Men in Blazers join NBC Sports Group’s coverage of the Premier League

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GFOPs, rejoice! Men in Blazers are joining NBC Sports Group’s coverage of the Premier League and will offer a full multi-media, cross-platform showcase for their unique talents. The deal makes Men in Blazers exclusive to NBC Universal for all soccer-related content.

News of the comedic duo, made up of television producer Michael Davies and writer/producer Roger Bennett, joining the network broke last night in the Wall Street Journal article written by Will Connors. That article noted the centerpiece of the deal being a 30 minute show to air every Monday of Premier League competition and today, additional details of the group’s input have emerged.

| BPLonNBC TV schedule | Premier League previews | Watch PL live online via Live Extra |

The agreement includes one studio appearance per month by Bennett where he will serve as a special contributor, a single one-hour special show (to be aired during a high point of the Premier League season), various features including four to six pieces from the United Kingdom, as well as video-on-demand previews to be distributed via Pro Soccer Talk, Soccerly and Yahoo. Bennett will also contribute long form pieces to NBCSports.com, where a Men in Blazers section will exist that houses their weekly podcast, headlines and thumbnails for all content.

[VISIT: Men In Blazers website | Get their podcast ]

Over the past three years Davies and Bennett have reached cult status with their weekly podcast on Grantland. “The pod,” as it’s commonly known, is a witty, pop culture-infused show that focuses on the Premier League but also pays homage to the U.S. Men’s National Team (referred to by the duo as “The Von Trapps”), Major League Soccer and other major stories in international football. Recurring topics of discussion include Davies’ love for Chelsea, Bennett’s love for Everton, the growth of soccer in the United States, World War I poetry as well as a smattering array of television series like Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey, all of which contribute to the fast-growing lexicon in which Men in Blazers converse.

Followers of the duo are known as ‘Great Friend of the Pod’, or, more commonly, “GFOPs”, an acronym that is frequently hashtagged in Tweets to Men in Blazers and noted in conversation by guests and fans. In recent years the two have taken their podcast to the airwaves where twice a week their show could be heard on Sirius XM FC. Always a favorite among soccer-heads in the US, the group transcended the sport with their coverage of the 2014 World Cup for ESPN where a number of casual watchers were drawn in by their intellect and repartee.

Davies, also known as “Davo” and “Positive”, is a British television producer who produced Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and broke through in the soccer scene when he authored a hugely-entertaining ESPN World Cup diary in 2002. Bennett, also known as “Rog” and, affectionately, “Toilet”, is a journalist, author and filmmaker who recently directed the highly-acclaimed ESPN documentary, Inside: US Soccer’s March to Brazil. 

In their tagline, Men in Blazers state that they are “driven by the belief that Soccer is America’s Sport of the Future. As it has been since 1972.” The irony of the statement is that, of all factors contributing to the rise of soccer in the US, one of the most profound influences is Men in Blazers themselves. They are conversationally relevant, they are social, and they understand the dynamics of the media landscape as well as any talent. The perfect addition to NBC’s extensive coverage of the Barclays Premier League.

Timbers sign Peruvian winger Andy Polo from Liga MX’s Morelia

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have acquired winger Andy Polo on loan from Liga MX club Monarcas Morelia for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old native of Peru played in 25 matches last year for Morelia and made six starts with two goals.

He’s also World Cup-bound, having appeared in Peru’s two-legged playoff against New Zealand in November. Peru won 2-0 on aggregate. Overall, he’s appeared with the Peruvian national team 15 times since his senior debut in 2016.

“Andy is a versatile, young player who will add another element to our attack, and we believe that he has further upside to his development,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said in a statement.

The Timbers used targeted allocation money and have a purchase option. Polo’s arrival is pending a physical and receipt of a visa.

He will occupy an international roster spot.

Can Man United still sign Sanchez without Mkhitaryan swap?

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The answer to the (first) titled question is, undoubtedly, yes.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

The latter question — the “will they?” — remains a relative unknown at this point, but if reports out of the UK are to be believed, Manchester United are just as likely to send $40 million (or so) Arsenal’s way in exchange for Alexis Sanchez, should Henrikh Mkhitaryan refuse the move by declining any contract offers from the Gunners.

[ MORE: Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies ]

The thinking, at least for the last few days since Man United somewhat unexpectedly entered the Sanchez sweepstakes, was that swapping the Armenian for the Chilean was the obvious — and, perhaps only — way forward. Call it special circumstances or an obvious audible, but that’s not necessarily the case — from the Guardian:

“It is understood that if Mkhitaryan does not leave Mourinho believes that, given the club’s robust finances, [Man United executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward could still sanction a move for a player who would potentially vastly improve United.”

By the time Sanchez is signed, sealed and delivered, United will have also paid Sanchez and his agent, Fernando Felicevich, massive signing-on fees that could total another $30 million. No matter the order in which the Sanchez-Mkhitaryan saga plays out, United will come out ahead with a superior player at a massively discounted price — should Sanchez ultimately move to Old Trafford, of course.

Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies

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If the FA, English football’s governing body, is insistent upon testing video-assistant refereeing (VAR) as they have done in recent FA Cup and League Cup fixtures, Antonio Conte believes they should darn well use it.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Following his Chelsea side’s penalty-shootout victory over Norwich City in an FA Cup third-round replay on Wednesday, Conte was equal parts frustrated and confused by the fact that video-referee Mike Jones failed to prompt referee Graham Scott to consult the on-trial system on multiple occasions.

Most notably, Chelsea’s 92nd-minute (extra-time) penalty shout following Timm Klose‘s tackle on Willian. Scott, instead, booked the Brazilian for diving — one of three cards, all shown to Chelsea players, for simulation on the night — and that was that.

“If you watch the replay you see very clearly it is a penalty,” said Conte after the game — quotes from the BBC:

“I think that there was a penalty but not on [Alvaro] Morata — on Willian.

“With Willian, the referee heard what the other referee watched and decided to continue to play. If we want to try to use this new system, it is important for the referee to wait, especially in this incident that is not so clear.

“And then when the referee that is watching had a doubt, he has to call the referee to watch and he can make a decision. The referee on the pitch has to make the decision, not one off the pitch.

“We can improve it for sure but we need to try to take the best solution. The final decision is for the ref on the pitch. Otherwise, why is there this ref?

“The mistake wasn’t of the ref on the pitch but the person watching. When you see this, you have to call the referee.”

VAR was used in another third-round replay, on Tuesday, and helped to correctly rule Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho as being in an onside position when he scored his side’s second goal. While offside/onside calls are much clearer, cut-and-dry decisions to make — and with the aid of a natural stoppage in play — clearly much work lies ahead with regard to the process of determining whether the referee has made a “clear and obvious error,” which remains the threshold for using VAR, in instances of fouls/diving.

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.