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State of play in the Premier League

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There’s something about the Premier League’s run-in that makes true May (or late April) mountains out of what would be January mole hills, and that’s exactly why we’re excited for what otherwise would be a Manchester City waltz to the title.

The same can be said for any table standing race, really, from the Top Four to seventh to the desperately sought 17th spot between Cardiff City and Brighton.

City enters its home stretch with a three match run of Burnley (away), Leicester City (home), and Brighton (away). Plop that early on their schedule and you’d strongly pencil them in for three wins (the same as you would for Liverpool with Huddersfield home, Newcastle away, Wolves home).

With the stakes raised, however, Burnley’s form and Sean Dyche‘s defensive acumen loom a bit larger. Leicester’s relatively decent record against Pep Guardiola feels like a slick slope, and Liverpool’s poor record versus Wolves foretells final week slippage.

And the Reds also have to deal with a pair of matches against Barcelona, which is also the only controllable path toward hardware in what could become another silverware-free year at Anfield (The Reds have won one cup since the start of the 2007-08 season, beating Cardiff City in penalties for the 2012 League Cup).

Here’s what’s left for the top dogs.

Man City: In the Pep era, City is 6W-1D against Burnley including twin 5-0 wins at the Etihad Stadium this season and a combined score line of 22-4. City has had a much worse time with Leicester, losing this season’s league contest at the King Power Stadium and advancing past the Foxes in penalty kicks during League Cup play. City is 4-0 against Brighton since 2017.

Liverpool: Liverpool is 3-0 and has not conceded a goal to Huddersfield this century. It’s 2W-1D against the Magpies in its last three outings, and Wolves have a 2W-1L advantage against the Reds since 2017.


The Top Four

Just a word on the form of the Premier League’s third- and fourth-place candidates and OH NO, MY EYES.

Spurs would have to really falter to fall out of the picture, given advantages in goal differential, points, matches won, and goals scored.

Here are the remaining fixtures.

Spurs: v. West Ham, at Bournemouth, v. Everton

Chelsea: at Man Utd, v. Watford, at Leicester

Arsenal: at Leicester, v. Brighton, at Burnley

Man Utd: v. Chelsea, at Huddersfield, v. Cardiff City

United needs to beat Chelsea, then hope to pad its goal differential while asking for upsets of Chelsea and Arsenal.

Remember: If Arsenal or Chelsea win the Europa League and finishes in fifth or sixth, and if Spurs win the Champions League and finish in fifth or sixth (however unlikely that is), fourth place will not be good enough for Champions League qualification.


Seventh place

It still looks like the route to Europa League, provided Man City beats Watford in the FA Cup Final.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Wolves 35 14 9 12 44 43 1 9-4-5 5-5-7 51
 Watford 35 14 8 13 50 50 0 8-3-6 6-5-7 50
 Everton 35 14 7 14 50 44 6 9-4-5 5-3-9 49
 Leicester City 35 14 6 15 48 47 1 7-2-8 7-4-7 48

Wolves are in control following their surprising demolition of Arsenal on Wednesday, but that could change come Saturday at chasers Watford.

Everton will be hoping for a draw in that match and a win of its own at Crystal Palace, while Leicester City begins a murderer’s row of fixtures with a visit from Arsenal.

The goal differentials are close, and all the teams have won 14. It’s truly anyone’s ballgame, though Leicester’s fixture list make the Foxes a very long shot. And Matchday 38 features three of the four facing Top Six teams. Watford hosts West Ham. Could that spell UEL for Elton John’s favorite side?


Relegation

Fulham and Huddersfield Town are already headed for the Championship, while Southampton would need a tremendous 0-3 run with hemorrhaged goals to be a factor for 18th.

This comes down to Brighton and Cardiff City.

Chris Hughton‘s Seagulls have 34 points, a minus-22 goal differential, and nine wins.

Neil Warnock‘s Bluebirds have 31, minus-35, and nine wins.

Left on the docket for Brighton are Newcastle at home, Arsenal away, and Man City at home.

Cardiff will visit Fulham, hosts Crystal Palace, and head to Manchester United.

It’s not an impossible dream for Cardiff, but it’s going to have to start with a win this weekend and a Brighton loss to Newcastle that puts the sides level on points going into the final two. If the Seagulls can beat Newcastle, forget about Cardiff’s chances.

UCL Roundup: Red Star, The New Saints (Wales) advance to second round

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Second legs are underway in the UEFA Champions League first qualification round, and both Red Star Belgrade and The New Saints from Wales are through to the second round.

Here’s a short roundup of UCL action on Tuesday:


Red Star Belgrade 2-1 Sudova (2-1 on Aggregate)

The Serbian giants advance to the next round with a big 2-1 win over Lithuanian Champions Sudova. Richmond Boakye and former Chelsea midfielder Marko Marin both scored in the first half. Red Star Belgrade was set to keep a clean sheet but Sudova scored late.

With the win, Red Star Belgrade moves on to face HJK Helsinki in Finland in the second round.


The New Saints 1-0 Feronikeli (3-2 on aggregate)

Welsh Premier League side The New Saints defeated Kosovan club Feronikeli, 1-0, thanks to a goal from Irish forward Dean Ebbe. Ebbe came off the bench and headed home a lofted ball into the box.

Feronikeli had chances to take the lead early, including twice in the first ten minutes, but blasted shots in the box well over the wall.

UEFA Champions League Second Leg Results

Shkendija 1 – 2 Nõmme Kalju 
Saburtalo 1 – 3 FC Sheriff
Valletta 1 – 1 F91 Dudelange
HB 2 – 2 HJK 

Solskjaer: ‘We just need consistency’

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In a vague, general word, Manchester United manager knows exactly what his club have been missing. Consistency.

More specifically, consistent success.

In a sit-down interview with the BBC, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer mentioned striving for consistency in performances on no less than four occasions, including when speaking about Alexis Sanchez. Man United won eight straight matches in all competitions and 10 of its first 11 under the Norwegian manager.

[READ: De Ligt lands in Turin ahead of Juventus move]

And yet, the consistency wasn’t there late in the season, when Man United faltered down the stretch and won just two of its last ten matches to close the season on a sour note. Man United finished in sixth place, and while Solskjaer said he believed it would be a challenge to break into the top four, he said with some consistent performances, Man United could achieve its goals.

“We have to aim for further up than fourth,” Solskjaer told the BBC. “I would rather be an optimist and be wrong than a pessimist and be right. I am not used to us being fifth or sixth but that is where we are at. That is the size of the challenge. I love that challenge.

“We have to work with the players, sign the right types and gradually make our way to the challenging line. Our players do have quality. They do have a chance. We just need consistency. We have to keep working every single day and not take our eyes off the target. Everyone gets off line at some point but you can’t let it drift too far because then you won’t get to the overall goal.”

Some Man United fans have been mumbling and rumbling due to the slow start in this summer’s transfer window. Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia have both departed on free transfers, while only Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have come in. While it’s not the improvements some fans were hoping for, it’s helped give some of the young players, like James Garner, Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and Mason Greenword, some hope that they can get minutes.

Perhaps the push from the young players for first team minutes will make Man United a bit more competitive in training again, which can only help in terms of having success on the field.

The big question remains, which Man United team will we see this season. The one from Solskjaer’s first two months on the job, or the one from his last six weeks.

MLS Notes: Shea out for season with torn ACL, and more

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It appeared Brek Shea had finally gotten his career back on track, only for a serious injury to end his season prematurely.

Atlanta United announced on Tuesday that Shea had suffered a “right knee injury” that will involve season-ending surgery. An earlier report from the Athletic stated it was a torn ACL, which could leave Shea sidelined into the start of next season.

[READ: de Ligt arrives in Turin]

Shea has made 10 starts out of 19 appearances so far this season for Atlanta, where he’s often played as a left wing back or left midfielder, offering speed down the flank and a deeper starting position to connect with Atlanta’s talented attackers. A good season from Shea could have propelled him back into the USMNT conversation, especially if he took part in next season’s January camp. Now, that option is off the table.

Here’s some more MLS news and notes:

(more…)

De Ligt lands in Turin ahead of proposed Juventus move

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s recruiting tactics with Matthijs de Ligt during the UEFA Nations League final appears to have worked.

[READ: Transfer Rumor Roundup]

Juventus posted a video on the club’s social media accounts that shows de Ligt arriving in Turin, Italy on a private jet, likely to sign his contract and get started with the club. It’s a huge precursor to an announcement for one of the top targets of this summer’s transfer market, and it represents a huge coup for Juventus.

Just a month ago or so, Juventus were on the outside looking in, with Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona, and even Manchester United and Manchester City all mentioned in the race to sign the Netherlands and Ajax star centerback. And yet, PSG, which appeared in the lead at one point, lost ground to Juventus, and de Ligt now gets to compete alongside Ronaldo after facing him twice over the past season.

It’s the latest move in the incredible rise of de Ligt over the past three years. De Ligt was promoted to Ajax’s first team as a 17-year-old, and pretty quickly established himself as a huge talent for the Netherlands. Then Netherlands National Team coach Danny Blind called up de Ligt to start in a crunch World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria, with the Netherlands desperate for some defensive answers.

It’s didn’t exactly go well.

And yet, de Ligt has overcome those experiences and raised his game to new levels each of the last two years. Alongside Davinson Sanchez, Ajax made it to the Europa League final, and last year, de Ligt scored as Ajax defeated Juventus on the way to the UEFA Champions League semifinals. Ajax was just a few minutes away from the finals before Tottenham’s late winner.

At the same time, along with Virgil Van Dijk, they form one of the strongest centerback partnerships in Europe, and look set to lead the Netherlands to UEFA Euro 2020.

As mentioned before, it’s a massive get for de Ligt, assuming that the soon-to-be 20-year-old can settle in Turin. Juventus’ defensive corps continues to grow older, with Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini both well into their 30s. De Ligt’s arrival can help give some stability at the back and allow Juventus to transition to the next generation of centerbacks.