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.

Reina faces hearing over links with trio connected to mafia

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ROME (AP) Outgoing Napoli goalkeeper Pepe Reina has been summoned to a hearing at the Italian football federation over his association with people with links to the mafia.

Reina, along with Paolo Cannavaro and Salvatore Aronica, is to face the FIGC’s disciplinary committee after an investigation by Naples’ anti-mafia department.

It is reportedly one of the reasons why Napoli decided not to renew Reina’s contract, with the former Liverpool goalkeeper set to move to AC Milan on a free transfer.

The FIGC says Reina “has had and continues to have inopportune association and friendship with Gabriele Esposito, Francesco Esposito and Giuseppe Esposito.” It adds that that includes holidays and “an exchange of favors.”

Cannavaro, who had two spells with Napoli, retired at Sassuolo last year. Aronica also spent several years at the southern club before joining Palermo in 2013.

Iran names initial squad for World Cup

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Jalal Hosseini and Vouria Ghaffouri have both been left off Iran’s provisional 24-man squad for the World Cup.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz did not say why Hosseini, a Persepolis defender, and Ghaffouri were not included.

There was space for midfielders Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Hajsafi, however. Both played with Greek club Panionios against Maccabi Tel Aviv in August 2017. Iran does not recognize Israel and its supreme leader has threatened the country in the past. Both Shojaei and Hajsafi missed matches with the national team after the game.

Alireza Jahanbakhsh, a 24-year-old forward who plays in the Netherlands with AZ Alkmaar, is also in the squad, which was announced Sunday.

In the midfield, Queiroz chose Saeid Ezatolahi, although the Amkar Perm player will miss the team’s first World Cup match because he was given a red card in a game against South Korea in qualifying.

Nottingham Forest midfielder Ashkan Dejagah was also chosen.

Goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh of Portuguese club Maritimo made the squad. His father, Ahmadreza Abedzadeh, was Iran captain and goalkeeper at the 1998 World Cup in France.

Iran will play in Group B at the World Cup with Portugal, Spain and Morocco. The team will play warm-up matches in Turkey and Greece before heading to Russia.

Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo)

Defenders: Ramin Rezaeian (KV Oostende), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Al Saad), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Seyed Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Roozbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal)

Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Mehdi Torabi (Saipa), Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forest), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Hajsafi (Olympiakos), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds FK), Ali Gholizadeh (Saipa)

Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiakos), Mahdi Taremi (Al-Gharafa Sports Club), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Reza Ghoochannejhad (SC Heerenveen)

Six Premier Leaguers named to Argentina, but no Icardi

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Argentina’s World Cup roster features a number of the usual suspects, particularly up front, but Serie A’s top goalscorer has been surprisingly left off the list of 23.

[ MORE: Belgium goes to World Cup without Nainggolan ]

Manager Jorge Sampaoli’s squad was made official on Monday, which includes the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain.

The Albiceleste won’t be taking Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi though, which has raised some questions about the decision.

Icardi led all scorers in Italy’s top flight this season, scoring 29 goals in 34 Serie A matches, while Paulo Dybala edged out the final striker spot in the Argentina squad.

Dybala is teammates with Higuain at Italian giants Juventus.

Meanwhile, six Premier League players were named into the South American nation’s squad, including goalkeepers Sergio Romero (Man United) and Willy Caballero (Chelsea), as well as Nicolas Otamendi (Man City), Marcos Rojo (Man United) and Manuel Lanzini (West Ham).

Men in Blazers POD: FA Cup recap, UCL final preview and more

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Rog and Davo recap a spite-fueled, snear-filled, peak Phil Jones FA Cup Final, preview this weekend’s Champions League tilt between Liverpool and Real Madrid and eulogize Big Sam… gone the opposite of too soon. Plus, World Cup rosters and MLS.

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