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Rest of the way: Five top Premier League matches of 2018

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The first day of 2018 is in the Premier League books, though admittedly it lacked a true big name battle with apologies to Everton and Manchester United.

[ MORE: Everton-Man Utd recap | Mourinho reacts ]

With Manchester City still unbeaten and a pair of battlesat the top and bottom of the table, here’s a look at the six matches on five match days we’re most anticipating in the stretch run of the 2017-18 season.

6. *BONUS* Southampton vs. Manchester City — May 13

Enjoy both the asterisks, because there isn’t a big reason to circle Southampton’s home finale with the exception of it being the final match day of the season and — more importantly — the valid chance it may be Man City putting an unblemished season on the line about two weeks before the UEFA Champions League final. Will both dates bear heavily on Pep Guardiola‘s men?

T-4. Manchester United vs. Chelsea and Arsenal vs. Man City — Feb. 25

Quite a doubleheader here! The latter kicks off first, but is secondary to the Jose Mourinho and Nemanja Matic (and maybe Willian?) welcoming old pals Chelsea to town. As it stands, the two are duking it out for second place behind Man City, and Chelsea’s 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge saw the Blues very much in control. Can Mourinho flip that script?

The early morning match will see two teams capable of the stylish and sublime mixing it up at the Emirates Stadium, and could be even more exciting/controversial should Alexis Sanchez swap his London digs for the Etihad Stadium.

3. Tottenham Hotspur vs. Arsenal — Feb. 10

Oh, the North London Derby has been tight for some time, and there are Top Four fortunes again on the line between the rivals. Arsenal won 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium earlier this season, its only league win over Spurs since the start of the 2014-15 season. That’s not to say Spurs have been dominant, either. Including a League Cup win for the Gunners, both sides hold a 2W-4D-2L record in the derby over the past eight meetings. A win, and Arsenal will be the first NLD member to sweep a season series since they won three matches vs. Spurs in 2013-14.

2. Chelsea vs. Liverpool — May 5

Antonio Conte has yet to get the better of Jurgen Klopp in three meetings — two draws — between the pair in their current positions. These two tempestuous personalities should still be without shouting distance of one another with mere weeks left in the season, and the potential for Top Four or higher implications seems very real.

1. Manchester City vs. Manchester United — April 7

Look, we’re just not going to do better than this provided Paul Pogba doesn’t take another needless and probably accidental red card the week leading up to the Manchester Derby. Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho weren’t able to truly match wits in the first derby of the season. Pogba and Kevin De Bruyne are probably the most awe-capable and technical midfielders in the Premier League, and both managers have the wherewithal to harass the opposing star. Is it April yet?

Everton 1-0 Newcastle: Walcott blast has Toffees up to eighth

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Everton earned a 1-0 win against Newcastle on Monday behind Theo Walcott‘s second-half strike at Goodison Park.

The victory puts the Toffees into eighth place, leaping over Leicester City for the time being — as the Foxes have an extra game in hand.

[ MORE: Sweden coach says Ibra must reach out to have shot at World Cup ]

The former Arsenal man broke the deadlock six minutes into the second half when Walcott blasted the ball into the roof of the net following a lofted cross from Yannick Bolasie.

For Walcott, it’s his third goal since joining Everton in 2017/18 from the Gunners.

The visitors had their fair share of opportunities on the day, particularly through Ayoze Pérez, who was active all throughout the match.

Perez nearly broke the deadlock after the half hour mark when he tested goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in the 31st minute with a diving save in the bottom left corner.

Phil Jagielka came close four minutes later when his close-range attempt narrowly missed the top left corner after Michael Keane‘s flicked header off a corner kick.

The Spanish forward was at it again in the second stanza, and nearly found the back of the net when his header was saved in the center of the goal off of a cross from Kenedy.

Newcastle pushed hard for an equalizer in the dying moments, and even played up a man for a few minutes when Leighton Baines was tended to for a head injury, but the Magpies couldn’t even the score.

Sweden coach: Ibrahimovic must call in order to have chance at World Cup

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic recently raised the stakes when he said, “I am going to the World Cup, yes!” despite having previously declared his retirement from international soccer.

Although the LA Galaxy forward’s comments on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night show may not be a clear indication of his involvement in this summer’s World Cup in Russia, Ibrahimovic certainly has an interest in representing his native Sweden once again.

[ MORE: FIFA subjects Morocco 2026 bid to scrutiny ]

Now, all the veteran goalscorer has to do is pick up the phone and call Sweden coach Janne Andersson, according to the manager.

“He can do it,” Andersson told kicker. “But If he changes his opinion, contacts me and tells me ‘yes, I want to be part of it,’ then we’ll sit down and discuss what that would mean, how we play these days and so on. But that’s all speculation.

“I don’t know [if he’d still fit into the team]. But I also don’t think about it. I take the things as they come if they come. If you want to be part of it, you must call me. Easy as that.”

The 36-year-old retired from the international game following Sweden’s involvement in EURO 2016, and Andersson says that he had no intention of calling up Ibrahimovic prior to the media-driven questions surrounding the striker.

Ibrahimovic ranks first all-time for his homeland in goals scored (62) since debuting for Sweden back in 2001.

“Not him, or anyone else who retired. But there’s this media noise,” he said. “I have no problem with those questions [about a possible return]. Not with what he says or what is written in media.”

Several of Sweden’s current players, including goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson recently stated that bringing Ibrahimovic back into the fold may disrupt the rhythm created within the squad — who handled Italy in their World Cup qualifying playoff to reach the final tournament in June.

FIFA subjects 2026 Morocco World Cup bid to fresh scrutiny

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Morocco’s World Cup bid is facing fresh scrutiny this week with the arrival of another delegation from FIFA after an initial task force found deficiencies in the proposals for the 2026 tournament.

In a downbeat conclusion to the visit by the FIFA inspectors last week, Morocco’s bid leader acknowledged it had to improve the quality of the submission made to FIFA in March because inadequacies were identified by football’s governing body.

[ MORE: UCL semifinals predictions ]

The previously unplanned second inspection of Morocco is an indication of the more rigorous process introduced by FIFA following criticism in 2010 that World Cups were awarded to the riskiest nations in 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar).

There will also be closer scrutiny of human rights of the bidders before the vote on June 13 when Morocco is currently due to be taking on a joint challenge from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The Associated Press revealed last week Morocco did not declare its anti-LGBT law to FIFA in the human rights risk assessment included in the bid book. The documents – along with the North American submission – will now be scrutinized for any gaps by human rights experts.

“That process involves an expert third-party assessment of the robustness of the human rights content of both bids that will directly inform the administration’s own evaluation,” Rachel Davis, who sits on FIFA’s human rights advisory board, told the AP.

“We are confident that the process will result in a fair assessment of the human rights situation in all four countries involved in the bids, and a roadmap for how to deal with any deficiencies that FIFA will then require the successful bidder to commit to.”

Davis, who is managing director of the Shift human rights organization, said an evaluation of the human rights in the bidding nations will be included in a report to the FIFA Council, which will also assess the verdict of the evaluation task force. A bid with low scores can be blocked by the council from advancing to a vote of up to 207 football nations at the FIFA Congress on June 13.

While Morocco has said it needs to spend almost $16 billion on infrastructure for the 48-team World Cup, including building or renovating all 14 stadiums, North American does not require any tournament-specific building work. Morocco bid president Moulay Hafid Elalamy said at the end of the FIFA inspection that officials “made some remarks on the conditions of some of the stadiums.”

The new batch of technical staff being deployed from FIFA HQ to Morocco did not make a similar follow-up visit to North America after the task force inspected the rival bid’s facilities this month.

“Following the visit of the 2026 bid evaluation task force to Morocco last week, it was decided to have an additional working visit this week to complement the initial analysis of the task force and clarify some aspects of the bid,” FIFA told the AP.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Watch Live: Everton v. Newcastle

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Everton host Newcastle United on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Toffees and Magpies both sitting pretty in midtable.

[ LIVE: Stream Everton-Newcastle ]

Sam Allardyce and Rafael Benitez have both been around the block a few times but at the moment Allardyce is under pressure and Benitez is working miracles with four wins on the spin as the newly-promoted Magpies have stayed solid defensively all season.

In team news Everton start Tosun, Walcott and Bolasie in attack with Wayne Rooney in midfield.

Newcastle make one change with Islam Slimani making his first start for the Magpies as he comes in for Dwight Gayle.

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