Major League Soccer’s Western Conference has widely been considered better than its rival for more than a few seasons.
The West has claimed seven of eight MLS Cup Finals, with the eighth nestled in the hands of a team that no longer resides in the East (Sporting KC). Take away the Red Bulls, and the West has five of seven Supporters’ Shields.
Things feel a little different this season. The LA Galaxy has questions, with legendary coach Bruce Arena leaving for the U.S. men’s national team and is no longer a juggernaut. Seattle won MLS Cup and, along with FC Dallas, looks the class of the conference, but the East appears to be the beast.
Could a case be made for more Eastern or Western teams as potential champions?
Consider that Toronto returns almost every key piece from its MLS Cup Finalist season, with Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore complemented by players already familiar with their roles.
Consider that New York City FC lost Frank Lampard but has buttressed its stars and has a manager in Patrick Vieira who has a year in the league under his belt. The Red Bulls sent Dax McCarty away to Chicago but has a stable of Academy stars including Sean Davis ready made for the stage.
Oh, and the new boys. Atlanta United has a world class manager in Tata Martino, a batch of elite Designated Players still in their prime, a defensive midfielder with heavy international experience and a youngster in Andrew Carleton some believe could be the Stateside version of Christian Pulisic.
Earnie Stewart has Philadelphia looking for real, and Chicago has rebuilt itself with vigor. Montreal, DC, Orlando, New England, even Columbus. Each could consider itself positioned for the penthouse or the proverbial poorhouse.
Is it certain that the East has risen above the West? Of course not. Seattle looks fierce and Romain Alessandrini may just arrive in LA and dominate a la Giovinco. But for now, it’s easy to project a prime season for the East. Whether that leads to an MLS Cup winner is another story.
The Premier League relegation scrap needs some serious paring down, as a remarkably-high nine teams sit within four points of 20th place on the 2022-23 Premier League table.
That means we’re set, at least for now, for more relegation six-pointers than at any time in recent memory — many of them, you’ll see below, will involve Bournemouth — and the odds are in favor of a relatively surprising team heading down to the Championship.
Leicester City: Villa (H), Bournemouth (H), Man City (A), Wolves (H), Leeds (A), Everton (H), Fulham (A), Liverpool (H), Newcastle (A), West Ham (H)
West Ham: Southampton (H), Newcastle (H), Fulham (A), Arsenal (H), Bournemouth (A), Liverpool (H), Palace (A), Man Utd (H), Brentford (A), Leeds (H), Leicester (A)
Nottingham Forest: Leeds (A), Villa (A), Man Utd (H), Liverpool (A), Brighton (H), Brentford (A), Southampton (H), Chelsea (A), Arsenal (H), Palace (A)
Leeds: Forest (H), Palace (H), Liverpool (H), Fulham (A), Leicester (H), Bournemouth (A), Man City (A), Newcastle (H), West Ham (A), Spurs (H)
Everton: Spurs (H), Man Utd (A), Fulham (H), Palace (A), Newcastle (H), Leicester (A), Brighton (A), Man City (H), Wolves (A), Bournemouth (H)
Southampton: West Ham (A), Man City (H), Palace (H), Arsenal (A), Bournemouth (H), Newcastle (A), Forest (A), Fulham (H), Brighton (A), Liverpool (H)
Bournemouth: Brighton (H), Leicester (A), Spurs (A), West Ham (H), Southampton (A), Leeds (H), Chelsea (H), Palace (A), Man Utd (H), Everton (A)
Key fixtures that will decide the Premier League relegation scrap
Saturday, March 18: Wolves 2-4 Leeds – Recap/highlights
Saturday, April 1: AFC Bournemouth 2-1 Fulham – Recap/video/player ratings
Saturday, April 1: Crystal Palace 2-1 Leicester – Recap/video/player ratings
Saturday, April 1: Nottingham Forest 1-1 Wolves – Recap/video/player ratings
Sunday, April 2: West Ham vs Southampton — 9am ET
Tuesday, April 4: Leeds vs Nottingham Forest — 2:45pm ET
Saturday, April 8: Leicester vs AFC Bournemouth — 10am ET
Saturday, April 8: Leeds vs Crystal Palace — 12:30pm ET
Saturday, April 15: Southampton vs Crystal Palace — 10am ET
Saturday, April 22: Crystal Palace vs Everton — 10am ET
Saturday, April 22: Leicester vs Wolves — 10am ET
Sunday, April 23: AFC Bournemouth vs West Ham — 9am ET
Tuesday, April 25: Wolves vs Crystal Palace — 2:30pm ET
Tuesday, April 25: Leeds vs Leicester — 2:45pm ET
Thursday, April 27: Southampton vs AFC Bournemouth — 2:45pm ET
Saturday, April 29: Crystal Palace vs West Ham — 7:30am ET
Sunday, April 30: AFC Bournemouth vs Leeds — 9am ET
Monday, May 1: Leicester vs Everton — 3pm ET
Saturday, May 6: Nottingham Forest vs Southampton — Time TBD
Saturday, May 13: Crystal Palace vs Bournemouth — Time TBD
Saturday, May 20: West Ham vs Leeds — Time TBD
Sunday, May 28: Crystal Palace vs Nottingham Forest — Time TBD
Sunday, May 28: Everton vs AFC Bournemouth — Time TBD
Sunday, May 28: Leicester vs West Ham — Time TBD
Premier League relegation odds (As of March 28, 2023)
Nashville 2-0 NYCFC
Philadelphia 4-1 Columbus
FC Cincinnati 2-1 Houston
Atlanta United 2-1 San Jose
Charlotte FC 0-1 New England
Orlando City 1-0 New York Red Bulls
DC United 3-2 Toronto FC
Inter Miami 2-0 Montreal
Austin FC 2-3 St. Louis City FC
FC Dallas 0-1 Minnesota United
Vancouver Whitecaps 1-2 Real Salt Lake
Seattle Sounders 2-0 Colorado Rapids
Portland Timbers 2-1 Sporting KC
LAFC 3-2 Portland
New York Red Bulls 0-0 Nashville
New England 3-0 Houston
Orlando City 0-0 FC Cincinnati
Atlanta United 1-1 Toronto FC
Columbus 2-0 DC United
Inter Miami 2-0 Philadelphia
Chicago 1-1 NYCFC
St. Louis City 3-1 Charlotte FC
Austin FC 1-0 Montreal
FC Dallas 3-1 LA Galaxy
Colorado 0-0 Sporting KC
Seattle Sounders 2-0 Real Salt Lake
San Jose 2-1 Vancouver Whitecaps
Charlotte 0-3 Atlanta
Vancouver 1-1 FC Dallas
NYCFC 1-0 Inter Miami
Philadelphia 1-0 Chicago
FC Cincinnati 1-0 Seattle Sounders
DC United 1-1 Orlando City
Toronto FC 1-1 Columbus
Sporting KC 0-0 LA Galaxy
Minnesota United 1-1 New York Red Bulls
Nashville 2-0 Montreal
Real Salt Lake 1-2 Austin
San Jose 1-0 Colorado Rapids
Portland Timbers 1-2 St Louis City
Seattle Sounders 0-0 LAFC
Montreal 3-2 Philadelphia
Atlanta 5-1 Portland Timbers
New England 1-0 Nashville
Orlando City 1-2 Charlotte
Toronto FC 2-0 Inter Miami
New York Red Bulls 2-1 Columbus
NYCFC 3-2 DC United
FC Dallas 2-1 Sporting KC
Houston 2-0 Austin
St Louis City 3-0 San Jose
Chicago 3-3 FC Cincinnati
Colorado Rapids 1-2 Minnesota United
LA Galaxy 1-1 Vancouver Whitecaps
Portland 0-0 LA Galaxy
Charlotte 1-1 New York Red Bulls
Philadelphia 1-2 Orlando City
DC United 1-2 New England
Columbus 6-1 Atlanta
Inter Miami 2-3 Chicago
Nashville 0-1 Cincinnati
Sporting KC 1-4 Seattle Sounders
Austin 1-1 Colorado
Houston 1-0 NYCFC
Minnesota United 1-1 Vancouver Whitecaps
Real Salt Lake 0-4 St Louis City
LAFC 2-1 FC Dallas
San Jose 0-0 Toronto
Toronto vs Charlotte — 7:30pm ET
LA Galaxy vs Seattle Sounders — 7:30pm ET
New England vs NYCFC — 7:30pm ET
Philadelphia Union vs Sporting KC– 7:30pm ET
Orlando City vs Nashville– 7:30pm ET
Columbus vs Real Salt Lake — 7:30pm ET
Cincinnati vs Inter Miami– 7:30pm ET
Atlanta vs New York Red Bulls — 7:30pm ET
FC Dallas vs Portland Timbers — 8:30pm ET
St. Louis City vs Minnesota United — 8:30pm ET
Chicago vs DC United — 8:30pm ET
Colorado Rapids vs LAFC — 9:30pm ET
Vancouver Whitecaps vs Montreal Impact — 10:30pm ET
San Jose vs Houston — 10:30pm ET
MANCHESTER — Manchester City star Erling Haaland was kept out of City’s huge game against Liverpool (Watch full match replay online via Peacock Premium).
Haaland left the Norway squad during the international break after suffering a groin injury.
Speaking ahead of the Liverpool game game, City boss Pep Guardiola acknowledged that he would be touch-and-go and ultimately City did not risk the Premier League’s top goal scorer.
ProSoccerTalk’s Joe Prince-Wright was on-site at the Etihad Stadium and it was announced that Haaland was not in the Manchester City matchday squad as he did not get off the team bus, but he did attend the match in the stands.
Haaland, 22, joined up with Norway for their EURO 2024 qualifiers but has been sent back to Manchester City for treatment. That meant he went to Marbella and then Barcelona in Spain for specialist treatment and he is now back in Manchester recovering from the groin injury he picked up against Burnley.
He has scored 42 (yes, forty two) goals in all competitions for Man City this season.
However, Pep Guardiola and Man City now face an anxious wait as an injury to Erling Haaland is the last thing they wanted before a pivotal final few months of the season as they chase the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League treble.
Erling Haaland and Pep Guardiola were FIRED UP by this beautiful build-up play by Manchester City! 🤩
Pep Guardiola gave a fairly positive update on Haaland ahead of Liverpool’s visit to City he will not be risked if there’s any doubt around his fitness.
And it’s not like Guardiola wasn’t tempted to use the Norwegian against Liverpool at the Etihad.
Here’s what Pep said after the 4-1 win, which left Haaland in the stands.
“We spoke yesterday and he didn’t feel fit. Of course we want to take a risk, this is an important game but we have Julian [Alvarez] and now we have a long week to recover. Hopefully next weekend he can be involved.”
Norway’s team doctor, Ola Sand, previously gave an update on Haaland’s injury.
“We hoped that this was just a familiarity that would carry over to Saturday, but after doing tests and examinations yesterday it became clear that he will not make it to the games against Spain and Georgia,” Sand said. “It is better that he receives medical follow-up at the club.”
Norway face Spain on Saturday and Georgia next Tuesday, so it seems like Haaland is in a race to be fit for Man City’s games after the international break.
Which games could he miss?
Haaland could return for the trip to Southampton on Apr. 8, but Pep Guardiola may choose to rest him for their massive UEFA Champions League quarterfinal first leg against Bayern Munich on Apr. 11.
Given the form Haaland is in right now, it will be a blow for City if he does miss the next few games but the last thing they want is any long-term damage.
Plus, it’s helpful to have the likes of World Cup winner Julian Alvarez in reserve to step in for Haaland.
Aston VIlla leapfrogged Chelsea on the Premier League table with a decisive 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, sending the hosts to the bottom half of the table after 28 games of the 2022-23 season.
Ollie Watkins lofted Kepa Arrizabalaga in the first half and John McGinn spun a pearler past the Spanish keeper in the second half as Villa deserved every bit of the 39th, 40th, and 41st points they’ve claimed this season.
Chelsea: Lots of fun attackers, but do any of the pieces fit?
Perhaps Graham Potter feels pressure to plug Todd Boehly’s purchases into the Starting XI, but the Chelsea’s trident lacks a barbed focal point.
Kai Havertz can score — he had a goal in each of Chelsea’s last two Premier League games — and has size but he does neither of those things in the way you expect of a ‘Big Six’ center forward. If he did it regularly, the Blues’ wingers would be climbing up the Premier League assist charts.
But that doesn’t forgive Mykhailo Mudryk, who scudded a breakaway chanced into the arms of Emiliano Martinez. And Joao Felix is a fun player but continues to look like a player who is ages away from his reputation (and he’s now 23, no longer 18).
Noni Madueke took Mudryk’s place after 58 minutes and showed bright spots but shouldn’t be expected to be saving games for Chelsea at this stage in his career. Christian Pulisic entered late and forced an acrobatic save out of Emiliano Martinez.
Raheem Sterling will return from injury and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will be available selection soon but this performance made it seems like Chelsea’s past few games weren’t the cleaning up a mess but the shoving of most of it under the bed, hoping that no one finds it’s still there.
Aston Villa is good
It’s as simple as that: Unai Emery has organized a group of players who are capable of getting results and they all seem to understand their roles.
That doesn’t mean that Watkins won’t miss a chance here or there — he did before scoring at The Bridge — or that there won’t be lapses at the back on occasion.
But Villa knows its job and also the goals of the opponent: Countless Chelsea crosses never reached their back post targets because Tyrone Mings and friends were ready for them.
And when Villa got the ball? Zooooom.
If Villa can manage a top seven place, it will not have been unearned by the players and, especially, their new boss.
Graham Potter reaction: Chelsea performed but didn’t finish, made errors
“We were second best,” Potter said on USA Network after the game. “The first goal for them is disappointing from our perspective. We need to do a little bit better there of course, but there’s a lot of good things in the game, attacking play, attacking entries, shots. Look at the stats of the game and it’s a positive performance but in terms of the score line it’s not because we’re down in the game.”
“The personality on the pitch was there. They tried. They had shots, they had attacks, the entries into the box but ultimately you need to defend better than we did and ultimately I’m responsible for that so we need to do better.”
Chelsea vs Aston Villa player ratings: Stars of the Show
The Blues host Liverpool on Tuesday in one of the least consequential matches between the two sides in recent history, then head to the Molineux on Saturday to tangle with Wolves.
Villa gets a scrap with Leicester City at the King Power on Tuesday and then hosts Nottingham Forest on Saturday.
Ollie Watkins goal video: Villa’s in-form striker feasts on Chelsea error
John McGinn goal: Goal of the Month contender makes it 2-0
How to watch Chelsea vs Aston Villa live, stream link and start time
Kick off: 12:30pm ET, Saturday TV Channel: USA Network Online: Stream via NBCSports.com
Key storylines & in-form players to watch
Chelsea have so many players stepping up in recent weeks but Joao Felix and Kai Havertz have really got going in attack. The duo are scoring goals, creating chances and Chelsea look much more confident when they get into the final third. Enzo Fernandez and Benoit Badiashile have both slotted in seamlessly following their January moves. Yes, Chelsea are still a long way back when it comes to the top four but they are they kind of team who can go on a long unbeaten run and they certainly have so many options with a massive squad of players all pushing to start in this new fluid 3-4-3 system.
Villa’s recent success has been built on solid defense and Emiliano Martinez in goal and Tyrone Mings at center back have been back to their best. Ollie Watkins leading the line always causes problems and midfield creators and wingers always seem to be ready to counter and cause a surprise. Emery has done a remarkable job at Villa and it will be a lot of fun to see how close they can get to a top six finish this season.