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Week 34: Top 5 Premier League storylines — Foxes, Spurs ready for title run-in

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If you can believe it, the 2016 Premier League season is entering its final days, and someone is going to have to win this title…

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Top-6 test for Leicester as they close in on glory

Leicester City vs. West Ham United — Sunday, 8:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

Leicester may have a seven-point lead in the race for the title — they do, for math tells us so — but their remaining five games are going to be anything but a cakewalk: trips to Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge, and visits from Everton and Swansea City, are to follow Sunday’s clash with West Ham at the King Power Stadium. Once again, Claudio Ranieri‘s Foxes will kick off before Tottenham Hotspur, their nearest rival in the title race, thus the opportunity to restore a 10-point lead by the end of day Sunday exists. Nine points is all Leicester need to clinch the title. Can Leicester make it six-straight clean sheets in PL play? The last goal Leicester conceded: 490 minutes ago, against West Bromwich Albion, on March 1.

[ MORE: Perfect storm — This is why Leicester are top of the PL ]

Must-win for Spurs to stay in it

Stoke City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — Monday, 3 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

The math is simple: Tottenham have to keep winning and hope that Leicester will eventually slip up and drop points (three times). Spurs can only control one half of that equation, and they’ll be looking for a fourth win in five games Monday afternoon when they visit the Britannia Stadium to take on 9th-place Stoke. Harry Kane‘s lead in the race for the Golden Boot is just one goal (22 to 21) after Jamie Vardy‘s brace against Sunderland last weekend.

[ MORE: PL schedule, stream links ]

St. Totteringham’s Day might not come this year

Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace — Sunday, 11 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

Every season for the last 20 years, Arsenal have finished above Spurs, their north London rivals. The Gunners’ local dominance has become such an assumed outcome that in 2002 “St. Totteringham’s Day,” the day on which Arsenal mathematically guarantee themselves to finish above Spurs on the season, was invented. Only one problem for Arsenal fans: St. Totteringham’s Day might not come this year. Heading into the weekend, Spurs have a six-point lead on the Gunners (who have a game in hand). More worryingly for the red side of north London, Spurs have shown a total inability to “Spurs it up” this season, and they might just end their two decades of inferiority.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings | Schedule | Stats ]

Monkey wrench in the race for Champions League?

Manchester United vs. Aston Villa — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
Chelsea vs. Manchester United — Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET (NBC)

Chelsea are still Chelsea, right? We still think of them as “they could and/or should beat anyone on a given day,” right? Sure, it’s been a disastrous season — they’re 10th in the league table, and the month is April — but if you’re a Man City supporter, you’re still worried about Saturday’s trip to Stamford Bridge, if you’re just a little honest with yourself. If nothing else, you’re terrified Guus Hiddink will “pull a Jose Mourinho” and park the bus in playing for a 0-0 draw, thus opening the door for Man United, who will likely have just sewn up all three points against bottom-of-the-league Aston Villa and pulled to within a single point in Manchester’s very own race for fourth.

[ MORE: Liverpool’s unbelievable Europa League comeback vs. Dortmund ]

Relegation six-pointer at Carrow Road

Norwich City vs. Sunderland — Saturday, 7:45 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

One of Norwich and Sunderland will be playing in the Championship come August. With everyone else a minimum of 11 points clear of the relegation zone — currently occupied by Villa, Newcastle United and Sunderland, from bottom to top — only Norwich are in danger of being dragged into the bottom-three. This season’s relegation battle becomes extremely straightforward with a Norwich victory: they’ll be a minimum of six points clear, at which point only a miracle will be able to save one of the Black Cats or Magpies.

WATCH: Rooney sees red for forearm shiver, Kamara scores golazo

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Midweek MLS provided plenty to talk about on Wednesday, with two red cards and a golazo in one match alone.

The two main talking points from the New York Red Bulls’ 2-1 win over DC United weren’t really part of what led the victors to three points.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

How? Well, one of the world’s marquee names earned a red card via VAR and a returning star scores an absolute stunner, that’s how.

Here’s Ola Kamara’s debut marker for the Black-and-Red, adding to a record which included 49 goals in 97 matches between Columbus and the LA Galaxy before moving to the Chinese Super League for a wildly disappointing time with Shenzhen FC.

All of that is forgotten.

As for the Rooney incident, the Red Bulls already led 1-0 when DC’s star striker went forearm shiver on Cristian Casseres Jr.

It’s the second red of the season for Rooney, who is set for Derby County in January.

Amro Tarek was later sent off for the Red Bulls, who moved ahead of DC in the standings. Kaku and Daniel Royer had RBNY’s goals.

Newcastle takeover could be back on if in holiday relegation battle

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How much do Newcastle United supporters dislike their owner Mike Ashley right now?

Enough that this report is likely to condemn many to hoping their favorite club in the world is in the Bottom 3 come Christmas.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

The Chronicle’s Mark Douglas speculates that Ashley will lower his asking price for the club if it is in a relegation fight come December — something that looks certain after the Steve Bruce-led Magpies got bossed around by promoted Norwich City.

Nothing But Newcastle transcribed Douglas’ chatter from his podcast, in which he says,

“It wouldn’t surprise me if we hear more in December because there are still people sniffing around that football club and if the team are in the bottom three, there’ll be people thinking they can get a bargain out of Mike Ashley again. … He will probably more open to listening to lower offers in January and December which is what happened last December. He was basically saying ‘take it off my hands, you now have to take the risk’'”

This is notable for two reasons. First: the social experiment of wondering how many fans could see themselves rooting for their team to take a major and perilous back step just to see the back of a man they perceive is at the root of their failures (and that perception is widespread in this case).

But second, we can see if this rumor comes true because it’s difficult to imagine Newcastle as comfortably mid table by Christmas.

Fan protests and anger are nothing new, but here’s an effort to show how wobbly Ashley’s reputation is on Tyneside: Fans have taken to selling a black and white striped shirt with player name and number but no sponsor just so they can have a Newcastle jersey that doesn’t put money into Ashley’s pockets. And this is after he broke the club’s transfer record twice in one year.

If we’ve learned anything from the past few seasons, though, it’s that boycotts and anger will spur Ashley into insisting that he’s willing to sell and just conveniently enough it will be before the January transfer window. He “won’t be able to buy any players” with the takeover in play, and talks will hit a wall come late January, when they’ll loan a couple young players from Top Six sides.

Yes he spent significant money on Joelinton, Allen Saint-Maximin, and others this summer, but one decent window doesn’t make a culture. Count us amongst the skeptical, for now.

Messi back in training, could be fit for Betis

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi was back in full training again on Wednesday and may be fit to face Real Betis in the Spanish league on Sunday.

Messi had been training separately from the squad since injuring his right calf in the preseason.

He missed the team’s 1-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao in the league opener on Friday.

Barcelona has not said how long it expects Messi to be sidelined.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

Coach Ernesto Valverde is also dealing with injuries to forwards Luiz Suarez and Ousmane Dembele.

Dembele is certain to miss Sunday’s match at the Camp Nou because of a left thigh injury that should keep him out for about five weeks.

Suarez also isn’t likely to play this weekend because of a muscle injury sustained before halftime of Friday’s game in Bilbao.

Two-time defending champion Barcelona hadn’t loss a league opener in 10 seasons.

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

Inter, Man Utd yet to find wage agreement for Alexis loan

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How close are we to an Alexis Sanchez-Romelu Lukaku reunion in Italy?

Depends if you think about $236,000 a week is a reasonable amount of money to pay a guy to not work for you.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

Inter Milan is ready to offer that figure — half Alexis Sanchez’s salary — per week to take the Chilean on loan from Manchester United, but the Red Devils don’t really like the idea of paying the player that much.

We wouldn’t be surprised if Inter wouldn’t want to go much higher than that, and that’s a weight United needs to bear considering they greenlit the wild wages when they sent Henrikh Mkhitaryan to Arsenal in exchange for Sanchez.

The 30-year-old entered the summer with the sixth-highest salary in football. Only Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Paul Pogba, and Andres Iniesta make more.

Put in perspective further, Lukaku’s new deal at Inter is reportedly close to $309,000 a week.