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Spurs, Liverpool, Man City or Villa? The lowdown on the race for fourth place

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23 Feb 2010 01:11:56

Spurs, Liverpool, Man City or Villa? The lowdown on the race for fourth place

A late double from Roman Pavlyuchenko sealed Tottenham's move into fourth spot on Sunday - the third time in one day the position changed hands. It has become a four-way tussle between Spurs, Manchester City, Liverpool and Aston Villa to land the Holy Grail of Champions League football. And with just one point separating fourth from seventh, the chase is sure to go right to the wire. Sportsmail takes assesses the contenders battling it out for the final spot in Europe's premier knockout competition. On the up: Roman Pavlyuchenko is mobbed by his team-mates FORM                                                 TottenhamSpurs' form has faltered since the turn of the year. During their last six games, two have ended in victory, two in defeat and two in draws. Tottenham's problems have stemmed from losing games they really should win: Wolves, Stoke and Hull have left White Hart Lane with a combined total of seven points, the difference between fighting for the title and fighting for fourth. Stalemate: Lucas battles with Gareth Barry Manchester CityThe dark clouds are gathering for Mancini - his side are on a run of three draws and they have lost three of 14 games since the Italian took over. Mancini has also acknowledged that he argued with Craig Bellamy over training and a number of players are reportedly unhappy with the new regime's long practice sessions. However, the major deciding factor could be the game in hand they have over the rest. LiverpoolRafa's side has hit a decent vein of form, which has coincided with the absence of their 'talisman' Fernando Torres. A steely determination has replaced the wafer-thin confidence. The Merseysiders may not look pretty at the moment but they have rolled up their sleeves and are grinding out results - winning three of the last six and losing just one. Aston VillaNo defeats in the last six, sticking five past Burnley and a cup final to look forward to - thing are looking good for Martin O'Neill's side. This is a huge week for Villa, the FA Cup replay on Wednesday against Crystal Palace and Carling Cup final with Manchester United will dictate the level of success they enjoy this season. INJURIES                                           TottenhamThere is a direct correlation between Tottenham's dip in form in the second half of the season and the absence of their pacy winger Aaron Lennon. The England international, 22, injured his groin during the victory over West Ham in December and his side have won just two league games since. Lennon is due back within the next two weeks, and will be joined by Jermaine Jenas, Benoit Assou-Ekotto Lennon in returning to the side but Carlo Cudicini and Johnathan Woodgate remain out for the foreseeable. Manchester CityMancini's major headache isn't an injury, but the absence of Carlos Tevez due to the premature birth of the Argentine's daughter. Tevez has returned home to South America and won't return until his newborn until the doctor has given the all-clear. The only other pressing issue is that of Bulgarian winger Martin Petrov who could be out for a further four weeks with a knee injury. Back: Fernando Torres (left) made his return against Manchester City LiverpoolGreat news for Rafa on Sunday - Fernando Torres, the club's top scorer finally returned a month after his knee operation. And Yossi Benayoun also recovered from a broken rib which had sidelined him since the middle of January.  The only remaining issue for Benitez is that of Glen Johnson who has another couple of weeks to go before he can be considered for first-team action. Aston VillaMartin O'Neill isn't blessed with the biggest squad in the league but his players are holding up well even as the games come thick and fast. Aside from a few niggles, the only major absentee is Nigel Reo-Coker, who has featured in just 13 games so far this season.  RUN-IN                                               TottenhamCertainly the toughest run-in of the four battling it out for the Champions League spot. In April, Spurs have a run of three games against Arsenal, Chelsea and Man United and they also have tricky away clashes away at Man City, Stoke and Burnley. If Tottenham make it, they're going to have to do it the hard way. Manchester CityMancini may consider his side's game in hand a trump card but when he looks down the fixture list he will see away games coming up at Chelsea and Arsenal. City haven't won at Stamford Bridge in the league since January 1993 or at Highbury or the Emirates since October 1975. Net gains: Aston Villa's Emile Heskey scores against Burnley LiverpoolRafa will regard his final fixtures with a little confidence. He has tricky clashes against Man United and Chelsea to come, but his side performed a demolition job on their last visit to old Trafford and haven't lost in the last three at home to Chelsea.   Aston VillaThe Villans have by far the easiest run-in of the four sides. Just one game against a 'big four' side - Chelsea away - and a number of home ties they must consider a certain three points: Sunderland, Wolves and Blackburn. Tottenham Feb 28: Everton (H) Mar 6: Man City (A) Mar 13: Blackburn (H) Mar 20: Stoke (A) Mar 27: Portsmouth (H) Apr 3: Sunderland (A) Apr 10: Arsenal (H) Apr 17: Chelsea (H) Apr 25: Man United (A) May 1: Bolton (H) May 9: Burnley (A) Liverpool Feb 28: Blackburn (H) Mar 8: Wigan (A) Mar 15: Portsmouth (H) Mar 21: Man United (A) Mar 28: Sunderland (H) Apr 3: Birmingham (A) Apr 11: Fulham (H) Apr 19: West Ham (H) Apr 24: Burnley (A) May 1: Chelsea (H) May 9: Hull (A) Manchester City Feb 27: Chelsea (A) Mar 6: Tottenham (H) Mar 14: Sunderland (A) Mar 20: Fulham (A) Mar 29: Wigan (H) Apr 3: Burnley (A) Apr 11: Birmingham (H) Apr 17: Man United (H) Apr 24: Arsenal (A) May 1: Aston Villa (H) May 9: West Ham (A) TBC: Everton (H) Aston Villa Mar 6: Sunderland (H) Mar 13: Stoke (A) Mar 16: Wigan (A) Mar 20: Wolves (H) Mar 27: Chelsea (A) Apr 3: Bolton (A) Apr 10: Everton (H) Apr 18: Portsmouth (A) Apr 25: Birmingham (H) May 1: Man City (A) May 9: Blackburn (H) VERDICT                                           TottenhamGiven Tottenham's recent shaky form, you can't help but think the perennial underachievers will remain just that. Few of the players have experience of qualifying for the Champions League and a difficult run-in means Spurs will just miss out. Still, as Tottenham fans will tell you - there's always next year. FINAL POSITION: 7th Manchester CityCan Roberto Mancini galavanise his disparate band of talented egos into one final push for the Champions League? The only thing consistent about City this has been their inconsistency and their penchant for pressing the self-destuct button means they will have to make do with the Europa League. FINAL POSITION: 6th LiverpoolGiven how the season started, its remarkable that Liverpool are still in the running at all. But if there's one thing for certain, no one fears Rafa's side. Fernando Torres' return will inspire form but not enough to steal fourth. The ramifications for the club and, in particular, Benitez could be dire when they only make it into the Europa League. FINAL POSITION: 5th    Aston VillaMartin O'Neill's side have that crucial ingredient - momentum. Last season his team was ubnbalanced, heavy in attacking threat but flimsy at the back - that's no longer the case. With Richard Dunne and James Collins shoring up their once leaky defence, the Vilans now have the backbone to win a trophy this season ... and seal that Champions League spot. FINAL POSITION: 4th  Wigan Athletic 0 Tottenham Hotspur 3: Roman Pavlyuchenko conquers as Spurs go fourth and prosper from Eastlands shut-outMan City 0 Liverpool 0: Mancini desperate to have Carlos Tevez backVilla 5 Burnley 2: High fives as O'Neill's English battalion grab all the glory


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