The race for 7th: Who’s headed for Europa League?

Aaron Chown/PA via AP
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Since 2006, when Everton was eliminated in the third qualifying round, only seven Premier League clubs have played in the UEFA Champions League: Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, Manchester City, Manchester United, Leicester City, and Liverpool.

Expanding the pool for the Europa League finds some odd ducks via cup winners — Birmingham City, Burnley, Hull City, Wigan Athletic — but precious few times have those clubs been able to maintain runs deep into the tournament.

[ MORE: Watford smashes Cardiff ]

When Man City or Chelsea lifts the League Cup on Sunday, it will officially expand the Europa League qualification places in the Premier League table to seventh (assuming the Blues would fall no further than sixth should they beat City).

Six teams have realistic shots at seventh, with two leading the way in Wolverhampton Wanderers and Watford.

What’s exciting about the group is that there’s substantial reason to believe at least five of them would focus on deep runs in the UEL, which makes Thursdays in the Fall all the more interesting to soccer fans.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 7. Watford 27 11 7 9 39 35 4 6-2-5 5-5-4 40
 8. Wolves 26 11 6 9 34 33 1 6-3-5 5-3-4 39
 9. West Ham United 27 10 6 11 35 40 -5 6-3-5 4-3-6 36
 10. Everton 27 9 6 12 36 39 -3 6-3-5 3-3-7 33
 11. Bournemouth 26 10 3 13 37 47 -10 7-3-3 3-0-10 33
 12. Leicester City 26 9 5 12 31 34 -3 4-2-6 5-3-6 32

Bournemouth is the outlier here, but chairman Jeff Mostyn has shown ambition and a UEL place might just give Eddie Howe the inspiration to stay even longer at the Vitality Stadium.

But his fate may be tied to taking care of visiting Wolves on Saturday. Here are some of the key duels that will decide the Europa League places:

Saturday
Bournemouth v. Wolves — 10 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold

March 3
Watford v. Leicester City — 7 a.m. ET

March 30
Leicester City v. Bournemouth — 11 a.m. ET
West Ham v. Everton — 1:30 p.m. ET

April 20
West Ham v. Leicester City — 10 a.m. ET

April 27
Watford v. Wolves — 10 a.m. ET

May 12
Watford v. West Ham — 
10 a.m. ET