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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)

MLS Snapshots: Hat trick for Accam; MNUFC come back from 2-0

Photo credit: Chicago Fire / Twitter: @ChicagoFire
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The game in 100 words (or less): All hail King David Accam, the newest superstar of MLS — except, well, you know, he’s been doing this for a couple years now. It’s not his fault you hadn’t already taken notice. For too long, it was Accam and not much else for the Chicago Fire, who finished bottom of the league two straight seasons, in 2015 and 2016. Now, with the likes of Dax McCarty, Nemanja Nikolic and Bastian Schweinsteiger joining him in Bridgeview, Accam has ascended to his rightful throne as an MVP candidate. The 26-year-old Ghanaian international strengthened his case on Saturday, bagging three goals and an assist, playing a key part in all four goals, in Chicago’s 4-0 drubbing of Orlando City SC. Accam’s season stats now sit at 10 goals and six assists, for the Eastern Conference’s second-place team. If these kind of performances persist, don’t be surprised when Accam follows in Fabian Castillo’s footsteps, right off to Europe.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

Three moments that mattered

8′ — Accam rounds Bendik for 2-0 — The long-ball distribution from Bastian Schweinsteiger is perfect, but Accam still has a ton to do from there. He corrals the ball with his first touch, quickly goes around Joe Bendik, gets his wits about him and fires through an opening to make it David Accam 2-0 Orlando City SC. This one came just six minutes after his brilliant backheel finish for the opening goal.

52′ — Accam sets up Nikolic for 3-0 — The time and space afforded Accam is inexcusable from Orlando’s midfield remaining players in their defensive half of the field, but the through ball still required inch-perfect precision to find Nikolic.

63′ — Accam converts from the spot — No doubt about this one, as Accam slams home from the penalty spot to complete his much deserved hat trick.

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Man of the match: David Accam

Goalscorers: Accam (3′, 8′, 63′ – PK), Nikolic (52′)


Minnesota United 2-2 Vancouver Whitecaps

Three moments that mattered

45+2′ — Tchani heads a rocket past Shuttleworth — You’re not going to find many headers with more power behind them than this one from Tony Tchani, anywhere in the world, anytime.

50′ — Calvo heads down and past Ousted — Take, for example, Francisco Calvo’s goal five minutes into the second half… not quite as much behind it.

63′ — Thiesson hits it low, through traffic, for 2-0 — Jerome Thiesson’s equalizer needed eyes to make its way through a penalty area full of bodies.

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Man of the match: Kevin Molino

Goalscorers: Techera (17′ – PK), Tchani (45+2′), Calvo (50′), Thiesson (63′)

MLS Snapshots: Manneh inspires Crew SC; Philly, Atlanta win at home

AP Photo/Jay LaPrete
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Columbus Crew SC 4-1 Montreal Impact

Three moments that mattered

17′ — Higuain’s free kick beats Bush — Aided by a slight deflection off the top of the wall, Higuain put a free kick past Evan Bush to give the home side an early lead.

70′ — Manneh makes an immediate impact — The initial ball from Higuain is what you came here for, but the elementary defending by three Montreal defenders is what’ll keep you glued until the very end.

72′ — Manneh sets up Kamara for 3-1 — Kekuta Manneh had been on the field for all of three minutes, and he put a goal and an assist to his name. Most importantly, three points to that of Crew SC.

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Man of the match: Federico Higuain

Goalscorers: Higuain (17′, 88′), Jackson-Hamel (19′), Manneh (70′), Kamara (72′)


 

Philadelphia Union 1-0 D.C. United

Three moments that mattered

28′ — Blake gets down to deny Harkes from distance — Ian Harkes had picked out a spot just inside the far post, but Andre Blake was well up to the task of denying DCU’s homegrown rookie.

31′ — Picault slams Bedoya’s cross — Alejandro Bedoya’s cross has some serious loft on it, which it makes it so tough to keep the ensuing shot low and to hit it with such power. Fantastic finish from Picault.

70′ — Blake stone-walls Neagle from the spot — It’s a pretty poor penalty from Lamar Neagle, but it’s a massive moment so badly needed by Andre Blake who’s been well off his own standard this season. Don’t be surprised if it’s a season-turning save for the talented Jamaican.

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Man of the match: Andre Blake

Goalscorers: Picault (31′)


 

Atlanta United 1-0 Colorado Rapids

Three One moment that mattered

67′ — Martinez turns and beats Howard for the game’s only goal — You can’t give Josef Martinez this kind of space, and this kind of time, around the six-yard box. He’s shown us seven times already this season (in just seven games) how deadly he is from there.

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Man of the match: Josef Martinez

Goalscorers: Martinez (67′)

VIDEO: Accam’s slick backheel puts Chicago ahead

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For the last two years, David Accam has been, in my estimation, the best player in MLS that no one talked about.

[ MORE: NYCFC run rampant on Red Bulls, win NY derby 2-0 ]

Understandably so, of course, given the 26-year-old Ghanaian international and the Chicago Fire been rooted to the bottom of the league table for two years running. All of that has changed in 2017, though, as Accam finally has a forward (Nemanja Nikolic) who can not only put chances away, but create space and chances for his teammates, and a solid midfield base which allows him to cherry-pick counter-attacks just that little bit more.

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Entering Saturday’s game against Orlando City SC, Chicago sat second in the Eastern Conference, just four points back of Toronto FC, and Accam’s 7 goals and 5 assists (in 15 games) were a huge part of the why and the how. It didn’t take Accam long — two minutes, in fact, to put Chicago ahead of Orlando with a ridiculous backheel finish to Matt Polster’s cross.

 

Bravo fit again, but will he start Chile’s Confed Cup group finale?

Photo credit should read YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images
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MOSCOW (AP) Claudio Bravo is fit again and could start in goal against Australia at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi said Saturday.

Bravo – who is Chile’s joint most-capped player with Alexis Sanchez – hasn’t played since April 27, when he injured his calf for Manchester City in a derby game with Manchester United.

“Claudio is fit, he’s managed to train the last couple of days just like his other teammates,” Pizzi said. “He’s ready and available to play.”

Pizzi brushed off concerns about a lack of match fitness, saying that “quite obviously we take into account that factor” but players like Bravo are “are of such good quality that it isn’t that important they haven’t played in the last couple of months.”

Stand-in Johnny Herrera played in Chile’s 2-0 group stage win over Cameroon and Thursday’s 1-1 draw with Germany.

Gary Medel was substituted with a minor injury while playing in defense for Chile against Germany. Teammate Francisco Silva said Saturday that Medel had complained of “a very small muscle contraction issue” but was now fit.

Pizzi said he will aim to tire out Australia with Chile’s trademark all-action style, even though his team struggled for energy in the latter stages against Germany.

“This energy drop we had in the second half didn’t damage us too much because the opposing team couldn’t maintain a high pace because of the demands we’d imposed on them,” Pizzi said of the Germany game.

“We’re going to try to get (the Australians) tired as well and use this to beat our opponent, and we hope this is going to translate into goals.”