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.

 

Barcelona plan Cruyff tribute at club’s training center

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) One year after his death, Barcelona says it will name the future stadium at its training center after Dutch great Johan Cruyff.

The new stadium at Barcelona’s training center just outside the Catalan city will be called “Johan Cruyff Stadium” in honor of the club’s former player and coach.

Barcelona says in a statement that “the most emblematic building in the facility where future Barca players are coached is to be named after somebody who played such a central role in fostering youth talent at the club.”

Barcelona also says it will commission a “commemorative sculpture” of Cruyff, who died of lung cancer on March 24 last year at age 68. The statue will be placed at Barcelona’s main Camp Nou stadium.

Cruyff is largely credited with launching Barcelona’s era of trophy success, both as a player and a coach.

As a player, Cruyff joined Barcelona midseason in 1973 and led the middle-of-the-table team to its first national title in a decade.

He later returned as a coach and guided Barcelona to four consecutive Spanish leagues from 1991-94 and the club’s first European Cup in 1992.

“I think the tributes are very warming,” said Cruyff’s son, Jordi Cruyff. “It sort of changes the sadness that we might feel as family to lose a father, a husband and a grandfather. It changes to a certain kind of pride to understand that he left something behind.”

MLS Snapshot: Defense optional — Crew SC outlast Timbers, 3-2

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The game in 100 words (or less): As far as teams who get out in the open field and score the lion’s share of their goals on the counter-attacking, there aren’t many MLS teams better than Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers. The two sides met Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium, site of their MLS Cup 2015 clash, and lived up to their reputations. Of the five goals scored, two were notched on flat-out counters and two more came to pass through quick transitional movements. Portland (9 points) dropped their first points of the season, falling 3-2 to goals scored by Justin Meram, Ola Kamara and Niko Hansen, while Crew SC have back-to-back wins and find themselves level on points (7) with the New York Red Bulls with each side having played four games.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS (afternoon) roundup ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

4′ — Asprilla opens the scoring early on — 2017 Crew SC defending, same as 2016 Crew SC defending.

11′ — Meram fires home the rebound for 1-1 — One of Portland’s biggest weaknesses last season was their set-piece defending. Looks like not much has changed.

19′ — Higuain feeds Kamara for a 2-1 lead — The question mark that Portland will eventually have to answer is this: How much, if at all, have they improved defensively in the open field? Based on this Crew SC counter-attack, the answer might be “not much.”

45+3′ — Adi recovers to make it 2-2 — Everything Adi does these days (even the bad things, like this first touch) ends up being good.

84′ — Hansen cleans up at the back post for 3-2 — Jake Gleeson made a spectacular reaction save to deny Kamara his second goal of the game, but the rookie, making his MLS debut, was in the right place at the right time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Asprilla (4′), Meram (11′), Kamara (19′), Adi (45+3′), Hansen (84′)

Andorra’s 11-year, 58-game losing streak is over

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rarely has a scoreless stalemate in front of the home fans tasted so sweet.

But 11 years of nothing but losing will do that to a team.

Andorra’s 0-0 draw with fellow minnow Faroe Islands in World Cup qualifying on Saturday ended its run of 58 competitive defeats.

It was the first point in qualifying for the Pyrenees mountain principality, population 80,000, since a scoreless draw with Finland in 2005.

Faroe Islands finished with 10 men after Joan Edmundsson was booked a second time with 15 minutes to play.

World Cup qualifiers: Dutch disaster persists; Greece hold Belgium

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying fixtures, as Groups A, B and H hit the halfway point in Europe…

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands

Spas Delev scored both Bulgarian goals (5th and 20th minutes) to secure all three points and send Danny Blind’s Netherlands side (7 points) into fourth place in Group A, six points back of leaders France and three back of second-place (qualifying playoffs) Sweden.

17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was handed his international debut for the Dutch; he was ultimately at fault for both of Delev’s goals; he was subbed off at halftime (as was Georginio Wijnaldum).

Luxembourg 1-3 France

Olivier Giroud scored twice (28th and 77th minutes) for France, and Antoine Griezmann added the other (37th minute – penalty kick), as Les Bleus maintained their three-point lead in Group A. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s 18-year-old rising star, made his international debut in the 78th minute, when he replaced Dimitri Payet.

Portugal 3-0 Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 69th and 70th goals of his international career (36th and 65th minutes), as Portugal (12 points) kept pace with an unbeaten Switzerland side (15 points) which managed a 1-0 victory over Latvia to keep their 100-percent record intact. Andre Silva scored the opener (32nd minute) for Portugal, the 21-year-old Porto striker’s fifth goal in six international appearances.

Belgium 1-1 Greece

Romelu Lukaku‘s 89th-minute rescued a point for Group H leaders Belgium (13 points), but it did little to mask an otherwise uninspiring performance from Roberto Martinez’s side. Kostas Mitroglu put Greece ahead in the first minute of the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute, and that was the start of Greece’s unraveling. The draw was just enough to keep Greece (11 points) in second, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar moved them to 10 points with a superior goal differential.

Elsewhere in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying

Group A

Sweden 4-0 Belarus

Group B

Switzerland 1-0 Latvia
Andorra 0-0 Faroe Islands

Group H

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0 Gibraltar
Cyprus 0-0 Estonia