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Top PL Storylines: Will Spurs have a chance to close down Chelsea?

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From start to finish, the Premier League always has something on the line week in and week out. This time around, there are battles up and down the table.

[ MORE: Previews for every Premier League game this weekend ]

With Chelsea’s difficult test at in-form Manchester United, could the Blues drop points and allow Spurs back into the title race? Who will gain and who will fall in the vicious relegation battle? What will the gap at the top look like at the end of the weekend? All that and more comes your way in the next few days.

Can Spurs move closer to the top?

Tottenham vs. Bournemouth — 7:30 a.m. EDT Saturday online via NBCSports.com

Spurs sit seven points back of Chelsea. If they are to catch the Blues, they obviously need some outside help. However, Mauricio Pochettino knows his side must be ready in the event Chelsea slips up, which there’s a serious chance of them doing this weekend. With Chelsea not playing until Sunday (more below), Spurs can put the pressure on and pull within four for at least a day.

Bournemouth is a dangerous team. They’ve drawn with Liverpool and Manchester United in recent weeks, and Harry Kane‘s return for Tottenham has come at a fantastic time. With the club’s leading scorer back, Tottenham will be well positioned to pull out the three points in this one, but need to get the job done.

Massive test for leaders Chelsea at Old Trafford

Manchester United vs. Chelsea — 11:00 a.m. EDT Sunday online via NBCSports.com

With Spurs at home facing a bottom-half side, Chelsea knows it needs to keep separation, or things become much more difficult. Manchester United is the highest-positioned side left on Chelsea’s remaining schedule, and should they get by this test, the title is all but secure.

That’s no given, however, considering Manchester United hasn’t lost since October 23rd – to Chelsea. That 4-0 drubbing sent the Red Devils on a 21-match unbeaten streak. A draw here would be a decent result for both sides, but the Blues would prefer not to eat up any of the cushion they’ve built on the rest of the field.

Manchester United themselves are fighting a significant battle, as they hope to gain ground on either Manchester City or Liverpool in the fight for a Champions League place. With Manchester City visiting a strong Southampton squad and Liverpool on the road at the Hawthornes, the chance could be there to pull within a single point of the promised land.

Which in-form team will pick up points?

Crystal Palace vs. Leicester City — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday online via NBCSports.com

Sam Allardyce has led Crystal Palace onto a tear of impressive results that have pulled them out of the relegation zone (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images).

 

The run Crystal Palace is on has shocked England. The run Leicester City was on rejuvenated the club. These two teams seem to have saved their respective Premier League statuses by completing a set of impressive results, but the job is not completely done.

Sam Allardyce has given the Eagles hope by rattling off five wins over their last six matches, including impressive victories over Arsenal and Chelsea. Their stretch run remains painful viewing, with Liverpool, Manchester City, and Manchester United all still to come on the fixture list. Nevertheless, with an impressively paltry four goals conceded over those six games – three of those coming in the lone loss during that span – Palace is not just out of the relegation zone but six points clear. Is that enough cushion with such a brutal end-of-season run?

Leicester City, meanwhile, was bullied around the pitch against Atletico Madrid in Champions League play this week, but the Foxes still have their impressive start to Craig Shakespeare’s managerial tenure fresh in their memory. The bottom of the table is crammed together, so their 11th place position lends more sense of security than the eight-point gap might warrant, but the Foxes are solidly in the Premier League next season barring a total collapse. Will they have enough to overcome the high-flying Eagles?

Which relegation-threatened club will gain ground?

Sunderland vs. West Ham — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday online via NBCSports.com

Stoke City vs. Hull City — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday online via NBCSports.com

Watford vs. Swansea City — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday online via NBCSports.com

Three matches, four teams in the bottom seven and another two clubs gasping for air. Sunderland has precious little room for error, and the Black Cats are catching West Ham at the right time. Could they put pressure on the rest of the relegation scrap?

Meanwhile, Hull City is flying high with three wins in its last five, and catch Stoke City at the right time. The Potters have dropped four in a row and have won just twice since late January. A win here could potentially see Hull City shoot five points above the relegation zone, a huge gap for the stretch run.

Finally, Swansea City fans were overjoyed at the start to Paul Clement‘s tenure, seeing the 45-year-old turn their fortunes around in his first few weeks on the job. Fast-forward to now, and the club is on a five-match winless run and back in the drop zone having fallen victim to the great runs by Palace and Hull. They take on a Watford side firmly entrenched in the middle of the table. The Swans will find Walter Mazzarri‘s side difficult to break down, and with few goals scored between these to teams in the past, every moment will be precious.

Can Arsenal turn things around?

Middlesbrough vs. Arsenal — 3:00 p.m. EDT Monday online via NBCSports.com

The wheels have come off Arsenal’s season, and a loss at Middlesbrough would no doubt seal their fall from Champions League grace. Even with a win, it seems unlikely for the Gunners to catch the top four, but confidence is needed to make a push, and a road win over a defensively stout team would provide just that.

Boro’s inability to score is well-known throughout the land, but their defensive shape is just the kind of mentality that seems to stifle Arsenal teams in years past. Can the hosts keep the Gunners at bay, or even nick a scrappy win? If so, it would continue Arsenal’s nosedive…and let’s not forget the relegation fight, which could give Boro a much-needed boost as they battle for their Premier League lives.

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.