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Top PL Storylines: Will Spurs have a chance to close down Chelsea?

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From start to finish, the Premier League always has something on the line week in and week out. This time around, there are battles up and down the table.

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With Chelsea’s difficult test at in-form Manchester United, could the Blues drop points and allow Spurs back into the title race? Who will gain and who will fall in the vicious relegation battle? What will the gap at the top look like at the end of the weekend? All that and more comes your way in the next few days.

Can Spurs move closer to the top?

Tottenham vs. Bournemouth — 7:30 a.m. EDT Saturday online via

Spurs sit seven points back of Chelsea. If they are to catch the Blues, they obviously need some outside help. However, Mauricio Pochettino knows his side must be ready in the event Chelsea slips up, which there’s a serious chance of them doing this weekend. With Chelsea not playing until Sunday (more below), Spurs can put the pressure on and pull within four for at least a day.

Bournemouth is a dangerous team. They’ve drawn with Liverpool and Manchester United in recent weeks, and Harry Kane‘s return for Tottenham has come at a fantastic time. With the club’s leading scorer back, Tottenham will be well positioned to pull out the three points in this one, but need to get the job done.

Massive test for leaders Chelsea at Old Trafford

Manchester United vs. Chelsea — 11:00 a.m. EDT Sunday online via

With Spurs at home facing a bottom-half side, Chelsea knows it needs to keep separation, or things become much more difficult. Manchester United is the highest-positioned side left on Chelsea’s remaining schedule, and should they get by this test, the title is all but secure.

That’s no given, however, considering Manchester United hasn’t lost since October 23rd – to Chelsea. That 4-0 drubbing sent the Red Devils on a 21-match unbeaten streak. A draw here would be a decent result for both sides, but the Blues would prefer not to eat up any of the cushion they’ve built on the rest of the field.

Manchester United themselves are fighting a significant battle, as they hope to gain ground on either Manchester City or Liverpool in the fight for a Champions League place. With Manchester City visiting a strong Southampton squad and Liverpool on the road at the Hawthornes, the chance could be there to pull within a single point of the promised land.

Which in-form team will pick up points?

Crystal Palace vs. Leicester City — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday online via

Sam Allardyce has led Crystal Palace onto a tear of impressive results that have pulled them out of the relegation zone (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images).


The run Crystal Palace is on has shocked England. The run Leicester City was on rejuvenated the club. These two teams seem to have saved their respective Premier League statuses by completing a set of impressive results, but the job is not completely done.

Sam Allardyce has given the Eagles hope by rattling off five wins over their last six matches, including impressive victories over Arsenal and Chelsea. Their stretch run remains painful viewing, with Liverpool, Manchester City, and Manchester United all still to come on the fixture list. Nevertheless, with an impressively paltry four goals conceded over those six games – three of those coming in the lone loss during that span – Palace is not just out of the relegation zone but six points clear. Is that enough cushion with such a brutal end-of-season run?

Leicester City, meanwhile, was bullied around the pitch against Atletico Madrid in Champions League play this week, but the Foxes still have their impressive start to Craig Shakespeare’s managerial tenure fresh in their memory. The bottom of the table is crammed together, so their 11th place position lends more sense of security than the eight-point gap might warrant, but the Foxes are solidly in the Premier League next season barring a total collapse. Will they have enough to overcome the high-flying Eagles?

Which relegation-threatened club will gain ground?

Sunderland vs. West Ham — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday online via

Stoke City vs. Hull City — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday online via

Watford vs. Swansea City — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday online via

Three matches, four teams in the bottom seven and another two clubs gasping for air. Sunderland has precious little room for error, and the Black Cats are catching West Ham at the right time. Could they put pressure on the rest of the relegation scrap?

Meanwhile, Hull City is flying high with three wins in its last five, and catch Stoke City at the right time. The Potters have dropped four in a row and have won just twice since late January. A win here could potentially see Hull City shoot five points above the relegation zone, a huge gap for the stretch run.

Finally, Swansea City fans were overjoyed at the start to Paul Clement‘s tenure, seeing the 45-year-old turn their fortunes around in his first few weeks on the job. Fast-forward to now, and the club is on a five-match winless run and back in the drop zone having fallen victim to the great runs by Palace and Hull. They take on a Watford side firmly entrenched in the middle of the table. The Swans will find Walter Mazzarri‘s side difficult to break down, and with few goals scored between these to teams in the past, every moment will be precious.

Can Arsenal turn things around?

Middlesbrough vs. Arsenal — 3:00 p.m. EDT Monday online via

The wheels have come off Arsenal’s season, and a loss at Middlesbrough would no doubt seal their fall from Champions League grace. Even with a win, it seems unlikely for the Gunners to catch the top four, but confidence is needed to make a push, and a road win over a defensively stout team would provide just that.

Boro’s inability to score is well-known throughout the land, but their defensive shape is just the kind of mentality that seems to stifle Arsenal teams in years past. Can the hosts keep the Gunners at bay, or even nick a scrappy win? If so, it would continue Arsenal’s nosedive…and let’s not forget the relegation fight, which could give Boro a much-needed boost as they battle for their Premier League lives.

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.

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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.