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.

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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.

Southgate: Racism isn’t just a Russian problem

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Credit England boss Gareth Southgate for honesty.

The national team manager was asked about the plethora of stories regarding racism in Russian football ahead of this summer’s World Cup.

[ MORE: PSG punished for incidents vs. Real ]

Given the climate between Russia and England, there are any number of roads he could’ve taken in reply. Suffice it to say, he chose the high one.

Pointing out that racism is everywhere, Southgate used the example of Kick It Out manager Troy Townsend showing the coach some racist comments posted on a photo of English youth national team.

“Our teams mix and the youngsters look up to the senior team,” said Southgate. “I know most of those young players really closely and I’ve seen them come through. To see them abused in that way is absolutely disgusting. When we speak about other countries, I find it difficult to deflect what we’ve seen there.”

“I don’t think we should just talk about racism in Russia. We have got to get our own house in order. There are still things going on in our own country around racism that aren’t correct. We keep pointing the finger at Russia, where we are going to be guests in the next couple of months, but we haven’t resolved the issue in our own country and until we do I think we should stop firing those things off elsewhere.”

Full marks to Southgate for that, now more folks need to turn words into action and cut the vile comments off at the knees.

PSG fined, will have to close part of stadium at next UCL match

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Paris Saint-Germain’s fans had a bit too much fun in their UEFA Champions League loss against Real Madrid, but apparently just a bit.

[ MORE: Zlatan leaves Man Utd ]

Les Parisiens  are facing a partial stadium ban for next season’s first UCL contest after their fans were charged with blocking a stairway, setting off fireworks, and using a laser pointer.

The punishment includes closing the North Stand at the Parc Des Princes and a fine of a little over $52,000.

The stadium ban is one thing, but $52,000, UEFA? How will PSG ever afford it? Neymar will certainly have to take a pay cut.

(If you’re curious, Neymar makes approximately $1 million per week).

Injuries leave host Russia limping ahead of World Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) With less than three months to go until the World Cup in Russia, the host nation’s players are dropping like flies.

A spate of knee injuries this year has left the Russians hurrying to find cover at the back and trying to replace a key attacking threat.

[ MORE: Zlatan leaves Man Utd ]

First, center back Georgy Dzhikiya tore his knee ligaments during a friendly in January. The same happened to Viktor Vasin a month later. Russia’s defense was already thin, so those injuries prompted calls for the 35-year-old Berezutsky twins, Alexei and Vasily, to return from international retirement. They refused to do so.

Now coach Stanislav Cherchesov must also seek a replacement for Zenit St. Petersburg forward Alexander Kokorin, who tore his knee ligaments in the Europa League last week. That puts more responsibility on the shoulders of Fyodor Smolov, now likely to be Russia’s undisputed first-choice striker for the World Cup.

“We’re not complaining about anything,” Cherchesov said Thursday. “Fate is often testing us in various ways but we always try to be ready.”

The injuries mean Cherchesov will be forced to experiment during Friday’s friendly against Brazil and Tuesday’s game against France, both at home. Short-term medical issues have ruled three more fringe players out of those games.

Here’s a closer look at the issues facing Russia ahead of the World Cup:


If you had to pick one Russian striker for the World Cup, it might as well be Fyodor Smolov.

On track to be the Russian league’s top scorer for the third season in a row, Smolov has been working on his English skills as he eyes a move to the Premier League.

Smolov was linked with West Ham during the January transfer window but opted to stay with FC Krasnodar, saying he didn’t want to abandon his team as it battles for a spot in the Champions League next season.

With Kokorin almost certainly out of the picture for the World Cup, Russia’s backup options include Anton Zabolotny, who is still settling in at Zenit after a recent move from newly promoted FC Tosno. The 22-year-old Alexei Miranchuk can play as a forward, but is better in a deeper role.


Russian players tend to stay in their domestic league, but there’s one big exception in midfield – Denis Cheryshev.

The winger came through the Real Madrid youth system when his father was coaching there and is now at Villarreal, but frequent injuries have dented hopes he can add some spice to the national team.

Now he’s fit again and in the squad to face Brazil and France.

Elsewhere in the midfield, there are the promising and creative youngsters Roman Zobnin and Alexander Golovin, but Russia doesn’t currently have a dominant defensive midfielder.


Cherchesov has a reputation as a difficult coach to get along with, and Russian media have regularly reported fallings-out with various players.

One of those outside the squad is Igor Denisov, who last played for Russia in 2016. He has been playing well in a defensive midfield role this season for Lokomotiv Moscow, the team at the top of the Russian league standings. Denisov and Cherchesov clashed during the latter’s time as Dynamo Moscow coach.

Also absent from the squad is forward Artyom Dzyuba. A talented striker who has scored 11 goals in 22 games for Russia but has a reputation for being hot-headed, Dzyuba was deemed surplus to requirements at Zenit and sent on loan to Arsenal Tula. In three games there, he has scored three goals and set up two more to put himself back in the World Cup contention.


Russia’s soccer team hasn’t escaped the country’s doping scandals.

Defensive midfielder Ruslan Kambolov is under investigation by FIFA for a possible doping case revealed by Moscow laboratory documents, but hasn’t been suspended.

The team’s schedule was disrupted Wednesday by drug-testing, which took more than five hours and delayed training. On Thursday, the team said five more doping control officers turned up to take samples from the team.

Wilshere injured, could play in England’s second friendly

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I have no idea what tendinopathy means, but Arsenal and England will be hoping it’s only a minor thing for Jack Wilshere.

[ MORE: Zlatan leaves Man Utd ]

The resurgent Gunners midfielder is going to miss at least one of England’s friendlies this international break after suffering a knee injury in training.

“Jack just felt some tendinopathy in his knee but it’s nothing too serious,” Southgate said. “We decided to leave him back at base and see how he responds, and we hope to have him with us on Saturday.”

England is in Netherlands on Friday, and returns to London to host Italy at Wembley on Tuesday.

Arsenal doesn’t play until April 1 when it visits Stoke City.