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PL preview: Man United, Spurs, Saints in action on a busy, 4-game Sunday

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With just five games played on Saturday — and one on Friday — Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures is a big one: four games, including returns to domestic competition for Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton, across the morning and afternoon.

[ MORE: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Watford vs. Manchester United — 7 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

Following a 3-for-3 start to the 2016-17 Premier League season, Jose Mourinho suffered his first — and second — defeat as Man United boss this week. Sunday offers a chance to bounce back with a trip to Vicarage Road, a ground the Red Devils haven’t failed to win at, let alone lost, since Sept. 16, 1986. Phil Jones (knee) and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (thigh) will both miss out through injury, but Luke Shaw (hamstring) is expected to be available once again after sitting out United’s Europa League fixture on Thursday.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Blowouts galore as Man City, Arsenal, Everton roll ]

Southampton vs. Swansea City — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSports.com

Southampton are third from bottom of the PL table after four games (two points), so a visit from 14th-place Swansea (four points) could be just what the doctor ordered as new Saints boss Claude Puel seeks his first PL victory. Sofiane Boufal (knee), Saints’ record signing from the summer transfer window, is still weeks away from making his PL debut. Meanwhile, Nathan Dyer (ankle) is expected to miss two months, while Borja Baston, Swansea’s club-record signing, hopes to make the bench after edging closer toward full fitness.

[ MORE: RECAP — Liverpool’s big win at Stamford Bridge on Friday ]

Crystal Palace vs. Stoke City — 9:15 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

One point from four games is hardly an ideal way to start the season but that’s exactly where Mark Hughes and Stoke find themselves ahead of Sunday’s trip to Selhurst Park. Alan Pardew‘s Eagles picked up their first victory of the season last weekend, courtesy of club-record signing Christian Benteke‘s first goal for the club. Palace will be without Loic Remy (thigh) and Papa Souare (car crash), while Yohan Cabaye (groin) and Bakary Sako (groin) are expected to return. Xherdan Shaqiri (calf), Jack Butland (ankle surgery) and Ibrahim Afellay (knee surgery) will be unavailable for Stoke, but Glen Johnson (knee) is expected to make his 2016-17 debut.

[ MORE: USA’s Pulisic bags goal, 2 assists for Dortmund; turns 18 tomorrow ]

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Sunderland — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Like United, European competition was far from kind to Tottenham this week, thus Mauricio Pochettino will expect a bounce-back performance to extend his side’s unbeaten run to five game to start the season. Sunderland haven’t won at White Hart Lane since Aug. 23, 2008 (seven games without a win), with Sunday their final chance to do so before the stadium’s demolition next summer. Danny Rose (hamstring) has officially been ruled out for Spurs, as have Fabio Borini (groin), Sebastian Larsson (knee) and Vito Mannone (elbow) for Sunderland, all of whom are out for until December at the earliest.

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

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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

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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.