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ProSoccerTalk’s Premier League Narratives: Matchweek 31 (Part One)

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As the great Roger Bennett and Michael Davies love to remind the footie-loving public, narratives are what make the Premier League so exhilarating. There are league narratives, club narratives, owner narratives, player narratives and even supporter narratives. Sometimes, the narratives run so deep that you find yourself lost in a bliss of a narrative trapped inside a narrative trapped inside another narrative.

Yes, the Premier League is that delicious. And this column promises to help you drink it down like a room-temp Boddingtons on a Sunday morning. Enjoy the storylines and have a good laugh over my predictions for following matches:  Sunderland v. Manchester United, Arsenal v. Reading, Manchester City v. Newcastle and Southampton v. Chelsea.

SUNDERLAND v. MANCHESTER UNITED (Stadium of Light, Sat 8:45am ET)

Steven Fletcher’s injury means Sunderland – who are winless in their last seven matches and sit 15th in the table, just four points from the drop zone – will look to former Swansea City striker Danny Graham to ease Wearside’s relegation fears. But don’t expect Manchester United to care. With his squad 15 points clear of 2nd placed Manchester City, Sir Alex Ferguson is poised to claim his 12th league title. And in the Glaswegian’s eyes the sooner it comes, the better. But with the second leg of the FA Cup quarter-final at Chelsea set to go forward on Monday don’t be surprised if United takes the pitch at the Stadium of Light with a less-heralded side than normal.

The 48 hour turn-around is totally ridiculous. Dare I say it? I think Sunderland get a result here. BOOM.

ARSENAL v. READING (Emirates Stadium, Sat 11:00am ET)

Both Arsenal and Reading will be hard-pressed to secure three points when two sides meet, albeit for very different reasons. The Gunners remain hell-bent on closing the four point gap separating them from 4th placed Spurs and a spot in the Champions League. Meanwhile, with seven points separating them from safety, Reading has its back against the relegation wall and will hope newly appointed manager Nigel Adkins will the immediate impact needed to preserve his side’s dream of staying in the top flight.

Arsenal is depleted but it’s an absolute must win and they have the talent to get the job done.

MANCHESTER CITY v. NEWCASTLE UNITED (Etihad Stadium, Sat 11:00am ET)

With Roberto Mancini conceding the title race and Yaya Toure’s future at the club in question, Newcastle United may be arriving at the Etihad at just the right moment. In 13th place and six points from the drop the Magpies need all the points they can get. But with an injury ravaged squad and a trip to Benfica for next Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final, Alan Pardew’s side will need to dig deep if they’re to get a result.

I’m going with the obvious choice: City takes it. Look for Kun Aguero (pictured) to return and to enjoy himself.

SOUTHAMPTON v. CHELSEA (St. Mary’s Stadium, Sat 11:00am ET)

Southampton hope their up-tempo attack and high line of pressure will disturb Chelsea just as it did Liverpool in Matchweek 30. Mauricio Pochetino’s squad has shown some real quality since the Argentinian’s appointment in January but they’ll need to be mistake-free against a Rafa Benitez side that’s playing it’s best football of the season. The Blues mental strength will be tested at St. Mary’s as it looks to secure three points while staying fresh for Monday’s FA Cup replay against United.

Am I taking the piss? Possibly. But I still say Chelsea suffers the same fate as United. Saints get a result.

Ranieri criticizes Leicester for lacking “desire and heart”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18:  Claudio Ranieri, Manager of Leicester City looks dejected during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Millwall and Leicester City at The Den on February 18, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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LONDON (AP) Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri criticized his players for lacking “desire and heart” in a 1-0 loss at third-tier Millwall in the FA Cup fifth round on Saturday, the latest setback for the stuttering English champion.

[ MORE: FA Cup roundup — Premier League sides underwhelm in 5th round ]

Leicester, which is one point above the relegation zone in a woeful defense of its Premier League title, is without a victory in its last eight matches.

Millwall played most of the second half with 10 men and won thanks to a 90th-minute goal.

“I want to speak again with the players and say we have to fight every match,” an animated Ranieri said. “Who wants to fight? Tell me. I need the soldiers, I need the gladiators.

[ MORE: Fifth-division Lincoln City shock PL side Burnley in FA Cup ]

“It is strange because last season we won for this, to be more determined than the opponent and play with more heart than the opponent. We could also lose but we would fight every match. I want to see this, the fight until the end.”

Leicester’s next match is against Sevilla in the first leg of the Champions League last 16 on Wednesday.

FOLLOW LIVE: Spurs, Man United away in FA Cup 5th round

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates after scoring his third and his sides third goal during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 first leg match between Manchester United and AS Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford on February 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Saturday’s FA Cup fifth-rounders served up the biggest Cupset of them all — fifth-division side Lincoln City knocking off Burnley of the Premier League — as well as two moderately shocking results — Leicester City losing to 10-man Millwall (League One) and Manchester City drawing 0-0 with Huddersfield Town (Championship).

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Sunday’s FA Cup 5th-rounders ]

On Sunday, two more of the PL’s big boys hope to avoid upsets and reach the quarterfinals of the 2016-17 tournament. First up, Tottenham Hotspur visit Fulham’s Craven Cottage in a renewed London derby, followed by Manchester United’s trip to Blackburn Rovers’ Ewood Park. For live scores and updates, hit the above link, or click right here.

Saturday’s FA Cup results

Burnley 0-1 Lincoln City — RECAP | REACTION
Huddersfield 0-0 Manchester City
Millwall 1-0 Leicester City
Middlesbrough 3-0 Oxford United
Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-2 Chelsea

Sunday’s FA Cup schedule

Fulham vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 9 a.m. ET
Blackburn Rovers vs. Manchester United — 11:15 a.m. ET

Monday’s FA Cup schedule

Sutton United vs. Arsenal — 2:55 p.m. ET

Report: AC Milan negotiating new deal for keeper Donnaumma

ROME, ITALY - FEBRUARY 13:  AC Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma gestures during the Serie A match between SS Lazio and AC Milan at Stadio Olimpico on February 13, 2017 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
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Gianluigi Donnarumma has quickly become one of the most coveted goalkeepers in the world, and he’s only 17 years old.

[ MORE: Gameiro nets hat-trick in five minutes for Atletico ]

And that’s why AC Milan plans on doing everything in its power to hold on to the Italy international.

[ MORE: U.S. U-20s fall to Panama to begin CONCACAF Championship ]

According to CalcioMercato, the Rossoneri are preparing to lock up Donnarumma to a big deal once he turns 18 next week in order to fend off the likes of Premier League duo Chelsea and Manchester United, as well as Real Madrid.

However, agent Mino Raiola could stand in the way of Milan as they attempt to negotiate with the promising shot stopper out of fear that the club won’t be able to compete with Europe’s best teams.

Also, it has been suggested that Raiola is seeking at least $4.25 million per season for Donnarumma plus add ons, while Milan is said to be willing to go as high as $2.1 million annually.

Donnarumma is currently in his second professional season with Milan and has risen to the Italian national team level over the past year as well. The young keeper is seen as the logical successor to Gianluigi Buffon once his international career concludes.

Baggio marks 50th birthday by visiting quake victims

ROME, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 01: Roberto Baggio (L) is challenged by Diego Lugano during the Interreligious Match For Peace at Olimpico Stadium on September 1, 2014 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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AMATRICE, Italy (AP) Italian great Roberto Baggio marked his 50th birthday on Saturday by visiting towns devastated by earthquakes last year.

[ MORE: FA Cup Saturday wrap — Man City held against Huddersfield ]

Baggio opted not to celebrate his milestone surrounded by celebrities, and instead spent the day in Amatrice, which was almost wiped out by the Aug. 24 earthquake.

The former world footballer of the year, who met children and others from the central Italy region, said “it was very emotional,” and he went there with his family “to fully understand what so many people are going through.”

Baggio also met the mayor of Amatrice, Sergio Pirozzi, and said they will remain in contact, “and we will try to do something concrete.”

Baggio was moving on to nearby Norcia, which was also damaged, and there was a party organized with a birthday cake.

The Aug. 24 quake killed nearly 300 people and left a further 4,000 homeless. There were aftershocks for several days as well as more quakes in October and January.

Baggio, who was nicknamed “Il Divin Codino” (The Divine Ponytail) for the hairstyle he wore for most of his career, scored 27 goals in 57 appearances for Italy and helped the Azzurri to third place in the 1990 World Cup and runner-up four years later, when he famously missed the last penalty kick of the shootout in the final with Brazil.

He won the Serie A title with Juventus in 1995 and with AC Milan the following year.