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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)

WATCH LIVE: Vardy PK has Leicester leading Arsenal at the half

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14:  N'Golo Kante of Leicester City battles for the ball with Francis Coquelin of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Leicester City at Emirates Stadium on February 14, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
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An end-to-end match at the Emirates Stadium has seen both Arsenal and Leicester City effectively playing their styles, with a Jamie Vardy penalty putting the Foxes ahead 1-0 at halftime

Leicester City currently leads the league by five points, and could see its lead grow depending on what Man City and Spurs do later Sunday. Arsenal would finish the weekend third at-best.

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Arsenal earned a quick corner to open the action, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain‘s hard, curling offering was headed just wide by Alexis Sanchez.

The quarter-hour mark was big on action, as Aaron Ramsey found himself racing for a loose ball with Leicester keeper Kaspar Schmeichel, who won the race with a sliding clearance. At the other end, Petr Cech slid to keep Jamie Vardy’s header from crossing the goal line.

And then, just before halftime, Martin Atkinson booked Nacho Monreal for blocking the completion of a Jamie Vardy run in the box.

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil, Alexis, Giroud. Subs: Ospina, Chambers, Flamini, Elneny, Campbell, Walcott, Welbeck

Leicester City: Schmeichel, Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs, Mahrez, Kante, Drinkwater, Albrighton, Okazaki, Vardy. Subs:Subs: Schwarzer, King, Gray, Ulloa, Dyer, Wasilewski, Chilwell

Goal: Vardy (45′)

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Report: Milan says Nocerino sale to Orlando City to be formalized Monday

REGGIO NELL'EMILIA, ITALY - AUGUST 12:  Antonio Nocerino of Milan celebrates after scoring the goal 4-3 during the TIM pre-season tournament match between AC Milan and US Sassuolo Calcio at Mapei Stadium - Città del Tricolore on August 12, 2015 in Reggio nell'Emilia, Italy.  (Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images)
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Football Italia says the sale of Antonio Nocerino to Orlando City will be completed on Monday

The 30-year-old was first whispered as a target for DC United before Orlando emerged as a destination, a move that caused some consternation due to Major League Soccer’s controversial Discovery Process.

[ SERIE A: Juventus wins 15th-straight to replace Napoli at No. 1 ]

Capped 15 times between 2007-2012, Nocerino has spent his entire career in Italy with the exception of a loan to West Ham United in 2014.

From Football Italia:

“Tomorrow we will terminate our rapport with Nocerino, who will go to play in Orlando,” Galliani told Mediaset Premium. “With that move, our transfer activity will be finished for this session.”

“Football has changed so much, until a few years ago nobody went to China or the United States. The sport is becoming more globalised.”

The reunion with Kaka obviously helps strengthen Orlando City’s midfield, and the Lions will be daydreaming of the impact Sebastian Giovinco made coming from Serie A to MLS.

Watch Live: Arsenal vs. Leicester City (Lineups, Live Stream)

Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez, center, scores their third goal during their English Premier League soccer match against Leicester City at the King Power Stadium, Leicester, England, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015. (Paul Harding/PA via AP)     UNITED KINGDOM OUT       -     NO SALES      -      NO ARCHIVES
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Arsenal host Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday (Watch live, 7a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) in a huge clash between two title contenders.

First-place Leicester have a five-point lead over third-place Arsenal going into this one and the Foxes have won three on the spin, including a huge win at Man City last weekend.

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As for the Gunners, they won for the first time in five last week and their offensive stars seem to be purring once again.

In team news Arsenal have Danny Welbeck on the bench after his long spell out through injury, while Leicester is unchanged.

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil, Alexis, Giroud. Subs: Ospina, Chambers, Flamini, Elneny, Campbell, Walcott, Welbeck

Leicester City: Schmeichel, Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs, Mahrez, Kante, Drinkwater, Albrighton, Okazaki, Vardy. Subs:Subs: Schwarzer, King, Gray, Ulloa, Dyer, Wasilewski, Chilwell

La Liga: Ronaldo scores twice, Neville gets 1st win as a manager

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring a goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Athtletic Bilbao at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo scored two goals to lead Real Madrid to a 4-2 win over Athletic Bilbao on Saturday, provisionally lifting it into second place in the Spanish league.

Ronaldo opened the scoring in the third minute before Javier Eraso quickly leveled for the Basques in a back-and-forth first half at the Santiago Bernabeu that finished with James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos giving Madrid a 3-1 lead at halftime.

https://twitter.com/beINSPORTSUSA/status/698523289841328130

Madrid defender Raphael Varane, whose error led to Eraso’s goal, was sent off in the 83rd after earning identical bookings for twice thrusting his forearm into Aritz Aduriz’s head while contesting a high ball.

Despite being a man down, Ronaldo found the net again in the 87th to move past Barcelona’s Luis Suarez as the competition’s leading scorer with 21 goals this season.

https://twitter.com/beINSPORTSUSA/status/698548716198703104

Gorka Elustondo headed in Bilbao’s second goal in the 90th.

Madrid’s fourth win in as many home matches under coach Zinedine Zidane – by a combined score of 20-3 – lifted it two points ahead of Atletico Madrid before it visits Getafe on Sunday.

Leader Barcelona is one point ahead of Madrid with two matches to play: against Celta on Sunday and at Sporting Gijon on Wednesday.

Zidane will make his European coaching debut on Wednesday when Madrid visits Roma in the Champions League’s round of 16.

Ronaldo’s goals were his 31st and 32nd in 30 games across all competitions this campaign, a season in which he has been criticized by some for failing to score against important rivals.

“About Cristiano, what can I say?” Zidane said before employing an expletive in Spanish to describe how good he considers the forward’s form.

“We are ready for the match against Roma. We are in shape, playing well, and very pleased with how we played today against a very good rival. We are prepared for Wednesday.”

Also Saturday, Villarreal strengthened its hold on fourth place and the last Champions League spot with a 1-0 win at home over Malaga thanks to striker Roberto Soldado‘s 18th-minute goal.

Ronaldo gave Madrid a brilliant start when he received a pass from Karim Benzema, used a deft dribble to wrong-foot Xabier Etxeita and fired a right-footed strike just under the crossbar.

But Bilbao was undaunted and quickly leveled in the 10th when Eraso pounced on Varane’s poor backpass that goalkeeper Keylor Navas did well to stop from becoming an own goal but left for Eraso to finish off.

Aduriz went close twice to putting the visitors ahead with a header saved by Navas before the striker hit the bar.

Rodriguez turned the flow back in Madrid’s favor with an excellent strike with his left foot from outside the area that curled around outstretched goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz in the 37th.

Kroos put Madrid in full control heading into the break when he took a pass from Ronaldo in the area and sent a shot that deflected off a defender past Iraizoz in first-half injury time.

“We leave with the feeling that we had a good first half. Maybe we missed a great opportunity today,” said Bilbao manager Ernesto Valverde, impressed by Madrid’s “extraordinary firepower.”

Ronaldo hit the upright before finally getting his second goal from a pass by substitute Lucas Vazquez.

Valencia hosts Espanyol later, while Real Betis visits Deportivo La Coruna.