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PL Sunday preview: Last chance saloon for Man United, Arsenal

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24 hours from right now, the Premier League’s top-four race could be clear as crystal… just as likely, though, Sunday’s pair of games, featuring three-fourths of the four-team battle for two UEFA Champions League places, could leave the league table far less clear than its already muddled state.

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Liverpool vs. Southampton — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The math surrounding Liverpool’s Champions League chase is extremely simple: if they win their final three games of the season, they can finish no worse than fourth; so much as two points dropped over their final three games, and the door is opened for Manchester United (who trail by four points, but have a game in hand) to leapfrog Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds. The run-in begins Sunday, when Claude Puel‘s 12th-place Southampton visit Anfield.

With just one defeat from their last nine PL games, only Tottenham Hotspur have won more points than Liverpool during that period. Had it not been the disastrous start to the 2017 calendar year (zero wins from five games, and just three total points), the Reds would be right alongside Tottenham right now, battling for a second-place finish behind runaway leaders Chelsea. The past is the past, though, and Klopp is keen to finish his first full season as Liverpool manager inside the top-four.

“The plan is for Sunday that we can use Anfield,” Klopp said when appraising his team’s top-four chances. “I know how it is, for some people it’s maybe a nervy situation and they bite on their (nails) and think, ‘hopefully, hopefully, hopefully it can happen.’

“But we need to be brave, we need to enjoy the game, we need to play football, we need to defend very serious and if possible, to use the crowd, creating a special atmosphere.”

INJURIES: Liverpool — OUT: Sadio Mane (knee), Jordan Henderson (foot); QUESTIONABLE: Philippe Coutinho (leg) | Southampton — OUT: Virgil Van Dijk (ankle), Charlie Austin (fitness)

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — The day Swansea staved off relegation? ]

Arsenal vs. Manchester United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

As stated above, Man United, having to make up a four-point gap, need a bit of help if they’re to finish in the top-four. Arsenal, on the other hand, must overcome a nine-point deficit (with two games in hand) to Liverpool in order to extend Arsene Wenger‘s streak of 20 straight seasons finishing fourth or better.

In a strange twist of priorities, Jose Mourinho has decided to focus his side’s full energy and efforts on winning the Europa League, rather than chasing a top-four finish which he says the Red Devils “lost [the] chance to fight for” in drawing 1-1 with Swansea City last weekend. Thus, the lineup the Portuguese puts out to face Arsenal might just be full of reserve and academy players.

“The players who have accumulated lots of minutes are not going to play next weekend,” Mourinho told BBC without naming names. “We are not going to Arsenal to say, ‘beat us 5-0 or 6-0.’ We are going there to fight for a result but it’s impossible. I cannot do it another way.

“If Celta were playing with their best team and, if Celta were fighting for important things in La Liga, we would go (into the second leg) in the same circumstances but I cannot play the same team that played here (at Estadio Baladios) and then we play again next Thursday. I think in the last match against Swansea, we lost our last chance to fight for the top four so I’m going to rest players.”

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Granit Xhaka (ankle), Lucas Perez (fitness), Santi Cazorla (achilles); RETURNING: Shkodran Mustafi (thigh) | Man United — OUT: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee), Marcos Rojo (knee), Luke Shaw (foot), Marouane Fellaini (suspension), Timothy Fosu-Mensah (shoulder); QUESTIONABLE: Marcus Rashford (knee)

Pique: Copa-losing Barca still “really hurting” from UCL exit

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Barcelona was the favorite to win La Liga, the UEFA Champions League, and the Copa del Rey for the majority of the season, but only claimed one.

Liverpool’s amazing comeback to beat Barca in the second leg of the UCL semifinals met Saturday’s loss to Valencia in the Copa del Rey Final to give Barca a league title alone.

[ MORE: Real, Chelsea debate Hazard fee ]

Even with that La Liga advantage being decisive — Barca carried the table by 11 points over Atletico Madrid and finished 19 ahead of Real Madrid — there’s a very dour mood and promised change for the Camp Nou set.

And Gerard Pique says it all traces back to the loss against Liverpool. From The Liverpool Echo:

“I believe that if we had gotten through at Liverpool, we would have won the treble. We would have come here [to the Copa del Rey final] with a different mood, and I’m convinced we would have won the Champions League final, but that is football. We are really, really hurting.”

There are hints of a massive clear-out at Barcelona, with Lionel Messi and Pique two of the only safe bets to stay. When will Barca get over it?

Brazilian team tangles in locker room futmesa (video)

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It was defense versus attack in the Brazil dressing room.

Neymar and Gabriel Jesus squared off with international teammates Filipe Luis and Ederson in a game of futmesa/table soccer this week.

[ MORE: Real, Chelsea debate Hazard fee ]

Neymar and Filipe Luis are used to be on different sides of the field from their time in La Liga, while Jesus and Ederson are teammates at Manchester City.

Brazil is hosting this summer’s Copa America and is the favorite to win its first tournament since 2007, when it claimed its fourth in five tries.

It’s really impressive stuff for us normal to subpar athletes, even if standard for those with such deft talent.

Quite a winner from Man City’s young striker.

Jovic could see himself in Premier League, Serie A

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Maybe Luka Jovic’s presumed move to Real Madrid won’t happen this summer.

Or at all.

[ MORE: Real, Chelsea debate Hazard fee ]

The Eintracht Frankfurt striker has been tipped for a move away from the Bundesliga after another strong campaign, and taking the center forward reins from Karim Benzema at Real Madrid.

Several outlets reported the deal as done, but Jovic isn’t speaking that way (or at least the Serbian is throwing us off the scent.

From Goal.com:

“In terms of the physique, the Bundesliga is very demanding, but after the games against Chelsea or Inter Milan, I personally had the feeling that I could feel even better [playing] in the Premier League or Serie A. … The way the teams play there suits me better.”

Jovic scored 27 times in 48 appearances for Frankfurt, adding seven assists at the tender age of 21. Ten of those came in the Europa League, and we’re not talking about flooding the nets of minnows; Jovic scored against Chelsea (twice), Marseille (three), Lazio (two), and Inter Milan (once).

Report: Chelsea, Real $38M apart on Hazard

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How much for Hazard?

Real Madrid are willing to pay $127 million, no small fee, to bring Eden Hazard from Chelsea, but that’s well off the Blues’ evaluation according to Sky Sports.

Chelsea sees Hazard’s price as $165 million. Belgian writer Kristof Terreur told Sky that Hazard wants his future sorted by June 4.

[ MORE: Bayern wins double ]

The Blues’ superstar is entering the final year of his contract, and could begin negotiating with other clubs in January and leave on a free transfer.

Hazard turns 29 in January. He recorded 19 goals and 16 assists in 51 matches this season, his best output in a Blues uniform.

The report says Chelsea feels no pressure to sell Hazard, but it would be a surprise if it dug in its heels too deeply considering the state of the Belgian’s contract.

Even for Chelsea, letting over $100 million walk out the door is wild, and for all Hazard’s won with Chelsea there’s also been consternation under several managers and a more than occasional habit of disappointing on the table.