Watford v Brighton & Hove Albion - npower Championship

What to watch this weekend? FA Cup takes center stage as leagues around the world resume

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It’s one of the small inconveniences you accept when you buy into European soccer. Every once in a while, leagues stop for cup competitions that just don’t have the same resonance. Copa del Rey, Coppa Italia, DFB Pokal – they’re all synonyms for “not an actual league game,” especially at a point in the calendar when unbalanced matches often find the most interesting players on the bench. Some viewers have their fan’s stake in a match, but it’s difficult for most around the world to invest in an FA Cup maelstrom without a more intimate attachment.

That maelstrom takes center stage this weekend, with 32 matches making up the competition’s third round proper (as opposed to those rude qualifying rounds). It’s the point of the competition where Premier League clubs drop in, so while there are a number of Aldershot Town and Rotterdam United fixtures that won’t turn your eyes, there are a few points in intrigue amid the tumult.

Here are a few matches to keep in mind as you search for your fix, and if cup competition in England isn’t your thing, I’ve thrown in some matches from the continent (with Spain, Italy, and Mexico’s leagues all restarting this weekend):

In England – FA Cup matches to watch

Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Newcastle United (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. Eastern) – We’re starting to hear questions from Tyneside about Alan Pardew’s suitability for the Toon’s job. While he undoubtedly did well for the Magpies last year, the 2012-13 season’s been a disappointment, with Pardew’s talented (if injured) team only two points from the relegation zone.

On the other bench, Brighton’s Gus Poyet is one of the up-and-coming names in England’s managerial circles. Last year he send Newcastle out of this competition in the fourth round. If he repeats the feat this year, Newcastle owner Mike Ashley should give Poyet Pardew’s seat on the ride back north.

Manchester City vs. Watford (Saturday, 10:00 a.m. Eastern) – This will only be an good game if Manchester City’s second stringers and kids (the likes of Scott Sinclair, Maicon, Karim Rekik) fall on their faces, but the contrasts in ownership are interesting.

Manchester City is owned by a Sheikh that would build a stadium on a cloud and fly supporters to matches on hovercraft if he could. Watford is essentially the Double A club for Udinese – a reserve of players for Italian businessman Giampaolo Pozzo.

The only similarity between the teams may be their managers. Both Roberto Mancini (Manchester City) and Gianfranco Zola (Watford, pictured) are former Italian internationals. Mancini was capped 36 times. Zola: 35.

Southampton vs. Chelsea (Saturday, 10:00 a.m. Eastern) – One of four third round meetings between Premier League clubs, Chelsea’s trip to St. Mary’s only becomes important if they lose. That’s is a real possibility, given some of Chelsea’s recent, inconsistent results (low, high, low).

Swansea City vs. Arsenal (Sunday, 8:30 a.m. Eastern) – Swansea has a two-match winning streak against Arsenal, including Dec. 1’s 2-0 win at Emirates Stadium. Arsenal’s already bowed out of the League Cup, and with this tough draw, the Gunners could see the early confirmation of another trophy-less season.

Here’s a full list of the weekend’s fixtures.

Elsewhere

Napoli vs. Roma (Sunday, 2:45 p.m. Eastern) – Zdenek Zeman has Roma clicking, the Giallorossi claiming 24 points in their last 10 games. They’re only two points behind fifth place Napoli for what could be Italy’s final European spot.

Between Roma’s league-leading attack (42 goals in 18 games) and the presence of Edinson Cavani and Marek Hamsik (as well as the absence of suspended defender Paolo Cannavaro), this could turn into a shootout.

Barcelona vs. Espanyol (Sunday, 1:00 p.m. Eastern) – It’s derby day in Catalonia, with Spain’s eventual champions facing an inner-city rival slowly climbing out of the relegation zone. Former Mexican national team coach Javier Aguirre has Espanyol up to 18th after a four-match unbeaten streak, a run that will come to an end on Sunday.

Chivas vs. Toluca (Sunday, 6:00 p.m. Eastern) – Liga MX starts their Clausura this weekend, but Guadalajara’s already playing to type. The Goats fired head coach John Van’t Schip last night, a move that’d been coming ever since the club parted was with Johan Cruyff (who had been serving as a special advisor). Benjamin Galindo has two days to prepare his new team for a visit from the Apertura’s regular season champions.

Stoke City announces partnership with Orlando City

during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Chelsea at Britannia Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Stoke on Trent, England.
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Americans have been heavily involved in Premier League management, including John Henry at Liverpool and the Glazer family who own Sunderland.

[ MORE: LAFC is one step closer to joining MLS, after finding home for stadium ]

Friday marked a dawn of a new relationship between the PL and MLS though, when Stoke City announced a strategic partnership with Orlando City SC.

[ MORE: Rapids-RSL highlights Week 10 action around MLS ]

The goal of the agreement between the two sides is to advance player recruitment and development, as well spark fan engagement in both leagues.

Potters Chief Executive Tony Scholes:

“It’s an opportunity for us to share best practice with Orlando in a variety of areas, primarily in player recruitment, marketing and development, but also to give both clubs chance to grow in each other’s markets,” said Scholes.

“A large number of our fans already regard Orlando as their MLS side and I know that Stoke City are already followed by many Orlando fans.

“As an established Premier League club we are always looking at new ways to develop our profile overseas and our strategic partnership will help us to develop in the United States.”

NBC’s recent coverage of the PL has sparked massive interest in the United States, giving fans various opportunities to watch matches over the course of a weekend. As MLS continues to grow as well, you can surely expect interest abroad, specifically in Europe, to grow too.

Phil Rawlins, Founder and President of Orlando City, is excited with the relationship building between the two clubs.

“It was very clear that we’ve always had a good relationship with Stoke City and it came down to us wanting to reignite that synergy and bring our brands closer together. This will be our only partnership in England, and we hope to ignite passions for both our clubs in each other’s markets.”

The pursuit of MLS to become a top league has a ways to go, but a move like this will surely only benefit commissioner Don Garber and the rest of MLS.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

Gareth Bale, Keylor Navas injuries present challenge for Real Madrid

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 18:  Gareth Bale of Real Madrid controls the ball under pressure from Joel Matip of Schalke uring the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, second leg match between Real Madrid and FC Schalke 04 at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on March 18, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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After narrowly escaping Wednesday’s Champions League semifinal against Manchester City, 1-0, Real Madrid is facing a bit of difficult news.

[ MORE: Ben Afra drawing interest from Barcelona ]

The club has confirmed injuries to both Gareth Bale and goalkeeper Keylor Navas, despite each player going the full 90 minutes midweek. Bale has reportedly sustained a knee problem, while Navas has suffered an injury to his Achilles tendon.

The extent of the injuries is not yet known, although Bale’s appears to be less severe. With Madrid down a goalkeeper, reserve team keeper Kiko Casilla will likely take over in net for Real while Navas recovers.

Madrid will host Valencia on Sunday in La Liga, with both players expected to miss the match. Bale could reportedly return for Real’s match against Deportivo La Coruna on May 14, their final league game. The team can then turn its attention to the Champions League final against rival Atletico Madrid on May 28.

Real currently sits one point behind La Liga leader Barcelona and second place Atleti with two games to play.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

Top 5 Premier League storylines: Week 37

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND - APRIL 30:  Jamaal Lascelles of Newcastle United reacts at full time during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Crystal Palace at St James Park on April 30, 2016 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty images)
Ian MacNicol/Getty images
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The Foxes have pulled off the unthinkable, clinching the Premier League title, but that doesn’t mean that Week 37 won’t hold significance.

[ MORE: Full Premier League TV schedule: Week 37 ]

While the title race is no longer an option, a three-team battle at the bottom of the table has taken shape in this year’s relegation battle.

Newcastle, Sunderland and Norwich City each have their eyes set on staying in the PL in 2016-17, and despite having their fair share of down this season one team will emerge and remain in the top flight of English football.

Here’s a look at the top five Premier League storylines you should be keeping on eye on this weekend.


Newcastle could be aided by opponent — (Aston Villa vs. Newcastle, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra 

Rafa Benitez was brought into Newcastle to save the team from relegation. Well, if the season were to end today he would have accomplished that goal. Unfortunately for he and his side though, two matches remain for the Magpies, and the two teams chasing aren’t going away.

Two points separate Newcastle from Sunderland and Norwich City, although the latter two have games in hand, which could prove crucial down the stretch. The one thing that does work in the favor of Newcastle though is their opponent, at least this week.

Aston Villa, who already knows they are being relegated, will host Newcastle on Saturday, giving the Magpies a legitimate opportunity to feast on the backline that has conceded an astounding 72 goals this season. Georginio Wijnaldum and Aleksandar Mitrovic will need to find the back of the net a few times in order to give Newcastle a chance at staying up.


Can the Black Cats scratch past the Blues? — (Sunderland vs. Chelsea, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra 

The relegation battle will likely come down to the final day, which at least gives Sunderland a chance at staying up next season. The Black Cats have three matches remaining, including their dance with Chelsea. Things won’t be easy for the home side though.

Chelsea is fresh off a thrilling draw against Tottenham, which handed Leicester the PL crown and the team still has the firepower to burst out for goals at any time despite their lackluster campaign.

Jermain Defoe is undoubtedly the man to watch for the Black Cats, posting 14 goals in the league this season. If Sunderland looks to avoid relegation Defoe will surely be at the forefront of his side’s efforts to do so.


Twice as nice? — (Norwich City vs. Manchester United, Saturday, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra 

It may have come awhile ago, but Norwich has beaten the Red Devils this season. It came back in December, a 2-1 win at Old Trafford. Just like the two teams their chasing though, Norwich has failed miserably in stringing together positive results.

Losers of three straight, the Canaries are in desperation mode as they look to break their goalless run against United. With just 35 goals on the season and facing a team that is amongst the PL’s elite when it comes to keeping goals out, Alex Neil‘s team must work some sort of brilliance to get past United for a second time.

The Red Devils on the other hand still have a shot at the Champions League. With three games remaining, one more than the teams they are chasing, United can still mathematically jump Manchester City and/or Arsenal in pursuit of the CL. If not, the Europa League may have to do, unless West Ham has their say in the matter.


Sights set on the Champions League — (Manchester City vs. Arsenal, Sunday, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra 

Lost in the relegation battle is a meeting between two of the PL’s top sides. City currently sits three points behind Arsenal in the table, but that could all change with a victory from the Citizens at the Etihad Stadium.

In a closely-contested meeting just before Christmas, the Gunners managed a 2-1 win against Manuel Pellegrini‘s men. After recently bailing out of the Champions League semifinals though, City must has amnesia if they are to lock up the third and final automatic CL spot. Finishing fourth would mean that they have to go through qualifying in the CL.

The match goes beyond the CL though for both teams. Each side has had their share of struggles in 2015-16, so a win on Sunday could at least temporarily put those disappointments behind them.


Hammers seeking place in Europe — (West Ham United vs. Swansea City, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on Premier League Extratime and online via Live Extra 

In many seasons West Ham would have been the PL darling. Unfortunately though, that title was taken away by Leicester, who ironically also won the PL crown.

Dimitri Payet will likely see astronomical offers this summer from Europe’s top sides if he can couple his season with a strong Euro campaign with France. That being said, he and his side still have work to do. West Ham sits five points out of the final Champions League spot and one point behind United for Europa League qualification.

Obviously the CL would be nice for a club that is still looking to make its mark on the PL, but the Europa League is nothing to sneeze at either for the up-and-coming team. A fifth-place standing would tie the club’s best finish in the Premier League Era.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

City Council approves plans for new Los Angeles soccer venue

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LOS ANGELES (AP) The City Council has approved plans to build a $250 million stadium for Major League Soccer’s expansion Los Angeles Football Club.

[ MORE: Can MLS teams begin to create separation in Week 10? ]

The council voted 12-0 Friday to move forward with a 22,000-seat stadium on the site of the old Sports Arena next to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and USC.

The 15-acre complex is also slated to include a conference center, restaurants, 140,000 square feet of plazas and streetscapes, and a soccer museum.

At its center would be the home to the new MLS team when it makes its debut in 2018.

LAFC is owned by Malaysian billionaire Vincent Tan, American venture capitalist Henry Nguyen and a celebrity-studded list of investors including Magic Johnson, Tony Robbins, Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra.