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

Steven Gerrard didn’t want any part of Coutinho in training

AP Photo/Clint Hughes
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Steven Gerrard has issued some fairly hilarious comments regarding former Liverpool teammate Philippe Coutinho.

The Premier League legend admits there were days in training that the sight of the Brazilian wizard on the other side of the pitch made him lash out.

[ MORE: Palace fans must be patient ]

It seems Gerrard wanted nothing to do with marking Coutinho in small-sided games, and the idea of “Stevie G” spouting off in frustration when Brendan Rodgers posted Coutinho across from him is a wonderful mental picture.

From The Liverpool Echo:

“He’s impossible to defend against,” Gerrard told BT Sport after Saturday’s game.

“I mean when I used to train against him, I’d hate it if I was on the opposite five-a-side team. I wouldn’t go near him. And sometimes I’d say to him: ‘Keep away from me! He can embarrass you [as a defender]. He can stand you up, he can both ways, he’s got such a low centre of gravity. He’s sharp, he’s quick and he’s two or three steps ahead of defenders. He’s so, so clever.”

Again, the vision of Gerrard throwing his hands up with a “Nope, not having this today” is amazing. Even if exaggerated, we love it. We picture that old meme with the office worked tossing papers through the air.

Patience with Hodgson required by Palace

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Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson is 0-2 in his new gig and the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t exactly within touching distance.

The latest defeat is a 5-0 blowout at Manchester City, and the immediate road ahead is sobering: at Manchester United and home to Chelsea. Following a trip to Newcastle, who is in form, the Eagles have matches vs. West Ham, at Spurs, and versus Everton.

[ MORE: Premier League Sat. roundup ]

Palace is 0-6 overall and the first team in the history of the Premier League to go goalless through its first six matches.

Palace fired Frank De Boer after four league matches and a summer in which the club failed to add much to its squad.

And Hodgson is feeling his way through the dark. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this is the timing of Palace’s change.

From the BBC:

“I am learning about the team all the time and they are learning,” said Hodgson.

“Our focus has to be in May. By the latter part of the season the players must know what we are looking for. They should feel stronger by then.”

To be shooting for May has to be overwhelming for the Selhurst Park faithful but may indicate their most reasonable promise of life in the Premier League.

Palace fans cannot afford to get caught up in how Sam Allardyce saved them a year ago, because his turnaround coincided with the Eagles’ purchases of Luka MilivojevicMamadou Sakho, and Patrick Van Aanholt. An influx of talent does not save a season alone, but we’re fairly sure Alan Pardew would’ve relished the chance to work with two new backs and a stabilizing center midfielder.

Remember that Allardyce then retired, which says something given his willingness to bask in any light in which he can claim a modicum of credit.

So Hodgson, known for his relentless training methods, needs to be given his time. Palace will likely have at-most one point after the next two PL matches, and they may have not scored yet. History can be daunting, but supporters need to exhale and realize the road ahead is long.

Kenya loses hosting rights to 2018 African Nations Championship

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ACCRA, Ghana (AP) Kenya has been stripped of the right to host the 2018 African Nations Championship.

The Confederation of Africa Football cited “accumulated delays” in Kenya’s preparations for the tournament, which is the continental championship for players playing in their home leagues.

[ MORE: Premier League Sat. roundup ]

CAF made the decision to take the tournament away from Kenya at an executive committee meeting in Accra, Ghana, on Saturday and opened the bidding process for a new host on Sunday. CAF says applications must be received by next Sunday and the new host will be announced in just over two weeks.

The African Nations Championship is scheduled to be played from Jan. 12-Feb. 4.

Kenya’s preparations for the 16-team tournament were already troubled before August when its presidential elections were nullified and a re-vote was ordered. That re-vote is scheduled for next month, and the political instability has meant preparations for the soccer tournament have been undermined.

CAF also says it is opening a tender process to recruit an audit firm to examine Cameroon’s preparations for the 2019 African Cup of Nations, Africa’s top soccer event.

Like Kenya, Cameroon’s readiness to host the Cup of Nations has been under scrutiny. CAF says it needs to examine the state of Cameroon’s “infrastructure to host the tournament,” with the 2019 Cup of Nations the first to be expanded from 16 to 24 teams.

MLS Snapshot: Red-hot RSL end Sounders’ unbeaten run at 13

Photo credit: Real Salt Lake / @RealSaltLake
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The game in 100 words (or less): With the Seattle Sounders’ 13-game unbeaten run now a thing of the past (and the final four of those games all draws), Real Salt Lake (two losses in their last two, including wins in four of their last five) might just be the hottest team in MLS not named Atlanta United (just one loss in their last 12, including wins in three of their last four; combined score: 17-3). Furthermore, Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Seattle at Rio Tinto Stadium boosts RSL into fifth place in the Western Conference, two points clear of the San Jose Earthquakes and Houston Dynamo, as Mike Petke’s side makes this year’s improbable, late charge toward the MLS Cup Playoffs, in much the same fashion Brian Schmetzer’s Sounders did a year ago. Jefferson Savarino, who scored one and assisted one on Saturday, has proven himself a star on the rise in recent weeks, and has RSL playing their best soccer of the year at exactly the right time.

[ MORE: MLS weekend preview — ATL host MTL; RSL desperate vs. SEA ]

Three moments that mattered

52′ — Savarino slams home Rusnak’s pass for 1-0 — RSL have themselves an attacking trio (Savarino, Albert Rusnak and Brooks Lennon) that loves to play together, and that joy really shines brightly in moments like this.

66′ — Mulholland slams home from Savarino’s cross for 2-0 — Savarino turned provider just 15 minutes later, getting in behind Joevin Jones, corralling Joao Plata’s through ball, and picking out Mulholland atop the six-yard box.

92′ — Rimando makes a stunning save to deny Dempsey — Clint Dempsey tried to sneak a quick free kick past Nick Rimando, but the all-time greatest goalkeeper in MLS history was over it.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Jefferson Savarino

Goalscorers: Savarino (52′), Mulholland (66′)