Championship Sunday focus: Swansea City

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Story so far…Compared to last season, Swansea have had a dismal time of it. Europa League play, clinched after beating Bradford City to lift last year’s League Cup, took its toll, amongst a host of other contributing factors. In February, the club sacked Michael Laudrup, for reasons that remain unclear. Michu, scorer of 18 league goals last season, was injured for much of the season (and looked a shadow of his former self upon his return).

Safety only came on April 26, after a 4-1 victory over Aston Villa. That’s unusual for the side, who finished 11th in their first season back in the Premier League, and ended last season in 9th. Currently they sit 13th, which is actually below where the Swans were when Laudrup was fired. In the 13 games since his appointment, Garry Monk has led his side to four wins, three draws and six losses, whereas his predecessor had six wins, six draws and twelve losses in 24 games.

MORE: Head here for all things Championship Sunday

What’s slightly worrying is where the wins have come from: beating all-but-relegated Norwich and now-relegated Cardiff isn’t boastworthy, nor is collecting three points from a Newcastle side in horrible form since the midway mark. A smashing performance against Villa and a 2-2 draw against Arsenal might prove to be good omens, as was holding Napoli to a draw in Europa League. The performance of Wilfried Bony, who has an impressive 27 goals in all competitions in his first season at Swansea, should also give fans hope.

Who do they play and where can I watch it?
The Swans end the season with a trip to the Stadium of Light – but fortunately for the visitors, Sunderland are already safe. But after their incredible run to end the season, the Black Cats aren’t going to want to go out with a loss at home. If Swansea want to end their season on a high, they’re going to have to put plenty of effort into defeating the hosts.

Want to get your last fix of the Swans before the 2014-2015 season kicks off?  Watch the game at 10am ET on Esquire or live online via NBC Sports Live Extra.

Form guide:

March 29 vs. Norwich City, W 3-0
April 5 at Hull City, L 0-1
April 13 vs. Chelsea, L 0-1
April 19 at Newcastle, W 1-2
April 26 vs. Aston Villa, W 4-1
May 3 vs. Southampton, L 0-1

What’s at stake?
12th place? Bony passing the likes of Olivier Giroud, Edin Dzeko, Sergio Aguero and/or Wayne Rooney in the goals scored tally? “Own goal” coming in second on Swansea’s top-scorer sheet? In other words, not a lot. But perhaps Monk will be willing to give a glimpse of what the future holds.

When the final whistle blows…it’s time to see what Garry Monk can do with a full season at the helm. The former interim boss has been handed a three-year contract, which isn’t all that surprising given that the 35-year-old former club captain has been being groomed for the managerial role. It’s worth noting, however, that Monk’s being thrown into the deep end. He’s yet to finish his coaching badges, he’s never managed in the lower levels, he’s never even assisted at a club. Come next season, will it be sink, swim or soar for the Swans?

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images
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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”

Boa Esporte goalkeeper back to prison as murder appeal denied

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The risk clearly wasn’t worth it for Boa Esporte.

The Brazilian club signed Bruno Fernandes de Souza in March, not long after the convicted murderer and goalkeeper was released from prison on appeal.

Fernandes, 32, had been jailed for ordering the murder of a lover, who was fed to dogs by the killer. Boa Esporte lost several big sponsors for signing him, but vocally defended the move.

The owner, Rone Moraes da Costa, said he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to revive his career. Fernandes admitted his mistakes but said he wasn’t “a bad guy”.

According to the Associated Press:

“Brazil’s Supreme Court decided on Tuesday to deny an appeal to Boa Esporte goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes de Souza, who was released in March while appealing a 22-year sentence in the 2010 killing of Eliza Samudio.”

So it’s back to jail for Fernandes, and we’ll be waiting with baited breath to hear from Boa Esporte’s owner.

Conte: Chelsea “ready to fight to the end”

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Following Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Spurs and Tuesday’s blowout of Southampton — the 4-2 score line didn’t tell the story of the second half — Antonio Conte is fired up for Chelsea to complete its Premier League title run.

The manager admits that his side was under pressure after Spurs narrowed the table gap to four points last week, but the wins have eased the Blues’ burden.

Chelsea had lost two of four PL matches before the weekend.

From Football.London:

“I think we passed a big, big psychological step after the defeat to United. We lost three points and had to prepare a semi-final against Tottenham and then another tough game in the league. In that moment we had a really important test and our answer was very good.

“We must think that this race is open, we have reached the final of the FA Cup. The situation in the league is totally open. We are ready to fight to the end. We must be proud for the job we are doing and to fight to the end.”

Spurs can bring the gap back to four with a win at Crystal Palace on Tuesday, but have a tougher run-in with five matches to play. As long as the gap is within six points, anything is possible, but the Blues have certainly answered the bell over the past four days.

Chelsea: Big win “feels like a massive step” to title

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“It feels like a massive step to be honest,” said game-changing goal scorer Gary Cahill of Chelsea’s 4-2 win over Southampton at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

Chelsea’s Premier League lead stands at seven points after the win, which saw a dominant second half from the hosts.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Perhaps it was cued up by Cahill’s first half stoppage time header, which boosted the Blues to a 2-1 lead just before the whistle.

Cahill darted in front of Diego Costa‘s scissor kick attempt to power a header past Fraser Forster.

“(Costa) tried to claim it afterward as well,” Cahill said. “When the ball’s just lofted over, it’s dying to be attacked. We went into halftime with our tails up and it was a big boost for us.”

Cesc Fabregas said Southampton surprised the Blues tactically, leading to an entertaining first half that could’ve seen either side ahead before half.

“We needed a little bit of time to adapt to what they did because we prepared for something else,” he said.

Fabregas said the win was big with second-place Spurs watching at home. Tottenham plays at Crystal Palace on Wednesday.

“We needed a good response after the Man United game. We have to keep going with five games to go, to keep it up and make the last push. It would be a big shame if now we relaxed. We just have to push now more than ever,” he said.

“It’s a statement for (Spurs), for us, for everyone, but most of all for us.”
Eden Hazard agreed.
“We scored four beautiful goals,” said the Belgian, who scored the game’s first goal. “It’s good to play before and put pressure on them.”