With just three matchdays to go, the Premier League title race and relegation battle is still wide open.
Although Liverpool can take a huge step towards winning their first-ever PL crown by beating Chelsea this weekend. Following the Blues’ shock defeat to Sunderland last time out, it now looks like a two-horse race for the title between Liverpool and Man City.
At the bottom wins for Sunderland, Cardiff and Fulham this weekend would mean they could finally climb out of the bottom three with just two games to go. Sunderland play Cardiff, in what could be a relegation decider.
Each week we put our neck on the line to analyze the strength of each Premier League team, forget about the official league standings (here they are in case you actually do want them) that doesn’t mean squat.
The Power Rankings take into account the strength of schedule, injuries, suspensions, playing well but still losing and plenty of other variables. The W-D-L bracket shows each PL team’s current record and you can now see how many spots each team has moved, up or down, from week-to-week.
Let’s get to it!
Liverpool: Another week, another entertaining win for Liverpool. A nail-biting win away at Norwich last Sunday means that seven points from their last 3 games guarantees the title. The small matter of Chelsea at home beckons this Sunday. Can the Reds hold their nerve? (25-5-5)
Manchester City: The Citizens slipped up at home to Sunderland last week, yet recovered to grab a late point and then beat West Brom. If they win out and Liverpool lose to Chelsea this Sunday, City could win the PL title on goal difference. Palace away this weekend. (23-5-6)
Chelsea: Chelsea have lost at home in the PL under Jose Mourinho. I repeat, Chelsea have lost at home under Mourinho. The Blues suffered a shock late defeat to Sunderland, as the 77-game unbeaten streak is finally over. Injuries are mounting up, as Mourinho plans to play his “B” squad at Anfield this Sunday with a UCL semi vs. Atletico looming. (23-6-6)
Arsenal: Last week was a good one for the Gunners, as two blowout wins saw them take fourth place by the scruff of the neck. Podolski scored four times (doubling his season’s tally) and Ramsey is back to his best after injury. Beating Hull handsomely in the FA Cup final dress rehearsal is a boost, as Newcastle await at the Emirates on Monday. (21-7-7)
Everton: The Toffees put in a masterful display against Man United to end Moyes’ reign at Old Trafford, as Robert Martinez’s men were electrifying. The only stumbling block was the defeat to Palace at home a few days earlier. Can the Toffees beat Southampton on Saturday? (20-9-6)
Tottenham: Spurs are keeping pace with the top four, but only just. A hard-fought 3-1 win over Fulham saw Tim Sherwood’s side get back to winning ways, now they face Stoke City away. Lose and their UCL dreams are all but over. (19-6-10)
Stoke City: The Potters will aim to keep their top 10 push going by beating Spurs at the Britannia this weekend. Mark Hughes’ men were unlucky not to beat Cardiff away last time out. Just one defeat in eight for Stoke. (11-11-13)
Southampton: Saints drew 0-0 with Aston Villa last time out as they keep missing glorious chances. They are superb in and around the box, but finishing has been their Achilles heel of late. Silky soccer will be on display against Everton at St. Mary’s this Saturday. (13-10-12)
Manchester United: The Red Devils have had a tumultuous week. First they lost to Everton, then they fired David Moyes and put Ryan Giggs in charge on an interim basis. What now for United? Giggsy’s first game in charge is at home to Norwich. Can he get off to a winning start? (17-6-11)
West Ham: The Irons’ season is in danger of petering out, as they lost at home to Palace last weekend. Sam Allardyce’s men are creating chances but Andy Carroll isn’t putting them away. West Brom away provides a good chance for three points. (10-7-18)
Hull City: The Tigers still aren’t out trouble, yet something pretty spectacular must happen for them to go down. A heavy defeat to FA Cup final opponents Arsenal wasn’t ideal last weekend, can they beat Fulham away to all but seal their safety? (10-6-17)
Fuham: Speaking of Fulham, the Cottagers now face a must-win match at home to Hull in their desperate battle against the drop. Against Spurs last weekend they were unlucky not to get something from the game, but that extra bit of quality has alluded them. Can Magath’s men do the business? (9-3-23)
Swansea City: Garry Monk is a relieved man as the Swans left it late to clinch a valuable three points away at Newcastle. Wilfried Bony, so often Swansea’s savior, scored a late PK as the South Wales side have almost clinched they ticket to the PL next season. Home game vs. Villa this weekend. (9-9-17)
Newcastle: The Magpies lost for the fifth-straight time and Alan Pardew’s time on Tyneside looks to be coming to an end. Still in the top 10, Newcastle are finishing the season with a whimper and could slip further down the standings. Arsenal away this weekend. (14-4-17)
Sunderland: Huge week for the Black Cats as they drew away at City (where they led until the final moments) and then shocked everyone by beating Chelsea. Those results have breathed new life into their relegation battle. Three points from safety, the game against Cardiff is absolutely massive this weekend. (7-8-19)
Aston Villa: Unrest, poor results and a worrying slide continues at Villa Park. Paul Lambert got rid of his two assistants after issues off the field, then they somehow mustered a 0-0 draw with Saints at home to stop the rot following four-straight defeats. Trip to Swansea this week. (9-8-17)
Cardiff City: The Bluebirds missed a great opportunity to climb out of the drop zone last weekend as they failed to break down Stoke City. Cardiff now travel to Sunderland knowing their season is on the line. (7-9-19)
West Brom: Pepe Mel’s men are struggling, big time. A defeat at Man City leaves them just three points above the drop zone with plenty of teams closing in behind them. Will the Baggies go down? West Ham at home is a must-win this weekend. (6-15-13)
Norwich City: A brave effort to only lose 3-2 to Liverpool last Sunday but that’s four-straight defeats for the Canaries who sit just two points above the drop zone. They are everyone’s favorites to go down. Can they beat Man United to give their survival hopes a boost? (8-8-19)
MADRID (AP) There couldn’t be a better time for Lionel Messi to end his scoring drought than in the clasico against Real Madrid.
With Barcelona struggling and desperately needing a victory to stay close to its rival in the Spanish league, Messi could help turn things around on Saturday if he can find the net again after five scoreless games against Madrid.
Barcelona enters the home game at Camp Nou six points behind Madrid, and another setback could leave it in a difficult position to fight for a third straight league title.
Messi hasn’t played badly in recent clasicos, but his last goal against Madrid came almost three years ago when he had a hat trick in a 4-3 win at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
He hasn’t scored in the four games since, not even in the stunning 4-0 win at the Bernabeu last season, when Messi came off the bench in the second half after a long injury layoff. Barcelona has won two of the last five games against Madrid, but it’s been 400 minutes since Messi last scored.
Since that hat trick in March 2014, Cristiano Ronaldo has attracted most of the headlines in the clasico, having scored three times, including the late game-winner at Camp Nou last season that ended Barcelona’s record 39-game unbeaten streak.
“They’re two exceptional players,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. “Cristiano is doing exceptional, incredible things, I hope he carries on like this.”
Messi remains the all-time leading scorer in the clasico with 21 in 32 matches, but at Camp Nou it’s been Ronaldo who has thrived the most.
He has 10 goals in 12 games in Barcelona, including five in the last five matches and eight in the last nine. He failed to find the net only in four of those 12 games. Messi netted only five times in those same 12 encounters in Catalonia.
Ronaldo has scored in each of the last two league games between them at the Camp Nou. He has 16 goals in 25 clasicos, behind only Messi (21) and Alfredo Di Stefano (18).
Messi has 15 goals in the 25 clasicos in which he and Ronaldo faced each other.
Ronaldo, who recently netted a hat trick in the Madrid derby against Atletico, is the Spanish league leading scorer with 10, one more than Messi. Ronaldo has eight goals in his last four league matches.
Messi also has been playing well recently, having scored five goals in his last four games. He has netted 16 in his last 11 matches.
Barcelona is coming off three consecutive draws, two in the league and one in the Copa del Rey.
Madrid is enjoying a 32-game unbeaten streak under Zidane.
Arsenal continues its chase of a Premier League title with a tricky visit to West Ham United on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. EDT on NBC, and online at NBCSports.com).
Arsene Wenger‘s bunch opens the weekend three points behind first-place Chelsea, two back of Liverpool and Manchester City. A win could push them a space or two up the table with Chelsea hosting Man City.
The Olympic Stadium hasn’t been kind to West Ham this year, but perhaps this is just the game to flip the script on both their season and rivalry with Arsenal. The Irons had a good run versus the Gunners last season, but it’s been a while since they trumped Arsenal at home.
There are questions as to who will start up top. Perhaps it’ll be Simone Zaza, with Andy Carroll and Andre Ayew both facing fitness concerns.
Arsene Wenger on the Olympic Stadium: “Before, we knew exactly what was expected of us at West Ham. I preferred the first version of the West Ham stadium, when it was very tight. When they built a new stand the distances were a bit bigger and that probably made the first one the most intimidating stadium I knew. It’s a bit like when we moved to the Emirates. You feel a bit like you’re playing on neutral ground for a while. After that, the best way to prepare is just to focus on what we do and focus in a very strong way.”
Slaven Bilic on whether West Ham needs to be worried: “It depends how you look at it. We’re in a position we don’t want to be in. OK, it’s not after 26 games but it’s not after two or three. It’s a considerable amount, so it makes us think about it. On the other hand, with three points that are there week in, week out, we can climb up the table a lot. It’s that kind of a league – even a point can help. It’s very, very tight from mid-table to the position that we are. There’s no time to panic. But we can’t be relaxed and say it’s going to come, because it won’t just come like that.”
Arsenal hasn’t lost a Premier League match since August, though its weakened lineup did suffer an EFL Cup setback to Southampton at midweek. West Ham’s been improving but went with a strong cast in its EFL Cup loss at Manchester United. The edge goes to the Gunners, especially given West Ham’s home uncertainty. Arsenal, 3-1.
West Ham United vs. Arsenal — 12:30 p.m. EDT Saturday, NBC and NBCSports.com.
Fits and starts was not supposed to be the way for West Ham this season, but the presumed contenders remain just a point ahead of the drop zone. The Irons have just two wins from six home PL matches this season, but could there possibly be a better way to create good vibes at the Olympic Stadium than a triumph over the Gooners? West Ham can’t make its way into the Top Four mix, but it can dent Arsenal’s title hopes.
Separation day for Toffees, Red Devils
Everton vs. Manchester United — 11 a.m. EDT Sunday, NBCSN and NBCSports.com.
One point separates Ronald Koeman‘s Toffees and Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, and it’d be fair to say both thought this battle would be higher up the table as recently as one month ago. United has a one point edge on Everton for sixth, and the loser could find itself as far as 7 or 8 points off the Top Five pace.
Relegation scrap at the Riverside Stadium
Middlesbrough vs. Hull City — 3 p.m. EDT Monday, NBCSN and NBCSports.com.
The Tigers have managed just 4 of their 11 points away from the KC Stadium, but can guarantee a trip out of the drop zone by managing a win (though a draw could do the trick if Palace falls to Southampton). Aitor Karanka‘s hosts had much higher aims than a relegation battle, perhaps naively, and will be feeling the heat of the drop with anything but three points on Saturday. A large part of their struggles have come at home, which will be music to Hull’s ears; Boro is 1W-1D-4L at home.
Sunderland aims to make relegation fears deeper for champions
Sunderland vs. Leicester City — 10 a.m. EDT Saturday, Premier League Xtra Time and NBCSports.com.
The Premier League champions have one point away from home this season. That’s bad, as is their awful standing in 14th. The Foxes are two points clear of the drop, five points ahead of the last-place Black Cats. David Moyes‘ hosts have been playing much better as of late, beating Hull and Bournemouth before falling to Liverpool. That Hull win is their lone victory at the Stadium of Light this season, but Sunderland can take comfort in the fact that Leicester has four losses and a draw in matches preceding a Champions League fixture.
With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.
BASICALLY, FREE MONEY
Stoke City 2-0 Burnley – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]
Tottenham 3-1 Swansea City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]