Where will Chelsea finish? Can Liverpool get top four? The burning Premier League questions

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Can Liverpool finish in the top four, Watford in the top seven and Aston Villa in the league itself? Richard Jolly asks pertinent questions about the league at the Christmas break.

Also see: Richard Jolly's predictions for how the curent Premier League top six will shake out

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Where can Chelsea finish?

Before his sacking, Jose Mourinho conceded that a top-four finish was beyond his side. Guus Hiddink took 87 per cent of points available in his first spell in charge, and a repeat would push Chelsea up to 72 points. Over the last decade, the side in fourth have had an average of 71. Yet if it is not mathematically impossible, it is utterly unrealistic for a team to start as poorly as Chelsea and qualify for the Uefa Champions League. While Chelsea looked liberated as they beat Sunderland, given the need to spur virtually everyone — bar Willian — back to form, Hiddink will do well to secure a top-six berth, especially if it is married with FA Cup success or progress to the latter stages of the Champions League.

Can Liverpool get in the top four?

If they play the way they did when winning 3-1 at Chelsea and 4-1 at Manchester City, yes. If they play the way they did when losing to Newcastle United and Watford, definitely not. Given the inconsistency of his team, Jurgen Klopp may be discovering that the job is bigger than he initially realised and, while he initially claimed he did not need reinforcements, that view may be changing. Of Liverpool’s premier strikers, Daniel Sturridge is invariably injured and Christian Benteke has lost his place after being ineffective. In goal, both Simon Mignolet and Adam Bogdan have erred in the last two games and in defence, the now injured Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho floundered at Vicarage Road. Even with a catalytic manager like Klopp, that is hardly a recipe for a top-four finish.

Can Watford stay in the top seven?

Watford have won their last four league games, have an unheralded defence and, in Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo, have an old-fashioned, ultra-effective strike duo who are terrorising opponents. They are set to add the gifted Argentine winger Juan Iturbe and are only one point off a Champions League place. And yet it is only recently they were still being tipped for relegation. It is also worth noting their next nine opponents: Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City, Southampton, Swansea City, Newcastle, Chelsea, Tottenham and Crystal Palace. If they are still in the top seven then, it really is time to think that they, like Leicester City, are a surprise package who will not fade away.

Is there any hope for Aston Villa?

Logically, no. Villa have taken seven points from 17 games. After averaging 0.4 points per game so far, they probably need around 1.4 for the remainder of the season. Or, to put it the way manager Remi Garde did, a team without a victory in 16 matches need to win 10 of their last 21. Stunning finishes to a season are not unknown — Leicester took 22 points from their last nine games last year, going from 20th to 14th — but Villa could be out of sight long before then. There are crumbs of encouragement — they have money to spend and have improved under Garde, drawing three of their last six games — but not enough to suggest they will lose their status as ever-presents in the Premier League.