While the pinnacle of league football is to win the long and gruelling title race amidst elite competition, the next best thing is qualifying for the competition that is considered the pinnacle of club football: the UEFA Champions League.
Whilst over the years the top clubs have seen it as a foregone conclusion that they will be participating in Europe's most prestigious club competition year in year out, in recent times there has been the growing competition for finishing in the top four.
Whilst for some, finishing in the top four is no remarkable achievement and is expected, but as for someone like Arsene Wenger who regards it as a trophy, a top four finish very much remains an important achievement.
Once upon a time Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool would finish in the top four with consummate ease as they wrestled for Premier League glory. Other teams didn’t even get a sniff. Now, there is unprecedented competition with the rise of Manchester City and Tottenham, which has been compounded by the fall of Liverpool and Arsenal.
This season in Europe’s top five leagues, the race for the top four is incredibly tight as we head into the home straight where every game is critical in the race for Champions League qualification.
3. Tottenham | 54 points
4. Chelsea | 52 points
5. Arsenal | 47 points
6. Liverpool | 45 points
7. Everton | 45 points
As it stands there are now five legitimate contenders for the final two champions league positions. With Liverpool having defeated Spurs in a crucial league game their superb form has propelled them to a position to make a charge at the top four. Chelsea, Arsenal and Everton all have games in hand to make up ground in what looks to be an even more exciting race for the top four than last season.
This could spell disaster in particular for Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal if they are not able to claim a Champions league birth. Tottenham will have seemingly chocked if they fail to qualify while Chelsea's huge summer investment will have amounted to nothing. Wenger will be looking to keep intact his remarkable record of Champions League qualification for every year he's been at Arsenal.
Everton and Liverpool are outsiders to creep into the top four, however stranger things have occurred which will no doubt give the Merseyside duo hope in their pursuit for Champions League football.
4. Malaga | 44 points
5. Real Sociedad | 44 points
6. Real Betis | 43 points
7. Valencia | 42 points
8. Real Vallecano | 41 points
9. Getafe | 39 points
La Liga has seen powerhouses Barcelona and Real Madrid occupy the top two league positions, while Atletico Madrid have virtually sealed a top three finish thanks to an outstanding campaign. With usual suspects such as Villareal and Sevilla who perennially challenge for top four honours out of the equation, surprise packets Real Sociedad, Real Betis, Rayo Vallecano and Getafe have sprung into contention.
Only five points separate fourth placed Malaga from ninth placed Getafe in what is an extraordinarily congested table near the top. Malaga have been impressive in the Champions League this season despite their financial woes, and will want to build on the success of their debut campaign by confirming their presence for next seasons competition.
Valencia was recently narrowly beaten by Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 of the Champions League and are well in contention to finish in fourth. They have a proud European record and have recorded three consecutive third placed finishes, which will no doubt give Los Che confidence to complete the job.
As for the rest of the contenders it will take a some luck and self-belief to have the opportunity to rub shoulders with Europe's elite next season having come this far.
3. Milan | 51 points
4. Fiorentina | 48 points
5. Internazionale | 47 points
6. Lazio | 47 points
7. Roma | 44 points
Having lost a champions league slot to the Bundesliga meaning only three teams can qualify for the Champions League for the next few years, it has not helped fallen giants AC Milan and Inter Milan.
Inter have already missed out this season on Champions League football and whilst they are still in contention their inconsistent season may just see them miss out.
Fiorentina and Lazio have always been there and abouts and this season they are closer than ever to qualification due to wonderful respective seasons.
Milan looks on course to finish the season on a high despite champions league elimination. They have played with renewed vigour and energy in recent weeks and they look to hold off the likes of Roma who have been up and down this season and look likely to miss out on a Champions League finish for five years straight.
4. Schalke | 39 points
5. Frankfurt | 39 points
6. Hamburg |38 points
7. Mainz | 37 points
8. Freiburg | 36 points
9. Borussia Monchengladbach | 35 points
10. Hannover | 34 points
In what is arguably the most hotly contested race for the top four in Europe, the Bundesliga's additional position that has been allocated to them recently has fuelled greater competition in what is already a very competitive league.
Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen have a nice cushion in second and third which leaves seven teams within five points of one another from fourth to tenth to fight it out for the lucrative and prestigious competition that is the UEFA Champions League.
Whilst the likes of Schalke, Hamburg and Hannover and recently Monchengladbach are in contention for CL qualification each season, the rise of teams such as Frankfurt, Mainz, and Freiburg is a good sign for the Bundesliga.
Schalke have just been eliminated in the Champions League, which will aid them in their pursuit for fourth. Question marks remain on whether Frankfurt, Freiburg and Mainz can maintain their impressive seasons, while Hamburg and Monchengladbach have the pedigree to give it a real shake in what is a very exciting time for German football.
3. Marseille | 50 points
4. Saint Etienne | 48 points
5. Nice | 48 points
6. Lille | 46 points
7. Montpellier | 44 points
With Paris Saint-Germain and Lyon fighting it out for the French first division title, Marseille, Saint Etienne, Nice, Lille and Montpellier are jostling for a top three position.
Champions Montpellier have been gallant in their title defence and are still fighting for Champions League qualification despite losing star man Olivier Giroud.
Saint Etienne have been on a steady rise for some time in Ligue 1 and they are breathing down Marseille's neck while surprise packages Nice and Lille round up the rest of the contenders.
We have so often seen Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux dominate in France in recent times, however the emergence of new contenders as well as the meteoric rise of PSG means French football is in a healthy state in what is another log-jam for a top three finish.
DISCLAIMER: This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeFootball Writing Academy and does not represent the views of GiveMeFootball.com or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. GiveMeFootball.com and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.