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Top PL Storylines: Chelsea looks to hold off Spurs in title race

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The Premier League is heading down to the home stretch with just over a month and a half remaining, and both ends of the table continue to feature intriguing matchups.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s PL picks — Week 32 ]

Will Chelsea hold off Spurs for the title? Do any of the three current relegation sides have a shot at climbing out the league’s cellar? Check out the weekend’s most intriguing matches below:


Spurs hope to keep title hopes alive

Tottenham vs. Watford — 7:30 a.m. EDT Saturday online via NBCSports.com

With the season winding down, Spurs are going to need some help from Chelsea if they are to capture the PL title. Mauricio Pochettino‘s side will receive a massive lift over the weekend as Harry Kane is expected to return after missing the last three matches, however, starting goalkeeper Hugo Lloris remains sidelined and backup Michel Vorm could also be in doubt.

Meanwhile, Watford is sitting comfortably in 10th place heading into Saturday’s clash, but history isn’t on their side as they travel to White Hart Lane. The Hornets haven’t beaten Spurs in a league match since 1985, although they’ve only met seven times in the PL.

The Hornets have won two straight league matches while Spurs enter Saturday winners of five consecutive fixtures as they attempt to challenge at the top of the table.

Foxes push for top half finish, while Koeman aims for top five

Everton vs. Leicester City — 11:00 a.m. EDT Sunday online via NBCSports.com

Although the Foxes won’t be repeating as PL winners in 2016/17, Craig Shakespeare’s story continues to grow since replacing Claudio Ranieri back in February. Leicester is still unbeaten since Shakespeare took over, and a top 10 finish is very much in sight for the Foxes in addition to their UEFA Champions League aspirations.

Everton has enjoyed plenty of success this season, but with the continued rumors surrounding striker Romelu Lukaku, it’s a wonder as to how long the Toffees will be able to keep their prized possession. The Toffees enter the weekend in seventh place, and although a top five position is just three points away, both Arsenal and Manchester United currently hold two matches in hand just above Ronald Koeman and co.

Relegation battle heats up

West Ham vs. Swansea City — 10 a.m. EDT Saturday online via NBCSports.com

The Swans aren’t dead in the water just yet with their eight wins on the season, but they surely need at least a point on Saturday to boost their fortunes with seven matches remaining. Fernando Llorente and Kyle Naughton may not be able to go for the visitors, while goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski is also a question mark for the Swans.

West Ham hovers just five points above the bottom three, and a loss on Saturday would drastically change the club’s standing with about a month and a half remaining. The Hammers have lost five straight PL matches, so it could be a very opportune time for Swansea to come to town.

Eight matches remain for Blues

Bournemouth vs. Chelsea — 12:30 p.m. EDT Saturday online via NBCSports.com

The Blues are eight matches away from hoisting the PL title once again, and the return of Victor Moses could lift an already dangerous Chelsea attack on Saturday. Otherwise, Chelsea remains quite healthy heading into the home stretch, and after the club’s midweek victory over Manchester City, the PL crown seems more and more within reach.

Seven points separate the Cherries from 18th spot meaning Bournemouth will likely be in the clear the rest of the way. Bournemouth’s only home win over Chelsea came all the way back in 1988, making Saturday’s test a difficult one. This is especially the case as the Blues have lost just once all season to a team outside of the top six.

The halted World Cup flip-throw heard around the world (video)

AP Photo/Sergei Grits
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Milad Mohammadi knew the time was right for something special, but special isn’t always good.

And good is a subjective term. Cause to us this is very good, Milad.

The Iranian national team defender failed with a flip-throw bid in the final moments of a 1-0 loss to Spain on Wednesday at the World Cup in Russia.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

And this wasn’t like he illegally flipped or broke some other rule. No, like a kid trying an audacious jump into the deep end, Akhmat Grozny star Mohammadi just bailed and climbed in from the side (so to speak).

The kiss, the look skyward, the headbutt… all integral parts of a wonderful World Cup moment.

Renard, Morocco “very proud” of its unlucky national team

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If you would’ve told Morocco fans or their manager, Herve Renard, that they’d outshoot and outpossess both Iran and Portugal at World Cup, their next question would probably be, “So do we need to do against Spain to win Group B?”

Alas, Morocco lost a pair of 1-0 decisions to become the first team knocked out of the 2018 World Cup.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The Lions of Atlas fell to Iran in their opener on a stoppage time own goal after carrying 64 percent possession and a 13-8 advantage in shot attempts, then lost to a Cristiano Ronaldo fourth minute goal on Wednesday despite a 16-10 shot advantage and 53 percent of the ball.

“I’m very proud of the performance and I am very proud of my players, I’m very proud of this country,” Renard said.

With no hope of advancing to the next round, the manager is finding the experience bittersweet. From RTE:

“What I am sure of at this moment is that the entire Moroccan people is proud of this team. Of course it’s easier to play with a player who has one chance and he puts it away. But we are in Morocco.

“We have quality players. Despite the ups and downs of the game, we should have been more effective. Because, like in the first game, we had plenty of chances. I won’t blame anyone. That’s football. It’s always those who know how to be present in the box, the most gifted players, who make the difference. We took a lot of risks and we didn’t get our reward.”

It’s unlikely Morocco will hold either of those statistical advantages against Spain, especially a Spanish side yet to qualify, but there is plenty to like from the tournament aside from poor finishing quality.

But the performances of 19-year-olds Amine Harit (Schalke) and Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid) — not to mention Hakim Ziyech (25, Ajax) — seem to hint at a promise for 2022. And Renard’s men can still play spoiler for Spain, which is no small shockwave.

Queiroz: Iran has one “match point” left in World Cup group stage

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Iran manager Carlos Queiroz isn’t going to let his tournament be defined by one win or one loss, especially with a massive moment on the horizon.

Iran fell 1-0 to Spain on Wednesday, days after defeating Morocco in its World Cup opener. Team Melli was denied its equalizer despite VAR review thanks to an offside, and failed in several other bids to level the score.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Now Queiroz and his men need a win over Portugal to qualify for the first knockout stage in its five World Cup history.

“We showed that we were ready to suffer and ready to compete. I felt we deserved a better result. There’s no doubt Spain play wonderful, stylish football but I thought we deserved more for the way we played.

“But congratulations to Fernando Hierro and Spain. We will learn a lot from this game. If you think of it like tennis, we had one match point today and we will have another against Portugal. Everything is still open. We are still alive and still dreaming.”

What chance do you give Iran of getting over on Portugal, who only topped a dominant Morocco side via a terrific designed play executed to perfection by Cristiano Ronaldo?

The odds are in Portugal’s favor, if only for its experience in tight games on massive stages. Well, perhaps the better “if only” would be to say if only for Ronaldo. Either way…

Spain gets win after Iran sees equalizer ruled out

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  • Spain goal: Costa (54′)
  • Iranian goal disallowed
  • Next: Spain-Morocco, Portugal-Iran

Iran had an equalizer taken away via Video Assistant Referee and Spain picked up its first win of the 2018 World Cup with a 1-0 win in Kazan on Wednesday.

Diego Costa scored Spain’s goal, as La Furia Roja joined Portugal atop Group B on four points. Iran has three, while eliminated Morocco has yet to get a result.

Team Melli lost their chance to sit atop the group when Saeid Ezatolahi rebound was ruled to have come after an offside touch from a teammate.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Spain certainly had its chances in the first half hour, capped off by an attempted overhead kick from David Silva.

Man City’s 32-year-old attacker had a great deal of chances in the contest, and would see a deflected rip bound wide of the goal during three minutes of first half stoppag time.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

After Gerard Pique missed an in-tight chance to start the second half, Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand made an outstanding punch save on Isco before punching away the rebound bid.

Iran found its first true chance of the match in the 53rd minute, with Karim Ansarifard lashing into a shot from 15 yards that tore into the outside of the goal.

It was moments later that Spain went ahead, Costa getting a goal when a clearance bounding off his shin and into the net.

Mehdi Taremi flicked a header wide of the goal, and Iran thought it had an equalizer through Saeid Ezatolahi only for VAR to step in and call offside on the previous Iranian to touch the ball.

It was off, but only just.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Beiranvand was again on the scene for a 70th minute goal mouth scramble following a drawn-up corner kick by Spain.

Taremi pounded a header over the goal after a Vahid Amiri nutmeg of Pique led to a back post cross.