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Top 5 Premier League Story Lines ahead of Matchday 22

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The Premier League gives us another battle of Top Four hopefuls, while other competitors will see a key chance to either gain or make up ground.

[ MORE: Man United back atop money table ]

Down in the relegation zone, however, is another story. Tough matches await the four lowest sides, with three sides on the road and a fourth hosting Everton.

All that and more, below.

Make or break at the Etihad Stadium?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC

If 10 points back of Chelsea isn’t enough for Man City boss Pep Guardiola to concede the PL title — and it shouldn’t be — 13 could do the trick. And Spurs’ seven point gap would feel dire should it dip to 10.

With the Blues expected to handle Hull City at Stamford Bridge, both Spurs and City are facing extreme damage to their title hopes when the London club looks to complete a season sweep of Guardiola’s side.

Time has proven that electric talent doesn’t mandate instant success in the Premier League, but many eyes will be trained on Gabriel Jesus should he debut for City. The Brazilian wonderkid has already made an impact in the Olympics, World Cup qualifying, and the Brazilian top-flight. The PL is next on his list.

Relegation candidates sweating bullets

Liverpool vs. Swansea City — Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN
Crystal Palace vs. Everton — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on CNBC
West Brom vs. Sunderland — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on Premier League ExtraTime
Chelsea vs. Hull City — Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN

It’s getting to be that time of year, when being more than three points above the drop zone feels like the freshest possible air.

No one in this batch of four knows that feeling well at all.

Crystal Palace and Hull City are level with 16 points, one ahead of Sunderland and Swansea City. Only the Black Cats will truly fancy their chances at a win this weekend.

That said, Hull supporters will feel confidence anew after a couple of transfer buys and a healthy Abel Hernandez joined new manager Marco Silva at the KC. A win over Bournemouth will buoy their confidence, but a trip to Chelsea is a tall task.

Right about now Palace fans are putting their hopes in goal differential and weak fellow relegation candidates rather than “never been dropped” Sam Allardyce. Their goal-leaking side welcomes an Everton side that hung four on Man City.

Sunderland simply needs to find a way to break down Tony Pulis‘ Baggies at the Hawthorns. Given the chance to put heat on the three other candidates, a win would serve much more than a few moments outside the drop zone.

Gunners need to avoid pitfall

Arsenal vs. Burnley — Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN

The first of two home matches against middle or lower table sides, Arsenal needs all three points against Sean Dyche‘s cagey and well-oiled Clarets. They sit in the top half of the table, and would relish added a big-name to its list of defeated PL sides.

Simply put, Arsenal’s title hopes rest as much on the points it needs to claim as massive encounters like Feb. 4’s trip to Chelsea.

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: Mesut Ozil of Arsenal (C) battles for possession with Burnley duo Stephen Ward of Burnley (L) and Ben Mee of Burnley (R) during the Premier League match between Burnley and Arsenal at Turf Moor on October 2, 2016 in Burnley, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Mourinho’s Red Devils go for 17

Stoke City vs. Manchester United— Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN

It’s been 16 matches since Jose Mourinho has tasted defeat as Manchester United boss, and Stoke’s recent dates against top sides haven’t gone well. All three were on the road, but the Potters have fallen to Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal by a combined score of 11-4. Does this make it fait accompli? No, but like Arsenal vs. Burnley, you like to think a true title fighter finds a way to three points.

Slumping Saints and Foxes

Southampton vs. Leicester City — Sunday, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Perhaps Saints and Leicester supporters figured their sides might struggle to repeat last season’s heroics, with European competition on the docket and key pieces leaving this offseason from either the dugout or the playing field. But 13th and 15th? Unlikely. Leicester can take another step toward righting the ship by heaping misery on the home side, who sits three points clear of the Foxes and eight ahead of the drop zone.

Messi scores four (4) as Barcelona hammers Eibar (video)

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Lionel Messi scored four times as Barcelona belted Eibar 6-1 at the Camp Nou on Tuesday.

The 30-year-old now has 522 goals for Barca, including nine in five league matches this season. That includes two hat tricks.

[ MORE: Klopp rages at defending ]

Paulinho and Denis Suarez also scored for Barca, which is yet to lose a point in La Liga play.

Messi scored a penalty to start the scoring, then started a combination play before scooting into the 18 to score low and left.

Watch the movement from the Argentine magician.

Messi added his second when he drew the defenders and keeper to play him straight-on, then used the outside of his boot to flick a deft finish home.

He’d later dash to the doorstep to complete the 6-1 scoreline.

And how often do we see this? Messi starting and finishing a combination. When you’re an elite player who also thirsts for goals every minute on the pitch, you’ll score a few.

League Cup: Foxes oust LFC; Stoke, Burnley upset (video)

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Leicester City turned to its favorite tactics to send Liverpool out of the League Cup, while Bristol City stunned struggling Stoke City as 11 matches dotted the English tournament landscape on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Pulisic up for major award ]


Leicester City 2-0 Liverpool

Both sides were decidedly second-string, and the Reds had plenty of control over the proceedings despite a lack of goals.

But substitute Shinji Okazaki scored in traffic after Vicente Iborra headed a corner kick his way, and the Foxes took a late lead.

And Okazaki cued up Islam Slimani for a wonderful 78th minute marker (see above) to ensure the result.

Bristol City 2-0 Stoke City

The Robins were flying at Ashton Gate, getting an opener in the 50th minute through Famara Diedhiou and a 60th minute insurance tally from Matt Taylor.

Stoke left some starters on the bench in Erik Pieters, Joe Allen, Jack Butland, and Jese, but had plenty of their best in the XI (Kurt Zouma, Eric Choupo-Moting, Darren Fletcher).

Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Barnsley

Spurs had a hefty edge in shots and possession, but the visitors held firm against a decent side including Dele Alli, Son Heung-min, Jan Vertonghen and Mousa Dembele.

Fernando Llorente made his first Spurs start, but it was Dele who broke the Londoners through on the side’s 17th shot of the night.

Burnley 2-2 (4-5 PKs) Leeds United

Sean Dyche‘s Premier Leaguers were nearly dismissed from the tournament by Thomas Christiansen’s high-flying Championship side.

It took penalty kicks, where Leeds GK Andy Lonergan stopped James Tarkowski to send the Clarets out of the Cup.

Hadi Sacko had an eye for the winner, assisted by Pablo Hernandez, but Chris Wood converted an 89th minute penalty to, seemingly, send the match to extra time.

Hernandez then scored a penalty of his own in stoppage time, only for Robbie Brady‘s free kick to equalize and again put the match on pace for extra time.

Elsewhere
Crystal Palace 1-0 Huddersfield Town
Aston Villa 0-2 Middlesbrough
Brentford 1-3 Norwich City
Bournemouth 1-0 (ET) Brighton
West Ham 3-0 Bolton
Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-0 (ET) Bristol Rovers
Reading 0-2 Swansea City
Arsenal vs. Doncaster Rovers — Wednesday
Chelsea vs. Nottingham Forest — Wednesday
Everton vs. Sunderland — Wednesday
Manchester United vs. Burton Albion — Wednesday
West Bromwich Albion vs. Manchester City — Wednesday

Klopp “sick” of conceding bad goals after League Cup ouster

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Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp isn’t holding back when it comes to his defense’s lapses in judgment.

The Reds boss, who it must be said did not address his center backs during the transfer window and can only blame himself, was fuming after exiting the League Cup with a 2-0 loss at Leicester City.

[ MORE: U.S. teen makes 1st Bundesliga start ]

Klopp’s men controlled the match, but allowed a pair of second half goals and then could not find a single finish let alone the two required to prolong the contest.

“We had big chances, strange situations,” Klopp said after the game. “But it’s a 90-minute game. A second ball after a corner I think, and a throw-in again. I’m sick of goals like this to be honest. You cannot play football and in this case let this Leicester team somehow survive in the game because we are not playing good enough.”

The Reds have conceded in six of eight matches this season, and haven’t kept a clean sheet since an Aug. 27 thumping of Arsenal.

Leicester boss Craig Shakespeare, meanwhile, was pleased to see Klopp substitute a certain Brazilian wizard at the break.

Groin injury costs Arsenal’s Welbeck at least three weeks

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When Danny Welbeck landed awkwardly against Chelsea, many Arsenal fans feared another long absence from the English striker.

Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be too bad.

[ MORE: Pulisic up for major award ]

The 26-year-old forward is set for at least three weeks out with a groin injury. Arsene Wenger says his status will be reassessed after the international break ends in mid-October, which doesn’t bode well for his England availability either.

Welbeck had started all five Premier League matches for the Gunners, scoring on Opening Day against Leicester City and posting a two-goal, one-assist day versus Bournemouth.

The Gunners sit 12th with seven points after five match days.