Championship Sunday focus: Manchester City

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Story so far… Go back and look at preseason picks (like ours, here) and two teams dominated pundits’ top spot: Chelsea, and Manchester City. After a slow start, a spell of midseason omnipotence, and some late slips, City’s right where we thought that’d end up. Claim a result on the final day, and the Citizens raise their second Premier League trophy in three years,  winning one of the most exciting title races in the league’s 22-year history.

Among the various new faces at the Etihad, Manuel Pellegrini and Fernandinho played major parts, but the driving forces behind this team are the same as they were two years ago. Yaya Toure remains the best midfielder in England after a 20-goal campaign. David Silva is one of the league’s most exciting playmakers, while the danger Sergio Aguero offers up top is second only to Liverpool’s Luis Suarez.

Had Aguero been healthier (limited to 22 games), City’s title may have been confirmed by now, but all teams have their challenges. Two points (and 13 goals, difference) up on Liverpool, the Citizens are a result away from a league-League Cup double.

RELATED: Head here for all things Championship Sunday

Who do they play and where can I watch it: Sam Allardyce’s West Ham United, visiting the Etihad on Sunday, is the main obstacle. Watch the game at 10am ET on NBC or live online via NBC Sports Live Extra.

Form guide: After slipping against Sunderland three weeks ago, City has won four in a row:

April 13 – at Liverpool, L 3-2
April 16 – vs. Sunderland, D 2-2
April 21 – vs. West Bromwich Albion, W 3-1
April 27 – at Crystal Palace, W 0-2
May 3 – at Everton, W 2-3
May 7 – vs. Aston Villa, W 4-0

What’s at stake: First place is the obvious answer, but given the title is in Manchester City’s hands, a different, more ignominious distinction is also at stake. Does this team want to be known for losing the title at home on the last day of the season? They came close two years ago, dramatics holdovers from that title-winning squad will want to avoid.

With a win, draw or a Liverpool slip against Newcastle, City wins its fourth first division title. Even with a loss, City can claim the title, provided the Reds do the same at Anfield.

When the final whistle blows: Triumph or tragedy, ecstasy or agony – there are only two, extreme ways this game can go. With City supporters will celebrate a title won at home for the second time in three years, or they’ll be left shocked as West Ham United costs them the crown.

VIDEO: Pedro scores stunning goal for Chelsea

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Not a bad way to start the Premier League weekend…

12 minutes into the first game of Matchweek 9, Chelsea’s Pedro curled home a stunning effort into the far corner and off the far post after a corner was played short to him.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

A simply stunning goal from the Spaniard which you can watch in the video above.

Watch Live: Chelsea v. Watford in top five clash

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Chelsea host Watford at Stamford Bridge on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as fifth and fourth clash.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea are without a win in three games in all competitions and some pressure is starting to build on the Blues as they’ve fallen further behind the two Manchester clubs atop the PL table.

As for Watford, Marco Silva‘s men are in fourth place and aiming to keep up their impressive away form in the PL this season with three of their four wins coming on the road.

In team news Chelsea’s injuries are piling up with Victor Moses and N'Golo Kante missing but Alvaro Morata does start after recovering from his hamstring injury, while Watford start Troy Deeney up top after his impressive cameo against Arsenal last week.

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Courtois; Rudiger, David Luiz, Cahill; Azpilicueta, Bakayoko, Fabregas, Alonso; Pedro, Morata, Hazard. Subs: Caballero, Christensen, Ampadu, Zappacosta, Musonda, Willian, Batshuayi

Watford: Gomes; Mariappa, Kabasele, Britos; Femenia, Cleverley, Doucoure, Holebas; Pereyra, Deeney, Richarlison. Subs:

Sky Blue’s Sam Kerr named NWSL league MVP for 2017

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CHICAGO (AP) Sky Blue FC forward Sam Kerr has been named the National Women’s Soccer League’s Most Valuable Player for this season.

Kerr, a standout on the Australian national team, had a league-record 17 goals and became the league’s fifth Golden Boot winner to also be named MVP.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

She became the first NWSL player to score four goals in a game on Aug. 19 against the Seattle Reign. Kerr rallied Sky Blue from a 3-goal deficit to beat the Reign 5-4.

Kerr’s award was announced Friday. The league had earlier announced the season’s other award winners: North Carolina’s Abby Dahlkemper was named Defender of the Year, teammate Ashley Hatch was named Rookie of the Year, Portland’s Adrianna Franch was named Goalkeeper of the Year and the Thorns’ Mark Parsons was named Coach of the Year.

The Mendy Effect: Pep praises injured back

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Full back Benjamin Mendy cost Pep Guardiola and Manchester City $68 million, but perhaps he’ll be just as valuable as a very expensive sports psychologist.

The “Shark Team” member was amusing on social media even before his ACL injury sent him to the sidelines until at least April, but he’s become a must-follow Twitter fixture with his in-game messages (See some of his work below).

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

City faces Burnley at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s fairly clear his act has translated in private, too, as apparently Mendy is just as good in group messages (Let us in, Pep. We won’t tell anyone). From ManCity.com:

“Usually, players who are out for a long time with injury are sad. They sometimes train apart and feel isolated.

“Mendy decided to be present. He is communicating on social media, WhatsApp and he calls his teammates and messages me. He is going to be so important outside the pitch because people like him make the atmosphere much better.”

It’s not surprising for anyone who’s been following the former Le Havre, Marseille and Monaco man.

Keep in mind, these Tweets below are from the last few days alone!