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PL Sunday preview: Man City-Liverpool; Spurs host Saints; Boro-Man Utd

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Sunday is Super once again in the Premier League, as four of six top-four hopefuls are in action, two of the four facing off directly…

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Middlesbrough vs. Manchester United — 8 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

If Jose Mourinho is to guide Man United to a top-four finish in his first season at Old Trafford, Sunday’s trip to Boro represents a must-win opportunity for the Red Devils to leapfrog Arsenal for fifth place in the PL table, and potentially finish the weekend just three points back of fourth-place Liverpool while holding two games in hand. To do so, though, United must overcome a rash of injuries and suspensions.

Unavailable on Sunday: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (suspension), Ander Herrera (suspension); doubtful or questionable through injuries: Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Daley Blind, Wayne Rooney, Bastian Schweinsteiger. Woof.

“I can imagine some people will say we should play better, we could play better, we should score more goals, we should not have so many difficulties to beat this opponent, but the reality is we have lots of things going against us and we have to try and fight,” Mourinho said ahead of Sunday’s clash at the Riverside Stadium. “The boys are amazing and we will probably lose the game on Sunday but we will try our best.”

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Chelsea delight, Arsenal misery ]

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Southampton — 10:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Life without Harry Kane begins, again, for Tottenham. A top-four finish — not to mention the chance to finish above Arsenal for the first time in 22 years — are very real for a second straight season, but Mauricio Pochettino‘s side will have to navigate the all of, or most of, the season’s final 11 games without their 19-goalscorer (37 percent of his side’s league goals — 4th-highest in the PL) after the 23-year-old re-injured his left ankle during last Sunday’s FA Cup thrashing of Millwall. Up first, it’s a visit from Southampton, which sees one of the PL’s most confounding, up-and-down sides fighting for a top-half finish in Claude Puel‘s first season at St. Mary’s Stadium.

Heung-Min Son bagged a hat trick while playing up top in Kane’s absence last weekend, which seems Pochettino’s most likely Plan A to replace last season’s Golden Boot winner. The problem, of course, is the South Korean’s lack of size and strength to hold the ball up, bring others into the attack, and muscle defenders around the 18-yard box in order to create space for himself. Dele Alli will likely play further forward, and more centrally, to provide a greater numerical advantage for Spurs.

“We have different options (up front) — you could see in the last game against Millwall,” Pochettino believes. “At the beginning of the season, Harry got injured in the Sunderland game and we missed him for nearly two months but we played with different options – with Son, with Vincent Janssen. We used different players, but we are sure that we will play well.

[ MORE: Wenger to determine his future “very soon” ]

Manchester City vs. Liverpool — 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com

It’s a matchup between third and fourth in PL, as Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds visit the Etihad Stadium to a Man City side which hasn’t lost a league game in over two months (six games — four wins, two draws). After failing to win a single one of their first five PL games of the 2017 calendar year, Liverpool’s title challenge was put to bed, as their dreams of returning to the top-four for just the second time in eight seasons so nearly were as well.

Pep Guardiola‘s men must rebound immediately after bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday, having blown a two-goal advantage in the second leg away to Monaco. Having played one game more than City thus far, Liverpool trail Sunday’s opponents by a single point, and currently sit five points clear of Arsenal.

“These games are always important. Actually, I can’t remember a not-important game in the Premier League, to be honest,” Klopp said. “But I think we all know about the quality of Manchester City, probably a few people think they’re out of the Champions League now against Monaco, but I think the way they played was quite impressive.”

Bologna draws 3-3 at Lazio to secure Serie A safety

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ROME (AP) Bologna secured Serie A football for another season after drawing at Lazio 3-3 in a thriller on Monday.

Bologna moved four points clear of the relegation zone with one match remaining.

Lazio was still celebrating winning the Italian Cup midweek and Joaquin Correa fired the capital side in front in the 13th minute.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

However, two goals in the space of a minute from Andrea Poli and Mattia Destro saw Bologna take the lead early in the second half.

Bastos curled in a stunning effort to level for Lazio in the 59th but Riccardo Orsolini restored Bologna’s lead shortly after.

Substitute Sergej Milinkovic-Savic secured a draw for Lazio with a sensational free kick 10 minutes from time.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Choosing a USMNT XI for the Gold Cup

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Noting that most positions on the international stage are up for grabs based on form, there are special opportunities on the wing, right back, and center back when it comes to the USMNT at the Gold Cup this summer.

That’s because of two related things, one fact and one close to it:

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

  1. DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks are missing from the lineup due to injury. Brooks is easily the Yanks’ No. 1 center back, and Yedlin is a right back when Tyler Adams is unavailable and good enough that Gregg Berhalter tries to shoehorn him in at right wing when Adams is manning that spot.
  2. Mexico’s the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament with more in-form club players in Europe than the U.S., including would-be Premier League Best XI forward Raul Jimenez of Wolves. And who’s going to have to deal with Raul? You guessed it, the big American center backs.

Presuming Berhalter is still wed to Adams as the part-fullback, part distributing midfielder role, that has our lineup for important Gold Cup matches with few sure things.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — XXXXX — XXXXX — XXXXX

McKennie — Bradley

XXXXX — Pulisic — XXXXX

Altidore

Now you may not like that I’ve assumed Bradley and Altidore’s places here, but there’s little doubt both are still quite capable against CONCACAF competition and also have the experience in this exact competition and against Mexico. Surely both are motivated for a bit of redemption as well.

Friendlies against Jamaica and Venezuela will give Berhalter a chance to try out players like Tyler Boyd, Marlon Fossey, and Miles Robinson should they impress amongst a 40-player field (although the Jamaica match on June 5 in Washington, D.C. is a day before the final rosters are due for the Gold Cup).

Now what we are trying to solve here is who is the best bet to help the Yanks win the dang thing.

Defenders: Aaron Long, Matt Miazga, and Tim Ream are the favorites to start at the two center back spots and left back, but Daniel Lovitz will try to push Ream after a rough season at Fulham. Both Walker Zimmerman and Omar Gonzalez are in good form, and you can bet Berhalter will give Cameron Carter-Vickers a chance to earn some time. A flat back four role gives Antonee Robinson hope in place of Ream, and if Adams moves into the midfield, Nick Lima did alright in his right back role in January.

Midfielders/Wingers: The spots around Pulisic should be filled by those who can keep the width of the field but also serve somewhat as enforcers for the No. 10. Sebastian Lletget gives them a good shot on one side, and Paul Arriola provides a similar spot. While Joe Gyau, Josh Sargent, Duane Holmes, and Djordje Mihailovic can hope to challenge, the MLS vets with experience outside the country are good bets to get the gigs.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — Miazga — Long — Ream

McKennie — Bradley

Arriola — Pulisic — Lletget

Altidore

Does that get the job done against Mexico? Probably not, but it’ll give Tata Martino’s men a hassle.

Report: Man City could use Gabriel Jesus to get Rodri

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At the root of this report is a question to which we don’t know the answer: How highly does Pep Guardiola rate Gabriel Jesus?

A report from Spanish outlet AS says Guardiola could use his young striker to lure Atletico Madrid into a swap deal, landing Manchester City their stirring defensive midfielder Rodri.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Rodri is a nearly year older than 22-year-old Jesus, and is more instrumental to his current club. One of Atletico Madrid’s top talents, his $78 million release clause is an obvious route for City.

If Guardiola doesn’t see Jesus as a huge part of the club’s future, however, the manager may be able to go nearly like-for-like money-wise.

Jesus scored nearly every other game for City in all competitions, nabbing 21 goals in 47 matches, and has 13 goals in 27 caps for Brazil. Those are good numbers, especially with still-electric Sergio Aguero turning 31 this summer.

At his relatively tender age, Jesus has appeared 100 times for Man City and his 45 goals are made more impressive by less than 5600 total minutes in those matches.

Giving up on him to complete his midfield is a tough one. We think it’s more likely Guardiola pays the release clause… unless the manager simply doesn’t rate the player.

Players to watch at the U-20 World Cup

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The U-20 World Cup begins this week in Poland, and there are a bevy of future stars to watch, as well as several who will make their names during the tournament.

We’ll focus on the former. While England’s failure to qualify somewhat limits the Premier League starlets on show, there are still plenty from the English top flight.


Tim Weah, United States (PSG) — After a loan at Celtic and time with the full USMNT, how much can he dominate back in his age group?

Alban Lafont, France (Fiorentina) — At age 20, he’s already the starter between the sticks for his Serie A mainstays.

Diego Lainez, Mexico (Real Betis) — Eighteen with 12 league appearances for Real Betis, Lainez is a massive part of El Tri‘s future and carries four caps to his name.

Ruben Vinagre, Portugal (Wolves) — Wolves were promoted, and Vinagre actually made eight more appearances (17) than he made in the Championship.

Ezequiel Barco, Argentina (Atlanta United) — His sophomore season for the Five Stripes has been better than his debut campaign, though that’s not saying a ton given the hype.

Evan N’Dicka, France (Eintracht Frankfurt) — Plenty of playing time in the Bundesliga at the age of 19 for this towering center back.

Paxton Pomykal, United States (FC Dallas) — Looking good in MLS. How much should that translate on this stage?

Andriy Lunin, Ukraine (Real Madrid) — Won’t be wearing the white of Madrid in meaningful action any time soon, but made four appearances on loan for Leganes as a 20-year-old.

Sebastian Soto, United States (Hannover 96) — Not the American-born Bundesliga starlet we expected had we created this list months ago, but Soto has made his Bundesliga debut, so there’s a lot to like while Josh Sargent works with the full USMNT.

Dan Zagadou, France (Borussia Dortmund) — The left- and center back has 25 first team appearances for BVB at 19.

Diogo Dalot, Portugal (Manchester United) — Red Devils supporters know about this fella, who was purchased under the watch of Jose Mourinho last summer.

Mickael Cuisance, France (Borussia Monchengladbach) — Took a step back after his blockbuster ‘Gladbach breakthrough in 2017-18, but will be a key piece for the favorites.

Moussa Sylla, France (Monaco) — The winger is already a factor for AS Monaco, even if they struggled this season.

Bonus: Erling Håland, Denmark (Red Bull Salzburg); Ronald Araujo, Uruguay (Barcelona); Tom Dele-Bashiru, Nigeira (Manchester City).