By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - The tight and unpredictable battle for Champions League places provides Everton and Manchester United with some extra motivation for their Premier League clash at Goodison Park on Sunday.
The top three places in the table look secure for Liverpool, Manchester City and Leicester City, but the fourth spot, currently occupied by Chelsea, remains tantalisingly within reach for several clubs including Carlo Ancelotti's Everton and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United.
Adding to the intrigue, Manchester City's two-year UEFA ban from European football, which they are appealing, could allow fifth place to claim a spot in the continent's premier club competition.
United are currently fifth, just three points behind Chelsea, and although Everton are 11th, they could reduce the gap to United to just two points with a victory.
Everton's Brazilian forward Richarlison says that the Champions League was a definite target for the team and remains so despite Sunday's 3-2 defeat at Arsenal.
"Since the start of the season, our objective has been to qualify for the Champions League,” he told the Liverpool Echo.
“With the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti we have improved. Unfortunately we lost an important game against Arsenal and we wanted to use that game to climb up the table.
"But on Sunday we have another important game, against a direct rival for one of these positions, and we are going to give our all in this game to try and climb the table," he said.
United are desperate to get back among the elite and despite some ups and downs this season, as Solskjaer bloods youngsters and tries to rebuild the side, they remain in contention.
“We’re a big club, have got good finances but the longer you’re out the more you suffer,” Solskjaer said this week.
“So it’s an ambition to get back into the Champions League – for footballing reasons and financially it’ll help the club," he said.
Leaders Liverpool could set a new top-flight record for consecutive wins if they beat Watford away on Saturday.
Monday's victory over West Ham United equalled Manchester City's record of 18 straight Premier League wins between August and December 2017.
"It's so special. The numbers are incredible, so difficult. I said we wanted to write our own stories, create our own history," said manager Juergen Klopp.
Another game with potential implications for Champions League places sees Spurs take on Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday while Chelsea travel to struggling Bournemouth on Saturday.
Manchester City are in action against Aston Villa on Sunday in the League Cup final.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Toby Davis)