Americans Abroad Preview: Howard guns for Champions League, Jozy in six-pointer

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Tim Howard, fresh off announcing his retirement plans, is in the hunt for a return to the Champions League when Everton travels to Southampton with its sights on Arsenal’s 4th-placed slot.

Arsenal doesn’t play until Monday when they host Newcastle, but Howard can put the heat on the Gunners with a win at St. Mary’s Park. The Saints have little to play for, as do many in the mid-table, so this could be a chance for Everton to pounce, at 7:45am ET tomorrow on NBCSN or live online at NBC Sports Live Extra.

There isn’t much riding on the match, but Brad Guzan and Aston Villa are solidify their Premier League status with certainty as they travel to Liberty Stadium to take on Swansea in a similar position.

Both teams are five and six points from the drop zone respectively, and although relegation is a distant possibility at best, the two have yet to reach the magical 40 point mark.  They meet up at 10am ET live online at NBC Sports Live Extra. Guzan did yeoman’s work last week in a 0-0 draw against Southampton, but he’ll need his attack to help a little more to get Villa out of their rut.

Meanwhile, Jozy Altidore stated his intentions to get back in the Sunderland starting lineup with a key moment in their win over Chelsea. Now, the Black Cats look to build on that statement win and continue their march out out of the relegation zone.

Sunderland are in 20th, but their win over the Blues has them within three of safety, and they host 18th-placed Cardiff City at 7am ET on Sunday, live on NBCSN.

Stoke City are looking to stake their claim at their first-ever top-10 finish, and Geoff Cameron figures to be right in the thick of things as they host Tottenham Hotspur. The London club are essentially in the Europa League by table position, and don’t have much riding on the last few matches.

WATCH ALL PREMIER LEAGUE GAMES THIS WEEKEND LIVE ONLINE AT NBC SPORTS LIVE EXTRA

Lower in the English ranks, Jonathan Spector and Will Packwood are in a serious battle with relegation.  Just off the drop on goal difference, they’ll need a win over 16th-placed Leeds to ensure they remain above the line.

Danny Williams comes off a poor showing for Reading, and he’ll hope the manager sees past it for selection against Doncaster.

Bolton travels to Sheffield Wednesday as Tim Ream faces Oguchi Onyewu on Saturday. The two sides are adjacent in the middle of the Championship table but safely afloat.

Huddersfield Town gets a tough draw with promoted Leicester City. Duane Holmes has been on and off the bench, but will hope to get a run-out against the likely champions.

Leaving England, Sacha Kljestan has a massive match in front of him in the Jupiler Pro League.  With Anderlecht in third by a large margin, they have four matches to catch Club Brugge for second place and take on first-placed Standard Liege.

AZ Alkmaar was off last week in the Netherlands but are back on for the final two fixtures as Aron Johannsson looks to add to his 17-goal tally.  They take on ADO Den Haag on Sunday. Juan Augdelo was also off, but his FC Utrecht is on the pitch again at Heerenveen.

Terrence Boyd comes off his brace for Rapid Wien against SV Scholz Grodig to take on SV Salsburg.

In France, Ale Bedoya is on a roll with two goals in his last three matches.  His Nantes has already played, drawing 1-1 with Marseille to move back into the Top 10. Bedoya started and played the full 90 minutes.

John Anthony Brooks has played a decent amount the last few weeks, and Hertha gets Bundesliga opponents BTSV Saturday. Across the league, Fabian Johnson and Hoffenheim host Eintracht Frankfurt.

Puebla pulled out a big road win 2-1 over Pachucha last week in their bid against relegation, and now host Morelia as DaMarcus Beasley looks to play more minutes. Joe Corona and Edgar Castillo are currently on the pitch for Tijuana as they trail Leon 1-0 at halftime.  Herculez Gomez is not in the squad.

Manchester derby “the game of the season”

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Whatever way you slice it up, Thursday’s Manchester derby is huge.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Manchester City host Manchester United (Watch, 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at the Etihad Stadium with Pep Guardiola‘s side just one point ahead of United in the Premier League table.

City currently occupy fourth spot and the final UEFA Champions League qualification berth but are coming off the back of a damaging FA Cup semifinal defeat to Arsenal after extra time.

United and Jose Mourinho haven’t lost in 23 Premier League games, the longest current unbeaten streak across Europe’s top five leagues, and are in the UEFA Europa League semifinals as their banged up squad have stood tall in the final months of the campaign.

Speaking ahead of the derby, one of United’s stars this season believes everything comes down to this one game.

“It is going to be the game of the season,” Ander Herrera said. “We are one point behind them. If we win we have the chance to finish in the top four, if they win it is going to be very difficult. It is the game of the season.

“Make or break? Probably. Both teams are in a good moment so if one of us wins the game we are not going to lose a lot of games, or make mistakes after that. Us or them. It is going to be key. I don’t know the ‘winner takes all’ expression but it is going to be a massive game. We are in a very good moment, a very good run and we respect them but we are doing a lot of good things and we have to show it on Thursday.”

Herrera’s comments say it all.

It is fair to say that both Manchester clubs have flattered to deceive for much of this season with Guardiola’s tactics yet to flourish in England and Mourinho’s rebuild hampered by injuries and a lack of goals at crucial moments.

On Thursday there will be a raucous atmosphere at the Etihad as both teams are aware of what is at stake.

More of the pressure may well be on City who now have just a place in the top four to focus on and with many previously giving United no chance of finishing in the top four, a win at City would take them above their “noisy neighbors” and into the UCL spots.

Former Czech Republic defender Rajtoral kills himself

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PRAGUE (AP) Former Czech Republic defender Frantisek Rajtoral, who won the domestic league title four times before joining Turkish club Gaziantepspor, died on Sunday. He was 31.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alex Sanchez this weekend ]

The Czech football federation said in a statement that Rajtoral had “committed suicide in Turkey.”

His agent Pavel Zika confirmed the player’s death, describing it as a “huge tragedy.”

Gaziantepspor announced Rajtoral’s death in a brief statement on its website.

Rajtoral played 14 international matches for the Czech Republic.

In the top Czech league, he won four titles with Viktoria Plzen and played in the group stage of the Champions League twice for the club. He moved to Hannover in the Bundesliga in 2014 for half of the season, on loan.

He left Viktoria Plzen last year to move to Turkey.

Bellerin wants to represent Spain U21s despite Wenger’s wishes

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Arsene Wenger has made it clear about Hector Bellerin representing Spain this summer but the Arsenal defender is prepared to go against his manager’s wishes if he is selected.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alexis Sanchez over the weekend ]

The 22-year-old has said he hopes to play for Spain’s Under-21 side this summer during the 2017 European U-21 Championship but Wenger has been weary of Bellerin’s injury status and wants his fullback to maintain a clean bill of health throughout the offseason.

“I really want to play,” Bellerin told IBTimes. “Representing Spain is very important. If [Albert] Celades gives me the chance I’ll be there.

“Those are opinions of the managers. I have to keep working. The truth is that I had a difficult injury but I think that I am at 100% now and I’ll try to prove it when I get the chance.”

Bellerin signed a six-and-a-half year deal with the Gunners in November, where he has resided since coming up in the club’s academy. He has made 102 appearances for Wenger’s team in that span over all competitions.

Roma boosts bid for 2nd in Serie A by beating Pescara 4-1

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PESCARA, Italy (AP) Roma boosted its bid for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the Champions League with a 4-1 win at Pescara, which was mathematically relegated on Monday.

[ MORE: Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League ]

Roma moved four points clear of third-placed Napoli, which drew against Sassuolo 2-2 on Sunday. Third place in Serie A receives a Champions League playoff.

Pescara remained 15 points behind Empoli. There are only five matches left and Empoli has the better head-to-head record, which is the deciding factor if two teams finish level on points.

There were 48 goals in total in the 33rd round, matching the record set in October 1992.

Roma took control shortly before halftime, with Kevin Strootman breaking the deadlock after Stephan El Shaarawy unselfishly rolled the ball across the area.

Radja Nainggolan, who earlier hit the bar, doubled Roma’s lead two minutes later.

Mohamed Salah extended Roma’s advantage three minutes after the break and the winger doubled his tally on the hour following a swift counterattack.

Ahmad Benali got a consolation for Pescara and a Cristiano Biraghi free kick also hit the post for the home side.