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Relegation showdown: Swansea v. Saints

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If you see a Swansea City or Southampton fan over the next 24 hours, give them a hug.

They’ll likely be a nervous wreck as their entire season comes down to a 90-minute game in South Wales.

On Tuesday the Swans and Saints clash in what is basically a relegation playoff (Watch live, 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online on NBCSports.com), with the teams level on points with two games of the season to go and the Swans in the final relegation place due to their inferior goal differential. Saints are out of the drop zone by the skin of their teeth.

The main permutation is clear: if a team wins the game at the Liberty Stadium they will be all but safe from relegation.

In essence this is a $230 million game, with similar implications to the winner and loser to the Championship Playoff final which seals promotion to the Premier League from the second-tier. The PL doesn’t have a relegation playoff like the Bundesliga or other leagues, but this game is about as close as it comes to a straight shootout.

For both cities of Swansea and Southampton, their teams losing their Premier League status is a huge deal. Both local economies rely heavily on their clubs being in the PL and there will be a huge impact on not only the wider community but also the clubs themselves as several employees will likely be let go if their team is relegated.

Players from both clubs will have to compartmentalize the fact that the social media team filming their pre-game warmups may well be out of a job by the final whistle. Their decisions on the pitch on Tuesday will determine the overall mood in two regional cities (both roughly the same size with a population of around 300,000) in the UK for the next 12 months. Each cross, tackle, header and shot will have that bit of extra pressure on it.

This winner takes all battle is about much more than just securing a place in the Premier League.

If it’s a draw, Swansea are in the driving seat as they host already-relegated Stoke City on the final day with Saints hosting all-conquering Manchester City. With Huddersfield only three points above Swansea and Saints, they’re still in the relegation mix too but Saints beating Man City on the final day and hoping Huddersfield lose to both Chelsea and Arsenal in their final two games seems like a long shot.

A draw would be a decent result for Swansea but playing for a draw is a dangerous game for the Swans and Carlos Carvalhal. Especially given their recent form with no wins in their last seven games and no victory in the PL since early March.

“We have two more games and a big opportunity on Tuesday. The game will start 0-0 and when everything is in your hands you must believe. If someone had said when I first took over that we would have it in our hands at this stage, I would’ve taken it,” Carvalhal said.

For Saints and Mark Hughes, they’re in better form than Swansea and if they win they know that all they need to do on the final day of the season is avoid an eight-goal swing in goal differential. Saints are unbeaten in three and should have sealed back-to-back wins but a 96th minute deflected goal from Everton on Saturday (typical of their season) stole two points from them and set up this mammoth clash which will shape both clubs irrevocably for the foreseeable future.

Add into the mix that both clubs have been on incredible journeys from the depths of the lower leagues — amid financial ruin and near extinction in the past decade or so — to the upper echelons of the PL which led to European campaigns, and both teams have certainly been worse off than if they are relegated to the second-tier this week.

But that won’t make an entire season of struggle any easier to swallow if they fail to seize the moment on Tuesday and take a huge leap towards saving themselves.

Swansea have spent the last seven seasons in the PL. Southampton the last six. Both are often lauded for their player recruitment, attractive playing style and massively overachieving. None of that makes one bit of difference now. Both clubs have lost their way over the past 12-18 months and now past success means nothing. It’s all about Tuesday.

This is it.

So yeah, give a Swans and Saints fan a hug, or maybe a beer or two, for their date with destiny and to help them cope in their time of need.

The agony and ecstasy of the relegation battle will be clear for all to see in Swansea on Tuesday.

For all neutrals it will be essential viewing. Full of drama, heartache, jubilation and high stakes.

For anyone connected with either club it will be like watching a horror movie in slow motion for almost two hours.

Russell hat trick snaps Sporting KC’s win streak (video)

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Struggling, short-handed Sporting KC needed a star show to kickstart its summer, and Johnny Russell was ready to go.

Maybe the 29-year-old Scotsman was feeding off the buzz of his old club Derby County preparing for the Championship Playoff Final, but Russell scored thrice as Sporting took care of Seattle 3-2 in Washington on Sunday.

[ MORE: USWNT wins final match before World Cup (video) ]

The right winger scored his fifth, sixth, and seventh goals of the MLS season as Sporting won its first match since March 30.

Russell scored 35 goals with 34 assists in 205 matches with the Rams, but has destroyed that mark with KC. He now has 19 and 16 in 55.

Seattle loses ground on LAFC in the race for the Supporters’ Shield, while KC is now within four points of the playoff places.

 

 

Report: Newcastle in takeover talks with UAE billionaire

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Reports out of Northeast England say Newcastle United supporters who want owner Mike Ashley out at all costs have new hope.

United Arab Emirates billionaire Sheikh Khaled bin Zayed Al Nehayan is said to be in talks with Ashley about a takeover of the St. James’ Park-based club, though there’s a lot of work to do for a deal to be complete.

[ MORE: USWNT wins final match before World Cup (video) ]

One report goes as far as to say Ashley has agreed to accept $444 million for the Premier League club.

Sheikh Khaled, 61, was educated at American colleges Boston University and Michigan State. He’s the cousin of Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and was turned down with a $2.5 billion bid for Liverpool last season.

From The Chronicle:

NUFC have confirmed some talks with Sheikh Khaled. But say there is still “some way” to go on a deal. Newcastle United refusing to make any further comment at this time.

Takeover talks are nothing new at Newcastle, and there does seem to be some heat to these reports, but Ashley and his crew have spun these stories of interest in the past. And with Magpies supporters waiting for news on Rafa Benitez‘s new deal, some will be way of a smoke screen for an inability to reach an agreement with the celebrated Newcastle manager.

Wondolowski scores 149th, 150th goals; Earthquakes win

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TORONTO (AP) Chris Wondolowski scored his 149th and 150th MLS goals in the San Jose Earthquakes’ 2-1 victory over Toronto FC on Sunday night.

The MLS career goals leader scored both from close range.

[ MORE: Kante to miss Europa League final ]

Wondolowski got a yard’s separation from Drew Moor and deftly redirected in Cristian Espinoza’s cross in the 37th minute to tie it at 1. The go-ahead goal in the 81st minute was a virtual replay, with Espinoza finding Wondolowski in space.

The San Jose striker has six goals in two games. He scored all four goals in a 4-1 victory over Chicago last weekend to surpass Landon Donovan’s league record of 145 goals and up his career total to 148.

Richie Laryea opened the scoring for Toronto (5-6-2) in the 28th minute

San Jose (5-6-2) won for the first time in six road games this season.

Chairman Mubarak: Other clubs are ‘jealous’ of Man City’s success

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Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak believes that other clubs — namely those who have fallen miles back of the back-to-back Premier League champions — are “jealous” of the club’s success.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante to miss Europa League final with new injury ]

The root of the perceived jealousy is, of course, Man City’s seemingly unlimited spending power which dwarves that of just about — if not — every other club in the PL. There’s a growing sense around the league — and around the world — that clubs like City, just to name one, are doing the game a disservice by distorting the transfer market and building an infallible super-team with the aid of unprecedented financial resources.

Mubarak believes that these feelings also stem from other clubs’ failed dealings in the transfer market: spending comparable — if not more — money on players who don’t justify that price tag the same way some of City’s big-money buys have done — quotes from the BBC:

“With success, there is a certain level of jealousy, envy, whatever you call it. That’s part of the game.

“It’s not easy for our competition, we know that. But the reality is, we didn’t buy the most expensive player in the Premier League [Paul Pogba], we didn’t buy the most expensive goalkeeper [Kepa Arrizabalaga], we didn’t buy the most expensive midfielder, we didn’t buy the most expensive striker [Romelu Lukaku].

“People make decisions, they’ve got to live by them. This is a well-run club.”

City’s financial dealings have regularly been in the headlines of late, as they are believed to have circumvented FFP rules by lying about sponsorship deals so as to balance a larger expenditure on transfer fees and player wages with revenue generated by the club.