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Transfer Rumor Roundup: Mahrez to Man City nearly complete, Arsenal adds Torreira, and more

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Riyad Mahrez is finally getting his big money move.

According to multiple reports in England, Mahrez is closer than ever to completing a long-reported $80 million transfer move to Manchester City, where he’ll join the Premier League champion as it looks to repeat in the league and finally win the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

The Leicester City midfielder, who is reportedly expected to sign a contract worth $13.8 million per season, was left behind in England as Leicester City traveled to Mahrez’s native France for preseason training. The Telegraph reported the move could be completed by this weekend.

It’s a big move for both Mahrez and Leicester City, adding a proven Premier League attacking star that will add to the squad’s depth, while bringing in more funds for Leicester City to spend on improving its roster. Unfortunately for Leicester, it’s another blow in breaking up the 2016 Premier League championship side, which has since lost both N'Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater, though Jamie Vardy has remained.

Here’s some more transfer news from across the Premier League and Europe:

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PL Playback: London’s burning

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CHELSEA, ARSENAL IMPLODE

London is burning. Well, it is in the red half of North London and in the West. Both Arsenal and Chelsea look set to miss out on finishing in the top four this season as their dreadful recent runs continue with just three points for each from their last five games.

Chelsea’s defensive tactics were hammered by critics as they lost 1-0 at Manchester City, while Arsene Wenger‘s Arsenal reign appears to be coming to an end as they lost 2-1 at newly-promoted Brighton.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

London’s two most successful clubs aren’t quite in ruins, but they’re heading that way. Fast. The London giants are set to both finish outside the top four in the same PL season for the first time in 22 years.

Where has it gone wrong?

Let’s start with the bigger mess: Arsenal. The fact that they lost to Brighton 2-1 on Sunday was just the tip of the iceberg. Arsene Wenger’s presence at the club has once again created a highly toxic atmosphere and the players are underperforming. They have accumulated the lowest PL points tally at this stage of a season since Wenger arrived in 1996 and they’re 13 points off the top four with nine games to go.

“It’s the first time it happens in my whole career, I must say,” Wenger told Sky Sports. “It’s not easy, but I have enough experience and enough desire to turn things around and I must say that, at the moment, when you need to stay in the game we are making a few mistakes at the wrong moments. We have to stick together and focus. We have no other solution.”

He’s right. They don’t. That’s the problem.

Contracted through the end of the 2019 season, Wenger’s decision to sign a two-year contract extension last summer was both inevitable and a damning indictment that Arsenal have no plan for the future. Owner Stan Kroenke and Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis both took the easy option in offering Wenger a new deal to extend his stay at Arsenal beyond two decades and now they’re paying the price.

Thierry Henry, Mikel Arteta, Leonardo Jardim, Carlo Ancelotti and Joachim Loew are all said to be on the shortlist to take over from Wenger this summer, with the Henry and Arteta reportedly favored because they may at least get some patience from the Arsenal fans.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Until Wenger is fired, he deserves respect. Of course he does. He changed the game in England forever when he arrived in the mid 90s and his legacy will remain mostly positive, no matter what happens in the final few months of this season. But he should go in the summer. 100 percent. The problem is, if he doesn’t want to leave, can Arsenal push him out of the door? Maybe not. After a week which saw Arsenal hammered in the League Cup final by Manchester City, then four days later in the league by the same 3-0 scoreline before being humbled by newly-promoted Brighton, there’s a danger of this being a knee-jerk reaction.

But come on. This has been coming for months, if not years.

Kroenke’s decision to hand Wenger the two-year extension show how much he values the Frenchman but even the expensive new signings this season and Mesut Ozil’s lucrative long-term contract have failed to quell the relentless tide gathering around Wenger’s midriff. Arsenal must now focus solely on winning the UEFA Europa League because that is the only way Wenger will save this monstrosity of a season and qualify for the UEFA Champions League again.

Moving west across London, Chelsea’s season hit a new low on Sunday at Manchester City. Yes, Antonio Conte‘s side only lost 1-0 to the champions elect, but the way he set his team up proved how far the reigning champs have fallen.

Like Arsenal, the situation has been unraveling for a while. Conte’s constant digs in press conferences at the Chelsea hierarchy tell its own story as the Italian coach seems to want out at the end of this season.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Five points off the top four with nine games to go, it seems likely that Chelsea will join Arsenal in missing out on the top four. That would be catastrophic given their incredible title win last season, but not unexpected.

The recruitment of new players has been slapdash at best and replacing Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic with Alvaro Morata and Tiemoue Bakayoko hasn’t worked well at all. Adding the likes of Davide Zappacosta, Danny Drinkwater, Ross Barkley and Antonio Rudiger just seemed like panic buys.

[ MORE: Conte defends defensive Chelsea ]

Conte was a frustrated man when asked about criticism of his team against Man City (it was described as “a crime against football” by pundits in the UK) as they didn’t have a shot on target and had just 29 percent of possession with Eden Hazard skulking around up front in a false nine position.

“I think you have to accept every criticism but I am not so stupid to play against Manchester City open and to lose 3-0 or 4-0,” Conte said. “If I remember well, two days ago, Arsenal played twice against them and then you criticize a lot Wenger because they concede three goals in only 30 minutes. The pundit has to use the head to understand when you speak about tactics because I think you must have knowledge to speak about tactics and not only to speak in a stupid way.”

Right now fans of Arsenal and Chelsea both feel stupid.


CITY PREFER STYLE OVER RECORDS

Manchester City may break every single Premier League record this season.

They’re on course to win the PL title at the earliest ever time with the most goals scored and with the most points and the largest-ever winning margin.

Pep Guardiola‘s side passed Chelsea into oblivion and he seemed more delighted with the style and patience his team showed than the win itself.

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk about City’s record-breaking 902 passes completed, the highest number by a PL team since Opta started collecting the stats in the 2003/04 season, Guardiola wore a beaming smile as his ideals are now clearly embedded within his players.

“We try to play with the ball. We try with our power like a team. Sometimes it is more complicated when teams are aggressive. They were so organised today, it is like they play against Barcelona in the Champions League,” Guardiola said. “We spoke to move the ball quick, one or two touches, and control the counter attack from Hazard and Pedro because they are so good at it. Now we need three or four victories to be champions.”

But it is that fact, being champions, which seems to resonate the strongest with Guardiola. He seems to prefer winning games playing how he wants to see his team play over racking up team records for goals, points and so on.

“What really matters is to be champions. I never spoke with the players about the records,” Guardiola said. “I never spoke we have to win the two games to achieve something. Against Stoke we are going to try and play like we play all season. After, at the end, we will see. But we are not going to play for the records. Records are always a consequence of what you have done but they are not the main thing.”


RELEGATION BATTLE HEATING UP

With nine games to go, nobody has a clue who two of the three relegated teams will be this season.

West Brom are gone, pretty much, but you can pick two of the following six teams at random: Stoke City, Crystal Palace, Southampton, Newcastle United, West Ham United and Swansea City.

Plus the likes of Bournemouth, Everton and Brighton could all still get sucked into the relegation battle. This is madness.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

West Brom have won just three games all season long and Alan Pardew remains in a job for now but as soon as they are mathematically down you will see him fired. They are eight points from safety and time is running out after their narrow defeat at Watford.

As for the rest, Stoke City and Southampton played out a dour, nervous 0-0 draw at the weekend which summed up how scared both of those perennial midtable teams are of going down. Huddersfield and Newcastle were humbled by Tottenham and Liverpool respectively but the newly-promoted duo will be pleased to still be in with a chance of staying up with nine games to go. Crystal Palace are in with a shout of staying up after their terrible start to the season but Roy Hodgson knows he needs Wilfried Zaha back from injury, and fast, if they’re going to have any chance of survival.

Then there’s West Ham. What a mess. Co-owner David Gold, 81, was confronted by fans after their 4-1 drubbing at Swansea City at the weekend as the Hammers’ disastrous season spirals out of control under David Moyes. Their veteran signings aren’t working out and the fan unrest continues to build with the east London club just three points above the drop zone. As for the Swans, Carlos Carvalhal continues to work miracles in South Wales as he’s only suffered two defeats in 15 games in all competitions since taking charge. The Portuguese wordsmith has impressed mightily.

“We moved things around today, rested some players and I am very happy. Our level of intensity is very high and the players are in a very good way,” Carvalhal said after battering West Ham. “There are games where you must listen to the music of the opponent. We made West Ham dance to our music and it was rock and roll.”

Teams in the relegation battle will be listening to a mixture of smooth rock and heavy metal between now and May 13 as they aim to either calm their nerves for the impending battle, or wake themselves up from sleep-walking out of the Premier League and into the second tier.


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

Three things learned from Man City v. Chelsea

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MANCHESTER — Manchester City continued their procession towards the Premier League title as Pep Guardiola‘s side beat Chelsea 1-0 to seal a 14th consecutive home league win and increase their lead atop the table to 18 points.

[ MORE: Conte defends Chelsea

The lone goal of the game came seconds in the second half with Bernardo Silva slotting home, as Antonio Conte‘s set his Chelsea side up in an ultra-defensive system and they never looked like getting anything from this game. The reigning champs were outclassed by the champions elect.

Here’s what we learned from the Etihad Stadium as City edged closer to the title.


CITY COAST TO YET ANOTHER VICTORY

With four more wins needed to secure the Premier League title, Man City can be excused for easing to the trophy.

Their 1-0 win against Chelsea should have been by a far more comfortable scoreline but Guardiola’s men didn’t need to force the issue as they cantered to their 25th win in 29 games. Just as they did at Arsenal on Thursday, City dispatched a top six side easily and at times in the second half they were at walking pace as the knocked the ball around and created chances whenever they wanted to.

City had 71 percent of the possession and 13 shots to Chelsea’s three and this was one of the easiest 1-0 victories you will ever see.

Guardiola’s side are in UEFA Champions League action on Wednesday with their last 16 tie against FC Basel all but over after a 4-0 first leg win in Switzerland. That means City can rest players in midweek before they face Stoke City next Monday.

City want to get the PL title wrapped up as soon as possible and you feel as though they’re playing with the handbrake on. They’re that good they could stick the car in reverse and win at a canter.

At times Chelsea threatened on the counter in the second half, but any slackness from City was followed up an attack which nearly lead to a goal. City will be worthy champions when it is all confirmed, and once again they dominated a rival with incredible ease.


CHELSEA CHECKING OUT

“Stay! Stay! Stay!” that was the word bellowed time and time again by Antonio Conte in the first half as he urged his Chelsea team to stay tight in what often resembled a 5-4-1 formation.

They didn’t muster a single shot on target during an awful display.

Much like their recent draw with Barcelona in the Champions League, Conte set Chelsea up not to lose as Willian, Pedro and Eden Hazard were the three forwards and Hazard was particularly frustrated as the false nine.

Balls were hoofed up to Hazard time and time again, with the Belgian wizard looking to the heavens in disgust. In midfield the loss of N'Golo Kante through injury left Conte without a true defensive midfielder as Danny Drinkwater and Cesc Fabregas struggled to contain City’s fluid attack and provide a substantial shield for the back three.

In attack there were ironic cheers from City’s fans whenever Chelsea got a corner and they looked devoid of confidence on the ball with so many needless giveaways.

It appears that Chelsea’s players are checking out and Conte continues to underwhelm as the Blues have now lost four of their last five games in the Premier League. Five points off the top four with nine games to go, Chelsea only play two of the current top six (Tottenham and Liverpool) in the final months of the season and you wouldn’t bet against them going on a run which sees them creep back into the top four.

However, the manner of narrow defeats at Man United and Man City in the past two weekends has summed up just how far Conte’s side have regressed since they were crowned Champions of England last May. The Blues have won just once in five games away at the big six this season, while for the first time in 14 years they have lost four-straight games away from home in all competitions.

All of that adds up to an unhappy dressing room…


HAZARD’S ATTITUDE SUMS UP CHELSEA’S PLIGHT

Eden Hazard trudged off the pitch as he was replaced by Alvaro Morata in the 90th minute on Sunday.

He didn’t shake hands with Conte and looked miserable in the pouring rain in Manchester. He looked that way all afternoon.

The Belgian forward did not look happy at being asked to play in a false nine position once again, with long balls lumped forward towards him and Hazard throwing his hands in the air whenever that happened.

A moment in the second half summed up how Hazard and his Chelsea teammates didn’t appear to enjoy playing in Conte’s defensive style.

Hazard tried a clever flick 40 yards from his own goal and gifted the ball straight back to Man City and his manager stood with his arms out as he questioned Hazard’s actions.

They’ve now got a mountain to climb just to finish in the top four, plus reach the last eight of the Champions League, and Hazard will continue to be linked with a move to Real Madrid as his attitude summed up the cloud hanging over Chelsea right now.

This all seems incredibly familiar to the way Hazard and Co. checked out when Jose Mourinho deployed extreme defensive tactics back in the 2015-16 season.

Antonio Conte’s future at Chelsea in jeopardy?

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We all know Roman Abramovich has a quick trigger finger. We’ve seen this movie before.

With Chelsea sitting fourth in the Premier League and on a run of five matches with just one win, the Blues looked soundly beaten after falling a man down on the road at 11th placed Watford.

The Blues have struggled with key injuries, which cannot be blamed on the boss, as medical issues with Andreas Christensen and Alvaro Morata have left an already thin squad with serious holes. However, Conte’s decisions could also be questioned over the last few weeks.

Against Watford, many thought Conte would bench struggling Tiemoue Bakayoko in favor of England international Danny Drinkwater alongside Drinkwater’s former Leicester City teammate N'Golo Kante, but the Italian instead kept Bakayoko in the lineup and it backfired badly. Bakayoko was sent off for a second yellow after just 30 minutes, leaving Chelsea with little ferocity the rest of the match.

Conte also chose to leave Olivier Giroud on the bench despite Morata’s injury. Giroud was healthy enough to come on as a 64th minute sub after Pedro was injured. And Conte chose to leave Marcos Alonso out of the squad altogether despite no reported injury for the wing-back.

In an awkward and tense moment after the match, Conte at first admitted mistakes in his player selection before becoming hostile with the post-match reporter. “Maybe I made the mistakes in the starting eleven today,” Conte said. “My choices were very poor, I think.” When pressed on what selections he wishes he could have back, Conte got very defensive, repeating over and over that the starting eleven was incorrect and attacking the reporter for repeating the question. “Maybe the starting eleven was wrong because our start was very poor and it was very difficult to change something tonight.”

Chelsea won the title in Conte’s first season, but with the prospect of Champions League play next season in serious doubt and reports swirling that a loss to Watford would doom the Italian, Arlo White and Robbie Mustoe discuss Conte’s fortunes, and it’s not ideal for the Italian.

Top Storylines for Premier League Week 23

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With the Premier League back following a week of FA Cup action, let’s take a look at the top storylines heading into this weekend…

Can Liverpool end Man City’s unbeaten run

Manchester City faces another stiff test to its unbeaten run – and perhaps its title aspirations – with a trip to Liverpool to end the Premier League’s Sunday slate.

Sunday (Watch live, 11:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) also marks the start of the post-Philippe Coutinho era, as the Brazilian was finally given his dream transfer to Barcelona last week. It’s a key moment for Liverpool, a team fighting for another top four position as well as this year’s UEFA Champions League knockout stage only to lose one of its top attackers. How will Jurgen Klopp‘s team respond. On the other side, Man City has rebounded well from its scoreless draw with Crystal Palace, with three straight wins as it looks to wrap up the Premier League title by March.

[MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 23]

Arsenal’s transfer saga continues

Arsenal is expected to sell Alexis Sanchez any day now, but there’s nothing yet pointing to the Chilean forward not being part of the first-team squad in the meantime. The Gunners hit the road to face Bournemouth and Eddie Howe, a man who has been touted as an eventual successor to Arsene Wenger, on Sunday (Watch live, 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). The Gunners are winless in their last three, including a rough scoreless draw at Chelsea in the League Cup on Wednesday, and will be without Jack Wilshere for at least a game or two. And possibly Alexis Sanchez? Who knows.

Howe will be reminding his men of the repeat fixture last year: where Bournemouth ran riot and took a commanding 3-0 lead, only for Olivier Giroud to lead Arsenal’s comeback to earn a point with a 3-3 draw. Howe will be expecting a win this time around.

Mahrez vs. Hazard at Stamford Bridge

Chelsea and Leicester City have an interesting relationship. Chelsea’s wild 2-2 draw with Tottenham secured Leicester City’s improbable and incredible Premier League title, and with Leicester City’s midfield dynamo N'Golo Kante, the Blues won the title last year.

But perhaps the focus will be on another sought-after player who just passed his four-year mark in Leicester – Riyad Mahrez. With Coutinho – who basically plays a similar position to Mahrez – making a big-money move to Barcelona, the French-born Algerian international may want to show potential suitors that he can provide plenty to a future club, or perhaps he’ll turn these performances into a new contract. It will be fun to see Mahrez go up against former teammates Kante and Danny Drinkwater, as well as Premier League star Eden Hazard (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Spurs look to break into Top 4

Despite all its talent, Tottenham is currently sitting on the outside of the top four and looking in. But perhaps not for long.

If Spurs can get past a more defensively-sound Everton side on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 .m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com) and Liverpool lose to Manchester City, depending on goal differential, Tottenham can jump past Liverpool into the top four, keeping its Champions League hopes alive for next season. It will be a tactical battle on Saturday, with Mauricio Pochettino‘s side looking to break down Sam Allardyce‘s Everton, which is playing somewhat better since he’s taken charge. With Yannick Bolasie back for Everton as well, it will inject more pace into the squad that has been lacking it.

Can Burnley break out of slump

Burnley has had a fantastic first half of the Premier League season. But can the club sustain it for the second half?

It’s now been five-straight games in the Premier League that Burnley has failed to win – six in total – and the team has lost all of the momentum it built up when it momentarily sat in the top four. Now down to seventh, Sean Dyche‘s side looks to arrest its slide with a trip to Roy Hodgson‘s Crystal Palace (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold). Palace are fighting tooth and nail to escape relegation and it will be a difficult road test for Burnley. It’s a time for the likes of Robbie Brady, Stevan Defour and others to step up, while Wilfried Zaha will look to use his past to dangerous effect at home.