Lineups and discussion: Cardiff City vs. Manchester City

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They came into the weekend in first place, their 4-0 opening rout of Newcastle United vaulting them top on goal difference. Today in Wales, a second straight win to start their season should see 2011-12 champions Manchester City resume their place atop the Premier League table, with newly promoted Cardiff City standing in the way of Manuel Pellegrini’s perfect, six-point start.

As much as Edin Dzeko, Fernandinho, or Jesus Navas were on the pitch, Pellegrini was the star off it, his fingerprints all over the running start City made at the Etihad on Monday night. Goals from David Silva, Sergio Agüero, Yaya Touré, and Samir Nasri were the product of a typical Pellegrini-esque approach, the team’s 4-4-2 seeing Touré and Fernandinho control, Navas and Silva probe, while Agüero and Dzeko pushed.

On paper, it’s all a bit too much for most teams, let alone the Bluebirds, but playing their first home game in the Premier League, Cardiff City could have emotion on their side. And with two extra days’ rest, they could also have a fitness edge, though City’s deep squad and five days off should render that edge useless.

Last week at Upton Park, Cardiff began Premier League life with a 2-0 loss to West Ham United – a tepid performance in which Malky Mackay’s side only put one shot on target despite being ceded most of the game’s possession. Cardiff’s four attacking players — Fraizer Campbell, Craig Bellamy, Kim Bo-Kyong, and Peter Whittingham — combined for nine shots, but none of them tested Jussi Jääskeläinen.

That attack gets a major break today with the absence of Vincent Kompany. The City captain and central defender left Monday’s came with a groin strain that will sideline him three-to-four weeks. With the team’s other first choice center back Matija Nastasić and potential cover Micah Richards also out, Pellegrini turns to Joleon Lescott and Javi Garcia in central defense. Lescott is an accomplished English international (no problem there), but Garcia is a natural midfielder being pressed into service.

Depending on how Cardiff play, having Garcia’s distribution in central defense could be a bonus. If, however, City gets caught with both Touré and Fernandinho going forward from central midfield, an exposed weakness could be Cardiff’s route to an upset.

If Cardiff gets a surprise three points, it will be a nearly unchanged side that does so. Mackay returns 10 players from the team that started against West Ham, with only Andrew Taylor coming in for Declan John at left back.

For City, only Kompany’s absences keeps this from being an unchanged side.

If you’re not within Tottenham vs. Swansea on NBCSN, head over to NBC Sports Live Extra to check out streaming options for today’s match in Wales, one that kicks off at 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

Starting Lineups

Cardiff City: David Marshall; Matthew Connolly, Steven Caulker, Ben Turner, Andrew Taylor; Gary Medel, Aron Gunnarsson; Peter Whittingham, Kim Bo-Kyung, Craig Bellamy; Fraizer Campbell

Manchester City: Joe Hart; Pablo Zabaleta, Javi Garcia, Joleon Lescott, Gael Clichy; Jesus Navas, Yaya Toure, Fernandinho, David Silva; Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko

 

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”