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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.

Witness: Men accused of bribes negotiated sale to Qataris

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NEW YORK (AP) A sports marketing company whose owners have been charged with bribing top soccer officials tried to negotiate a sale to an entity associated with Paris Saint-Germain team president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, a witness testified Tuesday in federal court.

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Santiago Pena, a former executive of the Argentina-based Full Play Group, testified that he spent a lengthy period of time on secret negotiations called the “New York project,” given the name because the deal for 51 percent of Full Play was valued at $212 million – 212 is a New York City telephone area code.

Pena said the talks with Al-Khelaifi and the sovereign wealth fund Qatar Sports Investments ended on May 27, 2015, when U.S. prosecutors unsealed indictments against Full Play’s controlling principals, the father and son Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, for racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. They were charged for payments to soccer officials in the Americas allegedly made for broadcast and marketing contracts.

Al-Khelaifi and Qatar Sports would have had the right to buy an additional 19 percent at a later date, Pena said.

Al-Khelaifi is a criminal suspect in Switzerland for bribery linked to Qatar-owned BeIN Sports’ broadcast agreements with FIFA for 2026 and 2030 World Cup rights in the Middle East and North Africa. He met on Oct. 25 with Swiss prosecutors in Bern.

Pena said that only he, Hugo and Mariano Jinkis and Full Play accountant Sergio Rabinovich were aware of the negotiations. Pena testified that after the indictments were made public, he deleted emails discussing the potential sale.

“I did it in order to protect the company,” he said.

Hugo and Mariano Jinkis have not been extradited to the U.S., and Pena said they remain in Argentina. Pena reached an agreement this year with U.S. prosecutors to testify in exchange for not being charged.

“I always considered myself a completely small fish in this issue,” he said.

Juan Angel Napout, the ex-president of Paraguay’s soccer federation; Jose Maria Marin, the former president of Brazil’s soccer federation; and Manuel Burga, the ex-head of Peru’s soccer federation, are on trial in federal court in Brooklyn for racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.

Pena, who worked for Full Play from 2009-15, testified about a ledger he kept of payments that the Jinkises directed be made to top soccer officials. He said he knew only of what they told him were amounts owed to soccer officials. Pena said Napout was to be paid in cash, not by wire transfer, so he had no knowledge if any money was received.

“I simply wrote down the commitments based on other negotiations,” Pena said.

Pena completed testimony Tuesday and was followed by the stand by James Haggerty of Bank of America, who explained wire-transfer records, and Daniel Huntley of Hilton Worldwide Holdings, who detailed Napout’s reservation records.

UCL Wrap: Tottenham, Man City clinch groups

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The UEFA Champions League returned to action Tuesday with a bang, with goals flying in across Europe.

Two Premier League clubs secured key victories, with Tottenham winning 2-1 at Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City knocking off Feyenoord, 1-0. Liverpool, after taking a 3-0 lead inside 30 minutes, settled for a draw on the road after allowing three second-half goals.

The wins for Tottenham and Man City clinched them their groups and turned around some bad feelings around Spurs after the North London derby defeat last Saturday.

[MORE: Champions League score picks: Week 5]

Borussia Dortmund 1-2 Tottenham

After sub-par performances over the weekend, Harry Kane and especially Dele Alli looked like the stars they’ve been all season, leading Spurs on a 2-1 comeback victory over host Borussia Dortmund. Alli played provider for both goals in the second half, with Kane scoring the first and Son Heung-min scoring the second. It was a confident performance from Mauricio Pochettino‘s side. With the loss, Borussia Dortmund are eliminated from the Champions League knockout round, but could still drop into the UEFA Europa League.

Sevilla 3-3 Liverpool

A second-half surge from Sevilla helped the Spanish side come back from a three-goal deficit to draw Liverpool, 3-3. But it was Liverpool which was in control early, as Roberto Firmino scored a brace, including a cheeky no-look tap-in in the 30th minute, sandwiching a Sadio Mane strike. With the draw, Sevilla now just needs another point and a Spartak Moscow loss or draw to advance to the next round, while Liverpool missed out on clinching Group E.

Manchester City 1-0 Feyenoord

A late Raheem Sterling goal made it five wins out of five for Manchester City, which clinched Group F in a 1-0 win over Feyenoord. It was looking as if both teams would end up with a point each but Sterling scored his fourth goal in as many Champions League games, looping the ball over Feyenoord goalkeeper Brad Jones for the goal in the 88th minute.

 

APOEL 0-6 Real Madrid

It was a vintage Real Madrid performance as a Cristiano Ronaldo brace led Real Madrid to a 6-0 rout. Luka Modric, and Nacho both scored while Karim Benzema had a brace as well. The win clinches a place in the last 16 for Real Madrid.

Spartak Moscow 1-1 Maribor

A late goal for Jasmin Mesanovic saved a point for Maribor and stunned host Spartak Moscow, which now must beat Liverpool in the final matchday to make it into the Champions League knockout round. The draw wasn’t enough for Maribor, but they’ll take the confidence boost after Mesanovic’s stoppage time goal canceled out Ze Luis’ 82nd minute finish.

Tuesday’s UCL Scores

Group E

Spartak Moscow 1-1 Maribor

Sevilla 3-3 Liverpool

Group F

Manchester City 1-0 Feyenoord

Napoli 3-0 Shakhtar Donetsk

Group G

Besiktas 1-1 FC Porto

Monaco 1-4 RB Leipzig

Group H

APOEL 0-6 Real Madrid

Borussia Dortmund 1-2 Tottenham

Griezmann: “No regrets” rejecting Man United move in summer

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After flirting with the idea of moving to Manchester last summer, Atletico Madrid star Antoine Griezmann is in one of the worst goal-scoring droughts in his career.

It’s been seven games since he last scored and with just three goals total, it’s been an underwhelming season so far for the Frenchman. But Griezmann doesn’t regret turning down the chance to join Manchester United last summer.

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“I don’t regret staying at Atleti,” Griezmann told French TV program Telefoot. “It was my decision and I’m happy with what I chose to do – even if I have gone seven games without scoring”.

Griezmann was booed off the pitch in Atleti’s scoreless draw with city rivals Real Madrid, as both clubs dropped to 10 points behind La Liga leaders Barcelona in the standings. There have been rumors swirling that Griezmann could even leave Atletico in January, with Diego Costa set to join the club.

On his game, with good service from midfield, Griezmann is one of the best attackers on the planet. But with Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and more, Manchester United already has the firepower to compete with the top of the Premier League

LIVE, UCL: Liverpool, Man City in action; Dortmund-Tottenham

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Three Premier League teams are in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday with Liverpool knowing a win at Sevilla will see them qualify for the knockout stage for the first time since 2009.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 

Jurgen Klopp‘s side head to Spain in good form after three consecutive wins in the Premier League and are in a very healthy position in Group E.

Tottenham Hotspur head to Borussia Dortmund with Spurs’ place in the last 16 already secured and Dortmund (Christian Pulisic is out of the squad with an injury) needing a win to keep their faint hopes of reaching the knockout stage alive with Real Madrid heading to APOEL Nicosia in Group H.

Manchester City have also secured their spot in the last 16 and host Feyenoord in Group F. The Dutch side have lost all four of their UCL games so far this season but have taken a huge number of traveling fans to Manchester and they can still qualify for the Europa League via finishing in third spot ahead of Shaktar Donetsk.

Elsewhere Monaco host RB Leipzig in a pivotal clash in Group G.

Click on the link above to follow commentary on all the action, while below is the full schedule as we will have reaction and analysis on all the UCL action on Tuesday.

All games kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET, unless otherwise stated.


Tuesday’s UCL schedule

Group E
Spartak Moscow 1-1 Maribor – FT
Sevilla vs. Liverpool

Group F
Manchester City vs. Feyenoord
Napoli vs. Shakhtar Donetsk

Group G
Monaco vs. RB Leipzig
Besiktas 1-1 FC Porto – FT

Group H
Borussia Dortmund vs. Tottenham Hotspur
APOEL vs. Real Madrid