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PL preseason roundup: Arsenal’s injury crisis starts early; Costa scores for Chelsea

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A roundup of Sunday’s preseason action involving Premier League sides…

[ MORE: Every Premier League season preview ]

Arsenal 3-2 Manchester City

The 2016-17 Premier League season is yet to even kick off, and Arsenal already have a budding injury crisis on their hands. Gabriel Paulista was stretchered off during second-half stoppage time of the Gunners’ 3-2 victory over Manchester City in Gothenburg, Sweden. Per Mertesacker underwent knee surgery last month and could miss the rest of 2016, which means Arsene Wenger will have to either rush Laurent Koscielny back from his post-EURO 2016 break, or start 20-year-old Rob Holding at center back in next Sunday’s season opener against Liverpool (11 a.m. ET, Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck will also be unavailable next weekend, while Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey are both expected to be available after logging 78 and 62 minutes in Sunday’s game, respectively.

Alex Iwobi, Theo Walcott and Chuba Akpom did the scoring for Arsenal on Sunday. Sergio Aguero and Kelechi Iheanacho bagged the goals for Man City, who kick off their season next Saturday, at home against Sunderland (12:30 p.m. ET, Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

Werder Bremen 2-4 Chelsea

Diego Costa might stay at Chelsea, or he might not. We may have to wait all the way until the transfer deadline for a definitive answer, but in the meantime, Costa is back in action with his (for now) Chelsea teammates, and scoring goals. The Brazilian-turned-Spanish striker made it 3-1 just before halftime of Sunday’s friendly against Bundesliga side Werder Bremen. Eden Hazard and Oscar each scored inside 10 minutes before Claudio Pizarro halved the lead from the penalty spot in the 33rd minute.

Lennart Thy made it 3-2 not long after the hour mark, and Pedro restored the two-goal lead in the 90th minute. Antonio Conte will make his Premier League debut when Chelsea welcome West Ham United to Stamford Bridge next Monday (3 p.m. ET, Watch live on USA and online via NBCSports.com).

VELDEN, AUSTRIA - JULY 20: Bertrand Traore (C) of Chelsea celebrate scoring a goal with the Diego Costa (R) near goalkeeper Alexander Kofler (L) of WAC RZ Pellets during the international friendly match between WAC RZ Pellets and Chelsea F.C. at Worthersee Stadion on July 20, 2016 in Velden, Austria. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)
(Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

West Ham United 2-3 Juventus

Speaking of West Ham, the Hammers fell to Juventus, the five-time defending Serie A champions, in their first game inside their new home ground, the Olympic Stadium, on Sunday. Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic made it 2-0 after 21 minutes. Andy Carroll bagged a brace either side of halftime to level the score, but Simone Zaza (whose EURO 2016 penalty kick still hasn’t landed) hit the winner in the 85th minute.

Mainz 4-0 Liverpool

Liverpool, who also played on Saturday, were rolled by Jurgen Klopp‘s “other” former club, Mainz. The majority of expected starters featured in Saturday’s demolition of Barcelona, thus did not see action 24 hours later.

Elsewhere in preseason action

Southampton 1-0 Athletic Bilbao

Court date for USWNT’s law suit versus U.S. Soccer delayed

USWNT equal pay
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A court case that has dragged U.S. Soccer’s administration through the mud and led to a change of leadership may drag into the summer.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

A judge in California has delayed the May 5 trial of gender discrimination against the USSF until June 16 due in part to the coronavirus pandemic. A pretrial conference was also moved to June 1.

The federation is being sued by members of the two-time reigning World Cup champion USWNT under the Equal Pay Act.

The women are requesting more than $66 million in damages.

The extra month gives both parties more time to reach a settlement which could keep this ugly case away from trial. Given the uncertainty in our world, it could of course be delayed again.

The USSF has a new CEO in Will Wilson, who can make a major statement of change by stopping the trial from reaching court.

Handicapping the Final Four of Premier League March Madness

Premier League March Madness
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Our Premier League March Madness results have been as topsy-turvy as the 2019/20 on-field campaign before coronavirus halted it last month.

Yes, the runaway No. 1 seed is alive, but the second, third, fourth, and fifth seeds have been expelled from the tournament within the first two rounds.

Voting in the semifinal round begins Thursday.

[ RESULTS: March Madness Round of 16 ]

Before we go any further, if you’re unfamiliar: To make sure you’re not missing out on either March Madness or the business end of the PL season, we’ve gone ahead and merged the two competitions. The March Madness Final Four and Championship game were due to take place this weekend in Atlanta but now you will be voting on Tottenham v. Arsenal instead of Duke v. Kansas.

Teams are seeded from 1-16 based on their current spot in the table, with Aston Villa winning the relegation playoffs on Monday to remain in the Premier League.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ] 

Before we handicap the semifinal matches, let’s take a look at where the field sits after your Wednesday voting.

No. 1 Liverpool v. No. 12 Everton
No. 6 Wolves v. No. 7 Sheffield United

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Look, all bets are off for the derby. The Everton faithful has shown up in a big way during voting, dispatching Manchester United and Chelsea.

That’s big time stuff, though Liverpool ended the dreams of our presumptive sleeping giant favorite Arsenal after beating West Ham in the Sweet Sixteen.

The Reds are going to have to not just been upstart Everton but overcome the legions of rival supporters who would happily click the Toffees’ box rather than see Liverpool gain the crown.

The other side of the bracket sees No. 7 Sheffield United looking to continue its surprising run in both the PL season and our voting.

The Blades knocked off Man City, potentially aided by the same phenomenon Everton hopes to see on Thursday.

Now they meet Wolves, who may be riding a crest of North American momentum in the form of affinity for El Tri hero Raul Jimenez.

Our prediction: Everton and Wolves in the Final.

RESULTS: Premier League March Madness Elite Eight

Premier League March Madness
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Everton continued its upset path toward in our Premier League March Madness voting, showing its sensational support and setting up a fantastic eMerseyside Derby in the Final Four.

Thousands of votes were cast Wednesday, and the Toffees upset isn’t even the top underdog story.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ] 

Chris Wilder’s Blades of Sheffield United won a back-and-forth affair with No. 2 seed Manchester City to move into the semifinals.

That’s where they’ll meet No. 6 seed Wolves, who powered past Leicester City as if it wasn’t a challenge.

If you want to see the full game schedule, seedings and bracket, here is the post you need as the tournament will run all week long:

Monday: Relegation semifinals, final – Aston Villa prevailed, Norwich, Bournemouth, Watford relegated
TuesdaySweet 16 results in full
Wednesday: Elite Eight
Thursday: Final Four
Friday: Championship game

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

IFAB: New handball rule can be adopted when games resume

Handball rule
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The International Football Association Board (IFAB) issued a letter from secretary Lukas Brud on Wednesday, outlining several changes to the game.

The “tee shirt line” handball rule may be coming to club football quicker than expected due to the coronavirus suspension of the 2019/20 season.

IFAB will allow leagues the choice to use the new handball rule when matches resume this season, also making changes to VAR protocol and vowing to review the offside rule.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

The new handball rule states that the shoulder goes to the end of the shirt sleeve or the bottom of the armpit (though obviously not in the case of a long-sleeve jersey).

For the purposes of determining handball offences, the ‘arm’ stops at the bottom of the armpit

So… get ready for baggy, longer jersey sleeves, or the increased recruitment of players with the longest armpits.

Kidding aside, the handball rule desperately needed clarification and we’ll see if this gives enough to fans and players alike.

Referees will now be “expected” to go to the screen on the field when a call is subjective, forcing the official to either uphold or overrule his initial call.

This same post says IFAB will now allow accidental handballs in the run-up to a goal in certain situations.

“Accidental handball by an attacking player should only be penalized if it ‘immediately’ results in a goal or an obvious opportunity for the player and/or their team to score a goal (i.e. following the handball, the ball travels only a short distance and/or there are very few passes).”

Well, that needs some clarification.

Back to the timing issue for the new handball rule, it seems logical that leagues would want to introduce new laws with a new season but stand-by for the decision of your favorite league.

As for the offside rule, “The members agreed that the fundamental philosophy of offside is underpinned by a desire to encourage attacking football and the scoring of goals. It was further agreed, therefore, that Law 11 – Offside should be analyzed and reviewed with a view to potentially proposing changes reflecting this philosophy.”

It’s a lot to unpack, and we’ll surely here from proponents and opponents of the changes soon. As always, implementation will make the biggest difference in how these changes are received.