Championship Sunday focus: Swansea City

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Story so far…Compared to last season, Swansea have had a dismal time of it. Europa League play, clinched after beating Bradford City to lift last year’s League Cup, took its toll, amongst a host of other contributing factors. In February, the club sacked Michael Laudrup, for reasons that remain unclear. Michu, scorer of 18 league goals last season, was injured for much of the season (and looked a shadow of his former self upon his return).

Safety only came on April 26, after a 4-1 victory over Aston Villa. That’s unusual for the side, who finished 11th in their first season back in the Premier League, and ended last season in 9th. Currently they sit 13th, which is actually below where the Swans were when Laudrup was fired. In the 13 games since his appointment, Garry Monk has led his side to four wins, three draws and six losses, whereas his predecessor had six wins, six draws and twelve losses in 24 games.

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What’s slightly worrying is where the wins have come from: beating all-but-relegated Norwich and now-relegated Cardiff isn’t boastworthy, nor is collecting three points from a Newcastle side in horrible form since the midway mark. A smashing performance against Villa and a 2-2 draw against Arsenal might prove to be good omens, as was holding Napoli to a draw in Europa League. The performance of Wilfried Bony, who has an impressive 27 goals in all competitions in his first season at Swansea, should also give fans hope.

Who do they play and where can I watch it?
The Swans end the season with a trip to the Stadium of Light – but fortunately for the visitors, Sunderland are already safe. But after their incredible run to end the season, the Black Cats aren’t going to want to go out with a loss at home. If Swansea want to end their season on a high, they’re going to have to put plenty of effort into defeating the hosts.

Want to get your last fix of the Swans before the 2014-2015 season kicks off?  Watch the game at 10am ET on Esquire or live online via NBC Sports Live Extra.

Form guide:

March 29 vs. Norwich City, W 3-0
April 5 at Hull City, L 0-1
April 13 vs. Chelsea, L 0-1
April 19 at Newcastle, W 1-2
April 26 vs. Aston Villa, W 4-1
May 3 vs. Southampton, L 0-1

What’s at stake?
12th place? Bony passing the likes of Olivier Giroud, Edin Dzeko, Sergio Aguero and/or Wayne Rooney in the goals scored tally? “Own goal” coming in second on Swansea’s top-scorer sheet? In other words, not a lot. But perhaps Monk will be willing to give a glimpse of what the future holds.

When the final whistle blows…it’s time to see what Garry Monk can do with a full season at the helm. The former interim boss has been handed a three-year contract, which isn’t all that surprising given that the 35-year-old former club captain has been being groomed for the managerial role. It’s worth noting, however, that Monk’s being thrown into the deep end. He’s yet to finish his coaching badges, he’s never managed in the lower levels, he’s never even assisted at a club. Come next season, will it be sink, swim or soar for the Swans?

Report: Man United to target Rose, other full backs this summer

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Jose Mourinho has identified perhaps the most underrated position on the pitch as a place he needs to upgrade his squad this summer.

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According to a report from The Guardian, the Manchester United manager is looking to sign Tottenham wing back Danny Rose and potentially another full back in the summer transfer window. With Luke Shaw likely to leave the club, Mourinho is left with incumbents left back Ashley Young and right back Antonio Valencia, both on the wrong side of 30-years old and both converted wingers playing out-of-position.

Mourinho last December decried crosstown rivals Man City for spending more than $140 million to sign wing backs Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker last summer. Though Mendy missed most of the season with a torn ACL, Walker and fellow outside back Danilo helped give Man City’s attack another dimension out wide, as the wing backs in the 3-4-3 or Man City’s 4-1-4-1 with Fernandinho dropping back into the centerback pairing become ever more important.

Rose has had a contentious last 18-months or so at Tottenham and could be looking to leave this summer. But it will likely take a bid north of $75 million, around what it cost Man City to sign Walker last summer, to buy Rose out of his Tottenham contract.

Matteo Darmian meanwhile, another potential outside back for Man United, could also be departing the club this summer, as Man United looks to replenish its side.

Errors down, penalty kicks up after introduction of VAR in Italy

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The implementation of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in Italy has been controversial, but according to a look at the statistics, it has for the most part done its job to fix clear and obvious errors.

Italian sports paper Gazzetta Dello Sport compiled all the times VAR has been used through 346 matches, 330 in Serie A and 16 in the Coppa Italia. There were 1,736 checks (916 goals, 464 penalties and 356 red cards) with 105 corrections and just 17 errors where the referee and assistant made the wrong decision. Eight of those errors did affect the result, which is an issue that will surely be addressed by the Italian officiating organization.

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But overall, Gazzetta found that in the VAR era, referee errors only amounted to 0.98 percent during a match, as opposed to 6.03 percent in the past. In addition, fouls are down 8.8 percent, red cards are down 6.4 percent, and yellow cards are down 14.7 percent. On the flip side, penalty kicks are called 4.3 more percent of the time.

The Premier League voted recently not to add VAR to its league matches next season, while top leagues in Germany, Italy and in Major League Soccer and the United Soccer League continue to use it.

Report: New Arsenal manager will have small budget to re-shape squad

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Whoever takes the helm as Arsenal’s next manager will have to do some math gymnastics this summer to stretch every penny available.

According to a report from The Telegraph, Arsenal is giving Arsene Wenger‘s successor a little less than $70 million to work with in this summer’s transfer market, citing back-to-back transfer windows with club-record signings (Alexandre Lacazette last summer and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in January) and three raises given to players. Arsenal paid around $78 million alone to sign Aubameyang and around $65 million for Lacazette.

[READ: UCL Preview: Liverpool vs. Roma]

That means whoever comes in next to lead Arsenal will likely have to sell one or two players this summer to raise additional money for world-class signings.

For the last decade, Arsenal has been crying out for a new pair of centerbacks and a holding midfielder in the mould of Patrick Vieira. In addition, with Petr Cech getting older, the prospect of needing a new goalkeeper is also on the horizon.

Luckily for Arsenal, they seem to be just fine up front. From Aubameyang and Lacazette to Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey, the club has the talent to challenge for a title next season in that department.

A dozen different names have been bandied about as to who will be Arsenal’s next manager, with out-of-contract and former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique reportedly on the shortlist. Vieira, former Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta, Germany National Team coach Joachim Low, Juventus boss Max Allegri and Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsman have all also been linked with the job.

Tunisian player who collapsed in Spain regains consciousness

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MADRID (AP) Spanish third-division club Toledo says a Tunisian player who collapsed from heart failure during practice 10 days ago has regained consciousness.

The club says doctors removed sedative medication and Lassad Nouioui was responding well to treatment on Monday.

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They will consider removing the 32-year-old Nouioui from the intensive care unit if his condition keeps improving. Nouioui has played for a number of clubs during his 14-year professional career, notably a four-year stay at Deportivo La Coruna and a one-year spell with Celtic.

Nouioui collapsed on April 14.

The game against Real Madrid B the following day was postponed because of the problem with Nouioui.