Steven Gerrard

Premier League Sunday Preview: Liverpool’s chance to tighten its grip; Fourth place in focus

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Liverpool already controls its title destiny, but with a win at Carrow Road on Sunday, the Premier League leaders can tighten its grip on the 2013-14 crown. In the wake of last week’s win over Manchester City, the Reds’ upcoming visit from Chelsea looked set to define the title race, but after both the Citizens and Blues were tripped up by Sunderland, Brendan Rodgers’ team can forge some breathing room. Beat Norwich City, and Liverpool will be five points clear at the top.

In the day’s two other games, the league’s final Champions League spot will be in focus. The most difficult match of Arsenal’s run-in, Sunday’s trip to Hull, coincides with one of Everton’s two biggest remaining challenges, a visit from Manchester United. After the Toffees were upset by Crystal Palace midweek, Arsenal has already reclaimed fourth place, but if Everton stumbles again, Gooners can stop worrying their club will follow Manchester United out of the top four.

With each game to be broadcast on NBCSN (and streamed via NBC Sports Live Extra), here is quick look at the three-match Sunday in the Premier League:

Norwich City vs. Liverpool, 7:00 a.m. Eastern, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra

  • Norwich City only two points above the drop.
  • Liverpool has won 10 league matches in a row.
  • Luis Suárez (29) has more goals than the Canaries have scored this season (26).

With three losses in a row, there’s an increased feeling of doom around the Canaries, particularly with the three teams in the drop starting to pick up points. All of Cardiff City (18th), Fulham (19th), and Sunderland (20th) could pass Norwich with a win next week, provided the Canaries don’t get a result on Sunday.

Given Chelsea and Manchester City’s stumbles, we should be mindful of a potential Liverpool slip, particularly with Daniel Sturridge out. The Reds will also be without Jordan Henderson, who begins a three-match suspension. Still, with the likes of Suárez, Steven Gerrard, and Raheem Sterling set to play, it will take an upset of Chelsea-Sunderland proportions to keep the Reds from their 11th straight win.

Hull City vs. Arsenal, 9:05 a.m. Eastern, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra

  • Arsenal’s won the teams’ last five meetings.
  • With 40 goals allowed, Hull has conceded one fewer time than Arsenal.
  • No Hull player has scored more than four goals this season (Nikica Jelavic).

Spirits were raised around Arsenal after the team’s mid-week win over West Ham. Not only did the victory end a near-month-long winless run, but the result allowed the Gunners to reclaim fourth. Coming into Sunday’s game one point ahead of Everton, Arsenal controls its own Champions League 2014-15 destiny.

For Hull City, relegation is still a concern, though six points above the drop, you can forgive the Tigers for looking at this as a pure FA Cup Final preview. Set to meet the Gunners at Wembley next month, Hull will be measuring itself against the last team that stands between it and the club’s first major honor. Sunday’s result is more likely to be seen through that lens than relegation’s.

Everton vs. Manchester United, 11:10 a.m. Eastern, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra

  • David Moyes makes his first visit to Goodison Park since leaving Everton.
  • Toffees one-point back of Arsenal for fourth place.
  • Wayne Rooney expected to be available after toe injury.

What’s the bigger surprise: That Manchester United, on Moyes’ return to Goodison, have no chance to make Champions League? That Everton does? Or that Moyes’s Red Devils, riding a two-match winning streak, could play a major part in keeping his old club out of Champions League? Given what we saw mid-week from Everton, a United win at Goodison isn’t difficult to imagine.

For Roberto Martínez’s men, the Crystal Palace game may serve as a wake-up call. Not sufficiently scared by their close call against Sunderland, the Toffees went out and gave up three goals to what used to be the  league’s worst attack (the Eagles’ explosion in Liverpool changed that). A similar performance against Rooney and Juan Mata could end their top-four dream.

For most of this season, Everton’s been the better of these teams, but as United has shown all season, playing with expectations can have a debilitating effect. After defeating Arsenal two weeks ago, Everton’s transcended plucky upstart. They’re now expected to maintain a challenge for fourth.

Klinsmann praises Nagbe: “He knows he has to push the envelope”

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Pedro Larrea #15 of Ecuador reacts as Nagbe Darlington #10 of the United States celebrates with Christian Pulisic #17 of the United States after scoring against Ecuador during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
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Breaking into a Jurgen Klinsmann side isn’t easy, especially for an attacker.

With the United States men’s national team boss quite happy to trot out Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and — when healthy — Jozy Altidore, becoming a regular isn’t easy.

So making the most of your opportunity is key, and Darlington Nagbe has done that most times he’s hit the pitch for the USMNT.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

And scoring a 90th minute winner against Ecuador, even in a 1-0 friendly win, is going to help his odds of sticking in the coach’s mind. Klinsmann said Nagbe “knows he has to push the envelope”, and lauded him for doing so while cautioning that he’s never questioned the offensive acumen of Portland Timbers’ man.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“Now you also want to tell him ‘Listen, you’ve got to make an impression. You’ve got to learn to play both ways and grind it out defensively, go into 1v1s and win balls as well,’” Klinsmann said.

“And that’s just going forward. He has tremendous talent with the ball at his feet going forward. That’s what we enjoy in MLS every weekend. But the international side is both ways, and that’s what we’re working on. And he’s getting better and better at doing that.”

Nagbe was among a handful of U.S. players to shine during a dominant second half that saw the Timbers midfielder snare the decisive goal, and it’s not a stretch to say he was the brightest. Let’s hope to see him get a chance to start on Saturday against Bolivia.

Lukaku will listen to Everton but “I have my own ideas in mind

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - MAY 11: Romelu Lukaku of Everton arrives for the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Everton at the Stadium of Light on May 11, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
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Romelu Lukaku‘s future looks to be away from Goodison Park.

The big Belgian striker authored 25 goals across all competitions this season, including 18 in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Zlatan has “taken a decision” ]

But as he prepares for the Euro 2016 tournament, Lukaku’s comments make it seem likely that even new investments from up high aren’t going to keep him on Merseyside.

From Sky Sports:

“We have a new investor at Everton and out of courtesy I will listen to what he has to say. But I have my own ideas in mind. I want to win titles.

“I have had a very good season, but it is time for me to write myself a CV. That is why I play football. I got that trophy-winning mindset from Chelsea.”

Lukaku would be a big ticket item on the transfer market, and should go for more than the $41 million price tag Everton paid to get him from Chelsea.

Ibrahimovic says he has received offers from England, Italy

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 11:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Paris Saint-Germain walks out for a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg match against Manchester City at Etihad Stadium on April 11, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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STOCKHOLM (AP) Still looking for a team for next season, Zlatan Ibrahimovic says he has “concrete offers” from England, Italy and other countries.

The 34-year-old Sweden striker, who has said he is leaving Paris Saint-Germain, has yet to announce where he is headed after the European Championship.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

Ibrahimovic says “I have taken my decision,” but he didn’t elaborate.

At Euro 2016, Sweden will play in Group E with Belgium, Italy and Ireland.

Benitez stay is huge, but Newcastle cannot be content with players

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 30:  Rafael Benitez (R) manager of Newcastle United congratulates Andros Townsend (L) after their 1-0 win in the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Crystal Palace at St James' Park on April 30, 2016 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
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As posted yesterday, Rafa Benitez met with the media after Newcastle United confirmed that the trophy-winning manager has decided to stay with the club despite relegation, and said this is his ship now.

This is huge news for the Magpies.

The 56-year-old Spaniard couldn’t rescue the sinking ship he inherited from Steve McClaren, and is tasked with lifting Newcastle back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

For years, Newcastle’s managers have been subject to the approval of chief scouts, managing directors and owner Mike Ashley. What Benitez has now is assurances that no player is being sold without his permission, and none being bought without his approval. Which means no midseason sales of Yohan Cabaye because the iron is hot, or unrequested purchases like Xisco.

Of course that could mean we’re headed for a huge August or January bust-up when Ashley or Lee Charnley pulls the rug out from some big acquisition that could firm up Newcastle’s standing in the top flight, but we’ll stay on the sunny side for now and assume Benitez’s people made that part of his contact air tight.

It means Newcastle could line up, basically, the same as last season. There are plusses and minuses to that, of course, as the club was relegated thanks to woeful form and players who were perhaps rightfully accused of only showing up for primetime matches.

Consider:

— Newcastle took as many points from Manchester United (2) as Aston Villa.

— The Magpies went 2-0 against Tottenham Hotspur, grabbed four points from Liverpool, beat West Ham and drew both Manchester City and Chelsea.

— They also lost to relegation rivals Norwich, drew Sunderland twice and were swept by Watford.

So while Benitez holds sway to keep Moussa Sissoko, Georginio Wijnaldum and Daryl Janmaat despite the big money they could command on the open market, he has to be 100 percent sure they won’t mail it in.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Kevin Nolan of Newcastle United celebrates scoring the opening goal with team mate Andy Carroll (L) during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Liverpool at St James' Park on December 11, 2010 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Carroll and Nolan (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

There’s no certainty there, and one of the main things that helped Newcastle bounce right back up to the PL in 2009-10 was a crew that got its footing in the Championship by Week 13 and never looked back: the Magpies lost just once in the league from Oct. 24 onward thanks in large part to heart-and-soul players who stuck around after the drop (Kevin Nolan, Jonas Gutierrez, Fabricio Coloccini, Andy Carroll and others).

Among those who fit the bill for understanding the task at hand are Andros Townsend, Jonjo Shelvey, Jack Colback, Chancel Mbemba and Coloccini. Others, like Sissoko and Siem De Jong, risk poisoning the well. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be kept around, but Benitez will need to know transfer rumor and agent hijinks aren’t in the offing.

Make no mistake about it, Benitez in control is better than anything the Magpies have had in ages and Newcastle is far more likely to replicate the instant promotions of West Ham and itself than the divisional drops of Leeds United and Portsmouth.