What’s left in England’s race to finish in the top four?

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Technically, Chelsea didn’t sew up a top four finish with today’s win at Villa Park. But if it wasn’t for the most outlying scenarios demanding attention for the sake of accuracy, the possibilities of Chelsea finishing fifth wouldn’t even deserve our attention. Up six points on fifth with a huge goal difference edge, Rafa Benítez would give his first team an early vacation and the Blues would still be playing in Champions League next fall.

But for the sake of discussion (and to see what’s left to decide fourth place), let’s take a look at what remains for England’s third-through-fifth place teams – the three clubs competing for the league’s two final UEFA Champions League.

Current Standings

  • 3. Chelsea – 37 games played, 72 points, +35 goal difference.
  • 4. Arsenal – 36 games played, 67 points, +31 goal difference.
  • 5. Tottenham Hotspur – 36 games played, 66 points, +18 goal difference.

(Manchester United and Manchester City have already secured Champions League spots.)

What’s Left

Chelsea

It almost doesn’t matter. There’s no way Tottenham Hotspur are outscoring their opponents by the 17 goals they’d need to have a chance to take advantage of a Chelsea slip. And if they do, they’ll surely start with a barrage tomorrow at Stoke City, one which will give the Blues a chance to pause and reconsider. ‘Maybe we should take our finale against Everton seriously?’

It’s not going to happen. No way is it even on André Villas-Boas’s radar. The last Champions League spot is all about Spurs and Arsenal.

That will give Chelsea a chance to concentrate on silverware. Wednesday in Amsterdam, the Blues meet Benfica in the Europa League final, a chance to a fourth different European trophy to their selves. It ma not be the honor Blues fans would have wanted (one that required Champions League failure to qualify for it), but years from now, supporters may look back fondly if the honor helps round out the club’s European resume.

Should they do that, expect a second choice team to take the pitch against Everton. The regulars and veterans? They’ll be given a chance to enjoy their title. They may be dealing with some lingering dehydration come kickoff in West London.

Arsenal

The Gunners need win in their last two games to see their way back into Champions League – a competition they’ve been in each of the last 14 years. The only thing standing between them and a 15th straight appearance are a wins against Wigan and Newcastle (or a slip by Spurs).

It’s a fortunate run-in. True, both the Latics and Magpie will be fueled by relegation concerns, but ultimately, you’d rather play bad teams than good. And right now, neither Wigan nor Newcastle are good.

Arsenal host Wigan on Tuesday, three days after the Latics try for their first major trophy in the FA Cup final. Expect Roberto Martínez to start a full team on short rest. Given Wigan’s style and Arsenal’s talents, the Gunners should be able to pass the Latics into submission. Even if things go awry, Arsène Wenger’s men should be able to wait out a late win.

Their final game is at St. James Park, visiting a Newcastle team that’s been one of the league’s worst since spring. The Magpies have only won once since March 10, a 1-0 home win over equally inept Fulham. Amid speculation of a divided locker room and galling performances like the recent 6-0 home loss to Liverpool, Newcastle carry many of the pox of a relegation disaster. Fortunately for them, Wigan may have run out of time.

Tottenham Hotspur

Like Arsenal’s, Spurs’ run-in is relatively easy – a visit to Stoke followed by a finale against Sunderland at White Hart Lane. Their destiny may be out of their control, but with two fixtures against struggling sides, Tottenham can force Arsenal to get full points to take fourth place.

If Arsenal doesn’t get two wins, Spurs can snag a top four spot with two wins. And if the Gunners win out? Spurs are done.

But let’s stop and consider the Spurs season if they do claim two wins. That would put them on 72 points one season after 69 secured a fourth place finish. Last season, 72 points would have claimed third place and pushed Arsenal into Champions League. This year, after losing Luka Modric in August, André Villa-Boas could better Harry Redknapp’s mark.

There’s still a chance 72 will be enough to get Spurs into Champions League. Though Arsenal has been in Champions League every year since 2001, it’s been a long time since they’ve been pushed for a spot, and since the Invincibles started leaving North London, Arsenal hasn’t been above an unexpected stumble.

The odds aren’t short, but for Spurs,  it’s not mission impossible. Unfortunately, their Champions League future remains in their rivals’ hands.

Bundesliga: Thorgan Hazard goes off as Gladbach jumps to second

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While Eden Hazard has torn it up in the Premier League, his brother is quietly leading Borussia Monchengladbach to a stellar season.

Thorgan Hazard scored a goal and assisted two others as Gladbach clobbered Mainz 4-0, jumping to second in the Bundesliga table. Jonas Hofmann had the hat-trick, putting Gladbach in the lead 21 minutes in, but Hazard made things happen. He threaded the pass to Hofmann through the three-man defensive line for the game’s opener.

Hofmann put them 2-0 up on another Hazard assist minutes after halftime, and then he bagged his own on a pinpoint cross from Nico Elvedi that left Hazard all alone to roof it past a helpless Florian Müller. Hofmann pulled in his hat-trick by the 63rd minute to seal the game.

Thorgan Hazard has now been directly involved in 11 goals in nine games for Gladbach this season, the same amount as his brother Eden has for Chelsea so far.

Elsewhere, Hertha Berlin and Freiburg drew 1-1 on a pair of first-half goals. Ondrej Duda scored for Hertha just seven minutes into the match thanks to an absolutely delicious feed from Per Skjelbred on a through ball from just past the halfway line. That was it for Hertha though, as they struggled to create more good chances. Freiburg knotted it up just past the half-hour mark, as Robin Koch delivered a howitzer into the top corner, a truly fantastic goal.

Hertha failed to truly take advantage of the crowded top of the table, but the point pushed them up to sixth in the table, level on 15 points with RB Leipzig. Freiburg, meanwhile, moved to nine points, just three above the relegation zone.

Report: Lopetegui out at Real Madrid after historic slide

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Julen Lopetegui may not be entirely at fault for the historic skid Real Madrid has found itself in the midst of, but if reports are accurate, he will be taking the fall for it.

According to Sky Sports, Lopetegui is out at Real Madrid, and the change at the helm is imminent. Whether Lopetegui is the main culprit or not, the optics of the last few weeks have been far from pretty.

Madrid has gone five matches without a win across all competitions, four of those losses. They suffered through a club-record 481-minute scoreless streak, which ended on Saturday in a 2-1 loss to Levante.

Earlier in the day, Spanish outlet Marca reported that Lopetegui is on thin ice, saying that he will be fired soon, “if it is not today, it will be tomorrow, or in the next week, or after El Clasico.”

Lopetegui maintained his safe mindset after the Levante loss, telling reporters, “Right now that is the last thing that I’m thinking about. I feel more encouraged than ever to continue because the team gave their heart and soul on the pitch. Sooner or later we will come out of this. The dressing room was sad but the players are keen to lift themselves up and look to the next game. The players gave everything and we will get out of this situation.”

However, there was a Lopetegui quote following the loss to Levante that may reveal a little more about his current mindset. Lopetegui said, “Football will give back everything it has taken from us,” or, in other words, Lopetegui believes that Real Madrid’s performance will advance back to the mean. He clearly believes what is happening at Real Madrid does not need fixing, and if he continues to plow forward eventually things will correct themselves. While that may or may not be true, the points Madrid has lost in the La Liga table, and the positioning it has lost in Champions League play, cannot be recovered. There is serious ground to be made up in league play now with Barcelona four points ahead of Madrid, plus three other teams between the two sides in the standings.

While it was always going to take time to adjust for the loss of star player Cristiano Ronaldo, that alone is not the reason why Madrid has failed to put the ball in the back of the net. There is some bad luck involved as Lopetegui mentioned, considering they put up 3.26 expected goals and hit the woodwork three times in the loss to Levante, but they also had less than stellar performances against Alaves and Atletico Madrid, and they were soundly beaten by Sevilla.

It’s been a rough few months for Lopetegui. His acceptance of the Madrid position this summer resulted in a messy and embarrassing split from the Spanish national team less than 48 hours before the start of the World Cup. He lost his opening match in charge, falling to Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup in extra time, and while the club won four of its first five league matches, the dry spell eventually struck, and here we are.

It’s no surprise that Florentino Perez, the firecracker in charge of Los Blancos, has made a move in the midst of the struggles. No matter where the blame ultimately lies, the manager is always going to be the first to take the fall, and that appears to have taken place at Madrid.

VIDEO: Goal kings Rooney, Shearer sit down for special interview

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No player in Premier League history has scored more goals than Alan Shearer (260); the only player to score more goals than Wayne Rooney (208) is Shearer.

[ MORE: What did we learn in the Premier League, Week 9? ]

Suffice to say, it was a very special occasion when the two England legends — Rooney’s 53 international goals make him the Three Lions’ all-time leader, while Shearer’s 30 place his sixth — got together for a sit-down interview about Rooney’s whirlwind year of 2018.

From his largely failed return to Everton, to leaving the PL and England behind for D.C. United and MLS, followed by the raging success he’s enjoyed with the Black and Red thus far, Rooney and Shearer had plenty to catch up on.

ATLUTD aim to capture Shield without two key players

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Second-year Atlanta United is closing in on its first trophy but will likely continue the chase for the Supporters’ Shield without two key players when they host the Chicago Fire on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Midfielder Miguel Almiron sustained a hamstring injury in the first half against New England on Oct. 6 and midfielder/forward Hector Villalba suffered an unknown injury with the Paraguayan national team last week. Neither trained with the team Thursday.

Atlanta (20-6-6, 66 points) leads its Eastern Division rival, the New York Red Bulls, by a point for the Supporters’ Shield, emblematic of the best team in Major League Soccer, with two matches left for both.

Chicago (8-17-7, 31 points) has been a disappointment but is 2-2-2 in the past six matches after an eight-game losing streak.

“The last four games we committed to a plan of giving the best possible image for the club and ourselves so we can finish strong with performances that we would like to start the next season with,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said.

Any combination of six points won by United or lost by the Red Bulls will clinch the best record for Atlanta as well as home field throughout the postseason. Atlanta has set the season attendance mark with an average of 51,826 fans per game so far, bettering its mark of 48,000 in the inaugural season of 2017.

Villalba has seven goals and nine assists, but the engine in the attack is Almiron.

He is tied for 11th in MLS with 12 goals and his 14 assists are tied for fourth. Many of his setups have been to Josef Martinez, who has 30 goals to set the league season record. Almiron’s replacement could be 18-year-old Ezequiel Barco.

“You can’t just replace Miguel with one guy — it’s too big of shoes to fill,” Atlanta defender Michael Parkhurst said. “The important thing is that (Barco) doesn’t have that pressure that he has to do what Miguel does.”

Atlanta coach Tata Martinez said his team learned how to play without Almiron last season when he was injured.

“We know that if Miguel is out, the guys around him are going to have to step up,” Martinez said. “Maybe they aren’t as talented as he is, but they will have to do it with a lot of hard work and sacrifice.”