Premier League Relegation Watch: Matchweek 35

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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).

VIDEO: de Bruyne delivers gorgeous assist on Lukaku goal

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It took a little bit of patience, but Romelu Lukaku finally got on the scoresheet at the 2018 World Cup, thanks to a delicious assist from crosstown club rival Kevin De Bruyne.

The Manchester City playmaker delivered a spectacular outside-of-the-boot cross into the box, where Lukaku’s head met it and guided it towards the far post for Belgium’s second goal of the day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Arsenal close in on Leno; Man City near Jorginho signing, and more

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Arsenal looks like it will have a new man between the pipes for next season.

According to a report from German publication SportBild, Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno will be introduced as an Arsenal player on Tuesday, after a reported $23-29 million transfer fee. The 26-year-old was on Germany’s 35-man pre-World Cup squad, but was one of the last cuts as Joachim Low went with Manuel Neuer, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Kevin Trapp in Russia.

Leno became the full-time starter for Leverkusen as a 20-year-old, and has held the position of the No. 1 for the last six seasons, earning plenty of Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League experience along the way.

It’s unclear what will happen to current Arsenal No. 1 Petr Cech. The 36-year-old Premier League legend experienced one of his worst seasons in net for Arsenal and he could begin the season as a backup, unless he moves to a new club. He reportedly has a contract through 2019.

Here’s some more transfer rumors from around the Premier League and Europe.

(more…)

VIDEO: Mertens scores wonderstrike for Belgium

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After a frustrating 45 minutes, it took only two minutes for Belgium to finally get on the board, even if it was a goal sprinkled with magic dust.

Off a partially cleared ball on the right side of the box, Belgium attacker Dries Mertens whalloped a shot that arced over Panama (and former LA Galaxy) goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, giving Belgium a 1-0 lead.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Croatia’s Kalinic sent home from World Cup

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It’s only been five days, and we have our first World Cup dismissal.

According to a bombshell report out of Croatia, Croatia National Team head coach Zlatko Dalic has sent home striker Nikola Kalinic from the team’s camp, after the AC Milan player reportedly refused to be a substitute during Croatia’s 2-0 win over Nigeria.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

[Update: The Croatia FA confirmed the decision, releasing this statement from Dalic. “During the Nigeria encounter, Kalinić was warming up and was supposed to come on in the second half. However, he then stated that he wasn’t ready to come on due to a back issue. The same thing happened during the Brazil friendly in England, as well as before the practice session on Sunday. I have calmly accepted that, and since I need my players fit and ready to play, I have made this decision.”]

The report states that Kalinic refused to come on due to an injury, but Dalic had said recently that his team had no injuries that would keep players out, potentially meaning that Kalinic used the injury claim as an excuse.

Croatia’s FA is expected to confirm the news on Monday.

After a rough season at AC Milan, with just six league goals in 31 Serie A appearances, Kalinic, at 30, is likely finished with the Vatreni. He scored three goals in World Cup qualifying but hasn’t started for Croatia since a 2-0 win over Peru in March. Kalinic did score against Spain in Croatia’s shock 2-1 win exactly two years prior to Saturday’s match.

He was deemed second choice to Mario Mandzukic as the center forward up top, but was reportedly asked to spell Mandzukic during Croatia’s match against Nigeria, and Kalinic reportedly refused.

If true, Croatia will continue with 22 players for the remainder of the tournament.