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Premier League Sunday Preview: Chelsea looks to go top; Arsenal welcomes West Brom

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Coming off last week’s win at Anfield, Chelsea can go top of the Premier League on Sunday when relegation-embattled Norwich City visits Stamford Bridge. Two points behind both Manchester City and Liverpool, the Blues can vault from third to first with a win over the Canaries, all but confirming Norwich’s relegation in the process. Though a loss will keep Neil Adams’ team three back of Sunderland, a huge goal difference disadvantage will leave the Canaries all but mathematically relegated, with the club left hoping the courts can provide a loophole that will keep it in the Premier League.

Before that match, however, West Bromwich Albion will try to get its third straight result from Arsenal when it visits the Emirates for the day’s opener. Only four points above the drop, Pepe Mel’s team still have a mathematic chance of being relegated, one that disappears with two points in its last three games. With Arsenal having confirmed its top four finish with Everton’s Saturday loss, the Gunners have little to play for, even though they could still catch Chelsea for third.

WATCH LIVE – All Premier League action available via NBC Sports Live Extra

Those are the implications. Here are more details on Sunday’s action in the Premier League:

Arsenal vs. West Bromwich Albion, 8:30 a.m. Eastern, NBCSN/NBC Sports Live Extra

  • Manager Pepe Mel with 15 points in 15 games since taking over at West Brom.
  • Baggies have earned 1-1 draws in each of the teams’ last two meetings.
  • Arsenal’s lost once at home all season.

With a top four (and, UEFA Champions League) spot sewn up, Arsenal can focus on the season’s last major objective: Winning the FA Cup. While that doesn’t necessarily mean Arsène Wenger will preserve his regulars, he is likely to approach his league season’s last two games asking How does this help us win the FA Cup? 

Need playing time ahead of the final? You’re in. Feeling a little bit tired? Sit this one out. Wenger won’t want to take any chances, but he also won’t want a rusty team taking the field on the 17th against Hull City. For most of his squad, playing will be the best way to stay in shape ahead of the final.

If Wenger subscribes to that view, expect Arsenal to be without Bacary Sagna, who is struggling with a knee injury. Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere have already been ruled out for another week, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott are out for the season.

Those absences leave an obvious area for West Brom to exploit. Without two of his fullbacks, Wenger will be forced to start Nacho Monreal at left back. With Morgan Amalfitano likely to get the call at right wing in its 4-2-3-1, West Brom has a player who can take advantage of Arsenal’s weakest defender.

Chelsea vs. Norwich City, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, NBCSN/NBC Sports Live Extra

  • Norwich have lost eight in a row on the road.
  • Chelsea have the league’s best defense, having conceded only 26 goals.
  • The Canaries are tied for the league’s worst attack, having scored only 28 times.

Norwich needs at least four points from its last two games to survive, a task that’s highly improbable for a team that’s claimed only 32 points all season. Add in the quality of their competition, and the Canaries look destined to go down. The miraculous can happen (as Sunderland’s shown), but closing the season with Chelsea and Arsenal, Norwich may be beyond help.

Against a Chelsea team looking to climb to the top spot in the table, Canaries supporters should get quick answers. Either Chelsea will come out, play to its talent-level, and immediately move beyond the midweek disappointment of having been eliminated from UEFA Champions League, or the team will start low, again play down to its competition, and give Norwich a chance to replicate Sunderland’s success at Stamford Bridge.

If the teams’ first meeting of the season is any indication, there’s a small chance Norwich could have that kind of success, though Eden Hazard blew that match open with two late goals. This week, however Hazard has been the target of his manager’s ire, while fellow attacking midfielder Óscar is currently out of favor. Even so, the fresh legs players like Frank Lampard, Nemanja Matic, and Mohamed Salah carry into this match should help Chelsea avoid any Champions League hangover.

Morgan, USWNT cruise past Costa Rica 5-0 behind early flurry of goals

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The U.S. Women got off to a flying start in Olympic qualification Group A play by torching Costa Rica 5-0, including goals from Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and Crystal Dunn.

Morgan led the way with a double, including one in the opening 12 seconds – only six passes off the opening kick – that set the record for quickest goal in U.S. Soccer history. Lloyd and Dunn both struck in the opening 15 minutes to make it 3-0 before Costa Rica even had time to blink. Lloyd’s came on a penalty after Dunn was felled for the captain’s 83rd international goal, and then the latter bagged one of her own minutes later on a rebound off a shot by Morgan.

[ VIDEO: Alex Morgan caps off a 12-second, six-pass goal ]

The visitors were able to make it Morgan scored her second after the hour mark to cap the goal tally. Jill Ellis completed her trio of substitutions after the fourth goal and the U.S. saw the game out easily.

The fifth came late on a cross from Tobin Heath that fell to Christen Press in the box. With her back to the goal, the 27-year-old produced a simply stunning first touch, back-heeling the ball down before whipping around the opposite direction to lose her defender and firing home the fifth goal.

With the final whistle, the United States improved their record against Costa Rica to a perfect 13-0. The U.S. will play Mexico next on Saturday before finishing out Group A play against Puerto Rico on Monday, February 15.

VIDEO: Alex Morgan scores goal against Costa Rica in 12 seconds

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The United States got off to a historically roaring start in Olympic qualifying. Taking on Costa Rica in Frisco, Texas to begin Group A play, Alex Morgan opened the scoring in just 12 seconds, taking just six passes to complete the masterpiece.

According to the USWNT twitter account, the goal is the fastest in U.S. Soccer history.

According to CONCACAF, the goal is also the quickest in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying, breaking Abby Wambach’s of 35 seconds in a 14-0 domination of the Dominican Republic in 2012.

[ WATCH LIVE: USWNT vs Costa Rica live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

The United States scored three goals in the first 15 minutes against Costa Rica tonight. They will take on Mexico and Puerto Rico across the next five days.

Watch Live: USWNT vs Costa Rica in Olympic qualifying

SAN DIEGO, CA - JANUARY 23:  (L-R) Carli Lloyd #10 of the United States is congratulated by teammate Alex Morgan #13 after a goal against Ireland at Qualcomm Stadium on January 23, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
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The United States women are set to begin Group A play in Olympic qualification, taking on 36th ranked Costa Rica at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas at 8:30 a.m. ET.

The game takes place after a 17-day camp at the national training camp in Carson, California.

[ WATCH LIVE: USWNT vs Costa Rica live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

Other teams in the group include Mexico and Puerto Rico. The Mexicans dominated Puerto Rico 6-0 in the first game.

LINEUP

United States: Solo; Krieger, Johnston, Sauerbrunn, Klingenberg; Brian, Horan, Dunn, Lloyd, Heath; Morgan.

Columbus, NYCFC release new kits to mixed results

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New York City FC
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Two Major League Soccer clubs have put their kits out there for the 2016 season. They’ve received a mediocre welcome at best.

Columbus was the first, and their kit makes a bold statement moving away from the traditional yellow and black that so often adorns their regular shirts. Instead, the kit incorporates the Columbus flag onto it. The release has seen quite a negative reaction on social media.

The kit was unveiled at the Columbus City Hall on Wednesday, featuring the traditional adidas stripes, although instead of the usual placement on the shoulders, the stripes come down the side of the torso. Recently, adidas has the tendency to copy general jersey patterns across its multiple properties, so look for this design with other clubs in the near future.

The negative reaction to the Columbus release isn’t terribly surprising considering fans often enjoy sticking to tradition, and backlash is common when clubs deviate from the norm. As an additional hurdle, the color contrast between red and yellow is somewhat stark, lending to the difficult reception. Add in the bright pastel blue shorts and…yikes.

While the club didn’t describe how they will utilize this kit during the season, it’s likely to be the primary (at least for now) as the club release says the kit portfolio also includes last year’s black kit, which is traditionally the away kit.

NYCFC’s release of their secondary kit was more positive, receiving a mixed response on social media.

As you can see, adidas again copied their general outline with the stripes down the side of the torso. However, the German clothing manufacturer did much better with the general design of these kits than the Columbus ones. I will give a bit of personal opinion here: I absolutely love these kits. The ripple effect accentuates the crest with a near-3D effect, and the colors mesh perfectly which serves to assuage the eye from being overwhelmed by a busy design. If there’s any criticism, it’s that without an outline, the Etihad logo tends to get in the way a bit, but that’s nitpicking. Well done NYCFC. Columbus…I’ll leave that one to you all.