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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.

 

Morgan, USWNT cruise past Costa Rica 5-0 behind early flurry of goals

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The U.S. Women got off to a flying start in Olympic qualification Group A play by torching Costa Rica 5-0, including goals from Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and Crystal Dunn.

Morgan led the way with a double, including one in the opening 12 seconds – only six passes off the opening kick – that set the record for quickest goal in U.S. Soccer history. Lloyd and Dunn both struck in the opening 15 minutes to make it 3-0 before Costa Rica even had time to blink. Lloyd’s came on a penalty after Dunn was felled for the captain’s 83rd international goal, and then the latter bagged one of her own minutes later on a rebound off a shot by Morgan.

[ VIDEO: Alex Morgan caps off a 12-second, six-pass goal ]

The visitors were able to make it Morgan scored her second after the hour mark to cap the goal tally. Jill Ellis completed her trio of substitutions after the fourth goal and the U.S. saw the game out easily.

The fifth came late on a cross from Tobin Heath that fell to Christen Press in the box. With her back to the goal, the 27-year-old produced a simply stunning first touch, back-heeling the ball down before whipping around the opposite direction to lose her defender and firing home the fifth goal.

With the final whistle, the United States improved their record against Costa Rica to a perfect 13-0. The U.S. will play Mexico next on Saturday before finishing out Group A play against Puerto Rico on Monday, February 15.

VIDEO: Alex Morgan scores goal against Costa Rica in 12 seconds

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The United States got off to a historically roaring start in Olympic qualifying. Taking on Costa Rica in Frisco, Texas to begin Group A play, Alex Morgan opened the scoring in just 12 seconds, taking just six passes to complete the masterpiece.

According to the USWNT twitter account, the goal is the fastest in U.S. Soccer history.

According to CONCACAF, the goal is also the quickest in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying, breaking Abby Wambach’s of 35 seconds in a 14-0 domination of the Dominican Republic in 2012.

[ WATCH LIVE: USWNT vs Costa Rica live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

The United States scored three goals in the first 15 minutes against Costa Rica tonight. They will take on Mexico and Puerto Rico across the next five days.

Watch Live: USWNT vs Costa Rica in Olympic qualifying

SAN DIEGO, CA - JANUARY 23:  (L-R) Carli Lloyd #10 of the United States is congratulated by teammate Alex Morgan #13 after a goal against Ireland at Qualcomm Stadium on January 23, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
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The United States women are set to begin Group A play in Olympic qualification, taking on 36th ranked Costa Rica at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas at 8:30 a.m. ET.

The game takes place after a 17-day camp at the national training camp in Carson, California.

[ WATCH LIVE: USWNT vs Costa Rica live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

Other teams in the group include Mexico and Puerto Rico. The Mexicans dominated Puerto Rico 6-0 in the first game.

LINEUP

United States: Solo; Krieger, Johnston, Sauerbrunn, Klingenberg; Brian, Horan, Dunn, Lloyd, Heath; Morgan.

Columbus, NYCFC release new kits to mixed results

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New York City FC
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Two Major League Soccer clubs have put their kits out there for the 2016 season. They’ve received a mediocre welcome at best.

Columbus was the first, and their kit makes a bold statement moving away from the traditional yellow and black that so often adorns their regular shirts. Instead, the kit incorporates the Columbus flag onto it. The release has seen quite a negative reaction on social media.

The kit was unveiled at the Columbus City Hall on Wednesday, featuring the traditional adidas stripes, although instead of the usual placement on the shoulders, the stripes come down the side of the torso. Recently, adidas has the tendency to copy general jersey patterns across its multiple properties, so look for this design with other clubs in the near future.

The negative reaction to the Columbus release isn’t terribly surprising considering fans often enjoy sticking to tradition, and backlash is common when clubs deviate from the norm. As an additional hurdle, the color contrast between red and yellow is somewhat stark, lending to the difficult reception. Add in the bright pastel blue shorts and…yikes.

While the club didn’t describe how they will utilize this kit during the season, it’s likely to be the primary (at least for now) as the club release says the kit portfolio also includes last year’s black kit, which is traditionally the away kit.

NYCFC’s release of their secondary kit was more positive, receiving a mixed response on social media.

As you can see, adidas again copied their general outline with the stripes down the side of the torso. However, the German clothing manufacturer did much better with the general design of these kits than the Columbus ones. I will give a bit of personal opinion here: I absolutely love these kits. The ripple effect accentuates the crest with a near-3D effect, and the colors mesh perfectly which serves to assuage the eye from being overwhelmed by a busy design. If there’s any criticism, it’s that without an outline, the Etihad logo tends to get in the way a bit, but that’s nitpicking. Well done NYCFC. Columbus…I’ll leave that one to you all.