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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.

VIDEO: Accam’s slick backheel puts Chicago ahead

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For the last two years, David Accam has been, in my estimation, the best player in MLS that no one talked about.

[ MORE: NYCFC run rampant on Red Bulls, win NY derby 2-0 ]

Understandably so, of course, given the 26-year-old Ghanaian international and the Chicago Fire been rooted to the bottom of the league table for two years running. All of that has changed in 2017, though, as Accam finally has a forward (Nemanja Nikolic) who can not only put chances away, but create space and chances for his teammates, and a solid midfield base which allows him to cherry-pick counter-attacks just that little bit more.

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Entering Saturday’s game against Orlando City SC, Chicago sat second in the Eastern Conference, just four points back of Toronto FC, and Accam’s 9 goals and 5 assists (in 15 games) were a huge part of the why and the how. It didn’t take Accam long — two minutes, in fact, to put Chicago ahead of Orlando with a ridiculous backheel finish to Matt Polster’s cross.

 

Bravo fit again, but will he start Chile’s Confed Cup group finale?

Photo credit should read YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images
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MOSCOW (AP) Claudio Bravo is fit again and could start in goal against Australia at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi said Saturday.

Bravo – who is Chile’s joint most-capped player with Alexis Sanchez – hasn’t played since April 27, when he injured his calf for Manchester City in a derby game with Manchester United.

“Claudio is fit, he’s managed to train the last couple of days just like his other teammates,” Pizzi said. “He’s ready and available to play.”

Pizzi brushed off concerns about a lack of match fitness, saying that “quite obviously we take into account that factor” but players like Bravo are “are of such good quality that it isn’t that important they haven’t played in the last couple of months.”

Stand-in Johnny Herrera played in Chile’s 2-0 group stage win over Cameroon and Thursday’s 1-1 draw with Germany.

Gary Medel was substituted with a minor injury while playing in defense for Chile against Germany. Teammate Francisco Silva said Saturday that Medel had complained of “a very small muscle contraction issue” but was now fit.

Pizzi said he will aim to tire out Australia with Chile’s trademark all-action style, even though his team struggled for energy in the latter stages against Germany.

“This energy drop we had in the second half didn’t damage us too much because the opposing team couldn’t maintain a high pace because of the demands we’d imposed on them,” Pizzi said of the Germany game.

“We’re going to try to get (the Australians) tired as well and use this to beat our opponent, and we hope this is going to translate into goals.”

USMNT’s Wood extends Hamburg contract through 2021

Photo credit: Hamburg / Twitter: @HSV
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HAMBURG, Germany (AP) American forward Bobby Wood extended his contract with Bundesliga side Hamburger SV on Saturday to 2021.

Wood, who joined Hamburg from second-tier Union Berlin, scored five goals and set up two more in 28 Bundesliga games. He had 17 goals in 31 second-division games for Union the season before.

“Not only his goals count for us, but his readiness to run and challenge,” Hamburg sporting director Jens Todt said. “Bobby is a key player for our offense and a real team player.”

Wood has eight goals in 32 appearances for the United States.

MLS Snapshot: NYCFC run rampant on Red Bulls, win 2-0

Photo credit: NYCFC
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The game in 100 words (or less): The only thing standing in the way of New York City FC avenging their infamous 7-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls with a lopsided demolition job of their own, on Saturday, was an otherworldly goalkeeping performance from Luis Robles. It was the Red Bulls shot-stopper, with his four saves on the afternoon (three of them coming in spectacular fashion), who kept Jesse Marsch’s side within touching distance for more than an hour. Jack Harrison was denied early on by Robles, but got the better of him not long later for the game’s opening goal. Heroics from Robles kept the score at 1-0 for another 32 minutes, before Ben Sweat’s (accidental?) header made it 2-0 in the 65th minute. The Red Bulls, on the other hand, managed their first shot on target in the 80th minute. That’s three wins in a row for NYCFC, who go seven points clear of their Hudson River rivals and keep Toronto FC in sight at the top of the league table, five points ahead.

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Three moments that mattered

18′ — Robles goes full-stretch to deny Harrison — David Villa’s vision and Rodney Wallace‘s hold-play created the chance for Harrison, but Luis Robles’ acrobatics denied the 20-year-old Englishman in spectacular fashion.

33′ — Harrison not to be denied this time — Sweat delivered the ball to Harrison near the top of the box, and the second-year man did everything right with what’s a really, really difficult chance to take — facing away from goal, first-time, ball traveling across the goalkeeper, upper-90 to the far post.

65′ — Sweat loops a header past Robles for 2-0 — Sweat probably didn’t mean it, but the ball hit the back of the net, and that’s all that matters. Not a bad time to score your first MLS goal, either.

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Man of the match: Luis Robles

Goalscorers: Harrison (33′), Sweat (65′)