Premier League Preview: Newcastle United

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Each day from now until the beginning of the Premier League season, we will preview two teams from England’s top flight. You can view them all here at PST Preview central. Don’t forget, the 2013-14 PL season begins on August 17th, and for the first-time ever you can watch every game live on NBC Sports.

An inspired run to fifth place in 2011-12 sparked hope that Newcastle, the North East’s sleeping giant, could finally fulfill latent hopes the Toon would become a consistent competitor. Instead, 2012-13 served as a reminder of the harsh realities of the Premier League, with a down season from a talented squad fomenting relegation doubts. As Newcastle continues to mine talent from France’s Ligue 1, making St. James Park a refuge for those who can’t attract Paris Saint-Germain or Monaco’s attention, questions linger as to whether their approach can do more than keep them up.

Transfers In: F Loic Remy (loan, Queens Park Rangers)

Transfer Out:  D Danny Simpson (Queens Park Rangers); D/M James Perch (Wigan Athletic)source: Getty Images

Key Player: Midfielder Yoann Cabaye (pictured) arrived from Lille in the summer of 2011, going on to become one of the Premier League’s biggest surprises. For anybody who’d watched Ligue 1 the previous season, Cabaye’s assimilation into the Magpies’ scheme was no surprise. He was one of the best players in France, a player who’d forged his way into the French national team, so it made sense that he’d have an impact in England.

Though his goal totals went up in his second Premier League campaign, Cabaye’s influence waned, if only slightly, Yes, Yoann scored once every 4.5 games in 2012-13 (compared to once every 8.5 games in 2011-12), but his assists dropped dramatically, from nine to two. If that didn’t reflect a drop in influence, those numbers wouldn’t mean anything, but between fitness and an overall dip in form, Cabaye was less effective last season than he was in his Magpies’ debut.

If Cabaye proves the player he was between from summer 2010 to fall 2012 — when he led surges from Lille and Newcastle — the Toon’s all good. If not? Place your bets on Alan Pardew in the Premier League sack race.

Manager:  How he’s still here, I don’t know. Alan Pardew survived last year’s improbable relegation battle to maintain his spot on the Newcastle sidelines, yet with a roster that’s seen relatively little change since May, there’s reason to ask why fans should expect anything different from a 16th place finish.

The personnel says Newcastle should do more, but can Pardew steer them there? Can he put together the defensive Newcastle lacked last season?

Outlook:  Uncertain. There is a huge range of possibilities for United. I don’t know how, but last year they managed to finish in 16th place with the league’s 17th-best goal difference. The year before? Fifth!

If the talent performs up to their capabilities, the Magpies will be in the league’s top half. Else, they”ll be competing in the Premier League’s lower third.

MORE: Read all the Premier League previews for each team here

New York Red Bulls introduce space at RBA for autistic families

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for New York Red Bulls
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HARRISON, N.J. (AP) The Red Bulls have announced plans for a permanent sensory-friendly space at their stadium for families impacted by autism.

Formerly executive offices, the space overlooking midfield is a calm area that is free from the crowds and the noise of Red Bull Arena during matches. Families can use it for free.

The team announced the new space on Saturday before the Red Bulls were set to host the Chicago Fire. It was Autism Awareness Night at the stadium.

“Families deserve to feel welcome and comfortable each time they step foot into Red Bull Arena, not just one night a year,” Red Bulls GM Marc de Grandpre said in a statement released by the club. “We hope all sports teams and entertainment venues are inspired to take similar action to provide comfort for families with loved ones on the autism spectrum.”

League Two game restarted in empty stadium after fans storm field

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LONDON (AP) An English soccer game restarted in an empty stadium after a pitch invasion led to the crowd being told the fixture had been abandoned.

There were five minutes remaining in Leyton Orient’s fourth-tier game against Colchester on Saturday when a sit-down protest was staged on the pitch by Orient fans against Italian owner Francesco Becchetti.

It forced the referee to take the players off the field. The protests lasted for more than an hour before the crowd was told the game had been abandoned and the stadium eventually cleared. The teams came out and finished the game.

Leyton Orient lost 3-1 a week after its relegation from the English Football League was confirmed after 112 years.

“A decision was taken with the police to announce that the game had been abandoned as it was felt this would help clear the pitch, which proved correct,” the EFL said in a statement. “However, it was deemed appropriate that the game needed to be played to a conclusion in order to maintain the integrity of the competition.”

La Liga: Barcelona, Real Madrid hold serve in tight title race

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Super-duper Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of top 7 ]

Espanyol 0-3 Barcelona

Barcelona are doing all they can do — win — in their bid to usurp Real Madrid in the race for the title. While they entered the weekend — and still are — ahead of their El Clasico rivals based on head-to-head results this season, Los Blancos still have a game in hand which will surely decide whether Madrid claim their 33rd top-division title, or a 25th for Barca.

On Saturday, Luis Enrique’s side had more than just the title at stake — also at stake: the Derbi Barceloni, against fellow Catalan side Espanyol.

For 45 minutes, the home side held firm and refused to break, but once Luis Suarez put the Blaugrana ahead in the 50th minute, that was all she wrote. Ivan Rakitic doubled the advantage in the 76th minute, and Suarez completed the scoring 11 minutes later.

Real Madrid 2-1 Valencia

By the time the derby kicked off, Madrid had already applied the pressure and gone three points clear with a 2-1 victory that was a whole lot closer than the final score indicates.

Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark, and Zinedine Zidane’s side was well on its way to victory. Ronaldo followed up his opening goal with a missed penalty kick 10 minutes into the second half, and Daniel Parejo pulled the visitors level with a sensational free kick just eight minutes before the end of regular time. Points looked sure to be dropped, and the door opened wider for Barca, but Marcelo was prepared to play the part of hero on the day, and the Brazilian left back bagged one of the season’s more improbable goals, a right-footed strike from the top of the box, in the 86th minute.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Las Palmas 0-5 Atletico Madrid
Real Sociedad 2-1 Granada

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Osasuna vs. Deportivo La Coruña — 6 a.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Alaves — 10:15 a.m. ET
Eibar vs. Leganes — 12:30 p.m. ET
Celta Vigo vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:45 p.m. ET

Monday’s La Liga schedule

Malaga vs. Sevilla — 3 p.m. ET

Championship Focus: It’s all about the playoff places now

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With Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United having already clinched the Championship’s two automatic promotion places, all eyes turn to the four teams behind them still jockeying for playoff positioning…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s coverage of the Championship ]

3rd — Reading — 82 points, +2 GD
4th — Sheffield Wednesday — 81 points, +16 GD
5th — Huddersfield Town — 81 points, +1 GD
6th — Fulham — 77 points, +27 GD

First of all, the Championship remains the least sensible league in the world. Disagree? Just try to explain the above wildly varying points totals and the corresponding goal differentials. Go ahead, I’ll wait

As for the weekend’s results, Reading and Wednesday did themselves major favors in the race for third with victories over Wigan Athletic (1-0) and Ipswich Town (1-0), respectively, while Huddersfield, who entered the weekend in that top playoff place, played 67 minutes with a man advantage against Birmingham City, and lost 2-0. All three of Reading, Wednesday and Huddersfield have clinched their place in the promotion playoffs, which begin two weeks from Saturday, on May 13.

[ MORE: PL Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of the top 7 play ]

Given Leeds United’s 3-3 draw with Norwich City, a win would have clinched the fourth and final playoff place for Fulham, but the Cottagers dropped a pair of points themselves in a 1-1 draw with Brentford at Craven Cottage. Still, Fulham are all but into the playoffs with a three-point lead on Leeds, and a goal differential that’s 13 goals better.