While they were disappointed with it on the balance of play, Chelsea’s draw at Manchester United last Thursday looked to have sealed their place in the Premier League top four.
They created more than enough to come away with all three points but in the end the Blues settled for one, taking them eight clear of fifth-place Tottenham. With five games to go, their grip on Champions League qualification appeared incredibly tight.
Yet all it took was one defeat to change that. Sunday’s slip-up against Everton, who claimed a precious win in their bid to avoid relegation thanks to a mistake by Cesar Azpilicueta, has brought them back into the top-four dogfight after Spurs got the better of Leicester.
Chelsea’s defeat away at Everton has left Thomas Tuchel worried over their top-four hopes
The Blues looked to have wrapped up Champions League qualification by drawing at Man Utd
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Chelsea now have just a five-point cushion heading into their last four games of the campaign, which Thomas Tuchel admitted is a concern after the loss at Goodison Park.
‘Of course, I’m worried about the top four,’ he said. ‘I never feel safe. Four points in four games will never be enough, no matter what race we are in.’
When assessing their own form and fixture list, Tuchel perhaps has a right to sweat over Chelsea’s top-four hopes. In their final four matches, the European champions must face eighth-place Wolves, go away to relegation-battling Leeds – who will be desperate for three points – and also host Leicester.
If they perform as poorly as they did at Everton, Tuchel’s side could well come away with a handful of points or less from those three outings.
They have struggled at home of late, suffering heavy defeats against Brentford and Arsenal while only just sneaking past West Ham, and with three outings at Stamford Bridge still to come, their home form must improve dramatically if they are to get over the line.
Yet fortunately for Tuchel, he may sleep a little easier by taking a look at Arsenal and Tottenham’s own remaining fixtures.
Everton’s shock win at Goodison Park has brought Chelsea back into the top-four dogfight
Chelsea now only have a five-point cushion in the top four heading into their last four games
Should Chelsea beat Wolves on Saturday afternoon, Spurs will head to Liverpool later that evening needing a victory over Jurgen Klopp’s Quadruple-chasers to close the gap back to five points.
However, no team has travelled to Anfield and come away with all three points this season, meaning their task will be mightily difficult on Merseyside.
It is therefore likely that Chelsea’s lead will increase again next weekend, and should it stretch back to eight points they would only need one more to secure Champions League qualification.
Tottenham’s win over Leicester on the same day has given them hope of a late turnaround
But Antonio Conte’s men visit Liverpool next, where no team has managed to win this season
Tuchel’s worries also seem slightly exaggerated when taking into account that Spurs follow up their trip to Liverpool by locking horns with Arsenal next Thursday.
His side could have already wrapped up a top-four spot by that point, with their clash with Leeds coming 24 hours earlier than the north London derby. Though even if they slump to defeat at Elland Road, they will be safe in the knowledge that at least one of their city foes will drop points the following day.
Four points from their next two matches should be enough for Chelsea to see off Spurs, especially given their goal difference of 39 is vastly superior to Antonio Conte’s men’s 20.
Arsenal leapfrogging them into third place is not out of the question, nevertheless. The Gunners, who trail them by three points, only need a four-point swing between now and the end of the season to pull it off because their goal difference of 13 is also inferior.
Other than their pivotal showdown with Spurs, Mikel Arteta and Co have a favourable run-in against Leeds, Newcastle and Everton, although the former and latter sides will be scrapping them for vital points in their bids to stay up.
Chelsea should only be worried about Arsenal leapfrogging them up into third place
Tuchel’s side are still in the driving seat when it comes to the race for Champions League
When they collided at the start of the season, Chelsea plunged Arsenal into crisis and flexed their muscles as potential champions by cruising to a 3-0 win at the Emirates. Eight months on, the two sides are now slugging it out for a place in the top four.
It would mark a disastrous turnaround for the Blues if their London rivals, who started the season with three defeats, end up finishing above them after being pinned up as title contenders.
Tuchel would be justified to look over his shoulder at Arsenal and fear for his team’s position as best-of-the-rest after Manchester City and Liverpool, but his unease over their top-four chances is not exactly warranted.
If they get back on track against Wolves and Spurs come unstuck against Liverpool as expected, their healthy advantage will return and one more point will be needed to get over the line.
Despite the frustrations of Sunday’s defeat at Goodison, Chelsea may still only be two games away from renewing their Champions League membership.