What Chelsea must do to secure European football next season in three final games

Which European competition will Chelsea play in next season - or will they play in any at all?

Many Chelsea fans would take a top seven finish given how unstable Mauricio Pochettino’s maiden campaign at Stamford Bridge has been.

When a decision is made on his future at the end of the season, Todd Boehly may take some solace from the overall picture. Poor results against Burnley and Sheffield United have been offset by draws with the Premier League top three and an FA Cup win away at Aston Villa.

Victories over Manchester United and Tottenham have galvanised morale while Chelsea will feel they should have won during both of their trips to Wembley this season. A top seven finish would be, in some ways, a bonus given their 11 league losses this season, but it is also important too.

Chelsea are battling Premier League spending rules and European football would ease the strain, whatever form it comes in. Boehly knows this and rumours suggest Pochettino’s future rests on securing a European place. He has got three games remaining to do so.

The permutations

For 7th

In its simplest form, if Chelsea win all three of their final matches against Nottingham Forest, Brighton and Bournemouth, they will be guaranteed a top seven finish. The same applies if Manchester United fail to record points in any of their remaining matches and West Ham do not win their final two fixtures.

For 6th

The main dividing line comes between sixth and seventh - the likely split between Europa League and and Europa Conference League. In basic terms, Chelsea need to earn more points than Newcastle and the same amount as United to finish sixth.

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Newcastle currently sit two points ahead while United sit level with the Blues on 54 points but with a poorer goal difference by 14. It means Newcastle must slip up in order to give Chelsea access to a shot at the Europa League.

For 5th

Meanwhile, if Tottenham earn a result against Burnley on Saturday, Chelsea must win all of their matches to have a chance of finishing fifth. In such a scenario, Spurs must lose their final two games while Newcastle pick up just six points in their last three outings.

Missing out

At the other end of the scale, Chelsea could drop out of the top seven altogether if they earn fewer points that United in their final three matches. If Chelsea lose all their remaining games while United earn at least a point and West Ham somehow win their two games, the Blues would sink to ninth and could even finish 10th if Brighton win their three final matches. Even a top seven finish might not denote European football thanks to the FA Cup (as laid out below).

The fixtures

Chelsea have a tricky run-in remaining with Forest fighting relegation, Brighton always dangerous and Bournemouth striving for a top 10 finish. Tottenham are expected to drop points against Manchester City next week but have lowly Burnley and Sheffield United to play either side.

Newcastle host Brighton this weekend before a trip to United in midweek ahead of the final day bout with Brentford. United face Arsenal on Sunday before welcoming Newcastle on Wednesday with a trip to Brighton on the final day.

West Ham play Luton this weekend before travelling to Man City for the final day while Brighton have the aforementioned fixtures with Newcastle, Chelsea and United to play.

The FA Cup

Chelsea actually had a chance to secure Europa Conference League football earlier in the season if they had beaten Liverpool in the League Cup final. The winners of the FA Cup are meanwhile handed a place in the Europa League, if not already qualified by league position.

United play City in this season’s final in a repeat of last year’s showdown. If City retain the trophy, sixth place will be handed Europa League qualification given that Pep Guardiola's side have already qualified for the Champions League.

Should United win the FA Cup and finish fifth, the Europa League spot also passes to sixth place. If United win it and finish sixth, nothing changes. However, because Liverpool won the League Cup, the Europa Conference League play-off spot is handed down to the next highest-ranked team, i.e. seventh place.

There is a scenario where United finish seventh or lower, win the FA Cup and thus qualify for the Europa League while Chelsea finish sixth and only earn the Europa Conference League. This is because technically at the start of the season, only the top five earn European spots, with another two places given to cup winners.

However, given that the winners of both cup competitions also usually qualify for Europe by league position, these qualification spots are often passed down the table.

It's worth noting that if Chelsea finish seventh, another team (say, Newcastle) place sixth and United finish outside of the top seven after winning the FA Cup, Chelsea could miss out altogether. If Man City win the cup, a top seven finish would denote some form of European football.