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Top Four prognosis: The fixtures that matter in the Premier League

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On Sunday we analyzed the run-ins for a bevy of clubs vying to avoid relegation from the Premier League to the Football League Championship.

Tonight, we deal in the race for the Top Four.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Johannsson’s clever Bremen goal ]

While we’re still including Man City despite its 13-point table advantage and status as an almost-certain PL title winner– the leaders still face every Top Four contender except Spurs — read on to see why a certain outsider stands a very good chance of renewing acquaintances with the Top Four.

Man City (69 pts)

Saturday – Leicester City (H)
Feb. 13 – Basel (A) – UCL
Feb. 19 – Wigan (A) – FA Cup
Feb. 25 – Arsenal – League Cup Final
March 1 – Arsenal (A)
March 4 – Chelsea (H)
March 7 – Basel (H)
March 12 – Stoke (A)
March 17 – FA Cup quarters – or – March 18 – Brighton (H)
March 31 – Everton (A)
April 3/4 – UCL quarters
April 7 – Manchester United (H)
April 10/11 – UCL quarters
April 14 – Spurs (A)
April 21 – FA Cup semis – or – Swansea City (H)
April 24/25 – UCL semis
April 28 – West Ham (A)
May 1/2 – UCL semis
May 5 – Huddersfield Town (H)
May 13 – Southampton (A)
May 19 – FA Cup final
May 26 – UCL final

The read: Those are a lot of matches. It’s difficult to imagine City will lose the league even if its injury problems grow, but the congestions is going to cause a lot of consternation for Guardiola as he chases four trophies.

Manchester United (56)

 

Sunday – Newcastle United (A)
Feb. 17 – Huddersfield Town (A) – FA Cup
Feb. 21 – Sevilla (A) – UCL
Feb. 25 – Chelsea (H)
March 5 – Crystal Palace (A)
March 10 – Liverpool (H)
March 13 – Sevilla (H)
March 17 – FA Cup quarters – or – March 18 – West Ham (A)
March 31 – Swansea City (H)
April 3/4 – UCL quarters
April 7 – Manchester City (A)
April 10/11 – UCL quarters
April 14 – West Brom (H)
April 21 – FA Cup semis – or – Bournemouth (A)
April 24/25 – UCL semis
April 28 – Arsenal (H)
May 1/2 – UCL semis
May 5 – Brighton (A)
May 13 – Watford (H)
May 19 – FA Cup final
May 26 – UCL final

The read: Arsenal, Liverpool, and Chelsea all have to come to Old Trafford, and the Manchester Derby wedged between a pair of possible Champions League quarterfinals doubles down on the intrigue at the Etihad Stadium. United should still finish second, though…

Liverpool (51)

Sunday – Southampton (A)
Feb. 14 – Porto (A) – UCL
Feb. 24 – West Ham (H)
March 3 – Newcastle (H)
March 6 – Porto (H)
March 10 – Manchester United (A)
March 17 – Watford (H)
March 31 – Crystal Palace (A)
April 3/4 – UCL quarters
April 7 – Everton (A)
April 10/11 – UCL quarters
April 14 – Bournemouth (H)
April 21 – West Brom (A) – moved if WBA makes FA Cup semis
April 24/25 – UCL semis
April 28 – Stoke City (H)
May 1/2 – UCL semis
May 5  – Chelsea (A)
May 13 – Brighton (H)
May 26 – UCL final

The read: Liverpool’s disappointing FA Cup exit sets itself up nicely in February as the only club with just three dates remaining, and the Reds don’t face three of their Top Four competitors. Could this give them enough ammunition to pass United? Absolutely.

Chelsea (50)

Feb. 12 – West Brom (H)
Feb. 16 – Hull City (H) – FA Cup
Feb. 20 – Barcelona (H) – UCL
Feb. 25 – Manchester United (A)
March 4 – Manchester City (A)
March 10 – Crystal Palace (H)
March 14 – Barcelona (A) – UCL
March 17 – FA Cup quarters – or – Burnley (A)
April 1 – Spurs (H)
April 3/4 – UCL quarters
April 7 – West Ham (H)
April 10/11 – UCL quarters
April 14 – Southampton (A)
April 21 – FA Cup semis – or – Huddersfield Town (H)
April 24/25 – UCL semis
April 28 – Swans (A)
May 1/2 – UCL semis
May 5 – Liverpool (H)
May 13 – Newcastle United (A)
May 19 – FA Cup final
May 26 – UCL final

The read: Chelsea’s chances of dropping out of the Top Four — at least temporarily — are very high, with four of five matches between Feb. 20 and March 14 coming against Barcelona (twice), Manchester United, and Manchester City. Spurs and Liverpool are also on the docket, but come to Stamford Bridge.

Tottenham Hotspur (49)

Wednesday – Newport County – FA Cup replay
Saturday – Arsenal (H)
Feb. 13 – Juventus (A) – UCL
Feb. 17 – Rochdale (A) – FA Cup (if still in competition)
Feb. 26 – Crystal Palace (A)
March 3 – Huddersfield Town (H)
March 7 – Juventus (H) – UCL
March 11 – Bournemouth (A)
March 16 – Newcastle (H) – or – March 17 – FA Cup quarters
April 1 – Chelsea (A)
April 3/4 – UCL quarters
April 7 – Stoke City (A)
April 10/11 – UCL quarters
April 14 – Manchester City (H)
April 21 – FA Cup semis – or – Brighton (A)
April 24/25 – UCL semis
April 28 – Watford (H)
May 1/2 – UCL semis
May 5 – West Brom (A)
May 13 – Leicester City (H)
May 19 – FA Cup final
May 26 – UCL final

The read: If Spurs get past Juve, they’ll face the following between April 1-14: a UCL quarterfinalist twice, Man City, Chelsea, and Stoke (One of those things is not like the others). The key will be emerging from that stretch relatively unscathed, because points are there for the taking the rest of the way.

Arsenal (45)

Feb. 10 – Spurs (A)
Feb. 15 – Ostersunds FK (A) – UEL
Feb. 22 – Ostersunds FK (H) – UEL
Feb. 25 – Manchester City – League Cup final
March 1 – Manchester City (H)
March 4 –  Brighton (A)
March 8 – UEL Round of 16
March 11 – Watford (H)
March 15 – UEL Round of 16
March 17 – Leicester City (A)
April 1 – Stoke City (H)
April 5 – UEL quarters
April 7 – Southampton (H)
April 12 – UEL quarters
April 14 – Newcastle United (A)
April 21 – West Ham (H)
April 26 – UEL semis
April 28 – Manchester United (A)
May 3 – UEL semis
May 5 – Burnley (H)
May 13 – Huddersfield Town (A)
May 19 – UEL final

The read: If Arsenal gets through the next three weeks in decent table position, beginning with Saturday’s away North London Derby, the Gunners may well wind up dueling with Liverpool, Chelsea, and Spurs for third (let alone fourth). As noted, the Reds schedule may push them out of the discussion, but if Alexis Sanchez leaving Arsenal has exorcised its demons, well… Arsenal and fourth have often gone together like red wine and pasta sauce.

Prediction

Based on all of the above, foolishly assuming no major injuries, and making lightning quick estimates:

  1. Man City — 96 points
  2. Manchester United — 87
  3. Liverpool — 85
  4. Spurs — 77
  5. Arsenal — 77
  6. Chelsea — 75

Durmaz condemns Sweden fans’ racist abuse after World Cup loss

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KRASNODAR, Russia (AP) — Sweden midfielder Jimmy Durmaz says the racist abuse aimed at him over social media following the 2-1 loss to Germany at the World Cup has been “completely unacceptable.”

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

After coming on as a substitute, Durmaz gave away the free kick that led to Toni Kroos curling in an injury-time winner in Saturday’s group game. Durmaz has since been subjected to online abuse, including threats to his family.

Before a training session on Sunday, Durmaz — standing in front of the rest of the Sweden squad and beside coach Janne Andersson — read out a statement to the media from a mobile phone.

“When you threaten me, when you call me ‘Arab devil,’ ‘terrorist,’ ‘Taliban,’ then you have gone far beyond the limit,” Durmaz said in the statement, which was published on the Swedish Football Association’s website.

“And even worse, when you go after my family, my children, threaten them. Who does such a thing? It is completely unacceptable.”

Durmaz was born in Sweden to Assyrian parents who emigrated from Turkey.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“I am Swedish and I am proud to play in the Swedish national team. That’s the biggest thing you can do as a football player,” he said in the statement. “I will never let any racists destroy that pride. We must all stand against all forms of racism.”

The Swedish FA has reported the abuse toward Durmaz to police.

“We do not tolerate a player being exposed to threats and violations,” said Hakan Sjostrand, secretary general of the Swedish FA. “It is unpleasant and very upsetting to see the treatment that Jimmy Durmaz has suffered. Completely unacceptable.”

The loss to Germany left Sweden tied on three points with its opponent. Both countries are three points behind Mexico with one game left. Sweden plays Mexico in Yekaterinburg on Wednesday, with Germany taking on South Korea at the same time.

Scenarios: Final round of 2018 World Cup group stage

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With just one round of group games left to be played at the 2018 World Cup, the time to begin scoreboard (and table… and tiebreaker) watching is now. 24 teams are still alive with a chance to making it into the knockout rounds and lifting the trophy in Moscow on July 15…

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Group A

Games remaining: Uruguay (2nd – 6 points) vs. Russia (1st – 6 points); Saudi Arabia (4th) vs. Egypt (3rd)

Who can finish 1st: Russia (advanced), Uruguay (advanced)
Who can finish 2nd: Russia, Uruguay

Tiebreaker(s)

Goal differential: Russia (+7), Uruguay (+2)

Scenario(s): Uruguay or Russia will finish 1st with a win over the other; the loser will finish 2nd; Russia will finish 1st if a draw


Group B

Games remaining: Iran (3rd – 3 points) vs. Portugal (2nd – 4 points); Spain (1st – 4 points) vs. Morocco (4th – 0 points)

Who can finish 1st: Spain, Portugal, Iran
Who can finish 2nd: Spain, Portugal, Iran

Tiebreaker(s)

Goal differential: Spain (+1), Portugal (+1), Iran (0)
Goals scored: Spain (4), Portugal (4), Iran (1)

Scenario(s): Spain or Portugal will finish 1st with a win by more goals (or scoring more goals, if the same margin) than the other; Iran will finish 1st with a win and a Spain draw/loss


Group C

Games remaining: Denmark (2nd – 4 points) vs. France (1st – 6 points); Australia (3rd – 1 point) vs. Peru (4th – 0 points)

Who can finish 1st: France (advanced), Denmark
Who can finish 2nd: France, Denmark, Australia

Tiebreaker(s)

Goal differential: France (+2), Denmark (+1), Australia (-1)
Goals scored: France (3), Denmark (2), Australia (2)

Scenario(s): France will finish 1st with a win/draw vs. Denmark; Denmark will finish 1st with a win; Australia will finish 2nd with a win and Denmark (if the two results combine to overturn their two-goal goal-differential deficit)


Group D

Games remaining: Nigeria (2nd – 3 points) vs. Argentina (4th – 1 point); Iceland (3rd – 1 point) vs. Croatia (1st – 6 points)

Who can finish 1st: Croatia (advanced), Nigeria
Who can finish 2nd: Croatia, Nigeria, Iceland, Argentina

Tiebreaker(s)

Goal differential: Croatia (+5), Nigeria (0), Iceland(-2), Argentina (-3)
Goals scored: Croatia (5), Nigeria (2), Iceland (1), Argentina (1)

Scenario(s): Croatia will will finish 1st with a win/draw vs. Iceland; Nigeria will finish 1st with a win over Argentina and a Croatia loss (if the two results combine to overturn their five-goal goal-differential deficit); Iceland will finish 2nd with a win and a Nigeria loss, or a Nigeria draw (if the two results combine to overturn their two-goal goal-differential deficit); Argentina will finish 2nd with a win and an Iceland loss/draw, or an Iceland win (if the two results combine to overturn their one-goal goal-differential deficit)


Group E

Games remaining: Serbia (3rd – 3 points) vs. Brazil (1st – 4 points); Switzerland (2nd – 4 points) vs. Costa Rica (4th – 0 points)

Who can finish 1st: Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia
Who can finish 2nd: Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia

Tiebreaker(s)

Goal differential: Brazil (+2), Switzerland (+1), Serbia(0)
Goals scored: Brazil (3), Switzerland (3), Serbia(2)

Scenario(s): Brazil will finish 1st with a win over Serbia and a Switzerland draw/loss, or a Switzerland win (if the two results combine to NOT overturn their one-goal goal-differential advantage); Switzerland will finish 1st with a win over Costa Rica and a Brazil loss/draw, or a Brazil win (if the two results combine to overturn their one-goal goal-differential deficit); Serbia will finish 1st with a win and a Switzerland draw/loss


Group F

Games remaining: South Korea (4th – 0 points) vs. Germany (2nd – 3 points); Mexico (1st – 6 points) vs. Sweden (3rd – 3 points)

Who can finish 1st: Mexico, Germany, Sweden
Who can finish 2nd: Mexico, Germany, Sweden, South Korea

Tiebreaker(s)

Goal differential: Mexico (+2), Germany (0), Sweden (0), South Korea (-2)
Goals scored: Mexico (3), Germany (2), Sweden (2), South Korea (1)

Scenario(s): Mexico will finish 1st with a win/draw vs. Sweden, or a draw and a Germany draw/loss, or a one-goal loss and a Germany loss; Germany will finish 1st with a win over South Korea and a Mexico loss (if the two results combine to overturn their two-goal goal-differential deficit); Sweden will finish 1st with a win and Germany loss/draw, or a Germany win (if the two results combine to overturn their identical goal differentials); South Korea will finish 2nd with a win and a Sweden loss (if the three results combine to overturn their two-goal goal-differential deficits)


Group G

Games remaining: England (1st – 6 points) vs. Belgium (2nd – 6 points); Panama (4th – 0 points) vs. Tunisia (3rd – 0 points)

Who can finish 1st: England (advanced), Belgium (advanced)
Who can finish 2nd: England, Belgium

Tiebreaker(s)

Goal differential: England (+6), Belgium (+6)
Goals scored: England (8), Belgium (8)
Fair-play points (yellow/red cards): England (-2), Belgium (-3)

Scenario(s): England or Belgium will finish 1st with a win over the other; the loser will finish 2nd; fair-play points will determine who finishes 1st if a draw


Group H

Games remaining: Japan (1st – 4 points) vs. Poland (4th – 0 points); Senegal (2nd – 4 points) vs. Colombia (3rd – 3 points)

Who can finish 1st: Japan, Senegal, Colombia
Who can finish 2nd: Japan, Senegal, Colombia

Tiebreaker(s)

Goal differential: Colombia (+2), Japan (+1), Senegal (+1)
Goals scored: Japan (4), Senegal (4), Colombia (4)
Fair-play points: Japan (-3), Senegal (-5)

Scenario(s): Japan will finish 1st with a win over Poland and a Senegal draw/loss, or a Senegal win (if the two results combine to NOT overturn their fair-play points advantage); Senegal will finish 1st with a win over Colombia and a Japan draw/loss, or a Japan win (if the two results combine to overturn their fair-play points deficit); Colombia will finish 1st with a win and a Japan draw/loss

Kane joins England greats, now chasing Golden Boot

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NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia (AP) — Harry Kane now has a permanent souvenir from the World Cup.

The England striker grabbed the game ball and kept it in his grasp after scoring a hat trick in his team’s 6-1 win over Panama on Sunday.

[ VIDEO: England hammer Panama ]

Those goals — two penalties and a lucky deflection — made Kane the third Englishman after Geoff Hurst and Gary Lineker to score a hat trick in a World Cup match.

“One to be proud of,” Kane said. “Not many players get to score a hat trick in a World Cup.”

The third goal was “probably one of the luckiest ones of my career,” he said. It came when a shot from teammate Ruben Loftus-Cheek deflected off his heel and wrong-footed Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo.

The other two were penalties, but it didn’t matter that his goals weren’t vintage. It was enough to put England into the round of 16 with a match to spare.

Kane now has a tournament-leading five goals at the World Cup, one more than Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku.

[ MORE: Colombia thrash Poland, set up must-win vs. Senegal ]

“You’ve got some of the best players in the world doing well, scoring goals, so it’s nice to be up there,” Kane said. “But for me it’s just about the wins. The most important thing is that my goals help my team win. I just hope to continue it.”

Kane took advantage of an overly-physical Panama team to score twice from the spot in the first half. The first penalty came when Jesse Lingard was fouled. Kane won the second himself.

He converted both penalties convincingly.

“You can dismiss penalties as being easy, but the length of time you have to wait before taking it, and the number of distractions to keep focused and start again, it tells you a bit about the mental toughness that he’s got,” England coach Gareth Southgate said. “He’s there. He’s up at the top. We wouldn’t swap him for anyone. We know when he gets opportunities he’s going to bury them.”

Hurst, who got his hat trick in England’s 4-2 victory over West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final, also had that ability. As did Lineker, who scored three against Poland at the 1986 tournament.

Like them, Kane was expected to lead England’s attack. But defender John Stones wasn’t.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The big center back contributed two goals with a pair of headers. That gives him more World Cup goals than he has in 122 games in the Premier League, where he has scored only once.

But, as Stones swiftly reminded everyone, he did score twice in a Champions League game last year.

He said his cellphone was “blowing up” with messages after his goals. But he’s more concerned with Kane’s tally and his chance to beat Ronaldo and others to the Golden Boot for the tournament’s top scorer.

“I’d love Harry to get it,” Stones said. “I know Harry would want us to win more than get the Golden Boot. That’s the most important thing. But, on a personal level, I’d love Harry to get it.”

Colombia thrash poor Poland, set up must-win vs. Senegal

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Colombia thrashed Poland, to the tune of 3-0, in the two sides’ must-win game in Group H play at the 2018 World Cup on Sunday, getting goals from Yerry Mina, Radamel Falcao and Juan Cuadrado to leave their destiny in their own hands ahead of Thursday’s decisive group finale against Senegal.

Poland have been eliminated with one group game still to play.

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

Colombia could have scored two or three goals in the first half, with Cuadrado and Juan Quintero causing constant problems for the left side of the Polish defense, but the necessary finishing touch was consistently lacking until Mina headed home a James Rodriguez cross in the 40th minute.

Poland offered very little, both before or after Mina’s opener, as Robert Lewandowski was effectively contained with the vast majority of his touches coming 30 yards from goal and further out. After disappointing in their tournament-opening loss to Senegal, manager Adam Nawalka made a handful of changes to his lineup — dropping the likes of Arkadiusz Milik, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Kamil Grosicki — to no avail.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Despite the scoreline remaining 1-0 for the first 25 minutes of the first half, Poland never looked threatening and were put to the sword by Falcao’s first career World Cup goal (missed the 2014 tournament due to a knee injury), courtesy of Quintero’s seeing-eye through ball.

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James played provider five minutes later, when he slotted what might just be the pass of the tournament across the field, across the Polish defense, and found a streaking Cuadrado with acres of space in front of him. From one end of the field to the other, in no time at all.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

When Colombia (3 points) meet Senegal (4 points) on Thursday, they’ll need a win to overtake them for second place, or for Poland (0 points) to beat Japan (4 points), who currently sit top of the group — but that seems highly unlikely at this point.