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.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday