Can AVB lead Spurs to the title after losing to Basel in the quarterfinals last season?

Premier League Sunday Preview: Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United and City can make up points on Arsenal

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Arsenal’s leadership in the Premier League is surprising enough. But seven points as calendar turns to December?

Four high-profile PL contenders are in action Sunday, increasingly desperate to keep up.

Some of that gap is about Arsenal gaining all three points on Saturday, while two of its closest pursuers, Liverpool and Chelsea, join the Week 13 action on Sunday.  Current champs Manchester United and Manchester City, both a little further back in the table than most of us suspected, also appear on Sunday’s schedule .

As always, you can watch feature matches on NBC Sports Network and watch every game live this season online via NBC Sports Live Extra and the NBC Sports Live Extra App.

Here is a look at the foursome of contests coming up:

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Manchester United (NBCSN, 7:00 am ET)

Teams beginning to move in opposite directions meet in North London. Andre Villas-Boas (pictured above) and his Spurs are certainly eager to wash away the bitter taste of last week’s 6-0 embarrassment at Manchester City. (In fact, “embarrassing” is the very word Tottenham’s manager used to describe Spurs’ painfully off night.) The speculation on Villas-Boas’ future at White Hart Lane went immediately into overdrive after that stinker, as you would expect.

David Moyes and his Red Devils weren’t at their Premier League best either last week in a draw with Cardiff (where Manchester United lost two leads, in fact). But November was generally good to the Old Trafford bunch, especially with developments earlier this week.

Ryan Giggs was introduced to help stabilize an occasionally underperforming central midfield (two days before the man’s 40th birthday), and United produced perhaps its best overall performance under the club’s first-year boss, a stunning and comprehensive 5-0 Champions League win at Bayer Leverkusen.

Starting striker Robin Van Persie (groin) and center back Nemanja Vidic (concussion) remain questionable for Manchester United; final decisions will be subject to pre-game fitness tests. A groin injury makes Tottenham striker Emmanuel Adebayor doubtful.

Hull vs. Liverpool (NBCSN, 9:05 a.m. ET)

source: APLiverpool has lost just twice this year, but is this a bit of a “trap match,” facing a team in the bottom half while coming off last weekend’s emotional Merseyside derby?

And it won’t help that Liverpool’s fine young striker Daniel Sturridge is expected to miss another match as these teams meet for the first time since the final match day of 2009-10.

Still, Liverpool come into this one with far more striking power than offensively challenged Hull; Brendan Rogers’ team has outscored Sunday’s opposition 24-9 this year. Luis Suarez (pictured left) has nine of Liverpool’s strikes in just seven league appearances. Overall, midfield fixture Steven Gerrard and his team have feasted against the league laggards, having won all six games in 2013 against clubs from the bottom half.

Hull and manager Steve Bruce will hope to return to better ways at home, having suffered the season’s first home defeat in Premier League matches last weekend, against bottom-on-the-table Crystal Palace, no less. They’ll need goals to do so; Bruce’s team has scored just three times in league since September.

Strikers will be on the list as Bruce and Co. go shopping in January – but that’s not going to help Sunday at the KC Stadium.

Chelsea vs. Southampton (NBCSN, 11:10 a.m. ET)

Things have been threatening to go a little sideways lately for Chelsea, as Jose Mourinho’s team needed a controversial penalty to dodge defeat two weeks ago at home against West Brom. Just a few days ago, his team was upset at Basel in mid-week Champions League play (although the Blues still qualified for the knockout stages, backing in to the lucrative competition’s Round of 16).

Sunday’s match is back in West London, where the manager does still have that showy 66-match unbeaten streak in the Premier League play. Mourinho says he doesn’t expect Southampton to play defensively, but rather to remain true to its free flowing ways, which means this one could be a real joy to watch.

Maurico Pochettino’s Southampton is one of the real surprise stories, currently level with far higher profile Manchester City, tied for sixth.

Manchester City vs. Swansea (Premier League Extra Time, 11:10 a.m. ET):

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has another tough choice to make in goal, where he can go with Costel Pantilimon or slightly fallen fixture Joe Hart for Sunday’s match at the Etihad. It will be an even bigger choice if captain and back line leader Vincent Kompany remains out with a thigh injury.

And the City manager always has attacking options for his high-scoring side, of course; His club leads all PL teams with 34 goals. That’s why we’ll look for Swansea to play quite defensively against a club that really tends to pour it on at home – 26 goals so far in just six league matches at the Etihad, in fact. Sergio Agüero and Álvaro Negredo lead the way, with 15 goals between them in all matches (home and away).

MLS Preview: Conference leaders meet as Philly head west to Colorado

COMMERCE CITY, COLORADO - APRIL 02:  Dillon Powers #8 of Colorado Rapids controls the ball against the Toronto FC at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on April 2, 2016 in Commerce City, Colorado. The Rapids defeated Toronto FC 1-0.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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The weekend is nearing, which means another full slate of ten matches across Major League Soccer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

With Sporting KC and D.C. United kicking things off on Friday night, Saturday is jam-packed with eight matches before the league’s youngest clubs NYCFC and Orlando wrap up the action on Sunday.

Colorado Rapids vs. Philadelphia Union — Saturday, 9:00 p.m. ET

There’s not a misprint on the table, Colorado and Philadelphia are both at the top of their conferences. After sitting near the bottom of MLS for the past two seasons, Colorado has shocked everyone, currently leading the league in points (27) with the fewest goals conceded (9). On Saturday, the Rapids put their perfect 6-0 home record on the line when they host the Union, who currently lead the East by two points.

New York Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC — Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET

Coming off of a massive 7-0 win in the Hudson River Derby against NYCFC, the Red Bulls will look to continue trending upwards when they host Toronto FC. Two of the preseason favorites to top the Eastern Conference, both sides are currently tied on points, although the Red Bulls have a game in hand. For Toronto, Sebastian Giovinco will be keen to prove Antonio Conte wrong after being left out of the Italy squad for EURO 2016 after the Italian boss talked down upon MLS.

[ MLS: Standings | Stats | Schedule ]

Montreal Impact vs. Los Angeles Galaxy — Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET

Didier Drogba has scored in each of his last three starts, a streak he will look to keep alive against the Los Angeles Galaxy this weekend. While Drogba will be looking to score, Montreal must make sure their defense is in top form as the Galaxy have scored a league-high 25 goals through 11 matches.

Elsewhere around MLS

Sporting KC vs. D.C. United — Friday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Houston Dynamo — Saturday, 6:00 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew SC vs. Real Salt Lake — Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
New England Revolution vs. Seattle Sounders — Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Chicago Fire vs. Portland Timbers — Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET
San Jose Earthquakes vs. FC Dallas — Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET
New York City FC vs. Orlando City SC — Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET

Cantona claims ethnicity played role in Benzema, Ben Arfa France snubs

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 14:  Former Footballer Eric Cantona of France speaks during a press conference at the Shanghai Grand Theatre prior to the  Laureus World Sports Awards  on April 14, 2015 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images for Laureus)
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Eric Cantona has made the headlines again, this time making some bold claims against France national team manager Didier Deschamps.

Cantona, a former Manchester United legend and French international, questioned whether Deschamps excluded Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa from the team due to their North African origins.

[ MORE: Skrtel set to leave Liverpool ]

Speaking to The Guardian, Cantona calls Benzema and Ben Arfa two of France’s best footballers, both of whom will not be playing for the national team this summer.

Benzema is a great player. Ben Arfa is a great player. But Deschamps, he has a really French name. Maybe he is the only one in France to have a truly French name. Nobody in his family mixed with anybody, you know.

So I’m not surprised he used the situation of Benzema not to take him. Especially after [French Prime Minister Manuel Valls] said he should not play for France. And Ben Arfa is maybe the best player in France today. But they have some origins. I am allowed to think about that.

One thing is for sure – Benzema and Ben Arfa are two of the best players in France and will not play the European Championship. And for sure, Benzema and Ben Arfa, their origins are north African. So, the debate is open.

Cantona’s view doesn’t hold much merit as Deschamps did not even have the option of selecting Benzema, the country’s active leading goalscorer. The Real Madrid striker is suspended by the federation, embroiled in a blackmail sex-tape scandal involving French teammate Mathieu Valbuena, who was also left off the EURO roster.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine the Champions League final ]

France is an extremely diverse nation with a large North African population, Benzema of Algerian descent and Ben Arfa’s father a former Tunisian international. Both players were born in France and have received prior call-ups under Deschamps, with Cantona’s quite ridiculous comments likely to cause a stir before the EURO.

FA Cup will no longer have quarterfinal replays

HALIFAX, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 09:  The FA Cup is seen prior to the FA Cup First Round match between FC Halifax and Bradford City  on November 9, 2014 in Halifax, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Starting in 2017, the FA Cup will no longer have replays in the quarterfinal round.

The decision was made in an effort to combat the congested English fixture list, which has been a topic of debate for years now.

[ MORE: Lukaku wants out at Everton ]

This season, Manchester United defeated West Ham in a quarterfinal replay before going on to win the competition.

In a statement released by the FA, these changes aim to add drama to the matches while eliminating an extra matchday needed for replays.

The revamped competition will see eight clubs battle it out over one weekend with each tie to be played to a finish on the day, adding to the drama and impact the competition has enjoyed in recent years.

Other new initiatives will be explored to ensure The FA Cup retains its status and appeal. These plans also form part of The FA’s commitment to help ease English football’s congested fixture schedule.

There will still be replays in the earlier rounds of the tournament, which allows lower level clubs the opportunity to earn a nice financial boost should they force a second match at a Premier League ground.

The Premier League is the only top league in Europe that does not take a winter break, a schedule that has been criticized by multiple managers, including Jurgen Klopp.

Judge hears arguments on US women’s team strike rights

HARRISON, NJ - MAY 30:  The United States team poses for a team picture before the match against the South Korea during an international friendly match at Red Bull Arena on May 30, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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CHICAGO — A federal judge in Chicago has heard arguments whether the world champion U.S. women’s soccer team has the right to strike for improved conditions and wages before this year’s Olympics.

Lawyers for the U.S. Soccer Federation told Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman at a Thursday hearing that a no-strike clause is implied in a still-valid 2013 memorandum with players.

[ MORE: All of PST’s USWNT coverage ]

But a lawyer for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association balked at that claim. Jeffrey Kessler said the federation had “screwed up” by not securing a no-strike clause in writing and can’t argue three years later that such a provision is implied.

The union wants the option to strike before the Olympics start in August, but hasn’t said it will. Many players have voiced concern over gender equity in soccer.