Premier League Playback: Title-race odds, classy Moyes, drop zone drama

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MOVING DAY: TITLE WINNERS REVEALED…

‘So you’re saying there’s a chance…’

When all’s said and done at the end of the Premier League season, we may well look back to Saturday March 29th as the defining day in the PL title race. Chelsea lost at relegation battlers Crystal Palace and Manchester City let an early lead slip against a dogged Arsenal to draw. With those results on Saturday leaving Jose Mourinho claiming Chelsea’s title hopes were over, I was present in the depths of the Emirates Stadium as both Manuel Pellegrini and Arsene Wenger were asked about their team’s title chances and who the favorites are after the 1-1 draw in the late game.

“We have to fight until the end of the season because everybody can beat everybody,” Wenger said. “Chelsea lost at Crystal Palace, that means all of us have to be careful and all of us have to be consistent.”

(MORE: Latest Premier League standings)

While City boss Pellegrini believes it’s still a four horse race for the glistening trophy which is likely to be awarded on May 11, the final day of the season.

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Click to enlarge – The simulator has Man City winning it all, but Liverpool not far behind. Source: Opta

“I think all four teams have the chance to win the title but all four teams will drop points between now and the end of the season,” Pellegrini said. “It is very difficult at the end of the season, because there are a lot of teams fighting relegation. Ask Chelsea , look at what happened to them away at Crystal Palace. I think we must continue to just think about the next game.”

With Arsenal and Man City’s bosses not sticking their necks out on the line about who’ll win the coveted title, it’s about time somebody did. Here it goes. I have managed to obtain information from Opta on a simulator they have run many, many times on how the final PL standings will look. Here are the results.

As you can see on the left, Manchester City are the champions elect, with a 62.87 percent chance of them winning their second PL crown in history, then come Liverpool with a 29.84 chance and then, surprisingly, Chelsea only have a 6.89 percent chance of lifting the PL title in 2013-14. Rounding out the top five Arsenal’s chances are almost officially over, with a percentage chance of 0.30 percent, while Everton are at 0.10 percent to win it all.

How have they worked this out I hear you cry? From the horses mouth, an Opta spokesman passed on their findings to me and explained how they’ve predicted the final PL standings.

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Click to enlarge – The final PL standings of 2013-14, as predicted by Opta. Source: Opta

“First, we looked at all of the games played this season and looked at the quality of chances each team is earning and conceding. These are their “attacking” and “defending” values. Next, we use these values to simulate the remaining games left in the season. We do this many, many times. So, when we say that Man City has a 62.87% chance of winning the PL, that also means that they won the PL in 62.87% of our simulations.”

You got it? So, this is pretty much gospel. The soccer gods no longer need to speak, Opta has worked it out for them. But, with unpredictable twists and turns from here on out still likely, there’s no point putting sky blue and white ribbons on the PL trophy, just yet.

(MORE: Man City, Arsenal up for the fight but where will PL title go?)

On Saturday, we saw varying reasons as to why City and Arsenal have led the way for large periods of the season. City with their fine array of attacking talent, the Gunners with their staunch defensive nous and possession play chipping away at the opposition. City dominated the first half and tore Arsenal apart, while the Gunners dug deep to snatch a point late on. City are the favorites for a reason, they have two games in hand of leaders Liverpool and are four points behind. But they do have to visit Anfield, as do Chelsea. Those two matches are pivotal, and the percentages point to that. City are expected to win the title by two points over Liverpool, 84 points to 82, so it could all come down to that one game at Anfield on April 13.

The Reds are currently top, have won eight on the spin, Luis Suarez is their all-time record scorer in a single PL season with 29 and Brendan Rodgers has warned City and Chelsea that his boys are for real. Can Liverpool really hold onto top spot with six games to go?

As for the current fourth-placed team Arsenal, Wenger didn’t exactly rule the Gunners out of the race but he’s intelligent enough to do the math. Which is exactly what he and Pellegrini spoke about.

“Mathematically we are still in there, but it is not in our hands,” Wenger said. “We have to look above us and behind us. Because behind us they are coming too.”

Pellegrini knows his City team aren’t home and dry, as the placid Chilean was cool and calculated when assessing the run-in. “In football, if the mathematics allow you to win, then you have the chance to do it. I think in this moment, we will see what happens tomorrow with Liverpool [they beat Tottenham 4-0 to go top]. Arsenal are only five points behind the leader, it’s not too much.”

Well, you’ve seen the predictions for how this season will finish up, do you agree with the math handing Man City the title just ahead of Liverpool?

Premier League Schedule – Week 32

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 1-1 Manchester City Recap and watch here
Crystal Palace 1-0 Chelsea Recap and watch here
Fulham 1-3 Everton Recap and watch here
Liverpool 4-0 Tottenham Recap and watch here
Man United 4-1 Aston Villa Recap and watch here
Southampton 4-0 Newcastle Recap and watch here
Stoke City 1-0 Hull City Recap and watch here
Sunderland 1-2 West Ham Recap and watch here
Swansea 3-0 Norwich Recap and watch here
West Brom 3-3 Cardiff City Recap and watch here

MOYES RETAINS DIGNITY AFTER EMBARRASSING FLY-BY

One team not in the title race, Manchester United, are looking to restore a little dignity to their title defense. Yes, they’ve miserably defended the PL crown they won last season but at least new manager David Moyes still has his dignity intact. That’s more than can be said for a vast portion of United’s fans.

The drone of a propeller plane hung in the air around Old Trafford just after kick off in Manchester United’s match against Aston Villa on Saturday. The message from an unnamed set of Man United fans (with conspiracy theorists having a field day as rumors of Man City fans being behind the stunt are rife) read “WRONG ONE – MOYES OUT” as the banner hanging from the end of the plane used in the fly-by was the polar opposite of the class, professionalism and prestige that oozes from the United organization. The fans let themselves down in this crass demonstration.

Moyes came out onto the field way before kick off against Villa and applauded the fans, after he’d earlier exclaimed that vast majority were still on his side. The warm reception he got back revealed that a small minority were behind the demonstration against his appointment, as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor has displayed admirable dignity throughout the hounding of him for United’s dismal campaign. The banner came and went early in the game, and it was heart-warming to hear boo’s from fans against the feeble excuse of a demonstration which drowned out the sound of the engine high above the skies over OT. Soon though, they were replaced with groans of discontent, once again, as Aston Villa took an early lead. But, as has so often been the case this season, Wayne Rooney inspired a United fight-back as Moyes silenced the boo boys for at least one day, with a comfortable 4-1 win for the Red Devils.

(Scrolling through responses to the banner flown over Old Trafford, I found this gem. Well done, @TheChelsOrg, well done indeed)

Yes, United have been woeful in the fight to retain their PL crown, but how much of that is really Moyes’ fault? Time and time again we’ve spoke about the aging squad he inherited and all the other intangibles which conspired against him this season. However, you can only really point the finger of blame at him for his transfer policy thus far, as Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini have yet to hit top gear since their big money arrivals.

That will all take time, and given the fact that Moyes has acted in a respectful and dignified manner throughout it all, the wily Scot looks focused on the task at hand and has the bit between his teeth to turn things around. United’s fans need to stand by Moyes, their club needs them.

RELEGATION MADNESS; THIS IS ONLY THE START

Rage. Despair. Delight. Acceptance. Ecstasy.

Those were just some of the emotions fans of West Bromwich Albion and Cardiff City went through on Saturday… and that was just in the four minutes of stoppage time. Watch the incredible scenes unfold in the video above.

Pandemonium ensued at the Hawthorns, as West Brom raced into an early 2-0 lead but then threw it away with 15 minutes left as Cardiff launched a spirited comeback. But the real drama arrived in added time, when Thievy finished off a deflected cross in the 92nd minute to send the home fans into raptures, as head coach Pepe Mel celebrated like he’d won the PL title. Hold on though, this is the PL and this is the race against relegation.

(MORE: Latest Premier League standings)

With Ole Gunnar Solksjaer in charge, his side evoked the ‘baby faced assassins’ predatory late strikes from his playing days, as fellow Norwegian Mats Moller Daehli popped up with the last kick of the game to drive a dagger deep into the hearts of the Baggies, as Cardiff’s traveling fans lost the plot. Neither team wanted a draw in their predicament, but after a pulsating clash where both sides left everything out on the pitch, a draw was fair. Solksjaer and Mel embraced each other with a long hug and laughter, as the two are under intense pressure to keep their sides in the PL. If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry. It was a truly moving moment, in a wonderful absorbing game. The best news is, this is only the start. West Brom are one place above the bottom three and three points ahead of Cardiff in 18th, as the Baggies and Bluebirds are still embroiled in and agony and ecstasy of the relegation battle.

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Click to enlarge – Relegation percentages revealed. Source: Opta

Elsewhere in the race against the drop Norwich are still in big trouble as they were hammered 3-0 by Swansea. The Welsh side eased own their relegation fears considerably with the win, as they sit seven points above the bottom three in 13th. As for Crystal Palace, we already mentioned their stunning win at home to Chelsea, as the Eagles are soaring clear of trouble with many calling for Tony Pulis to be rewarded with the Manager of the Year award. Remember how dead and buried they were back in November?

West Ham beat Sunderland 2-1 at the Stadium of Light on Monday, as the Black Cats came up short in a must-win game. They are second from bottom on 25 points, with Cardiff just one point above them. The Mackems have four incredibly tough games up next, as they travel to Tottenham next week, then host Everton before traveling to Manchester City and Chelsea back-to-back. Gus Poyet’s men are teetering on the brink of the PL.

Speaking of that, Fulham, well, they are all but doomed to life in England’s second-tier next season after losing 3-1 to Everton on Sunday. Look at the predictions from Opta on the left, and you can see the Cottagers have a 96.41 percent chance of being relegated. Not great for Felix Magath’s side, but they do have Hull City, Norwich and Villa coming up in three of their next four games. Don’t rule out the great escape, just yet.

Below our Match of the Day pundits dissect the battle against the drop, as three teams will tumble into the Championship in less than six weeks time. The picture is starting to take shape, as some desperate battles await at the wrong end of the table.

Premier League Playback takes an alternative look at all the weekend’s action from the PL, it comes out every week.

La Liga roundup: Casemiro’s brace earns injury-riddled Real Madrid win (video)

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Casemiro’s heroic performance against Sevilla highlights La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Real Madrid 2-1 Sevilla

Real Madrid’s goalscoring hero on Saturday wasn’t Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard, or even Sergio Ramos.

With two crucial goals in the second half, Casemiro single-handedly earned three points at the Santiago Bernabeu, days removed from cathartic Spanish Super Cup win against arch rivals Atletico Madrid.

With Bale, Hazard, Ramos injured, Benzema on the bench far from match-fit, and Federico Valverde suspended, Los Blancos were in dire need of someone to lead the way, and place pressure on struggling co-leaders Barcelona, who are now under Quique Setien’s tutelage.

By the time the first 45 minutes came to a close, the overall impression was that it would take a miracle for the home side to earn much-needed three points.

That all quickly changed in the second half as the Brazilian midfielder chipped Tomas Vaclik after a picture-perfect backheel from Luka Jovic. Madrid were edging Julen Lopetegui’s side, and Casemiro foreshadowed what was to come.

With the score level, the Brazilian leaped inside the box and headed home a lofting ball from the right flank, catching Sevilla’s defense completely off guard.

Casemiro’s brace came just five minutes after Luuk De Jong‘s left-footed goal in the 64th minute.

League leaders with 43 points, Madrid prepares for their Copa del Rey bout against third-division side Unionistas midweek. Sevilla, on the other hand, host Levante in the same tournament.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Eibar 2-0 Atletico Madrid

Osasuna 0-0 Real Valladolid

Levante 0-1 Alaves

16-year-old Cherki scores 2 as Lyon advances in French Cup

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PARIS (AP) Two goals and two assists from 16-year-old forward Rayan Cherki helped Lyon win 4-3 at Nantes and reach the last 16 of the French Cup on Saturday.

But the run of Reunion Islanders JS Saint-Pierroise ended with a 1-0 loss away to Epinal, which scored deep into extra time.

Cherki put Lyon ahead in the first minute, deftly rounding goalkeeper Alban Lafont and then clipping the ball beyond a defender. He made it 2-0 in the ninth, slotting the ball through Lafont’s legs after being set up by right winger Bertrand Traore.

New signing Renaud Emond headed in Moses Simon’s cross from the left to pull a goal back for Nantes in the 16th. Cherki then showed great awareness to release forward Martin Terrier with a fine pass from midfield in the 37th for 3-1.

Cherki shaved the crossbar with a shot in the 60th and won a penalty in the 67th after robbing the ball off Thomas Basila. He generously allowed striker Moussa Dembele to take it, but Lafont saved Dembele’s attempt.

Two minuter later, Cherki threaded the ball down the right to Dembele, who slotted in, and the irrepressible Cherki set up another chance for Terrier.

Lyon’s defense remains vulnerable and Simon set up Imran Louza’s goal before heading in late on to ensure a tense finish.

Saint-Pierroise had caused an upset in the previous round by knocking out second-division Niort and the players again traveled 6,000 miles (around 9,700 kilometers) from the small island in the Indian Ocean, located off the east coast of Africa.

Saint-Pierroise, the former club of France midfielder Dimitri Payet, was looking to become the first club from the Reunion Islands to reach the last 16 and almost forced a penalty shootout, despite having forward Jean-Michel Fontaine sent off in the 15th minute.

But substitute Adel Berkane rifled home a half-volley for fourth-tier Epinal with two minutes left in extra time.

Also, there were wins for first-division sides Nice, Lille, Saint-Etienne and Strasbourg.

Lille won 2-0 at fifth-division Gonfreville thanks to goals from forwards Loic Remy and Victor Osimhen, while coach Patrick Vieira’s Nice side held on to beat third-tier Red Star 2-1.

Saint-Etienne won 3-2 at Paris FC, a team fighting relegation in the second division.

Paris FC led 2-1 with goals from former Paris Saint-Germain forward Jeremy Menez and ex-Rennes winger Jonathan Pitroipa. Teen forward Charles Abi equalized for Saint-Etienne with 20 minutes left before veteran right back Mathieu Debuchy netted the winner.

Strasbourg won 5-1 at fourth-tier Angouleme.

On Sunday, Rennes plays at fifth-tier Athletico Marseille and PSG travels to face second division league leader Lorient.

Rennes beats PSG in last year’s final.

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

‘I’m very happy for this’: Jimenez becomes Wolves all-time leading PL goalscorer

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Raul Jimenez has carved his name in Wolverhampton Wanderers’ history books.

“I want to say thank you to all my teammates, to the staff, to the coach, because without all of them, I can’t achieve this goal,” Jimenez said following Wolves’ come-from-behind 3-2 victory against Southampton on Saturday.

Just minutes earlier, in front of a fervent stand of Wolves supporters at St. Mary’s Stadium, Jimenez scored his 23rd Premier League goal for Midlands side, becoming the club’s all-time leading scorer in the Premier League era. The Mexican surpasses Steven Fletcher‘s record of 22 goals, which stood since 2012.

“I’m very happy for this, and I want to keep scoring,” he added.

With Wolves disputing Europa League qualifying matches in August, the 28-year-old began to build early on what is now a monstrous campaign – 19 goals and 9 assist in throughout all competitions. Half a year down the road, there are no signs of Jimenez’s magic running out. In fact, his brace against the Saints is clearest indicator of why that’s the case.

With his divine hold up play, well-calculated pressing and hunger for redemption, Jimenez emotionally inspired Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side comeback. And in the 65th minute, his trademark penalty overturned a two-goal deficit, turning emotional to physical inspiration.

“[Coming back] was very important for us after a very bad first half,” he told Wolves reporters following the match.

Jimenez was full of praise for his team’s collective grit. He lauded his team’s “fantastic” second half – full of pressing and chances created. The tactic alterations implemented by Nuno Espirito Santo influenced Adama Traore’s run that led to Jimenez’s third and winning goal.

“In the end, we know that it depends on us – what we want to do, what we want to achieve. So, we need to keep going until the last minute. Keep trying to score, keep going with our football that makes us Wolves.”

We now know that Jimenez is Wolves’ all-time Premier League goalscorer, too.

Lampard calls for Chelsea to finish chances: ‘We know where we need to strengthen’

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Chelsea’s dramatic last-gasp loss to Newcastle United was, in a way, a blessing in disguise for Frank Lampard and company.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The Blues conceded their first first loss since Boxing Day, dropping crucial points in the league’s top-four race. With plenty of chances to score at hand, the visit to St. James’ Park is one of sheer frustration.

But at the same time, the London side learned an invaluable lesson: Chelsea are in dire need of a new striker before the January transfer window comes to a close. Chelsea registered 19 shots (4 on target) on Saturday but squandered most, while Newcastle’s netminder Martin Dúbravka did his job and saved a few.

“We know we have problems at the top of the pitch in terms of we don’t get enough goals,” Lampard said following his team’s 1-0 loss, via the BBC.
“If you don’t score you are always liable for a sucker punch and they got it.”

“If we are looking for people to bring in to the areas to win games when you are controlling it, it is scoring goals.”

From RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner to Lyon’s Moussa Dembele, Chelsea has been linked to a striker all winter long. With Olivier Giroud a signature away from sealing a move to Inter Milan, a replacement is necessary.

Sure, Tammy Abraham‘s return to Stamford Bridge is an outright success – 13 goals and two assists in 22 league appearances – but rotation is visibly needed. Michy Batshuayi replaced Abraham, but failed to show any promising signs. The 26-year-old has scored just once in 13 matches this season.

“We can’t work anymore in training on finishing,” the 41-year-old manager added. “You need to have that killer instinct in front of goal. We need to score more goals from front-line areas if we are going to get to where we want to be.”

Lampard gave no indicator that his side are on the brink of landing a new goalscorer up top. With the transfer window open for just 13 days, however, Chelsea are going to have to get intentional on their search.

“It’s quite clear from what I am saying now that we know where we need to strengthen but we shall see.”