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Quick Six: Liverpool snares first, hitting mute on Mourinho, and the rest of the weekend’s PL headlines

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1. Reds’ rise: Liverpool claims first place

The Quick Six has been cautious about Liverpool’s title credentials, mostly because, as pundits were trumpeting the Reds’ chances two months ago, there were too many obstacles to consider Liverpool likely title-winners. Fast forward to the end of March, however, and all of those hurdlers have fallen. Chelsea lost their second in three, Manchester City were tripped up at Arsenal, and Brendan Rodgers’ team — a club that has yet to claim a title in the Premier League era — continues to be England’s form side. After its 4-0 win Sunday over Tottenham, Liverpool is in first place, having taken 35 of a possible 39 points in 2014.

Unless you’re a Liverpool fan, it’s difficult to fathom what a title would mean to the club. This is a team that was the uncontested kings of English soccer until the Premier League era saw that crow move east. Now, during the same season when Manchester United has ceased being a title contender, Liverpool is back, and unexpectedly so. While Reds fans hoped  Rodgers could eventually return the club to this level, nobody expected it to happen so soon.

They still have to face Manchester City and Chelsea, but the Reds get both of those matches at home. While nobody would be surprised to see teams of City and Chelsea’s talent get something at Anfield, Liverpool has control of its title fate. With six games left, the underdogs may now be the favorites.


2. Underdogs again Chelsea’s undoing

Consider Chelsea’s last three league games: a 1-0 loss at 12th place Aston Villa; a six-goal win over fourth place Arsenal; and a one-goal loss at 16th place Crystal Palace. It’s as uneven a run as you’ll see from any team, going from routing former title contenders to losing at relegation battlers. But just as last Arsenal’s collapse last week was less surprising than merely an unspoken possibility, Chelsea’s stumble at Selhurst Park was more disappointing (for Blues fans) than a shock. Unfortunately, this team has always had results like this in it.

José Mourinho says his team is out of the title race. We’ll diving into that further in moment, but he’s right to be skeptical of his team’s chances. After the 1-0 loss at Palace, Chelsea is two points behind Liverpool, with the Reds destined to win the goal difference tiebreaker. Even if the Blues track them down, they also have to hold off Manchester City, who trail by only two points yet have two games in hand.

The easiest route to a title: win at Anfield on Apr. 27; hope City didn’t do the same on Apr. 13. But Chelsea also have games against Stoke, Swansea, Sunderland, Norwich and Cardiff. Over the last three weeks, those types of match ups have been the real problem.


3. Mourinho comments highlight inanity of manager fixation

There’s no sport where the role of manager is as glorified as it is in soccer, part of the reason we fixate on almost everything that comes out of their mouths. José Mourinho is the best example of this, with every quote that crosses the Portuguese’s lips landing in the headlines of London tabloids and worldwide blogs alike, but recently the Chelsea boss seems on a mission to prove how inane our fixation has become. As the season goes on, his comments become more and more absurd, as if he’s testing how ridiculous he can be before the media hits “Block”.

At least, that’s a more reasonable explanation for Mourinho’s behavior than ‘these are his honest thoughts.’

“I think now we have lost any chance of finishing first,” Mourinho said on Saturday. At the time, his team was in first place.

“We are not [contenders]. I don’t think it will happen: we depend too much on other results, and the other teams control what they need. I don’t think we can win the league now.”

If Chelsea win at Anfield while City draws, the Blues are back where they were two weeks ago: contenting, albeit regretting City’s games in hand. Of course, Mourinho didn’t think Chelsea were title contenders then, either.

It’s almost as if we should just stop listening to José Mourinho.


4. Draw at Emirates leaves both Arsenal, City losers

We’ve mentioned a potential Liverpool-City draw at Anfield as the best case scenario for Chelsea. It’s shorthand for “whatever hurts both teams most,” which happened to be the outcome this weekend at the Emirates. Though Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Manchester City was seen as a bit of a recovery for the Gunners, it was ultimately a setback in their fight to hold on to fourth place.

Consider where Everton sit after the Toffees’ 3-1 win at Fulham. They have a match in hand. They’re only four points back. They host Arsenal at Goodison Park this weekend, and they have form on their side. Whereas Arsenal is winless in its last three, Everton’s won five league matches in a row. Though the Toffees fell 4-1 the last time the teams met (March 8, the Emirates, FA Cup), Everton also earned a 1-1 in North London earlier this season. Unable to claim full points at home against City, Arsenal’s increased the odds of Everton snaring its Champions League spot.

The same skepticism can be applied to City, though. On one level, getting a result on the road against a top-four team is a positive, but City is the much better team. Coming off a trouncing at Chelsea and a home draw with Swansea, Arsenal’s  form had been fledgling. After going up early through David Silva, City should have found a way to claim full points. At least, they should have felt an urgency to do so.

In terms of the title race, it was a small setback for the Citizens, just as Arsenal’s chance to finish fourth was hurt, albeit slightly, by the result. Neither team is better off after Saturday’s result.


source: AP5. Moyes persists in his contrarianism

As if to illustrate Mourinho’s possible point (that we should never pay attention to what managers say), David Moyes has found a new level to his contrarianism. At season’s onset, he insisted his team was playing well in the face of diminishing results.With a slew of attacking talents, he’s persisted with a conservative style, recently attempting to regress Juan Mata to the wide player he was before exploding in England. Add in his view that his Red Devils could win Champions League (admittedly, an obligatory view) and there are no bounds to the man’s willingness to contradict conventional wisdom.

Friday’s bit of contrarianism may have taken the cake, though. In the face of news fans planned to fly a “Wrong One-Moyes Out” banner at Old Trafford, Moyes claimed to still have the backing of United’s supporters. He may have their sympathy, but as United’s results have gotten worse, he certainly hasn’t maintained their support. At this point, most Manchester United fans would probably support a change in manager, part of the reason protest banners are flying over Old Trafford.

Manchester United beat Villa 4-1, but as others have pointed out, there was a time when such results weren’t lauded as signs of progress. The Red Devils remain seventh, a state which, despite Moyes’ contrarianism, a different approach could have avoided.


6. Bottom three DRIFTING from the pack

As the title race heats up, the relegation race is cooling down, with none of what’s become a staid, predictable bottom three mounting a challenge. Even as one of the trio, Cardiff City, got a result this weekend, it was only a draw, and it came against the club the Bluebirds need to track down. Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s team is no closer to passing West Brom than it was before Saturday’s 3-3 draw.

For Fulham, the underlying play is more encouraging, but the results are not. The Cottagers remain in last place after Sunday’s 3-1 loss to Everton. Adding to its worries, Fulham’s -42 goal difference means it’s unlikely to win any tiebreakers. The five-point gap that separates it from 17th place West Brom may as well be six.

And then there’s Sunderland, a club that could look to the games played column and hold out hope. Ahead of the team’s Monday visit from West Ham, the Black Cats have two games in hand on the Baggies. The only problem: Given their current form, those games may be worthless. Sunderland’s runs in the League and FA Cups have helped obscure the fact the team hasn’t won in the Premier League since Feb. 1.

We have no idea who’s going to win this season’s title, but we’re starting to get a good idea who’s going down. None of Fulham, Sunderland, or Cardiff City have found a formula that will mount a challenge to West Brom. Even when one does make progress, as Cardiff did this weekend, they finish the round no better off than they were before.

Wenger concerned Chinese wages become benchmark for players

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 15:  Arsene Wenger manager of Arsenal looks on during an Arsenal press conference ahead of their UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match against Barcelona at Camp Nou on March 15, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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LONDON (AP) Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is hoping the high quality of competition in Europe will keep players from leaving for the financial gain in China.

Wenger is facing regular questions about the future of both Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, and the big money on offer in the Chinese league can complicate negotiations.

[ MORE: Top Premier League story lines ]

Argentine striker Carlos Tevez joined Shanghai Shenhua last month in a deal worth $40 million over two years.

“The danger (is) that the Chinese offers become the benchmark for Europe,” Wenger said Thursday. “You cannot compete with that, but I still think that, when you’re a footballer, the first thing is that you want to play against the best players in the best teams.”

Wenger said players that want the best compensation for playing in the best quality league need not look to Asia.

“I think that combination is the best in England at the moment, so I don’t see why the players should leave the English Premier League,” Wenger said.

Wenger, whose team is fourth in the standings, has made only one signing in the January transfer window, picking up defender Cohen Bramall from non-league club Hednesford.

Arsenal has also decided to keep captain Per Mertesacker for another season. Wenger announced Thursday that the club has taken up a one-year option to extend the contract of the 32-year-old German, who has not played this season because of a knee injury sustained during a friendly in July.

Mertesacker faces a fight to get back into the team because Shkodran Mustafi, an offseason signing from Valencia, has built a strong partrnership with vice captain Laurent Koscielny at the heart of Wenger’s defense.

Top 5 Premier League Story Lines ahead of Matchday 22

FILE PHOTO (EDITORS NOTE: GRADIENT ADDED - COMPOSITE OF TWO IMAGES - Image numbers (L) 624347276 and 629845764) In this composite image a comparision has been made between Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City (L) and Mauricio Pochettino, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur. Manchester City meet Tottenham Hotspur on January 21, 2017 in a Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium.   ***LEFT IMAGE*** LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 19: Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City looks on during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Manchester City at Selhurst Park on November 19, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images) ***RIGHT IMAGE*** STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Mauricio Pochettino, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur looks on during the Premier League match between Stoke City and Tottenham Hotspur at Britannia Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Stoke on Trent, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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The Premier League gives us another battle of Top Four hopefuls, while other competitors will see a key chance to either gain or make up ground.

[ MORE: Man United back atop money table ]

Down in the relegation zone, however, is another story. Tough matches await the four lowest sides, with three sides on the road and a fourth hosting Everton.

All that and more, below.

Make or break at the Etihad Stadium?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC

If 10 points back of Chelsea isn’t enough for Man City boss Pep Guardiola to concede the PL title — and it shouldn’t be — 13 could do the trick. And Spurs’ seven point gap would feel dire should it dip to 10.

With the Blues expected to handle Hull City at Stamford Bridge, both Spurs and City are facing extreme damage to their title hopes when the London club looks to complete a season sweep of Guardiola’s side.

Time has proven that electric talent doesn’t mandate instant success in the Premier League, but many eyes will be trained on Gabriel Jesus should he debut for City. The Brazilian wonderkid has already made an impact in the Olympics, World Cup qualifying, and the Brazilian top-flight. The PL is next on his list.

 

Relegation candidates sweating bullets

Liverpool vs. Swansea City — Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN
Crystal Palace vs. Everton — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on CNBC
West Brom vs. Sunderland — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on Premier League ExtraTime
Chelsea vs. Hull City — Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN

It’s getting to be that time of year, when being more than three points above the drop zone feels like the freshest possible air.

No one in this batch of four knows that feeling well at all.

Crystal Palace and Hull City are level with 16 points, one ahead of Sunderland and Swansea City. Only the Black Cats will truly fancy their chances at a win this weekend.

That said, Hull supporters will feel confidence anew after a couple of transfer buys and a healthy Abel Hernandez joined new manager Marco Silva at the KC. A win over Bournemouth will buoy their confidence, but a trip to Chelsea is a tall task.

Right about now Palace fans are putting their hopes in goal differential and weak fellow relegation candidates rather than “never been dropped” Sam Allardyce. Their goal-leaking side welcomes an Everton side that hung four on Man City.

Sunderland simply needs to find a way to break down Tony Pulis‘ Baggies at the Hawthorns. Given the chance to put heat on the three other candidates, a win would serve much more than a few moments outside the drop zone.

Gunners need to avoid pitfall

Arsenal vs. Burnley — Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN

The first of two home matches against middle or lower table sides, Arsenal needs all three points against Sean Dyche‘s cagey and well-oiled Clarets. They sit in the top half of the table, and would relish added a big-name to its list of defeated PL sides.

Simply put, Arsenal’s title hopes rest as much on the points it needs to claim as massive encounters like Feb. 4’s trip to Chelsea.

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02:  Mesut Ozil of Arsenal (C) battles for possession with Burnley duo Stephen Ward of Burnley (L) and Ben Mee of Burnley (R) during the Premier League match between Burnley and Arsenal at Turf Moor on October 2, 2016 in Burnley, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Mourinho’s Red Devils go for 17

Stoke City vs. Manchester United— Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN

It’s been 16 matches since Jose Mourinho has tasted defeat as Manchester United boss, and Stoke’s recent dates against top sides haven’t gone well. All three were on the road, but the Potters have fallen to Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal by a combined score of 11-4. Does this make it fait accompli? No, but like Arsenal vs. Burnley, you like to think a true title fighter finds a way to three points.

Merseyside encounter holds significant weight

Southampton vs. Leicester City — Sunday, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Perhaps Saints and Leicester supporters figured their sides might struggle to repeat last season’s heroics, with European competition on the docket and key pieces leaving this offseason from either the dugout or the playing field. But 13th and 15th? Unlikely. Leicester can take another step toward righting the ship by heaping misery on the home side, who sits three points clear of the Foxes and eight ahead of the drop zone.

Premier League previews: News, predictions, analysis – Week 22

Manchester City's Yaya Toure, left, runs with the ball during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur's at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England, Sunday Feb. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Week 22 of the Premier League is here and it is all getting rather tense at both ends of the table.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live

A massive clash between Manchester City and Tottenham headlines, while there are plenty of potential banana skins for the big boys against relegation candidates. This should be very, very interesting.

Below you will find team news, analysis and score predictions on all 10 games this weekend.

Enjoy.


Bournemouth vs. Watford

West Bromwich Albion vs. Sunderland

Crystal Palace vs. Everton

Chelsea vs. Hull City

Liverpool vs. Swansea City

Arsenal vs. Burnley

Stoke City vs. Manchester United

Manchester City vs. Tottenham

Southampton vs. Leicester City

Middlesbrough vs. West Ham United

Bundesliga will be ready to use video review next season

Referee Felix Zwayer shows the red card to Leipzig's Emil Forsberg during the German Bundesliga soccer match between FC Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig at the Allianz Arena stadium in Munich, Germany, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
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FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) The Bundesliga says it will be ready to use video review next season.

[ MORE: Fonte’s strange situation ]

FIFA’s rules making panel, known as IFAB, is working with leagues to introduce Video Assistant Referees (VARs) ahead of likely approval for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

FIFA wants video review only for potential “clear errors” in four situations: Goals being scored, penalties being awarded, players being sent off, and cases of mistaken identity.

[ MORE: Latest Bundesliga news

IFAB should decide early next year on using VARs at the World Cup.

Germany’s top league kicks off next season in August.

A Bundesliga statement says it opted for a system “where all VARs will be assembled at a single location on the day of play,” as the NBA and MLB use.

In Russia, FIFA could opt for VARs working at the stadium as part of each referee’s support team.