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Preview, predictions for this week's Champions League last-16 matches

The Champions League is back! At long last, Europe’s premier club competition returns with the round of 16. Here’s a breakdown of the four matchups on tap this week, along with predicted outcomes.

Paris Saint-Germain vs. Bayern Munich

  • First leg: Feb. 14 (Parc des Princes)
  • Second leg: March 8 (Allianz Arena)

The last 16 resumes with arguably the standout fixture of the round, as an absurd collection of attacking riches will converge when continental heavyweights Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain clash in an anticipated repeat of the 2020 Champions League final. There are differences with each team this time around. Some are subtle – Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting has swapped sides. Others are glaring – Lionel Messi! No Robert Lewandowski! But the same potential for fireworks remains.

The fitness of Kylian Mbappe will have an outsized impact on the outcome. The French superstar was ruled out for three weeks upon suffering a thigh injury on Feb. 1, but he’s since made a rapid return to training and could yet feature in Tuesday’s first leg.

Julian Nagelsmann, who’s accused PSG of subterfuge over Mbappe’s status, is preparing for exactly that. Even for a team boasting Messi and Neymar, the Ligue 1 leaders need Mbappe to keep up with Bayern’s firepower. Nobody stretches the pitch like the blistering 24-year-old, who allows PSG to play vertically and strike out of thin air in transition. His absence was glaring in PSG’s last two games, both losses, against Marseille and Monaco, respectively. Without him, the Ligue 1 leaders lose the type of one-punch knockout power that makes them so devastating.

Xavier Laine / Getty Images Sport / Getty

PSG outperformed expected goals by a wider margin (7.1) than any team in the Champions League group stage this season. Much of that comes down to the elite finishing ability of Mbappe, the tournament’s joint-leading scorer with seven goals. Take the explosive Frenchman away, and Christophe Galtier’s team, unsurprisingly, looks far less menacing without anybody to run behind defenders when Messi and Neymar pick up the ball and look to create.

Bayern, meanwhile, appear more rounded.

In a group that included Inter Milan and Barcelona, Bayern won all six matches, scored 18 goals – second only to Napoli in the group phase – and produced the third-best expected goal (xG) difference in the opening round. They were sluggish coming out of the World Cup break, drawing three consecutive games by the same 1-1 scoreline, but, aided by the surprising deadline-day addition of Joao Cancelo, Bayern have recaptured their imperious attacking form, scoring 11 goals in their last three games (all wins).

In truth, we all probably overreacted to the run of draws in January. There may be some turmoil behind the scenes – not uncommon throughout Europe this season – but Bayern still have the highest attacking ceiling of any team in the tournament, and, indeed, the world. Across all competitions, they have five players with at least 10 goals on the year, a list that doesn’t even include Thomas Muller and Kingsley Coman. Bayern have the weapons to ensure that PSG’s agonizing wait for a Champions League title continues.

Prediction: Bayern Munich advance after extra time

AC Milan vs. Tottenham Hotspur

  • First leg: Feb. 14 (San Siro)
  • Second leg: March 8 (Tottenham Hotspur Stadium)

Of all the enticing last-16 tilts, this is perhaps the most difficult to forecast.

AC Milan, the reigning Italian champions, are in complete disarray right now and look nothing like the energetic, assured team that conquered Serie A last season. Prior to Friday’s unconvincing 1-0 win over Torino, Milan were winless in seven matches across all competitions, having conceded 18 goals in that span. Dragged down by injuries to critical players, their uptempo pressing game cratered.

Underfire manager Stefano Pioli tried to stop the bleeding and create more defensive solidity by going to various lineups with three central defenders, despite obvious pitfalls; those systems don’t suit his squad, and, crucially, don’t get the best out of superstar forward Rafael Leao. Not exactly ideal preparation going into your club’s first Champions League knockout match since 2014. The returns of goalkeeper Mike Maignan, defender Fikayo Tomori, and metronomic midfielder Ismael Bennacer can’t come soon enough for the flailing Rossoneri.

And then there’s Tottenham. Oh, Tottenham. Spurs continue to be entirely erratic. Just when you think an excellent performance and result, like the recent win over Manchester City, is a revelatory sign of things to come, they turn around and get walloped by Leicester City and have to start the cycle all over again.


Nobody, including manager Antonio Conte, knows what to expect from this team on any given day. Making matters worse, they’re without captain Hugo Lloris, influential midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur was just ruled out for the season, and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is suspended for the first leg at the San Siro. Tottenham may have to try and bypass the midfield entirely to have success, which, ironically, may not be the worst thing for them.

Stylistically, Tottenham’s unwavering desire to sit deep, absorb sustained spells without the ball – to “suffer,” as Conte likes to say – and then strike at pace on the break will collide with a Milan side that lacks sharpness in possession right now. Spurs should have opportunities to play direct and hit on the counterattack over the two legs, especially if Milan continue to be sloppy with the ball.

With so many unknowns surrounding the teams, the simplest thing to do is refer back to the top-end talent. With Dejan Kulusevski and Son Heung-Min in support of star striker Harry Kane – who’s having another outstanding season – Spurs, despite their deficiencies, have the edge against a team that’s extremely fragile defensively right now.

Prediction: Tottenham advance

Club Brugge vs. Benfica

  • First leg: Feb. 15 (Jan Breydel Stadium)
  • Second leg: March 7 (Estadio da Luz)

More than any other tie, this meeting of underdogs highlights how drastically things can – and often do – change in the intervening months between the conclusion of the group stage and start of the knockout round.

Back in November, Club Brugge were riding a wave of euphoria after reaching the knockout stages of Europe’s preeminent tournament for the first time in the Champions League era, ousting perennial contenders Atletico Madrid in the process. Fast forward a few months, and the manager who helped author that historic achievement, Carl Hoefkens, is gone, replaced by Scott Parker after a rough run of form domestically.

The Englishman hasn’t fared much better than his predecessor, though, winning just once in seven league matches; Brugge have tumbled to fourth in the Belgian Pro League, a whopping 20 points behind Genk in the top spot. Benfica, meanwhile, finished the group stage on a similar high. Powered by one of the game’s most exciting young orchestrators in midfield, the Portuguese side topped a quartet that included PSG and Juventus. Enzo Fernandez, of course, has since left for Chelsea in the richest transfer in British football history. So, yeah, everything can change in the blink of an eye.

Gualter Fatia / Getty Images Sport / Getty

But Benfica look better equipped to handle the new reality than their Belgian counterparts. Roger Schmidt hasn’t strayed from his intense, high-pressing approach since Fernandez’s departure. And why would he? Benfica have lost just once in all competitions this season, after all.

Their rabid press allows them to win the ball back quickly, and in dangerous areas high up the pitch; only RB Salzburg made more tackles in the attacking third during the group stage than Schmidt’s squad. That boundless energy and commitment allow the likes of Rafa Silva and Joao Mario to get on the ball close to the opposing penalty area, and from there they can either find the net themselves or create chances for burgeoning striker Goncalo Ramos.

For Brugge to continue their Cinderella run, Simon Mignolet will need to stand on his head. The 34-year-old Belgian was the best shot-stopper in the group stage. Yes, seriously. His raw statistics were outstanding: he conceded only four goals from 34 attempts on target.

Mignolet’s underlying numbers were even better. Using post-shot expected goals (PSxG), which measures expected goals based on how likely a goalkeeper is to save a shot, Mignolet had no equals. With four goals allowed from a PSxG of 9.7, his was easily the best difference of any netminder during the group stage. For Brugge to have a chance of reaching the quarterfinals, he must sustain that superhuman level.

Prediction: Benfica advance

Borussia Dortmund vs. Chelsea

  • First leg: Feb. 15 (Westfalenstadion)
  • Second leg: March 7 (Stamford Bridge)

The clash between Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea is a case study about balance. One team, after years of searching, appears to have achieved it. The other, after impulsively spending to a degree never before witnessed in the January transfer window, is still miles away from finding it.

Dortmund, who’ve won all six of their matches coming out of the World Cup break, are led by do-everything midfielder Jude Bellingham. The superlative English teenager, 19, is a symbol of the club’s continued emphasis on identifying, nurturing, and relying heavily on young talent. But where an insistence on fielding inexperienced lineups has hurt the team in the past, Dortmund seem to finally have discovered an equilibrium between youthful exuberance and more seasoned contributors.

Bellingham is the effervescent star – he thrives in every area of the field, equally capable of finishing an attack as he is breaking one up at the other end – but he’s surrounded by the likes of Marco Reus, Emre Can, and Niklas Sule. Feisty winter recruit Julian Ryerson has added a steely quality to Edin Terzic’s side, too. The pieces all seem to fit at the Westfalenstadion. The emotional boost provided by Sebastien Haller’s incredible comeback from testicular cancer can’t be overstated, either. The Ivorian international is back amongst the goals and will play a key role in the tie.

Edith Geuppert – GES Sportfoto / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Chelsea, on the other hand, are a work in progress after an aggressive recruitment strategy brought a bevy of new faces to Stamford Bridge.

Some have settled quicker than others – Fernandez, in particular, already looks at home at the heart of the Blues’ midfield – but, all told, things haven’t yet clicked for Graham Potter. Chelsea have won just two of their nine matches since club play resumed. They’ve scored six goals in that time, never finding the net more than twice in a single match. Scoring continues to be a huge issue, and the constant chopping and changing of the lineup and tactics – not entirely Potter’s fault as he tries to figure out his best XI – isn’t helping.

That kind of unpredictability can be a positive; Terzic and Dortmund can’t possibly predict how Chelsea will line up Wednesday. But, ultimately, the lack of continuity and rhythm is a bigger issue for the English side. Perhaps Potter will figure it out over the course of the season, but the turnaround here might be too quick for a team that has been in a funk all season.

Prediction: Borussia Dortmund advance

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Premier League

Key thoughts and analysis from Saturday's Premier League action

theScore examines the most important developments and biggest talking points from Saturday’s slate of action in England’s top flight.

Grealish earns starring role

Pep Guardiola’s squad rotations have swallowed up some big players at Manchester City. Sergio Aguero had to battle to prove he should be in the lineup, and even Kevin De Bruyne – usually an immovable part of the team – was demoted to the bench twice since the start of February.

That makes Jack Grealish’s regular presence in the side even more impressive.

Phil Foden’s spells on the sidelines and Cole Palmer’s oft-passable cameos have helped Grealish’s cause, but it’s largely form that has established the Englishman in Guardiola’s starting XI. His performance in Saturday’s resounding 4-1 victory over Liverpool was the best of Grealish’s time at City, as he combined a monstrous work ethic with playfulness and trickery that bamboozled red shirts.

Simon Stacpoole/Offside / Offside / Getty

Grealish turned the game in around a minute. Liverpool broke at pace from a City corner and Mohamed Salah was released behind the defense, sprinting toward Ederson’s mesh in search of his second goal. But Grealish rapidly tracked back, denying Salah a shooting option and then intercepting the Egyptian’s attempted pass to Diogo Jota.

City regrouped, and Andy Robertson’s attempt to challenge De Bruyne inside the hosts’ half presented an opportunity. Jordan Henderson scampered back to try to cover while Liverpool’s backline slid left, opening up space on Grealish’s flank. City moved the ball on to the winger, and he instantly nudged the ball inside for Julian Alvarez’s leveler.

It could’ve been 2-0 to Liverpool. Instead, it was 1-1.

Grealish was the match’s standout player and deservedly concluded the scoring, but it was a collective effort that allowed City to recover from Salah’s goal and record a statement win to begin the title run-in. Numerous City players could be singled out for crucial interventions or general excellence throughout the meeting.

It was a dominant triumph executed without the help of a certain 42-goal striker.

Jesus another difference-maker for Arsenal

Gabriel Jesus is showing no ill-effects of the knee injury that required surgery and cost him upwards of three months on the sidelines.

Making his first league start since sustaining the ailment at the World Cup in December, the Brazilian forward bagged a brace in Arsenal’s 4-1 victory over Leeds United on Saturday, winning – and then converting – the penalty that opened the scoring and got the home side back on track after a tepid start in which Leeds looked more dangerous early. His second tally of the contest, Arsenal’s third of the day, effectively ended the match.

Stuart MacFarlane / Arsenal FC / Getty

Jesus rediscovering his sharpness almost immediately after returning is an enormous boost for the league leaders as they aim to hold off Manchester City in the title race. The 25-year-old gives Mikel Arteta another inventive attacking player who can unlock the opposing defense on his own. Jesus won the penalty with two exquisite pieces of skill, first dropping Rasmus Kristensen with a devastating shot fake and then putting Luke Ayling on his backside with a quick hesitation move, forcing the latter to take him down inside the area.

Arsenal now have seven consecutive Premier League wins, and they’ve scored 18 goals in their last five league matches. Already humming along, they now have the benefit of potential rotation up front to keep everyone fresh and firing through the end of the campaign. Star winger Bukayo Saka got some rest on Saturday, starting the game on the bench, while Jesus headlined an attacking trio that included Gabriel Martinelli and Leandro Trossard.

Assuming everyone stays fit, Arteta now has the luxury of using four different players – five when Eddie Nketiah returns from his own ailment – that can all score goals and provide decisive moments during the title run-in.

Pragmatism doesn’t mean conservatism for Roy

Vicente Guaita is a decent shot-stopper and the center-back pairing of Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen should belong to a side competing for a top-six finish, but it’s obvious where Crystal Palace’s true strength lies. Roy Hodgson recognized that in his return to the dugout: This team isn’t built to absorb pressure and steal points – its likeliest route to success is to unleash Wilfried Zaha, Eberechi Eze, and Michael Olise in attack.

Palace went for it. They fired 31 shots during Leicester City’s visit and created the same number of chances (22) as they mustered through their previous three-and-a-half matches. Some of their attempts on goal were optimistic – 11 were struck from outside the box – but such attacking intent was welcomed at Selhurst Park after the Eagles failed to register a single shot on target over three straight matches toward the end of Patrick Vieira’s reign.

The importance of Saturday’s 2-1 defeat of fellow strugglers Leicester City is huge. Jean-Philippe Mateta turned a two-point gap above the relegation zone into a five-point chasm with his slick spin and finish in the 94th minute. However, the result is accompanied by a considerable caveat.

Zaha left the action just before the interval nursing what appeared to be a groin problem. Palace were revolving their play around the London-raised winger more than usual before his enforced withdrawal, quickly pinging passes to his feet and giving him the freedom to aim seven shots on goal, but now face the prospect of not calling on their talisman for upcoming matches against relegation rivals Leeds United, Southampton, Everton, Wolverhampton Wanderers, and West Ham United.

“I can only hope it’s not going to be a long-term injury,” Hodgson said post-match, according to Premier Injuries’ Ben Dinnery.

Hodgson’s challenge is to make the good feeling from Mateta’s late goal last, even in the absence of Zaha.

Quick free-kicks

Even a goal couldn’t lift Liverpool

Manchester City’s equalizer was inevitable. Liverpool could explode forward in an instant – they did for Salah’s goal and Jurgen Klopp was imploring his team to move the ball quickly – but the confidence in attack didn’t instill belief in midfield and defense. When City moved forward, Liverpool panicked. Trent Alexander-Arnold hacked at two clearances and both Virgil van Dijk and Robertson miscued when trying to lift the ball out of their own third, thereby surrendering possession to City and letting them promptly build another attack. The lack of composure in defense was inviting pressure; an extra half-second on the ball to glance forward and pick out a pass to Salah or Jota could’ve kept the game in Liverpool’s favor.

Aston Villa’s surge continues

When Unai Emery replaced Steven Gerrard as manager in late October, Aston Villa’s immediate concern was simply avoiding relegation. At the time, they were only outside the drop zone via a tiebreaker with Wolves. Things were looking bleak. What a difference a quality manager can make. With Saturday’s 2-0 win at Chelsea – their fourth victory in five games – Villa sprung into the top half of the table, ahead of the free-spending Blues and just two points adrift of a European place. Emery, a seasoned tactician with a winning pedigree, has transformed the club since his arrival. Confidence is high, the team has a well-defined structure, and Ollie Watkins, who scored once again, is thriving. Just how high can Villa surge?

Lone bright spot for Chelsea

Chelsea’s garbled mess of a season continued with the defeat to Aston Villa, a result that dropped the Blues into the bottom half of the table. Finding any kind of consistency continues to be a struggle for Graham Potter’s men. Having N’Golo Kante back might help to rectify that somewhat. The Frenchman came off the bench for his first appearance under Potter after recovering from a serious hamstring injury that had sidelined him since August. The beloved midfielder looked like his energetic self, bursting forward with the ball, covering massive amounts of space, and popping up seemingly everywhere across the pitch. Chelsea’s league campaign is just about a write-off at this point, but Kante finding his groove again – and, of course, staying fit – would be a nice building block for Potter.

Podence escapes punishment … for now

Daniel Podence could face a retroactive ban after appearing to spit at Brennan Johnson in Wolves’ ill-tempered 1-1 draw with Nottingham Forest. The Portuguese winger avoided punishment on the pitch after a VAR check because the video assistant couldn’t clearly see any saliva during the altercation, according to the post-match broadcast. Whether that reasoning holds up against additional scrutiny from the Premier League remains to be seen. If Podence is penalized, his absence would be an enormous blow for a side battling to avoid relegation. The diminutive forward, who netted his team’s equalizer at the City Ground, is Wolves’ top scorer on the campaign with six goals. For a club that already struggles mightily to score – only Everton have fewer goals this season – losing Podence for any period of time down the stretch could be a death knell. And, worse yet, totally self-imposed.

Stat of the day

The Foxes can’t get the job done.

Tweet of the day

It’s just not happening for Mykhailo Mudryk at Chelsea so far.

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Premier League

Predictions for final stretch of riveting Premier League season

With the March international break now firmly in the rearview mirror, it’s full steam ahead in the Premier League until the end of the season. There’s still much to be decided over the next two months as an engrossing campaign approaches its denouement. How will it all play out? Here’s our best guess.

Arsenal or Man City for the title?

Anthony Lopopolo: Arsenal. There’s clearly a feeling within the dressing room that the Gunners can achieve something that seemed nigh impossible just a couple of years ago: win a Premier League title. Much of that’s down to Mikel Arteta, who brought order back to the club upon his arrival in 2019. With the help of trusted veterans Granit Xhaka and Oleksandr Zinchenko, Arteta has made a group of young players believe in themselves and in a singular vision. His project is reaching a crescendo just as Arsenal’s main rival, Manchester City, struggle for consistency.

Shaun Botterill / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Gianluca Nesci: Arsenal, by a whisker. It’s a classic football trope, but the Gunners’ Europa League elimination will end up being beneficial here. While Arteta’s team can focus its energy solely on seeking a first Premier League title since 2004, Manchester City have multiple cup commitments to be cognizant of, including a colossal Champions League tilt with Bayern Munich, which, if navigated successfully, would lead to another draining continental clash. The cumulative fatigue of those exploits – physical and, especially, mental – can’t be overstated, even for a loaded squad like City with extensive title-winning experience. The margins of this title race are so fine that it could make all the difference. Arsenal, by two points, will hoist the trophy again after waiting nearly two decades.

Champions League places

Lopopolo: Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United, Newcastle United. The most surprising entry on this list is Newcastle, but that’s as much an indication of the club’s recent improvements as it is an indictment of its direct rivals. Usually, Liverpool would have no problem qualifying for the Champions League, but Jurgen Klopp’s side has been more Hyde than Jekyll in recent months. Unless Tottenham Hotspur can get their act together under interim manager Cristian Stellini, they’re equally unlikely to make a legitimate push for qualification. That leaves Newcastle, which have finally found their scoring boots, with only themselves to beat.

Matthew Ashton – AMA / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Nesci: Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool. The top three spots have long been a foregone conclusion, leaving multiple sides to scrap for one coveted place at Europe’s top table. Liverpool, despite their disjointed season and continued defensive frailties, still have the best top-end talent and the highest ceiling of the teams around them. Tottenham are in disarray and could tumble down the table. Brighton & Hove Albion, quietly right in the mix, have a daunting remaining schedule. Newcastle are best positioned to snag fourth place; the defensively stout Magpies are full value for their standing in the table, too. But, against my better judgment based on the unpredictable nature of Liverpool’s performances, I just can’t shake the belief that Klopp and his star-studded attack will figure it out and finish with a late-season surge to snatch a Champions League berth.

Relegated clubs

Lopopolo: Crystal Palace, Nottingham Forest, Bournemouth. Leicester City will end up scoring their way out of trouble, and both Everton and West Ham – two of the more defensively responsible sides in relegation danger – will collect enough clean sheets to escape the drop. Without much of a hope in attack, Crystal Palace will slip from 12th place to 18th, and Nottingham Forest will run out of time to find their footing. Forest have talent, and homegrown star Brennan Johnson can win games on his own, but Steve Cooper’s side will pay for a lack of consistency and become just the latest free-spending Premier League side to suffer immediate relegation.

NurPhoto / NurPhoto / Getty

Nesci: Southampton, Nottingham Forest, Wolves. The Saints’ aggressive investment in youth ahead of the season was admirable and refreshing, but their disastrous midseason appointment of Nathan Jones will be too much to overcome. Forest were hit with an unfortunate rash of ill-timed injuries during the international break, including a season-ending thigh problem for Chris Wood. And Wolves, who still have to contend with away matches against Brighton, Manchester United, and Arsenal, continue to struggle for goals. Matheus Nunes’ three-match ban being rescinded is a huge boon for Julen Lopetegui, but it still won’t be enough as Wolves are narrowly beaten out by Bournemouth, who have shown signs of life in recent weeks.

Full predicted table

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How many goals will Haaland finish with?

Lopopolo: 35 goals. Erling Haaland is currently averaging more than a goal per game in the Premier League. If he avoids further injury, he should have no problem ending the season at a similar clip. Haaland’s also made a habit of scoring goals in bunches, and with games coming up against defensively suspect sides in Leeds United and Southampton, the Norwegian sharpshooter will get his chance to break the record of 34 goals in a single Premier League season. That mark is shared by Andy Cole and Alan Shearer and was established when there were 42 games in a campaign. Mohamed Salah’s 32-goal outburst in 2017-18 remains the gold standard for a 38-match season.

Adam Davy – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

Nesci: 40 goals. Sitting on 28 tallies with 11 league games remaining, Manchester City’s insatiable scoring machine needs to continue his torrid pace to crack the 40-goal plateau. In theory, Haaland outperforming his underlying metrics suggests he could slow down at some point; his 28 Premier League markers have come from an expected total of 20.1. He’s running hot, but maintaining his Midas touch until the end of the season is absolutely possible. It’s only 11 matches, after all. Dixie Dean holds what’s almost certainly an insurmountable benchmark for most goals scored in the top flight of an English football season. The Everton legend, somehow, found the net 60 times in 1927–28. Haaland won’t hit those heights, but he’ll still breathe rarefied air alongside Dean after breaking the 40-goal barrier.

Next manager to be sacked?

Lopopolo: Brendan Rodgers. This one has been a long time coming. Rodgers first felt the fury of supporters in September when Leicester endured a wretched run of six defeats in seven matches. Back then, he had alibis: The club had hardly spent a dime on signings, and injuries to protagonists Jonny Evans, Ricardo Pereira, and Wilfred Ndidi made reversing the situation even tougher. Leicester couldn’t possibly blame him. Now, it’s become a pattern. The Foxes find themselves in a similar rut, having won just two of their last 12 league fixtures. Though they’ve gone down swinging on several occasions, their fighting spirit alone won’t sustain them. They need results. Unfortunately, that means sacking Rodgers.

Rob Newell – CameraSport / CameraSport / Getty

Nesci: David Moyes. By all accounts, the Scottish tactician has been on the brink of dismissal for quite some time, seemingly operating on a game-by-game basis as West Ham United flirt with relegation. This squad, on paper, should comfortably be good enough to avoid the drop; as noted above, I’m picking them to survive. But that’s been the case all season, and yet, going into the stretch run, West Ham are languishing in the bottom three. A couple of poor results coming out of the international break could see the Hammers’ brass panic and dismiss the veteran coach in search of the mythical “new manager bounce” as the fixture list winds down. West Ham are badly underperforming, and that’s a damning indictment on Moyes.

January signing to make the biggest impact

Lopopolo: Marcel Sabitzer. Signed on a simple loan deal for the remainder of the season, Sabitzer arrived at Manchester United as somewhat of a risk-free gamble. But the Austrian midfielder has proven himself in the absence of the suspended Casemiro, filling a critical void in midfield. Sabitzer helped to stabilize Erik ten Hag’s side at a moment of tremendous need, showing both the capacity to facilitate play and shore up United’s defensive lines. The 29-year-old will continue to provide depth and relief as United chase trophies in the Europa League and FA Cup.

Alex Livesey / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Nesci: Leandro Trossard. What greater impact could there possibly be than playing a pivotal role in your team’s title-winning season? Arteta has been effusive in his praise of the versatile Belgian, who boosted Arsenal’s attack – and championship charge – after joining the club in January from Brighton. Trossard has fit in quickly and established an understanding with his fellow attackers, recording six assists in his last five league games. His ability to play centrally in the injury-induced absences of both Gabriel Jesus and Eddie Nketiah has been vital in helping the north London outfit keep City at bay.

Most excited about …

Lopopolo: The relegation dogfight. Just four points separate 12th place from the bottom of the Premier League table. A single result could change the entire look of the drop zone. Last-placed Southampton could leapfrog 18th-placed West Ham with a win on Sunday and find themselves back at the bottom of the standings with a loss to Manchester City the following weekend. If results go against them, Crystal Palace could also slide down several places from their current position in 12th. Nothing and no one is safe.

David Price / Arsenal FC / Getty

Nesci: The showdown between Manchester City and Arsenal on April 26. It doesn’t get much better than a late-season meeting between two sides that have been going blow-for-blow at the top all year long. And while this isn’t a true title decider – Arsenal may still control their own fate even with a loss at the Etihad Stadium – a victory could all but seal the crown with five matches remaining. Their first league meeting in February, a 3-1 Manchester City triumph, was engrossing. Now Arteta gets a chance not only to avenge that setback but to potentially deliver the dagger to City’s title defense and, simultaneously, get the better of Guardiola, his mentor and idol. Juicy.

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Premier League

Key thoughts and analysis from Saturday's Premier League action

theScore examines the most important developments and biggest talking points from Saturday’s slate of action in England’s top flight.

Conte’s talking himself out of a job

Antonio Conte said Thursday that he didn’t think there were any plans for Tottenham Hotspur to sack him before the end of the season.

That might have changed.

“They don’t play for something important. They don’t want to play under pressure. They don’t want to play under stress. It’s easy in this way,” Conte complained after Saturday’s 3-3 draw at Southampton.

“Tottenham’s story is this: Twenty years there is the owner (Daniel Levy) and they’ve never won something. Why?”

Tottenham’s collapse on the south coast was another miserable episode in a season that promised so much. Conte was backed with funds in the summer transfer window, but the Italian has sparingly used or ruthlessly criticized most of the new recruits. Or both. With the exception of Harry Kane, Conte’s pragmatic approach has dulled Tottenham’s attacking talent. The team is often reactive rather than proactive and – as the weekend’s draw demonstrated – can be guilty of losing its focus.

Southampton had scored 0.8 goals per game at home before Tottenham came to town. Spurs were cruising with a 3-1 lead with little over 15 minutes left. But then they cowered to a team with greater desire.

It was that simple, and Conte insisted the blame didn’t lie solely with him.

“The problem is that we are not a team,” Conte said, according to The Guardian’s John Brewin. “We are 11 players that go on to the pitch. I see selfish players who don’t want to help each other.”

To the surprise of very few, entrusting a rebuild project that requires patience and care to one of the most impatient coaches in Europe didn’t work. Ciao, Antonio.

Leicester trio crucial to survival bid

The Leicester City players deserved the applause from the corner of away fans after recovering from a dire first-half display to take a commendable 1-1 draw from Brentford. The hosts desperately tried to re-exert their authority, but none of Thomas Frank’s substitutions managed to make a positive impact on the game as Leicester dictated play.

So, with the spirited showing in last week’s defeat against Chelsea and Saturday’s second-half supremacy, are there signs of recovery for Brendan Rodgers’ outfit? The old adage of “too good to go down” is inherently false – West Ham United sunk in 2003 and Leeds United dropped in 2004 with strong squads – but Leicester have individuals who possess the quality to pinch crucial goals.

And three of those key figures combined for the Foxes’ equalizer.

Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall personified Leicester’s performance, putting a poor opening period behind him in an excellent second half. He twisted and ducked his way through three Brentford players before stabbing the ball inside to James Maddison. For the most part, Maddison was crowded out and frustrated in west London, but Dewsbury-Hall’s determined work created space for the playmaker. Maddison took one touch, peered at the gap between Brentford’s center-backs, and rolled a perfect pass through for Harvey Barnes.

Barnes confidently finished beyond David Raya.

Rob Newell – CameraSport / CameraSport / Getty

Leicester have the third-worst defense in the league, but this should be corrected. January signing Harry Souttar won six aerial duels and bashed away eight clearances in a promising showing and will soon be joined by Jonny Evans (who’s set to return from a calf injury) and Wout Faes (who served a one-game suspension Saturday) in the backline. At long last, Daniel Amartey – an average midfielder who does a poor impersonation of a defender – will be relieved of center-back duties.

The problem with scoring doesn’t seem closer to being corrected, though. Kelechi Iheanacho, Patson Daka, and Jamie Vardy have combined for just eight Premier League goals this term, putting extra pressure on Dewsbury-Hall, Maddison, and Barnes to create and finish chances.

They certainly have the ability to carve out results for the club, but only with the assistance of their teammates. Leicester have struggled to play well for two halves all season, and that’s why they could be in this relegation scrap until the final day.

Quick free-kicks

David Horton – CameraSport / CameraSport / Getty

Time to trust Simms?

Ellis Simms’ development hit a snag. He was growing into his loan spell at Sunderland, cramming four goals into six Championship outings before former Everton manager Frank Lampard recalled him in January. The relegation-threatened Toffees needed goals, but Simms has started just one match since returning to his parent club and could’ve been forgiven for wishing he stayed on Wearside. His late leveler in the 2-2 draw at Chelsea should hopefully change that. He surged into the area, impressively outmuscled Kalidou Koulibaly, and steered a shot underneath Kepa Arrizabalaga to give Everton a precious point in their mission to preserve their Premier League status. The first top-flight goal of Simms’ career puts him level with the full-season tallies of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Neal Maupay.

Leeds need Adams back

With six goals scored and four conceded over their last two matches, it’s fair to say that Javi Gracia’s early attempts to swap chaos for control at Leeds United is failing. And it’s difficult to envision that control arriving while Tyler Adams is sidelined. Leeds’ 4-2 win at Wolverhampton Wanderers was huge, but their lack of grip in midfield contributed to a 3-0 lead turning into 3-2 in the space of eight second-half minutes. Marc Roca has failed to impress since his summer move from Bayern Munich, and his casual touch of the ball inadvertently teed up Jonny’s wonderstrike. Pairing Roca’s seemingly distracted play with Weston McKennie’s energetic yet erratic approach creates a midfield base that’s both incredibly porous and criminally wasteful in possession.

Stat of the day

Kane is heading for another record.

Tweet of the day

Conte’s bags might already be packed.

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