Since the demise of Leeds and Newcastle, four clubs have dominated top-flight football in England. In the past six seasons, their domination has only been broken once, in 2004-05 when Everton finished in fourth place. But this wasn't to be anything like a breakthrough for The Blues, who were eliminated in the third qualifying round for the following Champions League campaign.
This season a total of four clubs are in with a realistic shout of capturing that all-important fourth place. So let's take a look at those teams' prospects of qualifying for next season's Champions League
Tottenham have looked good for most of the season, and are currently occupying fourth. Out of the contenders, however, they are possibly the least well equipped to challenge. Jermain Defoe, Aaron Lennon, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Jonathan Woodgate and Ledley King are all injured. And if this wasn't enough to make you doubt their prospects, they still have to play Arsenal and Chelsea at home, and the two Manchester clubs away before the season ends.
With an excellent squad, and having won four out of their last six fixtures, Manchester City are understandably the bookmakers' favourite to finish fourth. Should they do so, Champions League football will have been attained quicker than many pundits, and even their own supporters, anticipated. But their run-in won't make pleasant reading for City's fans, as they still have to play Everton, Manchester United, Aston Villa and Tottenham at home, as well as contending with a trip to the Emirates.
At first sight Liverpool appear to be the least well placed to take the final top four spot. Currently lying sixth, Manchester City and Aston Villa both have two games in hand over The Reds, whilst Tottenham have played one game less. After challenging strongly for the title last season, Liverpool have been defeated ten times so far this season - only one club in the top 11 has lost more matches. But don't write them off completely, as Chelsea aside, the Merseysiders could realistically take maximum points from their remaining fixtures.
With a game in hand over Tottenham and lying only five points behind, Aston Villa are most definitely still in contention. Their run-in doesn't appear overly challenging either, with away games against Chelsea and Manchester City, as well as a home fixture against Everton likely to provide the most difficult matches. Villa still have the FA Cup to distract them (as may Spurs, if they win their replay against Fulham). And having faded badly last season, it remains to be seen whether the players have the self belief necessary to see them over the finish line.
At 6/1, there appears to be a lot of value in backing Villa. They have fewer injury concerns than Tottenham, and a stronger squad than Liverpool. They don't, however, have any players that can match Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres or Pepe Reina for quality. And Liverpool's run-in has certainly provided the team with a good opportunity for a late charge. But there's no getting away from the depth of Manchester City's squad. Despite some challenging games to come, City's position as favourites with the bookmakers is difficult to argue against.
Odds supplied by Bet365 and correct at time of writing.