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What will it take for a top four finish

With the international break now over, thoughts once again turn back to the Premier League and with just eight games remaining for City it is very much the final stretch of fixtures that loom large on the horizon.

Defeat to Chelsea in the fixture prior to the recent break has seen them gain a march on City (and Tottenham) and with a recent upturn in form they do look the most likely for third place (if not higher). With the Tottenham game being re-arranged for May 10th (due to the FA Cup semi-final) there is a palpable sense of deja-vu as the game could once again ultimately decide the fate of the fourth and final Champions League spot. 

At this stage of the season last year I ran the numbers and calculated what it would likely take to achieve fourth: predicting (correctly as it turned out) that it would take 70 points for Champions League qualification.

Fast forward twelve months and will it take a similar figure to grab fourth place, and, for City, achieve that all-important Champions League position?

As it currently stands. City have 53 points from 30 games (averaging 1.76 points per game) and Tottenham, a place behind in fifth, on 49 points from 29 games (1.69 per game) - with City having a +11 better goal difference (with could prove vital come mid-May).

A look back at recent history shows us what the fourth-placed side had after 30 games, and what they ultimately finished with:

2009/10 - Final: 70pts 30 games: 55pts (gain 15pts)
2008/09 - Final: 72pts 30 games: 55pts (gain 17pts)
2007/08 - Final: 76pts 30 games: 59pts (gain 17pts)
2006/07 - Final: 68pts 30 games: 54pts (gain 14pts)
2005/06 - Final: 67pts 30 games: 52pts (gain 15pts)

Having lost at Chelsea, City (on 53 points) are roughly on par with those sides who have gone on to finish fourth previously, with only the exceptionally high 200/08 season really way above what they currently sit on. If City replicate their average thus far, they will end the season on 67 points, whilst Tottenham will finish on 64 points. This will mean City taking 14 points from their final games, which would be the joint equal lowest points won over the final eight games during this period.

Breaking the number of points gained down even further, both sides performance at each of the quarter point marks of the season is as follows:

9 games: City 17pts, Tottenham 15pts
19 games: City 35pts, Tottenham 33pts
28 games: City 50pts, Tottenham 48pts

As you can see, at each point City have remained exactly two points ahead of Tottenham in terms of points accrued, with the average number of points at each stage being 1.88, 1.80 and 1.66 for City and 1.66, 1.80 and 1.66 for Tottenham respectively. Interestingly, City have fallen away in terms of average points gained at each quarter point mark so far, whilst Tottenham jumped at the second quarter before falling away again; the inference being that final quarter will see a similar pattern replicated.

Looking at the final standings over the past five seasons, the lowest (back in 2005/06) was 67 points and in 2010/11 it also looks likely that whoever (likely United) wins the title will do so with a similar total. In addition, only in 2005/06 and 2009/10 has there been effectively five teams fighting for four places, with the 'big four' dominating for the most part. This season has also seen sides at the top end of the table dropping more points than usual: not only against each other but also sides below them. 

Whilst there is always a tendency to overreach in terms of points predictions, the evidence and history suggests that it will be a lower end figure required to finish fourth and given City and Tottenham still have to play one another this is even moreso - and a total of 67 points (effectively taking 14 points from the final eight games) should be enough, meaning City will have to average 1.88 points per game and Tottenham 2 points per game - something they have yet to achieve over the course of 2010/11.

And, unlike last season, the hope is that victory in the clash at Eastlands between the two sides will be enough to put City, not Tottenham, on course to reach the necessary points mark required.