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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.

 

Pellegrini defends fielding “B” team in loss at Southampton

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - MAY 01:  Kelechi Iheanacho (72), Samir Nasri (C) and Wilfred Bony of Manchester City (R) looks despondent as Sadio Mane of Southampton scores their fourth goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Manchester City at St Mary's Stadium on May 1, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini does not regret fielding a weakened side at Southampton over the weekend as he prepares for City’s Champions League semifinal at Real Madrid on Wednesday.

Pellegrini chose to rest many of his top players at St. Mary’s, including Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, and Vincent Kompany. City were smashed 4-2 in one of their worst performances of the season.

[ RECAP: Saints 4-2 Man City ]

Pellegrini defended his lineup decisions after the match, saying he is willing to risk results in the Premier League to reach the Champions League final.

We knew before the game it was a risk to put so many players without football against a difficult team but we have to take those risks. If we had played on Saturday we could put more players out. I was disappointed with the team. It’s my responsibility for the starting 11.

I would do exactly the same again because we have an important game.

We play for the final in the Champions League. We continue in the Premier League what we are going to do in the next two games to be in the top four so that was a risk but one we had to take.

While you would expect a drop-off when the likes of Aguero and de Bruyne are not on the pitch, City’s poor performance was much more than just a team selection issue. With Raheem Sterling ($75 million) and Wilfried Bony ($45 million) in the starting XI, it was 19-year-old academy product Kelechi Iheanacho who was one of the few players to show any type of effort against Saints.

Pellegrini may be overlooking the end of the Premier League season, but his side still needs points to secure a top-four spot and berth in the Champions League next year. City currently sit four points ahead of Manchester United, but United have a game in-hand.

[ MORE: Burnley become first Championship side to clinch PL promotion ]

City travel to Spain for the second leg of their Champions League semifinal matchup against Real Madrid on Wednesday. After settling for a 0-0 draw in the first leg, City must put the Southampton debacle behind them and turn things around before the one of the biggest matches in club history.

Kiev willing to sell Yarmolenko to PL, but not to Stoke or Everton

UKRAINE, LVIV - NOVEMBER 14: Andriy Yarmolenko from Ukraine celebrates after scoring the first goal during the UEFA EURO 2016 Play-off for Final Tournament, First leg between Ukraine and Slovenia at Lviv Arena on November 14, 2015 in Lviv, Ukraine. (Photo by Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images)
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It looks like Andriy Yarmolenko may be on his way to the Premier League this summer, as Dynamo Kiev is willing to sell their star player after EURO 2016.

Kiev president Ihor Surkis has said he will accept an offer for Yarmolenko if the player agrees, but not if that offer is from Stoke City or Everton.

[ MORE: Vardy named FWA Footballer of the Year ]

According to Surkis, those sides are not “top clubs” worthy of signing a player of Yarmolenko’s quality.

If I get an offer that will suit Dynamo and Yarmolenko wants to go to this club, I’ll let him. All talk of a transfer will begin after the Euros.

He is already a top player, so he should go to a top club. My position is that we should not let Yarmolenko go to such clubs as Everton and Stoke City. Dynamo is Dynamo and Stoke City is Stoke. We’re playing in the Champions League, and Stoke City are fighting for survival.

I, as president of the club, had a winter offer from China completely arranged, but Yarmolenko did not even come to the meeting with the sports director of the Chinese squad.

Andriy said that dreams to play in the Bundesliga and the English Premier League.

While Stoke City is not in the Champions League, they are far from fighting for survival. The Potters have finished 9th in the Premier League each of the past two seasons, and are in line for a similar finish this year.

[ REPORT: Portland Timbers’ Fanendo Adi linked to Crystal Palace ]

Yarmolenko has been named Ukrainian Footballer of the Year each of the past three seasons, and his play for both Kiev and the national team have seen him linked to multiple Premier League clubs.

Surkis may not view Stoke or Everton as “top clubs,” but they certainly have top-club money to spend. Both have set record transfer fees on players over the past two seasons (Imbula to Stoke, Lukaku to Everton), and they could easily meet the reported $35 million it would cost to sign Yarmolenko.

Reports: Man City to trigger $60 million Laporte release clause

BARCELONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 17: Luis Suarez (L) of FC Barcelona kicks the ball next to Aymeric Laporte (C) of Athletic Club during the Spanish Super Cup second leg match between FC Barcelona and Athletic Club at Camp Nou on August 17, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
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Pep Guardiola isn’t in Manchester yet, but he’s already making plans for his side.

According to reports in Spain, Manchester City is ready to bring Aymeric Laporte to the Etihad, one of the most highly-rated defenders in Europe.

[ MORE: Burnley clinch PL promotion ]

The 21-year-old center-back has already made more than 100 appearances for Athletic Bilbao in La Liga, and City would need to pay nearly $60 million to trigger his release clause.

Guardiola has coached against Laporte while in charge of Barcelona, and it is believed he is Pep’s top defensive target to move in for the likes of Eliaquim Mangala and Martin Demichelis.

Named to the La Liga Team of the Year as a teenager in 2013-14, Laporte has been on the radar of all the major clubs around Europe. However, he saw his season cut short in March after suffering a terrible leg break on international duty with the France U21 side, ruling him out until August.

[ MORE: UEFA Champions League semifinal preview ]

Although he could miss the beginning of next season while still recovering from injury, bringing Laporte to Manchester would be a move that could set up the club defensively for years to come. Should City meet Bilbao’s massive release clause, Laporte would add to the magnificently expensive City back-line, joining Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi to form a trio of center-backs worth more than $150 million.

VIDEO: Post-match melee breaks out between Spurs and Chelsea

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Tensions boiled over on the touchline after Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Tottenham as players had to be separated while heading down the tunnel.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Leicester City coverage ]

A testy match that saw referee Mark Clattenburg issue 12 yellow cards, the battle continued after the final whistle as a melee erupted in front of the benches.

It is unclear as to what caused the disruption, but it was not the first skirmish of the night. Earlier in the match, Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino found himself on the pitch in the middle of a shoving match between players.

[ VIDEO: Leicester pubs erupt as Foxes clinch Premier League title ]

Seen in the video above, Spurs’ backup goalkeeper Michel Vorm seemed to be in the middle of things with who else but Diego Costa. Harry Kane and John Terry tried to quiet things down, but to little avail.

There are only two matches left in the Premier League season, but the FA will certainly be reviewing video of this incident and sanctions could come down on players or the clubs.