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Premier League Preview: Newcastle United v. West Bromwich Albion

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  • West Brom have won just one of their last eight Barclays Premier League away games (W1 D4 L3).
  • In the last eight Barclays Premier League meetings between Newcastle and West Brom, neither side has kept a clean sheet.
  • Shane Long has scored three goals in his last two Premier League appearances, this after failing to score in his previous 10 in the competition.
  • Magpies’ striker Loic Remy has scored eight goals in his last eight Premier League games.

Five days after Shane Long’s stunning double against Aston Villa, the Republic of Ireland striker and his West Brom teammates travel to up-start Newcastle (watch live on NBC 12:30pm ET and online via NBC Sports Live Extra) at St. James’ Park.

In the corresponding fixture in October 2012, a 93rd minute strike by Papiss Cisse cancelled out a Romelu Lukaku leveller to hand the Magpies a 2-1 victory. Six months later West Brom exacted revenge in the form of a 1-1 home draw with Billy Jones scoring a second half goal for a share of the points.

This year it’s a different story as Newcastle are enter the match in red-hot form having won their last three in the league. Alan Pardew’s side got things started following the 1-2 loss to Sunderland in the Tyne-Wear derby by upsetting Chelsea 2-0. The Magpies followed that up with a 1-0 win over Spurs at White Hart Lane before returning home to knock off Norwich City 2-1.

Much of Newcastle’s success is due to the fantastic play by on-loan striker Loic Remy, who brought his strike-tally to eight goals this past weekend. But while the offense is clicking, the defense deserves credit with Mike Williamson and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa stepping up brilliantly in the absence of the injured Steven Taylor and Ryan Taylor. If both ends of the pitch get it right on Saturday, Newcastle could make the leap from eight to fourth in the table, making European dreams a potential reality on Tyneside.

West Brom enter the match in a decent run of form, having taken five out of possible nine points from their last three fixtures against Crystal Palace (2-1 win), Chelsea (2-2 draw) and Aston Villa (2-2 draw). Of all the clubs in the Premier League, they’re the one that nobody wants to face.

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Keep not paying attention to Shane Long at your own peril. Hands down, the most underrated striker in the Premier League.

With a tricky front four that includes Shane Long (for me, the most underrated striker in the Premier League), Saido Berahino, Morgan Amalfitano and Stephane Sessegnon, the Baggies can be devastating on the counter-attack. They’re strong up the spine as well, with Claudio Yacob and Youssuf Mulumbu forming a menacing holding pair that sits in front of a pair of underrated center-backs Jonas Olsson and Gareth McCauley.

West Brom’s current susceptibility is at the full-back position where Goran Popov and Steven Reid have deputized for the injured Liam Ridgewell and Billy Jones. Reid has been decent but Popov was atrocious last Monday when his lazy marking allowed Karim El Ahmadi to score and his poor clearance allowed Ashley Westwood to level.

If the Baggies are to avoid a loss this weekend, they’ll need to shore up the flanks where players like Yoan Gouffran and Moussa Sissoko and Hatem Ben Arfa will be looking to feast.

What They’re Saying

Newcastle manager Alan Pardew: “The focus now is on this period because it really is the nuts and bolts of this league. Between now and the end of January is really when it all happens.”

West Brom manager Steve Clarke: “At the moment, the feeling is more disappointment than anything else . . . . I’ve touched on it a couple of times this season that I feel we’re drawing too many games, and we have to turn those draws into wins.”

Prediction

People are high on Newcastle right now and I don’t blame them. The Magpies have been impressive and look to have put the woes of last season into their rear-view mirror. If they truly are the real deal they have to prove it against mid-table clubs like West Brom. Problem is, West Brom are one heck of a difficult mid-table club.

Expect these sides to share the points.

Europa League draw: Man Utd learns fate

Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan, center back to camera, celebrates scoring the opening goal with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 2nd right, and other teammates during a Europa League round of 32 second leg soccer match between Saint Etienne and Manchester United at Geoffroy Guichard stadium in Saint Etienne, France, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani
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The travel is tricky, but Manchester United’s draw for the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 could’ve been much worse.

The Red Devils are off to Russia to face FC Rostov in the next round of the UEL competition.

[ MORE: Spurs sent packing ]

In another draw that leads you to question whether there’s anything random about it all, United and lone La Liga representative Celta Vigo drew winnable matches against Russian clubs, Roma has a tantalizing match against Lyon, and an all-Bundesliga match hits the docket.

Heck, we’ll even see an all-Belgian tie between Gent vs. Genk.

And in a draw which will have many glued to their sets, USMNT left-sided man Fabian Johnson will help Borussia Monchengladbach against German rivals Schalke. The first leg comes five days after the pair face off in Bundesliga play.

The Round of 16 legs will be played March 9 and 16.

UEFA Europa League Round of 16

Rostov vs. Manchester United
Celta Vigo vs. Krasnodar
Copenhagen vs. Ajax
Olympiacos vs. Besiktas
Lyon vs. Roma
Schalke vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
APOEL Nicosia vs. Anderlecht
Gent vs. Genk

Electricity restored at Maracana after some late bills paid

This Feb. 2, 2017 shows Maracana stadium with a dry field in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Stadium operators, the Rio state government, and Olympic organizers have fought over $1 million in unpaid electricity bills and management of the venue. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Rio’s electricity utility has turned the power back on at the famous Maracana stadium after it was shut off for almost a month in a dispute over $1 million in unpaid bills.

The utility on Thursday said power had been restored after the stadium operator paid 1.3 million reals ($430,000) in late bills from November through January. It was shut off on Jan. 26 in the dispute.

The utility said it is still negotiating for 1.8 million reals ($600,000) in unpaid bills from the organizing committee of last year’s Rio Olympics. Rio 2016 organizers still owe millions to companies which helped prepare the Olympics and Paralympics

The stadium has been vandalized over the last month with seats torn out, televisions stolen and the grass field left untended.

VIDEO: FC Dallas youngster Kellyn Acosta unleashes howitzer goal

Arabe Unido goalkeeper Miguel lloyd (1) reaches up to block a shot from FC Dallas as defender Rigoberto Nino (2) and FC Dallas' Kellyn Acosta (23) watch in the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals soccer match, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 in Frisco, Texas (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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With FC Dallas taking on Panamanian club Aribe Unido in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League, 21-year-old Kellyn Acosta grabbed a second for the Major League Soccer club 10 minutes past halftime.

It wasn’t just any old goal. It was a STRIKE.

The Texas native trailed the play, and with Roland Lamah shut off in the box by solid man-marking on the ball, Acosta was there to provide an outlet, and he blasted a vicious strike into the top-left corner. The find by Lamah was a smart one with a host of defenders closing in, and his calm demeanor was rewarded as his teammate launched a rocket into the back of the net.

The goal is a fodder for those who believe Acosta, who has played full-back for much of his career, should be a midfielder instead. His positioning and ability to trail the play with deadly accuracy is what makes this goal so special.

Acosta would bag a third in the dying minutes of the game, giving FC Dallas a 3-0 lead to take on the road as they travel to Panama for the second leg on March 1st.

Top Premier League Storylines – Week 26

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 08:  Claudio Ranieri, manager of Leicester City speaks with his players during the break in extra-time in the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round replay match between Leicester City and Derby City at The King Power Stadium on February 8, 2017 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Well. This weekend’s return of Premier League action was already slated to be an exciting one, but now with today’s enormous bit of breaking news, it has become even more intriguing.

[ WATCH: Previewing every match in Week 26 ]

There’s plenty to discuss at the top of the Premier League table, as Arsenal and Spurs look to heal their European wounds, but it’s what’s at the bottom that has everyone talking today.

How will Leicester City react after the firing of Claudio Ranieri?

Leicester City vs. Liverpool —  3:00 p.m. EDT Monday on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Well. The Foxes had their work cut out for them coming into this match already, but now it has a whole new flavor. Claudio Ranieri has been dismissed just nine months after winning the Premier League title, and sitting just a point off the drop coming into the weekend (and inside the relegation zone coming into the match?) Leicester City will be lead into King Power Stadium by Assistant Manager Craig Shakespeare and First Team Coach Mike Stowell.

Liverpool stopped a five-match winless streak last time out with a quality 2-0 win over Tottenham, but the Reds defense has been leaky all season, and if Leicester is to break its horrid 610-minute goalless streak, it would be here. The Foxes are without a win in five and have not scored a Premier League goal in all of the 2017 calendar year. Can they respond and begin to play for themselves rather than their former manager?

Can Dele Alli and Tottenham bounce back?

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Stoke City — 8:30 a.m. EDT Sunday on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Spurs looked like they had rediscovered their Champions League form with a comprehensive smothering of Championship side Fulham in the FA Cup. Then, they welcomed KAA Gent to Wembley and promptly lost their heads. Dele Alli was sent off for one of the worst challenges you’ll see, and Spurs were vulnerable as a result, crashing out of the Europa League.

Now, Mauricio Pochettino must regroup the squad and get them ready to host Stoke, a team they clobbered 4-0 in the third match of the season. The squad is still healthy, and the loss of European play may actually help them in the long run. Here, however, it provides them with negative form and a short prep time. They need this one badly to solidify a top four place moving forward, can Poch turn it around?

Can Sunderland get a result against surging Everton?

Everton vs. Sunderland — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSports.com

Hull City hosts Burnley. Crystal Palace welcomes Middlesbrough. With those two fellow occupants of the relegation zone playing at home against lower-half sides, the spotlight is squarely on Sunderland. The Black Cats have a tough matchup, on the road at Everton.

The Toffees haven’t lost a Premier League match since falling to Liverpool in mid-December, and have scored 19 goals in the eight matches since that blemish. With that in mind, Sunderland must get some kind of a result to pull off the bottom of the Premier League table. Can they snatch points at Goodison Park?

EFL Cup final could leave Chelsea well out in front

Chelsea vs. Swansea City — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSports.com

Chelsea is already eight points ahead of the pack and looks to be the clear favorite to win the Premier League title. It could get even clearer after this week. Manchester United is off, Manchester City is off, and Arsenal is off. Couple that with Tottenham struggling and Liverpool facing a desperate Leicester City side, and it’s entirely conceivable that a win for Chelsea over Swansea City could leave the Blues as far as 11 points clear at the top of the table, albeit a game ahead of some. That would all but wrap things up, wouldn’t it?