Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal will enter the final day of the Premier League season fighting for two spots in next year’s Champions League.
Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur are already guaranteed of taking their places in the group stage draw, but there are still two places up for grabs. Third place enters directly into the group stage, fourth place must go through the Champions League playoff round. Fifth place settles for the Europa League.
Goal difference and goals scored will, as usual, be used to split any teams who are level on points — but the Premier League could see its first-ever playoff if two teams finish with identical records of points, goals scored and goals conceded.
We run through the permutations and what needs to happen for there to be a dramatic end-of-season playoff.
MANCHESTER CITY (3rd, 75 points)
City will need to draw at Watford in their final match on Sunday to be absolutely sure of at least fourth place. They go into that match three points ahead of Arsenal, and two ahead of Liverpool.
They could be overtaken by both if they lose heavily at Watford, Arsenal win well at home to Everton, and Liverpool are victorious too.
City are two points ahead of Liverpool but only three goals better off in goal difference, so a draw and a three-goal win for Liverpool could bump City into fourth on goals scored, though 3-0 and 3-3 would leave them with identical records (see below).
Both Arsenal and Liverpool failing to win would also secure City’s place in the group stage — if either fail to win City will at least be fourth.
LIVERPOOL (4th, 73 points)
Liverpool know they have to win at home to already-relegated Middlesbrough on Sunday to keep Arsenal at arm’s length. A draw, and they would be overtaken by an Arsenal win.
If Liverpool lose and Arsenal draw, then Liverpool are guaranteed to be fourth unless they lose by more than one goal. Lose by two goals and it goes to goals scored and a possible playoff. Lose by three goals and Arsenal need a point. They could still qualify with a defeat, too, if Arsenal are also beaten.
ARSENAL (5th, 72 points)
As above, there is the chance Arsenal could qualify for the Champions League with a point if Liverpool lose by at least two goals, but in reality they must win and hope Liverpool do not. They could overtake Man City if they win and Pep Guardiola’s team lose, but there would need to be an unlikely six-goal swing.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE PLAYOFF
It looks like Arsenal and Liverpool have the greatest chance of facing a playoff, for the qualifying round place in fourth. At present Liverpool are one point better off than Arsenal, with goal difference +33 to +31 respectively. They could face a playoff if, for instance:
– Arsenal and Everton draw 1-1 on the final day AND
– Liverpool lose to Middlesbrough 0-2
These results would leave the two clubs with 73 points, and goal difference of +31 (75 for, 44 against).
There a lesser chance that Liverpool and Man City could finish level and face a playoff for the automatic place in the Champions League:
– Man City draw 3-3 at Watford AND
– Liverpool beat Middlesbrough 3-0
For Arsenal and Man City to finish with identical records:
– Man City lose 4-0 at Watford AND
– Arsenal beat Everton 1-0
Dale Johnson has been an editor and journalist at ESPN for 18 years. You can follow him on Twitter @dalejohnsonESPN.