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PL Sunday preview: Sunderland-Man United; surging Foxes visit Everton

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Dreams of a top-four finish are quickly slipping away from Manchester United, just as Premier League status has (finally) done for Sunderland; Everton reside in no man’s land, between the top-six miles clear of eighth place, while Leicester City have finally shaken their PL title hangover.

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Sunderland vs. Manchester United — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The objective was clear: Jose Mourinho was expected to return Man United to the PL’s top-four in his first season at Old Trafford. Reality is equally clear, and harsh: with two games in hand, and a seven-point deficit to fourth-place Manchester City to overcome, the Red Devils need their points three at a time from here on out; no side in the PL has drawn more games this season (12 — tied with Middlesbrough). While Mourinho’s men are unbeaten in their last 20 league games, dating all the way back Oct. 29, they’ve won just half of those games, dropping a season-killing 20 points in the process.

Sunderland, on the other hand, have finally run out of lives. After escaping near certain relegation (doing so in stunning fashion each time) in each of the last four seasons, David Moyes will almost certainly (we think) take the Black Cats down to the Championship this summer. 10 points currently stand between last-place Sunderland and Hull City in 17th; even a win on Sunday wouldn’t move them off the bottom of the table. Sunderland have just one win in their last 13 PL games played. One potential silver lining: they did beat United at home last season.

INJURIES: Sunderland — OUT: Jan Kirchoff (knee), Paddy McNair (knee), Duncan Watmore (knee) | Man United — OUT: Juan Mata (groin), Chris Smalling (knee), Phil Jones (toe); QUESTIONABLE: Wayne Rooney (ankle), Ashley Young (knock)

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Spurs apply pressure, Chelsea unfazed ]

Everton vs. Leicester City — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

From relegation-threatened defending champions, to totally clear of the drop zone and safely enjoying mid-table obscurity, all in six weeks’ time — the 2016-17 season has been an emotional roller coaster for Leicester. Harkening back to last season’s title-winning fairytale is Jamie Vardy‘s timely return to form, as the reigning Player of the Season has bagged five goals in his last five PL games to match his tally from his first 22 league appearances this season. After 25 games, the point at which Claudio Ranieri was fired, the Foxes sat 18th in the league table. Five straight wins have seen Craig Shakespeare’s side rise all the way up to 11th with a chance to climb into the top half on Sunday.

As for Everton, a derby defeat at the hands of Liverpool, followed by a 1-1 draw with Manchester United three days later, brought to a screeching halt all momentum created by a stretch of just one loss in 12 games (eight wins) from Boxing Day to St. Patrick’s Day. Romelu Lukaku (21 goals) remains top of the Golden Boot race, two clear of Harry Kane, though the big Belgian failed to find the back of the net in each of the last week’s disappointing results. Prior to last weekend, the 23-year-old had scored nine goals in five PL games.

INJURIES: Everton — OUT: Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), James McCarthy (hamstring), Yannick Bolasie (knee), Muhamed Besic (knee); RETURNING: Morgan Schneiderlin (calf) | Leicester — OUT: Wes Morgan (back); QUESTIONABLE: Nampalys Mendy (ankle)

Five Thirty Eight unveils Top 426 soccer clubs in the world

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Perspective achieved?

Advanced statistical site Five Thirty Eight has put together a weekly ranking of the top and bottom club teams in the world, and its algorithm gives us a theoretical answer into where Major League Soccer fits into the club soccer landscape.

[ MORE: Julian Green back on transfer market ]

At its very base level, the rankings will give reason to check back all season. Can Manchester United break into the Top Three? Will an MLS side leap into the Top 100? Can the worst American club avoid the bottom slot?

Here’s the list of clubs, and Five Thirty Eight has also gone through the trouble of giving its statistical analysis of who’s best set-up to win leagues and even games.

A note on the methodology:

We’re using recent matches played between teams from different leagues, supplemented with league market values (from Transfermarkt), to assign a strength rating to every league that we’re forecasting. Our new league ratings also give us the ability to a calculate a global Soccer Power Index (SPI) rating for each team — a number from 0 to 100 that represents the overall strength of each team.

The Premier League and La Liga combine for six of the Top Ten teams in the world, with Real Madrid No. 1 and Man City, Manchester United, and Chelsea running Nos. 7, 8, and 9.

Brighton and Hove Albion is the lowest ranked Premier League club, 188th in the world. The only PL sides outside the Top 125 are the three promoted clubs. Swansea is 113th, the lowest (or highest) ranked PL side aside from the new promotions.

Brighton is 17 spots below MLS’ top representative: Toronto FC. The same web site ranked MLS as the 28th best league in the world earlier this month, between Denmark and Croatia.

New York City FC shows up next, at 259, then rivals New York Red Bulls at 267. The bulk of MLS clubs fit between 320 and 422, where Minnesota United brings up the rear. The study ranks 426 teams, with three Scottish clubs running 424-426.

[ MORE: Man City 1-1 Everton | 3 things ]

As for some other odds, Five Thirty Eight gives Manchester United the best odds to win the league at 31 percent, with Man City, Chelsea, and Spurs joining them with the best odds to place in the Top Four.

The average simulated season has United besting rivals City by two points, with 80. Tottenham (72) tops Arsenal (68) for fourth by four points, while No. 6 Liverpool finishes 10 points clear of Merseyside rivals Everton (57 points).

It’s no surprise that the three promoted clubs — Huddersfield Town, Newcastle, and Brighton — are the top bets to be relegated, with Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, and Swansea City the next best bets to find life in the Championship.

Other notes:

— Manchester United is the fourth-best defensive team in the Premier League, behind only Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Juventus.

— Spurs are also in the Top Ten amongst defensive teams, a 8.

— Man City is the best offensive team in the PL, seventh in the world.

— Watford is this week’s highest PL riser, up 22 spots.

— MLS side Chicago Fire suffered the fourth biggest drop in the world this week (40 spots).

Five Thirty Eight is one of the best predictive web sites in the world, and one of the only ones who gave more than an outside shot (though still ranking it a long shot) of the 2016 United States presidential election turning out for the winner of the electoral college. So this is certainly food for thought.

Former Dinamo Zagreb boss injured after shooting

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SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) Controversial former Dinamo Zagreb director Zdravko Mamic was shot and injured in Bosnia on Monday, police and media reported.

Croatia’s state TV said Mamic was shot in his leg and taken to a local hospital on Monday. It said the injury was not life-threatening.

Police were searching for two possible assailants.

[ MORE: Five PL new boys to watch ]

Bosnian media said Mamic was attending a memorial for his father at a graveyard near the town of Tomislavgrad when two people fired at him from a nearby forest. Another report said it was a drive-by shooting.

Croatia’s TV said Mamic voluntarily left the hospital in Bosnia after doctors managed to stop the bleeding, and he went to the Croatian capital, Zagreb.

Bosnian police declined to confirm the identity of the victim by name, but said a man with the initials ZM and born in 1959 in the Croatian city of Bjelovar, just like Mamic, was shot and injured.

Mamic, known for his fiery temper, has been on a high-profile embezzlement and tax fraud trial in Croatia.

Prosecutors accuse Mamic, his brother, and two others of embezzling 15 million euros of the club’s money since 2008 and not paying 1.6 million euros in taxes.

Mamic, who remains Dinamo’s adviser, is still considered the most powerful man in Croatian football despite the charges.

Dinamo issued a statement, calling the attack a “murder attempt.”

It said the attempted “liquidation” of Mamic was not a surprise amid a “lynching campaign” against him by the Croatian media.

He was recently knocked off his yacht into the sea by an attacker believed to be a fan of rival Hajduk Split.

AP Writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.

LIVE – Champions League playoff: Nice-Napoli headlines action

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With Celtic (just about) booking their spot in the UEFA Champions League group stage on Tuesday, four more teams will join them.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 

Napoli, Olympiacos, Sevilla and Hapoel Be’er Sheva all have narrow leads heading into the second legs which sets things up rather nicely. Olympiacos and Be’er Sheva will be feeling particularly nervous after conceding at home in the first leg.

On Wednesday five more ties takes place across Europe with Liverpool looking to book their spot in the UCL group stage against Hoffenheim.

Below is the full schedule for Tuesday’s games, which kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET, while you can click on the link above to follow live commentary on all four matches.


Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League playoff second legs

Nice vs. Napoli (Napoli lead 2-0 on aggregate)
Astana 4-3 Celtic (Celtic advance 8-4 on aggregate)
Rijeka vs. Olympiacos (Olympiacos leads 2-1 on aggregate)
Sevilla vs. Istanbul Basaksehir (Sevilla leads 2-1 on aggregate)
Maribor vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva (Hapoel Be’er Sheva lead 2-1 on aggregate)

LIVE – Premier League clubs enter League Cup

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Seven Premier League teams enter the League Cup second round on Tuesday with plenty of potential upsets lined up.

[ LIVE: Follow League Cup scores ]

All 13 PL clubs (six more are in action on Wednesday) face teams from the lower leagues with the likes of Crystal Palace, Leicester City, Bournemouth and Swansea City all on upset alert.

U.S. national team players to watch out for include Lynden Gooch who starts for Sunderland and Emerson Hyndman who is on the bench for Bournemouth.

Below is the schedule for the League Cup games on Tuesday with all games to kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET unless otherwise stated.


Tuesday
Crystal Palace vs. Ipswich Town – 2:30pm
Aston Villa vs. Wigan Athletic
Leeds United vs. Newport County
Middlesbrough vs. Scunthorpe United
Norwich City vs. Charlton Athletic
QPR vs. Brentford
Fulham vs. Bristol Rovers
Cardiff City vs. Burton Albion
Carlisle United vs. Sunderland
Doncaster vs. Hull City
Brighton vs. Barnet
Accrington Stanley vs. West Brom
Sheffield United vs. Leicester City
Birmingham City vs. Bournemouth
Watford vs. Bristol City
MK Dons vs. Swansea City
Reading vs. Millwall – 3pm
Bolton vs. Sheffield Wednesday – 3pm