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.

 

Watford signs Will Hughes from Derby County

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Watford has completed the capture of 22-year-old central midfielder Will Hughes, a fantastic transfer for one of England’s younger talents.

Hughes, despite his young age, racked up 189 appearances for Derby County (despite missing significant time in 2015 for an ACL tear) and now gets his first shot at the Premier League, and with it potentially a chance to push his way into the England fold. Hughes has been a staple for the England youth system, making 22 appearances for the country’s U-21 side but is yet to feature for the senior team.

The fee for the transfer was undisclosed but reports have tabbed the amount at around $10 million.

Hughes came close to making the Premier League with Derby County on multiple occasions, reaching the Championship playoffs in both 2014 and 2016. Now, he’ll battle the likes of Valon Behrami, Tom Cleverley, Etienne Capoue, Abdoulaye Doucoure for a spot in Watford’s midfield.

The club release confirmed that Hughes has not yet completed his medical, and will do so when he returns to the U.K. from competing in the U-21 European Championships in Poland.

New Zealand 0-4 Portugal: Ronaldo, Portugal win Group A

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New Zealand gave the 2017 Confederations Cup all they had, but they go home empty-handed as Portugal won the Group A finale 3-0 to advance to the knockout round.

Portugal held much of the possession as expected, but they found little at the end early on. The first true chance fell to Cristiano Ronaldo in the 24th minute, who latched onto a Ricardo Quaresma cross from wide right and produced a powerful header, but it was poorly directed straight to New Zealand goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic for the easy save.

[ RECAP: Mexico eliminates Russia with 2-1 comeback ]

Ronaldo had another headed chance minutes later, but he rocketed the attempt back off the post. Portugal would eventually find the opener just past the half-hour mark via the penalty spot. Danilo was clearly shoved by a pair of defenders on a set-piece, and Ronaldo easily dispatched the spot-kick for a 1-0 lead.

The favorites would double their lead just a few minutes later as Eliseu on the overlap came down the left flank and cut horizontally into the box. He fed a charging Bernardo Silva, and the in-demand Monaco attacker jumped to meet it and poked home. Silva was unable to celebrate after turning his ankle heavily on the landing, but he would come back onto the field.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

Portugal finished things off with 10 minutes to go in the game as Andre Silva burst through the midfielder, shucked his defender, and fired past Marinovic to seal the game for good. Nani added a fourth The win means Portugal finishes level on points with Mexico at the top of Group A, winning the group on goal differential thanks to Silva’s final goal.

Mexico 2-1 Russia: Comeback seals semifinal place

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Mexico again produced a poor first half, but were saved in the final 45 minutes as Juan Carlos Osorio led the CONCACAF squad to the semifinals of the 2017 Confederations Cup.

Right off the bat, there was a controversial moment. Just five minutes into the game, Yuri Zhirkov burst into the Mexico box and went to ground under a challenge from Hector Moreno. The referee waved play on, but it appeared on replay that Moreno tripped Zhirkov. Nevertheless, no call was made and no word came from the video assistant referee.

[ RECAP: Portugal eases by New Zealand 4-0 ]

The hosts had another huge penalty shout, but the referee again waved play on as Fedor Smolov was sent flying to ground as Nestor Araujo contacted his leg from behind in the 17th minute. After about a minute of play, the VAR called for a review, but even after a look at the monitor, the referee decided there was not obvious reason to reverse the call.

With Russia applying all the pressure, they would find the breakthrough in the 25th minute. A pair of fantastic saves from Memo Ochoa went for naught as Alexandr Erokhin whiffed, but he was able to find Aleksandr Samedov who struck low past Ochoa for the opener.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

The lead wouldn’t last long. Mexico didn’t exactly seem sparked by the deficit, but they would draw back level against the run of play just past the half-hour mark. It appeared that Nestor Araujo’s looping header was meant to set up a teammate at the far post, but it ended up chipping Igor Akinfeev and tucking inside the woodwork for the equalizer.

After halftime, Mexico scored completely out of nowhere. A bombed clearance out of the back by Hector Herrera seemed an easy collect for Akinfeev, but as the ball bounced high up into the air, Hirving Lozano charged it down and headed the ball under feeble pressure from the Russian goalkeeper. The ball bounced unchallenged into the net, and Mexico took a shock 2-1 lead.

Mexico appeared to have a third to pad the lead, but VAR took 34 seconds to correctly reverse the call as replay spotted goalscorer Hector Moreno in an offside position on the delivery. Russia was doomed to defeat when Zhirkov was given a second yellow card for a clear elbow to the face of Miguel Layun. Somehow, the hosts still had one big chance in the 72nd minute despite the disadvantage, but Igor Smolinkov somehow missed the net on what should have been a tap-in.

The win for Mexico sees them into the knockout stage, but they fail to win the group, finishing level with Portugal on 7 points but coming up short on goal differential by one. Mexico will be without Andres Guardado in the semifinals, as he was shown his second yellow card of the tournament in the first half.

Report: Arsenal owner calls Bellerin to state intentions

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According to a report by Spanish radio station Cadena SER, Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke has personally called defender Hector Bellerin to tell the Spaniard he would not be sold.

The 22-year-old experienced a serious regression at the Emirates last season, and with media speculation surrounding his potential departure, Kroenke wanted to make sure his intentions were clear. Reports had linked Bellerin with a return to his home country, most notably to Barcelona.

With Bellerin under contract through 2021 having just signed his extension last summer, it’s clear the club has decided who they believe keeping should be a priority.

The defender lost his place briefly down the stretch run last season, finding himself on the bench in seven of the club’s final 17 Premier League matches. Despite that, Arsenal still clearly values Bellerin’s talent and durability and hope to ward Barcelona’s interest off. Bellerin didn’t help cool speculation when he bought a house in Barcelona just a short time ago.

Reports say that Arsenal would not take any less than $57 million for their right-back.