Race for the Champions League: our foolproof predictions

Newcastle players celebrating - Why one goal will decide who finishes in the top four - GETTY/ Stu Forster
Newcastle players celebrating - Why one goal will decide who finishes in the top four - GETTY/ Stu Forster

Domestic football returns this weekend and with it, the battle for Champions League places.

Given Manchester United’s excellent form, they are all but assured of securing a top-four place, barring a late collapse. But who will join them and who will drop into the Europa League?

Trying to predict results in the final weeks of the season is notoriously difficult as teams are fighting for points at both ends of the table, but Telegraph Sport has looked at form and fixtures to determine who will finish where in the race for Europe.

It is not an exact science, of course, but there could be just one goal in it.

Here is how the top of the table stands...

And here is how we see it finishing...

Third – Manchester United (Current points, 50)

Prediction: Wins 8, Draws 3, Defeats 1 - Pts 27
Projected points tally: 77

Newcastle United (away) 1-2
Brentford (home) 2-0
Everton (home) 3-1
Notts Forest (away) 2-1
Chelsea (home) 1-1
Tottenham (away) 2-1
Aston Villa (home) 3-0
Brighton (away) 2-2
West Ham (away) 1-1
Wolves (home) 3-0
Bournemouth (away) 4-2
Fulham (home) 2-0

Erik ten Hag’s side have only lost one out of their past 16 games but face a really tough trip to Newcastle United this weekend against a side desperate to avenge their Carabao Cup final defeat last month. Even if they lose on Tyneside, though, that could easily be their only defeat in the league between now and the end of May. A return to the Champions League looks secure, even if they are currently only a point above Tottenham and three points ahead of Newcastle.

Fourth – Newcastle United (47)

Prediction: Wins 6, Draws 4, Defeats 2 - Pts 22
Projected points tally: 69

Manchester United (home) 2-1
West Ham (away) 2-1
Brentford (away) 1-1
Aston Villa (away) 2-2
Tottenham (home) 1-0
Everton (away) 2-2
Southampton (home) 3-0
Arsenal (home) 1-2
Leeds (away) 2-0
Leicester (home) 2-1
Brighton (home) 1-1
Chelsea (away) 0-2

Eddie Howe's team have already exceeded expectations this season, so there is probably less pressure on the manager and his players. That makes them extremely dangerous and they have only lost once at home this term, to Liverpool. This weekend’s game against Manchester United is a fascinating one, and Spurs and Liverpool will both be hoping they lose. They have some tough away games to navigate, though, and it is so tight that even goal difference — with Newcastle currently +20 to Liverpool's +18 — could be decisive, with our projections putting Newcastle ahead... just.

Fifth – Liverpool (42)

Prediction: Wins 7, Draws 3, Defeats 2 - Pts 24
Projected points tally: 66

Manchester City (away) 2-3
Chelsea (away) 2-2
Arsenal (home) 0-2
Leeds (away) 2-1
Nottingham Forest (home) 3-1
West Ham (away) 2-0
Tottenham (home) 1-0
Fulham (home) 2-1
Brentford (home) 1-1
Leicester (away) 2-0
Aston Villa (home) 1-1
Southampton (away) 3-1

Liverpool are the hardest team to predict in the Premier League this season and Jurgen Klopp, let alone the rest of us, probably does not know what performance his team are going to deliver week to week. They need to sort out their defensive problems and must maintain the pressure on the teams above them. Another defeat at this stage of the season could be fatal to their Champions League hopes. But with just the league to focus on, it would be foolish to write them off. They are breathing down Newcastle's necks and it is going to be very, very close.

Sixth – Tottenham Hotspur (49)

Prediction: Wins 4, Draws 3, Defeats 3 - Pts 15
Projected points tally: 64

Everton (away) 2-2
Brighton (home) 1-1
Bournemouth (home) 3-0
Newcastle (away) 0-1
Manchester United (home) 1-2
Liverpool (away) 0-1
Crystal Palace (home) 2-0
Aston Villa (away) 1-1
Brentford (home) 2-1
Leeds (away) 1-0

Having briefly looked to have seen off the twin challenge of Newcastle and Liverpool, Tottenham have had a nasty wobble and parted company with manager Antonio Conte as a result. Spurs have won just one game in four since losing to Sheffield United in the FA Cup. Was that Conte’s fault or was the Italian correct about the quality and mental strength of the players? We are about to find out.

Seventh – Brighton (42)

Prediction: Wins 3, Draws 7, Defeats 3 - Pts 16
Projected points tally: 58

Brentford (home) 2-2
Bournemouth (away) 2-1
Tottenham (away) 1-1
Chelsea (away) 0-1
Manchester City (home) 1-3
Nottingham Forest (away) 1-1
Wolves (home) 2-1
Man United (home) 2-2
Everton (home) 0-0
Arsenal (away) 1-3
Southampton (home) 2-0
Newcastle (away) 1-1
Aston Villa (away) 1-1

Much like Newcastle, Brighton are not playing with the same pressure as Liverpool and Tottenham, whose entire business model and summer recruitment plans are based on the assumption they will be in the Champions League. Brighton, though, remain dangerous and have to play Newcastle and Tottenham in the run-in. Whether or not they pull off one of the biggest shocks of the Premier League era and finish in the top four, you suspect they will have a big say in the outcome. An FA Cup semi-final will be a big distraction, though.

Eighth – Brentford (42)

Prediction: Wins 3, Draws 4, Defeats 4 - Pts 13
Projected points tally: 55

Brighton (away) 2-2
Manchester United (away) 0-2
Newcastle (home) 1-1
Wolves (away) 2-1
Aston Villa (home) 1-0
Chelsea (away) 0-2
Nottingham Forest (home) 2-0
Liverpool (away) 1-1
West Ham (home) 2-2
Tottenham (away) 1-2
Manchester City (home) 1-3

Another side adding a feel-good story to this Premier League season (worthy mention to Fulham also) but they have played more games than most of the teams above them in the table and that is likely to make it too hard for them to break into the top four down the home straight. Any sort of European football next season would be a wonderful achievement.