All eyes on Newcastle v. Arsenal for final Champions League spot

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With the final day of the 2012-13 Premier League season set to kick off, the main focus turns to Newcastle v. Arsenal (as well as Tottenham v. Sunderland and Chelsea v. Everton), where the results will decide which club will join Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea in the Champions League.

For Arsenal, the match at Newcastle represents the difference between finishing 3rd place and earning an automatic spot in next fall’s Champions League, finishing 4th place and earning a qualifying spot in the Champions League (requiring more play-in matches), or finishing 5th place and losing out on Europe’s biggest tournament.

The Gunners head into Sunday’s match 4th in the table on 70 points, two points shy of 3rd place Chelsea and one point ahead of 5th place Tottenham. Here’s how the situation breaks down:

  • With a victory at Newcastle and a Chelsea loss against Everton, Arsenal will take 3rd place and the coveted automatic Champions League spot.
  • With a victory at Newcastle and a Chelsea win against Everton, Arsenal will finish 4th in the table and claim the Champions League qualifying spot.
  • With a victory at Newcastle and a Chelsea draw against Everton, things grow more complicated as a playoff match could be required to decide 3rd place. It all comes down to goal differential, where Arsenal enjoying +34 goals on the season, one shy of Chelsea’s mark. If Arsenal beat Newcastle by a single goal and score two more than Chelsea, who must draw with Everton, a playoff match (to be held on May 26th) will be required. Given the goal differential, the situation pans out on a sliding scale of scores. In other words, a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge would require the Gunners to win 2-1, or a 1-1 draw at the Bridge would mean Arsenal would need to win 3-2, and so on.
  • If the Gunners draw at Newcastle, they have no chance at a 3rd place finish but could still finish 4th if Tottenham lose or draw with Sunderland. If Spurs beat the Black Cats, however, an Arsenal draw will see the Gunners fall to 5th place and out of a spot in the Champions League.

So, can Arsenal get the job done?

It seems like a foregone conclusion as Newcastle have nothing to play for and have been a disaster at home of late, losing their last two matches at St. James’ Park by a combined 9-0 (to Sunderland and Liverpool). The slaughterings underscore the Magpies leaky defense, which could get even worse this summer as captain Fabricio Colocinni looks poised to leave the club.

Many pundits question whether Alan Pardew’s side will even take this match seriously. Following the Magpies 2-1 victory over QPR last week, the manager celebrated his side’s confirmation of top-flight football by claiming that he didn’t care if his side lost 4-0 to Arsenal on Sunday. Pardew has since recanted such comments, deeming them to merely be a joke. But Spurs fans aren’t laughing as their Champions League lives depend on Newcastle showing up and getting a result.

 

Davinson delights Pochettino, who predicts “massive” strides

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It’s still very early days for Davinson Sanchez as a Tottenham Hotspur player, but the early returns are extremely positive as the Colombian center back has featured in 14 of the club’s 17 games in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League this season.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Dortmund again to win group with Real Madrid ]

What’s more encouraging than Sanchez’s initial performances? The 21-year-old’s “massive” room for improvement and the expectation he’ll one day soon be one of the world’s best defenders, according to manager Mauricio Pochettino.

After signing for Spurs in August, Sanchez went straight into Pochettino’s starting lineup, slotted in between stalwarts Toby Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who together last season led the defense with the PL’s best record (26 goals conceded in 38 games), as part of a back-three. Sanchez has taken to Tottenham like a duck to water, in Pochettino’s estimation — quotes from ESPN FC:

“You saw against against Dortmund how many times he was with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang one-versus-one. How many central defenders can play one-versus-one and escape and go, be tight and press? If you run, I run because I am so confident when running. I think not many center backs in the world can do this.

“Or against Swansea against Tammy Abraham: how many times he was one vs. one and the ball was behind him, he was on the halfway line and running was not a problem? And against Cristiano Ronaldo, too?”

“We expect more from him, but I am so happy with him. He is doing well, very well. He’s only 21 years old, but he shows more maturity [than that], and he’s so aggressive when he’s marking, his concentration [is good] and then with the ball he’s good, but I think he can improve.

“There is massive scope to improve potentially, it’s massive for him. In only a few months, he’s showing he’s doing a fantastic job for us. [He can improve in] every single aspect, tactic, physical condition, technique.

“We need with him one and a half months or two months preseason every day, and then I’m sure he’s going to show a different level. I think he’s one of the best today, but has potential to improve a lot more.

“Because he’s so clever, and he’s very humble, and he’s very open to learn, he’s a player when you tell something his reaction is to be open, and be critical with himself, and that is a massive skill from a player, when he’s so open to improve, and then the conditions he has are amazing to be one of the best center halves in the world.”

To state the completely obvious, Pochettino was wise to utilize Aldeweireld and Vertonghen as training wheels for Sanchez, if you will, upon his arrival. His athleticism and pace make him 1) the ideal complement to a pair of players who read the game so well; and, 2) perfectly positioned to operate as the last-man, emergency defender on the rare occasion either Belgian is breached.

[ MORE: Liverpool host Chelsea in massive top-four clash ]

For the first time all season, Sanchez started out wide in Alderweireld’s absence (hamstring) against Arsenal last weekend, and for the first time since his arrival, he appeared a flawed — which is to say, human — defender. To his credit, Sanchez gave a quality account of himself on the whole, and finished the game much stronger than he’d started.

No one was more aware of this than Pochettino, though, as he slid Eric Dier into Aldeweireld’s spot for Tuesday’s Champions League triumph over Borusia Dortmund, again deploying Sanchez in the middle. With Aldeweireld expected to miss a couple more weeks at minimum, the Tottenham teamsheet should routinely read Vertonghen-Sanchez-Dier from left to right until he returns.

Lille appoint four interim managers to replace Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) A four-man coaching team will take provisional charge of French soccer club Lille in the wake of Marcelo Bielsa’s dismissal.

Lille says Fernando Da Cruz, Joao Sacramento, Benoit Delaval and Franck Mantaux will be in charge of the team until further notice.

Lille announced earlier this week that Bielsa had been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club” following a 3-0 loss at Amiens.

The northern side is in 19th place and next travels Saturday to Montpellier, which has the best defense in the league.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but failed to make the club competitive. After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the coach – affectionately known as El Loco Bielsa (Crazy Bielsa) – with the aim of returning to the Champions League.

Irregular heartbeat the cause of Carrick’s recent absence

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Manchester United captain Michael Carrick hasn’t played for his club since Sept. 20, a confounding period of more than two months now, and the reason for the 36-year-old midfielder’s absence has finally come to light: an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams critics (again), gives injury updates ]

The condition, which Carrick announced himself on Friday, was first detected after Man United’s League Cup victory over Burton Albion. He has since undergone a cardiac ablation, a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in your heart that’s allowing incorrect electrical signals to cause an abnormal heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Carrick was named the new United captain this summer following the departure of Wayne Rooney. As told in the above statement, he is working toward full fitness and once again being available for selection in Jose Mourinho’s side.

Hooray for modern technology and medicine, which allow otherwise baffling medical conditions to be diagnosed, treated and recovered from in a matter of weeks or months.

Moyes: West Ham “low in confidence,” encouraged by crowd

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David Moyes is just trying to buy himself a bit of time with the West Ham United fans, who were roundly unhappy at his appointment — and the board which hired him, of course — an undertaking toward which he made a small step on Friday.

[ RECAP: West Ham come back to earn a point vs. Leicester ]

Following the Hammers’ 1-1 draw with Leicester, Moyes joined the Sky Sports broadcast crew field-side at the London Stadium. While acknowledging it’s still early days in his tenure, Moyes knows he’s got very little time to build momentum after being appointed manager of a bottom-three side mid-season.

“I thought [the players] worked great in the second half, I think that’s why the crowd reacted so well. I think they are low in confidence. The results haven’t gone [well] and they’ve lost a manager. When it’s like that, it’s difficult. You need some things to go for you now and again.”

As for the Hammers’ most mercurial player, Marko Arnautovic, Moyes has taken a rather hardline approach with the Austrian attacker, and he believes it’s already paying dividends:

“I thought he played really well for us on Sunday, without getting an awful lot of praise for it. Everybody’s said that he hasn’t run, so I said to him, ‘If you don’t run, I won’t play you.’ So, he’s running [now.]

“I don’t think you want to play against Arnautovic if you’re a fullback, because he’s got power, he’s got pace. He probably prefers to play on the left-hand side, but at the moment we’ve got people who want to do that role, so we’re happy to play him on the opposite side. We want him to be a big player, [the club] spent big money on him. We need him to score goals, make goals. He helped us tonight.”