Chelsea have endured an up-and-down campaign under the guidance of Maurizio Sarri, although the Blues remain within touching distance of a return to the Champions League.
However, being three points behind Arsenal in fourth place heading into the final eight matches of the season, Chelsea require the sides above them to slip up – with Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United also fighting for a top-four spot.
A total of 24 points are on offer from the remaining games this season and the highest points tally Chelsea can achieve is 81. Considering it required 75 points to qualify for the Champions League last season, the Blues do not have much margin for error.
That means that the Blues are currently the outsiders in the hunt for a return to Europe’s elite competition.
But what is the earliest date that Chelsea can seal a top-four finish? Will it go right to the wire? We’ve crunched the numbers and taken a look.
The earliest date
With Chelsea playing catch-up to the rest of their top-four rivals, and entering the final weeks of the season three points adrift of fourth-placed Arsenal, the earliest date Sarri could celebrate guiding Chelsea to the Champions League is April 24.
But that is an unlikely scenario, and for that to happen, Chelsea would need to win each of their next five matches, including their clash with title-chasing Liverpool at Anfield.
They would also require a major decline from two of their three rivals and would need Spurs, Arsenal or United to completely fall off the wagon – with Spurs picking up fewer than two points from their next five games, Arsenal picking up fewer than three points from their next five games and United picking up fewer than five points from their next five games.
The likely scenario
Taking all that into account, it seems almost guaranteed that Chelsea will require the hunt for a top-four finish to extend into May if they are to seal a return to the Champions League – but they’d still need their rivals to slip up.
In simple terms, they would need Spurs to drop four points, Arsenal to drop three points and United to drop two – but Chelsea would have to win all of their own games for the Blues to take control in the top-four race.
To seal Champions League football on the penultimate weekend, Chelsea would need to secure seven more points than Arsenal in the next seven games and five more than United – which is possible.
Taking goal difference into account though, with Chelsea’s being +17 compared to United’s (+18) and Arsenal’s (+24), the top-four fight for the Blues seems highly likely to run until the final weekend when the Blues travel to face Leicester City – and it may require Sarri ’s side to secure a better goal difference in the process.
United do still have to play Manchester City and Chelsea, while they also have tricky games to come against Watford, Wolves, West Ham and Everton, although they do face relegation-threatened Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City in their last two fixtures.
Meanwhile, Arsenal do not have to face any of the current top six in their final eight games. They do, however, have some testing trips to come, with away games against Everton, Watford, Wolves, Leicester City and Burnley in the run-in.
Spurs have to face both Liverpool and Manchester City away from home, as well as Bournemouth, but they do have five home games left between now and the end of the season.