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Premier League preview: Everton vs. Middlesbrough

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  • Everton one of four remaining unbeaten sides
  • Middlesbrough won points in three of four games
  • Everton — 3rd, on 10 points; Boro — 9th, on 5 points

A pair of surprise performers in early days of the 2016-17 Premier League season, Everton and Middlesbrough, will meet at Goodison Park on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with a chance to further solidify their respective places as top-half teams.

In the case of Everton, the Ronald Koeman era could hardly have gotten off to a better start. After arriving from Southampton in the summer, Koeman’s Toffees have dropped just two points on the season, in an opening-day draw with Tottenham Hotspur. Week by week, the results have been better and better, too, culminating in the 3-0 thrashing of Sunderland on Monday, in which Romelu Lukaku opened his account for the season by scoring a hat trick in 11 second-half minutes. Perhaps most impressive for Everton, though, is their joint-best defensive record — two goals conceded in four games, the same as Tottenham.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE 

For Boro, it’s all about bouncing back from the season’s first defeat, at home against Crystal Palace last weekend, and chipping away at the 40-point target that will have been set forward by Aitor Karanka before the season. Cristhian Stuani, who scored a brace in Boro’s victory over Sunderland three weeks ago, and Jordan Rhodes are each a late fitness concern for Karanka.

INJURIES: Everton OUT: James McCarty (groin), Muhamed Besic (knee surgery), Tyias Browning (knee) | Middlesbrough OUT: Fabio (knee), Grant Leadbitter (groin); QUESTIONABLE: Cristhian Stuani (groin), Jordan Rhodes (knee)

What they’re saying

Koeman, on Everton’s strong start: “The start is good but I have the experience of knowing it is difficult to keep the momentum because every game is a fight. It’s not about the name of the opponent – you can win or lose against everybody. The Premier League is unpredictable. You need to prepare yourself to be at your best level and we’d like to continue our good start but it’s not so easy.”

Adam Clayton, on fighting for PL status: “I think barring Saturday we’ve acquitted ourselves very well. I don’t think we should have lost the game, I think we deserved at least a point. But the result was disappointing. Teams have the quality to put in a goal against you at any time. Concentration over 95 minutes is imperative, you’ve got to stay on top of it as a collective, if one switches off it could lead to a goal.”

Prediction

Everton were woeful at home last season (6W-5D-8L), and despite the four points they’ve won from two games on Merseyside this season, they’ve still been better away from home. Boro have conceded multiple goals just once on the season, and just one goal in two games away from home. They can slow Everton’s stride a bit and snatch an unlikely point. Everton 1-1 Boro.

LIVE — USMNT seeks ‘payback’ v. Canada in CONCACAF Nations League

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The USMNT’s CONCACAF Nations League hopes are on the line when it meets Canada in Orlando at 7 p.m. ET on Friday.

[ FOLLOW: USMNT on Twitter ]

The Yanks seek to avenge a 2-0 loss to the Canucks in Toronto last month, one that heaped pressure on coach Gregg Berhalter.

If the USMNT fails to win on Friday, a match Canada also needs for its World Cup qualifying hopes, it will bow out of the tournament before the semifinal round.

There’s no place for DeAndre Yedlin in the back line, as Tim Ream‘s been chosen to play right back with a center back pairing of John Brooks and Aaron Long. Sergino Dest starts on the right.

The midfield will have Jackson Yueill lying deep, with Weston McKennie and Sebastian Lletget also getting the call.

Gyasi Zardes starts at center forward with Jordan Morris and Paul Arriola on the wings.

EURO qualifying wrap: Sweden joins Finland in qualifying

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Finland and Sweden have qualified for EURO 2020 after posting big wins on Friday, the former doing it at home to relative minnows Liechtenstein while the latter scored an impressive win away to Romania.

[ WATCH: G. Jesus’ comical penalty miss ]


Romania 0-2 Sweden

Marcus Berg and Robin Quaison scored first half goals as Sweden qualified for its sixth-straight EURO. Both are having decent starts to the club season. The veteran Berg has scored five times for Krasnodar, while the 26-year-old Quaison has scored four times for Mainz this season.

Spain 7-0 Malta

The Spanish had seven different goal scorers beginning with Alvaro Morata and Santi Cazorla providing a 2-0 halftime lead. Spain out shot Malta 25-1, with Pau Torres, Pablo Sarabia, Dani Olmo, and Gerard Moreno also scoring for an experimental squad.

And what if we told you Jesus Navas scored? Cause he did.

Denmark 6-0 Gibraltar

Christian Eriksen scored twice in the final five minutes after Robert Skov’s brace came sandwiched around Christian Gytkjaer and Martin Braithwaite goals. The Danes climbed to the top of Group D, one point better than the Swiss and three better than Republic of Ireland (who it meets on the last match day).

Switzerland 1-0 Georgia

Granit Xhaka went 90 minutes and Cedric Itten scored the game’s lone goal as the Swiss joined the Danes in climbing above Republic of Ireland.

Bosnia and Herzegovina 0-3 Italy

The Azzurri were clinical on Friday, with Francesco Acerbi, Lorenzo Insigne, and Andrea Belotti bagging

Elsewhere
Norway 4-0 Faroe Islands
Finland 3-0 Liechtenstein — RECAP
Armenia 0-1 Greece

WATCH: Gabriel Jesus comically misses penalty; Messi pots winner on Argentina return

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As long as Lionel Messi is on the field, Argentina and Brazil is going to be must-watch no matter the location.

Messi converted a rebound of his own won and saved penalty to score his 69th international goal in Argentina’s 1-0 win in a Saudi Arabia-hosted friendly on Friday.

[ MORE: Finland makes history ]

It was Messi’s first match with Argentina since the summer, when he was banned three months for claiming the 2019 Copa America tournament was fixed for hosts Brazil.

Let’s be real, though: You should be here for this terrible penalty miss from Gabriel Jesus.

The Brazilian also won his penalty, but his miss was a dreadful dribble wide of the frame. It clicked three boxes of terrible: no direction, no conviction, no technique.

Pique: Griezmann growing into Barca role “little by little”

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This summer, there was plenty of talk that Barcelona’s players wanted Neymar in town and quite the opposite regarding Antoine Griezmann.

The Atletico Madrid star was the player purchased by Barcelona.

[ MORE: Finland makes history ]

Griezmann, 28, has four goals and three assists in 15 matches, but the bulk of that outlay came in two matches and he’s without a goal or assist in the UEFA Champions League.

A bit different from his 21 goals and 10 assists in 48 matches last season, at least on the goals end, but the Frenchman is settling into a new club and city.

While it’s not like his new teammates think he’s garbage, they aren’t sugarcoating their opinion of his transition nor downplaying their lofty opinion of Barca.

Here’s Gerard Pique, via AS.com:

“Real Sociedad and Atlético were teams who played for Griezmann. That’s not the case at Barca, because the level is higher and he has to find his place in the side. Little by little he’s finding it. He’s got the quality and talent for it.”

Pique also blew off Barca’s extra rest before the new El Clasico date, and talked about Leo Messi’scontract talks as well as his relationship with Sergio Ramos. It’s all here.