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PL Tuesday preview: B’mouth-Arsenal; relegation 6-pointer

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A look ahead to three games in the Premier League on Tuesday…

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Bournemouth vs. Arsenal — 2:45 p.m. ET

Arsenal find themselves dead center of a five-team battle over the final three places in the top-four, four points back of second-place Liverpool and just one point clear of sixth place Manchester United. A loss would open up the door for Tottenham Hotspur to finish Matchweek 20 ahead of them (and Manchester City) for third when they take on league-leading Chelsea on Wednesday. Tuesday’s trip to the south coast of England comes barely 48 hours after the Gunners’ 2-0 home victory over Crystal Palace, spurred on by Olivier Giroud’s immaculate scorpion-kick goal. Arsene Wenger will hope to welcome Mesut Ozil back into the team after his superstar no. 10 missed Sunday’s game due to illness. Bournemouth, meanwhile, currently sit ninth in the PL table, though fewer points separate them from the relegation zone (9) than sixth place (15).

INJURIES: Bournemouth — OUT: Jack Wilshere (on loan from parent club), Lewis Cook (ankle) | Arsenal — OUT: Per Mertesacker (knee surgery), Santi Cazorla (achilles), Mathieu Debuchy (hamstring), Danny Welbeck (fitness); QUESTIONABLE: Mesut Ozil (illness), Theo Walcott (calf), Kieran Gibbs (knee)

[ MORE: Monday’s PL roundup – Liverpool draw late; Man Utd keep winning ]

Stoke City vs. Watford — 3 p.m. ET

Winless in their last five games, the PL schedule makers may have presented Stoke City with precisely the cure for what ails them: a visit from Watford, who are winless in almost as many games (4) and are fresh off a 4-1 pasting at the hands of Spurs on Sunday. New Years Eve wasn’t much kinder to the Potters, though, as Mark Hughes’ side took a 4-2 beating of their own, courtesy of the 2016-17 champions-elect. One small caveat, in Stoke’s defense: in those five games without a win, only three have been losses, which came against Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea (by a combined score of 11-4, it should be said).

INJURIES: Stoke — OUT: Geoff Cameron (knee), Jack Butland (ankle), Marc Muniesa (knee) | Watford — OUT: Valon Behrami (hamstring), Daryl Janmaat (groin), Roberto Pereyra (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Nordin Amrabat (knock)

[ MORE: Transfer needs for all 20 PL clubs in January ]

Crystal Palace vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET

Can you say, “relegation six-pointer?” Swansea have started the season so poorly that a win against Palace wouldn’t even be enough to pull them out of the relegation zone, but it would bring them to within a point of the 17th-place Eagles, though their goal differential, which is nearly 20 goals worse, is still a problem. The Swans’ latest defeat came on Saturday, as Bournemouth walked into the Liberty Stadium, put three goals past the PL’s joint-worst (Hull City) defensive unit, and left them bottom of the league at the halfway point of the season.

INJURIES: Crystal Palace — OUT: Loic Remy (calf), Connor Wickham (knee) | Swansea — OUT: Jefferson Montero (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: Fernando Llorente (knock), Sung-Yueng Ki (toe)

Key newcomers for USMNT friendly

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While the excitement potential is high amongst big club USMNT call-ups like PSG’s Tim Weah and Everton’s Antonee Robinson, there are several other relative newcomers who are facing a more acute focus.

So yes, of course, we’re most excited to see the young guns fire away, but a few others will be under the microscope for different reasons.

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Paraguay is leaving some big names behind — Dario Lezcano, Jesus Medina, Edgar Benítez — but won’t be using as “B” or “C” of a squad as the USMNT. Key defenders Junior Alonso (Lille) and Gustavo Gomez (AC Milan) will be staring down the U.S. attack, while Atlanta United star Miguel Almiron will try his luck against the Yanks’ backs.

  1. The goalkeepers — With full respect to Bill Hamid and his five caps, the trio of backstops who could play against Paraguay are unknown entities on the senior international level. There are reasons to be excited about Alex Bono (Toronto FC) and Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew) going against Los Guaraníes — and Hamid, too — and standing behind a young and untested group of center backs should give plenty of chances to make a name for whoever is chosen (If Sarachan is more “woke” this go-round, it’ll be multiple keepers).
  2. Andriya Novakovich — The Telstar striker is checking all the boxes: 6-foot-4, productive on the youth level, and now succeeding overseas. The 21-year-old has 17 goals on loan from Reading in the Dutch second tier. While that’s far from a “Woah” figure considering the top-tier in the Netherlands isn’t exactly a defensive hot bed, it’s intriguing for Tuesday in North Carolina.
  3. Rubio Rubin — We’re hopeful Sarachan goes with a 4-4-2, which would allow both Rubin and Novakovich to get runs next to Bobby Wood. Rubin is seeing some time at Liga MX side Club Tijuana after his European adventure stalled following a hot start for Utrecht. He had an assist in CONCACAF Champions League play against Red Bulls this month.
  4. Tyler Adams — Speaking of that match, the Red Bulls got a goal from Adams. It’s fair to say he’s got the chance to be as special a player as Schalke youngster Weston McKennie (and would apparently like to join his USMNT teammate overseas). Adams and McKennie together could legit be an engine room for years. Will that begin on Tuesday?
  5. Cameron Carter-Vickers — The 20-year-old center back has shown resilience in England. His hot start to life at Sheffield United, on loan from Tottenham, cooled enough to have him sent back to North London, but Carter-Vickers has rebounded to become a key part of Ipswich Town’s back line. With 22-year-old Matt Miazga the only clear center back on the roster and older than him, CCV can quiet a lot of doubters.
  6. Kenny Saief — This guy has excited at nearly every turn since bursting onto the scene with Gent via the Israeli national team, and an injury cost him some momentum with the USMNT. Now healthy and on loan with Anderlecht, the same side which refined the fire of Sacha Kljestan, the once-capped Florida-born man is as intriguing as ever.

Season strugglers: Some ignominious PL performances

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Tuesday found us breaking ties on our “Most Impactful Premier League Summer Buys” rankings by digging through some advanced statistics sites.

In doing so, something struck us: We rarely if ever check out which players are faring the worst when it comes to those next level numbers.

Ah, the international break: Good for off-the-wall posts.

[ MORE: Alonso, Pedro have Morata’s back]

At the risk of kicking a player while he’s down, here are some negative numbers that stand out from the pack.

Of the 358 players who’ve played at least 10 Premier League matches, Joe Hart is having the worst season of the bunch according to Squawka. That’s a bit misleading due to how the site’s metrics operate, considering eight of the bottom 20 players are goalkeepers (and several, like Jonas Lossl and Jordan Pickford, are having outstanding campaigns).

So the unfortunate honor goes to Swansea defender Martin Olsson, who edges James McClean of West Brom for the infamy. Since the site does heap numbers on players by action accumulated, perhaps it’s better to single out the per-game and per-90 strugglers. Olsson and McClean are still very much near the bottom, but surprisingly Yannick Bolasie is the worst per game, and Swansea’s Wayne Routledge is having the least effective season per 90 minutes.

As for WhoScored, its metrics are hammering forwards, with Lys Mousset, Andre Gray, and Benik Afobe at the back of the back (ahead of McClean, again, who is a multi-site struggler).

These stats aren’t perfect, of course, and I like the idea of having McClean on my squad. But there are some other odds stats in the pack.

 These players might want to pass their next opportunity to the keeper. Of players with 10 or more shot attempts this season, Adam Lallana (11), Renato Sanches (12), Lewis Cook (14), and Dale Stephens (15) have failed to put a single shot on target.

— Of the 81 players who’ve tried their luck 30 times or more, these are the worst accuracy rates

— For perspective, Harry Kane has put 56 percent of his league-leading 162 shots on target, while second place man Mohamed Salah is 61 percent of 118.

— Defensive errors also can be increased significantly by the times a player is put under pressure by his team, which is why goalkeepers are high on Squawka’s list. Take them out, and you get a list with Spurs’ Eric Dier up top. Two of his six errors have led to goals against Tottenham, with Zanka (Huddersfield Town), Alfie Mawson (Swans), Andreas Christensen (Chelsea), and Shane Duffy (Brighton) next with four errors.

Xabi Alonso denies Spanish accusations of tax fraud

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The list of players pursued by Spanish authorities crying tax fraud is starting to resemble a pretty good team,

Call it The Longest Yard: La Liga.

[ MORE: Alonso, Pedro support Morata ]

Xabi Alonso is being accused of not paying taxes on his image rights while a player at Real Madrid, joining Radamel Falcao, Neymar, Lionel Messi, Luka Modric, and Cristiano Ronaldo as World XI-caliber players who’ve faced legal troubles in Spain.

Jose Mourinho even had to travel to Spain earlier this season to face accusations from a Spanish court. Those found guilty have found punishment other than jail time.

Alonso denies any wrongdoing, according to Sky Sports:

Prosecutors say he defrauded the Spanish state of £1.75m between 2010 and 2012 and called for the same sentence to be applied to Alonso’s financial advisor Ivan Zaldua Azcuenaga and the administrator of consultancy shell company, Ignasi Maestre Casanova.

Iraq hosts friendly tournament after 3-decade FIFA ban

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BAGHDAD (AP) Iraq is hosting a friendly soccer tournament this week, with Syria and Qatar.

It comes just days after FIFA lifted a three-decade-long ban on Iraq hosting international competitions.

[ MORE: Best PL summer buys ]

An Iraq-Qatar match is to start Wednesday evening in the southern city of Basra.

FIFA lifted the ban on Monday for Iraqi cities of Basra, Karbala and Irbil, considered to be the safest in Iraq – but not the capital, Baghdad, which still sees frequent militant attacks.

Iraq’s minister of youth and sports, Abdul-Hussein Abtan, congratulated the Iraqi people following FIFA’s move and said it would change how Iraq is viewed in the region and beyond.

While the ban was in place, Iraq was still able to host friendly games and tournaments.