AP Photo/Alastair Grant

PL Sunday preview: Arsenal vs. Chelsea, Everton vs. Swansea City

Leave a comment

Title implications, relegation consequences, middle-of-the-table mediocrity — Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures offers a little bit of everything, storyline-wise.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

After a heart-stopping Saturday which included 26 goals in eight games, Sunday’s two-game schedule sounds a much-needed respite for the faint-hearted.

Everton vs. Swansea City — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and Live Extra

In their last three PL games, Everton and Swansea have each won just three points; the Toffees on three consecutive draws against stiff competition (Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Chelsea), while the Swans lost to Manchester United and got hammered by 19th-place Sunderland before knocking off Watford last week.

When these sides met for the first time this season, back in September, it ended a 0-0 draw at the Liberty Stadium. Everton finished the game with 10 men after Kevin Mirallas was shown straight red in the 93rd minute, two minutes after being subbed on. This time around, Everton will once again be without Seamus Coleman (hamstring), as well as long-term absentees Tyias Browning (knee) and James McCarthy (groin). Swansea boast a mostly clean bill of health, with no one currently listed on the latest injury report.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup, including Norwich 4-5 Liverpool ]

Arsenal vs. Chelsea — 11 a.m. ET, on NBSCN and Live Extra

In years past, we might have dubbed this Arsenal versus Chelsea, “the big one,” if only the Gunners were a little closer to the actual title race and posed a serious threat to the Blues’ potential reign of the land. 2015-16 is, of course, a bizarro time to be alive, thus Sunday’s meeting of the PL giants features a 3rd-place Arsenal, with a chance to go top of the league once again, hosting a 14th-place Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium.

When these two sides faced off back in September, Chelsea had yet to fully implode, and notched a 2-0 victory at Stamford Bridge, thanks to goals scored by Kurt Zouma and Calum Chambers (own goal). Arsenal finished that game with nine men after Diego Costa goaded Gabriel Paulista into a 46th-minute red card, and two yellow cards for Santi Cazorla.

Arsenal are due a huge boost on Sunday, though, as Alexis Sanchez is expected to return to action after nearly two months on the sideline with a hamstring injury. Mesut Ozil, the PL’s leading assister (16) of goals, is also expected to be fit after missing last week’s 0-0 draw with Stoke City. Cazorla (knee) and Francis Coquelin (knee) remain unavailable, alongside long-term absentees Jack Wilshere (leg), Tomas Rosicky (knee) and Danny Welbeck (knee). For Chelsea, Costa (leg) and Eden Hazard (groin) have been declared fit. Radamel Falcao (calf) remains the Blues’ lone long-term injury.

UEFA gives partial stadium bans to Bulgaria, Romania for fan racism

Leave a comment

NYON, Switzerland (AP) Bulgaria will have to close part of its national stadium for European Championship qualifiers against England and the Czech Republic because of fan racism.

UEFA issued the order, saying Bulgarian fans were racially abusive during a 2-1 loss to the Czech Republic and a 3-2 loss to Kosovo last month.

Bulgaria hosts England on Oct. 14 and the Czech Republic on Nov. 17.

Romania has also been ordered to close part of its home stadium for a future under-21 game after UEFA ruled its fans behaved in a racist manner during the European under-21 championship last month.

Another racism case against Latvia was dropped.

UEFA also handed out various fines to Romania, Ukraine, and Greece for rowdy behavior by fans.

Transfer rumor roundup: Everton join Zaha chase; Matuidi to Man Utd?

Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images
Leave a comment

A roundup of Saturday’s biggest transfer rumors from around the world, including those involving a few Premier League clubs…

[ MORE: PL refs told to defer to VAR more, go to the monitor “sparingly” ]

Wilfried Zaha is one of the most wanted men in England, with Arsenal reportedly hot on his trail all summer. An deal between the Gunners and Crystal Palace is yet  to transpire, though, which has perhaps left the door open for Everton to sneak through and sign the 26-year-old Ivory Coast international.

Arsenal would obviously pay more in wages, but are yet to meet Palace’s valuation of their talisman. If Everton is the club that calls with the requisite figures on offer, it wouldn’t be the worst landing place for Zaha. With Arsenal yet to make a meaningful signing this summer, and the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny already gone or on their way out, the 2019-20 season could see the Gunners take a step back, opening the door for — you guessed it — Everton to break into the top-five… or -four.

Speaking of Ramsey, his arrival at Juventus has perhaps made Blaise Matuidi surplus to requirements, which means he could be available for cut-rate price.

Manchester United seem to be perennially in need of influential central midfielders, especially this summer after the departure of Ander Herrera and the failure of a signing that was Fred last summer. Man United have reportedly been in contact with Juve about the 32-year-old, as have Paris Saint-Germain and Everton.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is another midfielder who’s been linked with United, but he’ll likely just as much as, if not more than, the $59-million fee paid for Fred. Milinkovic-Savic seemed a surefire target for the world’s top clubs after a star’s showing at last summer’s World Cup in Russia, but the 24-year-old remained at Lazio and is still yet to move 12 months later.

Patrick Cutrone was one of Europe’s breakout stars of the 2018-19 season, now the 21-year-old AC Milan forward is reportedly high atop Wolverhampton Wanderers’ shopping list this summer. He won’t come cheap — Milan are expected to demand nearly $30 million — but he could offer some serious insurance in the event of an injury to Raul Jimenez.

PL refs told to defer to VAR more, go to the monitor “sparingly”

Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images
1 Comment

Premier League interim chief executive Richard Masters says that referees have ben instructed “to use the referee review area a bit more sparingly” and rely on the numerous video-assistant referees (VAR) at their disposal to make simple calls upon review when video review is instituted in the PL next month.

[ MORE: Lukaku latest: Man United reject $67-million bid from Inter Milan ]

Following the 2019 Women’s World Cup, where far too many trip to the monitor were made by the center referees, the PL is keen on ensuring that “the Premier League or English football [is not] interrupted, or the pace of the game [is not] changed.” It sounds very much like a “less is more” approach  — quotes from the BBC:

“I think fans want to see those clear and obvious mistakes changed and put right. But they don’t want to see the Premier League or English football interrupted, or the pace of the game changed.

“I think the only difference you might see is the referees using the referee review area a bit more sparingly and relying more on the VAR for the more subjective decisions.

“But we are putting something new into the Premier League and if it needs to be refined or improved or tweaked we will look at it when the moment arises.”

In theory, this should work quite well for the PL. Many of the decisions that referees go to the monitor to review themselves could easily be made by the “fifth official.” If it’s obvious to the VAR and he/she can make the call with 100 percent certainty, the center ref should always take their decision in the name of keeping the game flowing. If the VAR isn’t so sure, or it’s a more subjective call that should be made by the person making 99 percent of the game’s calls, go to the monitor. But do so quickly.

Lukaku latest: Man United reject $67-million bid from Inter Milan

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
1 Comment

Given two key factors — the date on the calendar and how far apart the two sides appear to be in their respective valuations — it’s looking increasingly likely that Romelu Lukaku will still be a Manchester United player when the upcoming Premier League season starts, despite numerous bids by Inter Milan this summer.

[ MORE: Borussia Dortmund tops Liverpool 3-2 at Notre Dame ]

According to reports out of the UK, Man United have rejected Inter’s latest bid, said to be for $67.5 million. The Red Devils paid $96 million for the big Belgian forward just two summers ago and appear hellbent on recouping most, if not all, of their investment.

Antonio Conte called Lukaku “an important player for us” this week in an attempt to further unsettle the 26-year-old, but that doesn’t appear to have shaken United’s resolve in holding out for the fee they desire.

[ MORE: Wolves top Man City on penalties in PL Asia Trophy final ]

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is growing tired of answering questions about the saga, especially since there has been little to no progress made in recent days and weeks. When pressed on the topic again this week, he said he had “no more updates.”