Claude Puel

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Top PL Storylines; Top Four fortunes, final impressions, Mou’s kids

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There’s neither title nor relegation drama as the Premier League hits Championship Sunday, but the table is far from set.

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There’s the Top Four to consider, but you know that, and the midtable is also in play. With approximately $2.6 million per place, some teams could gain or lose $10-plus million on Sunday.


Who will go to the UEFA Champions League?

Arsenal vs. Everton — 10 a.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com
Liverpool vs. Middlesbrough — 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com
Watford vs. Man City — 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via NBCSports.com

It’s as simple as this: Whether they start fast or slow, Liverpool and Manchester City control their destinies in the race for the Top Four. A point will do it for Man City, while Liverpool needs a win to ensure its spot. Arsenal needs a win and either a Man City loss or a Liverpool draw. There are tiebreaking scenarios…

According to The Sun, If Arsenal draw 1-1 Everton and Liverpool lose 0-2 against Middlesbrough the teams would be forced into a tie-breaker after finishing level on points, goal difference and goals scored.

Champs and their captain vs. the Championship

Chelsea vs. Sunderland — 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com

Chelsea’s players have one final chance to impress Antonio Conte before the FA Cup Final, and the boss may hand John Terry one final start at Stamford Bridge. Meanwhile, Sunderland would relish one last big result before a season in the second tier.

Will the kids be alright?

Manchester United vs. Crystal Palace — 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com

Jose Mourinho is going to play a host of youngsters on Sunday, and Paul Pogba will return. This is a club that loves promoting its youth, and would love to see some new Old Trafford heroes take care of business against Big Sam Allardyce and mercurial Palace.

What impression will Puel, Hughes leave?

Southampton vs. Stoke City — 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com

Mark Hughes feels safer than Claude Puel, but both Stoke City and Southampton underachieved this season (at least in terms of total points produced). Puel led his club to a EFL Cup final and didn’t look bad in UEFA Europa League play, but has still be under fire at St. Mary’s. Hughes had a head-scratching year at the bet365 Stadium. A positive impression would help either heading into the summer.

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. Manchester United

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  • United won 3-2 in EFL Cup Final
  • And 2-0 at Old Trafford on Aug. 19
  • Man Utd leads all-time 63W-30D-27L

It’s an EFL Cup Final rematch at St. Mary’s on Wednesday, when Manchester United will look for season sweep of Southampton (Watch live at 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Southampton sits eighth in the Premier League table, and controls its own destiny with this being a match-in-hand on two of the three teams which can still finish eighth. Claude Puel knows his future may at stake, and will want to take every chance to end with positive impressions.

Meanwhile, United knows it will finish in sixth place in the league. Jose Mourinho may hand several youngsters playing time, with names like Joel PereiraAxel Tuanzebe, Demi Mitchell and Scott McTominay possibilties.

“I have to build some teams with the minimum of conditions to fight for a result,” Mourinho said. “We lost against Arsenal 2-0 and we fought for the result. We lost 2-1 [at Spurs] and we fought for the result.”

The match is one week before United faces Ajax in Sweden for the UEFA Europa League crown and a place in next season’s UEFA Champions League.

What they’re saying

Southampton chairman Ralph Krueger on Puel in an exclusive with JPW: “Claude has been a part of everything that has happened this year. It is really going to be the players or however else, it is up to football to give us the final grade and then we will see how we go forward.”

Man Utd’s Marcus Rashford on playing its best“”We’ve got to keep fighting till the end. As individuals, the way we’re made at this club is we want to win every game, no matter what game it is and what circumstances we’re in. It’s going to be the same approach until the end of the season.”

Prediction

Saints hopes of finishing strong at home in back-to-back St. Mary’s tilts will be met by United players hoping to impress Mourinho. Could be a lot of fun here with a 2-2 draw.

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. Arsenal

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  • Arsenal is winless at Southampton in last 5 games
  • Saints have not scored in 3 of last 4 home games
  • Arsenal has lost 5 of last 6 road games

Arsenal looks to take advantage of its game in hand on the top four as they travel to Southampton to take on the Saints at St. Mary’s on Wednesday (Watch live at 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Gunners still remain in a position of uncertainty, and while their Champions League hopes remain slim, a road win over struggling Southampton would see them move within three points of the top four with two matches remaining. Meanwhile, a loss would all but eliminate Arsenal from Champions League contention.

[ RELATED: Wenger would never work under a Director of Football ]

Southampton, meanwhile, sits in the clogged middle tier of the Premier League table, not playing for much except final positioning, and a lack of motivation has led to a winless run of four games since April 8th. Most recently, Saints have played to a pair of drab 0-0 draws against Hull City and Liverpool, the latter of which saw the Saints hang on for dear life under a relentless Reds attack.

Arsenal could be without defender Laurent Koscielny, although the last time Arsene Wenger doubted his French defender’s fitness, he made the starting XI. Southampton could see Charlie Austin make a return, and manager Claude Puel has suggested he could rest players who have built up heavy minutes.

What they’re saying

Claude Puel on Manolo Gabbiadini: “Sometimes it’s difficult when you come back from an injury, difficult to find the good rhythm and good intensity. On Sunday we played a difficult opponent for a striker. Against Liverpool it’s difficult for a striker. He played alone between two or three defenders and it’s difficult to have the good ball. Like many strikers his quality is in the box. Against Arsenal I think this game will be open and perhaps we will see more opportunities for them and for us.”

Arsene Wenger on teams without European play“It raises questions. There are two kinds. The last two seasons, teams who have not had big possession won the league and, as well, the teams who were not involved in Europe at all won the league.”

Prediction

Arsenal could have problems with Southampton’s defensive style of late. The Gunners have often struggled against teams that bunker in and defend, which Saints did against Liverpool. This game has 1-1 written all over it, with Southampton scoring on a counter.

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. Hull City

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  • Hull won 2-1 on Nov. 6
  • Tigers two points clear of drop zone
  • Saints lead all-time 23W-20D-15L

After back-to-back losses to Man City and Chelsea, Saints meet a different kind of desperation when Hull City arrives at St. Mary’s (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

With a win, Hull can move five points clear of the final relegation spot and heap pressure on Swansea City, who plays Sunday. With a loss, Marco Silva’s men open the 17th place door for Swans.

[ MORE: JPW on Romeu the Destroyer ]

Since the start of the 2011-12 season in the Championship, Southampton has won six of seven matches against Hull. That seventh, however, was the match at the KCOM Stadium earlier this season, one that saw now-West Ham man Robert Snodgrass spur a Tigers comeback.

Saints open the day four points back of eighth place West Brom, and also hold a match-in-hand on the Baggies.

What they’re saying

Saints boss Claude Puel on slump busting“After two losses it’s important to move forward now and take points on Saturday in front of our own fans. We have to improve in the right areas and find a good balance of play, but also a good clinical edge in both penalty areas.”

Marco Silva on Hull’s away troubles““We have conceded goals on the counter-attack away from home in games when the result has been looking good for us – we cannot make it possible for our opponents to do this to us. The second goal we conceded at Stoke is an example of this – conceded at a time when we were in control of the game. Details like this are making the difference and these are things we must look to change. This is clear to me and I pass this on to my players.”

Prediction

Saints have more quality than Hull, but may not have as much fire in the belly. Still, home field means a lot here and Southampton should reverse the score line from November’s tilt. 2-1, with Manolo Gabbiadini and Dusan Tadic leading the way.

Claude Puel calls for video replay after Gabbiadini goal called off

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Manolo Gabbiadini performed brilliantly in Sunday’s EFL Cup final, but was the Southampton striker unfairly gipped of a hat-trick?

[ MORE: Lucky Man United, Mourinho begin trophy haul ]

Saints manager Claude Puel certainly believes so.

[ MORE: Three things from Man United’s win vs. Southampton ]

While the back-and-forth final between Southampton and Manchester United presented a tremendous matchup, the Saints had every right to be furious with the officiating in the early going after Gabbiadini’s 11th minute finish was called off for offsides.

“I would like, of course, video in the future for these situations,” said Puel. “It’s very hard when we see this game to lose. It was cruel.”

Gabbiadini went on to score a pair of goals at the tail end of the first half and early in the second stanza, but Puel was pleased with his side’s resilience after going down 2-0 inside the opening 38 minutes.

“We kept the good attitude and spirit to stay in the game after going 2-0 down,” said the Southampton boss. “We played since the beginning of the season every two or three days. We played to a strong and fantastic level. It’s important now to continue this work, to put away this disappointment and come back in the Premier League with this strength and this quality.”

Video replay has been a common discussion for some time now, but more leagues are beginning to examine the possibility. FIFA is prepared to introduce new experimental trials over the coming months and could present a form of replay at next summer’s World Cup in Russia.