Swansea’s comeback eases EPL relegation scenario just a bit

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With Swansea’s comeback slamming the brakes on Wigan’s recent surge, it’s given a touch of distance between the relegation zone and the middle of the table.  A touch.

However, watching how each team’s fortunes changed with every goal that hit the back of the net shows just how closely packed this season’s relegation battle is, and how many squads are involved.

Fans of about 7 teams are shaking in their boots, knowing at any moment, it could be their club that out of nowhere winds up in that 18th position come the final day’s whistle.

Take Fulham, for instance.  Just one month ago, they beat arch rivals Queens Park Rangers and recently after drew with Aston Villa to go on 40 points, 9 ahead of the drop zone with 6 to play. 40 had always been the generic safe number, and it seemed things were well past them.  Not so.

Now, after 4 successive losses, the Whites remain at that “magic number” of 40, with fixtures left against Liverpool and at Swansea, and just 2 goals scored by their own players over those 4 matches (actually 2 goals in their last 6 altogether).  They’re in 12th still, but somehow in this mess still very much a candidate to go down, especially considering the form.

On the other side of the coin, we have Aston Villa.  Fresh off their near-miss last season having stayed up by 2 points, they seemed back in the thick of things this year as well.  It was only 2 months ago they sat in 18th place, and had completed a stretch of 11 matches where they mustered a miserable 6 points, which started with an 8-0 shellacking at Stamford Bridge all the way back in December. Now, Villa have picked up 16 points in the 8 matches since, losing just twice during that span.

Those two teams are currently even on 40 points.

Queens Park Rangers and Reading are already down, leaving one spot left.  Just one.

But that one could be anybody from the pool of Wigan, Newcastle, Norwich, Sunderland, Southampton, Aston Villa, or Fulham. All those clubs sit just a measly 5 points apart.  Had Wigan held on for the win (they were up 1-0 and 2-1), the difference between 18th and 12th would have been two points.

Let’s repeat that: had Wigan held on, the distance between 18th and 12th would have been just two points.

That’s how important every goal is in the final matches of the season.  Hold on tight folks.

Pulisic: Dortmund can win the league

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Christian Pulisic isn’t short on confidence these days.

The rising star for the U.S. Men’s National Team is currently in preseason training with Borussia Dortmund, and he believes his side can push Bayern Munich for the title. Bayern has won five-straight league titles, but the last team other than Munich to win was Dortmund itself in 2012.

“We’ve got a big chance to win the league this coming season,” Pulisic said, via German publication Kicker.

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Pulisic has been firing on all cylinders so far in preseason. During Dortmund’s tour of China, Pulisic had three assists in a 3-1 win over AC Milan, and he also started and went the full 90 against Bochum on July 22 back in Germany.

The 18-year-old is coming off a breakout season for the Black and Yellows, scoring five goals with 13 assists over 43 games between the Bundesliga, German Cup and UEFA Champions League.

“Last season was a good step in my development,” Pulisic said, noting he wants to be “more dangerous” in the attack. “I want to build on that.”

Of course, Pulisic followed the U.S. Men’s National Team at the Gold Cup, taking the title for the sixth time. In less than a year’s time, Pulisic will likely be on the field, starting for the U.S. at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, with the hopes and dreams of many Americans on his shoulders.

“(It was) a good victory,” Pulisic said of the final.

Transfer Rumor Wrap: Bale’s agent laughs off speculation

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It appears Gareth Bale has no plans of following Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez out of Real Madrid this summer.

“It’s a ridiculous, stupid story,” Bale’s agent Jonathan Barnett told the BBC, following reports that Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane wouldn’t promise Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo that they’d staying with the club this summer.

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Of course, these prompted counter reports that Manchester United could take advantage of possible instability at the Santiago Bernabeu and swoop in for Bale, but it seems that Bale is not for sale.

Bale played just 27 times for Real Madrid last season in all competitions, scoring nine goals with three assists while dealing with multiple injuries. His entire career at Real Madrid in fact has been plagued by injury, but ahead of a World Cup year with Wales still in contention for a spot in Russia, Bale will be extra motivated to stay fit this season.

Here’s some more transfer rumors from around the world:

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Neymar storms off after training dustup with teammate

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Neymar just won’t stay out of the headlines.

As his long-rumored “will he, won’t he go” transfer saga between Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona continues, Neymar stormed out of training on Thursday after getting into a tussle with teammate Nelson Semedo.

A video from the Daily Mail shows Neymar pushing Semedo before walking off and removing his training bib.

Neymar has reportedly agreed to personal terms with PSG over a move to France, but PSG have yet to come up with the nearly $260 million it would cost to trigger Neymar’s release clause. The news of Neymar possibly leaving Barcelona came as a shock, as he’s been content since joining the club to play slightly in the shadow of teammates Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

If this fight is any indication, Neymar’s head could be turned and should PSG trigger the release clause, Neymar could be heading to Paris once Barcelona returns this weekend from its American sojourn.

In spite of all the transfer speculation, Neymar has dazzled for Barcelona on its tour of the U.S., scoring three goals in two games and delighting the thousands in attendance.

Australian women beat US 1-0 in Tournament of Nations

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SEATTLE (AP) Tameka Butt scored in the 67th minute and Australia beat the United States for the first time in the 28-game series, 1-0 in the Tournament of Nations on Thursday night.

The Matildas also snapped the Americans’ four-game winning streak.

Just moments after Butt’s goal got past goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, Carli Lloyd blasted a cross from Megan Rapinoe at Australia goalkeeper Lydia Williams, who made a fantastic save. Lloyd had another chance that sailed just over the net.

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Japan and Brazil played to a 1-1 draw in the tournament’s opening game in the afternoon at CenturyLink Field.

Each of the four teams in the tournament is in the top 10 of the FIFA rankings. The top-ranked United States went into the game with a 25-0-2 record over the seventh-ranked Matildas.

Rapinoe, who plays for the NWSL’s Seattle Reign, had a good chance early on in the game but the Americans were unable to break through. Rapinoe has 12 goals to lead the NWSL in scoring this season.

The Matildas have been on the rise of the past several years, with quarterfinal appearances in both the 2015 World Cup and the Olympics last year.

Following the stop in Seattle, the tournament shifts to San Diego on Sunday before wrapping up in Carson, California, on Aug. 3.

U.S. Soccer is looking to host a Tournament of Nations each summer that there isn’t World Cup or Olympic competition.