Premier League Title Watch: Chelsea and City favorites as Liverpool lurks

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With Arsenal’s 6-0 loss to Chelsea on Saturday, the Premier League title is largely a three team race between the Blues, Liverpool and Manchester City.

Chelsea tops the table on 69 points while Liverpool is in 2nd place just four points back and with a game in hand. In 3rd place is Manchester City, six points adrift of the leaders with three games in hand. Arsenal, who many consider to have squandered their title hopes this past weekend, is 4th in the table on seven points behind the Blues but with a game in hand.

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 seven match weeks to play.

1. CHELSEA 69 PTS (31 PLD)

Remaining Matches (7): Crystal Palace (A); Stoke City (H); Swansea City (A); Sunderland (H); Liverpool (A); Norwich City (H); Cardiff City (A)

League Form: DWWWLW

Other Competitions: Champions League (v. PSG on April 2nd and 8th)

Injuries (return date): Samuel Eto’o, hamstring (March 20th), Ashley Cole, knee (April 5th), Marco van Ginkle, knee (out for season)

Vegas odds to win: 3/2

Verdict: Huge statement match by Chelsea this past weekend thrashing Arsenal 6-0. The Blues proved they can be more than a defensive, counter-attacking side when they want to and that they can manage just fine without key players Willian and Ramires, who were both out on suspension.

The key for Jose Mourinho’s side is to stay focused, regardless of the competition. Too often they get lazy against lesser opponents (think: recent losses to Stoke City and Aston Villa and draws to West Brom and West Ham), a trait that can’t return in their final seven matches, six of which come against sides outside the Top 10.

2. LIVERPOOL 65 PTS (30 PLD)

Remaining Matches (8): Sunderland (H); Tottenham (H); West Ham United (A); Manchester City (H); Norwich City (A); Chelsea (H); Crystal Palace (A); Newcastle United (H)

League Form: WWWWWW

Other Competitions: None

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

Vegas odds to win: 11/4

Verdict: Is there a more dangerous team in the Premier League right now?

With a healthy squad, the most dangerous strike-partnership in the league and last weekend’s 6-3 romp over Cardiff City, Liverpool has proven itself the hottest team in the league with a six match win streak.

If the Reds are to have any shot at the title, however, they’ll need Chelsea and Manchester City to drop points. Conveniently for Brendan Rodgers’ men, they have home matches against both Chelsea and City this April. Emerge victorious in those battles – while remaining focused on putting away side’s of lesser quality – and the Reds are a good bet to sneak in as champions.

3. MANCHESTER CITY 63 PTS (28 PLD)

Remaining Matches (10): 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: WLDWWW

Other Competitions: None

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

Vegas odds to win: 3/2

Verdict: Would you rather have points on the board (like Chelsea) or games in hand (like City)?

Despite what Jose Mourinho says, the answer is points on the board. The Special One’s claim does have some merit, however, because if City wins out the season they’re champions by three points. But given how the Premier League season has gone so far, that’s easier said than done.

Potential road-blocks for City begin Tuesday in the Manchester derby. Yes, the Citizens will be favored but United are at home and seem to have turned a corner after the come-from-behind aggregate victory over Olympiacos last week. Other tough matches for City include Arsenal away, Southampton, Liverpool away and Everton away.

If Manuel Pellegrini’s side emerges unscathed through those games to claim the title, the Chilean deserves a standing ovation.

4. ARSENAL 62 PTS (30 PLD)

Remaining Matches (8): Manchester City (H); Everton (A); West Ham United (H); Hull City (A); Newcastle United (H); West Bromwich Albion (H); Norwich City (A)

League Form: LDWLWL

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

Injuries (return date): Laurent Koscielny, calf (no return date);  Mesut Ozil, hamstring (April 13th); 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: 40/1

Verdict: Last week Vegas had Arsenal’s title chances at 12/1. Since the loss to Chelsea those odds have tumbled to 40/1.

As stated above, the Gunners aren’t mathematically out of it. But soon they will be. Best for Arsene Wenger’s side to focus on a Top 4 finish and winning the FA Cup.

 

“Emotional” Mertesacker: Send Wenger off “with a cup”

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Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker has made 220 appearances for the club, all with one man in charge of the Gunners: Arsene Wenger.

[ MORE: The latest Arsene Wenger news ]

Mertesacker has won three FA Cups with Wenger, and he took up his pen — or laptop — for Sunday’s Matchday program.

The 33-year-old German says it’s down to Arsenal’s players to send off Wenger right: With two more successful rounds in the UEFA Europa League against Atletico Madrid and either Red Bull Salzburg or Marseille. From the BBC:

“We were only informed on Friday about the manager’s decision to step down at the end of the season, so it’s still quite emotional,” Mertesacker said.

“He’s been the major figure of this club for more than 20 years. He’s been so impressive for me and he has trusted me so much throughout my career, in bringing me here and making me captain even when I was injured. He also gave me a future role here at the club so I am very grateful and humbled for the opportunity he gave to me.

“There’s now an emphasis on us doing it for him too. We want to give him the send-off he deserves: with a cup.”

The French legend to end his time at Arsenal against Marseille would be delightful, don’t you think?

Watch Live: Arsenal-West Ham, Stoke-Burnley

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The Premier League has a pair of 8:30 a.m. ET Sunday kickoffs for us this morning, including one of Arsene Wenger‘s final matches at Arsenal.

There’s a London Derby between Arsenal and West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium, as the Gunners look to stay fresh for Atletico Madrid and the Hammers aim to firm up their Premier League status for next season (Watch live at 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal, Elneny, Xhaka, Ramsey, Iwobi, Welbeck, Lacazette. Subs: Macey, Mertesacker, Holding, Chambers, Maitland-Niles, Nelson. Aubameyang.

West Ham United: Hart, Zabaleta, Ogbonna, Rice, Cresswell, Masuaku, Kouyate, Noble, Fernandes, Mario, Arnautovic. Subs: Adrian, Cullen, Evra, Lanzini, Hugill, Carroll, Chicharito.


Stoke City’s climb out of the relegation zone will have to overcome Burnley’s desires for a Top Six place, as the Clarets can pass sixth place Arsenal with a win and a Gunners loss to West Ham (Watch live at 8:30 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

LINEUPS

Stoke City: Butland; Johnson, Shawcross, M.Indi, Pieters; Bauer, Allen, Badou, Shaqiri; Crouch, Diouf. Subs: Haugaard, Zouma, Ireland, Cameron, Fletcher, Ramadan, Campbell.

Burnley: Pope, Lowton, Long, Tarkowski, Ward, Lennon, Cork, Westwood, Gudmundsson, Wood, Barnes. Subs: Heaton, Taylor, Marney, Vokes, Hendrick, Walters, Bardsley.

Ligue 1: Depay’s goal streak hits 5 games; Lyon reeling in Monaco

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MONACO (AP) Lyon won at Dijon 5-2 and moved within one point of second-place Monaco in the French league on Friday.

Lyon’s sixth straight league win kept them level on points with fourth-place Marseille.

The team finishing second qualifies automatically for next season’s Champions League, while the team in third goes into the playoffs. After this weekend, there will be four rounds remaining.

Memphis Depay has scored or created 12 of Lyon’s 16 last goals.

The Netherlands forward opened the scoring in the fourth minute with a close-range volley, and set up the fourth goal for winger Bertrand Traore in the 77th.

Depay almost scored another, just failing to reach right back Rafael‘s cross in the 50th. Midfielder Houssem Aouar followed up and his strike was turned into his own net by defender Valentin Rosier.

Lyon’s other goals came from forwards Nabil Fekir in the 53rd and Maxwell Cornet in the 82nd.


MONACO (AP) — After losing the French title last weekend, Monaco is in danger of throwing away second place after losing at Guingamp 3-1 on Saturday.

The defeat leaves Monaco just one point ahead of Lyon and Marseille as the three sides chase an automatic place in the Champions League with four games left.

Monaco was thrashed by champion Paris Saint-Germain 7-1 last Sunday and the defense leaked easily again, albeit with a little help from one of its defenders.

A makeshift Monaco fell behind midway through the first half after Brazilian defender Jemerson was given a red card for stopping a shot on the line. He was sent off and veteran forward Jimmy Briand netted from the penalty spot for mid-table Guingamp.

Monaco capitulated and trailed 3-0 after 47 minutes. Defender Almamy Toure replied in vain with a consolation goal midway through the second half.


Marseille crushed Lille 5-1 to join Lyon on 69 points. Lyon, which won at Dijon 5-2 on Friday for a sixth straight win, has a better goal difference.

Marseille also has the Europa League and plays the first leg of its semifinal at home to Austrian side Salzburg next Thursday. But Lyon has only Ligue 1 to think about.

Still, Marseille is also brimming with confidence these days, especially winger Florian Thauvin.

He scored twice against Lille to extend his career-best league tally to 19. Greece striker Kostas Mitroglou also netted twice, and forward Lucas Ocampos completed the rout against 19th-place Lille.

In other matches: Amiens won against Strasbourg 3-1; struggling Toulouse beat Angers 2-0, and last-place Metz drew at home to Caen 1-1.

PSG is at Bordeaux on Sunday. Also, Nice is at home to Montpellier, and Saint-Etienne takes on Troyes.

UEFA says Europa League trophy not damaged after being stolen

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NYON, Switzerland (AP) UEFA says the Europa League trophy was not damaged after being stolen in Mexico.

The silverware was at a promotional event in the central city of Leon when it was reported by authorities to have been taken from a vehicle.

The theft came ahead of the semifinals of Europe’s second-tier club competition.

UEFA says the “Europa League trophy was in Mexico for a partner event and got briefly stolen. It was quickly recovered and has suffered no damages.”

In the semifinal first legs next week, Arsenal plays Atletico Madrid and Marseille takes on Salzburg.