Championship Sunday focus: Manchester City

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Story so far… Go back and look at preseason picks (like ours, here) and two teams dominated pundits’ top spot: Chelsea, and Manchester City. After a slow start, a spell of midseason omnipotence, and some late slips, City’s right where we thought that’d end up. Claim a result on the final day, and the Citizens raise their second Premier League trophy in three years,  winning one of the most exciting title races in the league’s 22-year history.

Among the various new faces at the Etihad, Manuel Pellegrini and Fernandinho played major parts, but the driving forces behind this team are the same as they were two years ago. Yaya Toure remains the best midfielder in England after a 20-goal campaign. David Silva is one of the league’s most exciting playmakers, while the danger Sergio Aguero offers up top is second only to Liverpool’s Luis Suarez.

Had Aguero been healthier (limited to 22 games), City’s title may have been confirmed by now, but all teams have their challenges. Two points (and 13 goals, difference) up on Liverpool, the Citizens are a result away from a league-League Cup double.

RELATED: Head here for all things Championship Sunday

Who do they play and where can I watch it: Sam Allardyce’s West Ham United, visiting the Etihad on Sunday, is the main obstacle. Watch the game at 10am ET on NBC or live online via NBC Sports Live Extra.

Form guide: After slipping against Sunderland three weeks ago, City has won four in a row:

April 13 – at Liverpool, L 3-2
April 16 – vs. Sunderland, D 2-2
April 21 – vs. West Bromwich Albion, W 3-1
April 27 – at Crystal Palace, W 0-2
May 3 – at Everton, W 2-3
May 7 – vs. Aston Villa, W 4-0

What’s at stake: First place is the obvious answer, but given the title is in Manchester City’s hands, a different, more ignominious distinction is also at stake. Does this team want to be known for losing the title at home on the last day of the season? They came close two years ago, dramatics holdovers from that title-winning squad will want to avoid.

With a win, draw or a Liverpool slip against Newcastle, City wins its fourth first division title. Even with a loss, City can claim the title, provided the Reds do the same at Anfield.

When the final whistle blows: Triumph or tragedy, ecstasy or agony – there are only two, extreme ways this game can go. With City supporters will celebrate a title won at home for the second time in three years, or they’ll be left shocked as West Ham United costs them the crown.

NFL’s 49ers purchase minority stake in Leeds United

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One of England’s most famous clubs is receiving investment and strategic business connections from one of the NFL’s most famous brands.

Leeds United and the San Francisco 49ers announced Thursday that 49ers Enterprises, an investment arm of the 49ers ownership, has purchased a minority stake in the Championship club. Multiple reports state that the 49ers now own 10-15 percent of the club, but current Leeds chairman Andrea Radrizzani remains the majority owner.

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As part of the deal, 49ers President Paraag Marathe gets a seat on the Leeds United board of directors. Per Leeds, the money invested will stay with the club and be used for the first team, as Leeds looks again to make its way back to the Premier League in next season’s campaign.

An American ownership group investing in England is nothing new, but to identify and purchase a stake in a club with history and a decent chance at making it to the Premier League is impressive. In addition, the York Family, who owns the 49ers, has a net worth in the billions, which could help fund Leeds’ push back into the Premier League.

For the 49ers, this is also a savvy business decision. By investing low in a club in the Championship, they hope that they can experience the financial windfall of playing in the Premier League. This season, clubs made a combined $3.2 billion (with a capital B) thanks to revenue sharing, international and domestic TV rights, and other sponsorship deals.

With even the relegated sides taking home nine figures in revenues from the league, who wouldn’t want to invest and take a cut of that?

Now, only time will tell how long it is before the 49ers influence helps – or hinders, based on the 49ers current state of affairs in the U.S. – Leeds reach the pinnacle of English football.

Iniesta joins Japanese club Vissel Kobe

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TOKYO (AP) Former Barcelona playmaker Andres Iniesta was introduced as the newest member of Japanese club Vissel Kobe on Thursday, a poorly kept secret that’s been rumored for weeks.

Iniesta appeared before a packed news conference at a central Tokyo hotel on Thursday along with Kobe’s billionaire owner, Hiroshi Mikitani.

[READ: Earnie Stewart being considered for U.S. Soccer post]

“I’m pleased to announce,” Mikitani said, “that Andres Iniesta will be signing up play with Vissel Kobe after his historic career at Barcelona.”

Iniesta signed his contract as Mikitani watched, and then spoke through an interpreter.

Terms of the contract were not disclosed, but Japanese media are reporting he will earn $30 million annually on a three-year deal.

“For me this is a very special day,” the Spaniard said. “This is an important challenge for me. My family is excited to come to Japan and we are very pleased. There were many offers. Other clubs showed interest. But I decided to sign with Vissel Kobe because the project presented to me was impressive.”

Mikitani is also the CEO of Barcelona sponsor Rakuten, a Japanese online retailer.

Iniesta held up the team’s red shirt with his famous No. 8 on the back, and his name written across the bottom.

Iniesta previously had said he would probably retire from international soccer after Spain plays at this year’s World Cup in Russia.

The 34-year-old Iniesta scored the winning goal for Spain in the 2010 World Cup final. He also was a key part of Spain’s two European Championships in 2008 and 2012.

He announced last month he would leave Barcelona after 16 seasons. His last match for the Spanish club was on Sunday against Real Sociedad at Camp Nou.

Vissel Kobe is in sixth place after 15 games in the J-League. It signed Lukas Podolski last year, but the German striker is out until the end of June with an injured calf.

Yaya Toure talks future, wants to play with Paul Pogba

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There is very little debate: Yaya Toure is his own special case.

The longtime Manchester City midfielder does what he wants, flies his own flag, has the worst agent in the game, and is pleased or dismayed in unusual ways.

[ UCL: What would Real 3-peat mean? ]

Toure, 35, has been linked with a move to NYCFC now that he’s leaving Man City, but the Ivorian still wants to play two more seasons for a Champions League or Europa League club.

And he wants to get together with Paul Pogba. You can see where this is going… (from The Manchester Evening News):

“Pogba is the same size, power – but different in the way he wants to go. Technically as well, the ability to score goals as well. It is a player I want to play with, to be honest, just to teach him some things.”

That must mean both are going to Paris Saint-Germain because… Yaya at Manchester United? No way, right? Right? Even with last year’s reports from his — again — terrible agent that it was an option, that still seems too villainous.

“I don’t rule big teams out. The big teams are very important for me. What they want to achieve, the way they want to go, for me is very important. … I want to go somewhere I can win and achieve. It’s going to be hard one day to play against City, but I have to do that. It is part of my job.”

Toure later said he was “no good in an office,” which had us thinking, well, what if they properly celebrated your birthday, Yaya?

WATCH: Miami United midfielder unleashes Open Cup laser

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Tomas Granitto, have yourself an extra plate at the postgame buffet.

The Miami United midfielder scored a gorgeous goal in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over fellow NPSL side Jacksonville Armada in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup’s third round.

[ MORE: 3 Key Battles for UCL Final ]

Complete with aesthetically-pleasing post-ping, the former El Salvador U-20 player laid into a 25-yard shot to open the scoring in Florida.

Granitto, 24, has played for Timbers 2, Swope Park Rangers, FC Edmonton, since leaving NCAA side Florida Gulf Coast.