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Top PL storylines: Spurs vs. Man United; can Leicester inch closer?

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Week 33 of the Premier League is here and there are plenty of storylines swirling around with six games of the season to go.

[ MORE: Van Gaal to stay at United? ]

With Leicester City just four wins away from sealing a stunning title win, can the Foxes move one step closer this weekend?

[ MORE: Wambach admits past drug use ]

Let’s take a look at that and more in the top five storylines in the PL.


Defoe holds the key as Black Cats, Foxes clash

Sunderland host champions elect Leicester City on Sunday (Watch live, 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) at the Stadium of Light and one man holds their survival hopes in his hands: Jermain Defoe. The veteran striker, 33, is the one player the Black Cats possess who has world class finishing ability. Defoe has scored in two of his last three games for Sunderland, which is all of Sunderland’s goals in their last three encounters. After drawing four-straight games, Sam Allardyce has obviously sorted Sunderland’s defense out but scoring goals has become a real problem for Big Sam’s side who are running out of time. They are four points behind Norwich City heading into this weekend but do have a game in hand over the Canaries.

Defoe has to keep firing and Sunderland must get the supply he deserved if they’re going to get out of the mire. Facing league-leaders and high fliers Leicester is probably not what Sunderland needed right now but given the fact that Claudio Ranieri‘s side have won five of their last six games 1-0, there will be one decisive moment in this match. If it falls to Sunderland’s predtaory forward, chances are that Defoe will take it.


Title and fourth place aspirations collide at the Lane

Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United clash on Sunday at White Hart Lane (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) with plenty on the line.

Spurs know they must keep winning and hope Leicester slips up, while Manchester United is locked in a straight battle with crosstown rivals Manchester City and upstarts West Ham United for the fourth and final UEFA Champions League spot. A report this week from Holland suggested Louis Van Gaal will remain at Old Trafford next season but if United don’t finish in the top four it’s hard to see that happening.

Tottenham has the best defense in the PL and despite United’s host of injuries, they’ll have to keep a close eye on Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial who’ve struck up quite the partnership in attack in Wayne Rooney‘s absence.

Speaking of goals, Harry Kane is on fire right now with six goals in his last four PL games. He now has 22 for the season to lead the PL and if he’s on form he’ll be the difference. This will be a tight game, just like it was at the start of the season, as the two best defenses in the PL met with plenty on the line for both.


London Calling: Last-ever derby at Upton Park

West Ham United’s famous Upton Park home will host its final London derby on Saturday (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) as Arsenal arrive.

The Hammers have enjoyed a stellar campaign and led by the mercurial talents of Dimitri Payet, Slaven Bilic‘s first season in the PL could end up with a top four finish as they’re just three points off Manchester City. West Ham believe they can qualify for the UCL and with all the pressure mounting on Man United and Man City, maybe the Hammers will sneak in and shock everyone.

As for Arsenal, they’re also lurking on the edge of a battle. As the title race has seemingly become a two-horse race between Leicester and Tottenham, Arsene Wenger‘s men have the chance to momentarily close the gap with leaders Leicester to eight points on Saturday and have a game in hand. Maybe their title race isn’t over after all. Still, in a week which saw Wenger reveal he rejected the chance to sign Payet, the French international will likely score the winner to all but end Arsenal’s faint title hopes and significantly boost West Ham’s top four chances. That’s just the way this season has gone for the Gunners.


Top six scrap at Anfield

Liverpool and Stoke City have been evenly poised throughout this season and they clash on Sunday at Anfield (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET online via Live Extra) with plenty on the line.

The Reds have two games in hand of Stoke in the race for the top six but the Potters have caused them problems this season in both the League Cup semifinals and the opening day of the campaign where Philippe Coutinho‘s stunner (how many times have we said that over the past 12 months?) saved Liverpool. This will be a closely fought encounter at Anfield and with Jurgen Klopp‘s men facing Borussia Dortmund in a key Europa League quarterfinal either side of this game, expect some players to be rested and Stoke to have a big chance of winning at Liverpool. Mark Hughes‘ men have been inconsistent in recent weeks but big name players like Marko Arnautovic, Bojan Krkic and Xherdan Shaqiri usually get going when it comes to games like these.


Down and nearly out

Aston Villa could finally be put out of their misery this weekend. Villa face Bournemouth at home on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via Live Extra) and if they fail to better Norwich City’s result against Crystal Palace then they’re officially down. Villa are a massive club but have been poorly mismanaged for years as American owner Randy Lerner has cut corners, sold star players and hasn’t found a buyer for the Midlands club.

Without a manager and soon to be relegated from the top-flight for the first time in the PL era, Villa have made sweeping changes behind-the-scenes as Remi Garde and Tim Sherwood were both fired during this season. When all is said and done, relegation may finally correct plenty of the wrongs at Villa over the past few years. Then again, we may not see them back in the PL for quite some time as the second-tier is a brutal and unforgiving division. It is indeed a sorry state of affairs at Villa Park.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Manchester United

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Manchester United look to leave a poor three-match streak behind as they travel to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea  (Watch live at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

The last time both teams faced off was during the season’s opening matchweek, which saw the Red Devils steamroll Chelsea 4-0 at Old Trafford.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Since, United’s quality hasn’t been the same, slipping to ninth in the league, while the Blues have maintained themselves in the European competition conversation throughout the majority of the season.

A win for either side at this point of season will provide a huge morale boost, as both teams go into Monday’s match without a win in three bouts.


Injuries/suspensions

Chelsea: OUT —  Pulisic (groin), Van Ginkel (knee) QUESTIONABLE — Abraham (knock), Giroud (knock), Loftus-Cheek (calf)

Manchester United: OUT — McTominay (knee), Tuanzebe (thigh), Pogba (ankle, 5 Mar), Rashford (back), Fosu-Mensah (match fitness), Grant (surgery) QUESTIONABLE — Ighalo (match fitness)


Probable lineups

Chelsea: Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Tomori, James; Kante, Jorginho; Hudson-Odoi, Mount, William; Abraham.

Manchester United: De Gea; Williams, Maguire, Lindelof, Wan-Bissaka; Fred, Matic; Greenwood, Fernandes, James; Martial


What they’re saying

Chelsea’s Frank Lampard on dropping Kepa Arrizabalaga last weekend: “It wasn’t about giving him a jolt. It was just a selection on that day. I want everyone’s reaction spot on. I know how it will feel for him. I had it in my career, it is part and parcel. I am pleased with the reaction.”

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Odion Ighalo: “As a striker you get thrown on out there and it might be he’ll have to come off the bench, give us a goal and he does whatever he does.”


Prediction

Chelsea will be in front of their supporters on a Monday night with Manchester United in town. That scenario tends to go well for the Blues more often than not. Chelsea, 2-1.

Mexicans Abroad: Rodolfo Pizarro’s goalscoring start headlines handful of debuts

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A handful of Mexicans abroad debuted with their respective clubs over the weekend, but none were at par with Rodolfo Pizarro’s.

The 26-year-old attacking midfielder scored on his fourth touch as an Inter Miami player, two minutes after coming off the bench. Pizarro’s right-footed strike proved to be historic, as it became the first official goal in club history.

Also on Saturday, in different regions of the United States, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Alan Pulido, respectively, made their debuts. Chicharito played 78 minutes in Los Angeles Galaxy’s 2-1 preseason loss to Toronto FC, while Pulido logged 61 minutes in Sporting Kansas City’s scoreless bout.

Qatar’s new marquee star, Marco Fabian, debuted in Al-Sadd’s hard-earned cup win.

Here is a list of several other Mexico national team affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) outside of Mexico this weekend.


Premier League

Raul Jimenez, Wolverhampton Wanderers —  Jimenez started and played all 90 minutes in Wolves’ 0-0 draw against Leicester City. The forward registered four shots off target and one blocked.

La Liga

Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid —  Herrera was not called up by Diego Simeone for Atletico Madrid’s draw against Valencia on Friday.

Andres Guardado, Real Betis —  Guardado dressed but didn’t take the field on Sunday.

Diego Lainez, Real Betis — The 19-year-old was is out after undergoing appendicitis surgery.

Nestor Araujo, Celta Vigo — Araujo played a vital part in La Liga’s most surprising outcome of the matchweek – Celta’s 2-2 draw with Real Madrid. The defender recorded eight clearances, one interceptions and two tackles throughout the 90 minutes.

Serie A

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Napoli —  Lozano, Napoli’s most expensive player in team history, was not called up by Gennaro Gattuso on Sunday. The 24-year-old and the Italian manager seem to be on different pages, and the situation doesn’t appear to be getting better with time. It might be time to panic for Lozano’s development in Italy.

Primeira Liga

Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, FC Porto — Tecatito started and played 84 minutes in Porto’s 2-1 victory over Vitoria, which was marred by racist abuse towards Moussa Marega by Vitoria supporters.

Eredivisie

Erick Gutierrez, PSV Eindhoven —  Gutierrez played the final five minutes of PSV’s 3-0 thumping of AOD Den Haag.

Edson Alvarez, Ajax — After several weeks of little activity, Alvarez seems to be making his way back into Ajax’s starting lineup. On Sunday, the Mexican defender played his second set of 90 minutes in four days.

Jupiler Pro League

Omar Govea, Zulte Waregem — Govea played 76 minutes in Zulte’s 2-1 loss on Sunday.

Major League Soccer

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, LA Galaxy – In front of a semi-full Dignity Sports Park, Chicharito made his Los Angeles Galaxy debut. The storied forward, however, failed to score despite seeing a decent amount of chances. Galaxy open the MLS season against Houston Dynamo on February 29.

Rodolfo Pizarro, Inter Miami – It took two minutes for an Rodolfo Pizarro to score on his unofficial Inter Miami debut. Ironically, the brand-new MLS franchise has yet to announce the signing of the 26-year-old from Monterrey.

Alan Pulido, Sporting Kansas City – Pulido played 61 minutes in SKC’s scoreless, preseason draw against Real Salt Lake.

Elsewhere around the globe:

Ulises Davila, Wellington Phoenix – Davila played all 90 minutes in Phoenix’s 1-0 victory over Melbourne City. The attacker also managed to pick up a yellow card throughout the match.

Marco Fabian, Al-Sadd – Fabian debuted for Xavi’s Al-Sadd on Saturday, playing all 120 minutes in his team’s win via penalties.

Hector Moreno, Al-Gharafa – Moreno and Al-Gharafa were inactive this weekend.

La Liga roundup: Celta spoil Hazard’s return in Real Madrid draw

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Real Madrid’s draw against relegation-battling Celta Vigo highlights La Liga’s Sunday action.

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Real Madrid 2-2 Celta Vigo 

Celta’s Santi Mina scored in 85th minute to give a depleted Celta Vigo a precious point at the Santiago Bernabeu, spoiling Eden Hazard‘s return to Real Madrid’s lineup after a notable absence.

Madrid’s eighth draw of the season moves champions Barcelona just one point behind Zinedine Zidane’s side.

Returning from ankle injury that kept his out of action for three months, Hazard returned to the pitch in fine style, leading all players on the field in chances created with three and earning a penalty that Sergio Ramos converted to put Real Madrid ahead.

Hazard – and all of his flair – left the field in the 70th minute, granting Vinicius Junior the final 20 minutes of the match.

Ramos’ sixth goal of the season builded on Toni Kroos’ left-footed strike early in the latter half of the match. Real Madrid, more or less, were cruising against Celta, who had a goal to their name following Fyodor Smolov’s early opener.

Celta, who had arrived in Madrid in 18th place and had lost their last seven at the host’s home, were destined to do the unthinkable. Denis Suarez and Mina – both utilized as substitutes – paired up for the equalizer with five minutes to go, spoiling Hazard’s return.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Sevilla 2-2 Espanyol

Leganes 0-0 Real Betis 

Athletic Bilbao 0-1 Osasuna

Teammates appear to stop Marega leaving after racist slurs

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LIBSON, Portugal — FC Porto striker Moussa Marega, who tried to walk off the field after being the target of racist slurs from fans, faced apparent attempts Sunday by his own teammates and opposition players to prevent him from leaving.

Marega, who is black and from Mali, was visibly angered by monkey noises targeting him after he scored Porto’s second goal in a 2-1 win at Guimarães in the Portuguese football league.

But when Marega started to walk off the field, several players from both Porto and Guimarães appeared to argue with him. Porto coach Sérgio Conceição also went on the field and spoke with Marega.

It took Marega several minutes to leave the field when he was substituted.

Marega held his thumbs down at the crowd as he went into the tunnel to the changing rooms. The crowd responded with loud jeers.

The attitude of the other players has drawn criticism on social media.

“We are indignant with what has happened. Moussa was insulted from warmups (before kickoff),” Conceição said after the match.

“We are a family. One’s nationality, color, or height does not matter. We are human beings. We deserve respect and what happened was despicable.”

Marega received a yellow card following his goal in the 61st minute when he appeared to respond to the slurs by pointing at his skin and by picking up a seat that had been thrown on the pitch.