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Premier League Power Rankings, Vol. VII: Watch out for Watford

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Week 17 of the Premier League season is upon us, as teams get ready for the final match before Christmas.

In what has been a wildly unpredictable season, just six points separate fifth place (Tottenham) and thirteenth place (West Brom).

[ MORE: Mourinho’s final interview ]

After this weekend, every team will be in action on Boxing Day before finishing up 2015 with one final match before the New Year, which officially marks the halfway point of the season.

TEAM RANKING Up/Down
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Leicester City: The Foxes stay top after a 2-1 win over Chelsea. While Jamie Vardy‘s record scoring streak may have ended, Riyad Mahrez continues to impress as one of the best players in the league. A tough trip to Everton awaits on Saturday.
source: 2 Arsenal: A win is a win, even if it was over lowly Aston Villa. Olivier Giroud continues to score, with six goals in his last six matches for the Gunners. HUGE match against Manchester City on Monday.
source: 3 UP 1 Manchester City: It took 90+ minutes, but City took all three points against struggling Swansea. A win at Arsenal on Monday could be the match you look back at if City wins a trophy in the spring.
source: 4 UP 4 Crystal Palace: The Eagles got their first-ever PL win over Southampton last weekend as Pardew’s men sit in position for a place in Europe. A very exciting team to watch, Palace may just challenge for a top-four spot.
source: 5 UP 2 Watford: Three wins on the spin have the Hornets all the way up to seventh on the table. Odion Ighalo has scored in three straight matches and has 10 goals on the season as Watford has flown under the radar.
source: 6 Stoke City: Despite being branded as the new, sexy Stoke, the Potters are still grinding out hard-nosed results, conceding just 2 goals in their last 7 matches in all comps. They’ll have to stay strong with a visit from Palace this weekend.
source: 7 DOWN 2 Tottenham: Spurs’ unbeaten streak in the PL was snapped at 14 matches after falling to Newcastle at White Hart Lane. A trip to struggling Southampton could get them back on track.
 

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8 DOWN 5 Liverpool: After losing to Newcastle, Liverpool was nearly beaten at home by West Brom if not for Divock Origi‘s 96th minute equalizer. Klopp’s men need a result against a red-hot Watford side if they want to stay in the top half of the table.
source: 9 UP 3 Bournemouth: Up the Cherries! Consecutive wins over Chelsea and Man United have Eddie Howe‘s men riding the highest of highs. If they can make it three in a row against West Brom on Saturday, the South Coast will explode.
source: 10 UP 5 West Brom: A good draw at Liverpool, but Tony Pulis will be upset his side didn’t take all three points. The Baggies are unbeaten in four and are an extremely frustrating side to play against.
source: 11 DOWN 2 Everton: A disappointing draw against Norwich in which the Toffees really should have put the match away early. A clash against leaders Leicester won’t do them any favors, although Romelu Lukaku has scored in seven straight.
source: 12 DOWN 2 Manchester United: After losing to Bournemouth, United are winless in their last five in all comps. The criticism on Louis Van Gaal is at an all-time high, and anything but a win at home over Norwich this weekend will be unacceptable.
source: 13 UP 3 Newcastle: Would you look at that, consecutive wins over Liverpool and Spurs have the Magpies out of the relegation zone. Steve McClaren‘s side has some newfound life, and will fancy their chances to continue trending upwards with a match at home against Villa on Saturday.
source: 14 DOWN 3 Southampton: Losers of three of their last four in the league, Saints have hit a rough patch. Koeman’s men sit 12th on the table, and could continue to slide with matches against Tottenham and Arsenal on the horizon.
source: 15 DOWN 1 West Ham: The Hammers haven’t won in the league since October, but have managed to get points with four draws from their last five matches. Upcoming tilts against Swansea and Villa could be a good time to get back to winning ways.


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16 UP 2 Norwich City: The Canaries battled back to earn a draw at Everton, and even threatened to take all three points. The performances have been solid, but Norwich needs to find some wins to climb above the relegation zone.
source: 17 DOWN 4 Chelsea: What can you say about Chelsea? Losses to Bournemouth and Leicester have the Blues just one point above the drop, and cost Jose Mourinho his job. You would think the champions should beat Sunderland at home this weekend, but honestly, who knows with this team.

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18 UP 1 Swansea City: In their first match without Garry Monk, Swans were robbed of a point after a late stoppage-time winner for Man City. However, they showed signs of life, and will have to truck on against West Ham this weekend as the club has yet to name a new manager.
source: 19 DOWN 2 Sunderland: After a brief stay in safety, the Black Cats are back in the relegation zone. Big Sam needs his boys to dig deep, with matches against Chelsea, Man City, and Liverpool all before the New Year.
source: 20 Aston Villa: Still six points behind 19th place Sunderland, Villa remains glued to the bottom of the table. The upcoming schedule isn’t the toughest, so Remi Garde will be hoping to somehow find a few results.

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.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

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