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In Manchester City's shadow, Premier League top-four scrap begins

© AFP/File / by Tom WILLIAMS | Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku (2nd L) celebrates with teammates after scoring during their English Premier League match against Bournemouth, at Old Trafford in Manchester, on December 13, 2017

LONDON (AFP) - 

With Pep Guardiola's record-breaking Manchester City team galloping away towards the Premier League title, attention is starting to shift to the jostling for Champions League positions.

Manchester United, 11 points below City in second place, and third-place Chelsea are well placed, but beneath them the picture is more fluid.

Just a point separates fourth-place Tottenham Hotspur and seventh-place Arsenal, while Burnley and Leicester City are both threatening to crash the cabal of the 'Big Six'.

Man Utd and Chelsea lower their sights

United and defending champions Chelsea find themselves in a strange hinterland, both miles behind City -- 11 and 14 points respectively -- but otherwise enjoying broadly successful seasons.

Jose Mourinho's United had gone 40 home games without defeat prior to last Sunday's stormy 2-1 loss to City in the derby, while Chelsea have taken 22 points from a possible 27.

United drew a line beneath the derby defeat by beating Bournemouth 1-0 on Wednesday and defender Phil Jones says it has restored belief ahead of Sunday's game at West Bromwich Albion.

"We wanted to win the game (against City) and unfortunately it wasn't to be, so it was important that we came out (against Bournemouth), showed a bit of fight and a bit of courage," he told MUTV.

"We had to dig deep and grind it out, but the most important thing was to get three points and get back on track."

Chelsea host Southampton on Saturday after bouncing back from their shock 1-0 loss at West Ham United with a one-sided 3-1 victory at Huddersfield Town.

Spurs, Liverpool and Arsenal seek consistency

Having ended a four-game winless run with back-to-back victories over Stoke City and Brighton and Hove Albion, Tottenham appear to have rediscovered form just as Liverpool and Arsenal's has disappeared.

Spurs beat Brighton 2-0 on Wednesday and with Liverpool and Arsenal both drawing 0-0 -- at home to West Brom and away to West Ham respectively -- it lifted Mauricio Pochettino's men up to fourth.

Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool are without a win in two games, having been pegged back by Wayne Rooney's late penalty in last weekend's 1-1 draw with Everton.

Arsenal, meanwhile, are yet to win a league game in December, their stalemate at West Ham following a 3-1 home defeat against Manchester United and a 1-1 draw at Southampton.

But despite their current difficulties, Arsenal trail Spurs and Liverpool by only a point and they will expect to get back on track on Saturday against free-falling Newcastle United.

"It's not a concern. The manager and the boys have a plan, so we're just trying to get back to winning ways," says 20-year-old winger Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who made his league debut in mid-week.

"We've got our home crowd behind us (on Saturday) and I think that could be what we're missing in terms of getting that finishing touch on a goal," he told the Arsenal website.

Burnley and Leicester plot surprises

High-flying Burnley sit between Liverpool and Arsenal in sixth place and were briefly as high as fourth after beating Stoke 1-0 on Tuesday -- their highest position since March 1975.

Sean Dyche's tightly drilled side have won six of their last eight league games and on Saturday travel to Brighton, who are without a win in six.

Leicester have put last season's post-title turmoil behind them under new manager Claude Puel, who has lost just once in eight league games since succeeding Craig Shakespeare.

They sit four points below Arsenal ahead of Saturday's home game with improving Crystal Palace, who are six games unbeaten in the league.

Fixtures

Saturday (1500 GMT unless otherwise stated):

Arsenal v Newcastle, Brighton v Burnley, Chelsea v Southampton, Leicester v Crystal Palace (1230 GMT), Man City v Tottenham (1730 GMT), Stoke v West Ham, Watford v Huddersfield

Sunday:

Bournemouth v Liverpool (1630 GMT), West Brom v Man United (1415 GMT)

Monday (2000 GMT):

Everton v Swansea

by Tom WILLIAMS

© 2017 AFP