We live in a world of 24/7 football debate and countless blogs such as this one, a multitude of media that collectively analyses every player, team, result and moment. So it seems odd that from the untold number of think-pieces on Manchester United’s shortcomings and the avalanche of statistics to fully highlight Leicester’s remarkable fairytale one fascinating detail of this bizarre Premier League continues to go unmentioned. That with just a handful of games left to play Southampton and Stoke City remain in contention for a Champions League spot.  Granted it is unlikely with both Manchester giants and West Ham each having a game in hand on the pair but at the time of writing the Saints are just four points off fourth placed City with Stoke trailing by only five.

In an age where Joe Allen’s appearance on the cover of Chicken and Egg causes Twitter to have a meltdown it can be assumed then that acres of words have been used to discuss the potential of such a mind-blowing event. It certainly deserves such a deluge of coverage. Southampton in the Champions League! Lionel Messi actually playing at Stoke on a cold wet Wednesday! Alas that is not the case. Indeed if anything – in a season where everything is topsy-turvy and entirely unpredictable – the fate of Southampton and Stoke has already seemingly been decided by the media, that of chasing a Europa League place. Know your place Saints. Watch out for that glass ceiling Potters.

In truth a Europa spot for either side would hardly be deemed a consolation; it would be a richly deserved reward for a sensational campaign. At the Britannia Mark Hughes has shrewdly added point-to-prove flair to the strong spine he inherited from Tony Pulis and has consequently assembled a side equally as comfortable grinding out a result as bewitching the opposition. Down on the south coast meanwhile Ronald Koeman has twice seen his team dismantled for profit yet still retained a hard-working nucleus that he has blended brilliantly with incoming marquee talent in Pelle and Sane.

Factoring in the losses of Shaw, Clyne, Lallana, Schneiderlin, and Chambers in recent times it would not have been far-fetched to imagine the Saints plummeting this term. With this in mind even a top ten finish would amount to a marvellous achievement. For Stoke you only have to cast your mind back to the summer and the recognition that Hughes’ signings were certainly exciting but also unquestionably huge gambles that could have misfired badly. Even though they turned out just fine he really should have tried these for fun instead.



Yet we return once again to the league table. Just four and five points off.

Of the two Southampton face the trickier run-in with aways to Leicester and Spurs on the horizon while Stoke hardly have a leisurely stroll to the finish line either. The latter however do face City and West Ham, two clubs they must over-take if they wish to attain their improbable dream.

With City in freefall as they curl into a ball and await the arrival of Pep, and United in perpetual crisis under Louis van Gaal there is no reason why either Southampton or Stoke cannot put in a streak of victories and grab the coveted fourth position.

It would be a development to stun most. Indeed Twitter would be a headless chicken.