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PL Sunday preview: Chelsea, Arsenal, Man Utd limping to finish

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Sunday’s three Premier League fixtures will see a trio of top-four hopefuls take the field for the penultimate game of their respective seasons.

The PL’s four Champions League places could be officially awarded by the end of day, or we could wind up with four teams — including third-place Tottenham Hotspur — separated by just two points. Seeing how none of the three have even a single win from any their last three games, the latter might actually be the safer bet.

[ MORE: Liverpool survive Newcastle scare to take PL title race to final day ]

Huddersfield v. Man United — 9 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Manchester United have the longest odds of getting into Europe’s elite competition next season, as the Red Devils (65 points) currently sit sixth and trail fourth-place Chelsea by a full three points.

If Man United can’t beat an already-relegated Huddersfield Town side at John Smith’s Stadium on Sunday — it would be the Terriers’ ninth straight PL defeat — their hopes of finishing fourth won’t be mathematically dead, only realistically so. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer isn’t throwing in the towel just yet.

“I don’t think we can give up until it’s theoretically over, but of course it’s a big mountain to climb,” he said this week. “The end of the season throws up a few marginal decisions, strange results, so anything can happen. We still want to finish the season on a high, and let’s see where that takes us now. Let’s see how many points we can get.”

INJURIES: Huddersfield —  OUT: Aaron Mooy (hip) | Man United  — OUT: Romelu Lukaku (hamstring), Eric Bailly (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Jesse Lingard (knee), Marcus Rashford (shoulder), Phil Jones (knee)


Chelsea v. Watford — 9 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

Of the three sides in action on Sunday, only Chelsea control their own destiny. The math is simple: any combination of Chelsea points won and Arsenal points dropped to reach five will see the Blues qualify for Champions League.

Maurizio Sarri has made finishing in the top-four a clear priority by resting superstar Eden Hazard (for 60 minutes) in Chelsea’s Europa League semifinal first leg against Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday. The wild card in the race for fourth remains Europe’s “other” competition, as Chelsea and Arsenal are favorites to reach the final later this month in Azerbaijan. The most likely scenario, in that event, is that one of the two will have already clinched a Champions League place and the other’s last pathway to European riches would be to win the Europa League.

INJURIES: Chelsea —  OUT: Callum Hudson-Odoi (achilles), Antonio Rudiger (knee) | Watford  — OUT: Etienne Capoue (knock), Tom Cleverley (fitness)


Arsenal v. Brighton & Hove Albion — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Arsenal (66) is the only side without a single point from the aforementioned last three games, meaning they would have put themselves comfortably in the driver’s seat with even a win and a pair of draws. As things stand, they trail Chelsea by two points.

The Gunners haven’t lost four straight top-flight fixtures since 1995. Fortunately for Unai Emery‘s men, Brighton have taken all of two points from their last seven league games. By playing in the day’s final game, Arsenal will be fully aware of how high three points will take them.

INJURIES: Arsenal —  OUT: Aaron Ramsey (hamstring), Hector Bellerin (knee), Danny Welbeck (ankle), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (suspension) | Brighton  — OUT: Davy Propper (hamstring)

Saint-Maximin absence to ask more of struggling Almiron, Joelinton

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Newcastle United lightning bolt Allan Saint-Maximin is going to miss a month with a hamstring injury suffered late in the Magpies’ 2-1 defeat of Southampton at St. James’ Park.

The ebullient Saint-Maximin played deep into the match despite a minor injury, and was on of the main reasons Newcastle won. He helped set up the winning goal, but left the stadium on crutches.

That left Steve Bruce questioning his decision to keep “ASM” in the match.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Now the electric Frenchman is set to miss fixtures against Burnley, Crystal Palace, Manchester United, Everton, Leicester City, and an FA Cup third round match versus either Boston United or Rochdale.

Saint-Maximin’s absence will hurt Newcastle all-around, but especially when its counter-attack tries to take down bigger sides. His 4.5 dribbles per match makes him one of just three players in the Premier League with more than 3.1 (Adama Traore and Wilfried Zaha).

Ultimately, though, this could provide struggling Joelinton more looks at performing on the wing opposite of Miguel Almiron. The Brazilian will have to work center forward at times as Andy Carroll certainly can’t go every game, and Dwight Gayle, Christian Atsu, and Yoshinori Muto could also be asked to play prominent roles.

And, of course, this will demand much more from industrious but sloppy Miguel Almiron, whose expected goal total is 2.5 (he has zero).

Sessegnon beats Neuer to score first Spurs, Champions League goal

Photo by Peter Kneffel/picture alliance via Getty Images)Photo by Peter Kneffel/picture alliance via Getty Images)
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Ryan Sessegnon has his first Spurs goal, which also happens to be his first UEFA Champions League goal, and he’ll love telling the tale of it.

The 19-year-old Englishman ripped a rocket past Manuel Neuer of all people, collecting a deflection to equalize early in Tottenham’s match against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Sessegnon entered the day with an assist in 30 minutes spread across three appearances for Spurs, and needed just 20 more minutes to find a goal.

He made a big money move from Fulham this summer, having made a remarkable 120 senior appearances. Almost all of those came before he turned 19, and he’s scored 25 times with 18 assists.

Kingsley Coman has Bayern’s goal as the teams remain locked at 1 after Bayern hung 7 on Spurs in England earlier in the group stage.

 

Jesus hat-trick downs Dinamo Zagreb, Atalanta qualifies for knockouts

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Manchester City looked sluggish again, but Gabriel Jesus made sure it didn’t matter.

The Brazilian cropped up at a critical juncture for Pep Guardiola, sending Manchester City through into the knockout stage on a winning note as his hat-trick sealed a 4-1 come-from-behind victory that knocked Dinamo Zagreb from European competition altogether.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

The first half was especially lackluster for the English visitors to Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb, with lots of possession but little to show for it. The hosts went in front early on, punishing Man City on the counter on a fabulous volleyed finish from former Barcelona youth product Dani Olmo.

That was the best goal of the day, but Man City picked itself up and pulled back level before the break, with Jesus grabbing his first via a header as Dinamo Zagreb shut off, screaming for Man City to put the ball out with a Zagreb player down. The visitors rightly did not, and Dinamo was punished by the equalizer.

After halftime, Man City was much better, hammering the left flank to take a commanding lead. The second came on excellent work by Jesus in the box to shake a defender and finish with his right, while the third flew in minutes later on a pinpoint Benjamin Mendy cross that Jesus met with a flying karate kick. Pep Guardiola had one eye on the festive fixtures, withdrawing Jesus soon after the hour mark, replaced by Oleksandr Zinchenko who curiously took Jesus’s place at the striker position.

Phil Foden was the best Manchester City player throughout, and finished off the scoreline with seven minutes to go. An excellent buildup down the right saw Bernardo Silva sprung through, and he cut back to Foden at the top of the six-yard box who slid to meet the ball with pace and poke home the cherry on top.

Elsewhere, Atalanta topped Shakhtar Donetsk 3-0 in the Ukraine on goals by Timothy Castagne, Mario Pasalic, and Robin Gosens, meaning the Italians secured the second spot in Group A, qualifying for the knockout stage. The Ukranians were left dead in the water after right-back Dodo was sent off 13 minutes from time, leading to the second goal to seal things up. Atalanta’s advancement marks a stunning comeback given the Italian side failed to secure points in any of their first three group stage matches.

That left Shakhtar in third, dropping to the Europa League, while Dinamo Zagreb was left at the bottom of the group, on the outside looking in.

Charlotte MLS club files trademarks for eight potential names

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It is being heavily reported that Charlotte is the next city to earn a club in the rapidly expanding Major League Soccer landscape, and Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper has taken the next step towards that possibility.

The new club needs a name, and they appear to be nearing a selection. Tepper filed for eight different name trademarks, according to multiple reports, including The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue who confirmed the filings were made under Tepper’s Panthers address.

Here is the list of names he filed copyright requests for:

“Charlotte FC” would be a bare-bones and generic name that follows in the footsteps of recent MLS expansion clubs such as Orlando City SC, NYCFC or LAFC. Others are a little more colorful, including “Carolina Gliders FC” or “Charlotte Monarchs FC,” while a few others like “Charlotte Town FC” or “Charlotte Athletic FC” clearly call forth thoughts of smaller English clubs.

Rodrigue speculated that the relative lack of “Carolina” encompassing names is potentially due to the possibility of an expansion bid from Raleigh down the road, and a Carolina team would potentially provide an unnecessary roadblock to that future prospect. There is a clear lack of region-encompassing names in Major League Soccer, with “New England Revolution” the only example, and there’s no real reason to break that mold with another potential bid city down the road.

Which name is your favorite? What would you have gone with if you could name the club?