Avoiding The Drop – Premier League matches with relegation implications

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With the Race for Europe sorted, let’s take a look at the bottom of the table and check in on the battle to avoid relegation.

Reading and Queens Park Rangers were both relegated after drawing 0-0 with each other on April 26th. It was a crap match and a crap way to go down to the Championship. Some might call it a crap double. But hey, you reap what you sow.

That leaves one spot in the drop zone, which six clubs are muddling around trying to avoid: Wigan (32 pts), Newcastle (37 pts), Aston Villa (37 pts), Sunderland (37 pts), Norwich City (38 pts) and Southampton (39 pts).

Here’s how the situation breaks down.

NORWICH CITY v. ASTON VILLA (Carrow Road; Sat 10:00am EST)

With both squads trudging around quicksand territory without a stick, a win for either side will ensure the victor top flight football in 2013-14. Villa will head into Carrow Road feeling like things are finally coming together after last week’s 6-1 destruction of Sunderland. But the Midland’s club won’t be taking Chris Hughton’s side lightly as the corresponding fixture saw the Canaries cruise to a 2-0 victory.

Cheeky pick for Match of the Week, this one. Look for Villa to take care of business.

WEST BROMWICH ALBION v. WIGAN ATHLETIC (The Hawthorns; Sat 10:00am EST)

Wigan travel to the Midlands in desperate need of three points. While the Latics have a game in hand on the other clubs fighting relegation, Roberto Martinez’ side can’t afford to let the five point spread between safety and doom grow any larger. For the Baggies, it will be a stress-free match with little pressure to perform except to “give our fans something to cheer about,” as manager Steve Clark so aptly noted.

History tells us we can count Wigan out. Look for the Latics to take this one.

WEST HAM UNITED v. NEWCASTLE (Upton Park; Sat 10:00am EST)

Like West Brom, West Ham has little more than pride to play for on Saturday. Defenders James Tomkins and George McCartney will likely be absent with injury giving some hope to Alan Pardew that his side can get on the scoresheet with ease. That was anything but the case last week as the Magpies were thrashed 6-0 by a Luis Suarez-less Liverpool. Three points for Newcastle in this one will take the Geordies to the magic 40 point mark.

Tough to pick Newcastle here after last week’s abomination. This one feels like a hard-fought draw.

SUNDERLAND v. STOKE CITY (Stadium of Light; Mon 3:00pm EST)

Sunderland’s Paolo Di Canio will be fancying his chances to ensure safety with a win on Monday night. But it won’t come easy. Because even though Stoke have secured a place in next year’s Prem, the Potters have one two straight and are finally enjoying their football again.

The Stephane Sessegnon injury combined with last week’s throttling at the hands of Villa makes me think Sunderland isn’t quite ready to close the book on relegation. I think the Black Cats get a result here, just not the win.

MORE: Race For Europe – Premier League matches with Top 5 implications

Report: Arsenal interested in Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel

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According to a report by The Sun, Arsenal is monitoring the progress of Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

The rumor does make sense. With Petr Cech at 34 years old and having a poor season in front of net and backup David Ospina failing to challenge him for the starting job, the Gunners are looking elsewhere to bring in a potential future starter.

Schmeichel has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League the past two seasons. Last season he led the Foxes to the Premier League title, organizing a stunningly good defensive line of patchwork players. This season, the defense has largely regressed and let Schmeichel down, but he has still performed well and has the metrics to remain one of the league’s top shot-stoppers.

The Danish keeper is 30 years old himself, but that puts him in his prime for a goalkeeper. He has been with Leicester City since 2011, and he will tick 250 appearances for the club with his next match. Schmeichel was rumored to be a member of the secret player delegation that worked hard to see Claudio Ranieri pushed out of the club, a sentiment which he and the other players have strongly denied.

Still, with an improbable Premier League title in hand and an appearance in the Champions League quarterfinals now on the cards, there probably isn’t much else for him at Leicester City. It’s possible Schmeichel could look to bank on his past performances and secure a move to a bigger club this summer.

Should Arsene Wenger stay with Arsenal past this season, a possibility that looks more and more likely, he could look to move on from Cech despite signing the former Chelsea goalkeeper just two summers ago.

Diego Costa injured, but will stay with Spain squad for friendly

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Chelsea striker Diego Costa pulled up in Spain training on Sunday, and with the Blues in first in the Premier League and Costa in great form, there were obvious concerns.

With Costa struggling with leg and ankle injuries, the RFEF informed Chelsea that there was an issue, and Costa was pulled from training and sent for tests. X-Rays at the local hospital in Madrid were negative, and he’s rejoined the squad.

According to the RFEF, doctors will continue to monitor the 28-year-old and he will continue with the national team for the rest of the international break. With a World Cup qualification win over Israel already in the books and just a friendly against France to go on Tuesday, it’s odd that Spain would risk Costa moving forward, but they will continue to keep him around.

Costa has scored 18 goals this season to lead the Blues, and he scored in the win over Israel. Spain takes on France in Saint-Denis on Tuesday, with both teams leading their World Cup qualification groups. Spain has a goal-differential lead on Italy with both teams miles above the rest of the Group G, and France is ahead of Sweden by three points in Group A, with the Netherlands back in fourth.

Foul or flop? Player “headbutts” referee, is sent off

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Well, there must be something in the water down in Brasilia, because things got a little weird this evening.

Flamengo drew with Vasco da Gama 2-2, but that was just the start.

In the 54th minute, with Vasco da Gama leading 1-0 at Estadio Nacional Mané Garrincha, 36-year-old Luis Fabiano was sent off for “headbutting” the referee. Headbutting is in quotes because looking at the video, it certainly appears there was little to no contact, and the referee flops.

Yes, the referee flopped. Take a look:

To be fair, Fabiano was already on a yellow, so getting in the referee’s face even without the headbutt/pelvic thrust would likely still have seen him sent to an early shower.

So the former Porto and Sevilla man was sent off, and Vasco da Gama was down to 10 men. Immediately after the red card, Flamengo took advantage, powering in a pair of goals via Willian Arao and Orlando Berrio to take the lead 2-1. But Vasco wouldn’t quit, and they earned a penalty five minutes into stoppage time, which Nene buried for the 2-2 draw.

To top things off, a player named Yago Pikachu scored the opener for Vasco da Gama, which was followed by a delay in the game seven minutes later after a power surge in the stadium. Go figure.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.