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Playback: Ranking expectation levels of top six

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With the final stretch of the 2016-17 Premier League season here, there’s still plenty of jostling among the top six with Champions League and title dreams on the line.

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Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool and both Manchester clubs are all back where they believe they belong but lofty expectations have been a theme of the season with some teams struggling to live up to them. Fans of all six aforementioned clubs have been scratching their heads for the most part as they try to figure out what a good season looks like.

With Liverpool and Man City drawing at the weekend in a thriller, plus Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham grinding out wins and Arsenal losing at West Brom as their woeful run continues, expectations are all over the place at the top with five of the six battling it out for three Champions League spots.

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Below is a look at the current expectation levels for all six “big boys” in the PL as we enter the final nine matchdays of the campaign.

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“Curb your enthusiasm” is perhaps the catchphrase of the past few months for certain clubs…


CHELSEA

Position: 1st (69 points)
Cup competitions: FA Cup semifinal (vs. Tottenham, Apr 22), EFL Cup 4th round
Expectation-o-meter: Climbing, but spot on — A lost season in 2015-16 has lowered expectation levels around Stamford Bridge. Antonio Conte‘s arrival has seen them steadily climb as his team saunter towards the Premier League title and have a 10-point lead with 10 games to go. Seven more victories and Chelsea will be crowned PL champs for the second time in three seasons. However, winning the league and FA Cup double would be the cherry on top and then it’s a case of ‘what next?’ for Chelsea. Next season they’ll be back in the Champions League and expected to make a deep run. New challenges will come Conte’s way in terms of recruitment over the summer with the futures of Diego Costa, John Terry, Cesc Fabrgeas and others to think about. With success, expectation levels rise. So far in this incredible season for the Blues Conte’s biggest trick is perhaps keeping everyone’s feet on the ground. That won’t be so easy next season.


TOTTENHAM

Position: 2nd (59 points)
Cup competitions: FA Cup semifinal (vs. Chelsea, Apr. 22), Champions League group stage & Europa League last 32, EFL Cup 5th round
Expectation-o-meter: Surprisingly low — Now, for some reason Tottenham’s supporters and those around the club aren’t too concerned with them not winning the title. Is that okay? In each of the last two campaigns Tottenham have had a great chance to lift the Premier League. Leicester outlasted them last season and this time around Mauricio Pochettino‘s men will likely come second to Chelsea. Finishing runners up in the PL for the first time ever, and finishing above Arsenal for the first time in over two decades, is obviously a massive achievement. Still, Tottenham need to have their expectation levels increased because they can achieve so much more than just finishing above Arsenal. With a young, talented squad all signed up long-term and a new stadium on the horizon, Spurs are heading in the right direction. If they just come up short in the title race and win the FA Cup, that would be a phenomenal season. The next step: reaching the Champions League knockout stages and winning the Premier League. With Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Hugo Lloris and Toby Alderweireld, the latter is possible. Everyone connected with Spurs just has to believe it a little bit more.


MAN CITY

Position: 3rd (57 points)
Cup competitions: FA Cup semifinals (vs. Arsenal, Apr. 23), Champions League last 16, EFL Cup 4th round
Expectation-o-meter: Way too high — Following the 1-1 draw with Liverpool, Pep Guardiola declared how delighted he was with his Man City side for the reaction following their Champions League exit to Monaco. The fans probably didn’t share that delight. At times this season City have looked unstoppable. On other occasions they’ve looked shambolic. Just when you think Guardiola’s methods are going to conquer all they come crashing down (the UCL exit to Monaco proved that) and things are moving a little slower than everyone expected. City won’t win the league and they’re now in a battle to finish in the top four and also in the FA Cup semis. Pep badly needs to get some silverware on the table and finish in the top four to call this season a success. Defensively, a huge overhaul is needed and the futures of Aguero, Toure and Kompany remains up in the air. Expect the winds of change to blow through the Etihad Stadium this summer but the future looks bright with Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane kicking on. Yet, this has been far from a smooth ride for City’s fans and owners who have become accustomed to success.


LIVERPOOL 

Position: 4th (56 points)
Cup competitions: EFL Cup semifinals, FA Cup 4th round
Expectation-o-meter: Just about right — Liverpool’s fans got ahead of themselves a little early in the season when Jurgen Klopp‘s side were leading the PL and the fact they had no European competitions to worry about was a big plus. Then Liverpool faded badly at the turn of the year and title talk turned into top four realism. That’s about where this team is at, so no complaints. Reaching a major cup final should’ve been easily attainable too but Klopp knows his team is on the up. Like City, if they can make their defensive unit more solid then that’s where more success will come and the Reds could challenge for a title. That may not be for another two or three years, though. With Klopp in charge, they at least have the right man at the helm and he is delivering an attacking brand of soccer which delights the fans. Brendan Rodgers did that too but now Liverpool’s fans are expecting a little more. If they finish in the top four, recruiting new players (especially top defenders) becomes so much easier for next season.


MAN UNITED

Position: 5th (52 points)
Cup competitions: Europa League quarterfinal (vs. Anderlecht, Apr. 19), EFL Cup winners, FA Cup quarterfinal
Expectation-o-meter: Too high — At the start of the season Mourinho talked about winning it all but it became quickly apparent that he will need plenty of time to turn things around. United’s fans are patient but many expect them to be challenging for the title. That may not happen for another two seasons. Paul Pogba is yet to show his best and without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, where will the goals come from? Work in progress. Top four finish and success in cup competitions would be a very, very good season. Adding a key striker (Antoine Griezmann would be nice) and another top defender is a must over the offseason. Mourinho has things moving in the right direction after Moyes and Van Gaal but this will take them. Baby steps at a club like United are hard to get excited about given their illustrious history.


ARSENAL

Position: 6th (50 points)
Cup competitions: FA Cup semifinal (vs. Man City, Apr. 23), Champions League last 16, EFL Cup 4th round
Expectation-o-meter: Off the charts — Yes. We all know about Arsenal’s fans and their lofty expectations but this season they’ve hit new levels. Not content with being in the FA Cup semis, right in the top four hunt (they have two games in hand on Liverpool) and losing to a very good Bayern Munich outfit in the Champions League, Arsenal’s fans are getting on Arsene Wenger‘s back. Did they really think they could challenge for the title this season? The squad is good but needs an overhaul in key areas. Whether Wenger is the man to do that is neither here nor there. Arsenal’s fans need a serious reality check. Finishing in the top four is not a bad season and unless they spend boatloads of cash (see: Man City, Chelsea) then they won’t win the league. Even Manchester United has found out big spending isn’t the answer.


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.

Five Thirty Eight unveils Top 426 soccer clubs in the world

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Perspective achieved?

Advanced statistical site Five Thirty Eight has put together a weekly ranking of the top and bottom club teams in the world, and its algorithm gives us a theoretical answer into where Major League Soccer fits into the club soccer landscape.

[ MORE: Julian Green back on transfer market ]

At its very base level, the rankings will give reason to check back all season. Can Manchester United break into the Top Three? Will an MLS side leap into the Top 100? Can the worst American club avoid the bottom slot?

Here’s the list of clubs, and Five Thirty Eight has also gone through the trouble of giving its statistical analysis of who’s best set-up to win leagues and even games.

A note on the methodology:

We’re using recent matches played between teams from different leagues, supplemented with league market values (from Transfermarkt), to assign a strength rating to every league that we’re forecasting. Our new league ratings also give us the ability to a calculate a global Soccer Power Index (SPI) rating for each team — a number from 0 to 100 that represents the overall strength of each team.

The Premier League and La Liga combine for six of the Top Ten teams in the world, with Real Madrid No. 1 and Man City, Manchester United, and Chelsea running Nos. 7, 8, and 9.

Brighton and Hove Albion is the lowest ranked Premier League club, 188th in the world. The only PL sides outside the Top 125 are the three promoted clubs. Swansea is 113th, the lowest (or highest) ranked PL side aside from the new promotions.

Brighton is 17 spots below MLS’ top representative: Toronto FC. The same web site ranked MLS as the 28th best league in the world earlier this month, between Denmark and Croatia.

New York City FC shows up next, at 259, then rivals New York Red Bulls at 267. The bulk of MLS clubs fit between 320 and 422, where Minnesota United brings up the rear. The study ranks 426 teams, with three Scottish clubs running 424-426.

[ MORE: Man City 1-1 Everton | 3 things ]

As for some other odds, Five Thirty Eight gives Manchester United the best odds to win the league at 31 percent, with Man City, Chelsea, and Spurs joining them with the best odds to place in the Top Four.

The average simulated season has United besting rivals City by two points, with 80. Tottenham (72) tops Arsenal (68) for fourth by four points, while No. 6 Liverpool finishes 10 points clear of Merseyside rivals Everton (57 points).

It’s no surprise that the three promoted clubs — Huddersfield Town, Newcastle, and Brighton — are the top bets to be relegated, with Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, and Swansea City the next best bets to find life in the Championship.

Other notes:

— Manchester United is the fourth-best defensive team in the Premier League, behind only Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Juventus.

— Spurs are also in the Top Ten amongst defensive teams, a 8.

— Man City is the best offensive team in the PL, seventh in the world.

— Watford is this week’s highest PL riser, up 22 spots.

— MLS side Chicago Fire suffered the fourth biggest drop in the world this week (40 spots).

Five Thirty Eight is one of the best predictive web sites in the world, and one of the only ones who gave more than an outside shot (though still ranking it a long shot) of the 2016 United States presidential election turning out for the winner of the electoral college. So this is certainly food for thought.

Former Dinamo Zagreb boss injured after shooting

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SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) Controversial former Dinamo Zagreb director Zdravko Mamic was shot and injured in Bosnia on Monday, police and media reported.

Croatia’s state TV said Mamic was shot in his leg and taken to a local hospital on Monday. It said the injury was not life-threatening.

Police were searching for two possible assailants.

[ MORE: Five PL new boys to watch ]

Bosnian media said Mamic was attending a memorial for his father at a graveyard near the town of Tomislavgrad when two people fired at him from a nearby forest. Another report said it was a drive-by shooting.

Croatia’s TV said Mamic voluntarily left the hospital in Bosnia after doctors managed to stop the bleeding, and he went to the Croatian capital, Zagreb.

Bosnian police declined to confirm the identity of the victim by name, but said a man with the initials ZM and born in 1959 in the Croatian city of Bjelovar, just like Mamic, was shot and injured.

Mamic, known for his fiery temper, has been on a high-profile embezzlement and tax fraud trial in Croatia.

Prosecutors accuse Mamic, his brother, and two others of embezzling 15 million euros of the club’s money since 2008 and not paying 1.6 million euros in taxes.

Mamic, who remains Dinamo’s adviser, is still considered the most powerful man in Croatian football despite the charges.

Dinamo issued a statement, calling the attack a “murder attempt.”

It said the attempted “liquidation” of Mamic was not a surprise amid a “lynching campaign” against him by the Croatian media.

He was recently knocked off his yacht into the sea by an attacker believed to be a fan of rival Hajduk Split.

AP Writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.

LIVE – Champions League playoff: Nice-Napoli headlines action

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With Celtic (just about) booking their spot in the UEFA Champions League group stage on Tuesday, four more teams will join them.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 

Napoli, Olympiacos, Sevilla and Hapoel Be’er Sheva all have narrow leads heading into the second legs which sets things up rather nicely. Olympiacos and Be’er Sheva will be feeling particularly nervous after conceding at home in the first leg.

On Wednesday five more ties takes place across Europe with Liverpool looking to book their spot in the UCL group stage against Hoffenheim.

Below is the full schedule for Tuesday’s games, which kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET, while you can click on the link above to follow live commentary on all four matches.


Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League playoff second legs

Nice vs. Napoli (Napoli lead 2-0 on aggregate)
Astana 4-3 Celtic (Celtic advance 8-4 on aggregate)
Rijeka vs. Olympiacos (Olympiacos leads 2-1 on aggregate)
Sevilla vs. Istanbul Basaksehir (Sevilla leads 2-1 on aggregate)
Maribor vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva (Hapoel Be’er Sheva lead 2-1 on aggregate)

LIVE – Premier League clubs enter League Cup

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Seven Premier League teams enter the League Cup second round on Tuesday with plenty of potential upsets lined up.

[ LIVE: Follow League Cup scores ]

All 13 PL clubs (six more are in action on Wednesday) face teams from the lower leagues with the likes of Crystal Palace, Leicester City, Bournemouth and Swansea City all on upset alert.

U.S. national team players to watch out for include Lynden Gooch who starts for Sunderland and Emerson Hyndman who is on the bench for Bournemouth.

Below is the schedule for the League Cup games on Tuesday with all games to kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET unless otherwise stated.


Tuesday
Crystal Palace vs. Ipswich Town – 2:30pm
Aston Villa vs. Wigan Athletic
Leeds United vs. Newport County
Middlesbrough vs. Scunthorpe United
Norwich City vs. Charlton Athletic
QPR vs. Brentford
Fulham vs. Bristol Rovers
Cardiff City vs. Burton Albion
Carlisle United vs. Sunderland
Doncaster vs. Hull City
Brighton vs. Barnet
Accrington Stanley vs. West Brom
Sheffield United vs. Leicester City
Birmingham City vs. Bournemouth
Watford vs. Bristol City
MK Dons vs. Swansea City
Reading vs. Millwall – 3pm
Bolton vs. Sheffield Wednesday – 3pm