Premier League Sunday Preview: Top two meet at Anfield; six-pointer in Sunderland

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The Premier League title race won’t be over, but Chelsea’s part in it will be with a loss at Anfield. The second place Blues, unabashedly distracted by Wednesday’s Champions League match at Stamford Bridge, have threatened to start a “B team” Sunday against league-leading Liverpool – a team that carries an 11-match winning streak into the potentially decisive affair.

That game begins just after 9:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and Live Extra, though you’ll also want to get up for the undercard two hours earlier. Having claimed a combined eight points in their last two weeks, both Sunderland and Cardiff City are making late pushes for survival. On Sunday, the two relegation-embattled clubs meet at the Stadium of Light, with a winner guaranteed a spot above 17th Norwich in the standings.

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Even the day’s final game, though it can’t match the stakes, carries its own air of intrigue. Manchester City may need a win to keep its title hopes from being purely mathematical, but against a Crystal Palace team that has sprung recent upsets against Chelsea and Everton, a trip to Selhurst Park carries more danger than most. The Eagles have won five in a row.

Here’s a quick preview of your Premier League Sunday:

Sunderland vs. Cardiff City, 7:00 a.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra

    • Sunderland took road points at Manchester City and Chelsea last week.
    • Cardiff City with only one loss in four.
    • Teams drew 2-2 earlier this season in Wales.

Sunderland’s cup runs had already established their ability to scare giants, a trait that served the club surprisingly well last week. But can Gus Poyet prevent his team from playing down to relegation-level competition? It’s a strange question to ask of a team in the bottom three, but it’s one that could define the club’s Premier League season. A loss or draw at home wastes the Black Cats’ best chance to claim points before the end of the season, simultaneously handing a boost to a direct survival rival.

The only major absence for either team is Sunderland midfielder Ki Sung-yeung, meaning Cardiff City will have to figure out a way to stop Connor Wickham, as strange as that sounds. The England U-level standout has spent most of the last year on loan in the Championship,  but with Poyet’s team struggling to get production from the forward position, he was recalled from Leeds United earlier this year. His three goals in the last two games represent almost half of his career Premier League haul (seven).

Liverpool vs. Chelsea, 9:05 a.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra

    • Liverpool has a five-point lead over Chelsea at the top of the Premier League.
    • Liverpool has the league’s best attack (96 goals); Chelsea has the league’s best defense (26 goals).
    • Chelsea beat Liverpool earlier this season at Stamford Bridge, 2-1.

The lead up to what will be one of the most important games of the Premier League season has been dominated by speculation about José Mourinho’s selection. The Chelsea manager received permission to play a weakened squad in order to save resources for the Champions League. With his team five back of first (and a win potentially leaving Manchester City favorites to win the title), Mourinho’s choices may prove extremely risk-averse.

Frank Lampard, John Obi Mikel (both suspended for Wednesday’s game) and Nemanja Matic (cup-tied) will almost certainly play, but if Mourinho sees a potential 120 minute game mid-week as reason to avoid risks with those who might play Wednesday, the rest of the team could be reserves and kids. Matched up against the league’s best attack — one that could see former Blue Daniel Sturridge return — this may prove more lopsided than your typical late-season meeting between top two clubs.

Crystal Palace vs. Manchester City, 11:10 a.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Exta

    • Five wins in a row have Crystal Palace in 11th place.
    • Manchester City possesses the league’s best goal difference: +56.
    • City won teams’ last meeting, 1-0 in December.

David Silva is out with an ankle injury, but Yaya Touré, recently sidelined with a groin injury, could return. Against a stingy Crystal Palace defense, however, City may need them both, even if the likes of Sergio Agüero, Samir Nasri, and Fernandinho leave Manuel Pellegrini with enough talent as his disposal.

But that didn’t help Chelsea. Or Everton. Or any of the other teams that have fallen to Palace since Tony Pulis’s arrival. The Eagles are rarely level on talent with their opponents, yet Pulis has found a way to steer them well clear of the drop. After inheriting a team at the bottom of the standings, the former Stoke boss has guided his team to 11th place. An upset on Sunday will put Palace in the top half for the first time this season.

Smalling considering full-time Roma switch: “Long may it continue”

Chris Smalling
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Manchester United loanee Chris Smalling is talking up life in Rome amidst a possible Serie A Team of the Season campaign.

Smalling had a disappointing 2018/19 season at Old Trafford, so it’s not a surprise that Solskjaer thought he could do better than the 30-year-old.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Instead, Smalling’s numbers are close to that of record-signing Harry Maguire in a Serie A league with slightly more scoring. Smalling ranks in Italy’s top ten for interceptions (2.2), clearances (4.5) and blocks (1.2).

Roma boss Paulo Fonseca wants the player to stay, as i Lupi are fifth in Serie A and Smalling when has played nearly every minute when healthy. Smalling told our friends Sky Sports that he has “an interesting decision to make.”

“Some of the other players said if you really hit the ground running, the love that you can have in this city is unbelievable. That’s really what I’ve felt and so have my family. Long may it continue.”

His age makes it tricky, but the advanced stats show that Smalling has been a very effective Premier League center back for four of his last six seasons.

Smalling may want to leave if Solskjaer isn’t prepared to hand him regular football, which would be a given in Rome. Now what’s the price tag?

According to WhoScored’s player comparison tool:

Chris Smalling
whoscored.com

Watch Live: Liverpool v. West Ham

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Liverpool v West Ham takes center stage at Anfield on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Reds aim to reclaim their 22-point lead at the top of the Premier League table.

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Jurgen Klopp‘s side remain unbeaten this season and with five more wins needed to guarantee the Premier League title, the finishing line is in sight. They are aiming for an 18th consecutive Premier League win which would equal Man City’s record for the most victories on the trot in top-flight history.

As for David Moyes and the Hammers, they are scrapping for their lives at the other end of the table and their daunting run of fixtures makes them one of the favorites for relegation.

Last season the Hammers did draw at home against Liverpool in the PL which was a key factor in the Reds not winning the title last time out but West Ham look extremely far from the team they were last season.

Liverpool v West Ham is first against 18th and all signs point to a big win for the home side as their unbeaten season continues with 25 victories from 26 games so far.

In team news Liverpool are without captain Jordan Henderson who has suffered a hamstring injury and will be out for the next three weeks.

Naby Keita comes in for Henderson in midfield as the rest of the Liverpool team is what you expect.

West Ham are without the injured Ryan Fredericks who suffered a shoulder injury in the 2-0 defeat at Man City on Wednesday.

Teenager Jeremy Ngakia comes in to replace Fredericks, while Felipe Anderson also comes into the lineup.

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Kids under 12 banned from heading in UK

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LONDON (AP) Children up to the age of 12 will be banned from heading a soccer ball in practice sessions in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland as authorities look to address the potential long-term impact on health of head injuries.

[ MORE: US Soccer bans heading ]

The governing bodies of the three regions announced the new heading guidelines on Monday, months after a Scottish study found former professional players there were less likely to die of common causes such as heart disease and cancer compared with the general population but more likely to die with dementia.

The guidelines say there will be a “graduated approach” to heading in practice for kids from 12-15, while the heading will be restricted to one practice session per week for kids 16 and 17.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

There will be no change in terms of heading in matches, taking into consideration the extremely limited number of headers which actually occur in youth matches.

The Scottish study did not state that heading a ball was the cause of the increased prevalence of neurodegenerative conditions among soccer players, but the decision to update the guidelines was taken to “mitigate against any potential risks”, the English Football Association said in a statement.

“This guidance is a responsible development to our grassroots coaching,” FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said, “without impacting the enjoyment that children of all ages take from playing the game.”

The associations said the guidance had been produced in parallel with the UEFA medical committee, which is seeking to produce Europe-wide guidance later this year.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Champions League score predictions: Round of 16

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The 2019-20 UEFA Champions League is finally back as the Round of 16 kicks off this week and two of the four Premier League clubs are in action.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Man City and Chelsea face Real Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively and both know they face tough tasks to advance to the Champions League quarterfinals as they do battle with two European heavyweights.

Glory in the Champions League is now the main focus for Pep Guardiola and Man City following their two-season European ban from UEFA which they are appealing. Frank Lampard‘s young Chelsea side host the Bundesliga leaders and hugely experienced Bayern, with the German giants the favorites to advance.

[ MORE: Which Premier League team(s) will reach last eight? ]

The Premier League sides are up against it but both teams are extremely capable of scoring goals for fun but it is at the other end of the pitch where they struggle as both Real Madrid and Bayern Munich will be hoping their star attackers shine on the big stage once again.

In the other two last 16 clashes this week Napoli host Barcelona as Lionel Messi warmed up very nicely with four goals against Eibar, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus head to Lyon for the first leg as the Italian giants are expected to advance with ease.

Both Messi and Ronaldo badly want another Champions League title to their name but Lyon and Napoli are more than capable of picking up big first leg wins at home.

Below we predict the scores for the UCL round of 16 games taking place over the next two days. Feel free to make your own predictions in the comments section below, too.


Tuesday
Napoli 1-1 Barcelona
Chelsea 1-2 Bayern Munich

Wednesday
Lyon 1-3 Juventus
Real Madrid 2-3 Man City