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Premier League Title Watch: Evaluating the contenders (Matchweek 30)

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With Matchweek 30 in the books, the race for the Premier League title remains air tight with Chelsea enjoying a four point lead on Liverpool and Arsenal and a six point lead on Manchester City.

The Blues lead is a bit illusory, however, as Liverpool and Arsenal have a game in hand while City each have three matches to play before they’re equal with the leaders. With Chelsea’s loss to Aston Villa last weekend, Liverpool and Arsenal charged back to the forefront of title-race talk.

Schedule, form, other competitions and injuries will all play a role in determining the champion and below we review what each of the title favorites is looking at with just eight match weeks to play.

source: Getty Images1. CHELSEA 66 PTS (30 PLD)

Remaining Matches (8): Arsenal (H); Crystal Palace (A); Stoke City (H); Swansea City (A); Sunderland (H); Liverpool (A); Norwich City (H); Cardiff City (A)

League Form: WDWWWL

Other Competitions: Champions League (v. Galatasaray on March 18th)

Injuries (return date): David Luiz, groin (March 20th), Ashley Cole, knee (March 20th), Marco van Ginkle, knee (out for season)

Vegas odds to win: 15/8

Verdict: For the last few weeks Jose Mourinho has stressed to the media that – despite sitting top of the table – Chelsea is not the title favorite. On Saturday, his side made that a reality when it dropped all three points to a plucky young Aston Villa team. Hampered by a harsh sending off of Willian, the Blues couldn’t find the goal to gain separation. That ineptitude lifted Aston Villa, who found a winner through the delightful play of Fabian Delph.

While the Villa loss is debilitating to Chelsea, it’s unlikely to be the kiss of death. The reality is that while City has three games in hand to make up a six point deficit, winning 11 straight is highly unlikely when facing the likes of United, Arsenal, Southampton, Liverpool and Everton. That said, the Blues margin of error from here on out is razor thin.

source:  2. LIVERPOOL 62 PTS (29 PLD)

Remaining Matches (9): Cardiff City (A); Sunderland (H); Tottenham (H); West Ham United (A); Manchester City (H); Norwich City (A); Chelsea (H); Crystal Palace (A); Newcastle United (H)

League Form: DWWWWW

Other Competitions: None

Injuries (return date): Jose Enrique, knee (out for season)

Vegas odds to win: 3/1

Verdict: Alongside Arsenal, Liverpool continue to lurk in the title-chasing shadows of Chelsea and City. The 3-0 clobbering of United this past weekend took the Reds’ win streak to five straight, securing them the best current form of any club in the league.

Healthy, in form and with little to no expectations, Liverpool remain in the ideal place to make a title run. To do so they’ll need to prove themselves against the two heaviest title favorites (City, Chelsea) as well as a couple potential heart-breakers (Tottenham, Newcastle) but envisioning Stevie G lifting the cup certainly doesn’t feel like a stretch of the imagination.

source: AP3. ARSENAL 62 PTS (29 PLD)

Remaining Matches (9): Chelsea (A); Manchester City (H); Everton (A); West Ham United (H); Hull City (A); Newcastle United (H); West Bromwich Albion (H); Norwich City (A)

League Form: WLDWLW

Other Competitions: FA Cup (v. Wigan on April 12th)

Injuries (return date): Mesut Ozil, hamstring (April 14th); Jack Wilshere, ankle (no return date); Aaron Ramsey, thigh (no return date); Theo Walcott, knee (out for season); Abou Diaby, knee (out for season)

Vegas odds to win: 12/1

Verdict: Even on points with Liverpool, Arsenal’s title hopes remain in tact and will be determined over the next two weeks when the Gunners face both Chelsea and City. With injuries multiplying, Arsenal has their fair share of doubters but judging how they well they handled the situation over the past week – drawing at Bayern Munich and beating Spurs at White Hart Lane – the Gunners are poised to surprise.

source: AP4. MANCHESTER CITY 60 PTS (27 PLD)

Remaining Matches (11): Fulham (H); Manchester United (A); Arsenal (A); Southampton (H); Liverpool (A); Sunderland (H); West Bromwich Albion (H); Crystal Palace (A); Everton (A); Aston Villa (H); West Ham United (H)

League Form: WWLDWW

Other Competitions: None

Injuries (return date): Micah Richards, muscle injury (no return date); Sergio Aguero, hamstring (March 29th); Stevan Jovetic, hamstring (March 22nd); Matija Nastasic, knee (March 22nd)

Vegas odds to win: 6/5

Verdict: With three matches in hand to make up a six point deficit on leaders Chelsea, City are in the pole position to win the Premier League title. This past weekend the Citizens proved themselves a gritty side, defeating an emboldened Hull City 2-0 after going down to 10 men after just 10 minutes. The result marked three consecutive clean sheets in Premier League play, strong form for a title contender entering the final months of the season.

Chelsea’s 1-0 loss to Aston Villa handed City some breathing room meaning that, even if the Blues win out their season, City will be champions if they do the same or even if they manage to draw a match.

With Sergio Aguero sidelined with a hamstring injury until the end of the month, Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo will provide plenty of offensive cover. City’s vulnerability remains their defense, specifically at center-back where Vincent Kompany is in desperate need of someone more dependable than the error-prone Joleon Lescott and Martin Demichelis. If Matija Nastasic can be ‘that guy’ when he returns from injury next week, the Citizens might just have the final piece to the championship title.

FA in “advanced talks” with Tottenham over move to Wembley

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 04:  An aerial view of Wembley Stadium on November 4, 2009 in London, England. The UK's capital city is home to an population of over 7.5 million people, it has the world's oldest and most extensive underground train network and it's airspace is the busiest of any city.  (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
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Tottenham Hotspur look set to play at Wembley Stadium while White Hart Lane is reconstructed.

Spurs will be without a stadium for the entire 2017-18 campaign as their current home will be demolished and a new $600 million stadium holding 61,000 will be built in its place.

[ MORE: Mourinho forced to wait? ]

The Chairman of the English FA, Greg Dyke, believes a deal with Spurs will get over the line soon and he also claims they Spurs are also in talks about playing their UEFA Champions League games at the 90,000 capacity stadium next season.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ]  

Speaking on Sky Sports News in the UK on Thursday, Dyke revealed that talks with Tottenham were at an advanced stage.

“We’re in discussions with Tottenham that they should come in for a full season when they’re building their new stadium, and we are a long way down the path on reaching agreement,” Dyke confirmed.

“I think there are some discussions about whether they will play Champions League games at Wembley next year but I don’t know much about that. But on the full season (2017-18), I think we’re quite close to a deal.”

So, as expected, Spurs will likely pay the FA a fee to rent the stadium — the FA then plan to reinvest it at the grassroots level — and play temporarily away from White Hart Lane.

That’s pretty standard and the only issue will be if Chelsea’s plans to renovate Stamford Bridge go ahead (the Blues are also looking to temporarily relocate to Wembley) but they’ll likely use it for three seasons and may not need to until 2018-19, such is the magnitude of their stadium project.

However, the real juicy bit of news here was that Spurs is looking to host Champions League games at Wembley next season.

With Mauricio Pochettino‘s men missing out on the title to Leicester, they are still guaranteed a spot in next seasons UCL and will return to play among Europe’s elite after a five-year absence.

I’m sure Spurs will get close to a sellout of 90,000 at Wembley for their UCL games and make a lot of money from it but does something about that seem a little strange? Having a season of UCL action in the old White Hart Lane stadium seems fitting and the cozy surroundings and electric atmosphere (it’s one of the loudest and best venues to watch a game in the PL) would certainly intimidate some of Europe’s big boys who may roll into town.

Yet, the fact that the Lane will only hold just over 32,000 fans next season, due to some seats being taken out for construction work, means that almost trebling crowds for big European nights makes sense. It will also give both the FA and Tottenham a chance to test out how things will work for the 2017-18 season.

Ranieri’s Champagne press conference: “I’m Thinkerman, not Tinkerman!”

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Claudio Ranieri raised a glass of champagne in his first press conference as the manager of Premier League champions Leicester.

After being applauded into the room Ranieri, 64, spoke with the assembled media on Thursday ahead of Leicester’s clash with Everton this Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on USA Network and online via Live Extra)

The Italian manager confirmed that legendary Opera singer Andrea Bocelli will perform before the game and, of course, after the Everton game captain Wes Morgan will lift the PL trophy.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

The Foxes, in case you’ve been living under a rock, won their first-ever top-flight title in 132 years as a club on Monday.

They were 5000-1 shots with the bookies at the start of the season and speaking on Thursday, Ranieri revealed he didn’t expect any of this when he took charge last summer at the King Power Stadium.

“Never could I have imagined this,” Ranieri said. We work so hard. Everyone does, but only one can win. This year it happened to me! It’s my karma. I’ve fought so hard to achieve so this is special. I want to thank my players, chairman, staff and fans. Our Chairman gives to us calmness and positivity. Never have I seen him nervous. That is important to me.

“To the fans. They were dreaming. I say dilly-ding,dilly-dong, they woke up and the dream was a reality.”

He then delivered a line which sums up his charismatic nature perfectly.

Ranieri was asked about his previous nickname “The Tinkerman” which was given to him at Chelsea for his constant lineup changes during his time in charge of the Blues from 2000-04.

“I am the Thinkerman, not Tinkerman!” Ranieri laughed.

Now that the “Thinkerman” has delivered one of the greatest sporting stories of all time, naturally plenty of questions have turned to which players well arrive and depart this summer as the Foxes prepare to play in the UEFA Champions League for the first-time in their history and also defend their crown.

“I don’t want big names,” Ranieri said. “I don’t want it in my dressing room. My lads are special. Who arrives must have the same spirit.”

What’s that Claudio, you want some spirits to go with your Champagne?

Fair enough, you’ve earned it…

Report: Man United offer job to Mourinho but there’s a catch

Chelsea's manager Jose Mourinho, center left, makes his way from the opposition dugout after greeting Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, centre right, during their English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Sunday Oct. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Manchester United want Jose Mourinho to become their new manager.

But hold your horses, Jose. You will have to wait a while.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

With Louis Van Gaal‘s current contract as United’s boss running out in the summer of 2017, it is believed that executive vice chairman Ed Woodward has been sounding out Mourinho’s camp for quite some time.

Mourinho, 53, has been without a job since he was fired by Chelsea last December following a disastrous start to the Premier League campaign which saw the reigning champs lingering above the relegation zone

Journalist Duncan Castles is well known as being close to Mourinho’s camp and he reported the following late on Wednesday:

Numerous other reports are stating similar things and it is believed Mourinho isn’t happy about been asked to wait another year. Previously he’s stated he will be in a new job this July.

Mourinho is also said to have held talks with United recently and has concerns about their transfer policy and the structures in place at Old Trafford.

With Van Gaal, 64, currently steering United to fifth place and within four points of Manchester City and having a game in hand, if he manages to finish in fourth and also win the FA Cup — they play Crystal Palace in the final at Wembley on May 21 — then he could well remain at Old Trafford for another year. He’s told journalists recently that he will be back for another season and as far as he’s concerned he will honor his contract.

However if United fail to finish in the top four and qualify for the UEFA Champions League it would be a huge shock to not see Mourinho replace his old mentor, LVG, this summer.

If these antics — asking Mourinho to wait around for another year — from Woodward and United’s board are true, then it could scupper their chances of getting the “Special One” to take charge altogether.

It’s a delicate, tricky situation and after nearly six months of speculation we don’t seem any closer to seeing Mourinho taking over the Red Devils.

Bayern’s Vidal says “ugly” Atletico not deserved UCL finalists

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27: Juanfran of Atletico Madrid and Arturo Vidal of Bayern Munich argue during the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal has declared “ugly” Atletico Madrid unworthy finalists in the UEFA Champions League.

Bayern was eliminated in the Champions League semifinal by Atleti on Tuesday, with Diego Simeone’s Spanish side advancing on away goals.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

However, Vidal believed Bayern were the better team in the second leg, saying Atletico played “ugly football” to get through.

Today ugly football – Atletico – played against the best football in the world. The only time they saw the ball was for the goal.

They are going to be dreaming about us right up to the final. They did not have the ball, they took on the best team in the world, they took their chances and got to the final.

The best does not always win in football, like today. They are not deserved finalists.

Bayern Munich controlled more than 70-percent of possession and had 33 shots compared to Atletico’s nine, but those stats mean little as Antoine Griezmann’s away goal was enough to send Atleti to the final.

[ MORE: Former England striker Joe Cole headed to NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies ]

Atletico may not play the most attractive football, but after eliminating Barcelona and Bayern Munich in consecutive legs, it’s hard to argue anyone deserves this more than Simeone’s men.