Premier League Relegation Watch: Matchweek 35

Leave a comment

Matchweek 35 marks the weekend when 20th place Reading and 19th place Queens Park Rangers, both on 24 points, must win to avoid being relegated. If either club has a result go against them over the next four matches, they will be mathematically eliminated from the top-flight.

The relegation focus, therefore, shifts to the other seven clubs that could potentially fill that fatal final spot in the drop zone. Here’s a look where each of the competing clubs stand going into this weekend’s fixtures.

Wigan Athletic (18th place; 33 played; 31 points)

Hardly a stranger to a relegation battle the Latics have lost two straight matches (0-1 to City and 0-2 to West Ham) and haven’t won a game since the 1-0 victory over Norwich on March 30th. Roberto Martinez’ men have been distracted from the Premiership due to their achievements in the FA Cup, where they are set to face Manchester City in the final on May 11th.

This weekend Wigan takes on a Tottenham side that can’t afford to drop points as they hunt down a spot in next year’s Champions League. Despite the competitive matchup it’s one that Wigan is capable of handling as they’ve taken points in six of the last ten meetings with Spurs.

A loss to Tottenham wouldn’t spell doom for Martinez’ side as their remaining schedule provides a game in hand and opponents with whom they are much better matched: West Brom (A), Swansea (H), Arsenal (A) and Aston Villa (H).

Aston Villa (17th place; 34 played; 34 points)

Three points clear of Wigan is Aston Villa, who welcome Paulo Di Canio’s Sunderland side to Villa Park for a six point relegation belter. Paul Lambert’s squad has only managed a single victory the last five times the Black Cats have visited the Midlands. But with Gabriel Agbonlahor’s return from a groin injury to play 90 minutes against Manchester United on Monday, the Villains have a fully fit squad for Sunday’s clash.

With Wigan’s game in hand, Villa can’t afford to drop points in this fixture before they see the season out away at Norwich City, home against Chelsea and away at Wigan.

Newcastle United (16th place; 34 played; 37 points)

Newcastle will be the first side to face a Liverpool sans Luis Suarez and will be hard-pressed to take full advantage. To do so, they must contain Daniel Sturridge, who will be deputizing, as well as the oft-injured Fabio Borini, who may see the field in a substitute role if he passes a late fitness test. For Newcastle, they’ll welcome the return of Cheick Tiote and captain Fabricio Coloccini while Hatem Ben Arfa will look to capitalize on his return to fitness.

Even on points with Sunderland and Stoke, the Magpies must grab a point this weekend as their remaining schedule is anything but easy: West Ham (A), QPR (H) and Arsenal (A).

Stoke City (15th place; 34 played; 37 points)

Another six point gripper is set when Stoke welcome Norwich City to the Britannia. After a seven match winless streak saw the Potters position in mid-table drop like a stone, Tony Pulis’ side managed to get themselves back on track with a 2-0 victory over QPR last week. To reproduce the feat Stoke may have to do so without the likes of Matthew Etherington, Marc Wilson, Charlie Adam and Cameron Jerome, who are all struggling with injuries.

Stoke’s remaining schedule (Sunderland (A), Spurs (H), Southampton (A)) affords them little room for error and a point against the Canaries could prove vital in securing their status in the top-flight.

Sunderland (14th place; 34 played; 37 points)

Consecutive shutout victories against Newcastle and Everton has spirits high at the Stadium of Light and a victory against Aston Villa would bring Paulo Di Canio’s side even on the magic point mark of 40 points. To make that happen the Black Cats will need to get by an inconsistent Villa side with their back to the walls.

Sunderland will feel this is the fixture that will secure their place in next season’s Premier League but a mild end of season schedule (Stoke (H), Southampton (H), Spurs (A)) means the Black Cats are not yet in “must-win” territory.

Norwich City (13th place; 34 played; 38 points)

The last time these two sides faced off at the Britannia it was a tight affair only separated by Matthew Etherington’s 72nd minute strike. The Canaries will hope to reverse their fortunes this time around but if they’re to do so it may be without defender Michael Turner, who manager Chris Hughton has deemed “touch and go” to feature.

Norwich’s remaining schedule provides them with two strong outs to the 40 point mark, home fixtures against Villa and West Brom, before finishing the season away at City.

Southampton (12th place; 34 played; 39 points)

Southampton’s return to the Premiership has resulted in some glorious football and memorable wins. But the Saints job is not yet done as they need a single point to ensure their survival in the top flight. Saturday’s fixture against mid-table West Brom provides the perfect opportunity to do so and with a fully-fit squad Mauricio Pochetino’s men will have no excuse but to execute.

If they’re unable to produce this weekend, things could get tricky for the Saints as competitive fixtures await against Spurs (A), Sunderland (H) and Stoke (A).

Mourinho tells players to be like Federer, don’t use turf as excuse

Peter Klaunzer/Keystone via AP
Leave a comment

When Manchester United take on BSC Young Boys in the two sides’ UEFA Champions League group stage opener on Wednesday, they’ll do so on an always derided artificial playing surface, in the Swiss capital city of Bern.

[ MORE: UCL preview: Real, Ronaldo debut apart; Man City, United, too ]

Speaking in Tuesday’s press conference, Man United manager Jose Mourinho was quick to insist he won’t be using the undesirable surface as an excuse should things go wrong at Stade de Suisse, nor will he allow his players to do so. He even evoked the name of the great Roger Federer, arguably the greatest tennis player of all time and a Swiss himself, as the model example of adaptability — quotes from Bleacher Report:

“I don’t want to use [the artificial turf].. as a possible excuse for a poor performance. Everybody knows it is different but we are in Switzerland, the home of one of the best ever tennis players, and I’m pretty sure the big man [Federer] sometimes is not happy to play on such a surface but he has to play and he has to win.

“Everybody knows he has a favorite surface, but he has also to win on other surfaces. So we have to do it.”

That’s easy for Mourinho to say, as he can easily and conveniently blame his players for not adapting or performing in the event of a draw or defeat.

Premier League Club Power Rankings: Week 5

Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images
Leave a comment

We’re a full month into the 2018-19 Premier League season, which means we can begin — yes, only just now — to make more definitive statements about where everyone is headed for the season.

Not much change at the top of the power rankings this week, but plenty of movement in the middle and bottom thirds…

[ MORE: UCL preview: Real, Ronaldo debut apart; Man City, United, too ]

20. Burnley — Bottom of the table after four straight losses, Sean Dyche worked an unthinkable miracle last season but he might not survive another month of results like the one just completed.
Last week: 16
Season high: 15
Season low: 20

19. Cardiff City — Nailed-on favorites to be relegated before the season started, the Bluebirds haven’t shown anything to suggest they’ve got a trick up their sleeves. Their stay in the PL will, however, be lucrative, if brief.
Last week: 19
Season high: 19
Season low: 20

18. Huddersfield Town — Teams wishing to avoid relegation must beat other sides in the relegation battle — Cardiff, for example. The Terriers couldn’t do it a couple weeks ago, followed by five more points dropped against Everton and Crystal Palace.
Last week: 18
Season high: 18
Season low: 20

17. Newcastle United — Three straight losses is better than four, but not by much. The Magpies get something of a free pass for facing Chelsea, Man City and Arsenal in consecutive games. The fact they lost each game by one goal (all 2-1)? Encouraging.
Last week: 17
Season high: 13
Season low: 18

16. West Ham United — The four teams below them in these rankings — and the real-life table — have been so bad that all the Hammers needed was one win to move from last place (with zero points) to outside the relegation zone.
Last week: 20
Season high: 16
Season low: 20

15. Fulham — Lost 3-0 to Man City this weekend. They’re supposed to lose 3-0 to Man City.
Last week: 14
Season high: 11
Season low: 17

14. Southampton — Only six goals conceded in five games is a top-six defensive record that could keep Saints up on its own. Only six goals scored, however, is firmly in the bottom half — dull and painful to watch, at best; a half-dozen defensive mistakes from relegation, at worst.
Last week: 13
Season high: 13
Season low: 17

13. Leicester City — Hammered by Bournemouth at the weekend, the Foxes undid any goodwill they might have accumulated in a narrow defeat to Liverpool pre-international break. Plus side: games against the Reds and Man United out of the way.
Last week: 10
Season high: 8
Season low: 13

12. Brighton and Hove Albion — Back-to-back draws, against Fulham and Southampton, in games Chris Hughton would have targeted as winnable fixtures.
Last week: 11
Season high: 9
Season low: 19

11. Crystal Palace — Snapped a three-game losing skid by beating Huddersfield, now the Eagles need to avoid being the lesser side against which Newcastle breaks out of its early-season slumber.
Last week: 15
Season high: 6
Season low: 13

10. Everton — Sure, half the team was out due to injuries or suspension, but losing 3-1 to the last remaining team without a point remains an unavoidably bad look.
Last week: 6
Season high: 5
Season low: 11

9. Wolves — After spending wildly in the summer, Wolves took just two points from their first two games in the PL. Back-to-back wins, against West Ham and Burnley, have shown they’re perhaps a cut above the relegation battle.
Last week: 8
Season high: 8
Season low: 13

8. Spurs — Back-to-back defeats, against Watford and Liverpool, and Mauricio Pochettino‘s side is outside the top-four (and -five) just like that. Harry Kane isn’t scoring (just two goals this season — zero in the defeats), and no one else has stepped up to fill the void.
Last week: 5
Season high: 3
Season low: 8

7. Manchester United — Wins over Burnley and Watford are nice, but let us know when they’re ready to handle a giant like Brighton.
Last week: 9
Season high: 4
Season low: 14

6. Bournemouth — Pop quiz: Who’s the fifth-place side in the PL table right now, ahead of both Spurs and Arsenal? ‘Tis the Cherries.
Last week: 12
Season high: 7
Season low: 12

5. Watford — No longer perfect, no longer unbeaten. The hard work begins now, with a winnable trip to Fulham. The fall from fourth — where the Hornets currently reside — could be quick.
Last week: 4
Season high: 4
Season low: 7

4. Arsenal — The only non-top-two team with three straight wins. The problem is, of course, the season-opening losses to Man City and Chelsea have them sitting seventh nonetheless.
Last week: 7
Season high: 4
Season low: 9

3. Chelsea — Pop quiz no. 2: Who’s the current PL leaders? ‘Tis the Blues, so why aren’t they no. 1 (or 2) on this list? Does Arsenal count as a signature win in their second week under a new manager? Probably not, so we are in a holding pattern until they take on Liverpool in 10 days.
Last week: 3
Season high: 3
Season low: 4

2. Man City — It still feels blasphemous to not have them no. 1, but Pep Guardiola knows it’s not necessary to blow the doors off everyone in August and September in order to win the title; that it’s more important to pace yourself for the whole of 10 months, if you want to win the Champions League.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 2

1. Liverpool — Speaking of signature wins, going away to Spurs and completely controlling and dominating the game was a surefire signal of intent from Jurgen Klopp‘s men. What they did against Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday doesn’t necessarily count for these rankings, but it shows they’ve got staying power.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 2

Juve’s Douglas Costa banned 4 games for spitting

Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images
Leave a comment

TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus winger Douglas Costa has been banned for four Serie A matches after a spitting incident on Sunday.

[ MORE: UCL roundup: USMNT’s Pulisic, McKennie shine ]

The Brazil international was sent off near the end of Juventus’ 2-1 win over Sassuolo after he spat at midfielder Federico Di Francesco. Costa had also raised an elbow at the same player and attempted a head-butt.

The Italian soccer federation announced his ban Tuesday, with the winger set to miss matches against Frosinone, Bologna, Napoli and Udinese.

[ MORE: UCL preview: Real, Ronaldo debut apart; Man City, United, too ]

Costa has already apologized for the incident on social media — via Google Translate:

“I would like to apologize to all of Juventus fans for this misleading reaction in today’s game. I also apologize to my teammates, who are always with me in good times and bad. I was ugly, I am aware and I apologize to everyone for it. I make it clear that this isolated attitude does not match what I have always shown in my career.”

Zlatan gets Thor treatment for game day giveaway (video)

lagalaxy.com
Leave a comment

There’s something about Zlatan Ibrahimovic saying, “This is the new Greek god. This is Zlatan,” that leads you to believe it’s not the first time he’s had this thought.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 3-2 PSG ]

Ibrahimovic is the subject of a classic Costacos Brothers poster to be given away at the LA Galaxy’s Sept. 29 match against Vancouver.

If you’re not familiar with the Costacos Brothers, well, your bedroom growing up really missed out.

From “Kelly’s Heroes” to “Czechmate,” the Costacos were trusted with plenty of creative license in a bygone era.

Bygone for everyone besides Zlatan. Bit jealous we can’t get our hands on one.