PL Sunday preview: Man City go for 11 straight

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Manchester City’s bid to run away with the Premier League title continues on Sunday with a visit to one of the feel-good stories of the still-young season. Elsewhere, Burnley host Arsenal in a battle for the top-four (yes, really), and a pair of severe underachievers do battle at St. Mary’s Stadium.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool drop points; Manchester rejoices ]

Southampton vs. Everton — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

It’s still early in the 2017-18 PL season, but no side has displayed levels of disarray capable of rivaling that of (permanent) manager-less Everton — at least, not yet. After firing Ronald Koeman on Oct. 23, David Unsworth was put in charge on an interim basis. Burnley’s Sean Dyche was coveted and unsuccessfully hired, as was Watford’s Marco Silva. Here the Toffees sit, a month later, 16th in the league table and just 12 points to their name from 12 games, with owner Farhad Moshiri publicly claiming a new appointment is imminent, and Unsworth completely in the dark.

“Look, what will be will be,” he said this week. “I’m a proud man, I’ve stood proud for the past five weeks and I will continue to do that until someone tells me otherwise. I was only made aware of this development as I came off the training pitch, and if it is the case that we are close to getting a manger, I am delighted. I just want what’s best for the club. They asked me to stand in and I was pleased to do it. There were never any guarantees.”

Sunday’s opponent, Southampton, meanwhile, have come under plenty criticism of their own these first three-plus months of the season. Same as under Claude Puel last year, Saints have struggled to create chances and score goals under new manager Mauricio Pellegrino — to the tune of nine goals in 12 games, a -5 goal differential and 14th place in the league table. A win on Sunday could vault them as high as ninth. Pellegrino insists his employment is safe.

INJURIES: Southampton — OUT: Mario Lemina (ankle) | Everton — OUT: Oumar Niasse (suspension), James McCarthy (hamstring), Ross Barkley (hamstring), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), Yannick Bolasie (knee), Maarten Stekelenburg (groin); RETURNING: Morgan Schneiderlin (toe)

Burnley vs. Arsenal — 9 a.m. ET, on CNBC and

For the first time in what feels like decades, the football club known as Arsenal has an almost entirely clean bill of health — only Santi Cazorla (out since October 2016) and an ill Theo Walcott, who already lives on the periphery of the squad anyway are unavailable for Sunday’s trip to Turf Moor.

On top of their newfound fitness, are also in the midst of a particularly purple patch of results in recent weeks — last weekend’s victory over Tottenham Hotspur erased memories of the defeat away to league-leading Manchester City. In total, the Gunners (22 points) have won six of their last nine games in the PL and would leapfrog both Liverpool and Tottenham to go fourth with a win on Sunday.

The Clarets, meanwhile, are the surprise team of the season thus far. Level on points with Arsenal, Dyche’s side could also finish the weekend by occupying a top-four place. With three straight wins and just two defeats all season, it’s no wonder Burnley have been approached time and again by “bigger” clubs in an effort to lure Dyche away from Turf Moor. Dyche is pleased with Burnley’s place in the PL pecking order, but his focus remains solely on reaching the 40-point mark, at which point everything else will be a cherry on top.

“The league table is to be enjoyed and I’ll probably do that for an hour before I start thinking about the next one,” he said after last week’s win over Swansea City. “We know it’s a big challenge going forward, and 40 points is the marker, so we look to the next challenge that comes our way and that’s Arsenal.”

INJURIES: Burnley — OUT: Tom Heaton (shoulder), Jonathan Walters (knee), Dean Marney (fitness) | Arsenal — OUT: Theo Walcott (illness), Santi Cazorla (achilles)

Huddersfield Town vs. Man City — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and

96 days have elapsed since Man City last dropped a point, in any competition. Since their 1-1 draw with Everton way back on Aug. 21 — game no. 2 of the 2017-18 season — Pep Guardiola‘s side has won 10 straight in the PL, as well as five straight in the UEFA Champions League, and another two in the League Cup — altogether, 17 straight victories for the runaway PL leaders.

Sunday’s trip to take on newly promoted Huddersfield affords the Sky Blues to make it 11 in a row in the PL, and re-establish their eight-point lead in the title race after Manchester United closed the gap to just five with a victory over Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday. It’s not just the results which have been so dominant for Man City, but the scorelines by which they’ve been achieved: 37-6 combined score during the 10-game winning streak; six clean sheets during the run; and, they have trailed for all of eight of a possible 900 minutes.

As for Huddersfield, this first season in the PL has been a stomach-churning roller-coaster ride for David Wagner‘s side. After winning their opening two games of the season, the Terriers went winless in their next six (three draws), followed by alternating wins and losses each of the last four weeks, including the shocking slaying of Man United, destruction at the hands of Liverpool and even worse from Bournemouth. For all the peaks and valleys, they’ll gladly accept their 10th-place standing a dozen games into the campaign, while remaining cognizant of the fact there’s still a million miles to travel in their bid to stave off relegation.

INJURIES: Huddersfield — OUT: Michael Hefele (achilles), Philip Billing (ankle), Kasey Palmer (fitness), Jon Gorenc-Stankovic (knee) | Man City — OUT: John Stones (hamstring), Benjamin Mendy (knee)

Southgate praises rising star, possible no. 1 Pickford

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With fewer than three months to the start of the 2018 World Cup, the majority of Gareth Southgate‘s England squad has largely sorted itself over the course of the current Premier League season.

[ MORE: New USMNT kits for 2018 World Cup ]

With everyone healthy and available — a big ask, granted — the likes of Kyle Walker, John Stones, Danny Rose, Jordan Henderson, Eric Dier, Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane practically pick themselves for the starting 11, with Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford and Jamie Vardy having secured significant roles off the bench.

One position, however, which remains far from set in stone is the man in goal. Joe Hart has long since fallen from his former place as the cemented no. 1, meanwhile Jack Butland and Fraser Forster failed to make the most of their sporadic chances over the course of the last couple years.

[ MORE: France blow a lead, lose to Colombia; England top Holland ]

Enter: Jordan Pickford, who started and played all 90 minutes — and massively impressed Southgate — in the Three Lions’ 1-0 victory over Holland. Southgate singled out the 24-year-old Everton goalkeeper for praise following the game, remarking that Pickford’s ability to start the process of playing the ball out of the back “allows [England] to play in a different way” — quotes from BT Sport:

“He transferred what we know he can do into an important game, a game away from home, so that was good for him.

“I think (it was) not the test that we faced in November (friendlies against Germany and Brazil) in terms of the pressure on our defense and the experience of the players.

“But, nevertheless, I think that’s 11 clean sheets from our 16 games and that gives us a good base to build from.”

“I think it allows you to play in a different way. There are moments where the goalkeeper or a defender can come and put the ball into the stand or play it forward hopefully.

“But if you can play with composure and play through and out of pressure then it (eases) off the opposition in terms of their pressure and eventually they stop running and you have more time in different areas of the field. The profile of all of that defense and goalkeeper allowed us to do that.”

Don’t look now, but this appears to be the most settled and established England side heading into a major tournament… well, probably in my lifetime. What if England are good — or, worse — really good?

Like clockwork, top goalkeepers criticize new World Cup ball

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It’s a tradition as old as time — the union of top goalkeepers from all over the world, no matter the continent from which they hail, complaining about the new ball to be used at the upcoming World Cup.

[ MORE: New USMNT kits for 2018 World Cup ]

By the end of this summer’s tournament in Russia, you’ll reflexively twitch every time you hear the words “Telstar 18.” Goalkeepers will tell you that it’s designed to deceive them, to boost goalscoring numbers during major tournaments.

Below you’ll find the critical, but restrained so as not to offend, assessments of goalkeepers David De Gea (Spain’s no. 1), Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Germany’s no. 1b) and Pepe Reina (De Gea’s wily backup) — quotes from FourFourTwo:

“It’s really strange. It could have been made a lot better.”

“The ball could be better; it moves a lot. But I think we’re just going to have to get used to working with it — and try to get to grips with it as quickly as possible before the World Cup starts. We’ve got no other option.”

“They should change it. There’s still time.”

[ MORE: France blow a lead, lose to Colombia; England top Holland ]

Unsurprisingly, top attacking stars — those who presumably stand to benefit from a ball that unpredictably moves on goalkeepers — have given their seal of approval for Telstar 18.

MLS (afternoon) roundup: NYCFC come back vs. NE; FCD, POR stalemate

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Ismael Tajouri scored two goals and Sean Johnson had five saves to help New York City FC play the New England Revolution to a 2-2 draw Saturday.

The 23-year-old Tajouri, who has appeared in four MLS games, has three goals in the last two matches while filling in for the injured David Villa.

Yangel Herrera threaded a pass between two defenders to Tajouri, who turned and blasted a rising left-footer into the net to cap the scoring in the 76th minute.

Diego Fagundez bent a shot from well outside the box off the post to give New England (1-1-1) a 1-0 lead in the 11th. Tajouri tied it early in the second half, first-timing a cross from Saad Abdul-Salaam past a diving Matt Turner from near the penalty spot and Juan Agudelo’s header in the 63rd put the Revolution back in front. Cristian Penilla played a perfect cross from the left side to Agudelo who finished from the top of the 6-yard box.

NYCFC (4-0-0) is off to its best start in history and has won a franchise-record five in a row, dating to the 2017 playoffs.

FRISCO, Texas (AP) Roland Lamah scored his third goal in two games and Jimmy Maurer had a career-high five saves in FC Dallas’ 1-1 tie with the Portland Timbers on Saturday.

Lamah, who had two goals and an assists in FC Dallas’ 3-0 win over Seattle on Sunday, opened the scoring in the 36th minute. Jacori Hayes evaded two defenders and then tapped it to Lamah, who rolled a left-footer past a diving Jake Gleeson into the net from the top of the penalty arc.

Sebastian Blanco side-netted a left-footer from the top of the box to tie it in the 47th.

FC Dallas (1-0-2) is unbeaten in its last nine home matches.

Lawrence Olum, who was shown a yellow card for unsporting behavior in the 44th minute, drew a red for a hand ball in the 75th for Portland (0-2-1).

Report: PSG pressing Conte to leave Chelsea this summer

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First, Paris Saint-Germain (reportedly) wanted Mauricio Pochettino; then it was (reportedly) Diego Simeone; now it’s Antonio Conte who’s (you guessed it — reportedly) been targeted for, and pitched, an exit from Chelsea this summer.

[ MORE: Conte, Pirlo could spearhead Italy managerial team ]

According to a report from the Guardian, PSG executives have held talks with Conte’s agent in recent days and/or weeks, as the winners of four of the last five Ligue 1 titles prepare to move on from current manager Unai Emery this summer.

The belief in the French capital is that Conte, who’s made no bones about his frustrations at Chelsea dating back to last summer, would be a far more realistic target for that reason. According to the report, PSG are willing to offer Conte an annual salary in the neighborhood of $14 million. The Italian is currently paid nearly $13.5 million per year at Chelsea.

Conte has been at odds with the Chelsea hierarchy, largely, over the lack of funds made available to him to rebuild the squad in the transfer market.

“I have great ambition but I don’t have money for Chelsea. The club knows very well what is my idea, what is my ambition. That is very clear. When you decide to work with this type of coach, you must understand that you take a coach with great ambition. Not a loser but a winner. And that ambition must always be shared.”

[ MORE: Man City, Man United reportedly chasing Neymar ]

Talks are said to have been “positive” between Conte’s representative and PSG.

PSG’s motivation to fire Emery stems from the Spaniard’s failure to impress in European competition — two round-of-16 exits from the Champions League, one either side of the massive spending spree of last summer which resulted in Neymar and Kylian Mbappe moving to the Parc des Princes.