Championship Sunday preview: Title showdown on Premier League finale

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After 370 games, 266 days and over nine months of grueling action, the final day of the Premier League season is almost upon us.

On “Championship Sunday” the PL title is still on the line as Manchester City and Liverpool go for the ultimate prize in English soccer.

Man City know a win at home to West Ham will seal the title, regardless of what Liverpool do against Newcastle, however if City slip up then Liverpool can pounce to win their first league title in 24 years. Is there one more twist in the tale?

MORE: Premier League TV schedule set for “Championship Sunday”

Whatever happens, we have you covered for a stunning finale in the PL as this Sunday you can watch every single game live on NBC’s family of channels as the season ends with a bang. Before all the madness begins there will be a pre-match show will you can watch on CNBC from 9-10 a.m. ET. Then after all 10 games play out you can watch a special post-match show on NBC & NBCSN from 12-2 p.m. ET To round off “Championship Sunday” in style NBCSN will have also have a 30 minute special on whichever team wins the championship from 2:00-2:30 p.m. ET.

Below are details on where to watch the game, plus a brief preview on what’s at stake for each side. Relegation, European places, PL titles, there’s still a lot to decide. Make sure you don’t miss one last exhilarating matchday before one of the most exciting PL seasons in history  comes to an end.

Enjoy the finale.

Liverpool vs. Newcastle United – live on NBCSN, 10:00 a.m. ET and stream online via Live Extra

The home fans at Anfield were hoping for much more than this on the final day, as dreams of a title procession have been replaced by nightmares of what could’ve been. Steven Gerrard’s slip in the home defeat to Chelsea two weeks ago could well prove to be the pivotal moment, while that catastrophic collapse against Crystal Palace didn’t help matters. That said, if Liverpool beat a lackluster Newcastle team and City lose, Brendan Rodgers will have delivered the Reds’ first-ever PL title.

Manchester City vs. West Ham United – live on NBC, 10:00 a.m. ET and stream online via Live Extra

City are the champions elect and only need a point at home to West Ham to seal the title in Manuel Pellegrini’s first season in the PL. City only went back to the top of the standings earlier this week and have had to play catch up for the last month due to their schedule, yet they’ve been bang in form with four wins from their last five. Sergio Aguero is back fit and only a stubborn Hammers outfit stand in the way of the PL trophy being held aloft at the Etihad on the final day of the season. City’s fans are ready to rule Manchester again, are their players ready to deliver?

Southampton vs. Manchester United – live on SyFy, 10:00 a.m. ET and stream online via Live Extra

United’s nightmare is almost over, as they head to the South Coast to play Southampton on Sunday. If Ryan Giggs’ men win and Tottenham Hotspur lose to Aston Villa, the Red Devils will have the scant consolation of finishing in sixth place and qualifying for the Europa League. Saints have equaled their best ever PL finish of eighth and have accumulated a record number of points, so they will be no pushovers for the reigning champions, as Mauricio Pochettino has a talented young squad of Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw et al.

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Aston Villa – live on USA, 10:00 a.m. ET and stream online via Live Extra

Spurs boss Tim Sherwood looks likely to be taking charge of his final game as Tottenham boss and the Londoner will want to make sure they finish in the top six. Since Andre-Villas Boas was fired earlier this season Spurs have been up and down with many of their new signings underachieving massively. Can they pull out one more good performance for Sherwood against a Villa side just happy to be safe for another season? Spurs only need a point to guarantee top six spot and European soccer next season.

Cardiff City vs. Chelsea – live on CNBC, 10:00 a.m. ET and stream online via Live Extra

Chelsea stuck in the title race almost until the end but in the last few weeks defeats to Sunderland, Crystal Palace and Aston Villa has cost them dear. Jose Mourinho’s side are a work in progress but  came so close to reaching a UEFA Champions League final. They come up against a Cardiff team who are already relegated as eccentric Malaysian owner Vincent Tan has a lot to answer for after firing Malky Mackay. New boss Ole Gunnar Solksjaer just couldn’t turn the ship around but can Cardiff shock Chelsea to finish the season in style?

Fulham vs. Crystal Palace – live on E!, 10:00 a.m. ET and stream online via Live Extra

A London derby down by the banks of the River Thames, as Fulham have also been relegated and Crystal Palace are all but set to finish in an impressive 11th place. When these two teams met in October Fulham won 4-1 and it was the end for old Palace boss Ian Holloway. Since new man Tony Pulis has arrived, he’s worked wonders and the Eagles have soared to safety and up the standings. No pressure on either side in this match when many thought it would be a relegation battle down to the wire.

Hull City vs. Everton – live on Bravo, 10:00 a.m. ET and stream online via Live Extra

The Tigers have one eye on the club’s first-ever FA Cup final against Arsenal at Wembley on May 17, as their PL season has petered out. Hull managed to stave off relegation and now their players have a chance to audition for the cup final when Everton roll into town. Roberto Martinez has had a superb first season in charge of the Toffees and has delivered European soccer for the first time since 2009 with a fifth placed finish guaranteed. They pushed Arsenal all the way for the top four, so can Everton’s silky attackers flourish one more time this season at the KC Stadium?

Norwich City vs. Arsenal – live on MSNBC, 10:00 a.m. ET and stream online via Live Extra

Mathematically the Canaries are not relegated… but they might as well be. Three points from safety and a 17 goals worse off than West Brom above them they would need a bizarre set of results, and to beat Arsenal heavily at Carrow Road, to stand any chance of staying up. A poor season from the PL’s lowest scorers who fired Chris Hughton and never recovered. As for Arsenal, their focus is also on the FA Cup final as they search for their first piece of silverware in nine years. Arsene Wenger has delivered a top four spot again but they were top of the standings for so long. That blip after the festive period hit them hard.

Sunderland vs. Swansea City – live on Esquire, 10:00 a.m. ET and stream online via Live Extra

Gus Poyet’s side have delivered a miracle in the final weeks of the season as the Black Cats looked dead and buried. Four wins on the spin to head into the final game has secured Sunderland’s safety as away wins at Chelsea and Manchester United have surprised everyone. Swansea are safe under young manager Garry Monk who took over midseason, as the shackles will be off and both teams aim to express themselves at the Stadium of Light.

West Bromwich Albion vs. Stoke City – live on Oxygen, 10:00 a.m. ET and stream online via Live Extra

As we mentioned, a mad swing in the goal differential could see the Baggies go down and Norwich stay up, but that isn’t going to happen. Stoke travel down the M6 having all but secured their first-ever top 10 finish in the PL, while West Brom are just grateful to be in the top-flight for another season. Two Midlands clubs will square off at the Hawthorns with both teams aiming to finish the campaign off on a high.

Wenger says Ozil, Sanchez want to stay at Arsenal

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Arsene Wenger has being discussing the situation regarding Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil at Arsenal.

[ MORE: Sanchez to Chelsea? ]

Speaking to the media ahead of Arsenal’s clash with Manchester City on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at the Emirates Stadium, Wenger is hopeful his star duo will both remain with the Gunners beyond this summer.

Both Sanchez and Ozil are contracted to Arsenal until the summer of 2018 but are yet to agree a new deal and talks will not begin until the end of the current season.

Wenger isn’t too concerned despite Sanchez being linked with plenty of the biggest clubs on the planet.

“I personally believe both of them want to stay. I hope the club will find an agreement with them,” Wenger said.

Asked about his own future, Wenger had no update about reports suggesting he was about to sign a new two-year contract extension. That was despite saying before the international break that he would reveal his decision soon.

“It’s a subject that at the moment it is not sorted completely out,” Wenger said. “I’m very clear in my mind. Do I stay two months or two years? My commitment will be exactly the same all the time. It does not influence my attitude.”

So, Wenger is standing firm and did not want to get into any details regarding his own future as his current deal runs out in the summer.

However, the fact he said it is “not sorted completely out” suggests that talks are ongoing and that would also seem to point towards Wenger staying on after 20 years in charge.

There’s no doubt that this situation rumbling on has impacted Wenger’s team in recent weeks as Arsenal crashed out of the UEFA Champions League 10-2 on aggregate to Bayern Munich and have also lost four of their last five Premier League games.

Bagging a big win this weekend against City would significantly boost Arsenal’s hopes of finishing in the top four but perhaps everyone connected with Arsenal is more eager to have Wenger’s future sorted and then everything else will slot into place.

If the 2018 World Cup started today…

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Another international break has passed, with fortunes rising and falling in most of FIFA’s confederations (Africa took a break during the break, having staged AFCON in January).

[ MORE: All World Cup qualifying news ]

Brazil joined hosts Russia as nations to have qualified for the 2018 World Cup, and 30 spots remain. Let’s take the opportunity to project the field for Russia.

In October, we took the projected qualifiers and simulated all the way down to the World Cup final. Germany beat Brazil. Let’s go again. Who will “win” it this time?


QUALIFICATION

We’ll again use actual qualification, as flawed and early as it is in some confederations, to be predict our combatants.

Asia (7 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia
PLAYOFF: Uzbekistan vs. Australia

PROJECTION: While Uzbekistan has been better in terms of overall form, Australia’s experience boosts it into a match-up with the USMNT.

Africa (2 of 6 qualifiers played)
IN: DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt

CONCACAF (4 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama
PLAYOFF: United States

(AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

South America (14 of 18 qualifiers played)
IN: Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, Chile
PLAYOFF: Argentina

Oceania (4 of 6 qualifiers played)
PLAYOFF: New Zealand vs. Tahiti

UEFA (5 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: France, Switzerland, Germany, Serbia, Poland, England, Spain, Belgium, Croatia
UEFA PLAYOFFS: Sweden, Portugal, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, Italy, Greece, Iceland

SIMULATED PLAYOFFS (random draw):
Sweden vs. Iceland — Sweden wins
Portugal vs. Republic of Ireland — Portugal wins
Northern Ireland vs. Slovakia — Slovakia wins
Italy vs. Greece — Italy wins

Intercontinental playoffs:

Australia vs. United States — USMNT wins
Argentina vs. New Zealand — Argentina wins


FIELD (FIFA Rankings)

  1. Russia (hosts, 60)
  2. Argentina (1)
  3. Brazil (2)
  4. Germany (3)
  5. Chile (4)
  6. Belgium (5)
  7. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

    France (6)

  8. Colombia (7)
  9. Portugal (8)
  10. Uruguay (9)
  11. Spain (10)
  12. Switzerland (11)
  13. Poland (12)
  14. England (13)
  15. Italy (15)
  16. Croatia (16)
  17. Mexico (17)
  18. Costa Rica (19)
  19. Egypt (20)
  20. Slovakia (25)
  21. USA (30)
  22. Iran (33)
  23. Burkina Faso (36)
  24.  (Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

    DR Congo (38)

  25. South Korea (40)
  26. Nigeria (41)
  27. Sweden (45)
  28. Ivory Coast (47)
  29. Japan (51)
  30. Serbia (52)
  31. Panama (53)
  32. Saudi Arabia (57)

THE POTS

The 10 European qualifiers mean two will have to join Pot 2. Our random selections were… Croatia and Spain.

Pot 1 (seeds): Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Chile, Belgium, France, Colombia, Brazil

Pot 2 (CAF, CONMEBOL, UEFA): DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Uruguay, Croatia, Spain

Pot 3 (AFC & CONCACAF): Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, USMNT

Pot 4: (UEFA): Sweden, Slovakia, Italy, Switzerland, Serbia, Poland, England, Portugal


THE DRAW

Group A: Russia, DR Congo, Saudi Arabia, Sweden
Group B: Chile, Croatia, Mexico, Portugal
Group C: Brazil, Nigeria, Panama, Switzerland
Group D: Germany, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Poland
Group E: Argentina, Spain, Japan, Slovakia
Group F: France, Ivory Coast, South Korea, Italy
Group G: Belgium, Uruguay, USMNT, England
Group H: Colombia, Egypt, Iran, Serbia

So… should we play it out? We’ll try to throw in some upsets and not just go with the chalk.

Round of 16
Mexico (B2) def. Russia (A1)
Brazil (C1) def. Poland (D2)
Spain (E1) def. Italy (F2)
Belgium (G1) def. Egypt (H2)
Portugal (B1) def. DR Congo (A2)
Germany (D1) def. Nigeria (C2)
France (F1) def. Argentina (G2)
Colombia (H1) def. England (G2)

Quarterfinals
Brazil def. Mexico
Spain def. Belgium
Germany def. Portugal
France def. Colombia

Semifinals
Brazil def. Spain
France def. Germany

Final
Brazil def. France

Dempsey leads way for MLS players during Cup qualifying

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The latest round of World Cup qualifying saw a major increase in the number of players from MLS called in for their national teams.

A number of those decisions paid off for their countries, perhaps no one more than Clint Dempsey.

A few months ago, Dempsey wasn’t even in consideration for the U.S. after missing the latter half of last season because of a heart issue. But the Seattle Sounders forward scored four times in two matches as the U.S. gathered four critical points in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Dempsey was part of an influx of MLS players contributing during the latest round of qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

In all, MLS had 55 players called in for qualifying in CONCACAF, CONEMBOL (South America) and UEFA (Europe) competitions. Last September, the league saw 58 players called in to their national teams, but there were more countries still alive in qualification at that time. The 55 players selected this time was an increase of 16 from the last round of qualifying matches in November, and 40 of the 55 saw action during the two days of competition in the past week representing 12 countries.

In the three CONCACAF games last Friday, 29 of the 84 players to see the field were from MLS. That outpaced LigaMX, which had 17 players among the 84 used in the three matches.

Dempsey wasn’t the only MLS player coming up big for his country. Minnesota midfielder Kevin Molino had the only goal for Trinidad and Tobago in its 1-0 win over Panama. The Vancouver duo of Christian Bolanos and Kendall Waston teamed for the only goal in Costa Rica’s 1-1 draw with Honduras.

But not all went well for MLS players during qualifying.

Young Atlanta star Josef Martinez injured his left leg during the second half of Venezuela’s 2-2 draw with Peru in CONEMBOL qualifying. Martinez returned to Atlanta and an MRI revealed a left quadriceps injury that will keep the MLS leader in goals scored out for four to six weeks. Martinez had five goals in Atlanta’s first three games.

U.S. midfielder Sebastian Lletget was forced off early in the match against Honduras but not before scoring the opening goal for the Americans. Los Angeles announced Tuesday that Lletget suffered a Lisfranc injury that will require surgery and he will be sidelined for four to six months.

[ MORE: BWP a DP; Nephew called up to England U16 ]

MATCH OF THE WEEK: The club that set the bar for expansion debuts faces the newcomer looking to topple that standard.

The Seattle Sounders will host Atlanta United on Friday night. It’s the only regular-season matchup between the two sides, but there’s more than just the competition on the field.

Seattle’s expansion season of 2009 was regarded throughout the sports industry as arguably the best franchise launch ever, not just in MLS. Between ticket sales and fan engagement, Seattle’s start could not have gone better.

Atlanta might be setting a new standard. Atlanta drew more than 55,000 for its first match and more than 45,000 for its second home game, a win over Chicago. Atlanta seems to be following significant parts of Seattle’s blueprint, down to having an influential NFL owner highly involved from the start.

As for the on-field product, the validity of Atlanta’s promising start will be tested over the next month with four straight road matches.

“It’s definitely still an expansion team,” Atlanta defender Michael Parkhurst said. “We’ve got our bumps and bruises along the way. Off the field, everyone’s still trying to get sorted and situated to the new city.”

BEST OF THE REST: Toronto finally gets to come home after opening the season with three straight road games. The Reds will host Sporting KC on Friday night. The trade-off for opening the season on the road is that Toronto gets five of its next six league matches at home and was able to get five points out of those three road contests to start.

Also of note will be what kind of lineup Vancouver rolls out on Saturday night against Los Angeles. The Whitecaps play in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals four days later.

BACK ON THE BENCH: Real Salt Lake introduced Mike Petke as its new head coach Wednesday, less than two weeks after firing Jeff Cassar. Petke was the head coach of the New York Red Bulls for two seasons, including the 2013 season when they won the Supporters’ Shield. After two years out of coaching, Petke signed on to be the head coach of the Real Monarchs, the minor-league club associated with RSL.

OFF TARGET: The other expansion debut this season by Minnesota United is on pace to set records, but not any they want to be associated with. Simply put, Minnesota can’t play defense.

Minnesota allowed at least five goals for the third time in four matches in last week’s 5-2 loss at New England. Minnesota allowed five goals to Portland and six to Atlanta and is on pace to allow more than 150 goals this season.

LAST WORD: “I’ve been very encouraged by what I’ve seen over the last 10 days. It’s going to take some time to piece that team together.” U.S. coach Bruce Arena after the latest round of World Cup qualifying.

Messi explains actions that warranted 4-match ban

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Lionel Messi is set to miss four Argentina matches for something we arguably see every week on TV.

That doesn’t make it okay, but is anyone else scratching their head at the suspension handed down to the world’s best player for verbal abuse of an official?

[ MORE: Barca defends Messi ]

Messi, 29, shouted an obscenity at the linesman in Thursday’s 1-0 win over Chile, and was both banned and served the first match of his ban on Tuesday, as Argentina was beaten 2-0 in Bolivia.

Messi explained his actions Wednesday with the following:

“My expressions were never directed to the referee, they were said to the air,” Messi told La Nacion.

That’s pretty ridiculous, yeah? But I can’t help but feel the four matches are a bit harsh. Hardly a high-level match goes by without seeing a player clearly being derisive toward an offical, and usually lipreading proves it wasn’t G-rated.

Again, I have no problem for setting a standard, as abuse of officials is unnecessary (and even those of us who are serially offenders know it).

But if confederations and leagues want to get serious about cutting it out, this can’t be a one-off suspension; End the group upbraiding of referees during games, the wild gesticulations, so on and so forth.