Getty Images

Top Premier League Storylines – Championship Sunday

Leave a comment

We’ve come so far, and yet there’s still something to play for. Whether it’s near the top of the table, near the bottom, or bidding a legend farewell, there’s plenty to take in on the final day of the 2017/18 Premier League season.

[ WATCH: TV schedule and JPW’s picks for Championship Sunday ]

Arsene Wenger bids Arsenal a farewell after 22 seasons, while there is still a Champions League place and Premier League safety to be confirmed as everything comes to a head all at once this coming Sunday.

Liverpool looks to hold off Chelsea for Champions League spot
Liverpool vs. Brighton – 10:00 a.m. ET Sunday on NBC
Newcastle vs. Chelsea – 10:00 a.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN

Thanks to Chelsea’s flop against Huddersfield at home midweek, the Reds need just a single point to confirm a Champions League place next season. A Liverpool draw and Chelsea win would see them level on points, but the Reds have a goal difference superiority of 15, so the Blues effectively need Liverpool to lose.

Liverpool, more than holding Chelsea off, will want to turn around its recent league form and head into the Champions League final on a high note. They have looked toothless over the last few weeks, with a 0-0 draw against relegated Stoke City setting the stage for their near-disaster at Roma in the Champions League semifinals. They followed that up with a 1-0 loss at Chelsea last weekend, and the players could really use something positive before the big game.

Chelsea, meanwhile, will need plenty of help to shock the Premier League. The Blues seemed dead in the water a few weeks ago, with Antonio Conte a dead man walking. Last time out is a big mo-killer, but nevertheless, it’s surprising to see Chelsea with even a mathematical chance on the season’s final matchday.

Arsene Wenger’s farewell
Huddersfield Town vs. Arsenal – 10:00 a.m. ET Sunday on MSNBC

This is it. The time has come. Arsene Wenger’s final game in charge of Arsenal is nearly upon us. It is one of those moments we never thought would actually happen, and yet here we are.

Whether you’re in the #WengerOut or #WengerIn crew, all should give him a positive send-off for what he’s given Arsenal, the Premier League, and soccer as a whole. Still, Huddersfield Town won’t roll over and die to appease a legend, and David Wagner will want his group to finish a successful season strong. Can Wenger go out on a high note and avoid a double-digit deficit to Chelsea above them in the table?

Spurs England crew limping to finish line
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Leicester City – 10:00 a.m. ET Sunday on Bravo

Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Eric Dier, and the rest of Spurs’ England internationals have limped to the Premier League finish line. With the World Cup just on the horizon, these players will want to pick up the pace rather than ease into the summer. Spurs have two wins in their last five league games, and while Harry Kane has grabbed three goals in those five matches, his countrymates have not supported behind. There are plenty of stereotypes for English players to break, and they could put the foot on the gas pedal Sunday.

Napoli president accuses Roma and Liverpool of collusion

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis has never been one to hold back words, but this one’s quite the accusation. He thinks one of his chief Serie A rivals is in cahoots with a top Premier League side.

“I always had a suspicion that the real owner of Roma is the same as Liverpool, and if this were the case, the two clubs should not be allowed to play in the Champions League,” De Laurentiis said to La Gazetta dello Sport.

Both owners are American, with Liverpool owned by John Henry-led Fenway Sports Group and Roma held chiefly by Massachusetts-born James Palotta. It’s not surprising that De Laurentiis would think this, considering the roots of both men in close proximity. What is surprising is that he’d actually say it in public.

De Laurentiis said that “a little bird has told me a few years ago” that Henry and Palotta were secretly working together, and Napoli’s Italian rivals didn’t take kindly to that.

Roma responded vehemently, with the official Twitter account tweeting a quote from Palotta. “What do you think @ADeLaurentiis is smoking over there in Naples? If he finds that little bird again, he’ll find out we also own Barca and Bayern.”

Roma then released a quote from managing director Mauro Baldissoni, who said jokingly, “He [De Laurentiis] said that this was all suggested to him by a little bird. I don’t know who: I can only think that perhaps Aurelio is listening to the wrong birds! Perhaps we could suggest to him that he should speak a bit with songbirds, who deliver nice melodies rather than speaking nonsense. For our part, we send our best wishes to president De Laurentiis and to Carlo Ancelotti, their coach who remains in the hearts of all Roma fans, along with everyone else at Napoli. We wish them good luck for the new campaign, as we do all the other clubs and players.”

Liverpool offloads Klavan to Cagliari for cheap

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Liverpool is starting to offload some of its extra weight, and it comes at the expense of the back line.

The Reds announced the sale of central defender Ragnar Klavan to Cagliari, with reports in England claiming the transfer fee was a paltry $2.5 million.

That leaves Liverpool with a relatively thin remaining central defensive corps behind starters Virgil Van Dijk and Dejan Lovren, with just Joel Matip and Joe Gomez the only ones left as natural center-backs. It’s a bold move by the Reds in a campaign full of high expectations.

The 32-year-old Klavan joined Liverpool in the summer of 2016 from German club Augsburg for around $5.5 million, but struggled to crack the first team in a consistent manner. Klavan made 39 Premier League appearances in his time at Liverpool, but was pushed back in the pecking order after the Reds brought in van Dijk last January. Still, he made a solid eight Champions League appearances last season – three of them starts – and was an important piece of Liverpool’s squad depth.

Klavan signed a two-year contract at Cagliari, where he will compete for playing time with the likes of Marco Andreolli, Fabio Pisacane, and Luca Ceppitelli.

Premier League Preview: Cardiff City vs. Newcastle

Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Cardiff City has lost 10 straight league games to Newcastle
  • Newcastle has lost 5 of its last 6 PL games
  • Benitez has lost 3 straight PL games vs newly promoted sides

These teams have both been picked by some to face the drop this year, but if the first result of the season bears any merit, there is promise and hope on each side despite no points gained. Still, a result in this match would go a long way towards building on that foundation as Cardiff City hosts Newcastle at 7:30 a.m. ET live on NBCSN.

Cardiff City was a popular pick to finish bottom of the table in various preseason selections, but they were unable to get by Bournemouth despite a positive showing. They’ll need every point they can muster, and the club’s home opener seems as good a time as any. They’ll have loan signing Harry Arter able to make his debut after he was ineligible to face his parent club last time out, but key midfielder Aron Gunnarrsson is still out due to injury.

[ WATCH LIVE: Cardiff City vs. Newcastle live on NBCSN ]

For Newcastle, Rafa Benitez will not have American international DeAndre Yedlin at his disposal thanks to a knee injury suffered in the season opener, although the injury was “not serious” according to a club release earlier in the week. Otherwise, the Magpies are at full strength, a welcome sight for Benitez who has been forced to fight tooth and nail with club owner Mike Ashley to ring out every bit of squad depth he can convince his boss to grab.

A draw in this match would be disappointing for both clubs, and while each will covet every point they can get, each team will believe there are three points for the taking at Cardiff City Stadium.

What they’re saying

Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock on Rafa Benitez: “You’ve only got to look at what the fans are saying and what all the pundits are saying, the one person Newcastle can’t afford to lose is Rafa, they could get away with [losing] any player. His commitment to Newcastle has been fantastic and he’s in his last year now so it’ll be interesting to see how that develops because I think he’ll be targeted worldwide really.”

Manager Rafa Benitez on Newcastle’s transfer window: “Everybody is spending big money on players, but will they all work out? We will see. It will be easier for some of our players as they have been in the Premier League for a year, but now other squads are stronger. Is our starting 11 better than before? I hope so, but we’ll see.”

Prediction

Both teams put up a spirited performance in losing efforts last time out, but Newcastle seems the better equipped to take home the three points at this moment in the season. The Magpies will hit the road and grab all three points with a cagey 1-0 victory.

Arsenal loans David Ospina to Napoli

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsenal’s goalkeeping backlog has finally been solved.

With Bernd Leno signed this offseason, it seemed David Ospina would be surplus to requirements, and that’s exactly the case as the Gunners ship the Colombian international to Serie A side Napoli on loan.

The Serie A season is set to get under way tomorrow, and Napoli’s goalkeeping situation remains in serious flux after the team completely turned over its entire corps of goalkeepers from last season. The Serie A starter Pepe Reina moved to AC Milan upon the expiration of his contract, plus Luigi Sepe went out on loan and Rafael departed for Sampdoria on a free.

Now, another former Premier League goalkeeper will take over in net. Other goalkeepers on the Napoli roster include Greek international Orestis Karnezis on loan from Udinese and 22-year-old Nikita Contini, plus the injured Alex Meret also on loan from Udinese.

Ospina has been with Arsenal since moving from French club Nice in 2014, but has never been able to earn a true starting role. He started 18 Premier League matches towards the end of the 2014/15 season with Wojciech Szczesny‘s Arsenal tenure coming to an end, but since has made no more than five league appearances in any campaign, stuck behind former Chelsea starter Petr Cech.

However, Ospina often served as Arsenal’s Cup competition goalkeeper, making 14 Champions League appearances and 10 Europa League appearances over his tenure at the Emirates.

The 29-year-old Colombian has 90 caps for his country, including starts in all four matches in the 2018 World Cup this summer, where he performed admirably in a defeat on penalties to eventual semifinalists England.