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Week 17: Top Premier League storylines — Arsenal vs. Man City the marquee matchup


This weekend marks the 17th round of matches in the Premier League, as we inch closer towards the halfway mark of the season. Can you believe that?

[ MORE: Latest PL Power Rankings ]

With the busy holiday schedule, teams will play four matches in three weeks in one of the most important stretches of the season.

Manchester City vs. Arsenal

You’ll have to wait until Monday, as the last match of Week 17 is the biggest one. Arsenal sits in second place on the table just one point ahead of Man City, as this match between title favorites could help determine the final standings in May. Sergio Aguero looks set to return from injury for City, as getting their leading scorer back would be a huge boost for Manuel Pellegrini‘s men.

Arsenal have won three straight in all competitions, and if Leicester falters at Everton, the Gunners could take the top spot with a win over Man City. Both of these sides love to fly forward on the attack, and with the amount of talent on both sides, we should be in for a good one.

Can Chelsea turn things around post-Mourinho?

Sitting just a point above the relegation zone, Jose Mourinho was sacked at Chelsea just months after leading the club to the Premier League title. It has been an absolute disaster at Stamford Bridge, as the Blues have dropped nine of their opening 16 matches after losing just nine games over the past two seasons. Luckily for Chelsea, a visit from struggling Sunderland is a good opportunity to get things back on track. It is likely a caretaker will be in charge on Saturday before a new manager is appointed, but no matter who is on the touchline, the players must focus on taking all three points.

[ REPORT: Guus Hiddink could manage Chelsea until end of season ]

High-flying Palace visits defensively-sound Stoke

One of the most intriguing matches of the weekend pits Crystal Palace, a team that loves to bomb forward on the attack, against Stoke City, a team that has conceded just two goals over their past seven matches. Palace sit sixth on the table and the Potters 11th, but just three points separate the sides. One of the keys to Stoke’s defensive success has been the play of center-back Ryan Shawcross and goalkeeper Jack Butland, who has kept a league-high seven clean sheets. However, the Potters can be dangerous on the attack as well, as Bojan pulls the strings for the likes of Marko Arnautovic and Xherdan Shaqiri. For Palace, look for the always dangerous Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha to try and create chances from the wings.

Watford looks to make it four wins on the spin

While everyone has been talking about Leicester City’s amazing season and Chelsea’s disastrous one, Watford has quietly climbed all the way up to 7th on the table. The newly-promoted Hornets came into the Premier League with a new manager and tons of new faces, yet have performed well and earned 25 points through 16 games, currently on a three-match win streak. Quique Flores‘ side hosts Liverpool on Sunday, and getting a result over Jurgen Klopp would be massive. If a win is in store, look for production from Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney, as the pair has scored 15 of the club’s 18 goals this season.

[ RELATED: Which Premier League team suits Pep Guardiola best? ]

Will Manchester United get back on track against Norwich?

With Mourinho out at Chelsea, some are calling for Manchester United’s Louis Van Gaal to be the next manager sacked. Despite sitting fourth on the table, the Red Devils are winless in their past five matches in all competitions, scoring just four goals over that span. After losing away at Bournemouth last weekend, United needs to respond with a win on Saturday against Norwich City. Even if United gets a win, supporters will want to see intent on the attack and more than just one goal against a team that has some troubles defensively.

Benzema: ‘I’m F1’ quality compared to ‘go-kart’ Giroud

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It would appear that Karim Benzema lives for exactly two things in life: scoring goals and creating/participating in very public drama.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Benzema, who hasn’t feature for France’s national team since he was allegedly involved in a scandal to blackmail teammate Mathieu Valbuena with a sex tape in 2015, slammed compatriot forward Olivier Giroud as the “go-karting” alternative to his own “F1” quality.

His main gripe with Giroud doesn’t appear to actually be with the player himself, but the fact the two get compared to one another so frequently. In Benzema’s absence from Les Bleus, Giroud has been the main beneficiary, leading many to wonder if the team could have reached greater heights with Benzmea in the team instead — quotes from Sky Sports:

“You shouldn’t confuse F1 and go karting and that’s me being kind. On to the next topic. I’m not talking about him [Giroud] anymore. I just know that I’m F1.

“He has his career, he does what he wants and scores the goals that he wants to score. He’s in his corner and I’m in mine, I’m not thinking about him. If we’re talking about playing style, his suits France well.

“It’s good because there are fast players like (Kylian) Mbappe and (Antoine) Griezmann who play out wide or feed off the centre-forward. When Giroud is up front, he’s a handful for defenses, which gives the other two plenty of space to show what they can do.

“He occupies defenders and it works. It might not be brilliant to watch and you won’t say, ‘Wow, that was incredible.’ Does everyone like that style of play? I don’t know, but it suits France well.”

Giroud: 39 goals (third-highest) in 97 appearances for France. Benzema: 27 goals in 81 appearances.

Guardiola: ‘We will come back stronger, kinder … and a bit fatter’

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Through all of the innumerable challenges and tragedies the world is currently facing during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is doing his best to not only help the fight back in his native Spain, but also give everyone a chance to smile and laugh at their own expense.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Guardiola, who last week donated $1.1 million to fight the virus in Catalonia, released a video message of encouragement and hope on Monday — encouraging everyone to stay inside, and hopeful of returning to a sense of normalcy in short order:

“We miss football. We miss the life that we had a few days ago but now is the time to listen, to follow our scientists, doctors and nurses.

“You are my football family and we are going to do everything possible to make you feel better. We’ll come back from this stronger, better, kinder … and a little bit fatter. Stay inside, stay safe.”

Germany’s UCL clubs pledge support for cash-strapped clubs

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DUSSELDORF, Germany — Four German soccer clubs have pledged a combined $21.9 million to support other teams struggling to stay afloat after games in the country were suspended because of the coronavirus outbreak.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen will forgo $13.7 million in as-yet undistributed TV money and add another $8.2 million from their own funds. All four clubs played in the Champions League this season, giving them extra income.

The German Football League, which oversees the top two divisions, will decide how the money is distributed. The league has previously said it fears many clubs could face financial collapse if games can’t resume.

“In these difficult times, it’s important that the stronger shoulders support the weaker shoulders,” Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said on Thursday.

It’s the latest in a string of gestures to help those in need in German soccer. Players at clubs including Bayern, Borussia Monchengladbach and second-tier Karlsruhe have agreed to voluntary pay cuts to help other staff.

[ MORE: Tottenham offer stadium to help with coronavirus effort ]

Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke said clubs had a responsibility to keep other teams running in what could be a long period without income from ticket sales and sponsors.

“We have always said that we would show solidarity if clubs, through no fault of their own, should run into difficulties that they can no longer overcome themselves,” Watzke said in a statement.

“BVB is currently having a major impact on society through a wide range of initiatives. And naturally we are prepared to help out other professional football clubs if it is ultimately a matter of cushioning the financial effects of the pandemic.”

Transfer rumor roundup: Sancho to Man Utd; Madrid’s Haaland backup plan

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A roundup of all of Monday’s biggest transfer rumors, including those involving Premier League clubs…

[ MORE: Tottenham offer stadium to help with coronavirus effort ]

Jadon Sancho is a virtual lock to leave Borussia Dortmund and return to the PL this summer, and the 20-year-old winger will almost certainly command a transfer fee of more than $150 million just three years after signing from Manchester City for just $10 million. Today, it’s Manchester United who are rumored as frontrunners for Sancho’s services, based upon reports that Sancho has “unofficially confirmed” he will choose to join Man United when the transfer window opens.

Updating a transfer rumor from last week, Real Madrid are still very much in on another Dortmund starlet, Erling Haaland, but that doesn’t mean they’re putting all of their eggs in one basket. Los Blancos are reportedly eyeing Arsenal forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a former Dortmund man himself, as a backup option should Haaland remain at Dortmund or land elsewhere this summer. Aubameyang, who’ll turn 31 this summer, isn’t likely to move for less than $60 million, which could prove a stumbling block.

If the rumors are to be believed, this summer will be a costly one for Man United, who are also interested in Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez. The price tag on the 25-year-old? Close to $170 million. It would seem unlikely that United could afford Niguez (at that price) without getting $100 million (at least) for Paul Pogba.

Another current Arsenal (and former Dortmund) player, midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan, hopes to turn his loan to Roma into a permanent move this summer. Arsenal are expected to ask $22 for the 31-year-old, but the Serie A side is hoping to pay closer to $12 million instead.