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Premier League Title Chase: Decisive weekend for Liverpool’s title hopes

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Four points separate 1st place Liverpool (74 points) from 3rd place Manchester City (70 points), with Chelsea (72 points) sandwiched in middle, two points adrift.

How it will all turn out by May 11th, is anyone’s guess.

Assuming Liverpool and City win out their remaining matches, it’s City’s title by a two point gap. But in this, the most competitive Premier League season in recent memory, that’s easier said than done.

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 five matchweeks to play.

1. LIVERPOOL 74 PTS (33 PLD)

Remaining Matches (5): Manchester City (H); Norwich City (A); Chelsea (H); Crystal Palace (A); Newcastle United (H)

League Form: WWWWWW

Other Competitions: None

Injuries (return date): Daniel Agger, knee (April 13th); Jose Enrique, knee (out for season)

Vegas odds to win: 13/8

Verdict: To win the title a club needs to weather a variety of storms. On Sunday, Liverpool weathered the Route 1, bus-parking, goalkeeper-crashing storm of West Ham United. Call them what you will but the Hammers know how to put up a fight and, but for a fortuitous penalty call on Jon Flanagan, could’ve seriously hampered the Reds’ title chances. In the end it was tit-for-tat given Andy Carroll’s smack on Simon Mignolet’s head and now Brendan Rodgers side marches on with nine wins on the bounce.

With two games in hand and just four points back, Liverpool’s main competition for the title is Manchester City. So how appropriate it is that those two sides face off next weekend at Anfield? Juicy. It will have the feel of a cup final and if Liverpool gets a result, so too will the Reds’ match against Chelsea two weeks later. Pace yourselves. The permutations are numerous but one thing remains indisputable – on current form, momentum and health, Liverpool is the strongest club in the Premier League.

2. CHELSEA 72 PTS (33 PLD)

Remaining Matches (5): Swansea City (A); Sunderland (H); Liverpool (A); Norwich City (H); Cardiff City (A)

League Form: WWLWLW

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

Injuries (return date): Andre Schurrle, ankle (no return date); Jon Obi Mike, knock (no return date); Samuel Eto’o, hamstring (April 13th); Marco van Ginkle, knee (out for season)

Vegas odds to win: 13/2

Verdict: The comprehensive 3-0 defeat of Stoke City on Saturday was a nice way to comeback from the prior week’s 0-1 loss to Crystal Palace but ultimately, given the victories of Liverpool and City, the result was just treading water. And that’s all Chelsea can really do over the next five weeks – take full points and hope that City drop points.

3. MANCHESTER CITY 70 PTS (31 PLD)

Remaining Matches (7): Liverpool (A); Sunderland (H); West Bromwich Albion (H); Crystal Palace (A); Everton (A); Aston Villa (H); West Ham United (H)

League Form: WWWWDW

Other Competitions: None

Injuries (return date): Yaya Toure, knock (no return date); Sergio Aguero, hamstring (April 13th);Matija Nastasic, knee (no return date)

Vegas odds to win: 8/11

Verdict: Pretty convincing stuff from Manchester City last weekend, punishing a quality Southampton side 4-1. It’s form, combined with two key games in hand that has Vegas believing Manuel Pellegrini’s side are title bound. How long the bookies stay on City could change drastically this weekend if Liverpool manage to win.

If City take it, the highest point total Liverpool can finish with will be 86, meaning the Citizens will go on to hoist the title barring an epic collapse where they take 13 or fewer points from their last six matches. And with Sunderland, West Brom, Palace, Everton, Villa and West Ham left on the fixture list, that’s a nearly unthinkable scenario.

 

Watch: Scott Sinclair nets stunning curler in Celtic victory

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Celtic is enjoying another fine campaign in Scotland, and much of the team’s success can be attributed to the play of Scott Sinclair.

[ MORE: Burkina Faso, Cameroon progress at AFCON 2017 ]

The Englishman was at it again on Sunday during Celtic’s 3-0 Scottish Cup win over Albion Rovers when the 27-year-old curled an absolutely sublime effort into the top corner for the game’s opening goal.

The finish, Sinclair’s 13th of the season in all competitions, came after the winger picked up the ball on the left side of the Albion penalty area. Sinclair then proceeded to slot his dipping shot just under the bar and into the far post.

Celtic now moves on to the fifth round of this season’s tournament, joining the likes of Rangers and Aberdeen. In addition to the team’s success in the competition, the Bhoys have yet to lose a match in the Scottish Premier League this campaign (19 W, 1 D).

La Liga & Serie A: Sevilla avoids Osasuna upset, Barcelona cruises

EIBAR, SPAIN - JANUARY 22:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona competes for the ball with Ander Capa (L) and Dani Garcia of SD Eibar during the La Liga match between SD Eibar and FC Barcelona at Ipurua stadium on January 22, 2017 in Eibar, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Eibar 0-4 Barcelona 

Four different goalscorers and three points has put Barcelona inches closer to Real Madrid at the top of La Liga, and it certainly was a complete effort for the Blaugrana. Denis Suarez gave Barca the lead ahead of halftime before Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar each netted in the second stanza to give Luis Enrique’s side a strangle hold on the match. Barca now sits just two points behind Real as the season nears its halfway point.

Meanwhile, Barca suffered a major loss during the match when Sergio Busquets was carted off the pitch after sustaining an ankle injury. Busquets left the game after receiving the brunt of a Gonzalo Escalante tackle in the eighth minute.

Osasuna 3-4 Sevilla

There were goals galore at the Estadio El Sadar, however, Osasuna remains at the bottom of La Liga despite their best efforts. The last place side led on two occasions against Sevilla, but a strong second half from the visitors allowed Los Rojiblancos to remain within a point of league leaders Real Madrid. Vicente Iborra recorded a brace for Sevilla, with goals on both sides of halftime, while Franco Vázquez and Pablo Sarabia also inked their names on the score sheet.

Athletic Bilbao 2-2 Atletico Madrid

Atleti went ahead early on against Bilbao, but Diego Simeone’s men needed a late Antoine Griezmann finish to earn a point on Sunday. Koke struck inside of three minutes to give Madrid the early advantage before goals from Íñigo Lekue and Oscar de Marcos gave Bilbao the lead. Atletico has now fallen eight points behind Real Madrid, while Bilbao sits seventh on 29 points.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Betis 0-0 Sporting Gijon
Real Sociedad 1-0 Celta Vigo


Juventus 2-0 Lazio

Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain each found the back of the net early on for Juventus and Massimiliano Allegri’s side never looked back from there. After scoring in the fifth and 16th minutes, respectively, the Bianconeri remain atop of Serie A after picking up the team’s 16th win on the season. Lazio remains fourth following the defeat, now sitting eight points behind the league leaders.

Roma 1-0 Cagliari

Edin Dzeko netted his 14th league goal of season for Roma on Sunday en route to the team’s fifth consecutive victory in all competitions. The win sees Roma move to within a point of Juventus at the top of Italy’s top flight, however, the Bianconeri currently hold a game in hand. Meanwhile, Cagliari sits 11th in Serie A on 26 points.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Bologna 2-0 Torino
Empoli 1-0 Udinese
Genoa 2-2 Crotone
Palermo 0-1 Inter Milan
Pescara 1-3 Sassuolo
Atalanta 1-0 Sampdoria

AFCON wrap: Burkina Faso tops Group A, Cameroon also through

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - SEPTEMBER 29:  Bertrand Traore of Ajax is chalenged by Darwin Andrade of Standard Liege during the UEFA Europa League group G match between AFC Ajax and  R. Standard de Liege at the Amsterdam Arena on September 29, 2016 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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One down, three to go.

Two nations advanced out of Group A on Sunday, and neither of the spots were held by the tournament’s hosts.

[ MORE: All AFCON 2017 coverage ]

Cameroon 0-0 Gabon

Hosts Gabon needed a victory to reach the final eight, however, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and co. struggled mightily to break down the Cameroonian backline.

The Panthers failed to manage a shot on target on Sunday, while Cameroon — who finishes second in Group A — recorded a shot goalward just once.

Cameroon will likely face Senegal in the knockout phase after the Lions of Teranga locked up a spot in the next round.

Guinea-Bissau 0-2 Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso topped the group based on goal differential after an early own goal and Bertrand Traore added a second after halftime.

Rudinilson Silva was caught in an uncomfortable position after 11 minutes when the Guinea-Bissau defender put the ball into his own net. From there, Traore doubled the advantage for Burkina Faso after finishing off a Prejuce Nakoulma pass.

The Stallions will face the runner up of Group B, currently Tunisia, in the quarterfinals.

Group A table (* indicates teams that advanced)

*Burkina Faso (5 points, +2 GD)
*Cameroon (5 pts., +1 GD)
Gabon (3 pts., 0 GD)
Guinea-Bissau (1 pt., -3 GD)

Monday’s AFCON schedule

Senegal vs. Algeria — 11 a.m. ET
Zimbabwe vs. Tunisia — 2 p.m. ET

Henry bashes Arsenal’s Xhaka after second red card of season

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Granit Xhaka (2nd R) of Arsenal talks to Steven Defour (1st R) of Burnley before shown a red card during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Burnley at the Emirates Stadium on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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It’s become a trend, albeit one that the Gunners certainly aren’t too fond of. Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka was sent off for the second time this season and while his side did manage to hold on to three points, the Swiss international has quickly made a name for himself in England for all the wrong reasons.

[ MORE: Arsene Wenger apologizes for sending off ]

Xhaka, 24, was dismissed in the second half of Sunday’s 2-1 win over Burnley after making a rash challenge on Clarets midfielder Steven Defour in the 65th minute.

[ MORE: Gunners up to second place after handling Burnley ]

Former Arsenal legend Thierry Henry sounded off on Xhaka’s latest dismissal following the match, calling out the midfielder for his lack of discipline.

“It’s not the first time. He did the same thing against Swansea,” Henry told Sky Sports. “This one I just don’t get it. Against Swansea it was a counter. Here, he gives the ball cheaply away.

“Why are you doing that 60 yards away from your goal, 25 minutes to go, you’re in control of the game? You misplace a pass. So what? Stay on your feet.

“As soon as you do that, the rules say it’s a red. Is it worse than [Marcos] Rojo who didn’t get a red? No. But the rule says both feet off the ground, it’s a red.”

Since the beginning of 2015, Xhaka has been shown red cards on six occasions dating back to the midfielder’s time with German club Borussia Monchengladbach, and including appearances for both club and country.

Xhaka’s suspension will keep him out of Arsenal’s next three matches, including home fixtures with Watford and Hull and a difficult road visit to Chelsea.