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Premier League Relegation Watch: Fulham, Cardiff muddy the waters

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With just four matches remaining for most teams, things are somewhat structured at the bottom…or so we thought.

Now, with teams outside the relegation zone suddenly struggling and those inside it picking up enormous victories, things could get interesting down the stretch.

Fulham won an absolutely massive three points with a win over 17th-placed Norwich City, which manager Felix Magath labeled as “lucky.”

With everyone’s attention at Craven Cottage for that big six-pointer, Cardiff City pulled out a big win under everyone’s noses, beating Southampton 1-0.

Struggling teams include Sunderland, who have games in hand but a tough schedule, and Swansea City, who have been dragged into the fight with some very poor form.

Despite this, things still remain with four likely teams still “battling” for three positions. With all that in mind, let’s take a deeper look at the situation:

20. SUNDERLAND, 25 PTS (32 PLD)

Remaining Matches: Manchester City (A), Chelsea (A), Cardiff City (H), Manchester United (A), West Brom (H), Swansea City (H).

League Form: LLLLLD

Vegas Odds to be Relegated: 1/12

Verdict: A brutal schedule and terrible form amount to a death sentence for Sunderland. Of all the teams in the fight, Sunderland seem to be the surest bet to go down.  Gus Poyet tried, but hasn’t been able to come up with the answers.

19. CARDIFF CITY, 29 PTS (34 PLD)

Remaining Matches: Stoke City (H), Sunderland (A), Newcastle (A), Chelsea (H)

League Form: WLDLLW

Vegas Odds to be Relegated: 2/7

Verdict: Their form coming into Southampton was ugly, but a big win last week puts them in a decent position. Their schedule isn’t too terrible going forward, with winnable matches in all of their next three. However, playing a Chelsea squad that could be gunning for a title in the final match of the season is a terrible, awful prospect that could end up seeing them down. Their goal differential is something to keep an eye on as well, sitting at -34, the closest of anyone to Fulham’s -40.  If the Whites keep playing well, that could play a real factor.

18. FULHAM FC, 30 PTS (34 PLD)

Remaining Matches: Tottenham (A), Hull City (H), Stoke City (A), Crystal Palace (H)

League Form: WWLLWL

Vegas Odds to be Relegated: 1/1

Verdict: Felix Magath may have just rescued Fulham yet. There’s still work to be done, but with Norwich’s absolutely ridiculous upcoming schedule, the Whites are in a pole position to save their season. Things are also shaping out well around them.  The Cardiff win last weekend hurt, but Spurs are in horrible form coming into this weekend’s match, and with the rest of their schedule against teams mid-table, their opponents will likely have little to play for.

It’s all in front of Fulham; if they fail to escape the drop, they’ll have only themselves to blame. Also to note: fans will be weirdly rooting for local derby rivals Chelsea, as the Blues play all of their relegation opponents down the stretch.

17. NORWICH CITY, 32 PTS (34 PLD)

Remaining Matches: Liverpool (H), Manchester United (A), Chelsea (A), Arsenal (H)

League Form: LLLWLD

Vegas Odds to be Relegated: 4/9

Verdict: BRUTAL schedule to finish out the year. Manchester United is always up for an upset this season, but judging by Norwich’s recent form, that’s a long way away. Every one of their other opponents will have something big to play for, and it’s quite possible they don’t see another point this season. The loss to Fulham was devastating, and it could be over for the Canaries.

16. WEST BROMWICH ALBION, 33 PTS (33 PLD)

Remaining Matches: Manchester City (A), West Ham United (H), Arsenal (A), Sunderland (A), Stoke City (H)

League Form: DLDLWL

Vegas Odds to be Relegated: 7/1

Verdict: Everyone from here on up is relatively safe.  The thing keeping West Brom out of the race is their game in hand along with a decent schedule. The club has seen plenty of turmoil this season, but they should be alright barring a disastrous end-of-season collapse. Credit to Pepe Mel.

15. SWANSEA CITY, 33 PTS (34 PLD)

Remaining Matches: Newcastle (A), Aston Villa (H), Southampton (H), Sunderland (A)

League Form: LLWDLL

Vegas Odds to be Relegated: 11/1

Verdict: Personally, I’d be more worried as a Swansea fan than a West Brom fan. They don’t have the luxury of a game in hand, and the team has played some ugly soccer the last two matches. The remaining schedule is a breeze compared to others, but they’ll have to pick things up if they want to be considered safe.

14. ASTON VILLA, 34 PTS (33 PLD)

Remaining Matches: Southampton (H), Swansea City (A), Hull City (H), Manchester City (A), Tottenham (A)

League Form: LLLLWW

Vegas Odds to be Relegated: 16/1

Verdict: Talk about poor form. Four straight losses – including ones to Fulham, Crystal Palace, and Stoke – have Villa fans a bit worried, but they still would need the club to lose out plus some help to be considered a real candidate. One or two wins should see them easily safe, despite the limp towards the finish line that has some calling for Paul Lambert’s head. The win over Chelsea looks more and more important, and not just in the title race.

NEXT IN LINE: Hull City (35 PTS, 33 PLD), Crystal Palace (37 PTS, 33 PLD), West Ham United (37 PTS, 33 PLD)

Atletico Madrid unveils new crest, stadium video

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Atletico Madrid has a new look to go with its new home (which has a name, also obviously new).

The La Liga giants will eliminate that dot of green from their badge when they hit the Wanda Metropolitano next summer.

Yep, that’s when the new stadium will open. Ideas move quickly.

[ MORE: Stoke’s Hughes likes Arsenal’s PL odds ]

The blue in Atleti’s crest is navy, and the red stripes are wider. There are still seven stars, a bear, and a strawberry tree.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Stoke’s Hughes senses Arsenal could win Premier League

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Mark Hughes manager of Stoke City looks on prior to the Premier League match between Stoke City and Burnley at Bet365 Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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A longtime Manchester United player who managed two sides in London, this probably stings a bit for Mark Hughes.

The Stoke City boss has admitted he’s feeling positive about Arsenal’s chances at a run to the Premier League title this season.

[ MORE: Swans committed to Bradley ]

Hughes, 53, leads his Potters into the Emirates Stadium for a 10 a.m. EDT Saturday date with the Gunners, and knows the challenge is high.

The manager has the Potters up to ninth after a poor start to the season, and Stoke is closer to sixth than the relegation stew.

From the BBC:

“Arsenal, as a team, look in good shape and whilst we have a lot of confidence, given their form too, it isn’t a good time to play them.

“At times, Arsenal have struggled with consistency, and it has cost them, but you sense this could be their year. It’s important for us to give ourselves an opportunity to get something out of the game, we need to stay in the match and frustrate them.”

This week’s match with Arsenal kicks off a four-week run that goes Arsenal, Saints, Leicester, Liverpool, Chelsea.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Copa America trip helped convince Lodeiro of Sounders move

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 22: Nicolas Lodeiro #10 of the Seattle Sounders gets control of the ball during a match against the Colorado Rapids in the first leg of the Western Conference Finals at CenturyLink Field on November 22, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. The Sounders won the match 2-1. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
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Nicolas Loderio is getting set to play in the MLS Cup finals, something that only came to pass with a team visit to the United States, and the assistance of Luis Suarez.

According to Seattle Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey, he spoke with Lodeiro often in his attempts to bring the 27-year-old from Boca Juniors to Major League Soccer. The moment that swayed him was a trip to the US. A business trip.

With Uruguay competing in the Copa America Centenario, it allowed the two to speak more frequently, but when the Uruguayan became frustrated with his own handle of the native language, a friend stepped in to help. He asked national teammate Suarez to help translate, and thus the transfer came to pass.

“You don’t have body language, it’s harder than it is straight to the face and so he just got frustrated that he couldn’t understand everything that I’m saying,” Lagerwey told MLSSoccer.com’s radio show. “And so he says, ‘Hold on, speak to my friend,’ and I said, ‘OK,’ and I have no idea what’s happening. And Luis Suarez gets on and says, ‘Hi, this is Luis Suarez, how are you?’ And I’m like, ‘Morning, Mr. Suarez, how are you?’ And he was our translator.”

Lodiero has been a revelation for the Sounders since joining in the summer. A creative force all season, the Uruguayan has scored four goals in five playoff matches, bursting onto the national scene on the biggest stage.

“It was just funny. Nico and I, we talked fairly regularly during the process, in part because it took four months for the thing to play out,”  “And he was in the US for the Copa America with Uruguay, obviously, and in hindsight that ended up being a big deciding factor for him, because he brought his wife and his little son and they got to see America and I think liked it and developed a comfort level with it. And I think that’s what ultimately pushed them to make the leap, but I was talking and Nico’s English is actually pretty, pretty good, but he isn’t always so comfortable on the phone.”

With over 50 caps for the national team, Lodeiro is a well-known presence with the Barcelona striker and his other national teammates. The two have hooked up on the field as well, with Suarez assisting Lodeiro’s fourth national team goal back in October.

Zidane’s Madrid on cusp of setting new unbeaten record

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 03: Zinedine Zidane, Manager of Real Madrid looks on during the La Liga  match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at Camp Nou on December 3, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Zinedine Zidane is one match away from coaching Real Madrid to a new unbeaten record.

When Zidane replaced Rafa Benitez midway through last season, the inexperienced former midfield standout got off to an auspicious start with a 5-0 victory over Deportivo La Coruna.

Eleven months and one Champions League title later, Madrid faces Deportivo again at home on Saturday with the chance of surpassing its longest unbeaten run since the club was founded in 1902.

On Wednesday, Madrid equaled a club record of 34 games without a loss set in 1989 under coach Leo Beenhakker when it drew 2-2 with Borussia Dortmund.

“It’s important to continue to make history and continue our good run,” Zidane said after the match. “I don’t think it’s very important for me to leave my mark. What interests me the most is to continue with this great run that we’re on.”

Last season, when Real Madrid president Florentino Perez tapped Zidane to take over a struggling team, the decision smelled of desperation.

A fan favorite from his playing days as part of Madrid’s “galaticos” bunch, Zidane was promoted from coaching the reserve team to take over a side that was lurching from one embarrassing episode to the next.

Madrid’s 2015-16 campaign had started with Perez flubbing his play to sign away Manchester United goalie David De Gea. The team was then disqualified from the Copa de Rey for fielding an illegible player, and it endured a 4-0 defeat from Barcelona at home as it failed to click with Benitez.

Perez needed to make an impact move. But instead of searching for a veteran manager, he charged the unproven Zidane with turning around Madrid’s group of talented underachievers.

At first, the team remained erratic, and even looked set to bow out of the Champions League after a shocking 2-0 loss at German side Wolfsburg.

But that defeat on April 6 proved to be a catalyst. The team hasn’t lost since, recovering to claim its 11th European Cup and almost nip Barcelona for the Spanish league crown, before roaring out to lead la Liga this season.

Zidane, whose top-tier coaching experience had been limited to his stint as an assistant under Carlo Ancelotti, has now reached the half-century mark as head manager. During that 50-match period, he has overseen 37 wins, 11 draws and only two losses. That other loss came at Atletico Madrid in February.

“The players have to be congratulated. They’re the ones out on the pitch, it’s them who run, fight and dig in,” Zidane said. “We also have to thank the fans, who always get behind the team and support us. They’ve got to take some credit for what the team is achieving”.

Gifted with world-class stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Luka Modric, Zidane focused on getting more from Madrid’s supporting cast. He put a new emphasis on defense in his midfield by favoring Mateo Kovacic and Casemiro over flashier playmakers James Rodriguez and Francisco “Isco” Alarcon, and he has helped the little-known Lucas Vazquez blossom into an important piece of its attack.

“(Zidane) has gotten us to work hard and for things to go well for us, and that is paying off with this run of 34 unbeaten games,” defender Dani Carvajal said. “Everyone on the team has words of praise for him.”

Whereas the draw with Dortmund was disappointing because it cost Madrid a first-place finish in its Champions League group, its 1-1 stalemate earned last weekend at Barcelona tasted of victory. The “clasico” draw kept Madrid six points clear of Barcelona at the top of the Spanish table.

After it plays Deportivo, Madrid heads to Japan for the Club World Cup.

If Zidane sets the new club mark, his next goal would be the milestone held by Barcelona under counterpart Luis Enrique, whose 39-game unbeaten run was ended by Madrid last April.