Six Premier League clubs are in action today in matches with huge relevance at both ends of the standings. Here’s the run-down:
West Ham v Manchester United (2.45pm ET): The visitors are 15 points clear of second-placed Manchester City, so they can afford to slip up here and still cruise to the title. Not that history suggests they will: West Ham haven’t beaten United in the league since December, 2007. United knocked Sam Allardyce’s men out of the FA Cup in January, but first they needed a late equalizer from Robin van Persie to force a replay.
Van Persie scored in the first minute and it was the only goal when these teams met in the league at Old Trafford last November. Three points for West Ham would all but guarantee their Premier League survival. Their defenders, James Tomkins, Winston Reid and George McCartney are fitness doubts. United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is likely to rotate his team after Sunday’s 2-0 win over Stoke City. Rio Ferdinand (pictured) could be rested against his former club.
Manchester City v Wigan Athletic (2.45pm ET): The identities of next month’s FA Cup finalists were only revealed at the weekend, and already the fixture list has provided us with a dress-rehearsal. City are odds-on favorites for then and now, having won their past six games against Roberto Martinez’s club without even conceding a goal.
A win for City today would help cement second place, while three points for Wigan would see them move above Aston Villa on goal difference and exit the relegation zone. Wigan have no injury worries but City are likely to be without David Silva, who has a hamstring problem. Defender Micah Richards is back in contention after being sidelined since October last year with a knee injury.
Fulham v Chelsea (3pm ET): These West London clubs are only two miles apart, though the gap in size, wealth and talent is just a little bigger. Yet Chelsea haven’t beaten Fulham in the Premier League since November, 2010. The four subsequent fixtures have been draws, most recently a goalless encounter last November. Chelsea will look to rebound quickly from Sunday’s FA Cup exit to Manchester City by capitalizing on their game in hand over fifth-placed Tottenham, while Fulham are safely mid-table.
A win lifts Rafael Benitez’s side (that’s something we can’t write for much longer) above Arsenal into third. Fulham could leapfrog Swansea into ninth. For the home team, former Chelsea winger Damien Duff is out with a thigh strain and midfielder Steven Sidwell is suspended. Benitez may recall Frank Lampard and John Terry after leaving them out of the Cup tie at Wembley.
The Tournament of Nations got underway earlier Thursday, with Brazil and Japan drawing 1-1 in Seattle.
While some in the crowd may’ve been waiting to see the United States women’s national team and Australia in the second game of the twin bill, they got an absolute treat from Brazil’s Camila.
[ MORE: Galaxy’s season-changing signing ]
The Orlando Pride midfielder is yet to scoop up 10 caps, but blasted this 25-yard goal home with a wicked outside bend.
The aesthetics are terrific.
Remember this day, MLS fans, as one that perhaps helped determine an MLS Cup Finalist.
The LA Galaxy have signed Villarreal midfielder and Mexican national teamer Jonathan Dos Santos, and he’s the sort of player who could alter the landscape of the Western Conference.
Like Nicolas Lodeiro to Seattle last season and New England’s addition of Jermaine Jones in 2014, Dos Santos’ move comes with the distinct possibility of elevating LA into the next stratosphere.
[ MORE: USMNT’s Arriola attracting transfer interest ]
Take the Galaxy’s history of winning, and toss in a midseason coaching improvement from Curt Onalfo to Sigi Schmid, as well as MVP-in-their-own-right caliber teammates Giovani Dos Santos, Romain Alessandrini, and Jelle van Damme.
Don’t sleep on the fact that Schmid might be gathering momentum from inheriting a talented and underachieving roster and a brand new game-changing midfielder, which feels a bit like karmic retribution for Seattle firing him and signing Lodeiro the next day last season. Seattle only went and won the MLS Cup.
Schmid has used any number of formations, but could deploy a 4-3-3 with Jona Dos Santos, Jermaine Jones, and Joao Pedro in the midfielder and Giovani Dos Santos, Alessandrini, and Gyasi Zardes up top (Sebastian Lletget could return at some point, too).
Now FC Dallas is very deep, Sporting KC looks powerful, and Seattle won it all last year — plus, may be adding Derlis Gonzalez?!? — but LA’s move to add Dos Santos creates a quartet of teams with proven mettle (Houston looks decent, too, but I have concerns about their first-time as a unit in the playoffs).
Joey Barton’s 18-month ban for betting on almost 1,300 soccer-related events has been lowered to 13 months and one week.
Putting aside the hilarity of grown men and women discussing whether an extra week was necessary, the alteration means he’ll be eligible to return to football on June 1, 2018.
[ MORE: USMNT’s Arriola attracting transfer interest ]
While that still hampers the idea of the 34-year-old playing again — he’ll be 36 when the ban ends — it’s a significant change if he’s open to the idea of returning to the game.
Barton’s original ban expired in late October 2018, well into a season. From Sky Sports:
The appeal board also agreed: “It was clear that Mr Barton was not involved in any cheating, he did not influence any games and there was nothing suspicious about his bets.
“(The reduction) reflects the overall seriousness of the breaches and also the mitigation of Mr Barton’s addiction.”
Barton’s remarkably controversial career has including several suspensions and imprisonment, but he always found his way back to the field and was very good when in form. After time at Manchester City and Newcastle United, Barton fended off naysayers with stints at QPR, Marseille, Burnley, and a regrettable move to Rangers.
We may see him on the field in August 2018.
ZURICH (AP) FIFA has fined Qatar’s soccer federation after national team players breached rules against political statements by displaying T-shirts of the country’s Emir at a World Cup qualifier.
FIFA says its disciplinary panel imposed a 50,000 Swiss francs ($51,800) fine and reprimanded Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host.
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The incident happened in Doha on June 13, amid a dispute with regional rivals Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
Qatar’s players warmed up for a 3-2 win over South Korea wearing white T-shirts with an image of Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani to show their support for him.
FIFA says the charges related to “displaying a political image” and “political displays” by spectators.