Premier League Preview: West Ham vs. Arsenal — Gunners look to rebound

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  • Hammers have lost six in a row to Arsenal; haven’t beaten the Gunners since 2007
  • For first time in three months, Arsenal does not lead the Premier League
  • West Ham is one point above the drop, winless in four league matches

The Irons’ League Cup win over Tottenham has given Sam Allardyce a reprieve, but a Boxing Day loss will remind people of how far West Ham has fallen. The East London side sit only one point above the drop after this weekend’s loss at Old Trafford, with the team still unable to solve their problem scoring goals.

On Thursday, the Hammers welcome Arsenal to East London, with festivities set to begin at 10:00 a.m. Eastern time. NBCSN will have live coverage after the day’s opening match in Hull, with the game at Upton Park also available online via NBC Sports Live Extra.

Andy Carroll’s absence has left the Hammers shorthanded, with the former Newcastle and Liverpool striker yet to make an appearance this year. That means Modibo Maiga, Carlton Cole, and Ricardo Vaz Te have had to fill the England international’s boots, efforts that have only produced four goals. With 14 for the season, West Ham has the league’s 17th-best attack – the main reason why the Hammers find themselves pulled into a relegation battle.

January gives West Ham a chance to solve their problems, but there may be hope for an early reprieve. In League Cup, against a Spurs team that controlled the ball but could not find a consistent way into the penalty area, the Hammers managed a 2-1 upset at White Hart Lane. While Arsenal won’t be as willing to concede two late goals, the general approach could still work. The Irons have the discipline to win a game they can’t control.

Whether that translates into a result may be in the Gunners’ hands, but with Jack Wilshere suspended and Laurent Koscielny a doubt with the laceration he suffered against Manchester City, the Gunners will be missing a couple of parts. If they prove as meek going forward as they did against Chelsea, the Hammers may be able to rekindle their League Cup magic.

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Laurent Koscielny missed Monday’s game against Chelsea while recovering from a laceration suffered at Man City. Arsenal are hopeful he’ll be ready for their trip to the Boleyn Ground. (Photo: Getty Images)

Though they’re playing on the road and are missing their best defender, Arsenal have advantages all over the field, whether in defense against West Ham’s striker-starved attack or going forward. Olivier Giroud, Mesut Özil, Theo Walcott, and Aaron Ramsey are capable of beating any defense Sam Allardyce will put out.

If the Gunners play well, Boxing Day should not be a problem.

What they’re saying

Arsène Wenger on the team’s slump: “We’re going through a patch where it’s a bit more difficult but it’s how you deal with that. It’s a bit difficult but we’ll come through it.”

Sam Allardyce, on defender James Tompkins’ arrest for assaulting a police officer: “From a club’s point of view, there is nothing he has broken in terms of rules … I can’t give out any punishment out yet because he has pleaded not guilty and I think when we come to a conclusion in the case, we can see what the situation is … From a football point of view, he is a footballer we need.”

Prediction

Arsenal’s four-match winless run has come against Everton, Napoli, Manchester City and Chelsea. West Ham’s not in that class. If the Gunners play their best, this is a multi-goal win. Even if they struggle, they can snare three points.

Something truly worrisome would have to happen for the Hammers to knock off the Gunners. Then again, that might be what this four-game slide is all about.

Preview: Brazil v. Mexico in U-17 World Cup final

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There will be plenty of 2005 U-17 World Cup final shades at Estadio Bezerrão on Sunday.

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On that clear night in Lima, Peru, the likes of Carlos Vela and Giovani dos Santos wrote history for Mexico, as they powered El Tri to its first-ever World Cup title over a favorite Brazilian side, who was composed of Marcelo, Renato Augusto, and Anderson, in a 3-0 win.

14 years and some change later, both youth powerhouses meet again in the same tournament, for the same silverware, and with the same pressure looming over them from entire nations who expect nothing but excellence from their respective teams.

But of course, to the Brazilians, there is a sense of added pressure given the fact that they’re on home soil.

“We’re familiar with Mexico’s quality,” Brazilian forward, Veron, said ahead of the final. We know they are a great team. But we’re Brazil, and we have five stars on our chest. We intend to play our best match and get the result that makes history.”

As it stands, Mexico is the clear-cut underdog, having barely crept into the knockout stages and being composed of players with far less notoriety to its Brazilian counterpart, who boast three players with three goals or more in the tournament.

That said, Mexico pose as a balanced, reliable, and pragmatic team under coach Marco “Chima” Ruiz. Throughout the six games this tournament, El Tri have found the back of the net 14 times and have conceded a mere three goals (two of which came against Italy). With four goals and two assists in only 344 minutes, Los Angeles Galaxy’s Efrain Alvarez has proven to be the team’s most productive player going forward.

Asked who he would rather take between France or Brazil in the final, the Mexican American answered with the same confidence that has made him one of the most exciting players in the tournament.

“It doesn’t matter which of the two it is, we’ll beat them,” he said.

It’s 90 minutes for either team to make history, again. A win for Brazil will raise the number of U-17 stars to four, while Mexico can claim its third with another historic performance. Will Brazil’s high-flying attack crack Mexico’s solid defense? If Alvarez starts, will he rise to the occasion and guide Mexico to another U-17 title?

That has yet to be seen; the second final between two, routine winners awaits the first whistle.

Report: Man City considering Kingsley Coman as Leroy Sane replacement

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Pep Guardiola and Manchester City are considering Bayern Munich’s Kinglsey Coman as a replacement for injured Leroy Sane if he were to leave for the defending German champions over the summer, according to a report from Sky Sports.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Sane, who is projected to be out until February or March with an ACL injury, was the subject of a $176 million move to Bayern Munich over the summer, but a move never came to fruition, largely due to the aforementioned injury. If negotiations between Sane’s camp and the defending Bundesliga champions pick up again this summer, City have a replacement in mind: 23-year-old Coman.

Coman, who has played in 10 league games for the Bavarian club this season, was managed by Guardiola during his time with the club and flourished during the title-winning 2015-2016 season. In 2017, the Frenchman revealed that the Spaniard’s departure was tough on him, saying, “I found life easier at Bayern Munich under Pep Guardiola.”

As expected, Coman is not the only option City are exploring.

Real Sociedad’s Mikel Oyarzabal, who has a reported $82 million release clause, is also on the Premier League giant’s shortlist. Txiki Begiristain, City’s director of football, has strong ties to La Reala that goes back to his first day in the sport.

At the Etihad, the general feeling from Guardiola’s players is that the German winger is one foot out of England, and is instead focused on a move to Bayern and a return back home. With his contract in the final 12 months this summer, it is expected that the release clause for Sane will not be as lucrative as before. 

In 134 appearances for City, Sane has scored 39 goals, while Coman has scored on 28 different occasions in 139 appearances.

Abidal: Barcelona, Messi negotiating a new deal

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Lionel Messi and his representatives are in talks with Barcelona over a new contract, the defending champion’s sporting director Eric Abidal confirmed  to Mundo Deportivo in an exclusive interview.

“They are already talking,” Abidal, the former Barcelona defender, said. “I do not know if we will have news soon because the decision will depend on the player, but for us as a club I hope it is sorted as soon as possible.”

Messi – a five-time Ballon d’Or winner and Barcelona’s all-time leading goalscorer – joined the club’s well-known academy, La Masia, at the age of 13 and is under contract until 2021 but was recently questioned about his future after Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu revealed that the Argentine can leave Camp Nou on a free transfer due to a clause in his contract.

Asked when he expects an announcement to be made on a new and improved contract, Abidal made it clear he’s unsure but hopes it happens: “It will be known when it is known, but I am positive.”

Throughout seven games in La Liga this season, Messi has scored eight goals and assisted in four occasions. In his latest appearance for the Catalonian side – a 4-1 win over Celta Vigo – the No. 10 scored a first-half hat-trick.

Abidal also confirmed that Barcelona are in talks with breakout teenage starlet Ansu Fati and his camp on a new deal.

“We are also talking to him,” Abidal said. “He is a young player that we have to protect. We have to talk to his family and representatives.”

Earlier this year, the 17-year-old became the youngest player in the league’s history to score and assist in the same game.

EURO qualifying wrap: Germany, Austria, Croatia join Netherlands in qualifying

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Like the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, and Croatia qualified for EURO 2020 after wins on Saturday.

[ READ: Netherlands qualify to first EURO since 2012 ]


Germany 4-0 Belarus

With goals from Matthias Ginter, Leon Goretska, and a second-half brace from Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos, Germany routed an uncompetitive Belarus side 4-0 at Borussia-Park. The scoreline, however, should have been more lopsided, as the home side easily won the possession battle and outshot the visitor’s with a total of 31 shots (10 on target). Leaders of Group C, Germany is an early favorite for next summer’s tournament. Not hard to believe that, right? 

Austria 2-1 North Macedonia

Qualifying for Europe’s main tournament is becoming a norm for Austria.

Bayern Munich’s David Alaba scored early while Stefan Lainer added his own three minutes into the second half, as Austria edged North Macedonia 2-1 at Ernst Happel Stadion. Das Team, who stand second in Group G with 19 points after nine games, have now clinched a berth for the EURO on back-to-back occasions.

Croatia 3-1 Slovakia

When all was said and done, Croatia was too much for a 10-man Slovakia, who, initially, broke the deadlock in the 32nd minute.

Bayern Munich’s Ivan Perisic scored the home side’s third and final goal of the match, which punched Croatia’s ticket in next summer’s tournament. Nikola Vlasic and Bruno Petkovic also contributed goals in the second half for Croatia.

Elsewhere

Russia 1-4 Belgium

Azerbaijan 0-2 Wales

Cyprus 1-2 Scotland

Israel 1-2 Poland

Armenia 0-1 Greec