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Newcastle player Bruno Guimaraes (l) celebrates with Kieran Trippier after the first Newcastle goal during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Manchester United at St. James Park on April 2 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. *Stu Forster/Getty Images

It wasn’t long ago that Manchester United was being talked up, somewhat optimistically, as a potential outsider for the Premier League title.

Now, even a top-four finish is looking far from assured for a club up for sale and seeking Champions League qualification as another attraction for potential buyers.

United’s 2-0 loss at Newcastle on Sunday further intensified the race for the two likely spots behind Arsenal and Manchester City, the Premier League’s runaway top two, in Europe’s top competition next season.

Second-half goals by Joe Willock and Callum Wilson gave Newcastle partial revenge for its loss to United in the English League Cup final on Feb. 26 and lifted the Saudi-controlled northeast team into third place, above United on goal difference. Tottenham is a point behind both teams in fifth place ahead of its game at Everton on Monday.

“I do think Newcastle are a very good side, but I don’t think they won the game on quality today,” United defender Luke Shaw said. “I think they won it on passion, hunger, desire, attitude. They clearly had that higher motivation than we had. That can’t be possible.”

“You could say it was coming,” Shaw added. “Before the international break, we dropped levels. It was clear to see today it wasn’t up there.”

For United, it’s just one point – a 0-0 home draw with struggling Southampton – from a possible nine in its past three league games. That’s a worrying drop in form amid a hectic fixture schedule for Erik ten Hag’s team, which is also still involved in the FA Cup and Europa League.

Also hurting United is the current absence of Casemiro in league play because of the Brazil international’s four-match suspension in the competition. The team’s midfield was overwhelmed at St. James’ Park as Newcastle laid siege on David de Gea’s goal, which was only breached after halftime.

Willock nodded in from point-blank range to make it 1-0 in the 65th minute after Allan Saint-Maximin headed back across goal, before Wilson – just on as a substitute – headed in Kieran Trippier’s free kick in the 88th.

“For a long time, we’ve always disliked Man United as Newcastle fans,” said Newcastle defender Dan Burn, a boyhood supporter of his team. “We owed them one this season.”

It was a third straight league win for Newcastle, which looks over a blip at the start of the year where the team claimed just three points in a five-game spell.

“Our confidence levels should be through the roof after that,” Newcastle manager Eddie Howe told his players in the locker room.

Potter fired by Chelsea

LONDON — Chelsea ran out of patience with Graham Potter on Sunday, firing the English manager with the club languishing in the middle of the Premier League standings despite a spending spree on new players totalling US$630-million across the past two transfer windows.

The team announced Potter’s departure a day after a 2-0 loss to Aston Villa, which left Chelsea in 11th place, and nearly seven months after taking a gamble on him as the replacement for the fired Thomas Tuchel.

The American ownership’s first managerial appointment ultimately backfired. Potter was brought in on a five-year deal despite his lack of experience coaching at soccer’s biggest clubs – in a somewhat obscure coaching past, the only trophy he’d won was the Swedish Cup in 2017 – and he failed to get the best out of an expensively assembled squad.

Chelsea won just seven of its 22 Premier League games under Potter and is 12 points off the top four, meaning the team is unlikely to qualify for next season’s Champions League. Chelsea lost to Manchester City in both domestic cup competitions but has reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League, where it was drawn against titleholder Real Madrid with the first leg on April 12.

Relief for Moyes at West Ham

On a day when another manager got sacked, Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers, the pressure was eased on West Ham’s David Moyes thanks to a 1-0 win over Southampton in a tense game between the teams which started Sunday as the bottom two. Nayef Aguerd’s 25th-minute header was enough to lift West Ham from 19th to 14th and leave last-place Southampton three points adrift of safety in one of the tightest relegation battles in years. “Look, I’m in a results business, I have to get results,” Moyes said. “There’s no protection to stop me losing my job.” West Ham is still only one point above the relegation zone. Southampton hasn’t been out of the Premier League since 2011-12.

Arsenal beat Man City, Chelsea second after WSL win over Villa

LONDON — Katie McCabe scored the winner with a powerful strike as Arsenal came from a goal down at home to beat Manchester City 2-1 but Chelsea rose above them to second spot in the Women’s Super League later on Sunday after a 3-0 win over Aston Villa.

The Blues have amassed 40 points, one less than leaders Manchester United, who beat Brighton & Hove Albion 4-0 on Saturday, and two more than third-placed Arsenal, with Manchester City fourth on goal difference.

Chelsea and Arsenal also have a game in hand over the two Manchester clubs, who have both played 17 games of their 22-game season.

Arsenal’s win briefly moved it into second, but Jelena Cankovic and Guro Reiten struck in the first half and Sam Kerr netted her 50th WSL goal in the 56th minute as Chelsea cantered to a 3-0 win away to Aston Villa to leapfrog them.

At the other end of the table, Carrie Jones scored the winner six minutes into second-half stoppage time to lift Leicester City off the bottom thanks to a 2-1 win over Reading.

The win puts the Foxes in 11th place in the 12-team league with 10 points from 17 games, one more than bottom side Brighton, who occupy the automatic relegation spot but have two games in hand.

Elsewhere, Everton notched a 2-1 home win over Tottenham Hotspur, while city rivals Liverpool secured a scoreless draw away to West Ham United.

The Associated Press, Reuters

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