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Key games left in Premier League season

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With just seven games left for the majority of Premier League teams, crunch time has arrived in the 2018-19 season.

Clubs across the PL are readying themselves for a crucial final few weeks of the season, with so much still on the line. It is tough to know what to focus on, right?

[ STREAM: Every PL match live

Of course, you’ll be soaking up every single Premier League game you can, but now seems like a good time to help you focus on the games you simply cannot miss between now and the end of the season on May 12.

Below we take a look at eight clashes which will have a huge say in deciding the title race, the top four battle and the scrap against relegation.


Brighton v. Southampton – March 30
A South Coast derby with just three points separating the two teams. Brighton and Saints have had many battles in the lower leagues in recent seasons, and there is a genuine rivalry bubbling up here. Saints are almost better away from home than they are at home under Ralph Hasenhuttl, and their fast breaks will cause Brighton problems. Expect a tight, tense game as both teams are desperate to pull further clear of Cardiff City who occupy the final relegation place.


Liverpool v. Tottenham – March 31
A few weeks ago this seemed like being a battle between two teams who were battling for the title. How quickly things change. Spurs’ dismal recent run has seen them drop out of the title race, and now they need the points to stay in the top four hunt. Liverpool need the points to keep their title bid going, and this is the toughest game remaining (on paper) for Jurgen Klopp‘s side to negotiate. The fiery 2-2 draw between these two teams last season was a classic, and Harry Kane has been in thorn in Liverpool’s side in recent seasons. Kane’s battle with Virgil Van Dijk promises to be epic, and it could have a huge say in the title race.


Burnley v. Cardiff City – April 13
Not one for the purists this, but it is likely to be an enthralling encounter between two committed teams who sit just one place from each other in the table. Cardiff are in 18th place and in the final relegation spot, but they are just two points behind Burnley who are really struggling after an upturn in results around the New Year’s period. Sean Dyche and Neil Warnock have built hard-working teams on limited resources, and Cardiff have nothing to lose in many regards as everyone expected them to be relegated this season. The new boys have a chance with eight games to go, and this is a massive chance to gain ground on a team around them.


Liverpool v. Chelsea – April 14
Memories of April 2014 will come flooding back to Liverpool fans, as Steven Gerrard‘s costly slip against Chelsea handed the Premier League title to Manchester City. Surely lightning won’t strike twice as Liverpool host Chelsea at Anfield late in the season once again… Klopp’s side must negotiate the home games against Spurs and Chelsea, but Anfield is a fortress and they haven’t lost at home all season in the Premier League. However, the only team to win at Anfield in any competition this season was Chelsea, as Eden Hazard inspired a League Cup victory way back in September. This will be Liverpool’s last major hurdle in the title race.


Man City v. Tottenham – April 20
This game will be played in the middle of three games between City and Spurs after they were drawn against one another in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals. That should complicate things, as the two sets of players will be so used to the tactics of the other and it will be a lot tighter than most expect. City beat Spurs 1-0 at Wembley earlier this season, and have only lost one of their last eight home games against Tottenham. Pep Guardiola has more options than Mauricio Pochettino to rotate his team, and that could be key with three matches between these PL clubs in just 11 days.


Man United v. Man City – April 24
A Manchester Derby that will surely decide the season for both clubs. If City win, they will take a big step towards the title. If United win they will not only scupper City’s title chance but also significantly boost their top four hopes. If everything goes to plan between now and late April for both clubs, they could also be in the midst of being in the Champions League semifinals too. United will sit back and soak up pressure and then try to launch devastating counters. That worked very well against PSG, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham, but City are a different beast. What an atmosphere it should be inside Old Trafford for this one.


Man United v. Chelsea – April 28
Both teams should be bang in the top four battle going into the final two weeks of the season, and this game will be massive in deciding who will qualify for the UEFA Champions League. Just one point separates the two teams right now, with United in fifth and Chelsea in sixth. United have already knocked Chelsea out of the FA Cup this season and pushed them all the way in a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge when Jose Mourinho was boss. The clash of styles sets up an intriguing tactical battle. United’s counter attacks and direct style is totally opposite to Sarri-ball. Both teams will have expected to be in the title battle at the start of the season, and this game may well present itself as their final chance to shore up a spot in the top four. It is unlikely both will finish in the top four this season. Something has to give.


Cardiff City v. Crystal Palace – May 4
With Palace having to play plenty of big boys in the next few weeks, it is likely their battle against relegation will go down to the wire. Cardiff will also be up against it with their schedule, so this game represents a good chance of three points for both. If Cardiff are still in with a shout of staying up, this encounter, their final home game of the season, will see an incredible atmosphere generated in the Welsh capital. Just five points separate the Eagles and Bluebirds right now, and their direct, counter-attacking styles of play should set things up very nicely for an end-to-end encounter.

Premier League Preview: Southampton v. Tottenham

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Tottenham Hotspur, finally on the mend and nearing a full complement of first-team players, now find themselves without manager Mauricio Pochettino for Saturday’s clash with his former club, Southampton (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com), as well as the March 31 trip to Anfield, following his post-game vitriol aimed at referee Mike Dean.

Harry Kane recently returned from six weeks out; Eric Dier is back from both an appendectomy and tonsillitis in quick succession; Victor Wanyama came back from nearly six months out himself; and Dele Alli is set to return on Saturday. The return of first-team figures couldn’t come at a better time for Tottenham, who are winless in their last three Premier League games (two losses), have seen their 10-point lead on all three of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United cut to just three, and must remain fresh ahead of the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Southampton, on the other hand, are fighting for their PL lives. 17th in the table, just two points and one spot clear of the relegation zone, Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s side finds itself in the midst of a treacherous run of fixtures: Arsenal and Man United in the rearview mirror; Spurs and Liverpool still to come shortly.

Last weekend’s game at Old Trafford was particularly hard on Saints, as they were great value for a point — if not all three — until the Red Devils broke their hearts very late on.

“It’s really hard. The guys are very, very disappointed after the game and I that they put everything on the pitch that was possible today and showed a fantastic performance,” Hasenhuttl said this week. “Mainly the first half, but also in the second half we showed that we were very, very focused on our match plan and we wanted to get something here. We were not far away from it and also after the 2-1 we did not stop attacking them and creating for us.”

Injuries

Southampton OUT: Mario Lemina (abdomen), Danny Ings (hamstring), Michael Obafemi (hamstring) | Spurs — OUT: Kieran Trippier (leg); QUESTIONABLE: Harry Winks (hip); RETURNING: Dele Alli (hamstring)

What they’re saying

Hasenhuttl, on the defeat at United: “(James Ward-Prowse) scored a fantastic free-kick, it was a gorgeous goal and it’s a pity that Lukaku decided the game for them. “To be proud is one thing but when you wake up tomorrow and you feel that you lost, nobody asks how you lost. It’s like every manager doesn’t like to lose and we had a big chance but it was not enough.”

Pochettino, on leaving Southampton: “A lot of people were disappointed when I left the club and they are not going to forgive, but I still love them. In one year and a half I spent there, it was a great experience. For different circumstances that are difficult to understand, I left the club.”I cried a lot when I left, my family too. It was one of the most important periods in my life. I hope we beat them Saturday, but I wish all the best to them.”

Prediction

Spurs showed a ruthless, a different level of know-how, in surviving and winning in a completely different manner this week away to Borussia Dortmund. Confidence will be sky-high, and Harry Kane looks back to very nearly his best. The mountain will be tough — too tough — for Saints to climb.

Fans who want to try their hand at predicting PL games can down the NBC Sports Predictor app, with a chance to win up to $50,000 each week. Download it on iOS or Google Play.

Pochettino ‘still loves’ Southampton; ‘shocked’ by touchline ban

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Mauricio Pochettino is looking forward to his latest return to St. Mary’s, and thinks his former club is in good hands.

The Tottenham Hotspur boss led Southampton from 2013-14, leaving Saints for his current position.

[ RECAP: BVB 0-1 Spurs ]

“Poch” won’t be on the touch line for the match, as he was handed a two-match ban for a confrontation with referee Mike Dean after a 2-1 loss to Burnley. The manager says he’s “shocked” at the punishment, and waiting for an explanation on why he’s been dealt with so harshly.

“This is my first time that maybe I wasn’t completely right in behavior, but I think it is too much,” he said. “I feel a little bit sad and disappointed with the punishment. It’s unbelievable.”

Southampton is in another relegation battle, but has turned its fortunes around since appointing Ralph Hasenhuttl.

Pochettino backed Hasenhuttl and says this weekend’s match will be a big test for his men. He hopes Saints do well… in all the other matches of their season, of course.

“A lot of people were disappointed when I left the club and they are not going to forgive, but I still love them. In one year and a half I spent there, it was a great experience. For different circumstances that are difficult to understand, I left the club.

“I cried a lot when I left, my family too. It was one of the most important periods in my life. I hope we beat them Saturday, but I wish all the best to them.”

WATCH: Yan Valery puts Saints ahead with missile from distance

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Yan Valery is going to treasure his first Premier League goal for the rest of his life, and perhaps it will stand as a momentous one for Southampton, but rest assured many neutrals won’t be forgetting it either.

[ STREAM: Man Utd – Southampton ]

Southampton’s 20-year-old fullback attacked with vigor when he had a chance from distance, beating David De Gea with a goal sure to meet contention for Goal of the Month.

The ball is worked from left to right and Valery is well-position to have a touch and a look at the goal guarded by one of the world’s best goalkeepers.

De Gea wasn’t at his finest, and he would’ve needed to be as Valery drills the ball with the fierce intent to give Ralph Hasenhuttl and Saints a 1-0 edge in their fight to further this Premier League safety campaign.

Southampton ease past sorry Fulham (video)

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  • Romeu, Ward-Prowse score goals
  • Saints two points above bottom three
  • Fulham 10 points from safety
  • Cottagers yet to win away

Southampton beat Fulham 2-0 at St Mary’s on Wednesday to drag themselves out of the relegation zone and pour more misery on the Cottagers.

First half goals from Oriol Romeu and James Ward-Prowse did the business for Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s side, while Fulham’s fans booed Claudio Ranieri and mocked their players throughout a woeful display.

Their status as a Premier League club is now in real jeopardy as they failed to turn up for a game they had to win to have any chance of staying up. Fulham are now 10 points from safety with 10 games to go.

With the win Saints now have 27 points and move two points above Cardiff, while Fulham have 17 points and remain in 19th place.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Saints had plenty of the ball early on with Nathan Redmond smashing over after some smart footwork.

Calum Chambers had a shot deflected wide after a wonderful flowing move from Fulham, then Redmond had a shot deflected over as the game got going.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Charlie Austin almost got on the end of a Ryan Bertrand cross before half time and from the resulting corner Saints took the lead. Bertrand’s corner caught Segio Rico flapping at it and Oriol Romeu’s shot from outside the box deflected in. 1-0.

Before the break Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg sent a shot from the edge of the box inches wide as Saints took control of the game. Fulham were a threat on the break as Aleksandar Mitrovic turned well in the box but Yan Valery blocked the shot and then Mitrovic fired over.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

However, Saints got their second goal before the interval after good pressure forced Fulham into a mistake and Ward-Prowse followed up Redmond’s shot after Rico parried it. 2-0.

At the start of the second half Redmond was found with a short free kick but he dragged his shot wide with Saints attackers unable to get on the end of it.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Saints had several chances to stretch their lead but Fulham almost made it interesting as Ryan Babel hit the crossbar with a shot.

The Fulham fans then vented their frustration at Claudio Ranieri and Director of Football Operations Tony Khan in the final moments, as the Cottagers are now in a huge amount of trouble in 19th place.