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Premier League Sunday Preview: Top two meet at Anfield; six-pointer in Sunderland

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The Premier League title race won’t be over, but Chelsea’s part in it will be with a loss at Anfield. The second place Blues, unabashedly distracted by Wednesday’s Champions League match at Stamford Bridge, have threatened to start a “B team” Sunday against league-leading Liverpool – a team that carries an 11-match winning streak into the potentially decisive affair.

That game begins just after 9:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and Live Extra, though you’ll also want to get up for the undercard two hours earlier. Having claimed a combined eight points in their last two weeks, both Sunderland and Cardiff City are making late pushes for survival. On Sunday, the two relegation-embattled clubs meet at the Stadium of Light, with a winner guaranteed a spot above 17th Norwich in the standings.

WATCH – All your Premier League action via NBC Sports Live Extra

Even the day’s final game, though it can’t match the stakes, carries its own air of intrigue. Manchester City may need a win to keep its title hopes from being purely mathematical, but against a Crystal Palace team that has sprung recent upsets against Chelsea and Everton, a trip to Selhurst Park carries more danger than most. The Eagles have won five in a row.

Here’s a quick preview of your Premier League Sunday:

Sunderland vs. Cardiff City, 7:00 a.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra

    • Sunderland took road points at Manchester City and Chelsea last week.
    • Cardiff City with only one loss in four.
    • Teams drew 2-2 earlier this season in Wales.

Sunderland’s cup runs had already established their ability to scare giants, a trait that served the club surprisingly well last week. But can Gus Poyet prevent his team from playing down to relegation-level competition? It’s a strange question to ask of a team in the bottom three, but it’s one that could define the club’s Premier League season. A loss or draw at home wastes the Black Cats’ best chance to claim points before the end of the season, simultaneously handing a boost to a direct survival rival.

The only major absence for either team is Sunderland midfielder Ki Sung-yeung, meaning Cardiff City will have to figure out a way to stop Connor Wickham, as strange as that sounds. The England U-level standout has spent most of the last year on loan in the Championship,  but with Poyet’s team struggling to get production from the forward position, he was recalled from Leeds United earlier this year. His three goals in the last two games represent almost half of his career Premier League haul (seven).

Liverpool vs. Chelsea, 9:05 a.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra

    • Liverpool has a five-point lead over Chelsea at the top of the Premier League.
    • Liverpool has the league’s best attack (96 goals); Chelsea has the league’s best defense (26 goals).
    • Chelsea beat Liverpool earlier this season at Stamford Bridge, 2-1.

The lead up to what will be one of the most important games of the Premier League season has been dominated by speculation about José Mourinho’s selection. The Chelsea manager received permission to play a weakened squad in order to save resources for the Champions League. With his team five back of first (and a win potentially leaving Manchester City favorites to win the title), Mourinho’s choices may prove extremely risk-averse.

Frank Lampard, John Obi Mikel (both suspended for Wednesday’s game) and Nemanja Matic (cup-tied) will almost certainly play, but if Mourinho sees a potential 120 minute game mid-week as reason to avoid risks with those who might play Wednesday, the rest of the team could be reserves and kids. Matched up against the league’s best attack — one that could see former Blue Daniel Sturridge return — this may prove more lopsided than your typical late-season meeting between top two clubs.

Crystal Palace vs. Manchester City, 11:10 a.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Exta

    • Five wins in a row have Crystal Palace in 11th place.
    • Manchester City possesses the league’s best goal difference: +56.
    • City won teams’ last meeting, 1-0 in December.

David Silva is out with an ankle injury, but Yaya Touré, recently sidelined with a groin injury, could return. Against a stingy Crystal Palace defense, however, City may need them both, even if the likes of Sergio Agüero, Samir Nasri, and Fernandinho leave Manuel Pellegrini with enough talent as his disposal.

But that didn’t help Chelsea. Or Everton. Or any of the other teams that have fallen to Palace since Tony Pulis’s arrival. The Eagles are rarely level on talent with their opponents, yet Pulis has found a way to steer them well clear of the drop. After inheriting a team at the bottom of the standings, the former Stoke boss has guided his team to 11th place. An upset on Sunday will put Palace in the top half for the first time this season.

New reports claim Mourinho in talks with Manchester United

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New reports from various outlets in the UK claim that Jose Mourinho and Manchester United have held talks about him becoming the new man in charge at Old Trafford.

[ MORE: Klopp missing with illness ]

Mourinho, 53, has been out of worked since being fired by Chelsea back in December, but rumors have been rife that he will land at United.

The latest gossip claims that Mourinho and his agent, Jorge Mendes, have held talks with the United hierarchy about replacing current boss Louis Van Gaal this summer.

Van Gaal, 64, has a contract through the end of the 2016-17 Premier League season, but with United currently languishing five points off the top four and knocked out of the UEFA Champions League at the group stage, the Dutchman’s time appears to be running out.

After spending $375 million on new talent over the past 18 months, LVG’s team have blown hot and cold and this season have struggled to score goals or entertain fans on a regular basis. In the recent defeat to Southampton at home Van Gaal and his players were booed and jeered throughout but they’ve won two-straight games in the league and cup since then, scoring six goals and conceding just once.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

That said, with crosstown rivals Manchester City announcing that the most sought after coach on the globe, Pep Guaridola, will be arriving as their new boss in July on an initial three-year contract, United may feel the need to hire Guardiola’s old sparring partner from their days back in Spain coaching Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Manchester United vs. Manchester City is already pretty spicy. Imagine adding the Iberian passion of Guardiola vs. Mourinho to the mix. It’s gone off in the past when these two have met and having the two most successful coaches in the game today coaching in the same city would be something to behold.

Let’s see if this latest round of rumors is just that, or if United will make their move.

It was widely expected that Mourinho would take over from Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013 when he retired but reports claimed that the directors at United didn’t want Mourinho, despite his resume as a winner wherever he has gone.

United needs to be rebuilt and Mourinho needs to rebuild his reputation after being fired by Chelsea just seven months after he delivered the Premier League title, his third in five full seasons in charge of the Blues.

Klopp to miss Liverpool vs. Sunderland through illness

Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool FC
AP
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Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has suffered a bout of suspected appendicitis and will not be at Anfield for the clash against Sunderland on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra).

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Klopp, 46, will miss his first game since joining the Reds last October and it comes on the same day supporters groups are planning a mass walkout in the 77th minute to protest against new tickets prices for the 2016-17 season which were released earlier this week.

Liverpool Football Club released the following statement confirming Klopp’s absence:

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp will be absent from today’s Barclays Premier League fixture against Sunderland at Anfield, after suffering a suspected bout of appendicitis.

First-team duties will be overseen by the remaining members of the coaching staff, including Zeljko Buvac, Peter Krawietz, Pepijn Lijnders and John Achterberg.

A win against Sunderland would momentarily move Klopp’s side up to seventh place in the Premier League table and see them on 37 points for the season.

Watch Live: Manchester City vs. Leicester City (Lineups, Live Stream)

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 29:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City and Joe Hart of Manchester City in discussion after the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester City at The King Power Stadium on December 29, 2015 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Manchester City host Leicester City at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) in a huge clash between the top two teams in the Premier League table.

Leicester, the surprise package of the season by far, lead the way and are three points ahead of Man City heading into this monster clash.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE VIA LIVE EXTRA

Both teams are in sensational form, with the home side unbeaten in seven games and Leicester without a defeat in six. Will Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez torment City’s banged up back line? Or can City’s expensively assembled squad show their class and put the Foxes in their place?

In teams news City start with Nicolas Otamendi and Martin Demichelis at center back, while Raheem Sterling starts out wide in support of lone forward Sergio Aguero. Leicester line up in a familiar 4-4-2 formation with Vardy and Shinji Okazaki leading the line.

LINEUPS

Manchester City: Hart; Zabaleta, Otamendi, Demichelis, Kolarov; Delph, Fernandinho; Sterling, Toure, Silva; Aguero. Subs: Caballero, Clichy, Sagna, Fernando, Garcia, Iheanacho, Celina

Leicester City: Schmeichel; Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs; Drinkwater, Kante, Mahrez, Albrighton; Okazaki Vardy. Subs: Schwarzer, King, Gray, Ulloa, Dyer, Wasilewski, Chilwell

3 things we learned from the USMNT win over Canada

PORT OF SPAIN, TRINIDAD & TOBAGO - NOVEMBER 17: Jermaine Jones #13 keeps the ball in play during a World Cup Qualifier between Trinidad and Tobago and USA as part of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers for Russia 2018 at Hasely Crawford Stadium on November 17, 2015 in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago. (Photo by Ashley Allen Getty Images)
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The United States played to a disjointed and sloppy win over Canada to wrap up January camp. It was promising at times, but mostly a cringe-worthy display by both sides. Here are the key notes from the 90 minutes at StubHub Center in California.

1) Jermaine Jones should never play CB again

Look, this probably wasn’t ever the plan, and it probably never is. It’s the “break glass in case of emergency” option. With Matt Miazga likely supposed to start one or both these games before he left for Chelsea, and the departure of Michael Orozco and Brad Evans, the U.S. was thin at the back.

Still. Yikes…

Jones was flat out awful. Just days after he played well in a midfield distribution position against Iceland, he was a total mess at the back. Jones was miserable on the ball, giving it away with ugly touches, he lunged in on challenges including one on Cyle Larin early that very well could have resulted in a Canadian penalty. And he charged forward – something a central defender can never do – leaving his teammates caught out at the back. This ended with Matt Besler getting a yellow card:

Please, Jurgen. Never again.

2) Jordan Morris is developing into a useful player

In his first cap since signing a professional contract with the Seattle Sounders, Morris gave his critics much to think on. Many said the 21-year-old would come and go without much staying power, but he partnered well with Jozy Altidore. There wasn’t much service up front during his time on the field, but when there was, Morris drew defenders off Altidore, and he provided a solid foil to his bigger partner with his speed and precision. He didn’t have many opportunities, but when he did, he made his presence known.

3) Playing players out of position very rarely bears fruit

Soccer coaches often have two choices at their disposal when building a lineup: either pick the best 11 players and position them into a formation that fits their skills best, or pick a formation and then select the 11 players that fit that formation the best. Klinsmann prefers neither. Instead, recently he’s been picking 11 players he wishes to play, choose a formation he feels will fit the opponent, and then tries to force the players he chose into the formation he selected.

It hasn’t worked, especially not today. He tried to force 3 center-backs onto the back line. He tried to force three central midfielders (and Zardes) into a flat four midfield that occasionally looked like a flat diamond. Neither worked. It’s an experimental environment, sure, but the benefits of his choices aren’t entirely clear.

We know what doesn’t work, but we still don’t really know what works, and isn’t the latter what January camp was for?

4) Jozy Altidore needs to work on his heading…oh

Bonus! So, as the game wound down, I had written that Jozy needed to work on his heading in front of net. The 26-year-old had a few headed opportunities in the box throughout the game, and he failed to capitalize. He looked to drill it into the ground on multiple occasions, but from the distance most of his efforts came from, he likely should have looked to aim his headed shots rather than use the ground pound technique.

Then, you know, he scored the late winner on a header. So, yeah. Never mind. But still. Yeah. Whatever.

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