Watch Live: Everton vs. Aston Villa (Lineups and Discuss)

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Aston Villa arrive at Goodison Park on Saturday feeling more confident than they have in months – but will it be enough for the visitors to get a result? (10 a.m. ET, watch live online on NBC Sports Live Extra).

With an unbeaten run of just two games, it may not seem as though Villa are on the up-and-up. But with just one loss in their last five, Paul Lambert’s men finally seem to be settling down – and are once again playing some decent soccer. They managed to hold Liverpool to a draw by attacking right from the whistle, and came back from a two-goal deficit to beat rivals West Brom 4-3 in the midweek match.

Everton, meanwhile, are headed in the opposite direction, having slipped out of the top four and in danger of losing out on the European positions all together. They collapsed against Liverpool midweek, losing 4-0 in the Merseyside Derby, and it’s evident that injuries are taking a toll. And now that Romelu Lukaku is out for at least a month, are things about to get even worse for the Toffees?

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With Lukaku out, the attention goes to Kevin Mirallas to lead the attack, with Aidan McGeady handed a start in midfield. Of course, in the absence of their top scorer, Everton’s goals could also come from the likes of Gareth Barry or Leighton Baines, while Seamus Coleman could come off the bench and grab his sixth of the season.

Lambert makes just one change to the side that beat West Brom, handing Grant Holt his first start in a Villa shirt, likely to compensate for Gabby Agbonlahor’s injury. It’s Matt Lowton that drops to the bench for the visitors.

And of course, we can’t fail to mention the matchup of the American goalkeepers. Tim Howard came off better in the reverse fixture at Villa Park, but will Brad Guzan find his time to shine this time around?

LINEUPS

Everton: Howard, Baines, Jagielka, McGeady, Mirallas, Distin, McCarthy, Barry, Barkley, Osman, Stones

Subs: Joel, Hibbert, Naismith, Pienaar, Coleman, Vellios, Garbutt

Aston Villa: Guzan, Bacuna, Vlaar, Clark, Baker, Bertrand, Westwood, Delph, Weimann, Benteke, Holt

Subs: Steer, El Ahmadi, Sylla, Helenius, Albrighton, Tonev, Lowton

Report: Ashley Cole considering offer from Derby, Lampard

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Ashley Cole probably thought that when he joined the LA Galaxy in 2016, it would be the last club he played for before, literally, relaxing on a beach in retirement.

[ Transfer rumor roundup: Klopp wants USMNT starlet; Higuain dominoes ]

Considering he was 36 at the time — he is now 38 — it seemed obvious that England’s 107-times-capped left back would play out a final few years in MLS before calling full-time on his decorated career. Three years later, Cole might still do just that.

He might also resume playing after receiving a six-month contract offer from Championship side and promotion chasers Derby County, who are now coached by one of Cole’s longtime teammates and friends at Chelsea and England, Frank Lampard.

[ MORE: Top Premier League storylines for Week 23 ]

Cole has been without a club since his option was declined by the Galaxy following the end of the 2018 season.

According to the Guardian, the chance to play alongside a largely young, but promising, squad of players and to help Lampard guide the club to the Premier League in his first season as manager is very appealing to Cole.

Barcelona reach Copa del Rey QF but could be disqualified

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MADRID (AP) Barcelona earned a spot in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey on Thursday, but its continued participation in the tournament remains under threat.

[ Transfer rumor roundup: Klopp wants USMNT starlet; Higuain dominoes ]

Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele led Barcelona to a comfortable 3-0 win over Levante at Camp Nou Stadium, helping it advance 4-2 on aggregate. However, the Catalan club could be disqualified for allegedly using a suspended player in the first leg.

Levante said it will make a formal complaint to the Spanish soccer federation on Friday, ahead of the draw for the quarterfinals.

The four-time defending Copa champion has denied any wrongdoing for using youth player Juan “Chumi” Brandariz in last week’s match in Valencia.

“We don’t have any doubts,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “We believe we will be in the draw tomorrow. We did everything right and we won on the field, which is where we had to win.”

Levante said Chumi should not have played because of an accumulation of yellow cards with Barcelona’s “B” team, arguing that his suspension applied to the senior team as well, including in Copa matches.

“We prefer to win on the field, but the regulations exist and everyone needs to follow them,” Levante coach Paco Lopez said. “Let’s see what happens.”

The Spanish federation is expected to rule on Levante’s complaint before Friday’s draw.

Real Madrid was eliminated in the tournament’s round of 16 in 2015 for using striker Denis Cheryshev while he was suspended.

“We are surprised, we found out about it by the press,” Barcelona spokesman Josep Vives said. “We analyzed the situation and concluded that Chumi’s participation was legal.”

With Messi back in the lineup after being rested in the first leg, Barcelona easily reversed the 2-1 deficit from the first match. The Argentine playmaker set up goals by Dembele in the 30th and 31st minutes, then sealed the victory by scoring in the 54th.

Barcelona has made it at least to the quarterfinals in the Copa in nine straight seasons. It won the title five times in the last seven years.

Earlier Thursday, Espanyol defeated Villarreal 3-1 at home with two goals by striker Borja Iglesias to advance 5-3 on aggregate, while Real Betis salvaged a 2-2 draw at Real Sociedad to reach the last eight on away goals after a 0-0 first-leg draw.

Real Madrid, Girona, Valencia, Getafe and Sevilla also made it to the quarterfinals. Atletico Madrid was eliminated by Girona on Wednesday.

Top Premier League storylines for Week 23

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From the title race, to a four-way battle for top-four, to the relegation dogfight currently unfolding, this weekend’s slate of Premier League fixtures is full with a little bit of everything…

[ Transfer rumor roundup: Klopp wants USMNT starlet; Higuain dominoes ]

Top-four battle at the Emirates
Arsenal v. Chelsea, 12:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, on NBC [ STREAM ]

Chelsea occupy fourth place heading into the 23rd round of games this weekend, but Arsenal and Manchester United aren’t a million miles back of the Blues — only six points each, to be exact. Saturday’s showdown at the Emirates Stadium could see a six-point swing either way, or an opening of the door for the resurgent Red Devils to leapfrog Arsenal for fifth and trim the deficit between themselves and the UEFA Champions League places.


Will Liverpool slip up/Can Man City keep up?
Liverpool v. Crystal Palace, 10 a.m. ET, Saturday, on NBCSN STREAM ]
Huddersfield v. Man City, 8:30 a.m. ET, Sunday, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

Newsflash: the title race is a pretty important storyline and (likely) will continue to be so for the remainder of the season, barring a collapse by one of Liverpool or Manchester City. The defending champions have the easier matchup, on paper, this weekend as they’ll visit last-place and relegation-bound Huddersfield Town on Sunday. It should be a straightforward challenge for the Reds as well, though, with 14th-place Crystal Palace visiting Anfield on Saturday.


Life without Kane (and Son) begins… again
Fulham v. Tottenham Hotspur, 11 a.m. ET, Sunday, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

No player in the PL has scored a higher percentage of his team’s goal this season than Tottenham’s Harry Kane (30 percent, tied with Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang). The trouble with that is that Kane is set to miss the next two months due to his annual mid-to-late-winter ankle injury. Thus, Mauricio Pochettino will be forced to pick between deploying Fernando Llorente as his starting center forward, or playing without a natural forward, thanks to Son Heung-min’s simultaneous call-up to the South Korea squad for the Asian Cup. Statistically speaking, Dele Alli has had a quiet season thus far (four goals, one assist), but Spurs desperately need Alli to show up and show out in a big way the next month or two.


Solskjaer goes for no. 6
Man United v. Brighton, 10 a.m. ET, Saturday, on CNBC STREAM ]

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer doesn’t know what it’s like to lose as manager of Man United. Heck, he couldn’t tell you the first thing about dropping points while in charge at Old Trafford. Five PL games in charge (six in all competitions), and whether or not the “interim” tag should be removed from his title is already an earnest topic of discussion. It wasn’t pretty, but United held on for dear life against Spurs last weekend and secured three points in Solskjaer’s biggest challenge to date. Up next is a visit from 13th-place Brighton & Hove Albion, who toppled United in their first meeting earlier this season.


Relegation six-pointer for Newcastle, Cardiff
Newcastle United v. Cardiff City, 10 a.m. ET, Saturday, on NBC Sports Gold [ STREAM ]

Much like the top of the table, the race at the bottom of the league is heating up. Heading into the weekend, Huddersfield are bringing up the rear, eight points adrift of safety, while Fulham occupy 19th place, five points back of 17th. Newcastle United, who sit 18th and are one point from exiting the relegation zone, will host Cardiff City, the side currently sitting 17th in the table, on Saturday. When you’ve struggled the way these sides have for 22 games, genuine chances at three points don’t come along often. When they do, you absolutely have to take them to have any hopes of surviving the drop.

Asian Cup: Qatar, Japan advance with perfect records

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AL AIN, United Arab Emirates (AP) Qatar finished the group stage of the Asian Cup with a third straight win, beating three-time champion Saudi Arabia 2-0 on Thursday in a highly charged game amid the political tensions between the two nations.

[ Transfer rumor roundup: Klopp wants USMNT starlet; Higuain dominoes ]

Saudi Arabia engineered the regional boycott of Qatar along with the host United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt. The Qataris have held firm, denying accusations that they support extremists.

Forward Almoez Ali scored both goals, netting the opener at the Zayed Sports City Stadium with a low shot in first-half injury time and heading home the second 10 minutes from time to help his country beat Saudi Arabia at the Asian Cup for the first time and win Group E with nine points.

Just minutes before the first goal, Hasan Al Haydos missed a penalty for Qatar.

Ali, 22, is the top scorer at the tournament with seven goals and will look to extend his tally in the round of 16 against Iraq on Tuesday.

Earlier in Al Ain, four-time champion Japan rallied from a goal down to also finish the group stage with a perfect record after a 2-1 victory over Uzbekistan.

With both teams already qualified, Japan topped Group F with nine points after winning all three games to set up a knockout-stage meeting with Saudi Arabia on Monday.

[ MORE: Emery on possible exit for Mesut Ozil, reason for his absence ]

Uzbekistan finished second with six points and will open the round of 16 against defending champion Australia.

Oman finished third with three points after beating Turkmenistan 3-1 to secure a spot in the knockout stage for the first time. It will play Group D winner Iran on Sunday.

In Group E In Sharjah, Lebanon got its first win, 4-0 against North Korea and both teams are eliminated.

After Japan routed Uzbekistan in their last two Asian Cup games, 4-0 in 1996 and 8-1 in 2000, it looked like a different story on Thursday in Al Ain when Eldor Shomurodov put Uzbekistan 1-0 ahead five minutes before the interval with his fourth goal of the tournament.

But Yoshinori Muto canceled out that advantage with a header just three minutes later and Tsukasa Shiotani scored the winner in the second half to complete the comeback.

In Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium, Muhsen Al Ghassani and Mohammed Al-Musallami scored for Oman in the second half as the team took its first three points of the tournament.

Ahmed Al Mahaijri had put Oman ahead with a free kick 20 minutes into the game before Altymyrat Annadurdyyev equalized later in the first half.