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.

Bobby Wood looks forward to working with Arena, praises Klinsmann

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A back injury kept Bobby Wood from United States men’s national team camp, but the Hamburg striker has been feeling good about the side’s World Cup fortunes since before the big win over Honduras.

Speaking with Hamburg’s team magazine, Wood gave a sprawling interview on his career and time with the national team. Wood praised Arena for scouting in Germany, saying the USMNT boss is a quiet coach who has his own style of playing, one that will prod the Yanks into the World Cup.

[ MORE: Complete USMNT-Panama preview ]

But the 24-year-old Hawaii-born striker saved his fondest words for ex-coach Jurgen Klinsmann, essentially calling him a career-saver. From HSV live (translated from German):

He’s very important to me. I believe if Jürgen had not been U.S. coach, then I might have stopped playing football or would have played somewhere in the fourth league.

That is why I am very, very grateful to him. At that time I was in a deep hole – it was real heavy. … He has believed in my quality. We are still in contact, he texts me.

Wood was a part-time player for 1860 Munich when Klinsmann first called him up to the national team side, and now he’s a Bundesliga striker who will be in demand if the club is relegated. Wood has also been mentioned as a target for Premier League clubs.

That’s a pretty good career jump. Klinsmann may have failed to deliver much of what he promised to the national team, but talent mining was done quite well.

USMNT-Panama preview: World Cup calm at stake

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Still wounded from the first two matches of the Hex but buoyed by its demolition of Honduras, the United States men’s national team faces an inspired Panama on Tuesday night in Panama City.

The Yanks arose from the ashes of losses to Mexico and Costa Rica to bury Honduras 6-0 Friday behind a Clint Dempsey hat trick and a goal and two assists from Christian Pulisic.

A win on Tuesday in Panama gives the U.S. something that can only soothe the nerves ahead of two summer qualifiers and the Gold Cup: Top Three status in the Hex (as is always expected).

Now the resurgent Americans face a Panama side which sits above them on the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying table, having narrowed the gap on a Los Canaleros side who itself has narrowed its sights on a USMNT which burned them nearly four years ago.

[ USMNT-HONDURAS: Player ratings | Three things ]

Panama looked set to earn an interconfederation playoff berth with a 2-1 lead over the already-advanced U.S. when Graham “San” Zusi and Aron Johannsson led a shocking comeback at the Estadio Rommel Fernández to give Mexico the Hex’s fourth-place.

Los Canaleros shot out of the Hex gates with a win at Honduras and a 0-0 draw at home against Mexico, but fell 1-0 at Trinidad and Tobago on Friday thanks to Minnesota United star Kevin Molino.

Now licking its wounds while eyeing revenge, Panama will hope its pair of draws with the U.S. at the 2015 Gold Cup are the start they need to pick up a first home World Cup qualifying win over the States. Panama won the third-place match over the USMNT via shootout at the that tournament.

Boss Hernán Darío Gómez is no stranger to international battles having led Ecuador, Colombia, and Guatemala. He deployed a 4-5-1 against T&T, and could opt for that again but has usually used either a 4-1-4-1 or 4-4-2 with two holding mids against deeper sides than the Soca Warriors.

The former has worked better, and the personnel sometimes serves as a surprise. Last time out, in a 0-0 draw against Mexico, Gomez kept Anibal Godoy and Luis Tejada on the bench in what looks like a 4-2-2-2 at times.

[ MORE: Making sense out of the 6-0 win ]

Bruce Arena faces his own issues. In addition to the absences of Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson, the USMNT lost Sebastian Lletget and John Brooks in the win over Honduras.

Lletget’s absence is quickly remedied by either Alejandro Bedoya or, more likely, Jermaine Jones, but Brooks is a bigger problem. The Hertha Berlin man cleaned up several messes made by Omar Gonzalez, the ex-LA Galaxy man who — for better or worse — may not have shaken Arena’s confidence thanks to their long relationship.

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Geoff Cameron is his best option at CB, and could serve a similar purpose to Brooks. Still, he’s not 100 percent.

Gonzalez and Matt Besler worked well together a long time ago, but Tim Ream was Arena’s first choice when Brooks hit the turf with dehydration on Friday. There’s also wild card Walker Zimmerman, who would be taking the field in his highest-profile match yet.

Arena will want to take the match to Panama, even on the road. How will it look in front of Tim Howard? This is an option for Arena, though not one we expect:

Howard

Zusi — Cameron — Ream — Villafana

Jones — Bradley — Nagbe

Pulisic

Dempsey — Altidore

Instead, Arena will probably roll the bones with Gonzalez again, and keep things close to the Honduras win. It would be silly to break up the Villafana-Nagbe partnership on the left, and the top three isn’t changing one bit.

The question is whether Arena ruffles Jones, who is both combustible and not part of the long-term future. But Jones, like all of us, would’ve seen 6-0. So, probably, this:

Howard

Cameron — Gonzalez — Ream — Villafana

Bradley

Bedoya — Nagbe

Pulisic

Dempsey — Altidore

If Bradley provides the same picture-perfect cover for the back four and Pulisic continues to hum off the veteran big bodies of Dempsey and Altidore, the latter of which who is due a goal or two, the Yanks win. At worst, they’re beaten for pace by Alberto Quintero and stymied by Jaime Penedo. But the former can be covered by an in-form Howard, and the latter can only hold out for so long.

A draw puts the U.S. behind Panama, Costa Rica, and Mexico ahead of two months off and the knowledge that both Mexico and Costa Rica are home for both June qualifiers.

Schweinsteiger waiting on visa, training in Mallorca

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Bastian Schweinsteiger is waiting on a visa to make his trip to Chicago official.

It’s a formality, albeit a bit trickier now given the political climate in the United States. The former Manchester United midfielder is training at Real Mallorca ahead of the move.

The transfer was announced one week ago, and Schweinsteiger is anxious to get back on the pitch. Set for a 1-year, $4.5 million deal, the midfielder has not missed any Chicago matches yet.

[ MORE: Under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

The Fire is 1-1-1 to start the new season under Veljko Paunovic, and has three home matches next: Montreal (Saturday), Columbus (Apr. 8), and New England (Apr. 15)

Report: Arsenal interested in Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel

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According to a report by The Sun, Arsenal is monitoring the progress of Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

The rumor does make sense. With Petr Cech at 34 years old and having a poor season in front of net and backup David Ospina failing to challenge him for the starting job, the Gunners are looking elsewhere to bring in a potential future starter.

Schmeichel has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League the past two seasons. Last season he led the Foxes to the Premier League title, organizing a stunningly good defensive line of patchwork players. This season, the defense has largely regressed and let Schmeichel down, but he has still performed well and has the metrics to remain one of the league’s top shot-stoppers.

The Danish keeper is 30 years old himself, but that puts him in his prime for a goalkeeper. He has been with Leicester City since 2011, and he will tick 250 appearances for the club with his next match. Schmeichel was rumored to be a member of the secret player delegation that worked hard to see Claudio Ranieri pushed out of the club, a sentiment which he and the other players have strongly denied.

Still, with an improbable Premier League title in hand and an appearance in the Champions League quarterfinals now on the cards, there probably isn’t much else for him at Leicester City. It’s possible Schmeichel could look to bank on his past performances and secure a move to a bigger club this summer.

Should Arsene Wenger stay with Arsenal past this season, a possibility that looks more and more likely, he could look to move on from Cech despite signing the former Chelsea goalkeeper just two summers ago.