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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

Boyd brace enough for USMNT v. Guyana

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Tyler Boyd scored a pair of goals including the 1,000th in United States men’s national team history as Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT opened its Gold Cup run with a somewhat misleading 4-0 defeat of Guyana in Minnesota late Tuesday.

Paul Arriola had a goal, an assist, and a shot that took two deflections including one off of Gyasi Zardes’ face in the win.

Weston McKennie had an assist in an impactful performance before leaving with injury in the second half. USMNT boss Gregg Berhalter said the injury was a cramp. Let’s hope so.

Next up for the USMNT is a Saturday match-up with Trinidad and Tobago in Cleveland. Guyana will meet Panama, who beat T&T 2-0 on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

The United States had plenty of possession to start, and Christian Pulisic was looking lively. Though positioned centrally in the formation, he often drifted to the left to get the ball and work toward the middle.

It was Guyana who nearly struck for an opener against the run of play, lashing over the goal off a short corner. Gyasi Zardes thought he’d forced a goal moments later, but the offside flag was up.

Weston McKennie played a gorgeous through ball into Tyler Boyd, and Boyd sent a promising pass to the middle of the box only to see a shot blocked by the packed-in defense. Then Pulisic was stopped point-blank by Akel Clarke.

McKennie then set up Arriola for the opener, with the DC United man slapping the side of his right foot through the ball to sent it around Clarke and into the goal.

Boyd the stung a shot wide of the far post after missing with a low drive earlier in the match. Clarke then made an outstanding save on a Nick Lima drive — again set up in part by McKennie — before Boyd hit a ball into outer space.

A nervy moment early in the second half gave way to relief, as Boyd struck with vigor off a delightful ball from Michael Bradley. This was a “Bradley in his AS Roma prime” long ball, and Boyd delivered with a fine low strike.

Zardes then made it 3-0 with a header he knew little about:

Berhalter would soon remove Pulisic and Bradley, and then an injury forced his hand on the third substitution.

That one could echo deep into the tournament if it’s anything more than precaution, with McKennie exiting the field.

Boyd then scored another terrific goal. It looked even better than his first until replays revealed a significant deflection en route to the scoreboard.

Zardes later cued up Boyd for a chance at the hat trick, but the Kiwi-born attacked hit his shot into the outside of the goal. He could’ve had five goals.

3 things from USMNT’s win v. Guyana

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Injuries, early inefficiency, and a newcomer making a statement were the biggest talking points of the United States men’s national team’s first match of the 2019 Gold Cup.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

Christian Pulisic was back, but not on the score sheet, and was able to be rested over the final half hour or so, and the USMNT scored its 1000th goal in program history.

[ MORE: Player ratings ]

Beyond that, here’s what we’re thinking after the 4-0 win.

Ouch, ouch, stop that, ouch: Injury worries

Weston McKennie started slow but eventually played a series of sensational passes en route to an assist on the night.

His industry moving forward and backward were remarkable on the night, but Schalke’s Swiss army knife had to leave the match with a leg injury with a quarter hour to play.

That’s a problem for a side which also saw Tyler Boyd pull up following his bid for a hat trick and is also without Tyler Adams, Sebastian Lletget, and Duane Holmes in the midfield alone.

John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin are also missing from a U.S. side hoping to make a serious bid for another final at the Gold Cup.

Berhalter said the injury that cost McKennie the final 16 minutes was a cramp. Let’s hope so.

Tyler Boyd shoots his shot

No, he’s not the Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver.

Yes, he’s inspiring a bit of hope for the American Outlaws.

The New Zealand-born 24-year-old likes to shoot, and boy did he in bagging a brace on Wednesday.

Capped five times by New Zealand but now cap-tied to the USMNT by participating in this match, Boyd scored twice and could’ve probably scored two or three more on the day.

The son of an Kiwi father and American mother, Boyd delivered the goods in front of both of them in Minnesota.

“It’s for my family,” Boyd said on Fox after the game. “I’m really proud to be able to represent this country. To do it on this stage is an honor and a blessing. Just a dream come true. It’s been years and years and years of work. It’s been my dream since (I was) a kid. I don’t have the words to describe it.”

Boyd was injured — more on that later — but it looked like it could’ve been minor. His creativity and desire for the ball will be needed moving forward, as he was a fine complement to Paul Arriola in industry and desire.

It still wasn’t good enough

Do not forget that Guyana is the 177th ranked team in the FIFA rankings  — a lofty 166th in EloRatings — and the Yanks simply didn’t have the quality or understanding to pile up the goals.

The Guyanese held the U.S. in check for the first half hour before Weston McKennie and Paul Arriola teamed up for a classy goal, and Bradley’s link up with Tyler Boyd for the second was even better.

But Zardes’ goal was a blocked shot that unknowingly pinged off his pace to the point that the American striker appeared dazed for the duration of the celebration. And Boyd’s good-looking second goal took a turn off a Guyanese defender on the way into the net.

As it stands, this looks like a team that wouldn’t beat Panama and might struggle against anyone should Pulisic go down (and especially if McKennie stays down).

USMNT player ratings from defeat of Guyana

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The United States men’s national team was solid, but not particularly impressive in its 4-0 defeat of Guyana early Wednesday to start its Gold Cup.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

There were stars in this one, with Weston McKennie and Tyler Boyd finding their strides, but still a lot of question marks (in some ways due to the competition).

Let’s get into it. As always, “6” is the baseline for ratings: a passable performance.

Starting XI

Zack Steffen — 6 — Had very little to do, even in possession, as expected.

Nick Lima — 6 — Looking comfortable moving forward and was aggressive in defense.

Walker Zimmerman — 7 — Passed the ball well, but like his goalkeeper and fellow defenders, was largely untested.

Aaron Long — 6 — A step up from his nightmare against Venezuela.

Tim Ream — 6 — An okay cog in the back three after a rough pair of friendly losses.

Michael Bradley (Off 63′) — 6 — For the first 20 minutes, it was clear this was his first match in a month. But his game improved, capped by a remarkable assist to Boyd for the 1,000th goal in USMNT history. Fitting.

Weston McKennie (Off 74′) — 7 — A slow start, but on the night not only assisted a goal but played three or four world-class touch passes. Gregg Berhalter said the injury that cost him the final 16 minutes was a cramp. Let’s hope so.

Paul Arriola — 8 — His aggression and ambition paid off, as he rebounded from some questionable performances to get a goal and set up two others (*thou

Christian Pulisic (Off 63′) — 7 — Instantly the most dangerous player on the field, would’ve likely had a couple assists with a capable finisher up top.

Tyler Boyd — 8.5 — The former New Zealand international made a lot of fans tonight, scoring two goals, and was in position to score four or even five.

Gyasi Zardes — 5 — Credit the motor, but look forward to Jozy Altidore being back at full fitness.

Substitutions

Wil Trapp (On 63′) — 6 — Better than his miserable pair of friendlies.

Cristian Roldan (On 63′) — 6 — Looked more lively in attack, but given the opposition that’s not terribly impressive.

Djordje Mihailovic (On 74′) — N/A —

Tyler Boyd scores 1,000th goal in USMNT history (video)

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The 700th game in USMNT history has birthed the 999th and 1,000th goals in program history.

The Yanks led Guyana 1-0 at halftime of their 2019 Gold Cup debut on a Paul Arriola goal set up by Weston McKennie when they hit their milestone.

Fittingly, the goal was produced by a vintage ball from one of the program’s all-timers.

[ LIVE: Latest Gold Cup scores, stats, lineups ]

Michael Bradley swept a delightful diagonal ball to a seemingly offside Tyler Boyd, who scored his first goal for the USMNT via a low driven shot across the goal and into the side netting.

The first goal came on Aug. 20, 1916 from a fella named C.H. Spalding, who later played baseball for the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Senators.

The 1,000th came via a New Zealand-born dual national who played last season in Turkey on loan from a Portuguese club.