Key fixtures that will decide Manchester United’s top-four fate after embarrassing defeat to Chelsea

Important fixtures that will decide Manchester United’s top-four fate after embarrassing defeat to Chelsea

Manchester United’s top-four hopes suffered a major blow as they conceded twice in injury-time to lose 4-3 at Chelsea in an all-time classic Premier League fixture.

A lacklustre United looked dead and buried when Conor Gallagher and Cole Palmer put Chelsea 2-0 up after 19 minutes at Stamford Bridge.

But Erik ten Hag’s side were level at the half-time interval thanks to goals from Alejandro Garnacho and Bruno Fernandes and the Argentine put the visitors ahead midway through the second-half.

For a long time it looked as though United would do enough to seal a crucial win and put pressure on top-four rivals Aston Villa and Tottenham, but Chelsea scored twice in injury-time to stun the Red Devils.

Palmer sent Andre Onana the wrong way to score his second penalty of the evening and seemingly earn Chelsea a point, but 82 seconds later the midfielder smashed home a dramatic winner to send Stamford Bridge wild and complete a remarkable hat-trick.

United will have to find a way to get over this devastating setback as they still have an outside chance of catching Villa and Spurs and finishing in the top-four.

Finishing fifth in the Premier League may yet be enough to qualify for the Champions League but as things stands only the top-four in England will make it into Europe’s top club competition.

A top-four finish is out of Manchester United’s hands but they can at least keep Aston Villa and Tottenham honest by picking up a healthy amount of points between now and the end of the season.

Unfortunately for United their next opponents are Premier League leaders Liverpool, beaten just twice in 30 games this season. Jurgen Klopp’s side did suffer a rare defeat to United in the FA Cup but Ten Hag’s side will need to produce another upset to dent their arch-rivals’ title hopes.

In early May the Red Devils travel to south London to face Crystal Palace. Sitting 14th, Palace may not be seen as formidable opponents but Selhurst Park can produce some shocks and Palace did beat United at Old Trafford earlier in the season.

One week later Manchester United host Arsenal in a game that could have huge repercussions, both in the title race and the top-four battle. Arsenal scored two stoppage-time goals to win the first fixture between these two sides in September.

Given their deficit, United will love to just be in the race for the top-four come the final day of the season but they face a testing trip to Brighton on May 19. Roberto De Zerbi’s side have struggled for consistency this season but have proven in recent years they can be a match for anybody.

Aston Villa’s key fixtures

Arsenal v Aston Villa (April 14)

Aston Villa v Chelsea (April 27)

Brighton v Aston Villa (May 4)

Aston Villa v Liverpool (May 11)

Aston Villa have dropped off since they briefly threatened to challenge Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City at the start of the season, but Unai Emery’s side are still a force to be reckoned with.

Villa will be desperate to qualify for the Champions League for the very first time but their recent form – four points from four games – suggests they may be faltering at the crucial moment.

The Midlanders are one of a number of teams depleted by injuries, with Emery unable to call upon Emiliano Martinez, Ollie Watkins and other key players in Wednesday’s humbling 4-1 defeat at Manchester City.

Having already visited Man City, Villa face the other two title rivals during a difficult run-in as they travel to Arsenal in two weeks’ time and host Liverpool on the penultimate weekend.

One fixture that stands out in-between those is a home match against Chelsea, a club still languishing in mid-table despite the epic win over United but who have proved they are more than capable of disrupting other teams’ plans with a squad worth well over £1billion. Villa also have a tricky trip to Brighton in early May.

Tottenham’s key fixtures

Newcastle v Tottenham (April 13)

Tottenham v Manchester City (TBC)

Tottenham v Arsenal (April 28)

Liverpool v Tottenham (May 4)

Like Villa, Tottenham also enjoyed a scintillating start to the season under new boss Ange Postecoglou before falling back into the pack. Teething issues were always to be expected but, given the club finished eighth last season, most Spurs fans will still be content with the campaign so far.

St James’ Park is not the fortress it was last year but a trip to Newcastle still represents a significant challenge for Spurs’ dynamic and young squad. In a challenging run-in, Tottenham face all three title contenders but at least the north London derby is on their own turf and comes with the added motivation of derailing Arsenal’s title charge.

Spurs are one of only two teams to have beaten Liverpool this season and perhaps the controversial 2-1 win at home in September will give Postecoglou’s men hope of getting a result at Anfield in early May.

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