As we enter the final week of the Premier League season, we also enter the ‘what if’ season.
With just two games remaining and only three points separating third-place Leicester City and Liverpool in fifth, the final two Champions League qualification spots are very much still up for grabs.
Throw in the fact Chelsea welcome Leicester on Tuesday night and it adds another dynamic to an already tantalising run-in.
Liverpool’s hopes of securing Champions League football appeared to have ended earlier in the campaign as they struggled to replicate the kind of performances which secured a first Premier League crown in 2020.
Even going into this week, Chelsea and Leicester City were very much in the driving seat.
But Chelsea’s defeat to Arsenal on Wednesday night and Liverpool’s victories over Manchester United and West Bromwich Albion in the space of four days mean the Reds are now bookies’ favourites to secure a top four spot.
That is because if Jurgen Klopp’s men win both of their remaining matches against Burnley and Crystal Palace, they will finish on 69 points, whereas it is impossible for both Leicester and Chelsea to reach that target because they play each other midweek.
Now here is where it could get interesting.
If Chelsea were to beat Leicester on Tuesday night, securing a revenge 1-0 scoreline, and the Blues went on to beat Aston Villa, then third spot would be theirs.
But with Leicester and Liverpool having almost identical goalscoring records this season – they both have +21 goal difference and Leicester have only scored two more than the Reds – then there is a chance the teams could end up with the same goals scored and the same goal difference this season.
For example, if Chelsea do win 1-0 on Tuesday night but then the Foxes go on to beat Tottenham 3-0 on Sunday, while the Reds win 3-2 at Burnley and 2-1 against Crystal Palace, then both Leicester and Liverpool would have identical points and scoring records – not only for goal difference but for scored and against.
So what happen in that situation?
Well it is taken to head-to-head record and there is very little to separate the two teams there either.
November’s clash at Anfield ended 3-0 to the home side while Leicester secured revenge in February, with a 3-1 win.
But Mo Salah’s goal that night would prove crucial in such circumstances, as it would hand Liverpool the advantage and secure Champions League football for Klopp’s men.
When the head-to-head records still can’t separate the clubs, then the side who scored the most away goals in those matches between the two teams would secure the higher position.
But in situations where there is still no difference – for example if that second game had also finished 3-0 to Leicester – then it would lead to a play-off match being arranged at a neutral ground, with the format, timing and venue being determined by the Premier League Board.