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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.

Liverpool sign goalkeeper Loris Karius. What is he all about?

MEYRIN, SWITZERLAND - JULY 22:   Loris Karius of 1. FSV Mainz 05 in action during the pre-season friendly match between 1. FSV Mainz 05 and AS Monaco at Stade des Arberes on July 22, 2015 in Meyrin, Switzerland.  (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
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Liverpool have announced the signing of German goalkeeper Loris Karius, 22, from Mainz 05.

[ MORE: Mourinho in talks with United ]   

The former Manchester City academy product has excelled in the Bundesliga over the past four years, keeping 19 clean sheets in 67 games over the past two campaigns as he became the starting goalkeeper for Mainz, the team Jurgen Klopp used to play for and manage.

In a statement on the club’s website, Liverpool announced that Karius will become their player on July 1 and reports claim the transfer fee is $7.5 million for the Germany U-21 international.

[ MORE: Premier League money table 2015-16 ]

Speaking after signing a five-year deal at Anfield, Karius is delighted to arrive in the Premier League.

“It’s a very good feeling and it’s an honour to play for a club like this. They have a special history and the fans are amazing here, so I look forward to playing at Anfield,” Karius said. “I know a lot about the club from watching them on TV. The history, everybody who plays football knows. There a lot of things in my head when I think of this club. I spoke to the manager and I had a good feeling afterwards because he told me what he wants to do with the club and with the players. It was a good talk with him and after that I was convinced this was the right decision.”

[ MORE: Conte slams MLS after leaving Giovinco, Pirlo out of Italy squad ]

Karius’ arrival will initially spark thoughts that Simon Mignolet‘s position as Liverpool’s first-choice goalkeeper is under threat, especially when you see that Karius has been handed the No. 1 jersey.

The Belgian international, 28, has made several high-profile mistakes during his time at Anfield but Klopp has routinely stated he’s happy with Mignolet and the former Sunderland stopper recently signed a new long-term deal with the club. Yet, when you look at the depth behind Mignolet they are struggling. Adam Bogdan has looked shaky when called upon and then you have youngsters Ryan Fulton and Danny Ward.

Judging by the clips and scouting reports you can find of Karius, he is a hugely energetic goalkeeper who will look to challenge Mignolet for the starting spot from day one.

He is also said to be aggressive in coming for crosses and is good with the ball at his feet. A future Manuel Neuer, perhaps? Liverpool’s fans will certainly hope so.

Take a look at these clips below. Impressive.

Cantona wants Guardiola, not Mourinho, as Man United’s manager

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Eric Cantona will cause quite a stir with these comments.

The eccentric Frenchman is a Manchester United legend so, naturally, whenever he says anything about the Red Devils people stand up and take notice.

[ MORE: Mourinho in talks with United ]   

Less than 24 hours after Louis Van Gaal was out as United’s manager, Cantona (who turned 50 today) has been speaking about the possibility of Jose Mourinho taking charge at Old Trafford.

[ MORE: Premier League money table 2015-16 ]

In true Cantona fashion he is a fan, but he’s not really a fan. What else did you expect from the man who said: “When the seagulls follow the trawler it is because they think sardines will fall into the ocean.”

[ MORE: Conte slams MLS after leaving Giovinco, Pirlo out of Italy squad ]

Anyway, here’s what “King Eric” had to say about Mourinho in a lengthy chat with The Guardian:

“I love Jose Mourinho, but in terms of the type of football he plays I don’t think he is Manchester United,” Cantona said. “I love his personality, I love the passion he has for the game, his humor. He is very intelligent, he demands 100 percent of his players. And of course he wins things but I don’t think it’s the type of football that the fans of Manchester United will love, even if they win. He can win with Manchester United. But do they expect that type of football, even if they win? I don’t think so.

“Guardiola was the one to take. He is the spiritual son of Johan Cruyff. I would have loved to have seen Guardiola in Manchester [United]. He is the only one to change Manchester. He is in Manchester, but at the wrong one.”

The Frenchman was also asked if he would become manager of United one day if they asked him? Here’s his playful answer.

“I do many things and I’m very happy. But if they asked me to become the manager of Manchester United, I would,” Cantona said. “Because Guardiola is in Manchester City and they want someone to win things with wonderful football? It’s me.”

Cantona so often speaks season in a roundabout way and it is hard to argue with his assertion that Guardiola would’ve been United’s preferred choice over Mourinho.

Look at the legacy Guardiola has left behind at Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Sure, he didn’t have to massively rebuild the entire squad like the new United manager is going to have to do, but he arguably improved both teams (okay, Bayern’s failure in the UCL muddies that argument slightly but they improved in many ways under Pep) and has left them in extremely strong positions.

Mourinho has left shipwrecks behind at Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid in the past and he is all about the short-term. He gets results but Cantona hit the nail on the head, his style of play may not win over United’s fans. However, they just want to win and even Cantona, one of the greatest artists the game has ever seen, knows how important that is.

Premier League release prize money table for 2015-16 season

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 07:  Captain Wes Morgan and manager Claudio Ranieri of Leicester City lift the Premier League Trophy after the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Everton at The King Power Stadium on May 7, 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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At least Arsenal is on top of one league…

The Premier League prize money table has been released for the 2015-16 season and Arsene Wenger‘s pulled in $147 million in prize money and TV money to lead the PL.

[ MORE: Mourinho in talks with United ]   

PL champs Leicester City received $135 million and come in fifth place behind Arsenal, Manchester City ($141.6 million), Manchester United ($140.8 million) and Tottenham Hotspur ($139 million).

In contrast with Arsenal’s $147 million at the summit of this table, Aston Villa sit in 20th place but still brought in $97.1 million.

[ MORE: Conte slams MLS after leaving Giovinco, Pirlo out of Italy squad ]

The PL released the statement below on its website about these figures and gave a little more detail as to where this money comes from and how it is distributed.

The revenue distributed to clubs includes income generated from the sale of central broadcasting rights (UK and international) and other central commercial rights.  The mechanism for distributing this revenue is the most equitable of Europe’s major football leagues and is based on the Premier League Founder Members’ Agreement, the contract signed by the initial clubs that formed the League in 1992.

It has resulted in a ratio of 1.52:1 between the club finishing top and that finishing bottom in 2015/16, the lowest such ratio in the history of the Premier League, and works as follows:

  • 50% of UK broadcast revenue split equally between the 20 clubs

  • 25% of UK broadcast revenue paid in Merit Payments (“Prize Money” per place in the table)

  • 25% of UK broadcast revenue paid in Facility Fees each time a club’s matches are broadcast in the UK

  • All international broadcast revenue, and central commercial revenue, is split equally among the 20 clubs

Each club gets an equal share of domestic and overseas TV income, plus central commercial (sponsorship) money and is rewarded with $1.8 million in a merit payment for every place it finishes in the league. So Aston Villa who finished in 20th received a merit payment of $1.8 million, while champions Leicester received $36.2 million for finishing top.

The values in the table below shows exactly how the money was distributed between the 20 PL clubs this season as teams who had more than 10 games live on TV received an extra $1.1 million for every game broadcast.


Conte slams MLS after leaving Pirlo, Giovinco off EURO 2016 roster

FLORENCE, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 01:  Coach Italy Antonio Conte (L) and Sebastian Giovinco during an Italy training session at Coverciano on September 1, 2014 in Florence, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte isn’t a man to mince his words.

The Italian national team manager has given his reasoning for not including Sebastian Giovinco or Andrea Pirlo in his initial 30-man Italy squad for the 2016 European Championships in France this summer and it won’t be music to the ear of MLS fans.

[ MORE: Mourinho in talks with United ]  

According to La Gazzetta dello Sport Conte spoke to reporters at Italy’s training base and belittled Major League Soccer, essentially claiming that Giovinco and Pirlo playing in MLS means they aren’t up to speed and therefore weren’t available for selection for the Azzurri. Ouch.

In the past Conte had been positive about Giovinco’s move to MLS but apparently that’s not the case anymore.

[ PHOTOS: Ronaldo injured in training for Real

Here are Conte’s comments which will sound like fingertips scrapping down a chalkboard to MLS proponents.

“I spoke to Andrea, I needed to hear from him and we sent people to the US,” Conte said. “Nothing was left to chance. We evaluated [Pirlo] and Giovinco, it’s normal that if you choose to go and play MLS then you can pay the consequences in footballing terms.

“We evaluated them technically, we didn’t leave anything to chance. Anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong, we went everywhere to have clear and precise ideas. I picked the 30 who I think will give me the most guarantees.”

So, yeah, he said that: “If you choose to go and play MLS then you can pay the consequences in footballing terms.”

When you break down those comments, it appears to be more geared towards Giovinco than Pirlo. The latter has struggled since arriving in MLS but “The Atomic Ant” ripped it up last season on his way to the Golden Boot and MVP honors and has started off this season in similar fashion.

Conte will take over as Chelsea’s manager this summer and (you guessed it) their preseason tour will be in the USA as they play Liverpool, Real Madrid and AC Milan in the International Champions Cup.

It will be interesting to hear if Conte gets any abuse from the pro-MLS crowd but they’re pretty use to foreign coaches and players dissing their leagues over the years. This isn’t the first time and won’t be the last but it is still disappointing that a manager has decided to go down this route when discussing why he left players off the roster. If that’s how Conte really feels, though, you have to applaud him for being honest.

Yes, MLS is growing. Yes, the standard of play is improving. Yet however you want to sugarcoat it, comments like this from Conte will not improve the reputation of MLS in Europe and especially in Italy. Whether he meant to do that or not, that’s certainly what Conte implied.