Libor Kozak

Premier League Relegation Watch: Sunderland gain ground in tight table

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With the top of the table becoming clearer by the week, the fight to avoid relegation grows more and more convoluted.

So let’s take a look at all the relegation-threatened sides and evaluate their remaining matches, form, injuries and odds of staying up in the Premier League.

13. SWANSEA CITY 36 PTS (35 PLD)

Remaining Matches (3): Aston Villa (H); Southampton (H); Sunderland (A)

League Form: LDWLLW

Other Competitions: None

Injuries: Michu, ankle (no return date)

Vegas odds to be relegated: 10/1

Verdict: Great win at Newcastle leaves the Swans in a good spot, as does the status of their final three opponents.

14. HULL CITY 36 PTS (34 PLD)

Remaining Matches (4): Fulham (A); Aston Villa (A); Manchester United (A); Everton (H)

League Form: LLWLLW

Other Competitions: FA Cup final (May 17th)

Injuries: Allan McGregor, kidney (no return date); Robbie Brady, groin (no return date); Paul McShane, ankle (no return date)

Vegas odds to be relegated: 11/1

Verdict: A game in hand is a good thing but three away matches followed by a final match at home against Everton is a difficult run.

15. ASTON VILLA 35 PTS (34 PLD)

Remaining Matches (4): Swansea City (A); Hull City (H); Manchester City (A); Tottenham (A)

League Form: WLLLLD

Other Competitions: None

Injuries: Christian Benteke, achilles (out for season); Libor Kozak, broken leg (out for season); Jores Okore, knee (April 26th); Charles N’Zogbia, calf (no return date); Nicklas Helenius, hip (no return date)

Vegas odds to be relegated: 3/1

Verdict: Drab 0-0 draw with Southampton sees Villa drop further in the table setting up a dire next two matches against Swansea and Hull.

16. WEST BROMWICH ALBION 33 PTS (33 PLD)

Remaining Matches (5): Manchester City (A); West Ham United (H); Arsenal (A); Sunderland (H); Stoke City (H)

League Form: LWLDWD

Other Competitions: None

Injuries: Jonas Olsson, calf (April 21st); James Morrison, ankle (April 21st)

Vegas odds to be relegated: 1/1

Verdict: Gonna be tight for the Baggies, who could do with a result today against City. But the game in hand helps as do matches against West Ham and Stoke City, both of whom have nothing to play for.

17. NORWICH CITY 32 PTS (35 PLD)

Remaining Matches (3): Manchester United (A); Chelsea (A); Arsenal (H)

League Form: LWLLLL

Other Competitions: None

Injuries: Elliot Bennett, knee (April 26th); Joseph Yobo, hamstring (no return date)

Vegas odds to be relegated: 1/4

Verdict: Tremendous effort in the 2-3 loss to Liverpool on Sunday but ‘effort’ does the Canaries very little these days. With a two point cushion they face an incredibly difficult final three fixtures against United, Chelsea and Arsenal, it’s hard not to see Norwich going down.

18. CARDIFF CITY 30 PTS (35 PLD)

Remaining Matches (3): Sunderland (A); Newcastle United (A); Chelsea (H)

League Form: LLDLWD

Other Competitions: None

InjuriesCraig Noone, abdominal (May 11th); Mark Hudson, hamstring (no return date); Andrew Taylor, knock (no return date)

Vegas odds to be relegated: 1/4

Verdict: Kept grinding with a 1-1 against Stoke on Saturday, Cardiff will need a big result next weekend against Sunderland to set up a final weekend match-up with Jose Mourinho’s side. Feels ominous.

19. FULHAM 30 PTS (35 PLD)

Remaining Matches (3): Hull City (H); Stoke City (A); Crystal Palace (H)

League Form: WLLWWL

Other Competitions: None

Injuries: Kieran Richardson, hamstring (no return date); Kostas Mitroglu, knee (no return date); Scott Parker, thigh (April 26th); Damien Duff, knock (no return date); Mahamadou Diarra, knee  (no return date)

Vegas odds to be relegated: 1/3

Verdict: A valiant effort against Spurs fell short this weekend but facing three clubs with nothing to play for will be a boon to the Cottagers.

20. SUNDERLAND 29 PTS (34 PLD)

Remaining Matches (4): Cardiff City (H); Manchester United (A); West Bromwich Albion (H); Swansea City (H)

League Form: LLLLDW

Other Competitions: None

InjuriesSteven Fletcher, ankle (no return date); Keiren Westwood, shoulder (no return date); Connor Wickham, knock (April 27th); Ki Sung-Yeung, knee (no return date); Carlos Cuellar, hamstring (no return date)

Vegas odds to be relegated: 1/4

Verdict: Fantastic win over Chelsea keeps the ‘miracle’ hopes alive. Game-in-hand could be the difference that makes it a reality.

Premier League Relegation Watch: Fulham gaining ground

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With five weeks to go there’s some separation in the relegation race with 17th placed Norwich City enjoying a five point lead on a tight bottom three of Fulham (27 points), Cardiff City (26 points) and Sunderland (25 points).

North of Norwich is West Brom (32 points), Swansea City (33 points) and Crystal Palace and Aston Villa, both on 34 points.

Here we look at all the relegation-threatened sides and evaluate their remaining matches, form, injuries and odds of staying up in the Premier League.

13. ASTON VILLA 34 PTS (32 PLD)

Remaining Matches (6): Crystal Palace (A); Southampton (H); Swansea City (A); Hull City (H); Manchester City (A); Tottenham (A)

League Form: LWWLLL

Other Competitions: None

Injuries: Christian Benteke, achilles (out for season); Fabian Delph, calf (April 12th); Karim El Ahmadi, thigh (April 12th); Libor Kozak, broken leg (out for season); Jores Okore, knee (April 26th); Charles N’Zogbia, calf (no return date)

Vegas odds to be relegated: 10/1

Verdict: Unlikely to be relegated but looked poor this past weekend losing 2-1 to Fulham, which largely had to do with Benteke, Agbonlahor and Delph all being out. This weekend the latter two should be available and one more victory should do it to secure the Villains’ survival in the top flight.

14. CRYSTAL PALACE 34 PTS (32 PLD)

Remaining Matches (6): Aston Villa (H); Everton (A); West Ham United (A); Manchester City (H); Liverpool (H); Fulham (A)

League Form: DLDLWW

Other Competitions: None

Injuries: None

Vegas odds to be relegated: 8/1

Verdict: A dominant 3-0 victory over Cardiff City last weekend has spirits high at Selhurst Park. Palace, the club no one gave a shot to stay up in the beginning of the year, looks all but set to be playing in the Premier League next season.

15. SWANSEA CITY 33 PTS (33 PLD)

Remaining Matches (5): Chelsea (H); Newcastle United (A); Aston Villa (H); Southampton (H); Sunderland (A)

League Form: DLLDWL

Other Competitions: None

InjuriesKyle Bartley, hamstring (no return date)

Vegas odds to be relegated: 5/1

Verdict: The 0-1 loss to Hull City did Swansea City no favors and if Garry Monk isn’t careful the difficult end of the year schedule means it might come down to the wire for the Swans.

16. WEST BROMWICH ALBION 32 PTS (32 PLD)

Remaining Matches (6): Tottenham (H); Manchester City (A); West Ham United (H); Arsenal (A); Sunderland (H); Stoke City (H)

League Form: DLWLDW

Other Competitions: None

InjuriesClaudio Yacob, hamstring (April 12th); Chris Brunt, knee (April 12th); Billy Jones, hamstring (April 12th); Zoltan Gera, hamstring (no return date); Graham Dorrans, knee (no return date)

Vegas odds to be relegated: 4/1

Verdict: Huge victory at Norwich City last weekend but the Baggies will need more to assuage worries of relegation. And with a fixture list that has Spurs, Manchester City and Arsenal, it won’t come easy.

17. NORWICH CITY 32 PTS (33 PLD)

Remaining Matches (5): West Bromwich Albion (H); Fulham (A); Liverpool (H); Manchester United (A); Chelsea (A); Arsenal (H)

League Form: LDLWLL

Other Competitions: None

InjuriesLeroy Fer, hamstring (April 12th); Michael Turner, hamstring (April 12th); Elliot Bennett, knee (April 20th)

Vegas odds to be relegated: 1/1

Verdict: Saying it now, the Canaries are going down. They were horrible in last weekend’s loss to West Brom, they just sacked their manager and their last four matches of the season are brutal. Done and done.

18. FULHAM 27 PTS (33 PLD)

Remaining Matches (5): Norwich City (H); Tottenham Hotspur (A); Hull City (H); Stoke City (A); Crystal Palace (H)

League Form: LLWLLW

Other Competitions: None

InjuriesDan Burn, muscle (no return date); Kostas Mitroglu, knee (no return date); Scott Parker, knee (April 12th); Damien Duff, knock (no return date); Georgios Karagounis, knock (April 12th)

Vegas odds to be relegated: 1/2

Verdict: Huge win last weekend and, given what’s gone on at Norwich of late, Fulham will feel as if this weekend should go the same way. If it does the Cottagers will find themselves two points away from safety with four matches to play. Very doable stuff.

19. CARDIFF CITY 26 PTS (33 PLD)

Remaining Matches (5): Southampton (A); Stoke City (H); Sunderland (A); Newcastle United (A); Chelsea (H)

League Form: LWLLDL

Other Competitions: None

InjuriesCraig Noone, muscle (April 5th); Mark Hudson, hamstring (no return date)

Vegas odds to be relegated: 1/5

Verdict: Buried 0-3 at home by Crystal Palace last weekend says it all, Cardiff is going down.

19. SUNDERLAND 25 PTS (31 PLD)

Remaining Matches (7): Everton (H); Manchester City (A); Chelsea (A); Cardiff City (H); Manchester United (A); West Bromwich Albion (H); Swansea City (H)

League Form: LDLLLL

Other Competitions: None

InjuriesSteven Fletcher, ankle (no return date);Keiren Westwood, shoulder (no return date)

Vegas odds to be relegated: 1/5

Verdict: Crushed 5-1 by Spurs looks to be a death sentence for Sunderland.

Premier League Preview: Aston Villa vs. Chelsea

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  • Aston Villa have not won back to back Barclays Premier League home matches since August 2011.
  • Chelsea are unbeaten in their last six Premier League away games, keeping four clean sheets and conceding just two goals (W4 D2).
  • Aston Villa have won just one of the last eight Premier League matches against Chelsea, losing the last four in a row.

Chelsea look to look to hold their Premier League edge on fellow title-chasers Manchester City and Arsenal on Saturday when the Blues take on Aston Villa in Birmingham (watch live on NBCSN at 1:30pm ET or online via NBC Sports Live Extra).

Chelsea are unbeaten in the league since the 3-2 shock defeat at Stoke City back on December 7th. Since then Jose Mourinho’s squad have gone 14 straight matches without a loss, drawing only three times (to Arsenal, West Ham and West Brom) during the span.

Their most recent conquest was an impressive one, knocking off Spurs 4-0 at Stamford Bridge. Yet beneath the lopsided scoreline was the troubling fact that all four goals came as a result of either 1) major mistakes in Spurs’ defense or 2) questionable referee calls.

I’m not suggesting that, like Mourinho said, Chelsea has no strikers.

I’m just saying that if I’m Paul Lambert, I’m telling my squad that Chelsea’s attack can be stifled. Decent motivation for a team that’s only won one of their last eight league matches against the Blues.

On current form, the Villains have upheld their season-long reputation as being the most inconsistent and under-performing club in the Premier League. On January 29th they came from 2-0 down to beat rivals West Brom 4-3 in the West Midlands derby. Huge win.

So how’d they follow that up?

By going winless over the next four matches: 2-1 loss at Everton, 0-2 loss to West Ham, a 0-0 draw with Cardiff and a 1-0 loss to Newcastle.

Two points. For Aston Villa that’s just not good enough. If I were a Villa fan — and, praise be to the God’s of Football, I’m not — that’s exactly how I’d feel. Like my team simply wasn’t competing at the level they should be. Underperforming.

But then what do Villa go and do next?

Smoke Norwich City 4-1. Again, they come from behind. And again, Christian Benteke was scoring goals. Great to see him starting to look more like the striker who tore the Premier League a new one last year when he netted 19 times in 34 appearances.

Point being – Villa is inconsistent as all hell. Although things do seem to be improving…

So can they beat Chelsea?

What They’re Saying

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho: “We know that to win matches you need to score more goals than the opponent, but one of the ways you have to score more is if you don’t concede.”

Aston Villa winger Andi Weimann: “They are top of the league now so obviously everyone is looking to catch them and we hope we will be able to take points off them. I think attacking-wise if we are on our game we can hurt anyone and we’ll look to do that against Chelsea.”

Prediction

On a good day, I think Villa can nip a point here. Benteke is back, they have no new injuries (N’Zogbia, Kozak and Okore all term absentees) and they seem to be coming into form.

Problem is, if Chelsea wants a shot at the title the Blues need to win every single one of their final nine matches. So even with Fernando Torres (groin), Ashley Cole (knee) and possibly David Luiz (groin, late fitness test) sidelines with injury, Villa don’t stand a prayer in this one.

Chelsea takes all three points. Mourinho says something awesome. Done deal.

Watch Live: Aston Villa v. Arsenal (Lineups and Discuss)

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Arsenal will be seeking revenge in today’s Premier League clash at Aston Villa (watch live on NBCSN now and NBC Sports’ Live Extra) after the Villains defeated the Gunners 3-1 in the reverse fixture.

Arsene Wenger’s side enter the the match on a strong run of form, undefeated in their last five competitions while Villa have struggled of late, most recently dropping 1-2 FA Cup decision to Sheffield Wednesday.

WATCH LIVE VIA NBC SPORTS LIVE EXTRA

For today’s match, Olivier Giroud returns as the lone striker for Lukas Podolski, Serge Gnabry comes in for the injured Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil comes back to the attacking midfield, moving Jack Wilshere back into the holding role and giving Mikel Arteta a rest. Nicholas Bendtner and Thomas Vermaelen are out injured but long term absentee Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain returns to the bench after missing the last five months with a knee injury.

For Villa, Karim El Ahmadi comes back to the starting lineup for Leandro Bacuna while Ciarain Clark forms a back three with Nathan Baker and Ron Vlaar, meaning Andreas Wiemann heads to the bench. Chris Herd is out with a hamstring issue while Libor KozakJores Okore and Charles N’Zogbia are long-term absentees.

LINEUPS:

Aston Villa (3-5-2) — Guzan; Clark, Vlaar, Baker; Lowton, El Ahmadi, Westwood, Delph, Luna; Benteke, Agbonlahor

Bench — Steer, Sylla, Bacuna, Tonev, Helenius, Weimann, Albrighton.

Arsenal (4-2-3-1) — Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Flamini, Wilshere; Gnabry, Ozil, Cazorla; Giroud

Bench — Fabianski, Jenkinson, Gibbs, Rosicky, Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ju-Young Park

Aston Villa v. Arsenal – Gunners seek revenge

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Arsenal looks to regain their status atop the Premier League table with a win over Aston Villa on Monday (watch live on NBCSN at 2pm ET, online via NBC Sports Live Extra).

Arsenal enter the the match on a strong run of form, undefeated in their last five competitions. Since the 3-6 blowout at Manchester City, the Gunners drew 0-0 with Chelsea before conceding only one goal in their next four matches (West Ham, Newcastle, Cardiff City, Tottenham), all of which were wins.

Arsenal’s most recent match, the 2-0 win over Spurs in the FA Cup, was a dominant performance. While their football was played in the Gunners trademark stylish manner it was their grit determination that was most impressive, troubling the Tottenham defense without an out-an-out striker. With Olivier Giroud and Nicholas Bendtner both sidelined with injury, Theo Walcott played up top and did quite well until needing to be carted off with knee ligament damage.

It was a sour ending to a sweet performance but one that nevertheless set up the current hot topic – who will Arsenal buy in the January transfer window (myself and Joe Prince-Wright contemplate the issue in the above video). For the match against Villa, Giroud is likely to feature while Walcott and Bendtner are out. Thomas Vermaelen is also out after picking up a knee injury against Spurs and Kieran Gibbs remains sidelined with a knee injury. Long term absentee Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, however, looks ready to make his return after missing the last five months with a knee injury.

For 11th placed Aston Villa, the match represents a chance to further separate themselves from the drop zone as they currently sit just five points from relegation. Paul Lambert’s men have endured an underwhelming season, most recently capped off by a 1-2 FA Cup loss to Sheffield Wednesday. Before that Villa lost 0-1 to Crystal Palace before drawing 1-1 draw with Swansea City and beating Sunderland 1-0.

The Villains will look back with joy on their reverse fixture with Arsenal where a 3-1 victory marked the perfect open to the season. They enter the match with little excuses injury-wise as Chris Herd is out with a hamstring issue, Nathan Baker, Ron Vlaar and Joe Bennett are late fitness tests while Libor Kozak, Jores Okore and Charles N’Zogbia are long-term absentees.

What They’re Saying

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: “I wouldn’t have any hesitation on playing Oxlade-Chamberlain against Aston Villa. What is most important is that he played last night [for Under-21s] and did well.”

Aston Villa Paul Lambert: “The Arsenal match might be a good game for us because nobody expects us to get anything. They’re playing really well, they’re on a fantastic run, they are one of the best teams around at the minute and they have probably got one of the best players going in Mesut Ozil.”

Prediction

It’s payback time for Arsenal. Avert your eyes, Villains supporters, this could get ugly.