Race for Europe – Premier League matches with Top 5 implications

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With three weeks remaining in the 2013-14 Premier League season we find ourselves with two major interests – the race to qualify for Europe (only suckas sleep on the Europa League) and the battle to avoid relegation.

In this piece, we’ll be discussing the former.

Let me start by noting that, like you guys, I’d rather be sitting here discussing a title race. But United put the kobosh on that storyline with the 3-0 blanking of Aston Villa a week and a half ago.

Damn those Red Devils.

With the championship in hand United also claimed a spot in next year’s Champions League meaning three spots remain in Europe’s top tournament while a single spot remains in the Europa League. Five clubs are in contention:  Manchester City (71 pts), Chelsea (65 pts), Arsenal (64 pts), Tottenham (62 pts) and Everton (59 pts).

Here’s how it all breaks down this weekend.

SWANSEA CITY v. MANCHESTER CITY (Liberty Stadium; Sat 10:00am EST)

With a win this weekend, City will secure its place in the Top 4. The Citizens enter the match winners of four of their last five and still pushing to save face with United by minimizing the gap between first and second. They’ll face a Swansea side that, since securing a spot in next year’s Premiership, have been in a free-fall going winless in their last six matches with only two points to their name.

Look for City to throttle the Swans.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR v. SOUTHAMPTON (White Hart Lane; Sat 10:00am EST)

With Everton nipping at their heels just three points back and Arsenal at arm’s length just two points ahead, Tottenham are in must win territory. They’ll face a tough test against Manuel Pochetino’s flashy Southampton side that only needs a single point to ensure their place in next year’s Champion’s League.

Spurs look ready for the kill.

QUEENS PARK RANGERS v. ARSENAL (Loftus Road; Sat 12:30pm EST)

A simple preview for a simple match. Something is seriously wrong with the Gunners if they don’t capitalize on a relegated and demoralized QPR.

Arsenal win with ease.

LIVERPOOL v. EVERTON (Anfield; Sun 8:30am EST)

Might this be Everton’s first victory at Anfield in 14 years? My biased heart says yes. But for an objective opinion, check out my extended take on this weekend’s Merseyside derby:

MORE: Merseyside Derby Preview: Can Everton overcome 14 year drought or will Liverpool continue its dominance? 

MANCHESTER UNITED v. CHELSEA (Old Trafford; Sun 11:00am EST)

For Chelsea, a loss this weekend would not be ideal but hardly lethal as the Blues still enjoy a game in hand on Arsenal. That game in hand, however, is against a Spurs team that is just three points adrift, meaning Rafa Benitez’ side would do well to take care of business ASAP.

Of course, that’s easier said than done as Chelsea set off to Old Trafford for a clash with United. It’s a match that, as Sir Alex Ferguson proved last weekend, will feature a slightly watered-down United side that that nevertheless remains hungry to compete.

With both teams near full health this should be a belter of a match but one that I expect will end in a draw.

MORE: Avoiding The Drop – Premier League matches with relegation implications

Former Czech Republic defender Rajtoral kills himself

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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.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alex Sanchez this weekend ]

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.

Bellerin wants to represent Spain U21s despite Wenger’s wishes

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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.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alexis Sanchez over the weekend ]

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.

Roma boosts bid for 2nd in Serie A by beating Pescara 4-1

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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.

[ MORE: Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League ]

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.

Frank Yallop resigns as Phoenix Rising coach shortly after Drogba arrival

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The timing is a bit sudden and certainly leaves many questions up in the air, but Phoenix Rising will have to look for a new manager.

[ MORE: Chicharito talks heating up with LA FC ]

On Monday, head coach Frank Yallop resigned from his position with the United Soccer League (USL) club less than one day after former Chelsea legend Didier Drogba joined the organization as a player-owner.

With Phoenix seen as one of several lower-level clubs with ambitions of making the leap to MLS over the coming seasons, Yallop’s departure is surely a shock to many.

According to ESPN FC, Rising lead owner Berke Bakay was quite surprised by Yallop’s decision to step down, as was Drogba.

“Didier was as surprised and disappointed as we were that Frank is unable to continue coaching our Club,” Bakay told ESPN FC. “But, we all respect his decision to put his family first.

“Didier’s focus will remain on improving our team as a player and assisting our MLS expansion team ownership group as a co-owner. Frank will be helping with our international search for a new head coach.”

Rick Schantz, the current Rising assistant coach, will head the team’s managerial duties for the interim while the club completes a full search for a new manager.