Form, fixtures, fate: Who will face EPL relegation?

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Ahead of Wigan Athletic’s clash with Swansea City this afternoon, managers of several EPL teams will be watching on nervously, as the league season edges towards a nerve-wrangling end.

Going into the final few games, up to nine teams can still be relegated as Wigan aim to complete an improbable escape  from relegation for the fourth year running.

So let’s take a look at which teams are involved in the dogfight to avoid the drop to the Championship, what their current form is and which crunch games they have left.

Wigan (WLLDW) Swansea (h); Arsenal (a); Aston Villa (h)

They can’t do it again… can they? At this time of the season, for the last four seasons, the Latics have come alive and produced form reminiscent of a title chasing outfit. Where they hide that talent from August to March each year is a mystery. Just three points from safety, a win against Swansea tonight (in the extra game they have over other rivals) would bring all the other teams in the bottom half of the EPL into the battle. A tough trip to Arsenal follows the home game against the Swans and the small matter of an FA Cup final against Manchester City is a bit of a distraction. Has Wigan’s luck finally run out?

Newcastle (DLDLD): QPR (a); Arsenal (h)

No win from their last five, a 6-0 hammering at home by Liverpool and a 3-0 home drubbing by fierce rivals Sunderland has sent Newcastle into free-fall. Just a few weeks ago they were almost knocking Benfica out of the Europa League quarterfinals. Now the Magpies and their French inspired squad are staring at the trap door to the Championship with eyes as wide as saucers. A tough last-game at home to Arsenal, who will need the points to guarantee an Champions League place, is sure to turn Alan Pardew’s gray hair several shades lighter.

Norwich (DLWLL): WBA (h); Man City (a)

Another side who looked home and hosed a few weeks ago, now Norwich City are staring nervously behind them. And rightly so, because the Canaries have maybe the toughest schedule of any of the relegation battlers. West Brom at home could yield points, but a trip to Manchester City on the final day of the season seems ominous. A lack of goals and silly defensive errors have let Norwich down at the crucial part of the season.

Sunderland (LWWLD): Southampton (h); Tottenham (a)

Well, Paolo Di Canio has certainly had a huge impact since arriving on Wearside. Two wins, two defeats and one draw from his first five games is a decent return. But he has dubbed this weekend’s game against Southampton at the Stadium of Light as Sunderland’s “Champions League Final.” They should be safe. But you never know. Di Canio will certainly be watching Wigan versus Swansea tonight, hoping the Welsh side prevail to ease his anxiety levels.

Southampton (WDDLL): Sunderland (a); Stoke (h)

Another side that looked to be way out of the relegation scrap, talk of pushing for the top eight surrounded the South Coast side a few weeks ago after three straight-wins. But no win in four since has seen the Saints slip alarming down the table. They should be fine (I keep telling myself that) but with Wigan’s form, you just never know. A huge battle with Sunderland next weekend could determine their fate. Then a home game against Stoke on the last day of the season isn’t too difficult. But Mauricio Pochettino’s men will hope to be safe by then, they have the quality. But do they have the nerve?

Aston Villa (WDLWW): Chelsea (h); Wigan (a)

What a few weeks it has been for Aston Villa. Only one defeat from their last five, including that huge 6-1 win over Sunderland, has left everyone breathing a little easier at Villa Park. Now though, two huge games await with a home game against top four chasing Chelsea and then a crucial/critical/mammoth/huge clash with Wigan on the final day of the season. Paul Lambert will be hoping his side are safe by then, but I feel a last day finale at the DW Stadium could decide which side will join QPR and Reading in the Championship next year.

Prediction: We also have to mention Fulham and Stoke, who are still not out of danger, however I believe both sides will be safe from relegation before the final day of the season. As valiant as Wigan’s effort has been, I think they will succumb to the dreaded drop. With an FA Cup final and two midweek game sandwiched into the final few weeks of the season, it just seems too much to handle for their small squad. But if Wigan somehow push through, Newcastle and Norwich could be heading down.

Men in Blazers podcast: Man City-Liverpool review, USMNT preview

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Rog and Davo recap the Top Four battle between Manchester City and Liverpool, ask (again) whether it’s time for Arsene to go, and break down two of the most important USMNT games in modern history.

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Germany overtakes USWNT for top spot in FIFA rankings

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The U.S. women have been displaced from their #1 world ranking by a team they beat less than a month ago.

Despite the USWNT 1-0 win over Germany to start the SheBelieves Cup, the subsequent pair of losses hurt them as Germany leap-frogged the United States into the top spot.

The U.S. lost to England and France, marking its first losing streak in three years and the first time in 17 years that it lost two in a row at home. Jill Ellis used the tournament as an attempt to experiment with different player combinations as she looks to navigate the transition between some aging well-known players and a new injection of youth.

France, who won the event, is ranked third, while England jumped Canada for fourth. The Canadians dropped to fifth, Sweden and Japan tied for sixth, and Australia, Brazil, and North Korea round out the top 10.

The last time the United States was not the #1 team in the world was March of 2015, on the heels of a 1-1-2 December and a loss to France in late February.

MLS Week 4 Preview: Portland flying, RSL depleted

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We’re just starting to see things take shape in Major League Soccer. The dangerous teams are clear, the middle of the pack is forming, and the struggling teams know it’s not too late to get a things going.

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Week 4 is stretched out over this weekend and next thanks to the international break, so there are only three matches to get to on Saturday. Here’s the outlook:

New England Revolution vs. Minnesota United – 2:00 p.m. ET

There is just one point combined for these two teams through the first three match weeks. They are both bottom of their conference. A basement spot awaits the loser, and a revival awaits the winner. If there is one.

A lot is on the line with these two clubs as they meet in Foxboro. It’s early enough in the season where three points can vault a team halfway up the table, completely alleviating any fears of impending doom. However, it’s at the point where should a team lose this match, the alarm bells begin to go off for fans.

Minnesota, already struggling to begin the season, has been ravaged by the international break and will be without Rasmus Schuller, Kevin Molino, Johan Venegas, and Francisco Calvo. That said, if there’s any time to have a number of players missing, it is nice to have it come against a struggling team like New England who has yet to score a goal from open play yet through two matches. Will New England strike against the lack of opposition depth to spark their goalscoring efforts?

New York Red Bulls vs. Real Salt Lake – 4:00 p.m. ET

RSL has to get things going, and they need to do it fast. Unfortunately, they visit an Eastern Conference might as New York welcomes the cross-country travelers with six points already in hand to Salt Lake’s one. To make matters worse for the visiting side, they’re ravaged up and down the roster. Nick Rimando and Albert Rusnák are on international duty, Kyle Beckerman is suspended for his silly red card, and Joao Plata is injured along with Jordan Allen. Tack on the questionable tags for Justen Glad, Aaron Maund, and David Horst, and the outlook is bleak for RSL. Oh, and they just fired their coach too.

That leaves interim coach Daryl Shore little to work with, and they’ll take on a strong New York team that presses hard. Sacha Kljestan struggled in last week’s loss to Seattle, but this team is known for its ability to bounce back. Bradley Wright-Phillips could have a field day if he gets the service, or even if he doesn’t.

Columbus Crew vs. Portland Timbers – 7:30 p.m. ET

For me, this is the best game of the three. Portland is considered by some to own the best attack in the league, and they’ve shown it through three games, scoring 10 goals against a relatively soft opening schedule. Columbus, meanwhile, picked up three points from a two-game road trip and is back home looking to prove that last year’s struggles are a thing of the past. We still don’t know exactly what to expect from the Crew, but we sure do know what’s coming to town, and that’s the Timbers’ red-hot attack duo of Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi.

22-year-old rookie Alex Crognale made his debut for Columbus last week and contributed heavily to the Crew’s clean sheet. He will be tested heavily should he earn himself a second start. Jonathan Mensah is back from his red card suspension and will add to the defensive abilities. Still, it will be a tough test for Columbus, one which would provide an enormous boost should earn all three points.

MLS Power Rankings — Week 3: Gap developing at the top

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We’re just three weeks in, and while there’s still obviously gobs of time for teams to right the ship, we are also seeing who’s for real at the top of the table, and while the table doesn’t always show it, we’re starting to learn more and more about each team that picks up the points.

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Atlanta continues to win, still yet to lose in MLS play three matches into its inaugural season, and Portland bounced back to prove they’re still in control. At about the 7-8 mark there looks to be a clear gap developing. Can anyone buck the trend moving forward? Your updated power rankings:


TEAM RANKING (Last Wk)

 

22 (19)

21 (22)

20 (21)

DC United: Six goals conceded, none scored in their last two. Not much else needs to be said.

Minnesota United: Their very first MLS point was an important one, holding on down a man. Still a very long way to go.

New England Revolution: More of the same for New England who admittedly had a tall task against FC Dallas but couldn’t hold on.

19 (20) Columbus Crew: Could this week be the one that starts the climb? Six shots on target out of seven total, that’s efficient. Still need a result against a better team to back it up.
18 (18) Real Salt Lake: No Glad, No Plata, down a man, still almost pulled it out. Still, the defending was poor at times a man down and Beckerman knows better. Need to start picking up points.
17 (16) Philadelphia Union: 14 shots, just two on target. That’s the type of day it was in Orlando. Just 2 points from three is worrying, but they have a shot for their first win against DC before taking on Portland and NYCFC.
16 (12) Chicago Fire: Ouch. It’s hard to take much of anything from a big loss to a smoking hot team playing 79 minutes with 10 men. Still…that one will hurt.
15 (17) Montreal Impact: They held firm against a good NYCFC attack, and actually did the coming back for once.
14 (14) Vancouver Whitecaps: In a vacuum, no shame in losing to Tigres or Toronto, but now they’ve got a bit of poor form with the Galaxy coming to town and then the CCL second leg. Will want to avoid a string of bad results.
13 (15) LA Galaxy: All road wins are good wins. That said, beating a weakened RSL by a goal after playing a man down the entire second half is not exactly convincing. They were second best until Beckerman went off and managed just 4 shots on target.
12 (13)
Sporting Kansas City: Have conceded just one goal. They have a plan, and it’s working so far. Just need to figure it out on the other end.
11 (5) Colorado Rapids: Give the Loons credit, but a draw against 10-man Minnesota is not a good look. The defending has been poor.
10 (7) San Jose Earthquakes: Bit tough to figure out this San Jose team early on, but with Godoy held in check, they were outshot 15-5 by KC.
9 (6) Houston Dynamo: Caught Portland at a bad time. This is still a good team, but maybe with some soul-searching to do after a big loss.
8 (10)
Orlando City: An extra week of rest helped Orlando and Cyle Larin did Cyle Larin things. Six possible points, six taken. Still need to prove themselves on the road after last season.
7 (9) Seattle Sounders: Just like Portland, Seattle got back to what it does best, and that involved Dempsey and Morris scoring. The attack looked dangerous
6 (4) New York City FC: Montreal hacked NYCFC to death and it worked. They’re still a good team, but will have to figure out how to win ugly too.
5 (8) Toronto FC: A very solid bounce-back win without Giovinco, who will be back after the break. The rough start appears to be more of a blip.
4 (3) New York Red Bulls: The ugly wins finally came back to haunt them. Hard to take much from a cross-country road trip, but they fell short in a tough test.
3 (11) Atlanta United: You betcha. This team’s for real. Well, they certainly appear to be with Josef Martinez on fire, but he’s just been injured. Now what?
2 (2) FC Dallas: A win over New England continued FC Dallas’s hot start. It’s mind-boggling how little attention Max Urruti gets.
1 (1) Portland Timbers: That’s more like it. The scary Portland attack bounced back by putting four goals past 2-0-0 Houston.