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02nd Oct 2023

VAR controversy hides the biggest unanswered question from this weekend

Simon Kelly

Premier League opinion matchday seven

Forget what you know about the so-called “Big Six”

While the conversation focuses on the truly bizarre VAR controversy circling around Tottenham’s win over Liverpool on Saturday evening, some very interesting Premier League results have gone under the radar as a result.

Rather than controversy off the pitch, we’re looking at what went down on the pitch over match-day seven, which threw up the most important question of the weekend: What teams are actually in contention for a European place this season?

Every season we get further and further from an answer as the traditional top 4 race expands. With more European spots on offer and more money than ever before being pumped into teams outside of the big boys, it’s become a very interesting playing field.

Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool (despite their disappointing loss to Spurs) look all set to have a strong season and finish in the top 3 places. However, outside of that we’re at a loss to see who else could grab a spot, even more so than at the start of the season.

The teams in contention to finish in a European spot in the Premier League this season


Tottenham have started the Premier League season better than anyone would have predicted under Ange Postecoglou.

Sitting pretty at 2nd, just a point behind City, they would have to blow expectations even further out of the water to stay there.

However, while there is a long way to go, this Spurs team have proven they have the grit and determination to get a result against anyone and, with their current momentum it’s hard to see them faltering any time soon.

With no European football to focus on this season after the utter calamity of Antonio Conte’s reign, Spurs are definitely in contention to grab a spot in Europe this year.

Ange Postecoglou


Last year’s darlings have enjoyed a mixed start to the season. While the majority of results have seen excellent performances from Roberto De Zerbi’s men, their losses to West Ham and this week’s dismal loss to Aston Villa will have many scratching their head as to how this team could capitulate so badly.

Most would expect them to regain momentum but the loss is a massive early dent in confidence. If they can quickly recover it will show a side truly capable of a high finish this season.

Aston Villa

That moves us on nicely to Unai Emery’s team, who have had a near perfect start to their season.

Last weekend’s result against Brighton is up there with one of their best Premier League results in recent years and with Ollie Watkins, Moussa Diaby and Douglas Luiz firing on all cylinders they look more than capable to cause any team problems.

The real challenge for Villa this season is keeping up momentum in the league while balancing their Europa Conference League campaign.

Something tells us their manager might be able to figure something out there though, given his history.

Aston Villa


As each matchday creeps past us, it looks less likely that Chelsea have a chance at Europe this season. No matter how many players Mauricio Pochettino has at his disposal, their muddled mess of a squad is going to take a lot of time to fix.

Will he get the time is the burning question. Just five points in six Premier League games and no real goalscorer are major issues for the Argentinian coach. However underlying numbers suggest that this young side are going in the right direction and if there’s one man to do it, it’s Poch.

It may be too much to ask to finish in a European spot this season, but stranger things have happened at Chelsea. Speaking of, has anyone seen Graham Potter lately?


Losing three matches in a row to City, Liverpool and Brighton gave Eddie Howe and his friends upstairs something to think about. However, the humble manager and the dazzling smile of his second in command did what they do best, they focused on the football and steadied the ship.

Their recent run of results, particularly putting eight past Sheffield United, have put them right back in form. What’s next for the Saudi-owned Geordies? Just a visit from Qatari-owned Euro-giants PSG in the Champions League.

Is it a step too far for Eddie? Surely not in his eyes. For the rest of us, it will be a litmus test for how this team can balance a very tough European campaign with another taxing Premier League run-in.

Manchester United

With Erik ten Hag bringing United back into the Champions League last season, things looked to be on the up for the Red Devils going into 23/24.

However, a lacklustre summer transfer window has revealed some cracks in the Dutchman’s squad and their start to the season has reflected that.

Several major controversies which have marred the club already this season hint at something else going on around Old Trafford and with Ten Hag’s questionable handling attracting some criticism, it could be asked whether he has the ability to keep a lid on a club of this size.

Limping off to boos after their dreadful loss to Crystal Palace at Old Trafford last weekend raises further questions about what direction United are going this season. The last time they had a start to a campaign go this badly was in 1989, and had Fergie on the verge of a sacking.

Ten Hag might turn it around yet, but with the competition around them, a European spot this season is looking like a huge task.

Erik ten Hag

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