Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Top Premier League Story Lines: Relegation race running hot

Leave a comment

Forget five story lines, as the Premier League has just six matches altogether this weekend thanks to the FA Cup semifinals.

[ MORE: Rojo injured ]

With the semifinalists all being PL powers, the focus will largely be on the relegation race aside from three Top Seven sides looking to put pressure on Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Manchester City.

Can Man Utd overcome short turnaround to keep up Top Four push?
Burnley vs. Manchester United — 9:15 a.m. ET Sunday

Defender-depleted Manchester United was home for Thursday’s UEFA Europa League second leg, which is the only blessing of a midweek match before a trip to Turf Moor to take on a Clarets side who is much better at home. The Red Devils control their Top Four destiny, but dropping a point would lend an advantage of both Liverpool and Man City while opening things up for Arsenal.

United will be keen to avenge the draw at Old Trafford which saw Tom Heaton making like Superman, nearly shattering his arm in a sublime save on Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Palace seeks to be influential at both ends of table
Liverpool vs. Crystal Palace — 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday

Crystal Palace’s rise out of the drop zone has shaken up the Top Four a bit, too. Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend have helped the Eagles to April wins over Chelsea and Arsenal, and will hope to add Liverpool’s name to the list. Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds are two points clear of fourth place Man City and six ahead of fifth place Manchester United, but have would drop out of the Top Four if the aforementioned clubs win their matches-in-hand the rest of the way. Lost points would hit hard.

Cherries aim to put relegation in rear view mirror
Bournemouth vs. Middlesbrough — 10 a.m. ET Saturday

Eddie Howe‘s Bournemouth opens the day seven points clear of the drop with five matches to play, and a win would lift the Cherries well above the fray. Boro would just like to see safety, sitting six points shy of 17th.

Can Tigers keep up safety pace?
Hull City vs. Watford — 10 a.m. ET Saturday

While the unexpected is possible during the stretch run, the final relegation slot will likely come down to Hull and Swansea. Marco Silva’s Tigers are two points ahead of Swans and just need to maintain that pace barring a miraculous run from Boro. The next obstacle is a Watford side which has claimed three wins in four, the lone setback coming against the rolling Spurs.

Swans looking for any sign of life from the Liberty Stadium

Swansea City vs. Stoke City — 10 a.m. ET Saturday

One point from six matches does not make a successful relegation fight, and Paul Clement‘s side has lost to four lower tier sides since beating Burnley on March 4. Swansea have showed relegation form playing defense-first under Francesco Guidolin, throwing attack-first on Bob Bradley‘s watch, and now in a variety of ways under Clement. Maybe it’s the players?

Will Toffees be able to make improbable run to fifth?
West Ham United vs. Everton — 10 a.m. ET Saturday

Ronald Koeman‘s Toffees can been fairly consistent in piling up points, except when it comes to the teams above it. That’s what is keeping Everton from being a real threat to the Top Four. West Ham is not above Everton, and would love to hit a reset button on the entire season. No way the Toffees foul this up, even on the road, right?

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza
Leave a comment

Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images
Leave a comment

“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”