Premier League Sunday Preview: Heat’s on Arsenal; Liverpool at Upton Park

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Sunday’s the day Arsenal affirms it hold on fourth or squanders it, an outcome that was unfathomable of a month ago. It’s also the day the dreamer meats the cynic in East London, with Brendan Rodgers’ looking to reclaim first in the Premier League.

It’s all part of a Sunday doubleheader that begins at 8:00 a.m. Eastern, with fifth place Everton hosting Arsenal before West Ham United welcomes Liverpool. Both games will be broadcast on NBCSN and streamed via NBC Sport Live Extra.

After Saturday’s action, Liverpool finds itself in second place, with Chelsea’s win over Stoke temporarily allowing the Blues to reclaim first. Only one point back and holding the goal difference advantage, Liverpool will go top with a draw at Upton Park, maintaining a key points edge it has on third place Manchester City ahead of the Citizens visit to Anfield next weekend.

Before that, Arsenal looks to reestablish some distance between itself and Everton. With a game-in-hand, the Toffees are within four points of fourth. Should they win at at Goodison Park, Roberto Martínez’s team will be within one, have the goal difference advantage, and maintain a match in hand.

Here’s a closer look at Sunday’s action:

Everton vs. Arsenal, 8:00 a.m. Eastern, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra

  • Toffees tied for the fewest losses in the league: Five.
  • Arsenal with one win in its last five league games.
  • Gunners won teams’ last meeting, 4-1 on Mar. 8 (FA Cup).

The last time Everton beat Arsenal, Thierry Henry was still leading the Gunners, James Beattie scored the match’s only goal, and teams were only allowed to name five players to their benches. It was Jan. 21, 2006, the only time in the last 11 years the Toffees have taken pull points from the Gunners.

It puts Sunday’s game in perspective. Everton may have an opportunity to take control of the race for fourth, but to do so it would have to do something that’s so rare that only Leon Osman and Tony Hibbert were around the last time it happened. Throughout David Moyes’ entire tenure at Goodison, the Toffees only beat Arsenal once, yet in Roberto Martinez’s first year in charge, form suggests Everton could match that mark. As Martínez’s side has surged toward the top four, Arsenal has dropped away from the title race.

History, however, can be a daunting thing, particularly in light of the teams’ last meeting. If things were really so different around Goodison — if the problems the club has had with Arsenal left with its former boss — March’s game would have been more competitive. Instead, the result serves as a reminder: Everton may need more than an early spring surge to close the gap with Arsenal.

West Ham United vs. Liverpool, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra

  • Liverpool one point back of Chelsea for first place.
  • Two wins in a row have West Ham in 11th place.
  • Reds won season’s first meeting, 4-1 at Anfield.

There’s a surprising amount of skepticism as to whether Liverpool can handle West Ham, with some seeing the combination of a trip to Upton Park plus Sam Allardyce’s tactics as a threat for the Reds’ eight-match winning streak. Yet the last time the teams met, Liverpool routed the Hammers at Anfield, with Luis Suárez scoring twice in the Reds’ three-goal win.

At that time. however, West Ham was in a mild free fall, with Allardyce’s job in danger as the Irons descended toward the bottom three. Since then, however, the Hammers have recovered. While fan discontent continues to grow toward the team’s uninspiring play, the club’s spot in next year’s Premier League is almost assured. After wins against Sunderland and Hull, West Ham’s 10 points clear of the drop.

It’s a status that speaks to West Ham’s improvement, though Liverpool has also improved dramatically since December. Back then, qualifying for Champions League was Liverpool’s only, and then still precarious, goal. Now, Rodgers’ team is in title contention, and while many continue to look for signs the team will slip recent, lopsided wins over Tottenham, Cardiff City, Manchester United, and Southampton (all by at least three goals; all since March 1) suggest the Reds may be beyond being bothered by the likes of West Ham.

Report: Liverpool to escape punishment over Van Dijk pursuit

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The Times states that Liverpool will not be punished further for pursuing Southampton defender Virgil Van Dijk.

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Earlier this month the Reds issued a public apology to Southampton and stated they had ended their interest in the 25-year-old Dutch defender following allegations that Van Dijk was flown to Blackpool (just north of Liverpool) to meet with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and their manager messaged VVD “regularly” as they chased the Dutch international.

Southampton, as you would expect, were far from happy about this so-called “tapping up” from Liverpool and reported the Reds to the Premier League by making an official complaint.

Liverpool’s apology was then followed by a preliminary investigation, but reports state that there will be no further action taken against Liverpool by the PL with “insufficient evidence” to support the claims surrounding the alleged “tapping up” of Van Dijk and unless new evidence arrives then the case will be closed.

Regardless, this whole episode has been incredibly embarrassing for Liverpool, especially when you take into account their current ban from signing academy players when a similar case cropped up over chasing a youngster in Stoke City’s academy.

Klopp has not only lost the chance to sign Van Dijk (at least, that’s the way it seems for now) but Liverpool have also lost some respect for the way they supposedly went about this business. American owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG) went to great lengths to apologize for this situation and are keen to stress they always conduct their business in a respect manner.

Now, we would all be a little naive to believe that this type of thing doesn’t happen a lot in soccer. A player (usually through his agent) will perhaps gently let another team know he’s interested in a move to them, and the ball gets rolling from there. Of course, the two clubs are supposed to agree a fee for the player first and then said player can meet with his potential new club to square away the details.

Southampton are said to still be furious about the approach from Liverpool to Van Dijk, so much so that if they were to sell their star player and captain this summer (they maintain he’s not for sale) they’d rather take less money from another club (Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal are all said to be interested) than let him leave for Anfield for over $70 million.

After Liverpool plucked Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Nathaniel Clyne and Sadio Mane from Saints in the past few years, it’s easy to understand why the South Coast club are now standing firm and saying enough is enough.

Vidal rips Ronaldo ahead of Confederations Cup semifinal

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Chile hopes to make a statement on Wednesday when it faces EURO 2016 champions Portugal and Ballon d’Or champion Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions can lay claim to another inter-confederation title with two more wins in the 2017 Confederations Cup, beginning with the semifinal in Kazan.

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Chile finished behind Germany in Group B but didn’t lose a match and only allowed two goals. That’ll be tested by Portugal and its seven goals in three matches.

Two of those goals came from Ronaldo, but don’t tell that to Arturo Vidal. Chile’s hard-edged midfielder doesn’t like him much.

From Goal.com:

“Cristiano is a smart ass,” he told reporters. “For me he does not exist.

“I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final.”

Germany will have to take care of Mexico to make that happen, though we have a feeling a certain smart ass will have a thing or two to say before it’s all said and done.

Vidal has spoken loudly of his desire to get Chilean teammate Alexis Sanchez, a former Barcelona man, at his club Bayern Munich. If Ronaldo is on the market, this isn’t a great recruiting tool. Ah, jokes.

Trio of Crew players in Ghana roster to face USMNT, Mexico

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Ghana’s team to face the United States men’s national team on Saturday in East Hartford will look somewhat familiar to fans of Major League Soccer.

Columbus Crew players Harrison Afful, Mohammed Abu and Jonathan Mensah join David Accam of the Chicago Fire, and Gershon Koffie of the New England Revolution on a unit with Kwadwo Poku of the NASL’s Kwadwo Poku.

John Boye, Asamoah Gyan, and Mensah are the only three players from the loss to the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup.

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Like the U.S., this is a less than full-strength squad. Missing are a number of Black Stars standouts, with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah, Daniel Amartey, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Christian Atsu, Jeff Schlupp, and Baba Rahman not with the team.

Saturday’s match is the last USMNT outing before the Gold Cup begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.

Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)

Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew),  Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor),  John Boye (Sivasspor), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty)

Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew, Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Kwadwo Poku (FC Miami), Winful Kwaku Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution)

Strikers: Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC), David Accam (Chicago Fire)

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

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That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

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Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup