This season’s Premier League top four has been identified by the bookmakers, with Manchester United and Arsenal looking set to miss out as the campaign reaches its climax.
Champions-elect Chelsea cannot fail to return to the Champions League even if their recent wobble turns into a major collapse, while Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Manchester City are also virtually certain to finish in the top four judging by their prohibitive odds to do so.
That would then mean major disappointment, and missing out on playing in Europe’s elite club competition in 2017-18, for two of England’s biggest clubs in Manchester United and Arsenal.
After losing at home to Crystal Palace, Liverpool knew they could still be caught by their fierce North West rivals Manchester United if the Red Devils won one of their games in hand and at least drew the other. The first of those finished 0-0 away to Manchester City, who are also behind Liverpool and so that was good news for the Merseysiders.
United's other game in hand is away to Southampton, but a bigger problem for them in terms of overhauling either Liverpool or Manchester City is that their other matches include visits to both Tottenham and Arsenal.
At least United have the safety net of still being involved in the Europa League, for which they are odds-on favourites at the semi-final stage, and if they go on to lift that trophy they would not only qualify for the Champions League but also bypass the qualifiers and head straight into the group phase.
The situation looks much more serious for Arsenal, however. They still trail fourth-placed Manchester City by five points with a game in hand.
The Gunners have played Champions League football every season since 1998-99 but manager Arsene Wenger, whose future has been the subject of considerable speculation, is now staring the end of that hugely impressive record full in the face.
Everton are the other club with a slight chance of finishing in the top four and they are seventh in the table, two points behind Arsenal although having played two games more.
Outgoing Premier League champions Leicester City, meanwhile, have been unable to follow up their incredible 2015-16 exploits and their last chance of playing Champions League football for a second consecutive campaign disappeared when they exited this season's competition to Atletico Madrid in the quarter-finals.