Why Chelsea could have the Premier League title wrapped up by February 4th

Chelsea moved eight points clear at the top of the Premier League following Sunday’s 2-0 win over Hull City, following a weekend in which four of the chasing pack dropped points.

The Blues have won back-to-back games without conceding following that 2-0 loss at Spurs in early January and look like a side ready to clinch the Premier League title, even if it is only January.

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It does seem to be a case of ‘when’ as opposed to ‘if’ when discussing Chelsea’s title chances, and it’s difficult to question their credentials given their form this season under the magnificent Antonio Conte.

The Italian’s tactics have taken the league by storm, with the 3-4-3 formation impenetrable more often than not, while his handling of the Diego Costa issue over the past week or so has proven that he is just as good a man manager as he is master tactician.

The Blues are top of the table with 55 points after 22 games – it’s only the fourth time that tally has been reached at this stage in Premier League history – but they are now preparing for arguably the biggest two weeks of their season.

After their home FA Cup tie with Brentford next weekend, Chelsea travel to Anfield to take on Liverpool in what is an enormous game for both sides on Tuesday, January 31. That comes just four days before the Blues then take on Arsenal at Stamford Bridge.

If they can win their next two league games, Chelsea will have at least one hand on a fifth Premier League title.

Both matches present stiff tests, with Liverpool and Arsenal desperately hoping that can close the gap to the league leaders over the next two weeks, but Chelsea have gone about their job in an impressively professional manner this season and it’s difficult to imagine them losing back-to-back games, no matter the opponent.

Six points from their next two would leave Chelsea at least 11 points clear of Arsenal and 13 in front of Liverpool – margins that would all but rule both sides out of the title race with 14 games to go.

Manchester City and Manchester United are already 12 and 14 points behind, respectively, so wins in their next two would leave Chelsea primed for glory.

They might not be crowned champions on February 4, but the Blues could well be on the home straight by then, if they are not already.

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How does Ranieri’s Leicester side compare with his final Chelsea team?

The final round of fixtures from the 2015/16 Premier League season are to be played on Sunday. Chelsea welcome newly crowned champions Leicester City to Stamford Bridge in what will be an emotional return for Claudio Ranieri. Lewis Addley explores how Ranieri’s final Chelsea side of 2003/04 compares to his current Leicester team… 

Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City proved to be the surprise package of the season and went on to become champions despite starting the campaign as 5000/1 outsiders. Leicester beat Chelsea earlier in the season and now visit the 2014/15 champions in what looks set to be an emotional day for Ranieri against his former club.

‘The Tinkerman’ departed Chelsea after the 2003/04 season, in which his team finished runners-up in the Premier League and were Champions League semifinalists.

So how do Ranieri’s Chelsea side from 12 years ago compare to his championship-winning Leicester team?

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Ranieri’s 2003/04 Chelsea runners-up compared to his 2015/16 Leicester champions

As we can see in the table above, there are some statistical similarities between the sides albeit one game in difference as we head into the final round of fixtures.

Ranieri’s Leicester have scored exactly the same amount of goals as his Chelsea side did but have conceded five more.

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He won one more as Chelsea manager in the 03/04 season, which he could equal on Sunday, but his Leicester team have converted four less losses into draws. As a result Leicester have picked up an extra point when compared to Chelsea’s tally of 79.

The league tables have some similarities but what about the squads?

It’s no secret that Chelsea have spent hundreds of millions in the Premier League era, a trend that all started back in 2003/04 when Roman Abramovich bought the club and at that time it was Ranieri’s duty or opportunity, whichever way you look at it, to invest money into the side.

So how much money did Ranieri spend at Chelsea in his final season compared to the summer transfer window ahead of the current Premier League campaign?

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Ranieri’s signings compared: Chelsea 03/04 – Leicester 15/16

As we can see the money spent at Chelsea exceeds the money spent at Leicester by a staggering £86,050,000 – arguably unsurprising given the purchasing power difference between the clubs.

Leicester City’s current squad value will have no doubt increased since the start of the season given their performance levels, so how much would a typical starting XI be valued at?

Leicester XI market value

Typical Leicester starting XI market value according to transfermarkt.co.uk

The complete value of this starting XI costs less than Ranieri’s top four most expensive Chelsea signings from the 03/04 season.

There are a few similarities between Ranieri’s teams as he regularly deployed his favoured 4-4-2 formation with both clubs.

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Typical Chelsea XI 2003/04 created using lineupbuilder.com

The importance of a consistent ‘keeper and backline supported by a holding midfielder is apparent from both of the two sides in question.

The one player who has drawn the most comparison by fans and pundits alike this season is N’Golo Kante, who’s playing style is highly similar to Claude Makelele, with both having an integral role to play in their respective sides. They allowed for their central midfield partner to be free to roam and influence the game, something both Frank Lampard and Danny Drinkwater evidently did well.

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Both Chelsea’s and Leicester’s backlines were rarely breached throughout their respective seasons, mainly down to solidarity and consistency. Both of Ranieri’s teams had two centre-backs with a presence in the air and on the ground, as well as pacy fullbacks who assisted their wingers.

Then we can look into the final third of the field, as skilful wingers had the ability to cut open opposition defences, while the strikers were renowned for confidence in their ability to finish.

Riyad Mahrez’s partnership with Jamie Vardy differs slightly from Ranieri’s Chelsea team, who did use the flanks but relied on goals from Lampard in the middle of the park.

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Ranieri’s Chelsea side were the nearly men. He failed to win a trophy with the club despite coming close on a few occasions, but fans will argue he played a huge role in setting them on the path to glory. In his first season as Leicester manager he has delivered the goods and will be looking forward to a welcomed return to ‘The Bridge’ this weekend.

How similar are Ranieri’s Chelsea side from 03/04 to this season’s champions? Has ‘The Tinkerman’ become a better manager since his first spell in England? 

Premier League Preview and Prediction: Chelsea vs Leicester

Competition: Premier League – Chelsea FC vs. Leicester City FC

Venue: Stamford Bridge – Sunday, May 15 – 15:00 BST (10:00 ET) 

Match Odds: Chelsea 13/10 – Draw 13/5 – Leicester 19/10

Match Preview

Chelsea host Premier League champions Leicester on the final day of the 2015/16 Premier League season on Sunday afternoon, capping off what have been completely contrasting seasons for both sides.

Chelsea have had an incredibly disappointing campaign and will end the year by facing the side that have taken their Premier League crown, just 12 months after the Blues lifted a fourth BPL title.

Guus Hiddink will oversee his final game as interim manager before Antonio Conte joins the club this summer and he would love to cap off his second spell at the club with a victory in front of the home fans.

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The Blues put in a fine performance at Liverpool on Wednesday but had to settle for a 1-1 draw, stretching their winless run to three. They haven’t won at home since February and have now gone 11 league games without a clean sheet at Stamford Bridge.

Leicester arrive at Chelsea as Premier League champions – something that seemed impossible nine months ago – but they fully deserve their success after a stellar campaign.

Former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri has worked wonders with the Foxes and they are now unbeaten in eleven league outings.

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The club will now be looking to try and maintain their performance levels next season but ending this year with another victory will be the only thing the players will be focusing on ahead of Sunday.

The Foxes won the reverse fixture 2-1 in December in what turned out to be Jose Mourinho’s final game in charge of the Blues. That result ended an eight-game winning streak for Chelsea against Leicester in all competitions. Leicester haven’t won at Stamford Bridge since 2000.

Team News

Club captain John Terry is suspended for the final game of the season, though he has been offered a one-year contract extension so this might not be his final match as a Chelsea player. Kurt Zouma, Loic Remy and Diego Costa will all miss out injured, while Branislav Ivanovic is a doubt. Some Chelsea youngsters are likely to be given minutes in Guus Hiddink’s final game in charge.

Leicester will be without former Chelsea centre-back Robert Huth as he serves the final game of his three-match suspension, while Matthew James remains the only injury concern as he is lacking fitness. Danny Drinkwater will return from suspension here and may replace Andy King in midfield.

Key Points

Chelsea’s last five: L/W/D/L/D

Leicester’s last five: W/D/W/D/W

Key Stat: Claudio Ranieri will win his 100th Premier League game as a manager if he can beat his former club on Sunday (W99 D48 L36), becoming the 18th man to reach that milestone in the competition.

Key Player: Wes Morgan – The Leicester captain, like so many of his teammates, has had an incredible season. His defensive qualities have shone through time and again and the club captain will want to cap off a fine season with another victory here. If Morgan plays the full 90 minutes on Sunday, he will become just the third outfield player to play every minute of a title-winning campaign (Gary Pallister in 92/93 and John Terry in 14/15).

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Score Prediction

Chelsea 1-1 Leicester – This is set to be another special game for Leicester and Claudio Ranieri. The Foxes will be welcomed to Stamford Bridge by a standing ovation from Chelsea players and would love to beat the Blues away for the first time in 16 years. Leicester have only once won away on the final day of a Premier League season in seven attempts, and there is little to choose between the two here. Chelsea will be desperate to avoid defeat on the final day as they look to improve for next year. Score draw.

Premier League Preview and Prediction: Leicester vs Everton

Competition: Premier League – Leicester City vs. Everton FC

Venue: King Power Stadium – Saturday, May 7 – 17:30 BST (12:30 ET)

Match Odds: Leicester 17/20 – Draw 14/5 – Everton 14/5

Match Preview

New Premier League champions Leicester City face Everton in their final home game of the most remarkable season in their history on Saturday evening, with the trophy set to be lifted following the game.

Leicester’s rise to the top of English football has been a miracle and there are no superlatives left to describe their incredible feats this season.

Claudio Ranieri’s men have sealed the title with two games to spare but will still be looking to win their final home game of the campaign here. An incredible atmosphere is expected at the King Power Stadium on Saturday and the players will undoubtedly be on cloud nine, as they have been for much of the season.

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The Foxes have the best home record in the division and are currently unbeaten in 14 at the King Power. They come into this game unbeaten in ten and are unlikely to see that run end on what should be another magical day for the club.

By very stark contrast, Everton have had a season to forget. The Toffees come into the weekend in 11th and had no won in seven before last week’s 2-1 victory over Bournemouth.

Roberto Martinez is under immense pressure and even if his side win each of their last three games, he could be sacked come the end of the term.

Everton have been better on the road this year that at home but have not managed to beat any side in the top six home or away.

The reverse fixture saw Leicester win 3-2 back in December, as two Riyad Mahrez penalties helped the new champions on their way to victory. The Foxes have not beaten Everton at home since 1998 but are expected to seal all three points on Saturday.

Team News

Leicester will be without key midfielder Danny Drinkwater following his red card against Manchester United last weekend. Robert Huth will also miss the rest of the season after being handed a three-game suspension for an incident with Marouane Fellaini last week. Leonardo Ulloa is looking set to miss the game with a back injury, although the Foxes are boosted by the return of Jamie Vardy following a two-game ban.

Everton have one of the league’s longest injury lists at this late stage of the season with five players likely to miss this one. Gerard Deulofeu, Phil Jagielka and Tyias Browning are all out, while Gareth Barry and Seamus Coleman are doubts.

Key Points

Leicester’s last five: W/W/D/W/D

Everton’s last five: D/D/D/L/W

Key Stat: The last five Premier League meetings between these sides on Leicester’s soil have ended in draws.

Key Player: Wes Morgan – The Leicester captain will lift the Premier League trophy following Saturday’s game in what will be a memorable moment for all Foxes fans inside the stadium and beyond. He has enjoyed another fine season, playing every minute of every league game and managed to score his second of the season in last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Manchester United.

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Score Prediction

Leicester 2-1 Everton – Leicester have taken English football by storm this weekend and it would only be fitting if they were to win their final home game of the season before lifting the Premier League trophy. Everton should offer a stern test but the Foxes will likely be carried through by the magic of the day and three more points looks likely.

Portland Timbers beat Columbus Crew to lift first ever MLS Cup title

The Portland Timbers have won their first ever MLS Cup title after beating the Columbus Crew 2-1 in Sunday’s dramatic final.

Diego Valeri, who earned the match MVP award, got Portland off to a dream start, scoring the fastest goal in MLS Cup Final history, before Rodney Wallace made it 2-0 on seven minutes.

The Crew fought back to make it 2-1 on 18 minutes as Kei Kamara gave the home crowd some hope but Portland managed to hold out to deservedly claim the 2015 MLS Cup title.

More reaction to follow…

Premier League Preview and Prediction: Chelsea vs Southampton

Competition: Premier League – Chelsea vs. Southampton 

Venue: Stamford Bridge – Saturday, October 3 – 17:30 BST (12:30 ET)

Match Odds: Chelsea 7/10 – Draw 14/5 – Southampton 15/4

Match Preview

Chelsea will be hoping to finally get their domestic season going after a dreadful start as Southampton make the journey north to the capital on Saturday evening.

After losing in Europe to FC Porto on Tuesday, the onus is very much on Chelsea to get back to winning ways as manager Jose Mourinho is absorbing more pressure with every winless performance.

Currently the champions sit eight points off league leaders Manchester United and that gap could be widened if Chelsea fail to pick up three points on Saturday.

Chelsea’s record in the Premier League: P7 – W2 – D2 – L3

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Southampton were always going to have a difficult task of remaining competitive for the European places following high profile departures in Nathaniel Clyne and Morgan Schneiderlin this summer.

However, with the return to fitness of Ryan Bertrand things are starting to fall into place for the Saints.

Southampton’s record in the Premier League: P7 – W2 – D3 – L2

With two wins in their last six, Ronald Koeman’s men will feel that they should be doing better and face a tough task of changing things quickly in this one.

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Team News

Chelsea are only missing one first team player through injury as Thibaut Courtois is still out following a knee injury that could keep him out until Christmas. Diego Costa is serving a domestic suspension so will not feature.

Southampton will be without Fraser Forster and Florin Gardos for the trip to Stamford Bridge as both are still nursing injuries. Jordy Clasie may be able to shake off a niggle in his ankle in time to feature but he remains a doubt.

Key Points

Chelsea’s last five: W/L/L/W/D

Southampton’s last five: D/W/D/L/W

Key Stat: Chelsea have only lost once in their last 23 home matches in the Premier League.

Key Player: Loic Remy – With Diego Costa currently serving a suspension it will be down to Loic Remy to lead the line. He’s a proven goalscorer and Chelsea need plenty of those at the moment.

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Score Prediction

Chelsea 2-1 Southampton – After another challenging performance in Porto in midweek it will be tough for Chelsea to turn it around but their home form suggests they will just edge this one against a Southampton side that has proven to be inconsistent so far.

Premier League Preview and Prediction: Chelsea vs Liverpool

Competition: Premier League – Chelsea vs. Liverpool

Venue: Stamford Bridge – Sunday, May 10th – 16:00 BST (11:00 ET)

Match Odds: Chelsea 21/20 – Draw 5/2 – Liverpool 11/4

Match Preview

Premier League champions Chelsea welcome Liverpool to Stamford Bridge on Sunday afternoon with the visitors set to give the Blues a guard of honour after they secured the title last weekend.

Jose Mourinho‘s side clinched the Premier League crown when they beat Crystal Palace 1-0 last Sunday thanks to another goal from the PFA Players’ Player of the Year, Eden Hazard.

Chelsea have been subjected to criticism from some who have labelled them “boring” but the Blues will care little now that the title is on the sideboard alongside the League Cup in what has been a fantastic season.

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Mourinho could be tempted to field an experimental side with nothing on the line, although it’s unlikely he will make too many changes as they look to finish the season as strongly as possible. The fans creating a party atmosphere inside Stamford Bridge will still be expecting a good performance.

Liverpool arrive in London knowing they absolutely have to take all three points if they are to prolong any very faint hopes of finishing in the top four as they sit seven points behind Manchester United with only two games remaining after this one.

Brendan Rodgers will know that defeat for his team means they cannot finish in the Champions League places, while a draw will make it almost mathematically impossible given United’s superior goal difference, so they can throw caution to the wind and try to get at Chelsea.

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The Reds won their last game 2-1 at home to QPR but have recorded just two victories in their last six games (D1, L3) and have lost on all of their visits to the other three sides in the top four, so they need to break that trend here.

These two sides last met in the Capital One Cup semi-final which saw Chelsea prevail with a 2-1 aggregate win over the two legs. The reverse fixture in the Premier League at Anfield back in November 2014 ended with a 2-1 win for Chelsea.

Team News

Chelsea will be without the injured Oscar, while Diego Costa could return to action. Ramires is expected to miss out through illness.

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Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge will be out until September following a hip operation. Jon Flanagan and Mamadou Sakho are both out nursing injuries, while Mario Balotelli and Lucas Leiva could return to the side.

Key Points

Chelsea’s last five: W/W/D/W/W

Liverpool’s last five: L/W/D/L/W

Key Stat: Chelsea are unbeaten against Liverpool in their last five Premier League meetings (W3, D2).

Key Player: John Terry – Should the Chelsea skipper start the game, he will once again be vital at the heart of the defence, just as he has been all season. His performances have been one of the main reasons for their success.

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Score Prediction

Chelsea 1-0 Liverpool – Despite the pressure being off now that the Premier League title is already won, Mourinho won’t allow his side to let up and another efficient performance should see Chelsea just edge it.

Arsenal invincible says Gunners deserve to be champions this season

Former French international and Arsenal invincible, Robert Pires believes the club have done enough to deserve to be crowned champions of the Premier League this season.

Chelsea have led the way for much of the season and remain six points clear of second-placed Manchester City and a further one point ahead of Arsenal in third.

But Pires believes Arsenal would have been deserved winners this season.

“In my opinion, this year, Arsenal deserved to be champion, and they won’t be far away,” Pires told Perform.

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“I think, once more, there will be some little regrets at the end of the season.”

Arsenal are still to face leaders Chelsea at the Emirates on Sunday, April 26, in a match which could be too late for any impact on who is to be crowned champions.

The Gunners are forever compared to the invincible side of 2003/04 and Pires admits its frustrating for so many Arsenal sides to be so close to the same quality.

“It’s tough and frustrating for the fans. Every time, Arsenal is close,” he added.

“It’s because of the important games that you can’t lose, against Chelsea, City and United.

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“But this is the difference. Because against the smaller teams, sometimes there is a misstep or an accident.”

Arsenal take on Liverpool on Saturday in a key clash in the race for the top four and the Gunners can go into second with a win.

Is Robert Pires right to claim Arsenal deserve to have won the league this year?

2014 MLS Season Review: LA Galaxy

Western Conference Final Position: 2nd

Western Conference Playoffs: Winners

MLS Cup Winners 2014

Review

Putting it simply, 2014 has been an excellent season for LA Galaxy. They have won the MLS Cup, but not just that, they have made history by winning a record fifth title and now become the most successful club in the history of the competition. It has made for a fairytale ending for club legend Landon Donovan who has now retired.

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Best Moment

Many will look to Robbie Keane‘s 111th minute winner in the MLS Cup Final as the clear front-runner for the greatest moment of 2014 for LA Galaxy, and rightly so. However, without Juninho‘s strike in the second-leg of the Western Conference championship tie away at Seattle Sounders, they would never have had the opportunity to lift the title.

Worst Moment

The one low point of the season will be the 2-0 defeat at Seattle Sounders in the last game of the regular season which saw their Western Conference rivals win the Supporters’ Shield.

Player of the Year

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Robbie Keane was the Major League Soccer MVP and although the LA Galaxy team was filled with great performers in 2014 such as Landon Donovan, Gyasi Zardes and Marcelo Sarvas – to name just a few – he gets the nod for player of the year. His winning goal in the MLS Cup Final against New England Revolution was a priceless moment that only emphasised his importance to this Galaxy side.

Biggest Win

LA Galaxy 6-0 Colorado Rapids (September 6 2014)

Biggest Defeat

Columbus Crew 4-1 LA Galaxy (August 16 2014)

What to improve for the 2015 season…

First and foremost, the Galaxy will need to try and find a suitable replacement for Landon Donovan. Finding a player to replace the aura that Donovan leaves behind is near impossible, but they will need to look for someone who possesses a similar level of ability – not an easy task.

Another pointer would be to try and hit the ground running in 2015. They came out of the traps slowly at the beginning of the 2014 campaign, picking up just two wins from their first eight games, which handed the initiative to their rivals immediately. They need to set the benchmark early on next time around.

Preview and Prediction: Seattle Sounders vs LA Galaxy

Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy will go head-to-head in arguably the most crucial game of the season at CenturyLink Field on Saturday as both teams fight to become the Supporters’ Shield winners.

Soccer games do not come bigger than this as these two Western Conference sides are the only teams that can now win the Supporters’ Shield title.

The formula is simple – LA Galaxy absolutely have to win the game in order to clinch it, whereas a draw would be enough for Seattle due to their superior ‘games won’ tally giving the Sounders the most slightest of advantages going in to it.

As it stands going in to the final game:

AS IT STANDS

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Seattle Sounders come in to this game on the back of an inconsistent run of form with just two wins from their last six games so they will need to try and give it one final push to ensure they don’t fall at the final hurdle.

They have failed to beat LA Galaxy in their last six regular season meetings, so they will be relieved that they aren’t the team that has to win this game – their last win against the Galaxy was a resounding 4-0 success back in August 2012.

Seattle Sounders home form: Played 16 – Won 11 – Drawn 1 – Lost 4

Before a narrow defeat to FC Dallas and a thrilling draw with Seattle, LA Galaxy have been almost unstoppable, winning eight of the previous ten games and they’ve lost just three in their last 25 matches – an impressive record.

They were on the verge of a priceless victory on Sunday night when they led Seattle 2-0, so they will be devastated that they threw the game away but they have it in them to recover quickly and go again.

Inconsistency away from home would be the only concern for LA as five of their six defeats this season have come in games away from the StubHub Center.

Having said that, they convincingly brushed Seattle aside the last time they visited CenturyLink field in July and ran out 3-0 winners, so they will be hoping for a repeat performance.

Should LA Galaxy be victorious, they will become the most successful side in the history of the Supporters’ Shield with five titles – they are currently tied with DC United on four.

LA Galaxy’s away form: Played 16 – Won 5 – Drawn 6 – Lost 5

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It’s the biggest game of the regular season, it promises to be exciting and it’s unlikely to disappoint.

We can’t wait to see it all unfold.

Key Player: Obafemi Martins – The Nigerian is in the running for the MVP award for his efforts this season and if he performs to the best of his ability, he could drag Seattle over the finish line.

Key Stat: LA Galaxy have both the best attack (69 scored) and best defence in the league (35 conceded) so they will be hoping that counts for something come the end of the season. 

Seattle Sounders last five: L/W/W/L/D

LA Galaxy’s last five: W/W/W/L/D

Prediction: Seattle Sounders 1 – 2 LA Galaxy