With Manchester Clubs leading the pack, who will qualify for the other Champions League Places

Why they will

  • Arsene Wenger – The Frenchman is currently his 15th year as the manager of Arsenal, securing them Champion’s League qualification in 14 consecutive seasons, a feat unachievable for most of his contemporary managers. Even though Wenger does not have the same quality of players that he has had over the years, the Frenchman has enough experience to guide the ship through.
  • Robin Van Persie – RvP, as the fans call him, has been in breathtaking form for the Gunners this season and possibly the only truly World Class player left in the squad. If Arsenal aspire to win any kind of silverware this season they need to keep Van Persie fit throughout the season, which is a big task in itself, given the injury record of the Dutchman.
  • Team spirit – Arsenal are showing signs that they are finally through the tumultuous period of negativity that encapsulated the team at the start of the season. It is said that a man comes out stronger from times of adversity and Arsenal seem to be an example of that. The team looks far more closely knit than the previous season and it seems like the players have taken it upon themselves to prove the doubters wrong.
Why they won’t
  • Inexperience – Although Arsene Wenger went against his policy to sign older and experienced players this summer, Arsenal are still far from the finished product. Of the latest recruits Andre Santos has barely played in the Champions league while he was at Fenerbahce, while similar things can be pointed out against Yossi Benayoun and Per Mertesacker. Mikel Arteta has never had any experience in the competition. The rest of the squad has matured as compared to the previous seasons but still have an element of naivety in them.
  • Lack of quality – No matter how good the manager or the team spirit is, this Arsenal team clearly lacks the quality that has been Arsenal’s symbol over the years. The team boasts of only one name that can walk into any team in the world and that person is Robin Van Persie. Rest of the players, although talented, are not in the same bracket.
Why they will
  • Experienced squad – The current Chelsea team boasts of players such as John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Ashley Cole etc. who can be regarded as stalwarts of the competition. Add to that list Juan Mata, Fernando Torres, Alex and Essien and on paper they look like World Beaters.
  • Andre Villas Boas – Though Chelsea have faced a few torrid weeks over the past month, there can be no doubt that they are playing some of the best football in recent years. This is because of the new style of play introduced by their young manager Andre Villas-Boas. He has brought back a sort of dynamism to the Chelsea sidelines that was missing since the Mourinho era. His passion alone  is enough to spur players to perform better on the field.
  • Juan Mata – To single out one player is a bit of a hyperbole, but Juan Mata has proved to be the player that they had been missing since Gianfranco Zola. The Spaniard is capable of playing anywhere in midfield and has single handedly changed the way Chelsea pass the ball around the box. Chelsea need him to continue playing this way to ensure safe passage to the qualification round.
Why they won’t
  • Aging squad – This is somewhat contradictory to the above point, but the players pointed out above are all in their  early thirties. While there is no supplement for experience, there also isn’t one for speed. All these players have lost a yard of pace over the years and the midfield and defense looks terribly out of sorts against counter attacks. This was evident against Arsenal recently when they were defeated 5-3.
  • Fernando Torres – Roman Abramovich signed the Spaniard for 50 million pounds last season who has flattered to deceive so far. What proved to be the tipping point for Carlo Ancelotti, might prove to be the same for Villas-Boas as well.
  • Problems in defense – John Terry is susceptible to counter attacks, Bosingwa is a winger rather than a full back, Ivanovic has one customary dozing period per game, Petr Cech is no longer impenetrable, David Luiz has the style but not the game. Do I need to say more.
Why they will
  • Steven Gerrard – Liverpool’s talisman has been missing for the best part of the last one year, but is slated to make a return to the field within 2-3 week’s time. Gerrard’s presence brings a sort of flair to the midfield that is sorely missed in his absence. His ability to inspire his team to wins from unthinkable positions has contributed to cult status among the fans, who also seem to be at their best when their hero is playing for them.
  • Luis Suarez – The Uruguayan striker has arguably the best off-the-ball movement in the entire league. His ability to stretch play and drag defenders out of position has led to numerous chances for Liverpool this season. Gerrard’s return can help create a fruitful fulcrum for Liverpool ala the Torres days. If only Suarez could avoid unnecessary attention for his on field antics.
  • The Itch – Liverpool haven’t been part of the Champions League for three seasons now which is really uncharacteristic for the Merseyside club. The 2005 champions were one of the ever-present teams of the league till 2008, but have taken steps backwards since. The players and fans are desperate to return to the competition after their 3 year hiatus.
Why they won’t
  • Poor signings – While Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam, Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson all came with hefty price tags, none of them have so far fulfilled the promise that was expected of them. Andy Carroll moves like a wooden toy on the field while Henderson is being played out of position on the right flank. Frankly, more was expected of these players and they need to deliver fast.
  • Over reliance on Luis Suarez – The Uruguayan is comfortable either playing as the lone striker or as a second striker,  but  too much of Liverpool’s play seems to go through him. Mark him tightly and you have a fair chance that you can obtain a result out of the game.
  • King Kenny – Kenny Dalglish may be a legend at the club but that also has lent an air of complacency to the Scotsman’s demeanor. It is imperative that Kenny doesn’t take his position for granted and continues to better the team.
Why they will
  • Super fast football – Tottenham are arguably playing the best football in the league at the moment. The combination of quick passing and super fast wingers is proving to be too much for opposition teams to handle. Add to that the movement and guile of Rafael Van der Vaart upfront and you have a lethal mixture of pace and creativity.
  • Solid defense – For all that Spurs have going forward, the players upfront have the assurances that they have a solid defense at the back. Ledley King maybe a medical marvel but his game is good enough to add an air of calm and assurance to the Spurs rearguard. Willliam Gallas, Benoit Assou-Ekkotto and Younes Kaboul are more than able backups. Kyle Walker is one of the brightest young full backs in the game.
  • Hunger – Having tasted the sweet taste of Champions League in the previous season, the Tottenham players are eager to impress on the bigger stage once again. But they have to be cautious this time as over ambitiousness can only lead to downfall.
Why they won’t
  • Egos – Emmanuel Adebayor maybe one of the most moody players in the game, but he does have an ever-present ego. The Togolese international has had a history of tussles at his former clubs and is a whisker away from controversy all the time. Recently, Gareth Bale has also started showing Cristiano Ronaldo-esque tantrums on pitch, something never admired in the locker room.
  • Chelsea and Luka Modric – Luka Modric’s performances have attracted the likes of Chelsea, where Villas-Boas considers him as the alternative to Frank Lampard. The Blues have had a bid turned down during the summer transfer window but can certainly come knocking back during the winter. The summer saga affected the Croatian’s performance at the start of the season, something which Spurs can not afford during mid-season.
Why they can
  • Sticking to a plan – Alan Pardew has sensibly inculcated a system at Newcastle this season, that sees them play a very fluid 4-4-2 formation. Their first 11 had remained unchanged through the first 10 matches of the  season, giving them a consistency, missed by most teams.
  • Mean defense – Fabricio Coloccini and company have let in only 8 goals so far this season, lesser than top ranked Manchester City. Between the posts, Tim Krul is pulling off super human saves one after the other.
Why they won’t
  • Its just a bubble – While Newcastle deserve praise for their performance so far, even the most ardent fans will accept that it can prove no more than a bubble. The club is punching above its weight at the moment, but doesn’t have enough players of experience and quality to sustain the momentum.
  • African Cup Of Nations – The African Cup of Nations is scheduled to be held between December-January, a period when most of the teams lose their African players due to national commitments. Newcastle’s most effective players this season have been Demba Ba and Cheik Tiote, both of whom will be unavailable during this period.

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