In Part Two of ProSoccerTalk’s Premier League Narratives we take a look at three fixtures guaranteed to entertain in Matchweek 31: Swansea City v. Tottenham, West Ham v. West Brom and Wigan v. Norwich City.
SWANSEA CITY v. TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (Liberty Stadium, Sat 11:00am ET)
Andre Villas-Boas has enjoyed a fine first season at Spurs but the manager’s mettle will truly be tested when his side heads to Wales to take on Swansea City. At 4th in the table and four points clear of 5th placed Arsenal, Spurs can’t afford to drop points and must recover quickly for Thursday’s Europa League showdown with FC Basel. With two straight losses Swansea looks to have taken their foot off the gas since raising the League Cup. Nevertheless, when it comes to the Swans at the Liberty, no team is safe.
Could be a captivating match, this one. I think the Swans throw a wrench in Spurs’ game and get a result.
WEST HAM UNITED v. WEST BROMWICH ALBION (Upton Park, Sat 11:00am ET)
Big Sam Allardyce has refused to sign a new contract at Upton Park until his side are mathematically safe from relegation. Losing three of their last four has made that possibility a real threat for West Ham and the Baggies, who have taken 10 points in the last 15 available, will fancy their chances.
West Brom could take this one but I think the Hammers will fight hard and earn a draw.
WIGAN ATHLETIC v. NORWICH CITY (DW Stadium, Sat 11:00am ET)
With Wigan looking primed to put together yet another end of the season dash to safety, Norwich will need to bring it’s ‘A’ game to Carrow Road. The Canaries scored a major coup this week by reaching a deal to sign Ricky van Wolfswinkel from Sporting Lisbon but the Dutch striker won’t be able to help Chris Hughton’s side until this summer. That leaves Grant Holt with 8 weeks to prove his value at Carrow Road while Wigan searches for the three points that could bring them on level pegging with 17th placed Aston Villa.
Arouna Kone (pictured) and the mighty Latics of Wigan will not be denied.
Whatever way you slice it up, Thursday’s Manchester derby is huge.
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Manchester City host Manchester United (Watch, 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at the Etihad Stadium with Pep Guardiola‘s side just one point ahead of United in the Premier League table.
City currently occupy fourth spot and the final UEFA Champions League qualification berth but are coming off the back of a damaging FA Cup semifinal defeat to Arsenal after extra time.
United and Jose Mourinho haven’t lost in 23 Premier League games, the longest current unbeaten streak across Europe’s top five leagues, and are in the UEFA Europa League semifinals as their banged up squad have stood tall in the final months of the campaign.
Speaking ahead of the derby, one of United’s stars this season believes everything comes down to this one game.
“It is going to be the game of the season,” Ander Herrera said. “We are one point behind them. If we win we have the chance to finish in the top four, if they win it is going to be very difficult. It is the game of the season.
“Make or break? Probably. Both teams are in a good moment so if one of us wins the game we are not going to lose a lot of games, or make mistakes after that. Us or them. It is going to be key. I don’t know the ‘winner takes all’ expression but it is going to be a massive game. We are in a very good moment, a very good run and we respect them but we are doing a lot of good things and we have to show it on Thursday.”
Herrera’s comments say it all.
It is fair to say that both Manchester clubs have flattered to deceive for much of this season with Guardiola’s tactics yet to flourish in England and Mourinho’s rebuild hampered by injuries and a lack of goals at crucial moments.
On Thursday there will be a raucous atmosphere at the Etihad as both teams are aware of what is at stake.
More of the pressure may well be on City who now have just a place in the top four to focus on and with many previously giving United no chance of finishing in the top four, a win at City would take them above their “noisy neighbors” and into the UCL spots.
PRAGUE (AP) Former Czech Republic defender Frantisek Rajtoral, who won the domestic league title four times before joining Turkish club Gaziantepspor, died on Sunday. He was 31.
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The Czech football federation said in a statement that Rajtoral had “committed suicide in Turkey.”
His agent Pavel Zika confirmed the player’s death, describing it as a “huge tragedy.”
Gaziantepspor announced Rajtoral’s death in a brief statement on its website.
Rajtoral played 14 international matches for the Czech Republic.
In the top Czech league, he won four titles with Viktoria Plzen and played in the group stage of the Champions League twice for the club. He moved to Hannover in the Bundesliga in 2014 for half of the season, on loan.
He left Viktoria Plzen last year to move to Turkey.
Arsene Wenger has made it clear about Hector Bellerin representing Spain this summer but the Arsenal defender is prepared to go against his manager’s wishes if he is selected.
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The 22-year-old has said he hopes to play for Spain’s Under-21 side this summer during the 2017 European U-21 Championship but Wenger has been weary of Bellerin’s injury status and wants his fullback to maintain a clean bill of health throughout the offseason.
“I really want to play,” Bellerin told IBTimes. “Representing Spain is very important. If [Albert] Celades gives me the chance I’ll be there.
“Those are opinions of the managers. I have to keep working. The truth is that I had a difficult injury but I think that I am at 100% now and I’ll try to prove it when I get the chance.”
Bellerin signed a six-and-a-half year deal with the Gunners in November, where he has resided since coming up in the club’s academy. He has made 102 appearances for Wenger’s team in that span over all competitions.
PESCARA, Italy (AP) Roma boosted its bid for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the Champions League with a 4-1 win at Pescara, which was mathematically relegated on Monday.
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Roma moved four points clear of third-placed Napoli, which drew against Sassuolo 2-2 on Sunday. Third place in Serie A receives a Champions League playoff.
Pescara remained 15 points behind Empoli. There are only five matches left and Empoli has the better head-to-head record, which is the deciding factor if two teams finish level on points.
There were 48 goals in total in the 33rd round, matching the record set in October 1992.
Roma took control shortly before halftime, with Kevin Strootman breaking the deadlock after Stephan El Shaarawy unselfishly rolled the ball across the area.
Radja Nainggolan, who earlier hit the bar, doubled Roma’s lead two minutes later.
Mohamed Salah extended Roma’s advantage three minutes after the break and the winger doubled his tally on the hour following a swift counterattack.
Ahmad Benali got a consolation for Pescara and a Cristiano Biraghi free kick also hit the post for the home side.