Boxing Day is here! Here’s a rundown of all the Premier League’s games

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Boxing Day is more than a vaguely named holiday (disappointingly, it has nothing to do with pugilism). It’s also the day where Sky, BBC, and ITV producers lose a year off their lives as they futilely try to cover every team in English soccer.

With some rare cancellations (i.e., West Ham-Arsenal), every club in English league soccer will be in action today. That’s 55 matches, 48 of which start at 3:00 p.m. local time. It’s excessive. It’s indulgent. It’s the holiday season is a huge, pie-encrusted nutshell.

But, for countries that don’t celebrate the holiday, that’s we know Boxing Day. It’s the day we wake up from our holiday sojourn to find the Premier League’s comeback with a vengeance. A whole round’s worth of action, normally spread out across two or three days, transpires in seven hours. And your family doesn’t want you to watch.

It’s pretty much why the internet was invented. Can’t watch more than one game? Go to Twitter. Want to watch more than one at once? Have credit card, can access. Throw in the fact that it’s the nadir of college bowl season, one day after the NBA’s showcase, and four days before the NFL resumes, and this year’s Boxing Day is sure to get plenty of coverage.

Here’s the start, our brief preview of the day’s nine matches:

10:00 a.m. Eastern kickoffs

Everton (5th) vs. Wigan Athletic (18th) – The Toffees will be without Marouane Fellani, given a three match break for trying to erase Ryan Shawcross. Everton will have Darron Gibson at their disposal, the former Manchester United midfielder winning the appeal of the red card he saw last weekend at West Ham. Then, Everton got a come from behind victory at the Boleyn Ground, giving them seven points from their last three matches. Wigan, as is their custom, will continue to struggle at the edge of the drop until Roberto Martínez concocts their year’s solution for survival.

Prediction: “This would have been different with Fellani” analysis beaten into the ground by full time.

Fulham (13th) vs. Southampton (17th) – This will be the most entertaining match of the day. Both Martin Jol (Fulham’s manager) and Nigel Adkins (Saints’ boss) are committed to playing progressive soccer. Unfortunately, it’s done neither any good this season, though you could argue Southampton (currently above the drop) are living out a best case scenario. Fulham clearly is not. After three losses in four, the Cottagers have scarcely looked like the European contender they were through the season’s first months.

Prediction: At least four goals, and at least five points where Dimitar Berbatov appears to be smoking a cigarette.

source:  Manchester United (1st) vs. Newcastle United (14th) – Magpies supporters got a reprieve last week thanks to Shola Ameobi’s late goal against Queens Park Rangers. Ultimately, it was just a home win against one of the league’s worst teams. Now they go to Old Trafford after the Red Devils were humbled in Wales. So … good luck with that. Alex Ferguson gave Newcastle some bulletin board material by implying without last year’s “surprise” factor (his theory), the Magpies aren’t actually that good (my inference). They’re unlikely to be famous last words.

Prediction: No attempted murders.

Norwich City (10th) vs. Chelsea (3rd) – Perhaps passing along Chelsea was part of the Paul Lambert settlement. Aston Villa, still pulling their pants up from Sunday’s spanking, send the Blues to Carrow Road with the hopes some of the goals Brad Guzan was able to stop end up behind Mark Bunn. For the Blues, it’s a chance to solidify momentum won at Stamford Bridge. They’re part of a difficult stretch of that will see Norwich (after losing last weekend at West Brom) host Manchester City and visit West Ham after Chelsea leave town.

Prediction: Critical “Oh, there [Luiz] goes, again,” followed by amazed “Oh, there he goes, again!” Potentially within the first eight minutes.Without any self-awareness.

Queens Park Rangers (19th) vs. West Bromwich Albion (7th) – This is the lump of coal in our Boxing Day tin. Queens Park Rangers have been too bad to enjoy, even after Harry Redknapp’s approachreplaced Mark Hughes’ tendency to deploy teams as scared than their coach. West Brom is back on the road less than two weeks after being party to a match debated as the worst of all-time. Unless Romalu Lukaku, last weekend’s hero, has discovered some unexpected consistency (dude’s only 19 years old), this could rival Dec. 16th’s movement at Upton Park.

Prediction: West London praying for Atreyu’s help.

source: Getty ImagesSunderland (15th) vs. Manchester City (2nd) – Temper your shock, but the Citizens again failed to inspire last week. The holders needed some Gareth Barry heroics (and some ‘look the other way’ officiating) to take full points at home against the league’s worst team. If they play the same way at the Stadium of Light, Manchester City loses. Yes, even to Sunderland, whose uninspired play continues to be an argument for an artistic integrity element in each final score. Who would have thought figure skating would have the competitive high ground on soccer? Thank you, Martin O’Neill.

Prediction: A disproportionate coverage-to-entertainment ratio.

Reading (20th) vs. Swansea City (11th) – The good news for Reading after last weekend’s heartbreak is an entirely possible rumor linking Arsenal’s Andrei Arshavin to the club (though that’s more likely to be a loan than an outright sale). Unfortunately, with only nine points from 18 games, the Royals need more than a Russian international to save them from regressing to the Championship. And while hosting Swansea City may seem like an opportunity to pick up points, Swans have been a relatively strong road team this season. Bringing the league’s leading scorer (Michu) to the Madejski Stadium, the worst defense in the league will have to transcend their regular performance to give Brian McDermott a chance at full points.

Prediction: Michu continues to justify his impending Spanish national team callup.

12:30 p.m. Eastern kickoff

Aston Villa (16th) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (6th) – There’s an ominous air to this one for Villa. Spurs, one week after being frustrated by the inherently frustrating Stoke, have the feeling of a break out about them, with Clint Dempsey’s availability and Gareth Bale’s return (starting last week) giving André Villas-Boas a full attack at his disposal (an attack that’s now linked to Wesley Sneijder). Though Villa’s only allowed eight goals in as many games at home, they have the worst attack in the league and, at some point, their poor road defending (16 goals allowed in nine non-Chelsea games) is bound to bleed home. Against a team that may play two deep midfielders in front of an athletic defense, success on the counter won’t be as easy won as it was at Anfield.

Prediction: The first real questions about the Paul Lambert era in Birmingham.

2:45 p.m. Eastern kickoff

Stoke City (9th) vs. Liverpool (8th) – Say what you want about Liverpool, but they’ve consistently produced compelling, entertaining (though not necessarily effective) play. And say what you want about Stoke, but they haven’t, but since Sunderland hasn’t been successful in showing why figure skating judges need to be deployed at soccer grounds, Tony Pulis’s methods may continue to prosper. Serving as the soccer world’s answer to Big 10 basketball, Stoke has the league’s best prevention rate while tying for its worst scoring rate. Facing a team that only recently discovered how to score goals, the Potters should improve on their three home goals allowed through eight games.

Prediction: Shawcross versus Suárez more explosive than Potters versus Reds.

Watch Live: Arsenal v. Tottenham in North London derby

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This is it.

The Premier League returns with a bang following the two week international break as Arsenal host Tottenham Hotspur at the Emirates Stadium (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

Arsenal haven’t won any of their last six games in the Premier League against Tottenham, while Spurs are three places and four points above the Gunners in the PL table.

In team news Arsenal start with Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette up top, with Shkodran Mustafi returning from injury.

Tottenham have Dele Alli, Hugo Lloris and Harry Kane fit to play after recovering from injury.

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Cech; Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Bellerin, Xhaka, Ramsey, Kolasinac; Ozil, Sanchez; Lacazette. Subs: Ospina; Mertesacker, Wilshere, Iwobi, Welbeck, Maitland-Niles, Coquelin

Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris; Sanchez, Dier, Vertonghen; Trippier, Dembele, Sissoko, Davies; Eriksen, Alli; Kane. Subs: Vorm; Foyth, Aurier, Winks, Walker-Peters, Son, Llorente

MLS attendance up, TV ratings lag as US mulls future

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NEW YORK (AP) Major League Soccer’s attendance is up and fan interest is booming, even if television broadcasts are far less popular and some young Americans would rather play in Europe.

[ MORE: Caleb Porter out as Portland Timbers head coach ]

MLS averaged 22,000 in attendance for the first time in its history this season, ranked among the top seven leagues in the world. The league is set to add a second Los Angeles franchise next year, announce two expansion cities next month and at some point finalize David Beckham’s long-pending Miami club.

But viewers averaged under 300,000 for nationally televised regular-season matches, fewer than the average for a New York Yankees game on their regional sports network. Several top young Americans, such as Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie, have chosen to forego the MLS to play in Germany and test their mettle in a more demanding environment.

And worst of all, the United States – whose roster was filled with MLS stars – failed to qualify for next year’s World Cup, ending a streak of seven straight appearances in soccer’s showcase.

“We need to use this failure as a wakeup call for everyone associated with the sport at all levels to ensure that we have the right processes and mechanisms and development programs and leadership and governance in place to learn from this missed opportunity to ensure that it never happens again,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said this week. “Part of the maturation of becoming a soccer nation is recognizing that qualifying for the World Cup is not a birthright. It’s something you need to earn, and we are unfortunately in the company of some great soccer nations, like Italy and Holland and Ghana and Chile – Copa champions – that have also not qualified.”

MLS playoffs resume next week after the international break with the first leg of Conference Championships. Columbus – whose owners are threatening to move to Austin, Texas, in 2019 – hosts Toronto, while Houston is home against Seattle.

“MLS and soccer in the United States have made great advances in many areas. But its promoters have found that the abundance of existing legacy sports leagues that have the highest quality of athletes on the planet creates a ceiling on professional soccer in the United States,” said Marc Ganis, president of the consulting firm SportsCorp. “It has not, and perhaps never, will supplant any of the major legacy sports unless and until the quality of play and players increases significantly and the U.S. men’s team in particular is more competitive and, in fact, wins some of the major international tournaments.”

Momentum of playoff runs was interrupted because of World Cup qualifying, and the culmination of the league’s season competes for attention with the NFL and college football among the wider American sports audience.

“Long-term demographic things like CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and stuff with the NFL says maybe there is a long slow decline around some of that, but when you’re starting from where they’re starting, that’s going to take a generation,” Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said. “We’ll grow because most of the immigration to the U.S. is from soccer-playing countries and the country is going to grow.”

Launched with 10 teams in 1996, two years after the U.S. hosted the World Cup, MLS expanded to 12 but cut back to 10 after the 2001 season. There has been steady growth since expansion started in 2004. Next year’s total will be 23, already well over the norm for a first division, and the league is planning to settle at 28.

Infrastructure could not be more different than in the early days. The league has 14 soccer specific stadiums, two more renovated for the sport and one built with both the NFL and soccer in mind. Three more soccer stadiums are under construction.

Average attendance is up 60 percent from 13,756 in 2000, boosted this year by 48,200 for Atlanta in its opening season. MLS trails only the Germany’s Bundesliga, England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Mexico’s Liga MX, the Chinese Super League and Serie A, with Italy’s first division ahead by only 22,177 to 22,106.

But that has not translated yet into big television ratings.

ESPN averaged 272,000 for 30 telecasts this regular season on ESPN and ESPN2, and Fox averaged 236,000 for 33 broadcasts on FS1 and Fox. In addition, Univision is averaging 250,000 viewers for its Spanish-language MLS telecasts.

But the Premier League attracts a larger audience, averaging 422,000 on NBC, NBCSN and CNBC, even though many matches are on weekend mornings.

“We’re not the Premier League,” Garber said, pointing out last year’s MLS Cup drew 1.4 million viewers on Fox. “The fact that we’re able to generate ratings growth across all of our partners here and in Canada, and dramatic growth in Canada, is a positive. So we actually, we and our partners, feel pretty darn good.”

Player payroll has increased as MLS keeps adding what it calls Targeted Allocation Money. While several older American players have returned to MLS from Europe, many of the teens viewed as the future of the U.S. national team have gone abroad as they emerge from the MLS youth academies, which have been mandated by the league since 2007 and produced more than 250 players with first-team MLS contracts.

Pulisic, at 19 already the leading American star, left Hershey, Pennsylvania, to sign with Borussia Dortmund at age 16, able because of his grandfather’s Croatian citizenship to play in Europe before he turned 18. McKennie left FC Dallas’ academy when he turned 18, signed with Schalke and scored in his U.S. debut this week.

“I didn’t want to become one of those guys that started in MLS and said, man, I wonder if I could have made it to Europe,” McKennie said. “I wanted to spread my wings and see what I could do over here.”

Forward Josh Sargent decided against Sporting Kansas City and is waiting until he turns 18 in February to sign with Werder Bremen.

“I think I’ve just always wanted since I was a little kid to play in Europe,” he said.

Tyler Adams, who also made his U.S. debut this week, played his first MLS game with the New York Red Bulls last year at age 17 and became a regular this season. Garber says “Tyler Adams probably is playing more minutes today for the Red Bulls than he would if he was not in Major League Soccer.”

Adams is happy but thinking ahead.

“Obviously a goal of mine is to play Champions League one day, and obviously the MLS is working its way to becoming one of the top leagues in the world,” he said. “Maybe one day I find myself in Europe. You never know.”

Sometimes big contracts only stall a career. Matt Miazga left the Red Bulls to sign with Chelsea in January 2016, saw little playing time and didn’t get in games regularly until late that autumn during a loan to the Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem.

“If your only desire is to go to Europe, there are flights leaving every hour on the hour from JFK and LAX and everywhere in between,” said retired American defender Alexi Lalas, now a Fox analyst. “But getting to a place in Europe where you are making good money, where you are playing consistently, where you are learning, where you are valued as a player and as an American player, where you are able to adapt and adjust and live in the other 22 1/2 hours that we often don’t talk about, that’s whole `nother story, and there’s not a lot of flights leaving that have that on the other end.”

With the U.S. soccer community in turmoil following the World Cup failure, some have called for MLS to guarantee playing time for young Americans.

“Our coaches universally believed that that was not the best way to ensure we had the highest-possible product quality to be able to have competitive games and to drive the growth of our fan base,” Garber said.

AP Sports Writer Tim Booth contributed to this report.

Bartra error emphasizes Dortmund’s latest Bundesliga woes

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Christian Pulisic sat out Friday’s 2-1 Dortmund defeat against Stuttgart. Coincidence? Perhaps.

However, the club’s struggles are apparent as Dortmund’s winless run extended to four matches and their gap from Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich could be up to nine points by the end of the weekend.

[ MORE: Chris Coleman steps down from Wales, expected to take Sunderland job ]

BVB was without several of its top talents for the match, including U.S. Men’s National Team star Pulisic and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but it’s Dortmund’s defending that continues to be the side’s biggest issue.

Stuttgart struck after five minutes when Chadrac Akolo broke the deadlock off of an embarrassing blunder by Marc Bartra and the Dortmund defense.

Bartra attempted a routine back pass to goalkeeper Roman Burki during the early moments of the match, but his ball back proved to be way too strong and deflected off of Burki and into the path of Stuttgart forward Akolo (video below).

Dortmund atoned for the former Barcelona man’s mistake just prior to halftime when Maximilian Philipp equalized, but it took just six minutes into the second stanza for Josip Brekalo to restore the Stuttgart advantage.

Moyes: Chicharito could miss two weeks with hamstring strain

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David Moyes has given Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez assurances that he’ll have the opportunity to compete for a starting role with the Hammers, but the Mexican international will have to wait a bit for a chance.

[ MORE: North London Derby takes center stage Saturday morning ]

Hernandez, 29, is currently nursing a hamstring strain, leaving his status for this weekend against Watford in doubt.

“I think everyone knows he [Chicharito] has got a hamstring injury,” Moyes said during Friday’s press conference. “It could take a week, it could take two weeks.”

Moyes didn’t mince words recently when speaking about Chicharito and other players within the squad, essentially pointing out that no player will be awarded a starting role simply because of their stardom.

Hernandez has scored four goals in 13 matches this season for West Ham, who currently sits 18th in the Premier League. The Hammers have won just two matches to start the 2017/18 campaign and sit on nine points.