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Premier League Playback: Title-race odds, classy Moyes, drop zone drama

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MOVING DAY: TITLE WINNERS REVEALED…

‘So you’re saying there’s a chance…’

When all’s said and done at the end of the Premier League season, we may well look back to Saturday March 29th as the defining day in the PL title race. Chelsea lost at relegation battlers Crystal Palace and Manchester City let an early lead slip against a dogged Arsenal to draw. With those results on Saturday leaving Jose Mourinho claiming Chelsea’s title hopes were over, I was present in the depths of the Emirates Stadium as both Manuel Pellegrini and Arsene Wenger were asked about their team’s title chances and who the favorites are after the 1-1 draw in the late game.

“We have to fight until the end of the season because everybody can beat everybody,” Wenger said. “Chelsea lost at Crystal Palace, that means all of us have to be careful and all of us have to be consistent.”

(MORE: Latest Premier League standings)

While City boss Pellegrini believes it’s still a four horse race for the glistening trophy which is likely to be awarded on May 11, the final day of the season.

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Click to enlarge – The simulator has Man City winning it all, but Liverpool not far behind. Source: Opta

“I think all four teams have the chance to win the title but all four teams will drop points between now and the end of the season,” Pellegrini said. “It is very difficult at the end of the season, because there are a lot of teams fighting relegation. Ask Chelsea , look at what happened to them away at Crystal Palace. I think we must continue to just think about the next game.”

With Arsenal and Man City’s bosses not sticking their necks out on the line about who’ll win the coveted title, it’s about time somebody did. Here it goes. I have managed to obtain information from Opta on a simulator they have run many, many times on how the final PL standings will look. Here are the results.

As you can see on the left, Manchester City are the champions elect, with a 62.87 percent chance of them winning their second PL crown in history, then come Liverpool with a 29.84 chance and then, surprisingly, Chelsea only have a 6.89 percent chance of lifting the PL title in 2013-14. Rounding out the top five Arsenal’s chances are almost officially over, with a percentage chance of 0.30 percent, while Everton are at 0.10 percent to win it all.

How have they worked this out I hear you cry? From the horses mouth, an Opta spokesman passed on their findings to me and explained how they’ve predicted the final PL standings.

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Click to enlarge – The final PL standings of 2013-14, as predicted by Opta. Source: Opta

“First, we looked at all of the games played this season and looked at the quality of chances each team is earning and conceding. These are their “attacking” and “defending” values. Next, we use these values to simulate the remaining games left in the season. We do this many, many times. So, when we say that Man City has a 62.87% chance of winning the PL, that also means that they won the PL in 62.87% of our simulations.”

You got it? So, this is pretty much gospel. The soccer gods no longer need to speak, Opta has worked it out for them. But, with unpredictable twists and turns from here on out still likely, there’s no point putting sky blue and white ribbons on the PL trophy, just yet.

(MORE: Man City, Arsenal up for the fight but where will PL title go?)

On Saturday, we saw varying reasons as to why City and Arsenal have led the way for large periods of the season. City with their fine array of attacking talent, the Gunners with their staunch defensive nous and possession play chipping away at the opposition. City dominated the first half and tore Arsenal apart, while the Gunners dug deep to snatch a point late on. City are the favorites for a reason, they have two games in hand of leaders Liverpool and are four points behind. But they do have to visit Anfield, as do Chelsea. Those two matches are pivotal, and the percentages point to that. City are expected to win the title by two points over Liverpool, 84 points to 82, so it could all come down to that one game at Anfield on April 13.

The Reds are currently top, have won eight on the spin, Luis Suarez is their all-time record scorer in a single PL season with 29 and Brendan Rodgers has warned City and Chelsea that his boys are for real. Can Liverpool really hold onto top spot with six games to go?

As for the current fourth-placed team Arsenal, Wenger didn’t exactly rule the Gunners out of the race but he’s intelligent enough to do the math. Which is exactly what he and Pellegrini spoke about.

“Mathematically we are still in there, but it is not in our hands,” Wenger said. “We have to look above us and behind us. Because behind us they are coming too.”

Pellegrini knows his City team aren’t home and dry, as the placid Chilean was cool and calculated when assessing the run-in. “In football, if the mathematics allow you to win, then you have the chance to do it. I think in this moment, we will see what happens tomorrow with Liverpool [they beat Tottenham 4-0 to go top]. Arsenal are only five points behind the leader, it’s not too much.”

Well, you’ve seen the predictions for how this season will finish up, do you agree with the math handing Man City the title just ahead of Liverpool?

Premier League Schedule – Week 32

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 1-1 Manchester City Recap and watch here
Crystal Palace 1-0 Chelsea Recap and watch here
Fulham 1-3 Everton Recap and watch here
Liverpool 4-0 Tottenham Recap and watch here
Man United 4-1 Aston Villa Recap and watch here
Southampton 4-0 Newcastle Recap and watch here
Stoke City 1-0 Hull City Recap and watch here
Sunderland 1-2 West Ham Recap and watch here
Swansea 3-0 Norwich Recap and watch here
West Brom 3-3 Cardiff City Recap and watch here

MOYES RETAINS DIGNITY AFTER EMBARRASSING FLY-BY

One team not in the title race, Manchester United, are looking to restore a little dignity to their title defense. Yes, they’ve miserably defended the PL crown they won last season but at least new manager David Moyes still has his dignity intact. That’s more than can be said for a vast portion of United’s fans.

The drone of a propeller plane hung in the air around Old Trafford just after kick off in Manchester United’s match against Aston Villa on Saturday. The message from an unnamed set of Man United fans (with conspiracy theorists having a field day as rumors of Man City fans being behind the stunt are rife) read “WRONG ONE – MOYES OUT” as the banner hanging from the end of the plane used in the fly-by was the polar opposite of the class, professionalism and prestige that oozes from the United organization. The fans let themselves down in this crass demonstration.

Moyes came out onto the field way before kick off against Villa and applauded the fans, after he’d earlier exclaimed that vast majority were still on his side. The warm reception he got back revealed that a small minority were behind the demonstration against his appointment, as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor has displayed admirable dignity throughout the hounding of him for United’s dismal campaign. The banner came and went early in the game, and it was heart-warming to hear boo’s from fans against the feeble excuse of a demonstration which drowned out the sound of the engine high above the skies over OT. Soon though, they were replaced with groans of discontent, once again, as Aston Villa took an early lead. But, as has so often been the case this season, Wayne Rooney inspired a United fight-back as Moyes silenced the boo boys for at least one day, with a comfortable 4-1 win for the Red Devils.

(Scrolling through responses to the banner flown over Old Trafford, I found this gem. Well done, @TheChelsOrg, well done indeed)

Yes, United have been woeful in the fight to retain their PL crown, but how much of that is really Moyes’ fault? Time and time again we’ve spoke about the aging squad he inherited and all the other intangibles which conspired against him this season. However, you can only really point the finger of blame at him for his transfer policy thus far, as Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini have yet to hit top gear since their big money arrivals.

That will all take time, and given the fact that Moyes has acted in a respectful and dignified manner throughout it all, the wily Scot looks focused on the task at hand and has the bit between his teeth to turn things around. United’s fans need to stand by Moyes, their club needs them.

RELEGATION MADNESS; THIS IS ONLY THE START

Rage. Despair. Delight. Acceptance. Ecstasy.

Those were just some of the emotions fans of West Bromwich Albion and Cardiff City went through on Saturday… and that was just in the four minutes of stoppage time. Watch the incredible scenes unfold in the video above.

Pandemonium ensued at the Hawthorns, as West Brom raced into an early 2-0 lead but then threw it away with 15 minutes left as Cardiff launched a spirited comeback. But the real drama arrived in added time, when Thievy finished off a deflected cross in the 92nd minute to send the home fans into raptures, as head coach Pepe Mel celebrated like he’d won the PL title. Hold on though, this is the PL and this is the race against relegation.

(MORE: Latest Premier League standings)

With Ole Gunnar Solksjaer in charge, his side evoked the ‘baby faced assassins’ predatory late strikes from his playing days, as fellow Norwegian Mats Moller Daehli popped up with the last kick of the game to drive a dagger deep into the hearts of the Baggies, as Cardiff’s traveling fans lost the plot. Neither team wanted a draw in their predicament, but after a pulsating clash where both sides left everything out on the pitch, a draw was fair. Solksjaer and Mel embraced each other with a long hug and laughter, as the two are under intense pressure to keep their sides in the PL. If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry. It was a truly moving moment, in a wonderful absorbing game. The best news is, this is only the start. West Brom are one place above the bottom three and three points ahead of Cardiff in 18th, as the Baggies and Bluebirds are still embroiled in and agony and ecstasy of the relegation battle.

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Click to enlarge – Relegation percentages revealed. Source: Opta

Elsewhere in the race against the drop Norwich are still in big trouble as they were hammered 3-0 by Swansea. The Welsh side eased own their relegation fears considerably with the win, as they sit seven points above the bottom three in 13th. As for Crystal Palace, we already mentioned their stunning win at home to Chelsea, as the Eagles are soaring clear of trouble with many calling for Tony Pulis to be rewarded with the Manager of the Year award. Remember how dead and buried they were back in November?

West Ham beat Sunderland 2-1 at the Stadium of Light on Monday, as the Black Cats came up short in a must-win game. They are second from bottom on 25 points, with Cardiff just one point above them. The Mackems have four incredibly tough games up next, as they travel to Tottenham next week, then host Everton before traveling to Manchester City and Chelsea back-to-back. Gus Poyet’s men are teetering on the brink of the PL.

Speaking of that, Fulham, well, they are all but doomed to life in England’s second-tier next season after losing 3-1 to Everton on Sunday. Look at the predictions from Opta on the left, and you can see the Cottagers have a 96.41 percent chance of being relegated. Not great for Felix Magath’s side, but they do have Hull City, Norwich and Villa coming up in three of their next four games. Don’t rule out the great escape, just yet.

Below our Match of the Day pundits dissect the battle against the drop, as three teams will tumble into the Championship in less than six weeks time. The picture is starting to take shape, as some desperate battles await at the wrong end of the table.

Premier League Playback takes an alternative look at all the weekend’s action from the PL, it comes out every week.

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.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

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.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

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.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USWNT coverage ]

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.