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.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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Week 9 of the Premier League season is here and the international break is finally over. Hurrah!

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ]

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush” ]

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Arsenal 3-1 Leicester City – (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Manchester City 3-0 Burnley – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM ]

Huddersfield 1-3 Liverpool – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

Everton 3-1 Crystal Palace – (Sunday, 11 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Chelsea 2-1 Man United – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Bournemouth 2-2 Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

Wolves 1-1 Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

West Ham 2-3 Tottenham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM


“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

 

Cardiff City 2-1 Fulham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

Newcastle United 2-1 Brighton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

Premier League TV, streaming schedule

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The Premier League is back after the international break, and Week 9 of the 2018-19 season kicks off with a cracker at Stamford Bridge between Chelsea and Manchester United. Let’s do this.

MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

The full TV schedule for the games this weekend are below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at for all the goals as they go in around the grounds. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Chelsea vs. Manchester United – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Ham United vs. Tottenham Hotspur – NBCSN [STREAM
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Southampton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM
10 a.m. ET: Cardiff City vs. Fulham – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Manchester City vs. Burnley – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Newcastle United vs. Brighton & Hove Albion – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM
12:30 p.m. ET: Huddersfield Town vs. Liverpool – NBC [STREAM

Sunday
11 a.m. ET: Everton vs. Crystal Palace – NBCSN [STREAM]

Monday
3 p.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Leicester City – NBCSN [STREAM]

How will Chelsea, Man United line up?

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Chelsea host Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with Maurizio Sarri and Jose Mourinho in very different situations with their respective clubs.

[ MORE: 3 key battles ]

Sarri has yet to taste defeat as Chelsea boss since arriving from Napoli in the summer, with the Italian coach steering Chelsea to joint-top of the Premier League table playing an exciting, mezmerising brand of soccer with Eden Hazard leading the charge.

As for Jose Mourinho, his future at Man United has been questioned on multiple occasions already as they’ve accrued just 13 points from their opening eight games of the season amid plenty of haphazard defensive displays.

[ MORE: Sarri – “Man United have best squad in PL” ]

Below is a look at the potential starting lineups for both teams on Saturday in west London, with a few injury concerns for each coach to contend with.


Chelsea’s projected starting XI

—– Kepa —–

—- Azpilicueta —- Rudiger —- Luiz —- Alonso —-

—- Kante —- Jorginho —- Kovacic —-

—- Pedro —- Giroud —- Hazard —-


Man United’s projected starting XI

—– De Gea —–

—- Young —- Smalling —- Bailly —- Shaw —-

—- Fred —- Matic —-

—- Martial — Pogba —- Rashford —-

—– Lukaku —– 


Evaluation

Chelsea’s main problem is whether or not Mateo Kovacic will be fit enough to start in midfield, as Ross Barkley has picked up a small knock which is a blow after his fine recent displays for club and country. Cesc Fabregas could come into Chelsea’s midfield if neither are fit, while the only real selection dilemma is whether Willian or Pedro will start out wide in support of Eden Hazard and Olivier Giroud. Sarri’s back four picks itself after a strong start to the season, while Olivier Giroud gets the best out of Hazard and he will get the nod ahead of Alvaro Morata.

For Man United, they have plenty of injury issues to contend with and that is mostly in midfield. Nemanja Matic, Marouane Fellaini and Scott McTominay are all struggling with knocks, with Ander Herrera has been rushed back to be a part of the squad for Saturday. You would think that Mourinho would be a little more defensive when it comes to his lineup given United’s defensive issues this season, so having Fred and Matic (one of whom may do a man-marking job on Hazard) in central midfield makes sense. Alexis Sanchez may not start after his late arrival back from the international break, with Anthony Martial set to start again out wide as Jesse Lingard has been out through injury.

European Leagues urge UEFA to make Champions League fairer

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FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) The European Leagues group has urged UEFA to allocate club competition entries and billions in Champions League prize money more fairly.

The proposal on Friday includes reversing changes made this season giving four guaranteed Champions League entries to Spain, England, Italy, and Germany, plus more guaranteed prize money to storied clubs with European titles dating back decades.

The 28-nation leagues group wants its ideas to feed into UEFA plans for a new competition in 2021.

UEFA has suggested 32-team group stages in the Champions League, Europa League, and an unnamed third event.

European Leagues says fairer shares of prize money and solidarity payments are needed to help competitions stay competitive.

Leagues also want weekends protected for domestic competitions, prohibiting Champions League games except the Saturday final.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports