Premier League Playback: Who has edge in top four race?

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There is a special scenario playing out in the Premier League this season, hence why this edition of Premier League Playback is focusing solely on the crazy top four race.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

With Chelsea eight points clear at the top, it seems like this season will become all about the race for second place. And third place. And fourth place. Just two points separates Spurs in second place and Manchester United in sixth after the weekend games in Week 25.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

With six giants of English soccer scrambling for the top four with their big-name managers, there is so little to divide these behemoth clubs.

Yet, let’s have a go shall we? Might as well…

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Below is a look at how many points each of the five contenders for the three remaining UEFA Champions League spots (let’s be very realistic a little wild and assume Chelsea wins the PL…) will get, thus predicting who will finish in the top four.

My word, it’s going to be tight.


MANCHESTER CITY

Why they’ll finish in the top four: Pep Guardiola‘s side have to play four of the top six in the final 13 games of the season, leaving them with a very tough schedule. A spell at the end of March and start of April will decide their season with a triple header of Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea, plus potential Champions League and FA Cup games. Given the fact they’ll likely go deep in the UCL and the FA Cup, that will mean plenty of rotation in the squad. With Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany and Kelechi Iheanacho in reserve right now, that should be fine. You get the sense the penny has dropped for Pep’s players in recent weeks. Expect them to go on a run and finish his opening season as a coach in the PL strongly. Chelsea will beat them to the title, for this season at least, but finishing second (especially after their poor start) would be a good achievement. 
Toughest games remaining
: vs. Manchester United (TBA), vs. Liverpool (Mar. 19), at Arsenal (Apr. 1), at Chelsea (Apr. 5)
Predicted final points total: 82 points (2nd place finish)


TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

Why they’ll finish in the top four: Following their early UCL exit, Spurs’ players will be determined to put things right in Europe next season. Given their remaining schedule, plus it being their last season at the old White Hart Lane, motivation levels will be high. You’d like to think there won’t be a late season collapse a la 2015-16 and Mauricio Pochettino and his players will have learned from that. Harry Kane and Dele Alli have to turn up in the big games as Spurs only have one win this season against the current top six. Luckily they only have two games against the current top six in their remaining 13 fixtures. That’s the main reason they’ll seal a top four finish. 
Toughest games remaining
: vs. Arsenal (Apr. 29), vs. Manchester United (May 13)
Predicted final points total: 78 points (3rd place finish)


LIVERPOOL

Why they’ll finish in the top four: With no European or cup action to worry about, Klopp’s men have 13 cup finals to get themselves into the top four. Like Chelsea, that’s a massive bonus. With Sadio Mane back, plus injuries at a minimum, Liverpool has a great chance to finish in the top four. Like Spurs, they could easily go unbeaten in their final 13 games of the season and delivering a UCL spot was always the target this season. Looks like Liverpool will do it. Just about. It all depends on limiting those sloppy defensive mistakes and the only other issue is the fact that they play a couple of relegation contenders who will be scrapping for their lives in the final weeks of the season. That always throws up some bizarre results. 
Toughest games remaining
: vs. Arsenal (Mar. 4), at Manchester City (Mar. 19)
Predicted final points total: 77 points (4th place finish)


MANCHESTER UNITED

Why they’ll finish in the top four: All of those draws look like they will cost surging United dear. Jose Mourinho’s men have only lost three games this season and none of their last 16 in the PL in a fine unbeaten run. But with Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs to play in the final six weeks of the season, they’ll likely drop plenty more points. With Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs to come in their last six games of the season, Mourinho’s men have to rack up the points now and then hope they can power over the line. Having a taxing Europa League campaign, plus FA Cup involvement, will make that tough. You get a horrible sense that they may have left this surge in the second half of the season just a little too late. 
Toughest games remaining
: at Manchester City (TBA), vs. Chelsea (Apr. 15), at Arsenal (May 6), at Tottenham (May 13)
Predicted final points total: 77 points (5th place finish, on goal difference)


ARSENAL

Why they’ll finish in the top four: Because it’s Arsenal. Duh. Seriously, they have a better defense than last season and despite the “Wenger Out” brigade once again warming up their vocal chords, things aren’t that bad. The only thing which could derail their top four chase is if one, or all three, of Wenger, Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil decide to make an announcement about a future move away from the Emirates before the end of the season. That, plus actually getting past the UCL Round of 16, would throw a major spanner in the works. It will be a close call for the Gunners because they arguably have the hardest remaining schedule of any top four contender. Looks like they may just miss out when you consider the fixtures below…
Toughest games remaining: at Liverpool (Mar. 4), vs. Manchester City (Apr. 1), at Tottenham (Apr. 29), vs. Manchester United (May 6)
Predicted final points total: 74 points (6th place finish)


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.

Transfer rumor roundup: Japan, South Africa strikers to Premier League

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Percy Tau’s name isn’t yet widely known outside of South Africa, what with Bafana Bafana absent from the World Cup.

But the 24-year-old Mamelodi Sundowns winger may soon get to test his skills on a much bigger stage.

[ USMNT: More accolades for Pulisic ]

Tau, who has five goals in 12 caps, will reportedly join Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League if a medical goes well, with Sky Sports saying it’ll will be the biggest transfer fee yet for a South African Premier League player.


Yoshinori Muto could be bringing his 25 caps to the Premier League.

The 26-year-old striker made just one appearance at the World Cup, but has had a nice run with Mainz since joining from FC Tokyo. He’s bagged 23 goals in 71 appearances.

Bild report says there have been no formal offers for Muto, but that Newcastle United and West Ham are interested in the striker. Newcastle badly needs a striker, but West Ham has been spending money and Magpies owner Mike Ashley hasn’t green lit much in recent seasons.

Open Cup draw postponed as Portland protests LAFC win

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The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup draw is not going as planned, as the Portland Timbers protest the roster of victorious LAFC.

[ RECAP: Four USOC semifinalists minted ]

Philadelphia, Chicago, and Houston were the other sides to get a place in the final four teams.

LAFC’s victory had already been marred by Adama Diomande‘s claims of a racial slur hurled his way, and now their victory may be in question altogether as U.S. Soccer issued a press release saying Thursday’s scheduled draw was postponed.

From a U.S. Soccer press release:

The decision comes as a result of a protest filed by the Portland Timbers in relation to the number of foreign players fielded by Los Angeles Football Club during Wednesday night’s Quarterfinal at Banc of America Stadium in Los Angeles, Calif.

The rule says a maximum five players without green cards can be in the 18. Portland started only two Americans, Jeff Attinella and Zarek Valentin, but have green cards for many others and rules are rules.

Will the Timbers take a semifinal berth via protest?

Zlatan explains tough second season at Old Trafford

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic at his most humble is still a man riding his ego through the clouds.

The LA Galaxy striker gave an interview to the BBC in which he detailed why his second season at Manchester United didn’t go according to plan.

[ USMNT: More accolades for Pulisic ]

Ibrahimovic, 36, said his “mind was ready” but his knee was not when he followed up a 28-goal, 10-assist debut at Old Trafford with just seven appearances with one League Cup goal.

From the BBC:

“When I was ready, I said to myself ‘I am not there’,” he said. “They had a Zlatan before. After, I was not ready to be that Zlatan. I was selected in many of the games but I told the coach: ‘Listen, I am not ready. I don’t want to disappoint you. The respect I have for my team-mates and the coach. Select someone else who can do the job better.’ I stood up and did it, even if I am Zlatan.”

How’s that for humble? There’s only one Zlatan…

Report: Bristol City offers $4m for USMNT GK Steffen

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Championship side Bristol City has lodged a $4 million bid for Columbus Crew and USMNT goalkeeper Zack Steffen, according to MLS insider Sam Stejskal.

Viewed as a potential long-term American No. 1 for his country, Steffen has thrived at Columbus since returning from a stint at Freiburg in Germany.

[ USMNT: More accolades for Pulisic ]

Stejskal reached Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter, who said multiple teams are interested in Steffen but did not confirm the Bristol City bid. Berhalter said, “We want to be a place where we get players and we develop them and we help them advance in their careers, wherever that may be.”

Steffen, 23, starred at Maryland before making the move abroad. He’s proven a fantastic young pro with a knack for stopping penalty kicks.

Bristol City finished 11th in the Championship last season with 30-year-old goalkeeper Frank Fielding, who had played 153 league matches for the club since 2013 and led the club to promotion from League One in 2015.

Some have openly questioned whether the Championship is a clear upgrade from MLS — don’t count this typer in that group — but this does seem like win-win for Columbus and Steffen if the player wants the move. The Championship has been good for the development of several American players including Tim Ream, DeAndre Yedlin (on loan from a Premier League club), and Lynden Gooch.