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Week 27: Top 5 Premier League storylines – Is Spurs the title favorite?

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After a one-week hiatus, the Premier League is back.

The title race is taking serious shape, but there are plenty of races around the rest of the Premier League table. With Leicester City, Tottenham, Arsenal, and Manchester City all vying for the top spot, those below them are still battling for various positional milestones.

Who is the favorite for the Premier League crown? Who has a realistic shot at the top four? Who is hot and who is cold? Who will be dragged into a relegation battle? With 12 matches left in the season, these questions still don’t have answers, but they may after this weekend.

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1. Is Tottenham the title favorite?

Tottenham vs. Swansea City — Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET

I can see the comments flooding already: “You guys still don’t give Leicester City any credit?” Sure we do do. At the moment, Tottenham is not the title favorite. The team at the top of the table with 12 matches remaining is the title favorite, and that means Leicester City. When/if Spurs does take over the lead, then they will be the favorites.

This fact, however, is undeniable: Spurs is in the best form of the league and has a title-winning league resume this season. They’ve lost just three times all year, and just twice since an opening-day loss to Manchester United. Since their 1-0 loss to Leicester City in mid-January, they’ve rolled off five straight wins. Last week’s win over Manchester City was enormous, and it means they have a breeze of a schedule the rest of the way, with just one other top-4 team on the dockett through the end of the season – the North London derby on March 5 which will be a massive occasion.

Given Tottenham’s inability to get over the top 4 hump in recent seasons, any Champions League finish seems like a major victory, but a title race has essentially fallen into their lap. Can they take advantage where Arsenal has failed this season?

2. Can Leicester recover?

Leicester City vs. Norwich City — Saturday, 10:00 a.m. ET

Remember how Tottenham has lost only three times this season? Leicester had only lost twice…until last week, when they fell at the Emirates. A potentially big blow to Leicester’s title chase, Norwich could be just the spoonful of medicine the Foxes need to get back on track. The Canaries have opened the scoring against opponents just eight times all season, the second-worst amount in the league ahead of only bottom-feeding Aston Villa. That’s not likely against the Foxes who had conceded just two goals in eight matches before their 2-1 loss to Arsenal last week. A win feels like a must for Leicester’s title hopes this week, but that also seems the likely result.

3. Will the Gunners use the momentum?

Arsenal vs. Manchester United — Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET

Arsenal was humbled by Barcelona in Champions League, but losing to one of the best attacks ever assembled is nothing to hang their heads about. The league form for Arsenal still breeds confidence, with three unbeaten following the loss to Chelsea. The Gunners need to milk every last point possible out of their remaining matches if they hope to keep pace with or pass Spurs, and this week’s matchup with a faltering Manchester United seems like the perfect opportunity to jump back on the soapbox. Just two points back, Arsenal is right in the thick of things, but they need to build on recent performances if they have any hope of sticking around.

4. Can Southampton make a move on Manchester United?

Southampton vs. Chelsea — Saturday, 10:00 a.m. ET

The Saints’ poor run through December was a debilitating wound, but not a mortal one. Southampton still has the opportunity to push for a guaranteed Europa League place, and their chances for the top four seem dire but not dead. This weekend seems to be the perfect opportunity to make a move on Manchester United and shimmy into the top five. The Saints already dispatched Chelsea once this season at Stamford Bridge, but this isn’t the same Chelsea team they faced back in early October. Can they pass the Red Devils? Also notable: Chelsea has an outside shot at moving back into the top 10 should things shake out, something that seemed well out of reach in the early going.

5. Can Crystal Palace get back to winning ways vs West Brom?

West Bromwich Albion vs. Crystal Palace — Saturday, 12:30 a.m. ET

One of these teams hasn’t won since December 19; the other has just six points since early January. Two teams looking to avoid being swept into a relegation battle meet at The Hawthornes, with both in dire need of a victory. The Eagles have tumbled down the table, without a win since 2015 and on the verge of totally undoing all the impressive early season results. Both these sides sit at 32 points, and with the relegation zone eight points back, the heat isn’t on just yet, but it could be with yet another failure this weekend. Games like these have a habit of ending in a draw, but it’s likely Alan Pardew could go for all the marbles.

Champions League, Europa League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions

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The UEFA Champions League and Europa League action has resumed and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City still in the Champions League and Manchester United and Wolves among the favorites to win the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for Premier League clubs in the coming weeks.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it. Both Manchester clubs are the bookmakers favorites to seal their respective European glory.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League and Champions League quarterfinals will take place as the mini tournaments begin.

Man City beat Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate, while Chelsea lost Bayern 7-1 on aggregate as they crashed out of the Champions League. Man United and Wolves are both in the quarterfinals and favored to go far.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch and follow all of the fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon/Germany
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)
Wednesday, August 12: Atalanta 2-3 PSG
Thursday, August 13: RB Leipzig 1-2 Atletico Madrid
Friday, August 14: Barcelona 1-3 Bayern Munich
Saturday, August 15: Manchester City 3-1 Lyon


JPW’s Europa League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
Monday, August 10: Inter Milan 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen
Monday, August 10: Manchester United 3-1 Copenhagen
Tuesday, August 11: Wolves 1-2 Sevilla
Tuesday, August 11: Shakhtar Donetsk 1-2 Basel


Champions League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)

(+210) Atalanta v. PSG (+117). Tie: +275
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+135). Tie: +220
(+235) Barcelona v. Bayern Munich (+115). Tie: +255
(-305) Manchester City v. Lyon (+750). Tie: +450

Outright winner
Manchester City (+220)
Bayern Munich (+325)
Paris Saint-Germain (+500)
Atletico Madrid (+800)
Barcelona (+800)
Atalanta (+1000)
RB Leipzig (+1700)
Lyon (+3500)


Europa League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
(+112) Inter Milan v. Bayer Leverkusen (+240). Tie: +250
(-385) Manchester United v. Copenhagen (+1000). Tie: +480
(+235) Wolves v. Sevilla (+120). Tie: +230
(-106) Shakhtar Donetsk v. Basel (+290). Tie: +255

Outright winner
Manchester United (+180)
Inter Milan (+325)
Sevilla (+500)
Bayer Leverkusen (+650)
Wolves (+700)
Shakhtar Donetsk (+1100)
Basel (+2500)
Copenhagen (+6000)

Chelsea hail ‘successful’ season. Was it?

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Chelsea have labelled their 2019-20 season as being a ‘very successful’ one.

But was it?

All in all, I’d give them a 7/10. Slightly better than we expected, and that’s about that. So often it was a case of one step forward, one back for this young squad.

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Bruce Buck, the chairman at Chelsea, was very pleased with Frank Lampard’s first season in charge of the Blues and believe there is a bright future for the west London club.

“In the round we think it was a very successful season,” Buck said. “I think obviously we would have been a little bit happier if we had won the FA Cup. But I’m sure the manager and the players were gutted not to lift the trophy. Frank Lampard is a very positive force for Chelsea. He’s Chelsea through and through and that continues to show through. He carries a lot of credibility. It’s an exciting time for Chelsea.”

It sounds like Buck is overcooking this a little, but you’d expect him to. He is Chelsea’s chairman and there have been plenty of strides made forward this season in trying circumstances with a top four finish, reaching an FA Cup final and making the Round of 16 in the UEFA Champions League.

Below is a look at the key takeaways from Chelsea’s 2019-20 season.


Frank Lampard overachieved

Frank Lampard had a transfer ban to deal with until January, and even though it was lifted no new players were bought. Instead, Chelsea prioritized signing Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner for 2020-21 and both deals look like being bargains long-term. Chelsea are now backing Lampard in the transfer market based on his fast start as boss. As for Lampard as a coach, tactically his team are exciting to watch and pour forward in numbers. Defensively he leaves a lot to be desired. Some of the huge individual mistakes his team made were no fault of his own but his playing philosophy means Chelsea will continue to take risks and unless they upgrade their defense significantly, they will continue to concede plenty of goals. We saw how Bayern Munich ruthlessly exposed their defensive unit and those results will be a reminder to Lampard of just how far they have to go.

This was Lampard’s first season as a coach in the Premier League and a fourth-place finish is successful, but with Tottenham, Arsenal and Leicester set to come back even stronger next season, Chelsea will have a battle to replicate this finish and perhaps were a little lucky that their London rivals struggled so much early on in 2019-20. The way Chelsea faded towards the end of the campaign will also be an issue for Lampard to address and his reaction after the defeat at Sheffield United was telling. The Chelsea legend has said his side are a work in progress so many times and he knows where their weaknesses lie. Is he the man, long-term, to improve this young squad? We will soon find out what Lampard learned from his first season in charge in the Premier League.


Young players: Ups and downs expected

Part of that regression late in the season was due to Chelsea having such a young squad. Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori all started regularly early in the season and were full of confidence after impressive loan spells in the Championship in 2018-19. By mid-December that confidence and zest vanished and even though Mount rallied late in the season, all three struggled for form after fast starts to the campaign. Christian Pulisic struggled to start with but then found his feet, although injuries hit him hard, as the streaky season for the USMNT star summed up the form of most of Chelsea’s youngsters. As to be expected, they are progressing and next season most of them will be better suited to the PL and be more consistent throughout the 38-game season. Tomori, Abraham, Callum Hudson-Odoi and maybe even Mount could find themselves on the outside looking in though, as Lampard has brought in more experience in attack and is looking for new defenders. Lampard may move away from most of the young players he was forced to used.


Big upgrades needed defensively

Nothing new here, but the major flaws of this Chelsea team have been apparent since Antonio Conte’s second season in charge. Defensive mistakes cost Chelsea dear this season. Kepa Arrizabalaga was lacking in confidence in goal and that spread through the entire defensive unit. Lampard has to sign two new center backs, a left back and a new goalkeeper if Chelsea are going to become genuine title contenders in the next few seasons. Chelsea need to spend big, defensively, if they’re going to do any better than fourth place. It really is as simple as that.


Fourth place just about right

All in all, like I said, 7/10 feels like a fair assessment of this Chelsea side. They’re in transition and aren’t the finished article and to seal a top four spot with a squad littered with young players, plus N’Golo Kante not as his best due to injuries and after losing Eden Hazard, that was an overachievement. In the end it was a toss of a coin between Chelsea, Leicester and Man United to see who didn’t finish in the top four and Chelsea making felt just about right given some of their big wins, and performances, during the season. Lampard and his players should be congratulated on an above average season but that’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less. The hard work for Chelsea has only just started.

German health officials block soccer clubs’ plans for fans

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BERLIN (AP) Bundesliga fans in the stands in September? Not yet.

[ MORE: Bundesliga schedule  ]

German health officials have blocked professional soccer clubs’ plans to allow fans at Bundesliga games when the new season begins in September.

“Thousands of fans in the stadiums – that doesn’t fit with the current situation with infections. Now it’s about not taking any unnecessary risks,” national health minister Jens Spahn said on Twitter of the coronavirus pandemic on Monday.

The 36 clubs in Germany’s top two divisions had been planning on having limited numbers of socially distanced and seated supporters at games, and had produced a proposal last week that included prohibiting away fans, restrictions in standing areas of stadiums, and a ban on sales of alcohol. They mooted personalized tickets to help with contact tracing, though those plans have been criticized by fans.

“The league’s concept is good in theory,” Spahn said. “But what’s decisive is what happens every day in practice.”

In a follow-up tweet, Spahn added, “We feel that we have to stay alert. Having spectators in the stands would be the wrong signal in the current situation.”

Germany’s 16 state health ministers met on Monday and agreed that having fans in stadiums for league games was not a priority.

Germany has registered 217,835 coronavirus infections, and a relatively low number of deaths at 9,203 compared to neighboring France, Spain and Italy, but there has been some concern over a recent increase in the daily rate of new infections.

Last week, Germany recorded its highest daily tally of new infections in three months. The national disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, said 1,045 cases were recorded last Wednesday – the first time since May 7 that it has counted more than 1,000 cases in a day.

Berlin health senator Dilek Kalayci said on Monday the ministers came to a unanimous position that stadiums should remain closed to Bundesliga fans based on the current pandemic situation.

“In terms of health policy, we are currently not in favor of opening the stadiums until Oct. 31, at least. Then you can discuss the situation again,” Kalayci said.

Bavarian governor Markus Soder had been one of those most vocally in favor of the Bundesliga resuming without fans after its two-month break last season, but he said allowing fans to attend games when the new season begins on Sept. 18 would send the wrong signal.

“It would send a devastating signal to the public, both in terms of what it means for medical capacities and in relation to cultural events,” Soder said.

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

Ciaran Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

Celtic, Aberdeen games called off after coronavirus breaches

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Celtic and Aberdeen have been slammed by the Scottish government and their games in the next week will not go ahead after coronavirus breaches from players.

[ MORE: UCL, Europa picks ]

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon addressed the situation regarding the two Scottish Premiership clubs and said fans should “not expect to see Aberdeen or Celtic play over the course of the coming week.”

It has emerged that Celtic player Boli Bolingoli had traveled to Spain and failed to quarantine on return before Celtic’s game against Kilmarnock on Aug. 9, breaking Scottish law, as the club released a statement saying the Belgian wide-man will be disciplined and slammed the ‘stupidity’ of his actions.

That came after eight Aberdeen players apologized after they broke guidelines by going out to a bar following a loss to Rangers on Aug. 1.

Here is more information on the situation in Scotland regarding Boli Bolingoli and the Aberdeen players from our partners at Sky Sports:


“What I regret is that some football players seem incapable of living up to their responsibilities. I very much regret that. When I stood here on Friday I think my frustration with the Aberdeen football situation was pretty palpable,” Sturgeon said.

“I don’t want the season to be in jeopardy. I don’t want people who are not responsible for this to pay the price but we have to be very clear that this situation is not acceptable. We’ll set out the conclusion of the talks later today but as a minimum, you should not expect to see Aberdeen or Celtic play over the course of the coming week.”

It comes just days after Aberdeen’s trip to St Johnstone was called off due to two of their players testing positive for coronavirus.


Quite simply, these players should know better.

The Scottish government went on to acknowledge that the vast majority of people with Scottish football are following the guidelines but the actions of a small minority are putting everyone at risk.

After ending the 2019-20 season early due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020-21 Scottish Premiership season has just kicked off and already these issues are cropping up.

Celtic were due to play St Mirren on Aug. 12 then, ironically, Aberdeen on Aug. 15. Aberdeen were due to play Hamilton Academical on Aug. 12.