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Champions League quarterfinalist power rankings

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We’ve got our final eight in the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League, and it’s a loaded group of combatants featuring four teams from the Premier League, and one each from Portugal, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands.

But who’s the favorite to win it all?

[ RECAP: Bayern 1-3 (1-3 agg.) Liverpool ]

The bookies bestow the honor on Pep Guardiola‘s Manchester City, with Juventus and Barcelona just behind the reigning Premier League champions.

8. Porto
Positives: Sound defensively, experienced underdogs.
Negatives: A little too long in the tooth over two legs.

7. Ajax
Positives: A bright collection of elite talent, naive enough to thrive.
Negatives: That same youth meeting the stage for the first time.

6. Manchester United
Positives: The Ole Gunnar Solskjaer bump is nearing tenure status, Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku won’t fear the stage.
Negatives: The center backs that Jose Mourinho wanted to reinforce his side haven’t arrived (though they did handle Kylian Mbappe well enough).

5. Tottenham Hotspur
Positives: Health is wealth, and Spurs’ key pieces are mostly back and breathing easy. Plus Mauricio Pochettino is a deft tactician and he knows it.
Negatives: First UCL quarterfinal since 2011, and the pressure that comes with it.

4. Liverpool
Positives: They’ve come this far with a batch of relatively average performances from Mohamed Salah.
Negatives: Still in a vicious league title fight.

3. Juventus
Positives: The UCL wherewithal of one Cristiano Ronaldo, as well as Leonardo Bonucci, plus a sleepwalk journey through Serie A.
Negatives: It’s been 23 years and five lost finals since Juve last won it, a fact the area is keen to remind the club. Weight.

2. Manchester City
Positives: Pep Guardiola and the best depth in the world.
Negatives: That depth doesn’t extend to Fernandinho, plus there’s the specter of not having won it.

  1. Barcelona
    Positives: They’ve won it before and have the best player to ever lace ’em up.
    Negatives: Plenty of pieces untested on that stage.

Guardiola loving life as ‘bold’ Man City advances

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There’s no much for a manager to say after his side beats another 7-0 on the day, and 10-2 on aggregate.

So don’t judge Pep Guardiola too harshly for his words following Manchester City’s Tuesday demolition of Schalke in the UEFA Champions League.

[ RECAP: Man City 7-0 (10-2 agg.) Schalke ]

“It was a clear result,” Guardiola said. “We are happy to get to the quarter-finals. We didn’t start that well, we were a bit scared to play. But after it went 1-0, we relaxed and decided to play and be aggressive.”

Sergio Aguero scored twice for Pep’s men, with Leroy Sane, Raheem SterlingPhil FodenGabriel Jesus, and Bernardo Silva also finding the back of the net.

With Danilo on his back line and both Foden and Fabian Delph coming off the bench to get some minutes, it all went according to plan for Guardiola.

“We have a lot of injured players so we want to continue this run and get those players back fit,” he said. “Everyone has to compete with each other to play. They all want to play. Everybody tried to play, be bold and keep going.”

City can hang with anyone, and shut down Schalke despite the absence of Fernandinho, Vincent Kompany, and John Stones. Oh, and Kevin De Bruyne did not play either. And Riyad Mahrez was an unused sub.

So yeah, pretty much full strength (Shoulder shrug emoji).

What did we learn on a wild Premier League Saturday? (video)

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The seven Premier League games on Saturday delivered so many incredible moments, as we had comeback wins, top teams falling, controversy and plenty of strugglers bagging big wins.

Days like today are exactly why we love the Premier League.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Here is a look at what we learned.


SPURS IN TOP FOUR TROUBLE

Tottenham suffered a shock 2-1 defeat at Southampton as they’ve now lost three of their last four games and are without a Premier League win since beating Leicester City on Feb. 10. Mauricio Pochetttino, watching on from the stands due to his current touchline ban, lambasted his players for failing to respect Saints. Spurs were superb in the first half and should have been at least 3-0 up with Harry Kane and Dele Alli ripping Saints apart. Instead they were only 1-0 up and were then totally outfought in the second half and paid the price.

With sixth-place Chelsea now just five points behind third-place Spurs, they are losing serious ground in their top four battle and still have to play at Liverpool and Man City. From the cusp of being in the title race, Spurs have crumbled and are now in real danger of not being in the UEFA Champions League next season.

“It is good because a lot of people now are going to realize our real level,” Pochettino said, before adding. “We are fighting against big sides (for the top four). We had a big gap, that maybe wasn’t real, now welcome to the reality. We are under going to be under pressure to win games. It is a massive challenge for us to keep our position.”


STERLING LEADS CITY, BUT NOT WITHOUT CONTROVERSY

Raheem Sterling‘s hat trick extended Man City’s lead atop the Premier League table to four points, but the 3-1 win against Watford didn’t come without controversy. The crucial first goal arrived less than 45 seconds into the second half but it was originally ruled out for offside, then it was allowed due to a strange perception of the offside rule. That could be a huge moment in the season, as City were struggling to break Watford down. Pep Guardiola‘s side were not at their best and that is expected as they are without Fernandinho, John Stones and Kevin De Bruyne, three players who are key to how they operate.

City took care of business, with a little help from the officials, and now it is over to Liverpool who host Burnley at Anfield on Sunday. Jurgen Klopp‘s men now know that any slip up will hand Man City an even greater advantage in the title race. The pressure is on.


COMEBACKS, GLORIOUS COMEBACKS

Southampton’s comeback win against Tottenham stole the headlines, but Newcastle also launched a marvellous comeback as they beat Everton at St James’ Park 3-2. Rafael Benitez’s side dug deep to fight back from 2-0 down as they also had a penalty kick saved in the first half moments before going 2-0 down.

The belief Newcastle showed to drag themselves back into the game was sublime and, just like Saints, the kind of momentum they will gain from this comeback win will be vital as so many teams battle to stay in the Premier League. At this point of the season sealing a comeback win can be even more important than grabbing three points. The resilience teams are showing at the bottom of the table is incredible, with the likes of Saints, Newcastle and Brighton standing tall. Add in Burnley and Cardiff scrapping away and there are still so many twists and turns remaining in the battle against the drop.


RELEGATION BATTLERS STAND TALL

It is not often Brighton, Saints, Newcastle and Cardiff have won games this season. So it was extremely surprising they all grabbed wins on the same day. Brighton dug deep and delivered a massive away win in the M23 at derby, with Anthony Knockaert‘s stunning goal worthy of winning any game. Glenn Murray had given the Seagulls the lead and Crystal Palace were never at the races. Saints’ win was incredibly unexpected, while Newcastle and Cardiff took care of business at home. All in all, the relegation battle is more muddled than it was before the day kicked off.

Just six points separates Cardiff in 18th and Palace in 14th, and the likes of Cardiff, Brighton and Palace have tough run ins compared to others at the bottom. Fulham and Huddersfield are basically down, while six teams are fighting to stay out of the final relegation spot. Pick one from: Cardiff, Burnley, Southampton, Brighton, Palace and Newcastle.


WILSON, TIELEMANS, RONDON ARE BALLERS

There are some players who are on teams outside of the top six who sometimes do not get the respect they deserve. A few of them stole the show on Saturday. Wilfried Zaha usually falls into this category but he struggled for Palace against Brighton, but Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson was brilliant on his return from injury. Wilson hasn’t played since mid-January for Bournemouth, but he returned with a goal and an assist in their win at Huddersfield and was a constant menace. You can bet that Wilson will be called into the England squad for the upcoming internationals and the PL’s big boys will be sniffing around him this summer.

As for Youri Tielemans, he continues to go from strength to strength in the Premier League. The Belgian midfielder is only on loan from Monaco and Leicester will want to sort that out sharpish as he scored the first and oozed class throughout their 3-1 win against Fulham. Brendan Rodgers loves to have a ball-playing central midfielder who makes things happen and Tielemans fits the bill. And then there is Salomon Rondon at Newcastle. The Venezuelan striker rarely gets the headlines, but he has quietly scored eight goals this season for the Magpies and their entire attacking unit is better when he is fit and playing. Rondon won Newcastle a penalty kick, scored the goal which sparked their amazing comeback and bullied Everton’s defense. For the likes of Miguel Almiron, Jonjo Shelvey and Ayoze Perez to flourish, Rondon has to be the focal point.

Top Premier League storylines: Week 30

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After a crazy week in European play that saw Manchester United come back to beat PSG, Tottenham defeat Dortmund, Man City win a wild one against Schalke, Arsenal fall to Stade Rennais, and Chelsea hammer FC Salzburg, the teams return to league action in the English top flight.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

The Premier League title race returns to focus as Manchester City has taken control with Liverpool slipping in form. While the Reds lick their wounds, the teams at the bottom also face a perilous home stretch of the season.

Below are a look at the top five storylines ahead of this weekend.


Champions League spot on the line at the Emirates
Sunday, 12:30 p.m. ET: Arsenal v. Manchester United – NBC [ STREAM ]

While much of the focus the last few weeks has been the race at the top of the table, the battle for the final Champions League place has been just as fierce, and there is a critical matchup in that contest on Sunday. Manchester United, on the backs of its improbable escape midweek in Champions League play, takes on Arsenal at the Emirates with any potential winner claiming the advantage in the struggle for fourth. The visitors currently hold just a one-point lead, so victory by either side would change the course of the season’s final two months.

Man City can tighten Premier League control
Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET: Manchester City v. Watford – NBC [ STREAM ]

After taking a one-point lead atop the Premier League table and meandering to a 3-2 victory over Schalke in Champions League play midweek, City now hosts Watford at the Etihad looking to strengthen its hold at the league summit. It will be a tough test against a Hornets side that has won four of its last five. Without Fernandinho, Manchester City will have to earn all three points to avoid remaining vulnerable to a quick stay at the top.

Pochettino returns to St. Mary’s… in the stands
Saturday, 10 a.m. ET: Southampton v. Tottenham Hotspur – NBCSN [ STREAM ]

The Spurs boss has two wins and two draws at St. Mary’s since joining Tottenham from Southampton in 2014, but this time he will be forced to look on from the crowd after being handed a two-match touchline ban for his clash with the referee last time out against Burnley. While Spurs now are out of the title race, they must focus on fending off Manchester United and Arsenal below them or risk finding themselves on the less desirable end of one of the more notable Premier League collapses in recent memory.

Southampton, meanwhile, continues to battle relegation and will be motivated to earn a shock result for the home fans as they sit just two points above the drop in 17th. After nearly pulling off a result against Manchester United last time out, Southampton is not to be taken lightly by their former boss.

Liverpool clinging to title hopes
Sunday, 7 a.m. ET: Liverpool v. Burnley – NBCSN [ STREAM ]

The Reds may have fallen out of the lead, but just a point back of an injury-riddled Manchester City, the race is far from over. Facing a Burnley team that’s tasted two defeats in a row, Liverpool can meet the perfect opportunity to get back on track. The Reds saw a 10-point gap at the top closed after dropping points in three of their last five league matches, facing an inconsistency that plagued them last season as well. Any more dropped points against a vulnerable Man City squad could see the window of opportunity close as Pep Guardiola tightens his grip around the trophy.

Everton looks to return to form
Saturday, 10 a.m. ET: Newcastle United v. Everton – CNBC [ STREAM ]

The Toffees have just one win in their last five and visit a surging Newcastle side that has pulled itself away from the drop in another second half Rafa Benitez masterclass. The Magpies fell to West Ham on the road last time out, but have won their last four home matches to leap into 14th, six points above the relegation zone. As Everton flirts with a bottom-half table position, the 10th-placed Toffees must regain their form in a hostile environment.

Van Dijk should lead Player of the Year conversation

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Right now Virgil Van Dijk is the leading contender for Premier League Player of the Season.

It is not even that close, as it stands…

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Now, we all know that a player from the team which wins the title is usually named the player of the season (except for last season when Salah pipped Kevin De Bruyne to the accolade) but there have been some wonderful individual campaigns from stars across the league in 2018-19.

With that in mind, below we take a quick look at the top 10 contenders with nine games of the season to go. Can anybody challenge VVD?


Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) – The Dutch defender has been a colossus at the back for Liverpool, as they’ve conceded just 15 times so far this season. He leads the defense and his belief spreads throughout the team with his incredible passing ability. A true “Rolls Royce” of a defender. The front three for Liverpool are very important, but VVD is probably more important. A defender hasn’t won the POTY accolade since John Terry in 2005…


Heung-Min Son (Tottenham) – After two breaks during the season for the Asian Games and the Asian Cup, Son has returned and played superbly for Tottenham. He stepped up big time when Harry Kane was out injured and the South Korean forward has been a menace all season. He has looked a little jaded in recent weeks, but this has been his best season in the PL by far.


Sergio Aguero (Man City) – He leads the PL with 18 goals and Aguero’s all-round game has improved drastically under Pep Guardiola. We all know he’s a predator in the box, but his work rate, link-up play and hunger is through the roof. If City win the title, Aguero will be one of the main reasons why.


Harry Kane (Tottenham) – To miss the games he has through injury and still have 16 PL goals this season is remarkable and Kane has been Tottenham’s talisman once again. He always delivers and even though Spurs are out of the title race, Kane has kept them in it for most of this season. In a world he is relentless.

(Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Raheem Sterling (Man City) – Last season will have been tough for Sterling to replicate, but in many ways he has got even better in 2018-19. With 12 goals and nine assists only Salah, Aguero and Hazard have been involved in more PL goals than Sterling this season. He continues to refine his game under Guardiola, and Sterling’s impact off-the-pitch is inspirational.


Eden Hazard (Chelsea) – Yes, he’s blown hot and cold for most of this season but when he’s been good, he’s been very, very good. Hazard is the main reason Chelsea are still well in the top four hunt, and even though his future is unclear you can hardly accuse him of coasting through games. Playing as a false nine whenever asked he has still caused problems, but Hazard is much better on the wing. This could well be his final season in the PL.


Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – The Egyptian forward has struggled for consistency this season, but he still has 17 goals and seven assists to his name. So if this a below-par campaign for Salah, it’s still very decent… His form has dipped over the past few months but Salah’s importance to Liverpool is clear and the reigning POTY will no doubt kick on in the final months of the season.


Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal) – Arsenal’s main man up top has scored 16 goals and he could have scored quite a few more. His partnership with Alexandre Lacazette has been building, but the duo aren’t always selected alongside one another by Unai Emery. Aubameyang’s strike rate since he arrived in the PL is remarkable, as he’s now scored 26 goals in 40 outings. His slick finishes have kept Arsenal in the top four battle.


Ben Foster (Watford) – Watford are having a wonderful season and Foster is rolling back the years in goal. The 35-year-old has produced some memorable saves and displays to keep the Hornets’ European hopes alive. Not a player many would expect to see on this list, but one that truly deserves it.


Fernandinho (Man City) – So often the unsung hero for Man City, they do not operate in the same ruthless manner when the Brazilian midfielder is missing. Fernandinho’s absence has coincided with some of City’s worst displays of the season and his incredible range of passing compliments his tough-tackling and exceptional reading of the game. A key cog in Guardiola’s well-oiled machine.


Honorable mentions: Marcus Rashford (Man United), Fabinho (Liverpool), Aymeric Laporte (Man City), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham), Alisson (Liverpool), Raul Jimenez (Wolves), Gerard Deulofeu (Watford), Matt Doherty (Wolves), Callum Wilson (Bournemouth), Richarlison (Everton), Bernardo Silva (Man City), Paul Pogba (Man United).