Advantage Newcastle in battle for Champions League places

Newcastle United recorded a storming 3-0 win over Stoke City on Saturday and the victory may have delivered more than three points. With Arsenal and Chelsea holding each other to a stalemate and Tottenham Hotspur falling to defeat at Queens Park Rangers, Alan Pardew’s side are now well placed to finish fourth in the Premier League and qualify for next season’s Champions League.

In fact, with a game in hand on Arsenal and trailing the Gunners by three points, the Magpies could be forgiven for dreaming of snatching third and with it direct entry into the Champions League, avoiding the tricky play-off that comes with fourth. Yet despite the disappointment of defeat to relegation-threated QPR, Spurs’ own game in hand leaves then in position to capitalise on any stutter of the Newcastle bandwagon – and Tottenham’s better goal difference, +18 to Newcastle’s +11, means that if Harry Redknapp’s side do make up the three point disparity they would leapfrog the men from the North East.

Nevertheless, the form is with Newcastle. Pardew’s outfit have won their last six league games, while in the same period Tottenham have won only once. And in the time it has taken Newcastle to play out half-a-dozen league matches, Tottenham have played two extra fixtures in the FA Cup, stretching Redknapp’s resources at a crucial time of the season. It is a problem Roberto Di Matteo has faced at Chelsea. The euphoria of victories in the semi-finals of the Champions League and the FA Cup may have risen Stamford Bridge to a high but the dirge on show at the Emirates Stadium brought most lofty thoughts back down to Earth with a bump.

With the return leg of the Champions League tie in the Nou Camp just days away Chelsea can perhaps be forgiven for having half an eye on the future in Spain, but time is running out to repair the damage done to their league placing. Di Matteo’s side are sixth, four points shy of Newcastle and seven of Arsenal, and it would be a brave soul who relied on going to the home of the Champions League holders and coming away with the result needed to ensure Champions League participation next year.

Indeed, in the understandable hullaballoo around the Chelsea vs. Barcelona series it has almost been forgotten that defeating Lionel Messi and company does not guarantee anything but a place in the final. From there, Chelsea would still have to beat Real Madrid or Bayern Munich, facing either the psychological drama of a showpiece match with Jose Mourinho’s current charges or the intimidation of playing Bayern in the final in their own Allianz Arena. Scrambling back into the league reckoning may have been Chelsea’s best bet of qualifying for next year’s Champions League, but after drawing with Arsenal Chelsea have left themselves a lot to do and little time in which to do it. Arsenal similarly missed a chance to seal their grip on third, leaving Newcastle undoubtedly the form side.

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