Newcastle United have resurrected their unlikely top-four push with back-to-back victories over Wolves and Nottingham Forest. The Magpies now trail Tottenham by just two points with two games in hand, with reports suggesting Antonio Conte is set to be sacked.
Eddie Howe's side sat third at Christmas, but an indifferent start to the season led to them falling behind Manchester United. Newcastle return to action after the international break against the Red Devils at St James' Park on April 2, hoping to avenge their Carabao Cup final defeat and move level on points.
The Magpies are also due to host in-form Brighton and Tottenham before the end of the season, leaving many to assume their top-four destiny lies in their own hands. However, a bizarre turn of events not only in the Premier League but also the Champions League and Europa League could deny Newcastle a place at the top table - even if they finish fourth.
Rules set out by UEFA state that a maximum of five teams from any given country can play in the Champions League in the same season. Participants are typically determined by those who finish in the top four, but there are other routes into the competition.
Title contenders Arsenal and defending champions Manchester City are likely shoo-ins to book their place in next season's Champions League. However, Manchester United's continued participation in the Europa League along with Chelsea's domestic struggles have opened the door to a cruel turn of events which could deny whoever finishes fourth a place in the competition.
Erik ten Hag's side have been drawn against Sevilla in the quarter-finals of the Europa League, having already dispatched Barcelona and Real Betis. The winner of the competition secures entry to the Champions League next season.
The same is true of the Champions League itself, with Chelsea and Manchester City the last two standing from England. Graham Potter's side are a long way off the pace in the domestic table, but a repeat of their unlikely triumph in 2012 would confirm their place in next season's Champions League regardless of their eventual Premier League finish.
Therefore, if Manchester United and Chelsea both triumph in their respective European competitions while finishing outside of the top four, it would mean the club who finishes in fourth would have to settle for a spot in next season's Europa League. The odds against such a scenario are obviously long, with the Red Devils currently sat third and the Blues clear underdogs to overcome Real Madrid en route to their third Champions League crown.
However, it was an almost identical situation which did pan out when Newcastle were last in genuine contention to qualify for the Champions League 11 years ago. Alan Pardew's side ultimately finished fifth, but fourth-placed Tottenham were demoted to the Europa League after Chelsea finished sixth but won the 2012 Champions League final.