v Liverpool play-off scenario
This scenario would see Manchester City secure third spot, regardless of their result at Watford, leaving Liverpool and Arsenal to contest a fourth/fifth play-off to determine who qualifies for the Champions League and Europa League.
(Liverpool 0-2 Middlesbrough and Arsenal 1-1 Everton double, 807/1 with Sky Bet)
Manchester City v Arsenal: Champions League play-off
The most unlikely play-off scenario would arise if City were thumped at Watford on the final day and Arsenal capitalised with victory over Everton.
If the Hornets inflicted a 4-0 defeat on City, and the Gunners beat Everton 1-0, the Champions League-chasing sides would finish the season level on 75 points with identical goal difference (32) and goals scored (75) records.
Man City v Arsenal play-off scenario
Moreover, this scenario could take another interesting turn depending on Liverpool's result against Middlesbrough. If the Reds fail to beat the Teessiders, City and Arsenal would contest a third/fourth place play-off, but a Liverpool victory would leave a fourth-fifth place shootout to determine who reaches the Champions League.
(Watford 4-0 Man City and Arsenal 1-0 Everton double, 1880/1 with Sky Bet)