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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.

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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