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Top Premier League Storylines – Week 29

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The Premier League this weekend sees a number of teams come back from European play – some empty-handed, some with injuries, and some with momentum.

With the stretch run on hand, it’s looking less likely that anyone will catch Chelsea, but the top of the table is still clogged below the Blues, and the relegation race is heating up as teams rise and fall in the maelstrom at the bottom.

Week 29, what do you have in store for us?


Leicester City goes for 3 in a row

West Ham United vs. Leicester City — 11 a.m. EDT Saturday online via NBCSports.com

Craig Shakespeare has completely turned around Leicester City, and the Foxes are on their way back up the table. Still, all three have come at King Power Stadium, and now Leicester hits the road for the first time in the league in nearly a month. Winning away in the Premier League is a completely different animal, and it’s something the Foxes haven’t done in at all in Premier League play this season, and haven’t done in any competition since January in FA Cup play.

They’ll have an excellent chance against a West Ham side that has just a single win since selling Dimitri Payet in the winter, and hasn’t won at home since beating Crystal Palace on January 14th. Can Shakespeare dial up a road win and keep the momentum flying?

Will Liverpool or Manchester City score an important leg up?

Manchester City vs. Liverpool — 12:30 p.m. EDT Sunday on NBCSN or online via NBCSports.com

A massive top four matchup pits two teams looking to score any kind of advantage near the top of the table. The title race seems lost, but the Champions League race is still open and both these teams could look to pull away from the pack slightly. This has draw written all over it, but should one team come out on top, they would be an important three points earned.

Manchester City especially needs to bounce back after they were dumped out of the Champions League in a wild thriller against Monaco. Pep Guardiola was criticized for his team selection in that one, and the players admitted they were unable to carry out his orders, especially in the first half when Monaco overran the City midfield. Now, against a Liverpool side that put its ugly January in the rear-view mirror, City must bounce back itself.

How will Lukaku and Barkley play amid transfer rumors?

Everton vs. Hull City — 8:30 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSN or online via NBCSports.com

Rumors have swirled this week regarding two of Everton’s most visable players, and it will be very interesting to see how they respond in front of the home fans at Goodison Park — and how the home fans respond to them. The biggest rumors have suggested that Romelu Lukaku has refused to sign a new contract with the Toffees, and could leave in the summer if no deal is agreed to by then. The loss of Lukaku would be a gigantic blow to Ronald Koeman and Everton, as the Belgian has been a constant supply of goals up front.

Ross Barkley remains in the same boat, and while nothing as defiant as Lukaku’s refusal has come from Barkley’s situation, there is still no new contract for the 23-year-old Everton youth product, and Koeman admitted he could lose Barkley as well if nothing is agreed to by the summer. As Everton battles for a Europa League place, will they get their superstars’ best?

Middlesbrough plays (Pogba-less?) Manchester United without a manager

Middlesbrough vs. Manchester United — 8:00 p.m. EDT Sunday on NBCSN or online via NBCSports.com

It’s not confirmed yet, but watching Paul Pogba limp off with what appeared to be a hamstring problem against FC Rostov, it’s highly possible that Manchester United will be without big signing Paul Pogba this weekend against a team fighting for its life.

Middlesbrough parted ways with Aitor Karanka earlier Thursday, and Steve Agnew will be in charge when they welcome the Red Devils to Riverside Stadium on Sunday. With both teams facing adversity, which will gain massively important points? Manchester United sits just a point back of Arsenal for 5th position, while Middlesbrough is three points in the hole in the drop. Who will come away with the good stuff?

Follow Live: Chelsea, Swans, Cherries in FA Cup replays

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Chelsea, Swansea City, and Bournemouth look to avoid upsets in replays of their third round FA Cup matches.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

All three matches kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET

The Blues tangle with former Premier League peers Norwich City, this time at Stamford Bridge, in a bid to host a fourth round match with Newcastle United.

Antonio Conte‘s not messing around (too much) with the XI.

Swansea City and Wolves, meanwhile, are arguably battling for a bid in the fourth round, as a trip to Notts County is on the docket for the winner of Wednesday’s replay at the Liberty Stadium.

Bournemouth is at Wigan Athletic for a replay with the third-tier Latics, with the victor hosting West Ham United on Jan. 27.

Benevento captain Lucioni banned one year for doping

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ROME (AP) Benevento captain Fabio Lucioni has been banned one year for doping.

[ MORE: Plenty to prove for Big Sam ]

Italy’s national anti-doping organization made the decision Tuesday after the steroid clostebol was found in a sample taken after Benevento’s 1-0 loss to Torino in September.

Benevento team physician Walter Giorgione was banned for four years for administering the steroid to Lucioni in a spray.

Both Lucioni and Giorgione plan to appeal.

The 30-year-old Lucioni joined Benevento in 2014 and the defender helped the team move from the third division up into Serie A this season for the first time.

Benevento is last in Serie A with only two wins in 20 matches.

The ban is back-dated to October, meaning Lucioni can return early next season.

Everton completes move for Walcott: “I’m dead excited” (video)

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Everton continues to supply its managers with top-end talent, adding Theo Walcott to its expensive season of boys which includes Gylfi Sigurdsson, Wayne Rooney, Cenk Tosun, Jordan Pickford, and Michael Keane.

[ MORE: Plenty to prove for Big Sam ]

The deal is reported to be near $28 million for Walcott, who’s made only a half-dozen Premier League appearances this season but did nab three goals in five Europa League matches.

Walcott, 28, scored 108 goals in 397 appearances for the Gunners. His 19-goal campaign last season was his second-best — he scored 21 in 2012-13 — but Walcott dipped down Arsene Wenger‘s depth charge and is leaving to pursue regular football.

And his comments will be lapped up by the #WengerOut brigade at his now former club:

“The Club has won trophies but I want them to win trophies now. The manager is very hungry and it’s just what I need. I’ve had a couple of chats with him and straightaway I felt that hunger and that desire that he wanted from me. I need that and I wanted that

The move is another exciting one for Everton, which has underachieved under Ronald Koeman and now Sam Allardyce. And it’s another sale from Arsenal which gives pause: Are the underperforming Gunners going to regret the move?

In the 2005-06 season, Walcott made his Southampton debut in the Football League Championship at the age of 16, and moved to Arsenal the next season.

Walcott has eight goals in 47 caps for England, and won two FA Cups at Arsenal.

[ MORE: Montreal nabs Algerian DP ]

Here is a useful quote from Sam Allardyce:“His physical output is excellent, he would be one of our top players in that area as well, which will hopefully bring us a lot more excitement and more ability to get forward quicker and create.

And here is an utterly useless one: ““If you analyse his goal record, then we are looking at a player who contributes goals on a regular basis.”

You don’t say. To paraphrase: If you look at all his goals, he regularly scores goals. Here’s more from the player on his move.

Montreal to nab Algerian DP Taider from Bologna

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The loss of Swiss power Blerim Dzemaili is a big one for the Montreal Impact, but another World Cup player may be taking his place in Quebec.

[ MLS: Club-by-club SuperDraft needs ]

Tutto Bologna reports that Algerian playmaker Saphir Taider, 25, is set to sign with the Impact on a contract through 2020.

On loan to Montreal last season, Dzemaili went back to Bologna. Taider is coming back the other way and will reportedly be a Designated Player.

Taider isn’t as consistent a player as Dzemaili, but presents a skill set that should be a massive problem for MLS midfields.

He has 42 caps with five goals for Algeria, and was once property of Juventus. He spent parts of four seasons at Inter Milan, with loan stints back to Bologna, at Sassuolo, and a unremarkable time at Southampton.