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.

Timbers send Nagbe to Atlanta for allocation money

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have traded midfielder Darlington Nagbe to Atlanta United in exchange for $1.65 million in allocation money.

Portland is also sending defender Gbenga Arokoyo to Atlanta and receiving a 2018 international spot as part of the trade.

[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]

Nagbe, who has become a regular on the U.S. national team, has been with the Timbers since the team joined MLS in 2011. He was selected with the second overall pick in that year’s MLS SuperDraft.

He has 27 goals and 30 assists in 214 matches with the Timbers. His goals are the second-most since the team joined MLS.

“Thank you, Portland, and everyone that supported my family and me the past seven years,” he said in a statement released by the Timbers.

Nagbe, 27, has 24 appearances with the national team and one goal.

Wenger says schedule congestion catching up to Arsenal

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Much like their 3-1 loss to Manchester United, Arsenal dominated the chances but couldn’t find the back of the net enough to get three points.

Unlike that Red Devils defeat, however, the Gunners were stout at the back against a lively West Ham United and picked up an away point from a nil-nil draw on Wednesday.

[ RECAP: West Ham 0-0 Arsenal ]

Wenger was content enough with the result, as he continued to be in the chorus of managers who lament the congested Premier League schedule around the holidays. From the BBC:

“We had so much of the ball, but it was very frustrating because we could even have lost it at the end. They’re happy to defend, they did that against Chelsea and Manchester City, so we couldn’t find the opening and the few chances we had we missed.

“When you play every three days, you lose your sharpness.”

That’s true, and to his credit Wenger didn’t try to say West Ham had one day’s more rest (which they did). As Man City runs away with the league and Manchester United doesn’t look fit to drop back to the back, the race for the final two Top Four spots is as congested as the schedule. Arsenal needs to turn some of its shot-heavy performances into goal-heavy cruises sometime soon.

Mourinho: Derby defeat didn’t help, but United overcame fatigue

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Jose Mourinho said the Manchester Derby nearly caught up to his men in Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Bournemouth at Old Trafford.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 1-0 Bournemouth ]

The Manchester United manager says that’s not on account of emotions or let down, but simply the volume of matches his Red Devils have played and the extra rest afford the visitors.

Romelu Lukaku climbed Nathan Ake to find United its opener, and the hosts were defending plenty in the second half. But United was able to endure on a soggy night at home, and maintain its place second on the Premier League table.

From the BBC:

“Fatigue, yes, but hangover – no. The game was a big one, and a defeat does not help in your recovery – victories help, defeats don’t. They were difficult opponents and difficult conditions. If we had scored the second it would have been a calm night for us.”

That said, this felt like one of the matches United would’ve drawn last season, and Lukaku was a difference maker as were David De Gea and Phil Jones at the back.

And Mourinho would not mail in the title race despite Man City’s 11-point advantage and continued league dominance.

“It is only over in May, if it is over now I go on holiday to Brazil or Los Angeles.”

Guardiola lauds Man City after record 15th straight win

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Pep Guardiola is breaking records pretty much every time Manchester City step onto the pitch right now.

[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]

On Wednesday they set a new Premier League and English top-flight record for the most consecutive wins in history, with City winning 4-0 away at Swansea to seal their 15th-straight win and stay 11 points clear of the table.

City beat Arsenal’s previous record of 14-straight wins in the Premier League from February to August 2002, and now they remain unbeaten with 17 games of the season gone.

Guardiola now holds the record for most consecutive wins in the top-flight of Spanish, German and English soccer with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Man City respectively. He’s a machine and he’s turned Man City into one.

Speaking to the BBC after beat Swansea, Guardiola was delighted with the win, especially coming so soon after the energy-sapping Manchester derby win at Manchester United on Sunday.

“Considering we have a lot of games in our legs, a demanding game at Old Trafford three days ago, we were solid, we were serious and we made a good performance,” Guardiola said. “You suffer and enjoy, like a manager you see many things. When the team play good we are happy. Our feeling – we understand what we want to do. We play good inside, outside. I’m so happy for David (Silva), we cannot disguise his quality but in the past he didn’t score too much goals. He’s sharp, he’s in an amazing condition.”

Man City’s manager rightly pointed towards David Silva‘s brilliance as the Spanish playmaker scored twice at Swansea and he’s now scored four times in his last three games, including a late winner against West Ham and setting City on their way to a win at United on Sunday.

With the record now in hand and Man City also stretching their club-record unbeaten run in the top-flight to 25 games, is there a risk his side will be complacent as the bookmakers have slashed their PL title odds to 1/25?

“That is not going to happen. We are so demanding for our players. We can lose, we can drop points but complacency, never happened in the past, the present or the future,” Guardiola said. “Winning 15 games in a row gives us a lot of confidence. If people are happy watching us that is the best gift.”

Ahead of the festive season, Man City are the gift which keep on giving and they have to be up their with the best teams English soccer has ever seen.

Less than halfway through the 2017-18 season they show no signs of slowing down and the Premier League title is simply theirs to lose.

More records will fall this season as an imperious, attacking unit has been fine-tuned by Guardiola. We are watching history being made in beautiful fashion.