MLS Preview: Columbus Crew at Sporting KC

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In a match with major mid-season implications for either side, Sporting KC will head to Columbus with an opportunity to muddy the waters further in the Eastern Conference.

With table-watching still a bit irrelevant as we reach the halfway point, both teams have something relatively important riding on this match.

For Sporting, they will look to improve on their spotty home form.  They’ve been fine on the road, but the dropped points at home have made this season that much harder for the squad, who’ve picked up just 2 points and netted just twice in their last three home matches.

It’s been a tough go recently for Kansas City both home and away, with just three draws and a loss to show for their last four matches. Much of that can be attributed to the losses of Graham Zusi and Matt Besler, who will return from international duty for the trip to Columbus.  Zusi is fresh off signing his new contract extension with KC.

(MORE: Graham Zusi signs multiyear extension with Sporting KC)

It’s been a season of good not great for Sporting, with results there but also much left on the table.  That feeling was most evident their last time out, having taken a 2-goal lead on FC Dallas before before letting it slip away after falling a man down. While it’s typically a good result to get a point on the road at the league leaders, the manner of the defeat was more painful than anything.

In a bit of team news ahead of the match, Sporting KC have recalled striker Dom Dwyer from Orlando City FC.  The 22-year-old soared in the USL, exploding for 15 goals in just 13 matches during his spell with OCFC.  With the prospect of three matches in nine days as well as loss of C.J. Sapong to suspension and both Mechack Jerome and Peterson Joseph leaving early for Haiti Gold Cup duty, Peter Vermes thought it prudent to bring in the in-form Dwyer.

For Columbus, this match is the first of two tricky road ties, ones that give them the chance to not only gain ground on those above, but also to prove to the MLS community that the devastating injuries suffered in the last month can be overcome.

It will be their second match since Glauber became the second victim of an ACL tear on the Columbus squad this season.  Without the Brazilian or Eddie Gaven, the Crew crumbled at home to the red-hot Chicago Fire, conceding two goals in three minutes early in the second half.

All is not lost for Columbus, who are within close range of the table’s playoff sector and can take advantage of Sporting’s recent woes.  Federico Higuain is starting to find his real value as a set-up man rather than a goal-scorer, and his ability to strike from set pieces and particularly the penalty spot has been priceless.

Crew manager Robert Warzycha has a bit of a lineup decision to make.  Jairo Arrieta has returned from international duty with Costa Rica, so it remains to be seen who will play in front of Higuain – Arrieta, or his placeholder during international duty Dominic Oduro.  However, with Ben Speas also returning for selection from a bout with an illness, it remains to be seen who will be put up front and who will go out wide.  Oduro made himself very clear this week, saying how he believes he’s most effective up front.

With points for the taking, both teams will look to put recent inconsistencies behind them and grab the bull by the horns.

Conte aims to formalize UCL spot, find long-awaited clean sheet

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Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea is a point away from clinching a place in the UEFA Champions League, an academic number but one which will mark a return to Europe for the Blues.

Chelsea’s manager is pleased to stand on the precipice of this preseason goal (Watch Everton-Chelsea at 9:05 a.m. ET Sunday on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com), though he’s certainly more interested in nailing down a Premier League title in his first crack at English football.

[ MORE: Verratti to Barcelona? ]

Conte, 47, notes the achievement will feel especially good given the strength and depth of the Premier League’s top-end clubs, though the short-term is also on his mind. From the BBC:

“Obviously, with six teams between Chelsea, Tottenham, City, Arsenal, United, Liverpool, two strong teams won’t play next season in the Champions League.”

“It’s 11 games that we are not able to keep a clean sheet and, for this reason, it’s important to improve, to work on the situations we’re conceding the goals. I’m not concerned about this, but at the same time, we are working on it.”

Everton is one of six clubs to score 60 or more goals this season, led by former Chelsea player Romelu Lukaku. If Conte adds another a clean sheet to his resume, it will be a second-successive blanking of Everton in the PL. Quite an achievement.

Full Premier League schedule – Week 35

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We are entering the climax of the 2016-17 Premier League season.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Kicking things off on Saturday Southampton host Hull City (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) at St Mary’s with the visitors desperate for another big win to stay out of the relegation zone.

At the some time Sunderland host Bournemouth (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on CNBC and online via NBC Sports.com) and a defeat for the Black Cats could well confirm their relegation. Saturday ends with Crystal Palace hosting Burnley (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBC Sports.com) at Selhurst Park with Sam Allardyce‘s side aiming to recover from a late defeat to Tottenham, while Burnley is still in search of its first away win of the season.

Sunday is another busy day as Manchester United host Swansea (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) to kick things off with Jose Mourinho’s men aiming to go 25 games unbeaten and the Swans battling for their lives as they occupy the final relegation spot. Then comes a huge game at Goodison Park: in-form Everton hosting Chelsea (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). Antonio Conte‘s men can stretch their lead atop the PL table to seven points once again but Everton have lost just once at home all season.

Then comes a huge game at White Hart Lane as Tottenham host Arsenal in the North London Derby (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) with a win for Spurs guaranteeing that they’ll finish above Arsenal for the first time in 21 years. With Spurs’ title hopes still alive and the Gunners battling for the top four, this should be a classic NLD.

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush”

On Monday the week finishes with Watford welcoming Liverpool (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) to Vicarage Road. Jurgen Klopp‘s men are feeling the pressure in third place in the table as Manchester United and Manchester City hunt them down.

The full TV schedule for this weekend is below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App,

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday for all the goals as they go in. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App,

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here. They are available soon after the final whistle, but rights limit us to a certain number each week. Looking for game highlights? Try this. Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday
10 a.m. ET: Southampton vs. Hull City – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Sunderland vs. Bournemouth – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Stoke City vs. West Ham – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Brom vs. Leicester City – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Burnley — NBC [STREAM]

Sunday
7 a.m. ET: Manchester United vs. Swansea City – NBCSN [STREAM]
9:05 a.m. ET: Everton vs. Chelsea – NBCSN [STREAM]
9:05 a.m. ET: Middlesbrough vs. Manchester City – NBCSN [STREAM]
11:30 a.m. ET: Tottenham vs. Arsenal – NBCSN [STREAM]

Monday
3 p.m. ET: Watford vs. Liverpool – NBCSN [STREAM]

Reports: Barcelona holding talks with Verratti’s agent

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Barcelona has their eyes set on a new Andres Iniesta.

Sure, projecting anyone to meet Ballon d’Or finalist standards is silly, but news that Barca has had multiple meetings with Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti does inspire comparison hunting.

[ MORE: Klopp explains Lovren extension ]

An influential and creative central midfielder, the 24-year-old Verratti is 8.5 years younger than Iniesta and wowed Barca in the first leg of PSG’s ill-fated UEFA Champions League tie with the Catalans.

Mundo Deportivo, amongst others, reports that Verratti feels life at PSG has gotten stale and that Barca is one of the few clubs that represents a significant jump up in class. He’s also been linked with Real Madrid and Manchester United in the past few transfer windows.

Verratti has a contract through 2020-21, so any purchase will not be cheap considering PSG’s desire to continue growing its status as a UCL contender. The Italian is 21 times capped by the Azzurri.

Klopp talks new Lovren deal, Top Four worries, Watford

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Liverpool announced a new contract for Dejan Lovren on Friday, complete with the requisite “I love my club” comments from the defender.

Then Jurgen Klopp got his hands on a microphone.

The outspoken manager explained that re-signing Lovren to a new “long-term” deal ensures that the Croatian spends the best years of his career with the Reds.

[ MORE: Top PL Storylines ]

He also spoke plainly about Lovren’s perceived struggles and successes since arriving at Anfield from Southampton in 2014.

From The Liverpool Echo:

“If Dejan played for another club you would want to sign him – and pay a lot of money. He is 27, the best time is still to come.”

“If you’d asked fans after the Dortmund game they would said give him a 20-year contract. After the Palace game fans would have said ‘can we find another team who will have him?’ Truth is somewhere in between.”

Turning to Monday’s trip to Watford, Klopp isn’t concerned about the chance that his Reds will open the day outside the Top Four if Man City and Manchester United both win at the weekend.

He also says the Reds could have Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge at Vicarge Road, though Jordan Henderson remains out.