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Premier League Playback: Projecting the top four

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You should’ve seen my face when I worked out the points totals for the four teams in the running for the two remaining UEFA Champions League spots…

Mind. Blown.

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Let’s make an outrageous assumption (it’s basically fact at this point) that Chelsea and Tottenham will finish in the top two places in the Premier League and that Everton, who have played up to three more games than their nearest contenders, are out of this battle for the top four.

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So it’s down to Man City, Man United, Liverpool and Arsenal for the final two places and it could not be tighter as we enter the final weeks of the season.

Judging by the projection below, it could all go down to the final day of the season and none of the four teams below are playing each other. Say no more.


LIVERPOOL
The Reds are wobbling again. Following the 2-1 home defeat to Crystal Palace, their first defeat in eight games, Jurgen Klopp‘s men are under intense pressure in their final four games of the season. They’ve played two more than Man City and Man United below them but the gap to United is now just three points. Without Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana, this ridiculously easy run-in is looking arduous. Liverpool have four cup finals to win and hope for the best. All season long they’ve struggled against the smaller teams and that could cost them dear in the final weeks with bitter rivals United in form.

Toughest game remaining: vs. Southampton (May 7)
Predicted final points total: 74 points (5th place finish, on goal difference)

MAN CITY
It’s all about this Thursday for Man City. Pep Guardiola‘s men have to pick themselves up after the disappointment of losing to Arsenal after extra time in the FA Cup semifinal. After the derby against Man United (who sit one point and one place below City) they finish with three home games in their final five and face teams in eighth or below. Should be easy for City but Guardiola’s men have made life more difficult for themselves than it should be. Expect them to win four of their final six games to seal UCL action next season.

Toughest games remaining: vs. Manchester United (Thursday)
Predicted final points total: 77 points (3rd place finish)

MAN UNITED
Ander Herrera is right when he said that the Manchester derby was the “game of the season” on Thursday. It is a match which United have to win and if they do then their destiny is in their own hands. With long-term injuries to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo, plus so many other injury issues as the toll of a run to the Europa League semifinal hits home, Mourinho’s men have surprised everyone to get their top four hopes back on track. If they lose at City then United may just focus on winning the Europa League to get their Champions League spot next season. United have the toughest remaining schedule in the top four battle but it will be close between themselves and Liverpool for the final spot. Having a 23-game unbeaten run in the PL is no mean feat.

Toughest games remaining: at Manchester City (Thursday), at Arsenal (May 6), at Tottenham (May 13)
Predicted final points total: 74 points (4th place finish, on goal difference)

ARSENAL
The Gunners will get plenty of confidence from that FA Cup semifinal win over Man City and it will also give their players plenty to play for in the final weeks of the season as they aim to be in the starting lineup at Wembley. With a trip to Tottenham followed by a home game against Man United in the space of a week, their season will come down to those two games. They have seven matches to play, more than any other team in the PL, and Arsene Wenger may be feeling confident of sneaking into the top four.

Toughest games remaining: at Tottenham (Apr. 29), vs. Manchester United (May 6)
Predicted final points total: 74 points (6th place finish, on goal difference)


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

Liverpool – Arsenal: How to watch, updates, odds

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Liverpool – Arsenal: Two heavyweights clash at Anfield on Monday (Watch live at 3pm ET online via Peacock) as both team have a perfect record with two wins from two so far.

Heading to half time Liverpool lead 2-1 as Alexandre Lacazette’s opener was canceled out by Sadio Mane and Andy Robertson.

STREAM LIVE LIVERPOOL – ARSENAL

Reigning champions Liverpool have perhaps been more impressive as they’ve beaten upstarts Leeds United and then Chelsea, while Arsenal eased past Fulham but struggled past West Ham.

[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]

When it comes to Jurgen Klopp and Mikel Arteta, their playing philosophy as managers could not be more different as Arsenal beat Liverpool on penalties at Wembley to win the Community Shield last month.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of a massive early-season clash as Arsenal look to put down a marker.


Team news (INJURY REPORT)

Liverpool have center back Joe Gomez back fit after he missed the win at Chelsea last weekend, while this game will come too soon for fellow defender Joel Matip and captain Jordan Henderson is also not fit to feature. Thiago Alcantara is not in the squad due to an minor injury, while new signing Diogo Jota is on the bench.

Arsenal have Kieran Tierney back fit for this game, which is a big boost. Gabriel, Bukayo Saka, Dani Ceballos and Sead Kolasinac all drop to the bench as Tierney, Mohamed Elneny, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and David Luiz start. Pablo Mari, Calum Chambers, Gabriel Martinelli and Shkodran Mustafi all remain out injured.


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Understandably Liverpool are the heavy favorites (-210) given their long unbeaten home record at Anfield. That said Arsenal (+520) do seem a high price after they beat Liverpool during ‘Project Restart’ and also in the Community Shield final. The draw at +360 is intriguing and the value perhaps lies there.

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Liverpool – Arsenal prediction

Arsenal have a lot more grit under Arteta and they ware capable of bending but not breaking. This is a huge test for them, though, and Gabriel against the fluid front three of Salah, Firmino and Mane will be his biggest test yet. Arsenal have the attackers to make the most of any more slack defending from Liverpool but I expect Klopp’s side to have just too much in midfield and attack. Liverpool 2-1 Arsenal.


How to watch Liverpool – Arsenal stream and start time

Kickoff: 3pm ET Monday
TV Channel: Peacock
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Aston Villa hammer sloppy Fulham

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Fulham – Aston Villa was ridiculously one-sided as Villa won 3-0 and barely got out of second gear at Craven Cottage.

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Early goals from Jack Grealish and Connor Hourihane set Villa on their way and Tyrone Mings sealed the win early in the second half.

Fulham were woeful defensively from start to finish as they’ve now lost all three of their games back in the Premier League and have conceded 10 goals in the process. Villa have won both of their opening games without conceding.


3 things we learned: Fulham – Aston Villa

1. Fulham’s defense all over the place: Denis Odoi, Tim Ream and Michael Hector were the center backs in a three-man central defense and Fulham were all over the place. Players were all pointing at one another and nobody seemed to know what was going on. Scott Parker was distraught on the sidelines as Fulham are making the exact same defensive mistakes which saw them relegated in 2018-19. Their transfer policy has been different this time around but the way Fulham are playing is eerily similar. Obviously, they cannot keep conceding three goals a game.

2. Grealish dazzles as Watkins gives Villa new dimension: What more can we say about Grealish? After signing a new long-term contract at Villa he seems to be playing with the weight of expectation on his shoulders, just like he did at the end of last season. With Ollie Watkins (who deserved a goal and went close on multiple occasions) stretching the Fulham back line, that allowed Grealish, John McGinn and others plenty of space to operate it. They made the most of it.

3. Mitrovic will get chances: Even though Fulham looked awful at the back, they whipped in some great crosses from the flanks and Mitrovic, as always, was a handful. At some point Fulham will be better going for it in games and winning 3-2 and 4-3. They have more of a chance of staying in the Premier League if they attack compared to trying to sit back deeper and being more defensive.

Man of the Match: Jack Grealish – Scored early, involved in the second and always a threat. Odoi will be having many a nightmare about Grealish.


Aston Villa got off to the best possible start as a lovely ball over the top from John McGinn found Grealish and he dinked the ball past Areola and in.

Fulham’s defense was totally caught out as Parker seethed in his technical area and soon he was even angrier. Watkins played in Grealish down the left and he played it to McGinn who tapped the ball to Hourihane to slot home and make it 2-0.

The hosts got the ball wide on plenty of occasions and whipped crosses in for Mitrovic but Villa dealt with that threat easily and always looked dangerous when going forward. Watkins wasted a few good chances.

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At the start of the second half Villa went 3-0 up as Mings timed his run to perfection to prod home a free kick as Fulham’s defending was once again all over the place.

McGinn was denied by Areola as Villa were cutting through Fulham like a knife through hot butter time and time again.

It looked like Fulham were handed a path back into the game as Emiliano Martinez dropped a cross and Decordova Reid tapped home but VAR was used as Mitrovic pushed Ezri Konsa as the ball came in.

Grealish missed a good chance as Villa continued to create openings with Mings also going close and Joe Bryan clipped the crossbar at the other end as Martinez pulled off a good save.

Fulham – Aston Villa: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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Fulham – Aston Villa: How early is too early to call a game “must-win” in the Premier League? Perhaps we will find out on Monday (Watch live at 12:45 pm ET, online via Peacock), when bottom-of-the-table Fulham host Aston Villa at Craven Cottage.

FULHAM – ASTON VILLA STREAM LIVE

Scott Parker’s side has had a torrid start to life back in the PL — not at all dissimilar to the way their last stint ended — and find themselves with zero points and seven goals conceded after their first two games. Losing 3-0 to Arsenal on the opening day of the season wasn’t altogether surprising, but following that defeat with four more goals conceded to Leeds United last weekend will undoubtedly have done a number on the Cottagers’ confidence.

Villa, on the other hand, have played just once and secured a 1-0 victory over Sheffield United earlier this week. A win on Monday would see Dean Smith’s side start the season with back-to-back PL victories for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.

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Here is everything you need to know ahead of Fulham – Aston Villa this Monday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Fulham – Aston Villa (INJURY REPORT)

Fulham – No injuries or suspensions

Scott Parker makes three changes as Tom Cairney, Tim Ream and Bobby Decordova-Reid start.

Aston Villa – OUT: Bjorn Engels (thigh), Tom Heaton (knee), Wesley (knee), Ahmed Elmohamady (thigh)

Villa are unchanged from the team which beat Sheffield United last time out.


What they’re saying: Fulham – Aston Villa

Scott Parker, on a “must-win” game: “I don’t see it as drastic as a must-win. We want to win. I know it’s either high or low in a drastic world, but we need to stay level and take realism of where we are in the campaign and where we are as a team. We will try everything we can to take some points and be up to the challenge. I don’t think we’re the only team at this present moment in time who have let in some goals in the first two games. It’s not ideal, of course not. Villa at home on Monday is a game we’re going to try to get three points.”

Dean Smith, on needing another signing: “We’re always looking in the market, we’re probably one short in the squad at the moment so we’ll keep looking at that. I think there’s seven days left until the window shuts internationally, another seven days domestically. Our sporting director at the moment has got his finger on the pulse, hopefully we might get one more in and maybe a couple more out.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

This one is just about a coin flip with Fulham (+185) ever so slight underdogs to Villa (+150). In a game that could go either way like this one, the draw (+225) might just be the safe middle ground.

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Prediction: Fulham – Aston Villa

There’s not much to separate these two sides right now, and there likely won’t be much ground between them come the season’s final table. There should be a few goals, but that’ll be more down to poor defending than excellent attacking quality from either side. Fulham 2-2 Villa.


How to watch Fulham – Aston Villa stream and start time

Kickoff: 12:45 pm ET Monday
Online: Stream via Peacock

Transfer news: Kante to Man United; Dest to Barcelona

Kante to Manchester United
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In the latest transfer news N’Golo Kante to Manchester United is reported, while USMNT right back Sergino Dest to Barcelona is almost complete.

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Let’s take a look at some of the latest juicy rumors as we’re in the final week of the transfer window.


Kante to Manchester United couldn’t really happen… could it!?

N’Golo Kante is still among the finest holding midfielders in the world, which is why this report from the Daily Mirror seems particularly outlandish.

That said, Kante, 29, has been linked with a move away from Chelsea for most of this transfer window as the French central midfielder continues to be a man in demand. Per the report, Kante would have to take a pay-cut on his $385,000 per week wages.

Frank Lampard and Chelsea know that Kante’s value is extremely high, on and off the pitch, right now and they will also know his value may be at its peak. At times over the last 12 months he hasn’t quite been himself but he’s still been consistently excellent.

Is it time for Chelsea to cash in on Kante to help offset their incredible $300 million spending spree this summer?

Pretty much everyone who watches Chelsea knows this would be a bad idea. If you think Chelsea’s defending has been bad, think how bad it will be without Kante plugging as many gaps as he can in front of the defense. Chelsea fans everywhere are shuddering right now.

Kante to Manchester United would make sense for the Red Devils who still look badly imbalanced and need a destructive holding midfielder to get their dangerous attacking quartet of Rashford, Greenwood, Martial and Fernandes in the game more.

We would all be extremely surprised if Chelsea sell Kante to a direct rival, but stranger things have happened.

Sergino Dest to Barcelona almost complete

USMNT right back Sergino Dest to Barcelona is edging closer as the Dutch-American defender is said to have agreed personal terms with Barca.

Dest, 19, was chased by both Bayern Munich and Barcelona but his chosen the latter after Ajax agreed a $26.7 million fee with Barcelona.

Per a report from Sky Italy, Dest has agreed a five-year contract at Barcelona and will travel to Spain to complete the deal.

With Nelson Semedo sold to Wolves, Barcelona need a new right back and new head coach Ronald Koeman looks set to make Dest the first signing he has chosen. While manager of the Dutch national team Koeman wanted Dest to switch allegiances from the USMNT but he stuck with the nation he has played for throughout his youth international career despite being born in the Netherlands.

Dest will get plenty of opportunities to play at Barcelona and it will be intriguing to track his development.