Chelsea v Arsenal - Premier League

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.

 

Klopp hopes for speedy solution in club, fans’ ticket-price dispute

Liverpool's fans wave flags during the English League Cup semifinal second leg soccer match between Liverpool and Stoke City at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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From his time at Borussia Dortmund, Jurgen Klopp is used to a much more positive, family-like, everyone-pulling-in-the-same-direction atmosphere at his club of employment, so the present goings-on at Liverpool understandably have the Reds’ first-year manager feeling more than a little uneasy.

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Saturday’s late 2-2 draw with Sunderland wasn’t the first time Liverpool fans have headed for the exit before the final whistle, leaving Klopp feeling all alone, but it was the first time the fans have departed from Anfield early in a pre-planned, organized manner (Klopp missed the game himself with appendicitis). The Anfield faithful didn’t walk out on 77 minutes due to their team’s poor performance — Liverpool were 2-0 ahead at the time — but in protest of steadily rising ticket prices, which were unveiled at $111 per game to sit in the 132-year-old stadium’s new main stand next season.

Klopp, coming from the Bundesliga, where a season ticket at clubs the size of Bayern Munich and Dortmund doesn’t cost much more than a single-game ticket at many Premier League grounds, understands the fans’ frustration. At the end of the day, though, he works for the club, which is why he just wants the whole thing settled quickly, for the sake of his squad — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s not what we want. What I know is everyone in the club has a big interest in finding a solution for this. We don’t want people to leave the stadium before the game is finished.”

An LFC TV appearance by Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre, in which he was expected to answer fan-submitted questions, was consequently canceled on Monday due to the ongoing dispute.

West Ham want Payet to sign new contract for fear of losing him this summer

Dimitri Payet, West Ham United FC (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
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Dimitri Payet is going to be a red-hot commodity during this summer’s transfer window, there’s no doubt about it.

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Given he’s currently contracted to one of the Premier League’s “smaller” clubs — in comparison to some of the giants which are bound to be interested — West Ham United, there’s a decent-to-good chance he could be wearing a different club’s shirt come August. Especially if the 28-year-old attacker shows up and shows out at this summer’s European Championship in his native France.

If I can foresee the interest in Payet, then so too can the executives at West Ham, which is why manager Slaven Bilic took to the press on Monday to convey his desire for Payet to consider signing a new, increased contract at his earliest convenience — quotes from the Guardian:

“We are moving, the club is moving, with the new stadium, with the revenue and everything. We have to move and the most important move is to keep your best players and to add some new players who are needed and Dimitri Payet is our best player — I have no problem whatsoever to say that. Of course, I would love to have him happy, long term, at the club.”

Of course West Ham want Payet to sign a new deal immediately — doing so would accomplish two things in the club’s eyes: 1) increase the likelihood he remains at the club next season, or 2) insure the club receives a higher transfer fee for the player if he leaves in the summer anyway. The more total money remaining on his West Ham contract, the more they can demand of a prospective buyer.

[ MORE: Ronaldo commits himself to Real Madrid through 2018 ]

From Payet’s side — unless he has absolutely zero desire to move to a club like Liverpool, Chelsea or Manchester United, where he’d likely be paid close to $200,000 per week — he’d be crazy to sign a new contract at this point. Not only would it make a move this summer more difficult, but a strong showing at EURO 2016 could be worth another $15,000 or $20,000 per week on a new contract with West Ham (his current contract is rumored to be close to $100,000 per week).

With as many as five seasons still remaining on his current contract (a one-year club option can be exercised at any point), and his stock perhaps at an all-time high, the next six months could hold Payet’s last chance to get really, really paid before he hits the downside of his career.

USWNT players’ union responds in USSF lawsuit

FILE - In this Sunday, July 5, 2015 file photo, the United States Women's National Team celebrates with the trophy after they beat Japan 5-2 in the FIFA Women's World Cup soccer championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The U.S. Soccer Federation’s original lawsuit against the union for its champion women’s national team has been sealed after the governing body realized it had disclosed the home addresses and email accounts of many players, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016.(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
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(AP) — The union that represents the Women’s World Cup-winning American national team opposed an expedited schedule in the lawsuit filed against it by the U.S. Soccer Federation last week, insisting no collective bargaining agreement exists.

The federation sued in an attempt to establish it has a contract with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association that runs through this year’s Olympics until Dec. 31. The union maintains the memorandum of understanding agreed to in March 2013 can be terminated at any time.

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The USSF filed a motion Friday in U.S. District Court in Chicago asking for an expedited schedule, and the submitted opposition papers Monday that claim “facts asserted in the motion are nowhere near accurate and are hotly disputed.”

The union also maintains the USSF knew about the disagreement since July but did nothing about it.

An initial status conference is set for April 4.

Lionel Messi to undergo tests for lingering kidney problems

FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi holds the ball during a quarterfinal, second leg, Copa del Rey soccer match against Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi is to undergo medical tests to assess a recurrence of kidney problems.

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup | Barca win on Sunday

Messi missed the Club World Cup semifinal in December due to a renal colic, an abdominal ailment often related to the presence of kidney stones within renal ducts.

Barcelona says in a statement Monday that the tests to be conducted by Tuesday at the latest, are “to assess the evolution of the kidney problem he suffered last December.”

[ MORE: Champions League returns next week — KO round matchups ]

The statement says Messi will resume training with the squad on Wednesday, when Barcelona travels to Valencia for the return leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals in which it carries a 7-0 lead.