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Top Premier League Storylines – Week 29

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The Premier League this weekend sees a number of teams come back from European play – some empty-handed, some with injuries, and some with momentum.

With the stretch run on hand, it’s looking less likely that anyone will catch Chelsea, but the top of the table is still clogged below the Blues, and the relegation race is heating up as teams rise and fall in the maelstrom at the bottom.

Week 29, what do you have in store for us?


Leicester City goes for 3 in a row

West Ham United vs. Leicester City — 11 a.m. EDT Saturday online via NBCSports.com

Craig Shakespeare has completely turned around Leicester City, and the Foxes are on their way back up the table. Still, all three have come at King Power Stadium, and now Leicester hits the road for the first time in the league in nearly a month. Winning away in the Premier League is a completely different animal, and it’s something the Foxes haven’t done in at all in Premier League play this season, and haven’t done in any competition since January in FA Cup play.

They’ll have an excellent chance against a West Ham side that has just a single win since selling Dimitri Payet in the winter, and hasn’t won at home since beating Crystal Palace on January 14th. Can Shakespeare dial up a road win and keep the momentum flying?

Will Liverpool or Manchester City score an important leg up?

Manchester City vs. Liverpool — 12:30 p.m. EDT Sunday on NBCSN or online via NBCSports.com

A massive top four matchup pits two teams looking to score any kind of advantage near the top of the table. The title race seems lost, but the Champions League race is still open and both these teams could look to pull away from the pack slightly. This has draw written all over it, but should one team come out on top, they would be an important three points earned.

Manchester City especially needs to bounce back after they were dumped out of the Champions League in a wild thriller against Monaco. Pep Guardiola was criticized for his team selection in that one, and the players admitted they were unable to carry out his orders, especially in the first half when Monaco overran the City midfield. Now, against a Liverpool side that put its ugly January in the rear-view mirror, City must bounce back itself.

How will Lukaku and Barkley play amid transfer rumors?

Everton vs. Hull City — 8:30 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSN or online via NBCSports.com

Rumors have swirled this week regarding two of Everton’s most visable players, and it will be very interesting to see how they respond in front of the home fans at Goodison Park — and how the home fans respond to them. The biggest rumors have suggested that Romelu Lukaku has refused to sign a new contract with the Toffees, and could leave in the summer if no deal is agreed to by then. The loss of Lukaku would be a gigantic blow to Ronald Koeman and Everton, as the Belgian has been a constant supply of goals up front.

Ross Barkley remains in the same boat, and while nothing as defiant as Lukaku’s refusal has come from Barkley’s situation, there is still no new contract for the 23-year-old Everton youth product, and Koeman admitted he could lose Barkley as well if nothing is agreed to by the summer. As Everton battles for a Europa League place, will they get their superstars’ best?

Middlesbrough plays (Pogba-less?) Manchester United without a manager

Middlesbrough vs. Manchester United — 8:00 p.m. EDT Sunday on NBCSN or online via NBCSports.com

It’s not confirmed yet, but watching Paul Pogba limp off with what appeared to be a hamstring problem against FC Rostov, it’s highly possible that Manchester United will be without big signing Paul Pogba this weekend against a team fighting for its life.

Middlesbrough parted ways with Aitor Karanka earlier Thursday, and Steve Agnew will be in charge when they welcome the Red Devils to Riverside Stadium on Sunday. With both teams facing adversity, which will gain massively important points? Manchester United sits just a point back of Arsenal for 5th position, while Middlesbrough is three points in the hole in the drop. Who will come away with the good stuff?

Spain’s sports court opens disciplinary procedure vs. Villar

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Spain’s administrative court for sport has initiated disciplinary procedures against Spanish Football Federation president Angel Maria Villar after he was arrested and jailed in a corruption probe.

The opening of the disciplinary procedure on Monday clears the way for Spain’s sports authority, the Higher Council of Sport, to rule whether it will temporarily suspend Villar when they meet on Tuesday at 7 p.m. local time (1700 GMT).

The court’s decision had been expected since Thursday, when the Higher Council of Sport asked the court to act against Villar following his arrest.

Villar, his son Gorka, federation vice president Juan Padron, and Ramon Hernandez, the secretary of the regional football federation of Tenerife, were arrested last Tuesday when police raided the national federation’s headquarters and other properties.

The four were arrested on charges of improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption and falsifying documents.

National Court judge Santiago Pedraz ordered last week that the Villars and Padron remain in jail without bail after questioning them. Hernandez’s bail was set at 100,000 euros ($116,000).

The elder Villar is FIFA’s senior vice president and also a vice president of UEFA. He’s been president of the Spanish federation since 1988.

Judge Pedraz said the 67-year-old Villar is suspected of misappropriating private and public funds received by the federation “at least since 2009.”

MLS rejected $4 billion deal which wanted promotion/relegation

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Major League Soccer has confirmed it brushed aside a $4 billion TV deal which insisted on promotion and relegation coming into place in North America’s top-flight.

A report from the Sports Business Journal stated that the owner of NASL side Miami FC Riccardo Silva gave a presentation to the league and owners on June 26, offering a 10-year deal for the domestic and international TV rights from 2023 with one clause: promotion and relegation had to become commonplace in MLS.

Of course, Silva, who founded the media company MP & Silva who put in the bid, would love for there to be promotion and relegation in MLS as his team cannot currently rise above the second-tier NASL.

Jeff Carlisle from ESPN has the following statement from Dan Courtemanche, MLS executive vice president of communications.

“As was stated to Mr. Silva both in person and in a subsequent letter, Major League Soccer is prohibited contractually from engaging in discussions about our media rights with other distributors. We are not in a position, nor are we interested, in engaging with Mr. Silva on his proposal.”

“It is also important to note that since its inception, MLS, like the other North American leagues, has dealt directly with its domestic broadcast partners, rather than through agents and brokers. This ensures that the league and its partners can structure an agreement that addresses all elements, such as scheduling, marketing and digital distribution, that are required for a successful partnership.”

This deal would quadruple the current annual TV deal MLS has with Fox, ESPN and Univision, but it has been stated that no new deal can be discussed until at least 2021.

With cities across the U.S. and Canada lining up to pay the $150 million MLS expansion fee, league commission Don Garber has stated multiple times that promotion and relegation is not needed in the U.S. Soccer pyramid.

With USL and NASL now both second-tier, the only way they can become a top-tier franchise is by buying into MLS with two markets set to be selected later this year from 12 current expansion bids, plus David Beckham’s franchise in Miami still pushing ahead with plans to join the league.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Asensio to Arsenal, Man United; Mahrez to Roma

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Spanish outlet Don Balon claims that Arsenal and Manchester United both want to sign Real Madrid winger Marco Asensio.

[ VIDEO: Man United beat Real Madrid ]

The 21-year-old Spaniard jumped off the bench to score in Real’s UEFA Champions League final win against Juventus in June, plus scored 10 goals in 38 appearances in a breakout campaign, but like many top talents at the Santiago Bernabeu he finds himself behind Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale in the pecking order.

Manchester United are clearly on the hunt for one more wide player with their pursuit of Ivan Perisic seemingly at an end with Inter Milan unwilling to budge on their $58 million asking price.

Yet quite why United and Arsenal want another wide player is beyond me…

United have Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and Juan Mata who can play out wide, while Arsenal have Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alex Iwobi, Danny Welbeck and Mesut Ozil who can play on the flank. With Ozil, Sanchez and the Ox potentially on the move, it would make more sense for Arsenal to chase Asensio.

Per the report, Real do not want to sell Asensio but the player wants improved terms and more guarantees of first team action after breaking into the Spanish national team. He’s unlikely to get that, so maybe there’s something in this. Or maybe talks over a new contract are upcoming for the youngster. His direct wing-play would suit United or Arsenal, and the PL, well, so this could be one deal to keep an eye on.


The Leicester Mercury state that Riyad Mahrez‘s move to AS Roma is still on.

Mahrez, 26, released a statement at the start of the summer saying that he wanted to leave the King Power Stadium and with Roma said to have had a $26 million bid knocked back, the Serie A giants still have Mahrez as their top transfer target this summer.

Leicester want $65 million for Mahrez who was crowned the 2015-16 PFA Player of the Year after spearheading their incredible Premier League title win, but a compromise of around $40 million is likely to be accepted by the Foxes.

During the Premier League Asia Trophy in Hong Kong last week Mahrez put in dazzling displays and scored a superb goal against Crystal Palace to showcase exactly what he’s all about.

Was that to give Roma, and others, a gentle nudge to bid more for him? Perhaps. It also proved that Leicester could really be struggling without his creativity as the Algerian magician turned it on when he had to last season to help them climb away form the relegation zone and reach the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals.

That said, having a disinterested Mahrez means you might as well play with 10-men and that’s not something Craig Shakespeare‘s team can afford to do.

Man United’s Bailly handed three-game ban by UEFA

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Eric Bailly will not be available for the UEFA Super Cup or the opening group game of Manchester United’s 2017-18 UEFA Champions League campaign.

[ VIDEO: United beat Real Madrid ]

Bailly, 23, was sent off in the second leg of United’s UEFA Europa League semifinal against Celta Vigo last season and sat out the final in Stockholm which they won 2-0 against Ajax to seal their spot in the UCL this season.

Following a hearing, UEFA released a statement on Monday confirming that Bailly’s ban was extended to three games (extended by two games) as he clashed with Vigo’s John Guidetti after being sent off.

“The CEDB has decided to suspend the Manchester United FC player Eric Bailly for three (3) UEFA club competition matches for which he would be otherwise eligible.”

He will now miss the upcoming showpiece game against Real Madrid in Skopje, Macedonia on Aug.8, as well as their UCL group opener but the ban is only for European competitions.

United have signed Swedish center back Victor Lindelof over the summer and the main plan seems to be for him to partner Bailly in the heart of the defense, or even play with three at the back with Phil Jones, Daley Blind or Chris Smalling coming into central defense. Given his good form at the end of last season, Marcos Rojo will perhaps jump to the top of that queue when the Argentine returns from a serious injury.

As for Bailly, he suffered through injuries last season, his debut campaign at United after joining from Villarreal for $40 million, but the Ivory Coast defender appeared in 38 games in all competitions despite a midseason break to represent his nation at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.

Bailly impressed with his dominant displays in the air and well-time tackles and along with David De Gea, Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku he is a key part of United’s powerful spine.