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PL preview: Newcastle United vs. Man City

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  • Man City chasing 18th straight win
  • Newcastle seek 2nd straight win, relegation breathing room
  • City lead PL by 12 points; Newcastle up to 15th

Manchester City ticked one gigantic box of history in the last two weeks, but now Pep Guardiola‘s side must continue its dominance and survive another 19 games if they are to achieve the unthinkable — finish a Premier League season unbeaten.

Up next is a trip to St. James’ Park to take on Rafa Benitez‘s relegation-battling, up-for-sale Newcastle United on Wednesday (Watch live, 2:45 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

With the PL title all but sewn up with half the season still to play — an unthinkable phrase when considering last season’s first-year struggles under Guardiola — the substance to this City side is clear for all to see, but it’s the style with which they’ve thrashed any and all comers this season which is more impressive: 60 goals scored, to just 12 conceded. Thursday will mark the two-month anniversary since City last conceded multiple goals in a game (to woeful West Bromwich Albion, a side without a win in 18 games), just as Saturday will mark three months to the day since Guardiola’s men last failed to score multiple goals in a game.

Of the PL’s top 10 goal scorers (may of which have now played one more game ahead of Wednesday), three don the Sky Blue of City — Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero (both with 12) and Gabriel Jesus (8). Of the PL’s top 10 assist maker thus far, again, three are City players — Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Leroy Sane (all with 8) are tied atop the chart, each with two more than anyone else.

[ MORE: Boxing Day blues for Man Utd; joy for Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs ]

The task facing Newcastle is a tough one, to put it tightly. It’s not much, but it’s somewhere to begin: the Magpies were improved and borderline prolific on their last outing, picking up a surprising 3-2 win away to West Ham United. The result snapped a nine-game winless skid (eight loss) in PL play, and vaulted Newcastle out of the relegation zone. Even after Tuesday’s Boxing Day fixtures, Benitez’s men have three places and one point of cushion between themselves an 18th place.

INJURIES: Newcastle — OUT: Alexsandar Mitrovic (back); QUESTIONABLE: Mikel Merino (leg), Isaac Hayden (knock) | Man City — OUT: John Stones (hamstring), Benjamin Mendy (knee)

What they’re saying

Benitez, on ending the skid: “It’s difficult when you have a bad run but we analyzed the games and deserved more from four or five of them. But we lost confidence and it was very important for us to win. It was important for us to have a good performance against a good team, and they started well with pace, then later the long balls and second balls, but we dealt with things well.”

Guardiola, on managing a squad like City’s: “I was a football player. I understand the players in that when they are substituted and don’t play, they are sad and upset. I understand our job is to try and search to find a weakness but I try to have the best relationship with my players as possible. Sometimes, I think Gabriel Jesus deserves to play – and Bernardo Silva and Eliaquim Mangala. The important thing is that they have respect between each other. … I have a lot of respect for Sergio Aguero and all he has done, what he does and what he will do in the future. He will decide everything about his future and his life.”

Prediction

At this point of their record-breaking run, it’s not a matter of if Man City will win, but a matter of by how many will they do so? The answer, on Wednesday, should be, “by at least two or three.”

Vancouver adds versatile Juarez, formerly of Monterrey, Celtic

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Efrain Juarez is bringing his game to Major League Soccer.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 39-times capped Mexico veteran has inked a deal with the Vancouver Whitecaps, joining a strengthened unit which came within a point of winning the West last season.

Juarez, 29, was unveiled as a midfielder by the ‘Caps, though he’s primarily played right back in his club career. He’s played at Celtic, Real Zaragoza, Club America, Monterrey, and Pumas.

Last capped by El Tri in 2012, Juarez has played every position except goal, center attacking mid, and center forward in his career (picture a ‘U’ on the pitch).

“I’m so happy and excited for this new stage in my career,” Juarez said. “It’s an opportunity for me to keep growing in a new league and to be a part of an amazing club in Vancouver. From the moment they showed interest me, Carl Robinson and the Whitecaps staff have made me feel very important. I promise to put all my effort into this club and do my best to help us achieve our goals.”

VIDEO: Asensio goal ends Real Madrid’s winless run

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Marco Asensio’s eighth goal of the season and second of this Copa del Rey put an end to an unlikely Real Madrid winless run in a 1-0 victory at Leganes.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 21-year-old darted in front of a defender to volley home from in-tight, giving Real Madrid a first leg lead in the tournament quarterfinals.

More importantly, perhaps, it gives struggling Real a boost in morale after draws with Celta Vigo and Numancia, and a loss to Villarreal.

Real is home to Deportivo de la Coruna in La Liga before hosting Leganes in the second leg.

Hopeful Newcastle buyer Staveley: Offer still on the table

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Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is probably happy that his for-sale club is away this weekend, even though his side’s up against Manchester City.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines — Week 24  ]

That’s because hopeful buyer Amanda Staveley has responded to claims that her hopeful takeover of the team won’t be happening any time soon.

Talks had stalled, said Tuesday reports, much to the chagrin of an #AshleyOut brigade that at times can make Arsenal’s #WengerOut brigade look like a yard full of happy puppies.

A “source” had said, “Attempts to reach a deal have proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time,” but Staveley shot back on Thursday to reignite the fire. From the BBC, taken from The Times:

“Our bid remains on the table. This is an investment, but it has to be a long-term investment. Newcastle would be run as a business, but we want it to be a successful, thriving business that is an absolutely integral part of the city.”

She also said that popular manager Rafa Benitez is integral to her interest in the team, and that fact combined with her insistence that an offer remains on the table will have many Newcastle fans seething with current ownership (and there have been protests for years). It’s Ashley’s move now.

2018 MLS Mock Draft: LAFC, Galaxy hold the keys

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Major League Soccer’s latest batch of hopeful rookies learn the next steps of their professional careers beginning Friday with the first two rounds of the MLS SuperDraft.

There are several intriguing prospects, including accomplished Stanford center back Tomas Hilliard-Arce and dangerous Michigan winger Francis Atuahene.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

An MLS mock draft is always tricky given the wildly varying opinions on players from the college game. This year, it’s even trickier as clubs without picks and some with multiple first round picks may be looking to move up and down even more than the norm.

Here’s how we think the draft could play out:

  1. LAFC – Tomas Hilliard-Arce, CB, Stanford
  2. LA Galaxy – Jon Bakero, FW, Wake Forest
  3. DC United – Francis Atuahene, FW, Michigan
  4. Montreal – Joao Moutinho, LB, Akron
  5. Minnesota – Wyatt Omsberg, CB, Dartmouth
  6. Orlando City – Ema Twumasi, FW, Wake Forest
  7. Montreal – Chris Mueller, FW, Wisconsin
  8. New England – Mo Adams, MF, Syracuse
  9. New England – Chris Lema, MF, Georgetown
  10. Real Salt Lake – Justin Fiddes, LB, Washington
  11. FC Dallas – Marcelo Acuna, FW, Virginia Tech
  12. San Jose – Brandon Bye, RB, Western Michigan
  13. Sporting KC – Ed Opoku, FW, Virginia
  14. Atlanta – Alex Roldan, MF, Seattle
  15. Chicago – Mason Toye, FW, Indiana
  16. New York Red Bulls – Alan Winn, MF, North Carolina
  17. Vancouver – Tristan Blackmon, RB, Pacific
  18. Sporting KC – Jon Gallagher, FW, Notre Dame
  19. New York City FC – Daniel Musovski, FW, UNLV
  20. Houston – Mo Thiaw, FW, Louisville
  21. Columbus – Brian White, FW, Duke
  22. Seattle – Tim Kubel, MF, Louisville
  23. Toronto FC – Oliver Shannon, MF, Clemson

There are a few players to keep an eye on for the later rounds that I won’t project for the first round due almost exclusively to first person bias (Some I’ve seen play in college, others at other levels). Afonso Pinheiro from Albany produced like crazy until this season, and Bowling Green defender Alexis Souahy has a skill set that could really transmit to the MLS level.

Mac Steeves (Providence) is a prototypical big body scorer, while Evansville’s heady Ian McGrath has a flair for the absurd and can play almost every position up the center of the pitch. Charleston’s Thomas Vancaeyezeele was a D-2 monster and is probably worth a shot earlier than people suspect.