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Leicester City, Chelsea, West Ham and Liverpool are battling for a top-four finish (Getty Images)

Leicester City, Chelsea, West Ham and Liverpool are battling for a top-four finish (Getty Images)

The Premier League may not have much of a title race to speak of this season but the battle to finish in the top four and earn a place in next year’s Champions League is narrowing.

Manchester United’s place suddenly appears secure but behind them, Leicester City, West Ham, Chelsea and Liverpool are all within four points of each other as we enter the final straight.

Tottenham and Everton are slightly further back but are not yet out of the running.

With seven games left for most of those involved,The Independent has broken down the run-ins, checking the average home and away points-per-game and average expected goal difference (xGD) of their remaining opponents.

Who has the best run-in and who has the worst?

3. Leicester City

Run-in difficulty: ⭐⭐1/2

Remaining opponents

Avg PPG: 1.32; Avg xGD: -4.6

22/04 West Bromwich (H)

26/04 Crystal Palace (H)

01/05 Southampton (A)

08/05 Newcastle (H)

11/05 Manchester Utd (A)

15/05 Chelsea (A)

23/05 Tottenham (H)

Leicester’s six-point cushion over fifth-place at the start of the month has been cut down to size following back-to-back defeats. With the chasing pack closing in, fears of another late season collapse are understandable.

The next four games will be crucial for Brendan Rodgers’ side. Three – against West Bromwich Albion, Crystal Palace and Newcastle – are at the King Power, while the other is a trip to a flagging Southampton.

Leicester will be favourites in all four but taking all 12 points on offer may be necessary.

The Foxes finish the season against those around them, with trips to Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge followed by Tottenham at home. That Chelsea game could be particularly important.

4. West Ham

Run-in difficulty: ⭐⭐

Remaining opponents

Avg PPG: 1.25; Avg xGD: -4.7

17/04 Newcastle (A)

24/04 Chelsea (H)

01/05 Burnley (A)

08/05 Everton (H)

11/05 Brighton (A)

15/05 West Bromwich (A)

23/05 Southampton (H)

Anyone who still refuses to take West Ham’s top-four push seriously was put in their place by their 3-2 win over Leicester at the weekend. Though other surprise contenders have gradually fallen away, David Moyes’ men are not going away.

Their schedule only strengthens their case. It is not the easiest run-in but it is manageable, with five of their seven remaining opponents at the wrong end of the table. West Ham have only lost once to sides currently in the bottom half, winning 10 of 15 games.

Their record against teams around them is not as impressive, though, and hopes of a first Champions League qualification could depend on Chelsea’s visit later this month. Emerge from that unscathed and Moyes will have taken a huge step towards a top-four finish.

5. Chelsea

Run-in difficulty: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Remaining opponents

Avg PPG: 1.74; Avg xGD: +9.1

20/04 Brighton (H)

24/04 West Ham (A)

01/05 Fulham (H)

08/05 Manchester City (A)

11/05 Arsenal (H)

15/05 Leicester (H)

23/05 Aston Villa (A)

Chelsea have the most difficult run-in of all the top-four contenders. A visit from relegation-threatened Fulham at the start of next month should be straightforward on paper but even an under-performing Brighton could pose problems before then.

Thomas Tuchel’s side still have to travel to the Etihad, and Arsenal and Aston Villa are no pushovers, but their top-four prospects will look a lot healthier if they can win away at West Ham later this month.

If they then stay in the race until the penultimate weekend, when Leicester visit west London, another three points should leave them in a strong position. Chelsea are maybe the best all-round team in the race but have the toughest schedule to negotiate.

6. Liverpool

Run-in difficulty: ⭐

Remaining opponents

Avg PPG: 1.19; Avg xGD: -11.6

19/04 Leeds (A)

24/04 Newcastle (H)

01/05 Manchester United (A)

08/05 Southampton (H)

11/05 West Bromwich (A)

15/05 Burnley (A)

23/05 Crystal Palace (H)

Liverpool unquestionably have the easiest run-in. Next month’s trip to Old Trafford will be a stern test and Leeds are not as porous at Elland Road as they are on their travels but last season’s champions will otherwise be well-fancied in all their remaining fixtures.

There are no guarantees. Newcastle and West Brom held Jurgen Klopp’s side in the reverse fixtures earlier this season. Southampton and Burnley beat them. All four are struggling in the bottom half, though, and rode their luck in the previous meetings.

It is the type of run-in that the Liverpool of the last few seasons would have expected to take at least 18 points from. Are they capable of the same this year, despite all the injuries and their Christmas time collapse? There’s a chance but they may need to be perfect.

7. Tottenham

Run-in difficulty: ⭐1/2

Remaining opponents

Avg PPG: 1.15; Avg xGD: -5.2

16/04 Everton (A)

21/04 Southampton (H)

01/05 Sheffield United (H)

08/05 Leeds (A)

11/05 Wolves (H)

15/05 Aston Villa (H)

23/05 Leicester (A)

Sunday’s defeat to United has left Tottenham staring at the possibility of two years without Champions League football. Six points adrift of fourth-place, this was not how it was supposed to go after that strong start to the campaign.

The good news is that their run-in is relatively kind and that, with Harry Kane and Son Heung-min both fit and available, they have the potential to go on a run which would keep their hopes alive.

A trip to Leeds could provide the space for Kane and Son to thrive and even going to Goodison Park is not too intimidating, but Spurs’ inconsistency is the major obstacle. Will they still have a chance when Leicester visit on the final day?

8. Everton

Run-in difficulty: ⭐⭐⭐1/2

Remaining opponents

Avg PPG: 1.44; Avg xGD: +3.7

16/04 Tottenham (H)

23/04 Arsenal (A)

01/05 Aston Villa (H)

08/05 West Ham (A)

11/05 Sheffield United (H)

15/05 Wolves (H)

23/05 Manchester City (A)

TBC Aston Villa (A)

Everton are clinging on to their place in this race. In fact, if it was not for their game in hand, they would surely be out of the running. An extra three points away to Aston Villa – in a game which is yet to be scheduled – would be useful but again, inconsistency is the issue.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side have been particularly poor at home this season, losing seven of their 15 games at Goodison Park, to the point where even doomed Sheffield United might fancy themselves when they visit next month.

Though Everton are sitting in the top four of the away table, trips to Arsenal, West Ham, Villa and City do not scream late surge into the Champions League places. Ancelotti needs to rediscover that early season form but it has been missing for a while now.

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