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How Week 12 Premier League matches will separate contenders from rest

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AP

How Week 12 Premier League matches will separate contenders from rest

This weekend's matches will reveal more about the English Premier League title race than any other point this season. 

That's because Manchester City, the two-time defending champions, and Liverpool FC, the league leaders, will finally clash Sunday at Anfield. The two were separated by just a point in last season's historic title race, and six points separate the odds-on favorites so far this season.

Liverpool has not lost in the league, but appear vulnerable heading into Sunday. The Reds have trailed at halftime in each of their last three matches, still picking up points in all three (2-1-0). That won't fly against City, who have scored a Premier League-leading 34 goals in 10 matches this season. No side has won three straight Premier League titles in over a decade, and you'd have to like City's chances -- despite still facing a three-point gap -- if they win at Anfield.

Sunday's match will provide the truest sense of where Liverpool and City really stand, but Matchweek 12 just might reveal more about the other clubs who fancy themselves title contenders. 

Depending upon the results of Sunday's massive match atop the table and their own games, third-place Leicester City and fourth-place Chelsea could leapfrog Man City in second or trail first by as few as five points. With 26 games remaining after the weekend, the door wouldn't be ajar as much as it would be wide-open for a pair of party-crashers.

That's fairly remarkable, considering the state of Leicester and Chelsea headed into the season and the consensus surrounding City and Liverpool's status as the best teams in England, if not Europe. The Foxes have finished 12th-, ninth- and ninth-place in three seasons since their Cinderella title win, while the Blues lost superstar Eden Hazard to Real Madrid and were not allowed to sign any players this summer as part of a two-window transfer ban. Yet, thanks to a pair of promising young cores, Leicester and Chelsea have legitimate hopes of making this a three- or four-horse race atop the league. 

On the flipside, slip-ups by either Leicester and Chelsea will open the door for the down-table rivals hoping to qualify for Europe.

Leicester hosts fifth-place Arsenal, who are winless in each of their last three matches and have fallen to fifth place. The Gunners' 4-3-1 start masked some poor performances -- Arsenal ranks just 10th in expected-goals differential, per StatsBomb's metrics -- and they really could use a result Saturday to remain in Champions League contention, let alone cool down the seat under embattled manager Unai Emery. 

Chelsea welcomes another struggling London club -- ninth-place Crystal Palace -- to Stamford Bridge. Palace, like Arsenal, are winless in their last three matches, falling out of a Europa League place during that time. Still, Saturday's match is a London Derby, and the Eagles are 1-1-1 in them this season. The Blues are hotter than any other team in the league, but dropping points to Palace would indicate Chelsea's youth revolution is not quite ready for prime time. 

It isn't the biggest measuring-stick match in London this weekend, however. That crown belongs to sixth-place Sheffield United's trip to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday, and the match arguably is a bigger litmus test for struggling Spurs. The newly-promoted Blades are well on their way to staying up, and the Premier League's stingiest defense has them dreaming bigger. Tottenham, meanwhile, are a disaster, and that might be charitable. Spurs already are 10 points back of fourth, and they need to start winning if they are to qualify for European competition. 

Only a single goal separates 10th-place Manchester United and Tottenham in the table, and the Red Devils also have a must-win home match on the docket. United already has beaten Leicester, Chelsea and drawn Liverpool this season, but losses to Cyrstal Palace, West Ham and Newcastle United have left no room for error. Unlike Tottenham, underlying metrics (plus-6.8 in expected goals, fourth-best in the league) indicate that Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer's side is due for a turnaround, but any regression might not be enough if they lose this weekend. 

Liverpool and Manchester City's top-of-the-table clash should be revelatory about the state of the title race and thus grab most of the weekend's headlines in the process. Yet Leicester City and Chelsea can continue to make their case for inclusion in that conversation, or leave room for their rivals to sneak into the top four. 

Thus, the 12th week of the season can truly separate the Premier League's best from the rest. 

Premier League extends coronavirus pause, proposes 30 percent wage cut

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AP

Premier League extends coronavirus pause, proposes 30 percent wage cut

The Premier League is pushing back its restart date indefinitely amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it announced in a statement Friday.

After bringing together the league’s top officials on a video conference, it was decided that the original hopes to begin playing again at the beginning of May were premature.

“It was acknowledged that the Premier League will not resume at the beginning of May,” the statement read. “And that the 2019/20 season will only return when it is safe and appropriate to do so. The restart date is under constant review with all stakeholders, as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic develops and we work together through this very challenging time.

“The Premier League is working closely with the whole of professional football in this country, as well as with the Government, public agencies and other relevant stakeholders to ensure the game achieves a collaborative solution.”

[RELATED: Best PL storylines we would've watched if season continued]

Players also are facing a wage reduction of up to 30 percent as the league deals with the fallout from the coronavirus outbreak.

Until health officials declare that social distancing regulations can be lifted, don’t expect to see much in the way of live sports.

Best Premier League season storylines before coronavirus suspension

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Best Premier League season storylines before coronavirus suspension

The Premier League suspending its season last month due to the global coronavirus pandemic delayed Liverpool’s inevitable clinching of their first top-flight title in three decades by at least two months.

The Reds, who were six points from winning their first-ever Premier League title, won’t lift the trophy until May at the absolute earliest. The season is suspended through at least April 30, and league executives reportedly will discuss what the remainder of the season could look like in a Friday conference call.

There wasn’t much drama remaining in Liverpool’s title challenge, but the same couldn’t be said for the rest of the Premier League by the time it closed its doors. Every club had at least nine matches remaining, with multiple spots for next season’s European competitions, all three relegation places still up for grabs and bragging rights in some of England’s best rivalries still unsolved

Which storylines would’ve captured our attention? Here are the five we’d be most closely monitoring had the Premier League season continued uninterrupted.

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