How Arsenal, Liverpool and Man City could end up in a three-team play-off for Champions League football
The odds of it occurring are astronomical but with less than a week of the Premier League season remaining, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City could finish dead level in the table.
Rules state that clubs ending the campaign on identical points, goal difference and goals scored must play off at a neutral venue to decide which of them is placed higher in the final standings if the title, European qualification or relegation is at stake.
It is possible, therefore, that there may need to be a three-team play-off – with each side playing two matches each – for two Champions League spots if Liverpool, Arsenal and City cannot be separated come teatime on Sunday.
For Liverpool to be involved in such a play-off, they would need to lose their final match of the season at home to Middlesbrough, leaving them on 73 points.
They could then finish dead level with one or both of City (72pts) and Arsenal (69pts), who would need to take one and four points, respectively, from their last two fixtures.
Liverpool and City could also end the season level if the former beat Boro and the latter take four points from their final two games against West Bromwich Albion and Watford.
For Arsenal and City to be inseparable, the former must take three more points than the latter in the coming six days and overturn their rivals’ +5 goal-difference advantage.
Although there are technically infinite scenarios in which all three of the above teams could finish dead level, the most likely is the following set of results:
Arsenal 3 Sunderland 0
Man City 2 West Brom 2
Liverpool 0 Boro 1
Arsenal 0 Everton 0
Watford 3 Man City 1
That would leave all three sides with a goal difference of +32, with each having also scored 75 goals.
The only difference between them would be that Arsenal would have won and lost more times (W22, D7, L9) than Liverpool and City (W21, D10, L7).
Were head to head between the teams a factor (which it is not), Liverpool (W3, D1, L0) would finish third, City (W1, D2, L1) fourth, and Arsenal (W0, D1, L3) fifth.
The Premier League is known to have made plans before for a 39th game of the season: when Manchester United and Newcastle United threatened to finish dead level in the 1995-96 title race; when Chelsea and Arsenal were in danger of doing the same four years ago; and when Liverpool and West Ham United were vying for a Europa League spot last season.
Back in 1996, tickets were even printed for such a fixture at Wembley.
It is understood the Premier League will only meet to discuss similar plans if Tuesday night’s matches keep alive the realistic prospect of a dead-level finish in the race for Champions League qualification.
League executives are unlikely to take into account Liverpool’s post-season trip to Australia – they play Sydney FC three days after the Boro game – when setting a date.