Aaron Chown/PA via AP

The race for 7th: Who’s headed for Europa League?

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Since 2006, when Everton was eliminated in the third qualifying round, only seven Premier League clubs have played in the UEFA Champions League: Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, Manchester City, Manchester United, Leicester City, and Liverpool.

Expanding the pool for the Europa League finds some odd ducks via cup winners — Birmingham City, Burnley, Hull City, Wigan Athletic — but precious few times have those clubs been able to maintain runs deep into the tournament.

[ MORE: Watford smashes Cardiff ]

When Man City or Chelsea lifts the League Cup on Sunday, it will officially expand the Europa League qualification places in the Premier League table to seventh (assuming the Blues would fall no further than sixth should they beat City).

Six teams have realistic shots at seventh, with two leading the way in Wolverhampton Wanderers and Watford.

What’s exciting about the group is that there’s substantial reason to believe at least five of them would focus on deep runs in the UEL, which makes Thursdays in the Fall all the more interesting to soccer fans.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 7. Watford 27 11 7 9 39 35 4 6-2-5 5-5-4 40
 8. Wolves 26 11 6 9 34 33 1 6-3-5 5-3-4 39
 9. West Ham United 27 10 6 11 35 40 -5 6-3-5 4-3-6 36
 10. Everton 27 9 6 12 36 39 -3 6-3-5 3-3-7 33
 11. Bournemouth 26 10 3 13 37 47 -10 7-3-3 3-0-10 33
 12. Leicester City 26 9 5 12 31 34 -3 4-2-6 5-3-6 32

Bournemouth is the outlier here, but chairman Jeff Mostyn has shown ambition and a UEL place might just give Eddie Howe the inspiration to stay even longer at the Vitality Stadium.

But his fate may be tied to taking care of visiting Wolves on Saturday. Here are some of the key duels that will decide the Europa League places:

Bournemouth v. Wolves — 10 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold

March 3
Watford v. Leicester City — 7 a.m. ET

March 30
Leicester City v. Bournemouth — 11 a.m. ET
West Ham v. Everton — 1:30 p.m. ET

April 20
West Ham v. Leicester City — 10 a.m. ET

April 27
Watford v. Wolves — 10 a.m. ET

May 12
Watford v. West Ham — 
10 a.m. ET

Watford smashes Cardiff through Deulofeu magic (video)

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  • Deulofeu puts Watford ahead early
  • Murphy denied 1st half penalty shout
  • Spaniard scores twice more in 2nd half
  • Deeney bags brace

Gerard Deulofeu scored his first Premier League hat trick and added an assist on Troy Deeney 73rd minute goal as Watford hammered Cardiff City 5-1 at Cardiff City Stadium on Friday.

Deulofeu went from 9 to 12 PL goals in one afternoon, hitting a skittering shot home in the first half before using his electric pace to carve up the Cardiff back line and put together his hat trick.

Deeney scored a second in stoppage time, as Watford reclaimed seventh in the Premier League table with 40 points.

Cardiff stays 17th with 25 points, with Sol Bamba scoring the Bluebirds’ goal.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Deulofeu’s first goal was a grounder through traffic from atop the 18, but his next two required more engine.

The Spaniard raced down the pitch and cut around Neil Etheridge to slot his second goal on a laser-precise counter, and the third goal looked similar as he slotted into an open goal.

He then worked a defender on the left of the box before cutting back for Deeney in a place the big striker enjoys.

Bamba’s finish of a goal-mouth scramble was Cardiff’s only answer, and Deeney swept up the scoring in stoppage.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Watch Live: West Ham v. Fulham; Cardiff v. Watford

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Two Friday night Premier League games are coming your way to kick off Matchweek 27.

Start your weekend right.

West Ham United host Fulham and Watford head to Cardiff City (both kicks off at 2:45 p.m. ET), with the game between the Hammers and Cottagers on NBCSN.

Manuel Pellegrini‘s men will look to get back on track in their hunt for a seventh-place finish, while Fulham are desperate for points as they’re now eight points from safety.

Cardiff are looking for a third-straight Premier League win to continue their surge up the table and away from the bottom three, while Watford hope to jump into seventh place with a win.

Below is the schedule and streaming details for both games, while we have reaction and analysis to them both right here on Pro Soccer Talk.

Friday’s Premier League games

2:45 p.m. ET: West Ham v. Fulham – NBCSN [STREAM]
2:45 p.m. ET: Cardiff City v. Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

FA Cup QF draw: Man City, Man Utd avoid derby showdown

FA Cup draw
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Manchester City and Manchester United were handed what should be comfortable draws for the quarterfinal round of the 2018-19 FA Cup on Monday, with the only undesirable tie one that would have drawn the only two remaining giants together.

[ FA CUP: Paul Pogba scores, assists as Man Utd bounce Chelsea (video) ]

The defending Premier League champions will travel to south Wales, where they’ll take on Championship side Swansea City the weekend beginning March 16. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side will travel to Molineux Stadium for what a should be a trickier, all-PL tie with Wolverhampton Wanderers.

In the other all-PL matchup, Watford will host Crystal Palace at Vicarage Road. Brighton & Hove Albion will be away to the other remaining Championship side, Millwall.

Full FA Cup quarterfinals draw

Swansea City v. Manchester City
Watford v. Crystal Palace
Wolverhampton Wanderers v. Manchester United
Millwall v. Brighton & Hove Albion

Capoue volley puts Watford into FA Cup quarterfinals

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The 2018/19 FA Cup has its first quarterfinal team in the form of Watford after Etienne Capoue scored a bouncing volley on the stroke of halftime to top Queens Park Rangers 1-0.

Both sides proved wasteful as the 18 total combined shots produced just two on target, but that was all Watford needed to move on in London.

QPR led the corner count with five to Watford’s three, but the Hornets used the set-pieces to earn its goal in first-half stoppage time. Taking a short corner to work the ball onto the left foot of Tom Cleverley, the looping ball into the box found Massimo Luongo, and while his shot struck a teammate, it rebounded right to Capoue standing laterally from the original shot, and he leg-whipped the ball to produce a bouncer that wrong-footed Joe Lumley and found the far corner.

The hosts probably should have been level as regulation wound down, but Toni Leistner’s sliding effort to meet a cross by Darnell Furlong somehow went wide.

Watford’s spot in the quarterfinals is just their fourth appearance this deep in the FA Cup since a three-year stretch from 1985 to 1988 where they made it all three times. However, since 1988, all three appearances in the quarterfinals have seen the Hornets progress to the semis, including in 2016 when they topped Arsenal.