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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.

Solskjaer positive in defeat; makes prediction for top four battle

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LONDON — Manchester United’s luck under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer finally ran out on Sunday, as the Red Devils lost 2-0 at Arsenal in a game they could have easily won.

[ MORE: 4 things we learned ]

They had to lose at some point, and doing so in a week where they had beaten Paris Saint-Germain against all the odds to the reach the last eight of the UEFA Champions League softened the blow.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Solskjaer was extremely positive with the display as his side hit the woodwork twice, forced Bernd Leno into fine saves and conceded a “soft” penalty kick in the defeat at the Emirates Stadium.

“You have to be disappointed with the result, but the performance was a good one,” Solskjaer said. “We created miles more chances today compared to the cup game when we played them. The first goal always determines the way the game will go. Maybe after they scored the first goal they let us have the ball more than they wanted to. We created chances, big chances, hit the woodwork twice, Leno played well. In terms of what you can control, as in our own performance, we can’t be too disappointed.”

Solskjaer pointed to the “four or five big chances” United had and Arsenal not really creating chances, as his injury-hit side seemed to run out of steam after a gruelling period in the FA Cup, league and Europe. All things considered, United’s caretaker boss has steered them into a very good position.

With United sitting in fifth in the table, two points off Arsenal in fourth and three points off third-place Tottenham, the Red Devils are embroiled in a massive battle for Champions League qualification with Chelsea also lurking in sixth with a game in hand.

How does Solskjaer think the top four battle will play out in the final eight games of the season?

“I don’t think nerves go into it yet,” Solskjaer said. “Spurs lose, we lose, Chelsea draw. It is going to be down to the wire. Down to the last few games. Definitely. We’ve given ourselves a great chance to be in that fight. Two points behind fourth, three points behind third. A good position to be in.”

Even in defeat, Solskjaer was as positive as he always is. He is right. United’s run of 10 wins, two draws and one defeat in his first 13 PL games in charge has put them in a sensational position to finish in the top four.

On another day Romelu Lukaku would have buried his chances, Leno would have failed to save United’s shots and David De Gea would have done better on Granit Xhaka‘s opening goal.

Solskjaer is keeping the positive vibes as long as he can, and it will now be intriguing to see how United respond in their FA Cup quarterfinal at Wolves next weekend.

Ole is at the wheel and is still guiding United brilliantly.

Four things we learned: Arsenal v. Man United

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LONDON — It was a case of unlucky 13 for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, as he lost for the first time as Manchester United manager in the Premier League at Arsenal on Sunday.

The Gunners scored in each half through Granit Xhaka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to push themselves into the driving seat in the top four battle as they won a ninth-straight home game. United missed numerous glorious chances and hit the woodwork twice as their heroic midweek win at PSG seemed to catch up with them.

Here’s a look at what we learned from a gripping encounter in north London.


EMERY HAS INSTILLED STEEL

It wasn’t pretty from Arsenal, but they got the job done and kept a clean sheet, and it is clear that Unai Emery has instilled a steely resolve into this Gunners team. In recent weeks they’ve held firm against the rampant attacks of Tottenham and Man United in the Premier League, and on Sunday it took a lot of courage to dig deep and fight back after their disappointing midweek defeat at Rennes in the Europa League. By the end of Arsene Wenger‘s Arsenal reign, they had become a weak-minded, fragile bunch of players. There is now a fighting spirit and grit to their play which complements their free-flowing attacking prowess. Despite various setbacks along the way this season, one thing that has improved drastically under Emery is their defensive organization. And despite that improved defensive solidity, helped mainly by Sokratis’ arrival, they have also scored more goals (63) than they had at this point last season. With three goals conceded in their last five PL games, if Arsenal’s defense keeps this up it will get them into the top four. Coupled with turning the Emirates into a fortress, the Gunners have finally added some steel to their silky attack.


UNITED’S MIDFIELD MUDDLE COSTS SOLSKJAER

25 minutes into the game Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had seen enough from his midfield. He switched the formation from a 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2 because Fred and Nemanja Matic were left woefully exposed to Arsenal’s fluid attacks. Young shifted to center back, Diogo Dalot went to right wing-back and all of a sudden United had more control. Pogba was drifting around aimlessly early on, not sure if he was playing in the center or on the left of midfield, and it was all a bit of a muddle. Ander Herrera and Scott McTominay were badly missed alongside Matic, and although Fred gave away a penalty kick, he didn’t play too badly. United’s failure to finish chances was their biggest downfall on Sunday, as Solskjaer’s fine unbeaten run is over. Injuries, constant personnel changes and the PSG win in midweek caught up with them, but there is still plenty of life left in their top four quest.


LUKAKU GOES COLD IN FRONT OF GOAL

After scoring twice in each of his last three outings, Romelu Lukaku was bang on form heading into this game. Moments before Arsenal took the lead he somehow hit the crossbar from close range, and before half time he gave Bernd Leno just enough time to claw the ball away after he rounded him. In the second half Lukaku was clean through again but was denied and it just wasn’t his day in front of goal. The Belgian striker still caused problems with his runs and combination play with Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba, but he had an off-day in front of goal. Lukaku going stone cold in front of goal was the main reason why Man United failed to get anything from this game. And the fact that only 14 percent of Lukaku’s 113 Premier League goals have come against “big six” opposition (16 in 75 appearances) will add fuel to the fire of those saying Anthony Martial must replace him in the starting lineup.


TOP 4 BATTLE BLOWN WIDE OPEN

The race to finish in the top four of the Premier League got real this weekend. Tottenham lost at Southampton. Chelsea drew at home against Wolves. And Arsenal beat Man United. Arsenal now sit in fourth on 60 points (just one point short of third-place Spurs), Man United are in fifth on 58 points and Chelsea are in sixth on 57 points with a game in hand.

In the matchday programme Arsenal skipper Laurent Koscielny said that this was a “crucial game” for the Gunners and their season. It’s cliche, but every game between now and May 12 is huge for Emery’s Arsenal project. And the same can be said for Pochettino, Sarri and Solskjaer at their respective clubs.

This race for UEFA Champions League qualification will go down to the wire and you have to say that Arsenal have the edge with an easier remaining schedule than their rivals. Spurs still have to visit Liverpool and Man City, while United have to play City and Chelsea. The latter have to play Liverpool and United, so there are plenty of twists and turns ahead in the top four race. Momentum means a lot at this stage of the season and Arsenal’s big win gives them a spring in their step ahead of the run-in. And that is a run-in where they do not have to play against any of their rivals and can sit back and watch them all take points off one another.

Arsenal sinks sloppy Manchester United

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  • Solskjaer’s first league loss as Utd manager
  • Xhaka scores from distance
  • Arsenal back into Top Four
  • Shots 14-14

Granit Xhaka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored on either side of halftime as Arsenal beat Manchester United 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

Arsenal rises fourth on 60 points, one point behind rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

Manchester United just didn’t have it on the day, and sinks fifth with 58 points following manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s second loss as Red Devils boss.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Early danger arrived at David De Gea‘s doorstep when Sead Kolasinac swept a cross into the box, with Alexandre Lacazette flicking across frame and wide.

The visitors snapped to life in the ninth minute, as Romelu Lukaku popped a Luke Shaw cross off the bar and a sliding Fred unable to meet the Belgian’s rebound pass.

Xhaka then scored on an odd-looking effort from distance, the Swiss midfielder knuckling a powerful shot to wrong foot De Gea.

The Spanish keeper couldn’t ponder what went wrong because Alexandre Lacazette dribbled into the 18 to put an effort toward goal.

Lacazette then worked Victor Lindelof over to lash into a left-footed shot which careened off Chris Smalling‘s back and out for a corner.

Lukaku twice just missed combining with Diogo Dalot in bids to set-up an equalizer.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

United’s second half started brightly enough, Lukaku missing a chance off a Rashford set-up thanks to a Bernd Leno save.

And Rashford missed with a 30-yard free kick bid that just missed the upper 90.

Xhaka zipped a shot wide in the 66th minute, but Lacazette was taken down by Fred moments later to win a penalty.

Aubameyang rolled the ensuing attempt down the center of the goal to make it 2-0, a week after missing a penalty in last week’s North London Derby.

Lacazette just missed a chance to drive home a goal of his own when Lindelof let a ball bounce over his head in the 72nd minute.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Controversial opener, Sterling lead Man City past Watford

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  • Scoreless at halftime
  • Sterling nabs quarter-hour hat trick
  • Deulofeu scores off bench

Raheem Sterling‘s quickfire hat trick started with a controversial ruling as Manchester City beat Watford 3-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

Gerard Deulofeu scored for the Hornets, who will feel aggrieved that Sterling’s seemingly offside first goal was ruled onside for unusual reasons.

City increases its table lead to four matches before Liverpool hosts Burnley, while Watford will stay 8th unless Wolves are worked over by Chelsea on Sunday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

David Silva flew to head a Riyad Mahrez cross toward goal, but the ball flicked wide of the goal as Man City came close to a ninth minute opener.

Watford’s second unit, so to speak, was stout and took some work to break down. Aguero’s pounded down header of a powerful Bernardo Silva cross just missed the near post in the 29th minute.

Foster made a fine leg stop on Aguero five minutes later, and Mahrez just missed the upper 90 in stoppage time as Watford made it to halftime on level terms.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Raheem Sterling was ruled offside in the 46th minute after Aguero played him through for a finish.

But wait… a conversation between referee and linesman ended with the decision for a goal, as Sterling was fine because a clearing attempt hit Sterling and went into the goal. A head scratcher.

City made sure to put some distance between itself and the decision through a Mahrez cross through the box for a Sterling tap-in.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

David Silva then cued up Sterling for the hat trick, the Englishman needing plenty of work to cut in front and finish.

Watford pulled one back when Troy Deeney flicked a header to substitute Deulofeu for a goal with the Spaniard’s first touch of the match.

Gabriel Jesus would’ve felt he was about to slot for 4-1 when Christian Kabasele slid to block his 85th minute shot.