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Preview: No room for errors at top or bottom of Premier League this weekend

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LONDON, April 7 (Xinhua) — There is another vital round of Premier League matches this weekend, with everything still to be decided at both the top and the bottom of the table, where everyone below 12th place Crystal Palace is in danger of the drop.

League leaders Arsenal travel to Liverpool on Sunday for what is arguably the most attractive game of the weekend. The weekend kicks off with Arsenal eight points clear of Manchester City after playing an extra game, but that lead could have been reduced to five points by the time they kick off at Anfield.

Seven consecutive league wins make a good case for Arsenal to be favorites for this season’s title, while Liverpool’s recent performances, including a grim 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night, also imply that Mikel Arteta’s side can end a wait of over 10 years for a win at Anfield to take another big step towards glory on Sunday.

Erling Haaland is a doubt for Manchester City’s visit to bottom-of-the-table Southampton on Saturday afternoon, but the Norwegian goal-machine wasn’t missed as City thrashed Liverpool last weekend, with Julian Alvarez and Jack Grealish both producing excellent performances.

Pep Guardiola will consider resting some players ahead of his side’s Champions League clash with Bayern Munich, but his side should have too much for a rival that is looking increasingly doomed to the drop.

Manchester United and Everton get the weekend underway with a vital game for both sides at Old Trafford.

Manchester United’s 1-0 win at home to Brentford on Wednesday strengthened their position in fourth, although Luke Shaw is injured and Casemiro is still suspended against Everton, who are one of four teams level on just 27 points.

Newcastle United return to London to play Brentford just three days after their impressive 5-1 win at West Ham. Callum Wilson is returning to his best form, while Alexander Isak looks fit again at the right time of the campaign for Eddie Howe’s men.

Newcastle and Manchester United’s midweek wins took them both three points clear of fifth place Tottenham with a game in hand, which means Tottenham have to win their difficult home game against Brighton, who have an exciting prospect in 18-year-old Ewan Ferguson.

Cristian Stellini taking over from Antonio Conte, failed to produce a reaction away to Everton last weekend and his side need to improve against a side just four points behind them in the table and who have played two games less.

Two coaches are in serious danger of the sack if results go against them, with Steve Cooper at Nottingham Forest told this week that “results must improve” and West Ham’s David Moyes also apparently on an ultimatum after a defeat to Newcastle.

Nottingham Forest have a difficult visit to in-form Aston Villa, who have striker Ollie Watkins in fine form and looking for their fifth win from six games. Only the top two have taken more points than the 32 Villa have amassed in their last 16 matches.

West Ham cross London to play a Fulham side that will be without suspended striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, but anything but a win could be the end for Moyes.

Second from bottom Leicester City host Bournemouth in a huge relegation duel, while Frank Lampard makes his shock return to Chelsea with a visit to Wolverhampton.

Chelsea need to gain confidence ahead of their Champions League visit to Real Madrid, while Wolves have to get back to winning ways after taking just four points from the last 15.

There is more relegation drama on Sunday with Leeds United at home to Crystal Palace, with a win for either side likely to give them some vital breathing space above the drop zone.

Source(s): Xinhua

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Preview: Much at stake for Barca, Xavi in Napoli trip

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MADRID, Feb. 20 (Xinhua) — FC Barcelona travel for one of the most important games of their season when they face Napoli in the first leg of the Champions League last-16 on Wednesday night.

The game is vital for the club’s economy, as well as for the credibility of coach Xavi Hernandez, who has already said he will be stepping down at the end of the season, but who could find himself leaving earlier (despite assurances to the contrary) in the case of a defeat.

Barcelona’s budget for the 2023-2024 was partly based on their reaching the quarterfinals of the Champions League, with the extra 10 million the club would receive from UEFA for reaching the last eight, making a difference to an institution with debts of over 1,000 million euros.

With so much at stake, if Barca lose the first leg in Naples, it would be no big shock to see Barca president Joan Laporta and sporting director Deco decide to pull the trigger prematurely on a coach, who at times seems to be watching a different game to the rest of the world.

Xavi’s comments after Barca needed a twice-taken 97th minute penalty to beat fourth from bottom Celta Vigo, that according to Big Date his side should be top of La Liga, caused a few raised eyebrows – especially among people who have watched their games this season.

The fact is Barca are third in the table, eight points behind Real Madrid and still have several difficult games to play, including a visit to the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, and most of their football has not been that of a team that should be topping the table.

The good news for Barca and Xavi is that Napoli are in an even worse state, with the team currently sitting ninth in Serie A taking drastic action on Monday to sack Walter Mazzarri as coach and replace him with Francesco Calzona, who has just 48 hours to prepare for the tie.

Barca had some positive injury news on Monday with Joao Felix and Sergi Roberto passed fit, and both will be on the subs’ bench on Wednesday.

Xavi is expected to bring Inigo Martinez into central defense alongside Ronald Araujo, with Andreas Christensen moving into central midfield, alongside Pedri, Frenkie de Jong and Ilkay Gundogan, with Robert Lewandowski and 16-year-old Yamine Lamal leading the attack and Raphinha dropping to the subs’ bench.

The extra man in midfield implies caution from Xavi, who knows how important it is to avoid a first leg defeat – both for the club’s future and his own.

Source(s): Xinhua

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Mbappe reported to have penned five-year deal with Real Madrid

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MADRID, Feb. 19 (Xinhua) — The uncertainty over the future of French international striker Kylian Mbappe is coming to an end after the Spanish sports paper ‘Marca’ reported on Monday that he has already signed a contract with Real Madrid.

Mbappe’s future was already headline news long before last week’s announcement that he would be leaving Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the season, and although Real Madrid always seemed the most likely destination for the 25-year-old, Monday’s news appears to be the confirmation.

The newspaper, which is close to Real Madrid, assures that Mbappe signed a five-year contract with Real Madrid in February, which means he will earn a basic salary of between 15-20 million euros (16-21.5 million U.S. dollars) after tax every year, with bonuses in relation to his individual performances and titles.

The player will also receive a 50 million euros bonus for joining the Spanish giants, without the club having to pay a transfer fee.

Although the contract won’t be confirmed by the club until the end of the current season, Marca reports that Mbappe will officially be presented to the fans and the press early in July.

The news appears to end Real Madrid’s efforts to sign a player they have been attempting to tempt to Spain since 2017. It looked in 2022 as if Mbappe was en route to play in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, but the forward opted to sign a new deal to stay in Paris.

Premier League clubs, such as Liverpool and Arsenal, are also interested in signing Mbappe, but it now looks as if their efforts are in vain.

The Frenchman will not be the only new arrival at Real Madrid this summer, with 17-year-old Brazilian international Endrick also set to join after the club confirmed his signing just over a year ago.

With every other club in Spain limited by financial fair play restrictions, it already looks as if Real Madrid’s squad will be stronger than ever next season.

Source(s): Xinhua

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La Liga: Real Madrid drop points, Barca and Atletico win

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MADRID, Feb. 18 (Xinhua) — Real Madrid dropped two points in the race for the La Liga title on Sunday, being held to a 1-1 draw away to Rayo Vallecano.

The draw lifts Carlo Ancelotti’s team six points clear of second-placed Girona, who have a difficult game away to Athletic Bilbao on Monday night, but means they miss the chance to go eight clear and increase the pressure on their nearest rivals in the title race.

Real Madrid got off to a perfect start when Mato Joselu slid them ahead from a low Fede Valverde cross after just two minutes.

Inigo Perez was making his debut as Rayo coach, and his players responded with an impressive display, getting their reward in the 27th minute when Eduardo Camavinga was penalized for handball and Raul de Tomas leveled from the spot.

In injury time, Madrid right-back Dani Carvajal was sent off after receiving two yellow cards in two minutes, and he will miss next weekend’s home game against Sevilla.

On Saturday, Robert Lewandowski scored a twice-taken 97th-minute penalty to give FC Barcelona a 2-1 win over Celta Vigo.

Lewandowski had put Barca ahead in the 44th minute, before Iago Aspas’ 200th goal for Celta leveled the score in the 46th minute.

Atletico Madrid impressed with a 5-0 win at home to Las Palmas, with forwards Marcos Llorente and Angel Correa each scoring twice.

Mikel Merino’s injury-time header gave Real Sociedad a 2-1 win away to Mallorca after Antonio Sanchez had given the home side a fourth minute lead.

Real Betis and Alaves drew Sunday’s final game 0-0, with the visitors frustrating Betis, who have had a poor week after losing at home in the UEFA Conference League on Thursday night to Dinamo Zagreb.

Sunday’s game between second-bottom Granada and bottom side Almeria ended in a 1-1 draw, which helps neither club’s aim to avoid relegation.

Valencia dominated at home to Sevilla, but were unable to beat visiting keeper Orjan Nyland, who made several important saves to help his side continue to edge away from the relegation zone.

Ante Budimir scored two second-half goals as Osasuna beat Cadiz 2-0 to stretch the visitors’ winless run to 21 games. Cadiz have gone five games without scoring.

The round of matches began on Friday night with a 1-1 draw between Villarreal and Getafe.

Source(s): Xinhua

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