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PL Sunday preview: Man Utd to delay City’s party another week?

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Manchester United are the last hurdle standing between Manchester City and the Premier League title, a race which could come to its rather anti-climactic end on Sunday, while Arsenal continue battling for Champions League Europa League qualification…

[ MORE: Man City on the brink of PL title ]

Newcastle United vs. Arsenal — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

10th-place Newcastle entered the weekend every bit as hot as sixth-place Arsenal, with both sides having won three straight PL games ahead of Sunday’s clash at St. James’ Park. The Magpies have clawed their way back following a disastrous start to the season (just four wins from their first 18 games, including a run of one point from nine games from October to December) and are all but mathematically safe from relegation after knocking off fellow relegation battlers Southampton and Huddersfield Town, as well as eighth-place Leicester City. Rafa Benitez will surely feel this is one of the best coaching jobs of his illustrious career, given the (lack of) resources at his disposal in the summer.

For Arsenal, the top-four is no longer a possibility (they sit 13 points behind north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur), and even fifth appears a big ask with just five games to go (six points separate them from Chelsea). In short, Arsene Wenger is all-in on the Europa League, which will see them face Atletico Madrid in the semifinals beginning next week. Similarly to Newcastle, their three-game streak has come against sides all currently 12th or lower in the table (12th, 18th and 19th). After a late scare away to CSKA Moscow in Thursday’s quarterfinals second leg, expect a heavily rotated lineup on Sunday.

INJURIES: Newcastle — OUT: Jesus Gamez (ankle) | Arsenal — OUT: Henrikh Mkhitaryan (knee), David Ospina (ankle), Santi Cazorla (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Granit Xhaka (flu)

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Man City’s win over Spurs ]

Manchester United vs. West Brom — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Jose Mourinho’s Man United already delayed Man City’s PL title-winning party one week, and they have the chance to do it again on Sunday. City breezed past Tottenham on Saturday, leaving them three points from the title, which could also be achieved by a United loss to last-place West Brom at Old Trafford — an unlikely outcome, in all honesty.

“During the week I was trying to fight that result (the win over Man City) by working hard and trying to make the players understand that it’s not enough to deserve to finish second, we need the points to finish second,” Mourinho said this week. “Obviously to finish top-four we need four or five points, but to finish second we need much more than that and after three important points last weekend, we have to try to … be closer to the second position, which is, in this moment, our ambition.”

As for West Brom, their fate as a Championship side next season could be sealed as soon as next weekend. A loss on Sunday would mean the only way to avoid relegation is to win their final four games and Swansea City would have to lose all of their final five while overturning a minor goal-differential disadvantage (-19 to -26). An even more unlikely sequence of extraordinary events.

“From my discussions with the owners already, I know there is a genuine desire to build a team with greater goal power and attacking threat which can capture the fans’ imagination,” chief executive Mark Jenkins said this week. “In the event of our losing Premier League status, it will be a squad we will want to compete strongly for promotion back to the top tier.”

INJURIES: Man United — OUT: Phil Jones (fitness), Daley Blind (fitness), Sergio Romero (knee) | West Brom — OUT: Gareth Barry (knee), Hal Robson-Kanu (concussion), James Morrison (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Daniel Sturridge (hamstring), Nacer Chadli (thigh), Jonny Evans (knee)

Pardew ‘furious’ after four WBA players steal taxi in Spain

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At least when you’re bottom of the Premier League table and appear headed for relegation, as West Bromwich Albion now find themselves, you can take the positive approach that “the only way to go from here is up.”

[ FA CUP: Man United advance, drawn against PL opposition in QF ]

Alternatively, four of your most senior players — Jonny Evans, Gareth Barry, Jake Livermore and Boaz Myhill, in this case — might have other ideas and elect to steal a cab during a late-season training camp in Barcelona. That’s the current state of affairs for the Baggies and manager Alan Pardew, who openly admits he was “furious” and felt “let down” — quotes from the Guardian:

“This is obviously not ideal. They broke the curfew and that’s unacceptable and I feel a bit let down by that.”

“It’s difficult for managers. Obviously, I was furious with what happened but at the same time I’ve got to stay faithful to the players and give them a chance to remedy the situation.”

The night’s timeline reads something like this: the quartet wanted to go out in the city center, but everything was closed late at night; they got a taxi to a McDonald’s by the Barcelona port; the driver left the car, at which point the players decided to drive back to the team hotel around 5:30 a.m.; the care was returned to the cab driver around 8 a.m.

Evans was stripped of his captaincy for Saturday’s FA Cup fifth-round defeat to Southampton. The players have since released the following statement through the club’s website:

“We felt it important we identify ourselves as the players involved in an incident which occurred during the training camp in Spain this week out of respect for team-mates who otherwise could be implicated by association. We freely acknowledge and apologize for the break of curfew which we accept represented a breach of the standards of professionalism required of us as representatives of West Bromwich Albion.

“The club has informed us that it will now conduct its own inquiry into the incident and we will cooperate fully. In the meantime, we would like to assure our supporters that this incident does not reflect the determination and resolve we possess to do all we can to recover a difficult season.”

With 11 games left to play, West Brom currently sit seven points adrift of safety; Pardew’s position grows more and more tenuous with each point dropped; and three of their final 11 games are against Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.

Evans, Barry, two others release apology for incident in Spain

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The quartet of West Brom players accused of stealing a taxi while breaking curfew in Spain has apologized to its team, fans, and bosses.

[ MORE: Chelsea loanees shining ]

Club captain (!!) Jonny Evans of Northern Ireland, backup goalkeeper Boaz Myhill (Wales) and English midfielders Jake Livermore and Gareth Barry are the players in question, and they released a statement on West Brom’s web site.

Saying they needed to claim responsibility for the incident so speculation could stop over which four players were in trouble, the four said (from wba.co.uk):

We freely acknowledge and apologise for the break of curfew which we accept represented a breach of the standards of professionalism required of us as representatives of West Bromwich Albion FC.

The Club has informed us that it will now conduct its own inquiry into the incident and we will co-operate fully.

In the meantime, we would like to assure our supporters that this incident does not reflect the determination and resolve we possess to do all we can to recover a difficult season.

It’s an incredibly stupid standard, especially considering not one of the four is a young buck, but it’s also not an indictment on their focus in the relegation race. The Spanish camp is a break for the players to come together; These four just chose to do something illegal (allegedly).

Chelsea 3-0 West Brom: Giroud, Hazard link downs Baggies

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  • Eden Hazard brace earns Chelsea the win
  • Giroud bags assist on full debut
  • Blues jump back into Champions League place

Olivier Giroud was brought in to score goals, but on his full Chelsea debut it was his strong hold-up play that earned the Blues all three points.

The Frenchman started and set up Eden Hazard for the opening goal after a half-hour, warding off a defender and letting his new teammate slice through the back line to score as Chelsea topped West Brom at Stamford Bridge 3-0.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

West Brom was forced into an early change as January signing Daniel Sturridge limped off injured after just four minutes following, a familiar sight for Premier League fans. On came Jay Rodriguez, who had the best chance of the first half-hour after Victor Moses accidentally played him through, but he fired wide one-on-one with Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

The opening 30 minutes saw Chelsea enjoy decent control but West Brom poked and prodded. However the Blues opened the scoring through Hazard, who took a strong layoff from Olivier Giroud on a one-two play, leaving the Belgian clean through after the nifty touch.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

After halftime, the game ground to a halt, and with an hour gone Antonio Conte withdrew Giroud in favor of Alvaro Morata who returned from his injury layoff. The change sparked the Blues, and they scored just three minutes later. Victor Moses found Cesc Fabregas at the top of the box, and the Spaniard looked to play the ball back to Moses, and while his rabona pass clipped a defender, it still found Moses streaking on net and the Nigerian finished cooly for a 2-0 lead.

With the Blues firmly in control, they tacked on a third with 20 minutes to go. A moment of brilliance saw Hazard cut inside to beat Jonny Evans, and fired on net, crashing the shot home inside the near post for a 3-0 lead and the game decided.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The win gets Chelsea back to winning ways after a small two-game losing streak in Premier League play, pushing them above Tottenham into fourth position and a single point back of Liverpool in third. For West Brom, it’s their third straight defeat in league play and leaves them bottom of the table, without a win since defeating Brighton 2-0 on January 13.

January transfer window grades for every PL club

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How did all 20 of the Premier League teams fare in the January transfer window?

[ MORE: Latest January transfer news

With the window ending on Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET, now is the time to analyze which clubs did the best wheeling and dealing over the past 31 days.

Below is a grade for all 20 clubs based on their business.


Arsenal: A
All in all, a very good window for the Gunners. They got Henrikh Mkhitaryan for Alexis Sanchez in a straight-swap, then spun Olivier Giroud out to Chelsea on Deadline Day for $25 million and brought in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for $77 million as well as Mesut Ozil agreeing a new deal. They sold Theo Walcott and Francis Coquelin as well as getting Matheiu Debuchy off the books. Despite their defense still needing work this was a major rebuild by Arsene Wenger, all for just $10 million net. Very, very fruitful January and plenty of promise for the months ahead.

West Brom: B+
They kept hold of captain and inspirational center back Jonny Evans for their impending relegation battle and added a world-class striker in Daniel Sturridge on loan from Liverpool. A fine window for Alan Pardew‘s Baggies who also added Egyptian center back Ali Gabr as cover.

Manchester United: B+
The Sanchez deal was a massive bonus for United who couldn’t believe their luck when Man City pulled out of the deal. Jose Mourinho also got rid of Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the deal and United loaned out a few fringe players. Sanchez should give them the boost they need in the final months of the season to finish in the top four and go far in the Champions League.

Chelsea: B+
Pretty decent window for the Blues in the end as Olivier Giroud arrived on Deadline Day, plus Ross Barkley was well with a gamble at $20 million and Emerson Palmeri will provide key competition at left back. Antonio Conte may not have the overall say on transfers, but his squad has been strengthened with Michy Batshuayi leaving on loan the only major departure.

Manchester City: B
Swing and a miss on Mahrez and Alexis Sanchez but Aymeric Laporte arrived for a club-record $80 million fee and he will be a long-term project in defense. Jack Harrison was the only other arrival and the former NYCFC man is a product of the City Football Group who loaned him out to Middlesbrough right away.

Liverpool: B
They addressed their big need at CB with Virgil Van Dijk coming in, but was that all that Liverpool needed? Philippe Coutinho‘s departure for $197 million saw them bag VVD and come out $97 million on top in the deal, but Klopp will definitely spend big on a goalkeeper and a few more defenders in the summer.

Brighton & Hove Albion: B
The Seagulls needed to add extra firepower and they did that with Jurgen Locadia and Leonardo Ulloa arriving. A decent window for Brighton and they kept hold of their star players.

Tottenham Hotspur: B-
A Deadline Day arrival with Lucas Moura coming in from PSG for $32 million which could be a steal. He will give Spurs something extra in attack in their top four battle. Loaning out several fringe players will be helpful.

Swansea City: C+
Solid enough window for the Swans as brought in Andre Ayew on Deadline Day for $23 million as he returned to the Swans and will add goals. They kept hold of Alfie Mawson which was a big moment. Given their recent good form, they didn’t need to add much.

Everton: C+
Cenk Tosun and Theo Walcott were a necessity with Sam Allardyce desperate to increase his attacking options. Eliaquim Mangala arriving on loan provides extra defensive cover too. Kevin Mirallas, Sandro and Ross Barkley all leaving was a bonus and the Toffees probably needed to trim the wage-bill further too.

Leicester City: C
They kept Riyad Mahrez, despite late interest from Manchester City, and Claude Puel looks to have found a gem in Fousseni Diabate. They also shipped out Ahmed Musa and Leonardo Ulloa who weren’t going to play. Decent window.

Stoke City: C
Badou Ndiaye’s arrival on Deadline Day could be a nifty pick-up in midfield with $19.8 million spent, while Moritz Bauer and Kostas Stafylidis will be steady defensive additions to the squad. Paul Lambert needs to rejuvenate the talent within his squad too.

Burnley: C-
Quiet window for Burnley who added Aaron Lennon and Georges-Kevin Nkoudou to give them extra pace out wide, but you get the feeling Sean Dyche wanted to do a bit more business with his Clarets tumbling down the league. Keeping hold of Ashley Barnes was a bonus.

Southampton: C-
The big loss was Virgil van Dijk but they got $100 million for him from Liverpool and a record deal for a center back. It was time he left after not playing anywhere near his full potential. Guido Carrillo has arrived to add extra firepower but not getting the deal over the line for Quincy Promes has left a cloud hanging over their window.

West Ham United: D
Frustrating window in many respects for David Moyes who did plenty of wheeling and dealing late on. Hit by injuries to key players, he needed to do plenty late on and Joao Mario’s addition on loan from Inter looks like a superb signing. Jordan Hugill arrived from Preston too and will add strength in depth up front.

Watford: D
Javi Gracia’s arrival as manager saw Gerard Deulofeu arrive on loan, but keeping Troy Deeney could be a bigger deal. Didier Ndong has arrived on loan too but the Hornets could have done with a few more defensive reinforcements.

Huddersfield Town: D
Terrence Kongolo and Alex Pritchard were the key arrivals and although the Terriers spent big on Pritchard, you feel like David Wagner could have worked the loan window a little better.

Crystal Palace: D
Erdal Rakip and Jaroslaw Jach will bolster Roy Hodgson‘s squad but the veteran manager will have wanted more from this window. His search for a new striker didn’t go well but Palace did sign Alexander Sorloth late on. Despite their recent good form, the Eagles rely heavily on Wilfried Zaha, Andros Townsend and Christian Benteke.

Bournemouth: D
No significant arrivals and plenty of youngsters shipped out on loan. Not a busy window at all for the Cherries as Eddie Howe decided to keep his cash in his pocket. With the relegation picture so tight, Bournemouth are another club in the bottom half who could rue not spending.

Newcastle United: D-
A disappointing window for the Magpies who needed a striker but Daniel Sturridge turned them down and Nicolai Jorgensen was too expensive. Kenedy arrived on loan from Chelsea and given the state of limbo with a new ownership deal in doubt, Rafael Benitez must be a very frustrated man. A late loan move for Islam Slimani could save the day for the Magpies though.