Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

January window made the difference in tighter relegation battle

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This year’s Premier League table sees just eight points between eighth place and 17th , and just four more before the relegation races. The latter gap will max at 15 and could be as small as nine.

It was 23 last season, and 21 the previous season. This year will end a three-season run of 20-plus points between 8th and 18th, and seems likely to be a harbinger of what’s to come.

With the big TV money increasing roster investment even more, it will become more difficult to stay in the league for all sides. Perhaps we’ll be talking a gap from 9th to the drop on occasion, especially if West Ham or Southampton ups its investments.

But look at tiny Burnley smashing its spending records this year, and how many clubs have shattered their transfer records. Part of that is a function of the market, but consider how much big boys Newcastle United and Aston Villa spent in an effort to return to the PL. The days of idle windows working are long gone. At best, they will be outliers.

Additionally, expect to see more activity in the transfer market itself (if not in January, then August).

Sunderland proved the old maxim of Jims and Joes being more important than x’s and o’s on a weekly basis this season, and — with apologies to Paul Clement, Sam Allardyce, and Craig Shakespeare — the winter window saved the seasons of Swansea, Palace, and Leicester as key pieces Patrick Van Aanholt, Luka Milivojevic, Mamadou Sakho, Wilfred Ndidi, Martin Olsson, and Tom Carroll arrived to new homes.

(You may find it curious to see Leicester there, but Ndidi’s arrival was probably the No. 1 move in the country. In a world without N'Golo Kante, he was Best XI quality at his position).

Even Hull City’s turnaround under Marco Silva prominently featured January buys in the forms of Andrea RanocchiaLazar Markovic, Alfred N'Diaye and others.

When you see that Sunderland whiffed on several half-hearted Moyes-Everton reunions and Middlesbrough got little from its four window buys, all four of which sit outside their Top 11 in per-match performance, it’s fairly clear that men make the difference.

There’s always danger in evaluating an entire league based on one season, but it feels prescient to me. What do you think?

Bundesliga wrap: Relegation playoff race stays tight

Christian Charisius/dpa via AP
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With three matches remaining for all 18 Bundesliga clubs, there’s clarity at the very top and bottom but plenty to sort in the races to qualify for Europe and avoid the relegation playoff.

[ RECAP: Man City 5-0 Swans ]

We focus on the latter here, with all three teams on 30 points losing away from home this weekend, including one to the 17th place side in Germany.

Hamburg 1-0 Freiburg

Lewis Holtby scored a 54th minute goal to keep the hosts’ slim survival hopes alive, and USMNT forward Bobby Wood got into the match for the final 23 minutes as Hamburg scooped up a rare win.

Augsburg 2-0 Mainz

The visitors had more of the ball but couldn’t rebound from a 29th minute Michael Gregoritsch goal, allowing Alfred Finnbogason to seal the result in stoppage time.

Borussia Monchengladbach 3-0 Wolfsburg

Wolfsburg has a hefty edge on Mainz and Freiburg in terms of goal differential, but won’t be feeling too confident after watching Lars Stindl, Raffael, and Christoph Kramer all score before halftime.

Elsewhere
RB Leipzig 2-5 Hoffenheim
Eintracht Frankfurt 0-3 Hertha Berlin
Stuttgart 2-0 Werder Bremen
Hannover 96 0-3 Bayern Munich
Borussia Dortmund 4-0 Bayer Leverkusen
Koln 2-2 Schalke — USMNT’s McKennie goes 90

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 31 25 3 3 84 22 62 13-2-0 12-1-3 78
 FC Schalke 04 31 16 8 7 49 35 14 9-4-2 7-4-5 56
 Borussia Dortmund 31 15 9 7 61 41 20 9-4-3 6-5-4 54
 Bayer Leverkusen 31 14 9 8 55 41 14 7-5-3 7-4-5 51
 1899 Hoffenheim 31 13 10 8 60 44 16 9-4-2 4-6-6 49
 RB Leipzig 31 13 8 10 47 47 0 8-4-4 5-4-6 47
 Eintracht Frankfurt 31 13 7 11 41 40 1 7-4-5 6-3-6 46
 Mönchengladbach 31 12 7 12 42 48 -6 8-4-4 4-3-8 43
 Hertha BSC Berlin 31 10 12 9 38 35 3 5-6-4 5-6-5 42
 VfB Stuttgart 31 12 6 13 29 35 -6 9-4-3 3-2-10 42
 FC Augsburg 31 10 10 11 40 40 0 6-4-6 4-6-5 40
 Werder Bremen 31 9 10 12 34 38 -4 6-5-4 3-5-8 37
 Hannover 96 31 9 9 13 38 47 -9 7-3-6 2-6-7 36
 VfL Wolfsburg 31 5 15 11 30 40 -10 2-8-5 3-7-6 30
 FSV Mainz 05 31 7 9 15 32 49 -17 6-3-6 1-6-9 30
 SC Freiburg 31 6 12 13 26 51 -25 5-6-4 1-6-9 30
 Hamburger SV 31 6 7 18 24 48 -24 5-4-7 1-3-11 25
 1. FC Köln 31 5 7 19 31 60 -29 3-5-8 2-2-11 22

Pep celebrates another historic Man City performance

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Pep Guardiola was thrilled with his club’s response to sealing the Premier League title: More dominance.

[ RECAP: Man City 5-0 Swans ]

Man City battered Swansea City 5-0 at the Etihad Stadium on the strength of goals from five different players.

“From the first minute to the last one, we played what we have shown in the season,” Guardiola said on NBCSN after the match. “(We scored) a lot of goals and we didn’t concede. We play to keep improving our game here and for the next season.”

Guardiola could hardly differentiate between the club’s stylish Sunday goals, saying, “The first one, the second one, of course the third one. … The Yaya pass was amazing. All the goals were so good.”

And he was also pleased with the support from the Etihad Stadium crowd, though he admits he was grateful to escape before the City faithful stormed the pitch.

Guardiola said he thinks the supporters are still behind their team despite the decisive UEFA Champions League loss to Liverpool because of how hard City plays week-in and week-out.

“That’s happened because they know that we are not liars in the way we want to play,” he said. “They know that we tried our best from the beginning to the end. We knew from the beginning how happy they were.”

Conte relishing renewal of Mourinho rivalry

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LONDON —  Antonio Conte versus Jose Mourinho. Chelsea versus Manchester United.

The FA Cup final on May 19 will be some showdown between two Premier League giants as Chelsea breezed past Southampton 2-0 in their semifinal at Wembley on Sunday.

Conte against Mourinho is a battle which has become increasingly feisty over the past two seasons as they’ve had public spats and insulted one another.

Speaking after the game, Conte was asked about his relationship with Mourinho and potential fireworks on the sidelines, as well as on the pitch, during the final.

“With Jose [Mourinho], we have clarified the situation and that is the most important thing. There is not a problem between him and I,” Conte said. “I think this is a final between two great teams. In my mind I can tell you last season we arrived as favorites against Arsenal. I think in this season season we are not arriving as favorites but as you know very well, last season we lost the cup.”

Conte then revealed he respects Mourinho despite the words the two had earlier this season.

The Italian coach responded to Mourinho’s comments about him, and other PL managers, acting like “clowns” on the sidelines by saying Mourinho was a “fake, little man” as United’s manager also hit out and made a remark about Conte’s involvement in a previous match-fixing investigation.

“We are talking about two managers with a strong character and about two winners and when your mind, your heart, your blood and there is the will to win, for sure we want to try to win this trophy,” Conte said. “The same way Manchester United wants to achieve this. I have great respect for United’s story, for Mourinho’s story. I think they have the same respect for Chelsea’s story and my story.”

Let’s see if that respect is on show during what should be a fantastic final next month as it could well be Conte’s final game in charge of Chelsea.

Man City 5-0 Swans: Royal blowout

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  • Swans give guard of honor
  • Four different goal scorers
  • Fabianski saves PK

Five different players scored as Manchester City hammered Swansea City 5-0 at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

Fans flooded the pitch after the final whistle, many congregating around a surprised Benjamin Mendy in his return from injury.

Kevin De Bruyne scored the highlight reel goal, with David Silva, Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, and Bernardo Silva also scoring for the Premier League champions in their first match since sealing the title through a Manchester United loss to West Brom.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Man City put together another brilliant team goal to open the scoring, with Kevin De Bruyne playing Raheem Sterling toward the end line and David Silva burying Sterling’s cutback in the 12th minute.

Sterling made it 2-0 in the 16th minute, capping off a 1-2 between Fabian Delph and David Silva with a back post tap-in.

Lukasz Fabianski caught a curling effort from Bernardo Silva as the match reached the half hour mark. He’d stop De Bruyne two minutes later.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

De Bruyne scored an otherworldly goal from 25 yards in the 54th minute.

Swansea almost had an answer through Ki Sung-yeung’s corner kick, but Alfie Mawson headed over the bar.

Federico Fernandez conceded a penalty kick to Sterling, and Jesus saw his chance saved by Fabianski. That didn’t stop Bernardo Silva from carving a rebound goal for 4-0.

Benjamin Mendy made his long-awaited return from injury with a 75th minute substitution for Delph.

Fellow substitute Phil Foden took a play started by Yaya Toure and nearly found an assist when Fabianski caught Jesus’ header.

Jesus got his goal when he popped Toure’s scooped past over Fabianski in the 88th.