LONDON — The battle to secure a top four finish and a coveted Champions League place is warming up in the Premier League.
Leader Chelsea is nine points clear and seemingly set for the title in Antonio Conte’s first season in charge, so it appears that five clubs are in contention to fill one of the three remaining spots in the continent’s showpiece next season.
With 14 games left to play, just five points separate Tottenham in second and Manchester United in sixth.
Here’s a look at the contenders to finish behind Chelsea.
TOTTENHAM (2nd place, 50 points)
Spurs fell away in last season’s title race when many expected it to overhaul Leicester. If that was not painful enough, it managed yet again to finish behind bitter rivals Arsenal. Currently three points above Arsenal, Spurs will at least hope it can finally finish above the Gunners for the first time since 1995.
Spurs marked Mauricio Pochettino’s 100th Premier League match in charge with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Middlesbrough Saturday.
While the Argentine says he needs “time to try to create a strong team”, Spurs appear to be building momentum having gone unbeaten in 11 games in all competitions since defeat at Manchester United on December 11.
Still in the Europa League with a last-32 match with Belgium’s Gent to come, its remaining Premier League games include clashes with Arsenal and Manchester United at home and Liverpool away.
MANCHESTER CITY (3rd place, 49 points)
The signing of livewire Brazilian striker Gabriel Jesus appears to have sparked City from its slumber, even if it has led to speculation over Sergio Aguero’s future.
Jesus, who scored twice in the weekend win over Swansea, has made a huge impact in his short time at the club, his hot form meaning no starting place for Aguero, who has scored more than 150 goals for City since joining in 2011.
A chastening 4-0 defeat at Everton in mid-January turned the spotlight on manager Pep Guardiola but since then City has drawn with Spurs, picked up league wins over West Ham and Swansea and beaten Crystal Palace in the FA Cup.
City avoided the big guns of the Champions League when it was paired with Monaco in the last 16 but its domestic run-in is far from easy. It must play Manchester United and Liverpool at home and play away at Arsenal and Chelsea in the space of five days in April
ARSENAL (4th place, 47 points)
Arsenal has not won the title since 2004 and the fact that it appears out of the race again is the subject of much debate among its fans, some who feel manager Arsene Wenger should step aside.
The 3-1 defeat at Chelsea on Saturday highlighted that Wenger’s side lacks the quality to mount a title challenge. If Wenger looked for a response from the surprise 2-1 home defeat by Watford in its previous game then he did not receive one.
Arsenal faces a difficult Champions League showdown with Bayern Munich but can shape its own destiny in securing a top four league finish with matches against Liverpool, Manchester City, Spurs and Manchester United to come.
LIVERPOOL (5th place, 46 points)
Without a league win this year and only one victory in its last 10 matches in all competitions, manager Juergen Klopp is facing a tough challenge at Anfield.
Klopp said Liverpool “had to change” after the weekend defeat at strugglers Hull.
Its defensive frailties start at the goalkeeping position, with neither Simon Mignolet nor Lorius Karius inspiring any confidence.
Liverpool faces big games over the next month and a half against Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester City and seventh-placed Everton.
MANCHESTER UNITED (6th place, 45 points)
Having missed out on the Champions League twice in the last three years, United will not want to do so again in Jose Mourinho’s first season in charge.
United, fifth last season after finishing behind Manchester City on goal difference, has momentum having gone 15 league games unbeaten.
But it faces a busy fixture list with its league schedule interrupted by Europa League matches with Saint-Etienne, an FA Cup clash with second-tier Blackburn and a League Cup final against Southampton.