Premier League Preview: Manchester City vs West Ham

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  • Manchester City has a +13 goal differential on Liverpool, meaning a point would be enough for the title.
  • The home side has lost just once all season at the Etihad – to Chelsea in February.
  • West Ham have lost four of their last five on the road, conceding nine goals.

This is it. It all comes down to this. The Premier League championship is Manchester City’s to lose.

Win, and they’re in. But if West Ham can pull out a shocker, Liverpool can pounce.

One point would do it as well, but it would be surprising if the Citizens even come close to blowing this one. Every stat, every number, and every motivation is on their side as they take on West Ham at the Etihad at 10am ET live on NBC or live online at NBC Sports Live Extra.

It’s been a crazy season at the top of the table, but Manchester City have timed their run of good form at the perfect time. They’ve stumbled, but not as much as Liverpool. Their loss to the Reds last month seemed like a guillotine at the time, but with the Reds falling apart at the worst time possible, City have just one more small hurdle.

Considering the facts, it doesn’t seem like that big of a hurdle at all.

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Since a soul-crushing loss at home to Chelsea in February – their only loss at home all season – City have dropped just two points at home in league play. They have scored 14 goals in the five matches since the loss to Liverpool.  They have no other competitions to focus on. And scariest of all – they have everyone fit for the first time all season.

Oh, and if that’s not enough, score four goals and the Premier League single-season scoring record is theirs. That’s some motivation.

On the other side, things aren’t so pretty either. West Ham did get a win last week at home against Spurs 2-0, an impressive win for sure, but looking at the recent body of work it’s a small gold star in an otherwise ugly picture.

MORE: Head here for more on Championship Sunday

Since the beginning of March, the Hammers have just five goals away from Upton Park.  They let in a whopping six their last time at the Etihad (a cup tie in January) and have conceded 12 times to Manchester City in their three fixtures against City across the league and cup this season.

Brace yourselves, Premier League. This one could get ugly.

What they’re saying:

Sam Allardyce on who he wants to win the title: “From a neutral point of view, everybody would like to see Liverpool win it. From a personal point of view I’d like to see Steven Gerrard win it.”

Manuel Pellegrini on his squad: “When I arrived here, my target was always to play well and try to win the title. The moment I accepted the job it was because I had a lot of trust that I could win the league. I think the first thing I can say is we chose the right squad we needed for this year.”

Pundit Jamie Carragher on City’s season: “Winning the Premier League is a massive achievement for a club, so Manuel Pellegrini and his players can feel very proud of themselves if they get the job done on Sunday. Manchester City may only win what everyone expected them to, considering the money they have spent and the fact they have the best squad in the division, but they have been given big challenges by Liverpool, Chelsea and, for a long period, Arsenal. City have been playing catch-up for most of the season – they could win the title having spent just 15 days at the top of the table – and I think that shows that they have character in their ranks as well as quality.”

Prediction:

If you couldn’t tell from earlier, there’s only one way this thing ends. You see everyone’s comments on City’s character, and there’s a reason why.  We saw it last season in their barnburner with QPR on the final day of the season, getting the goals they needed to win the title in unbelievable fashion. This time around, they don’t have the same mountain to climb, but they’ll want to put on a show and prove they deserve to win in convincing fashion.

With everything presented here, a 4-1 Manchester City victory will help them earn the right to hoist the trophy in front of their home fans. The Etihad will be buzzing, and it’s possible West Ham earn a bit of a consolation early by catching City on too much of a high, but they won’t be able to hang for long. Congratulations will be in order for Manuel Pellegrini and company.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.

Southgate can see Defoe in England squad long-term

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Gareth Southgate praised Jermain Defoe after his contributions to England’s 2-0 win over Lithuania on Sunday, but accidentally put a condition on his position in the squad.

The 34-year-old scored the opening goal and contributed heavily to the buildup of Jamie Vardy‘s score, and Southgate was happy that his decision to play an in-form striker paid off.

“If he scores like he is in the Premier League, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t be,” Southgate said. “We’re never able to pick a full cohort, so it’s important we can call upon the likes of Jermain and he can have the impact like he did today.

“I think we’ve got to look every time we get together as to who is in form. I don’t know if we can have a distinct pecking order because players who are playing well deserve the opportunity. If we are going to be successful, we have to have that competition for places. The reality is we will always lose players to injury.”

[ MORE: Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery before England game ]

A reporter asked him to clarify why he specified that Defoe should be scoring in the Premier League, and with his club Sunderland under heavy threat of relegation, Southgate admitted he let one slip.

“I walked into that,” Southgate said. “I guess the ideal world for all our players is they are playing regularly at a high level. The flip-side is we don’t have a huge pool of players to pick from.  We have to balance off a few different things. I can’t constrain myself on selection entirely, but I know ideally what I’d like to have. His performances and his goalscoring form this season have counted for him.”

Defoe has 14 goals in 28 Premier League appearances for Sunderland this season, but he’s proved the Black Cats’ only threat as they sit bottom of the league table with 20 points. Defoe has become the center of opposition game plans, and as a result he’s slowed down, with just two goals in his last seven games, and the club has little else to pick up the slack.

Still, at 34 years old, many wonder how much longer Defoe can contribute, and if he’ll be a viable option for next year’s World Cup.

Group F gets messy as Slovakia and Scotland grab wins

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England is in control at the top of Group F, but below them things are beginning to get complicated.

Despite the absence of Marek Hamsik due to a last-minute injury, Slovakia defeated Malta 3-1. They took the lead just 97 seconds in as Vladimir Weiss put the visitors in front with a beautiful curling strike from outside the box. Malta struck back through domestic striker Jean Paul Farrugia in the 14th minute, but that was all Malta could muster.

Slovakia would go ahead just before halftime as FC Copenhagen midfielder Jan Gregus put them in front in the 41st minute. The speculative shot from Gregus came from a great distance out, and as it skipped across the ground, it appeared Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg saw it late, as his dive was poor and it skipped off his hands and in.

Both teams ended with 10 men on the field, as Farrugia was sent off with 16 minutes to go for a second yellow, and Adam Nemec saw the same fate in injury time, but before he was sent off, Nemec was there to kill the game off in the 84th minute.

That put Slovakia up to nine points, and it moved them into second place thanks to late drama in Glasgow. Chris Martin gave Scotland all three points with an 88th minute strike as the home side won 1-0 over Slovenia, who dropped from second to third with the loss. The Fulham striker got a beautiful feed through the back line from Stuart Armstrong, and while his shot wasn’t terribly accurate, it was enough to win the game as Slovenia goalkeeper Matus Kozacik gave it a poor effort.

The win for Scotland pulls them above Lithuania and into fourth, a point back of Slovenia in third.

Wasteful Poland snatches late 2-1 win at Montenegro

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Poland was in control for much of the game, but failed to finish in front of net until Borussia Dortmund full-back Lukasz Piszczek found the winner with eight minutes to go as the visitors increased their lead at the top of World Cup qualification Group E.

Robert Lewandowski put Poland in front five minutes before halftime with a brilliant free-kick that left Montenegran goalkeeper Mladen Blozovic completely baffled, but Montenegro looked sturdy at the back for much of the game and dangerous on the counter. They’d hit just past the hour mark as Stefan Mugosa headed in to level the score.

Lewandowski had a pair of massive chances in the second half, but couldn’t get either to go down as Blozovic was there to turn him away, and Montenegran defenders cleared off the line as well. Luckily for Poland, they had Piszczek who burst down the right to beat Aleksandar Sofranac, and he produced a stunning finish looped over the closing Blozovic from a tight angle, dinked off the far post, and into the back of the net.

That would do it for Montenegro who had little attacking ability outside of their countering abilities, and with Poland happy to ease out the clock, the hosts didn’t have enough.

The win pushes Poland six points clear at the top of Group E, a sizeable lead with five matches remaining. The battle for the second-place spot is tight, with Montenegro still in command on seven points, level with Denmark but ahead on goal differential. Armenia and Romania are even with six points each.