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PL Sunday preview: Newcastle shoot for top-4 place at Brighton

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures offers up a meeting of two newly promoted sides in the only game of the day.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Goals galore on a wild Saturday ]

Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Newcastle United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Newcastle’s return to the PL had all the makings of another spectacular flame-out and an immediate return to the Championship — owner Mike Ashley promised manager Rafa Benitez a busy summer of signings, but that never materialized; Benitez’s discontent was widely reported, some going so far as to say he had considered stepping down; the Magpies lost their first two games of the season, failing to score in either — until Jamaal Lascelles decided he was having no more of it.

Lascelles, Newcastle’s 23-year-old captain and star center back, has helped Benitez’s boys to three straight victories, in which they’ve conceded just one goal (in last week’s 2-1 victory over Stoke City), has united a group of players which seemed headed for self-destruction just four short weeks ago. The key, according to Lascelles, is accountability evenly shared by every player in the dressing room.

[ MORE: Pochettino — “I am in love with Harry Kane” ]

“A couple of seasons back, we’d go a goal down or concede a goal and heads would drop,” Lascelles said. “We’d be looking at each other like, ‘who’s going to step up?’ But everyone steps up, the 11 of us. This group of boys are excellent, we just keep going.”

Three points on Sunday would see Newcastle leapfrog Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, two sides level on 11 points and presently fighting over fourth place, to finish the weekend in the PL’s final Champions League place (after six of 38 games, of course).

[ MORE: Mourinho bewildered by sending-off; Man United beat Southampton ]

As for Brighton, returning home to Falmer Stadium is a welcome development after losing twice at Bournemouth (first in the PL, then in the League Cup) in the span of four days. In charge of Brighton is another former Newcastle manager, Chris Hughton, who guided his new club to promotion from the Championship last season (just as he did for Newcastle in 2010). Brighton held the league lead heading into the season’s final days before the Seagulls faltered and Newcastle pounced, but Hughton says there isn’t any ill will onto which to be held.

“There shouldn’t be, because they deserved it,” Hughton said. “We had opportunities in the last three games to clinch the title and we weren’t good enough at that particular moment to do that. All credit goes to Newcastle for doing it and certainly there’s no revenge. We are up against a good team that’s in good form at the moment.”

INJURIES: Brighton — OUT: Steve Sidwell (back), Sam Baldock (calf), Beram Kayal (leg); QUESTIONABLE: Izzy Brown (hamstring) | Newcastle — OUT: Aleksandar Mitrovic (suspended), Paul Dummett (hamstring), Florian Lejeune (ankle), Karl Darlow (ankle)

Bundesliga wrap: Bayern wins it late, Leverkusen goes second

AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
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It looked like Bayern Munich was on pace to drop points for just the fifth time this season, but then the club’s star striker stepped up in the biggest of moments.

[ MORE: TFC on the brink of adding Athletic Bilbao midfielder Ager Aketxe ]

The German leaders came back to pick up a 2-1 victory on the road at Wolfsburg after Robert Lewandowski converted a penalty kick in stoppage time.

Sandro Wagner’s second-half header had pulled the match level off of an Arjen Robben cross in the 64th minute. Robben atoned for an earlier penalty-kick miss, which would have tied the match ten minutes prior.

Meanwhile, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke were each big winners on the day, with the two clubs moving into the top four.

Leverkusen’s 2-1 win on the road against Hertha Berlin saw Heiko Herrlich and his side move up to second place in the Bundesliga, albeit a lengthy distance behind leaders Bayern.

Schalke took care of business at home against Hoffenheim, bringing the Miners one step closer to the top four. The side is now level on 37 points with Borussia Dortmund for fourth, but the Christian Pulisic and Co. currently boast a superior goal differential.

Below are all of Saturday’s scores from around Germany’s top flight.

Cologne 1-1 Hannover 96
Hertha Berlin 1-2 Bayer Leverkusen
Freiburg 1-0 Werder Bremen
Wolfsburg 1-1 Bayern Munich
Schalke 2-0 Hoffenheim

Rodchenkov to AP: Russian footballers immune from drug bans

60 Minutes
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Russian doping whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov claims he helped soccer players in the country to avoid being caught doping after he followed government orders to ensure cheating was covered up.

[ MORE: Mourinho denies Pogba exit rumors ]

The former Russian anti-doping laboratory director told The Associated Press in response to questions through his lawyer that an instruction to avoid scandal came from Vitaly Mutko. Mutko is the former Russian sports minister who serves as deputy prime minster despite being at the center of the doping deception controversy exposed by Rodchenkov.

The focus is sharpening on doping practices in Russian soccer with the World Cup kicking off in Moscow in four months.

Rodchenkov says “Russian footballers were immune from doping-control actions or sanctions.”

Rodchenkov claimed Mutko said “avoid any scandal by hiding positive results” and that “doping would be handled internally”.

Video: Rondon’s exquisite volley not enough to save West Brom

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Salomon Rondon’s second-half volley was not only a beauty, but one of tremendous difficulty.

Unfortunately for he and his West Bromwich Albion side, though, it wasn’t enough for the Baggies to survive in this season’s FA Cup fifth-round tie against Southampton.

[ MORE: Brilliant Messi through ball sends Suarez in for Barcelona opener ]

The Saints progressed to the quarterfinals on Saturday behind goals from Wesley Hoedt and Dusan Tadic, and join fellow Premier League sides Chelsea, Brighton & Hove and Leicester City in the final eight.

Tadic’s goal came in the 56th minute, doubling the Southampton lead, but Rondon’s quality volley two minutes later provided West Brom with a temporary moment of relief (below).

Video: Brilliant Messi through ball sends Suarez in on goal

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With a blockbuster UEFA Champions League clash against Chelsea right around the corner for Barcelona, the Spanish league leaders look on pace to extend their perfect La Liga record.

[ MORE: Willian dazzles for Chelsea in FA Cup win over Hull ]

Despite rumors that Lionel Messi and some of Barcelona’s biggest stars would be rested ahead of Tuesday’s match against the London side, the Argentine superstar not only started at Eibar on Saturday, but made a brilliant impact in the 17th minute.

Messi linked up with Luis Suarez after playing the Uruguayan through towards goal from a tremendous defense-splitting pass that sent the striker in for the 1-0 lead.

Barcelona has yet to lose in domestic competition this season, boasting an 18-5-0 record heading into Saturday’s meeting with Eibar. Additionally, Messi and Co. currently hold a plus-49 goal differential, which was lifted to plus-50 with Suarez’s finish.

The Blaugrana are the last team in Europe’s five major leagues to remain unbeaten in league play.