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Premier League Sunday Preview: Liverpool travels to West Brom, Arsenal hosts Crystal Palace

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These are the situations that Premier League contenders must rise and conquer.

Two of the title challengers, Liverpool and Arsenal, meet teams knee-deep in relegation trouble. At The Hawthorns, Brendan Rodgers men need all three points as they travel into West Brom, otherwise they stand the chance of losing sight of the league leaders.

The task is a smidge easier for Arsene Wenger’s men, who will be at home in North London, hosting the team from London’s less fashionable south side, Crystal Palace. Then again, Palace has renewed vim, vigor and hope under a new manager.

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These are two of the last three games of Round 24, with only Manchester City-Chelsea still to come on Monday.

Liverpool vs. West Brom, live on NBCSN 8:00 am ET

  • Liverpool won the teams’ first meeting, 4-1
  • The Baggies have just one win in 13 matches
  • Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge have combined for 36 Premier League goals this year

Liverpool was all that and more in an emotional mid-week derby triumph over Everton, but the sheen will come off that one quickly if Rodgers’ men cannot regroup and put all their mental energy into this one.

Midfielder Joe Allen is expected to be available after missing the showy win over Everton because of a hamstring strain.  Don’t be surprised if midfield mate Steven Gerrard gets into the scoring action; the longtime England international has scored in his last three league matches. It’s Gerrard’s best run of goals since striking in four consecutive matches back in December of 2012.

And, of course, there is always Luis Suarez to talk about, especially as his hat trick earlier this year keyed his team’s 4-1 win at Anfield in the teams’ initial meeting of 2013-14.

On the other side, controversial West Brom striker Nicolas Anelka will miss the match against his former club after taking a cut that required stitches in a midweek loss to Aston Villa.

By the way, Liverpool didn’t make much hay in the January transfer window; what you see is what you’ll get for the final three-plus months.

Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace, live on NBCSN 10:30am ET

  • Palace has just one win in 14 trips to Arsenal, a one-goal win in 1994
  • Enlivened under manager Tony Pulis, Palace has won three of its last five
  • The south Londoners have just five road goals this year

No time for the Gunners to feel badly about their injury woes in midfield; Wenger’s men need this one – and could then sit and watch in good humor as City and Chelsea beat up on one another Monday. Media and other observers are using words like “resilience” and “determination” to describe Arsenal this year, which hasn’t always been the case. So, we’ll see.

Among the reasons Arsenal has established itself as a surprising title contender is its stubbornness at the Emirates; Wenger’s men are unbeaten in their last 10 games at the Emirates (in all competitions).  And considering Palace’s historic lack of success when traveling to the other side of London, this is one the Gunners absolutely cannot let slip away.

As mentioned, Arsenal’s midfield is a bit of a MASH unit mess at the moment: Jack Wilshere (ankle), Mathieu Flamini (suspension) and Aaron Ramsey (thigh) are all out. So is Theo Walcott, on a longer-term injury, no less. On the other hand, Tomas Rosicky appears healthy again after surgery to fix up his broken nose, so that’s provides some lineup relief.

The south Londoners have just five road goals this year, but times are pretty good, all things considered, at the moment under Tony Pulis. In fact, Palace has become something of a master of the 1-0 result under Pulis, something that surely unnerves Gunners faithful ahead of this one.

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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