Liverpool look to ex-factor in Premier League title race with Man City

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The raging title race between Manchester City and Liverpool will dominate the penultimate weekend of the 2018/19 Premier League season.

Both sides are pushing to claim the big prize and will look to continue their momentum, while Cardiff are fighting what is looking an increasingly losing battle to remain in the division.

Here, Press Association Sport looks at some of the key talking points ahead of the action.

LIVERPOOL LOOK TO EX-FACTOR IN TITLE RACE

With neither City nor Liverpool blinking in the run-in, the battle for the Premier League title remains the most exciting in years.

The Reds could be given a helping hand this weekend courtesy of two of their former managers, with a trip to face Rafael Benitez’s Newcastle on Saturday night. A win would return Jurgen Klopp’s side to the summit.

City play 48 hours later against a Leicester side resurgent under Brendan Rodgers, who came so close to delivering the title to Anfield in 2014.

Liverpool fans will be hoping Benitez does not make things difficult at St James’ Park before putting their hopes on Rodgers to give them the upper hand heading into the final weekend.

MAY THE FOURTH BE WITH YOU

Spurs are in the driving seat for the top four.

Spurs are in the driving seat for the top four.

While the two title protagonists continue at an unrelenting pace, the battle for the rest of the top four has been littered with errors and defeats.

After all four teams stuttered in recent weeks, Tottenham and Arsenal both lost last weekend while Manchester United and Chelsea played out a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.

Spurs, on the back of their Champions League semi-final first-leg defeat to Ajax, head to Bournemouth in Saturday’s early kick-off knowing a win will guarantee qualification for next season’s tournament.

Chelsea are strong favourites to join them but any slip-up against Watford will give Arsenal and United, currently in fifth and sixth respectively, renewed hope of a top-four finish.

FIGHT OR FLIGHT FOR BLUEBIRDS AND SEAGULLS

After losing at relegated Fulham last weekend, Cardiff are now the heavy favourites to join the Cottagers and Huddersfield in the Championship next season.

Neil Warnock welcomes former club Crystal Palace to south Wales on Saturday evening knowing anything other than a rare victory will seal their fate, as their worse goal difference means even a point will only prolong the inevitable.

However, picking up a 10th win of the season would ramp up the pressure on Brighton, who go into the weekend four points clear of the drop zone but face a tricky trip to Arsenal on Sunday.

WOLVES IN SEVENTH HEAVEN

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Everton FC - Premier League

Not since George Burley guided Ipswich to a remarkable fifth-placed finish in 2001 has a newly-promoted side mixed as high up in the Premier League table as Wolves.

Nuno Espirito Santo’s side can all-but assure themselves a seventh-placed finish in their first season back in the top flight if they beat relegated Fulham at Molineux on Saturday.

Caretaker boss Scott Parker has led the Cottagers to three successive wins since their relegation was confirmed but Wolves will be confident of getting the job done in front of their own fans, knowing Europa League football may still beckon next season.

GOLDEN GOALS

Individual prizes are also still up in the air this season and the battle for the Premier League golden boot is likely to go the distance.

Dominated by players from teams in the title race, Mohamed Salah of Liverpool currently leads the way with 21 goals as he looks to retain the award from last season.

His team-mate Sadio Mane is a goal adrift, with Manchester City hotshot Sergio Aguero level with the Senegal international on 20.

There are a couple of outsiders still in with a chance of ending the campaign as the league’s top marksman, however, with Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on 19 and Jamie Vardy – the top English goalscorer – with 18 goals for Leicester.

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Fantasy Premier League tips: Paul Pogba and Man United players good differentials for GW37

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Each week, Sport360 will bring you tips for the English Premier League’s official fantasy football game. Fancy pitting your wits against us? You can join “Sport360 Fans League” using the code 2326997-532303.

Fantasy Premier League managers only have a couple of shots left at climbing up the rankings this season.

Gameweek 36 was a high-scoring one which yielded an average score of 69 but this weekend brings the penultimate round of the campaign.

The top six all boast inviting fixtures this time. Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester United travel to Bournemouth, Newcastle United and Huddersfield respectively. Meanwhile, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City host Watford, Brighton and Leicester City in that order.

Here are a few tips to guide you ahead of GW37.

CAPTAIN – SERGIO AGUERO | MANCHESTER CITY | 11.9M

Mohamed Salah was our captain pick last week and if he was yours as well, you probably had a great GW36. The Liverpool star excelled with two goals and an assist against Huddersfield at home, scoring 19 points that doubled to 38.

This week, it’s another FPL favourite who gets the nod in Sergio Aguero. The Argentine (20) is one goal behind Salah (21) in the race for the Golden Boot and will be determined to overtake the Egyptian in the remaining two rounds.

City host Leicester with Brendan Rodgers unlikely to have his side sit deep, so Aguero could see a few opportunities.

There’s also the fact that the striker has been sensational at home this season. The last time he failed to deliver attacking returns at the Etihad was back in GW22 and he only played 14 minutes on that occasion.

Sergio Aguero (1)

ALTERNATIVES

MOHAMED SALAH (13.3m) definitely remains in the running after his stunning display at home to Huddersfield. Newcastle away should be more tricky but with Liverpool desperate for a win to keep pressure on City, anything is possible.

RAHEEM STERLING (11.6m) is only behind Salah (249) for points this season with 226 to his name. He’s always a candidate for the captaincy and arguably City’s most dangerous player as they look to retain their crown.

BOLD CHOICE

DIOGO JOTA (6.3m) has continued his excellent form and now has two goals and an assist in his last two games. He faces Fulham at home this weekend although the Cottagers have found a bit of form as well, albeit belatedly.

Diogo Jota

TWO TO WATCH

PAUL POGBA | MANCHESTER UNITED | 8.5M

Neither United nor Paul Pogba have impressed in the last month or so but now that the top four appears to be beyond their reach, the pressure is off – as it was when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer first took over.

Also, their last two games are arguably the most comfortable with Huddersfield away this weekend followed by Cardiff City at home on the final day. There’s every chance Pogba delivers in these games especially with him being on penalties. Only Crystal Palace (10) have scored more from the spot than United (9) this season.

Paul Pogba

RYAN BABEL | FULHAM | 5.5M

Ever since Fulham’s relegation was confirmed, they’ve been a different team. Scott Parker has overseen a run of three wins with his side keeping clean sheets in each of them. But Ryan Babel’s form has also been worth noting.

The Dutch forward has bagged four goals and an assist in his last six outings and is owned by just a little over one per cent.

Ryan Babel

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Championship final proves that below the Premier League lies a land of sleeping giants

Matt Jones 2/05/2019
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Derby County beat Man United in the 2018/19 Carabao Cup.

Two clubs with a rich top-flight English football division pedigree meet for the third and final spot in the 2019/20 Premier League on Monday.

Aston Villa and Derby County are titans of English football – having won nine first division titles between them – and have featured prominently during the Premier League era.

Villa, with seven English top-flight championships, are the fifth most successful team in English league title history, but lifted the last of their seven trophies 38 years ago. Derby, meanwhile, won their two titles way back in the ‘70s.

Both have slipped into relative obscurity though in recent years – Villa only ended a 24-year stay in the Premier League following relegation in 2015/16, while County enjoyed a six-year stint there during the mid-1990s but have been stuck in the second tier now for over a decade.

It’s an hellacious league to get out of now, due to the fact so many former giants call the Championship home.

Here we take a brief look at each of the Championship’s 24 teams in 2018/19 and their top-flight pedigree.

NORWICH CITY

Champions of England’s second tier for a fifth time after finishing five points ahead of Sheffield United, the Canaries are singing as they head back for a fifth Premier League flight, having been original members when the league was rebranded in 1992/93.

They were relegated on four previous seasons – enjoying only one-season stays in both 2004/05 and 2015/16, which was their last visit.

Mike Walker’s side finished third in the inaugural Premier League season – two points behind runners-up Villa and 12 adrift of champions Man United. The following year they played in the UEFA Cup, famously beating Bayern Munich before succumbing to Inter Milan in the third round.

SHEFFIELD UNITED

The Blades have sliced their way through the Championship’s tall weeds for another stab at the top-flight, displacing long-time automatic favourites Leeds in the final months.

Another of the original 22 Premier League members, striker Brian Deane has a place in history as its first goalscorer, a header against inaugural champions United.

They were relegated a year later and have roamed the wilderness since – save for a brief return in 2006/07. The four-time FA Cup winners even spent a six-year stretch in the third tier before being promoted to the Championship just two seasons ago.

LEEDS UNITED

A true giant of English football. Leeds won the last Division 1 title in 1991/92 before the Premier League era exploded. They enjoyed a number of top six finishes in the late 90s and early 2000s and were a deadly team to watch under David O’Leary from 1998-2002. They made the 2000/01 Champions League semi-finals, losing to Valencia 3-0 having finished behind Real Madrid in the group and beating Deportivo La Coruna in the quarter-finals

The Yorkshire giants have fallen on hard times since being relegated in 2003/04 though – they have been left out in the cold now for 15 years, and even suffered the ignominy of dropping to League 1 between 2007-10.

WEST BROMWICH ALBION

FA Cup winners as early as 1887/88, the Baggies have lifted the famous trophy on five occasions in their history. They have bounced constantly back and forth between the first and second tiers since first getting a taste of the Premier League in 2002/03, but enjoyed a stable eight-year stay at the top table before being relegated in 2017/18.

Almost bounced back at the first attempt, finishing fourth this season, but lost to Midlands rivals Villa in the play-off semi-finals following a penalty shootout.

ASTON VILLA

Aston Villa are aiming to bounce back to the Premier League after two years away.

Aston Villa are aiming to bounce back to the Premier League after two years away.

Looking to end a brief hiatus from England’s top table with a return after three years. Slight favourites after a strong second half to the season under Dean Smith.

Were League Cup runners-up as recently as 2009/10 – a season in which they finished sixth in the Premier League, which saw them qualify for next year’s Europa League qualifying rounds. Finished behind United as runners-up in the inaugural Premier League season.

Beat German giants Bayern to win the European Cup in 1982.

DERBY COUNTY

Another yo-yo club who own the unwanted record of tallying the lowest points in Premier League history – amassing just 11 points, scoring just 20 goals and earning just one win in 38 games during a miserable 2007/08. They became the first club to be relegated in March and finished a colossal 24 points behind second-bottom Birmingham City.

The Rams enjoyed a resplendent period in the 70s when they won two league titles and made it to the European Cup semis where they lost to Juventus. They earned Premier League promotion in 1996 under beloved former manager Jim Smith and finished as high as eighth in United’s 1998/99 treble-winning campaign.

After relegation they were back, briefly, in 2007/08, although probably wish they hadn’t been.

MIDDLESBROUGH

Boro were relegated during the debut season of the Premier League, finishing second bottom between Nottingham Forest and Crystal Palace.

They’ve had their ups and downs since, roaring back two seasons later. In 1995/96 they lit up the league under manager Bryan Robson for a few campaigns, dancing to the beat of Samba Boys Juninho and Emerson, while Italy striker Fabrizio Ravenelli was a revelation.

They went down but came straight back up in 1998 and stayed for 11 years – winning the League Cup in 2004. A nine-year stay in the second tier was briefly punctuated by a Premier League return in 2016/17.

BRISTOL CITY        

A big city but not a big club, the Robins have been floating around the lower leagues for the better part of their 125-year existence. Came close to the big time a decade ago when they finished fourth in the 2007/08 Championship and reached the play-off final, where they suffered a 1-0 defeat to Hull City.

NOTTINGHAM FOREST

More European Cup titles than Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea, and only one fewer than Manchester United.

Forest were a true force during the 1970s and 80s, lifting the European Cup in both 1979 and 1980 when Peter Shilton, Viv Anderson, Martin O’Neill and Trevor Francis were their heroes.

Enjoyed a renaissance under the enigmatic Brian Clough in the 90s, but following his sad decline in health they were relegated for a third and final time in 1999. They haven’t been seen in the ensuing two decades.

SWANSEA CITY

Swansea's Daniel James is in talks with Man United.

Swansea’s Daniel James is in talks with Man United.

The Welsh side first graced the English top-flight in 1981/82 but were in danger of slipping out of the football league altogether just 16 years ago. A final day 4-2 win courtesy of a hat-trick from James Thomas – now a Port Talbot paramedic – saw them survive in Division 3 by a point in 2002/03.

A year later they finished 10th, then got promoted from the renamed League 2 12 months later.

Just seven years after their dalliance with disaster they beat Reading in the play-off final to reach the promised land of the Premier League, where they stayed for seven seasons, winning the 2012/13 League Cup and reaching the Europa League’s last 32 the following year.

BRENTFORD

The Bees have not buzzed in England’s top-flight since the aftermath of World War I and the 1946/47 season. They have been in the second tier for the last five seasons, largely punching above their weight.

They almost reached the Premier League on their second tier bow in 2014/15 when they finished fifth, but lost to Middlesbrough in the play-offs.

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY

Ah, the early 90s. Sheffield Wednesday won the 1991 League Cup, were one of the 22 inaugural Premier League teams and lost in the finals of both the League and FA Cup in 93.

The turn of the century, however, brought about a downturn in fortunes for the Steel City side, who melted into insignificance. Relegated in the 1999/00 season, they have been fumbling and failing to find their way back ever since.

HULL CITY

Harry Maguire starred for Hull in the Premier League.

Harry Maguire starred for Hull in the Premier League.

The Tigers aren’t titans but have tussled with Arsenal in an FA Cup final since dragging themselves out of English football’s basement upon Championship promotion in 2005.

Three years later they were dining at the top table and took the Gunners to extra-time in the 2014 FA Cup final before Aaron Ramsey broke their hearts.

PRESTON NORTH END

Preston North End have as many top-flight titles as Tottenham and were once a mainstay of the English elite. Twice FA Cup winners they were pioneers of the club game before relegation in 1960/61.

Since then, they’ve been nomads. While the Premier League exploded in 92/93, proud Preston were being relegated to the fourth tier. The Deepdale side have been safely mid-table in the Championship in the four years since their return, narrowly missing the play-offs a year ago.

BLACKBURN ROVERS

An almighty sleeping giant, Rovers are one of a select few members of the Premier League winners’ club – only United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Leicester have been where they have in terms of heights.

Another one of the original 22, they finished an immense fourth following their 91/92 promotion. They jumped two spots a year later and, 12 months on, became champions.

They were relegated seven years ago though and dropped to the third tier two years ago, but climbed back and finished 15th.

Blackburn won the 1995 Premier League title.

Blackburn won the 1995 Premier League title.

STOKE CITY

Unfashionable, unglamorous Stoke weren’t expected to do much upon promotion to the top-flight in 2007/08, but their physical style stood them in good stead and they survived, even thrived, for a decade.

They dropped though a year ago and, while tipped by many as favourites to go back up, struggled to a mediocre 16th place this season.

BIRMINGHAM CITY

Birmingham’s hoisting of a second major trophy, 2011’s League Cup, was hugely bittersweet. A memorable 2-1 triumph over Arsenal at Wembley was followed by an equally painful relegation from the Premier League – and they haven’t been back since.

Infrequent occupiers of a Premier League seat, they have rarely ventured into promotion contention in recent years.

WIGAN ATHLETIC

For a team who only entered the football league in 1978/79, Wigan have ascended the ladder rather rapidly – 27 years later they were in the Premier League.

They enjoyed themselves while they were there too, finishing 10th on their top-flight bow and reaching the League Cup final where they lost to United 4-0. After an eight-year stay they dropped out and have twice been relegated to League 1.

QUEENS PARK RANGERS

Another one of the original 22, QPR were relegated in ’96 and suffered for a number of years, before returning to the top division as second tier champions in 2010/11.

They stayed for two years and came straight back up in 2014 after being relegated. But they were gone again the following season and have struggled in the lower reaches of the Championship ever since.

READING

Another minnow who thoroughly enjoyed their moment in the sun, winning the Championship in 2005/06, the Royals crowned their Premier League bow with a stunning eighth-placed finish a year later, just missing out on the Europa League by a point.

They were down a year later, briefly returning in 2012/13. They lost to Arsenal in the FA Cup semis four years ago and missed out on a Premier League return two years ago when Huddersfield beat them on penalties in the play-off final.

MILLWALL

A two-year flirtation with the top division from 1988-90 is all Millwall fans have to show for top-flight experience – finishing dead bottom at the turn of the decade, with the boom times for English football right around the corner.

They’ve since flitted between the second and third tiers, barely surviving the drop this season from the Championship. They appeared in the 2004 FA Cup final but were soundly beaten 3-0 by Man United.

ROTHERHAM UNITED

Probably the smallest team in the division, alongside Brentford. The Millers have elevated themselves into the upper echelons of English football society since the early 2000s though, earning promotion to the Championship in 2005.

They’ve yo-yoed in recent years though and went straight back down to League 1 this term.

BOLTON WANDERERS

Jay Jay Okocha starred during the glory days for Bolton.

Jay Jay Okocha starred during the glory days for Bolton.

A giant historically and in more recent decades, having featured prominently during the 2000s as an effervescent Premier League side who played fantastic stuff under Sam Allardyce, who had a penchant for flair players from Europe.

The four-time FA Cup winners finished as high as sixth in 2005 and qualified for the UEFA Cup – their continental bow. But they’ve been in freefall since their 2012 relegation and are in a mess on and off the field – having just been relegated to League 1.

IPSWICH TOWN

The Tractor Boys ploughed their way to UEFA Cup glory in 1981, beating AZ Alkmaar 5-4 on aggregate. They won the old Division 2 in 1992 to feature in the inaugural Premier League, where they survived for three seasons.

On their only other top-flight appearance in 2000/01 the Tractor Boys rolled back the years as they finished fifth – missing out on the Champions League by three points, but did enter the UEFA Cup again.

Have just been relegated to the third tier after 17 consecutive seasons in the second.

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