PL Sunday preview: WHL’s final game; West Ham-Liverpool

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A selection of bounties on the line on Sunday: Hull City could be officially relegated from the Premier League; Liverpool’s hopes of a top-four finish; Tottenham Hotspur’s first second-place finish since 1963, and one final fond memory at White Hart Lane.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Crystal Palace vs. Hull City — 7 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

Swansea City’s win over Sunderland on Saturday was extremely bad news for Hull: the Tigers now sit four points adrift of the Swans in the first place outside the relegation zone, meaning a loss to Palace on Sunday would see Marco Silva‘s side head back to the Championship after one season in the PL (Palace currently sit one place ahead of Swansea, level on 38 points). If there exists an ideal side for Hull to face in this moment, it’s Palace, who have lost three straight league games and slipped right back into the relegation battle. A win or draw on Sunday would secure their PL status for another season. A loss, on the other hand, would make things very interesting ahead of next Sunday’s finale.

INJURIES: Crystal Palace — OUT: Mamadou Sakho (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Yohan Cabaye (knock), James Tomkins (ankle), Scott Dann (knee) | Hull — OUT: Lazar Markovic (ankle), Ryan Mason (head), David Meyler (knee)

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Arsenal alive and fighting for 4th ]

West Ham United vs. Liverpool — 9:15 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

At the other end of the table, Liverpool’s scoreless draw with Southampton left the door wide open for Arsenal, who now sit just a single point back of Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds in the race for fourth. A trip to the London Stadium, where West Ham shocked Tottenham last weekend, is hardly the ideal fixture given the precarious position in which they currently find themselves.

“We all know about the situation and the players want to qualify, want to play in this fantastic tournament, as I want,” Klopp said at his Friday news conference. “The players we are talking to, because they are all good players, I know they have offers from other clubs (and) maybe they play Champions League or not, or whatever.

“It’s important — how it is always important — for the club. Everybody knows it’s a lot of money in the Champions League, it’s not only the sports challenge, even though it’s really exciting, it’s also the money you can earn and as a football club we have to do this too.”

INJURIES: West Ham — OUT: Mark Noble (abdomen), Cheikhou Kouyate (wrist), Diafra Sakho (back), Andy Carroll (groin), Pedro Obiang (ankle), Michail Antonio (hamstring) | Liverpool — OUT: Sadio Mane (knee), Jordan Henderson (foot); QUESTIONABLE: Roberto Firmino (lower body)

[ MORE: Fulham, Reading level after leg 1 of promotion playoffs ]

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Man United — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

After standing tall in North London for 118 years, Sunday’s clash between Tottenham and Manchester United will be the final time a ball is kicked at White Hart Lane. Beginning next week, demolishing will begin to make room for the completion of the club’s brand new, 61,000-seat stadium. We already know Spurs will be in the UEFA Champions League next season, but a win on Sunday would clinch a second-place finish for the first time in 54 years (a draw would all but do the same, with Manchester City needing to overturn 14 goals in the goal differential column).

“(Sunday’s game) will be special for the people who love Tottenham, and at the same time it will be exciting to go to the new stadium,” Mauricio Pochettino said. “But the soil and the smell of White Hart Lane will still be there.”

INJURIES: Tottenham — OUT: Erik Lamela (hip), Harry Winks (ankle); QUESTIONABLE: Danny Rose (knee) | Man United — OUT: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee), Marcos Rojo (knee), Luke Shaw (foot), Marouane Fellaini (suspension), Timothy Fosu-Mensah (shoulder), Ashley Young (hamstring)

Petr Cech earns win with 2 penalty saves in hockey debut

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Former Chelsea and Arsenal goalkeeper joined English fourth-division hockey team Guildford Phoenix four days ago and made his debut on Sunday.

He did not disappoint.

The 37-year-old saved two penalties in the shootout, earning Man of the Match honors.

Cech is reportedly a fan of the Guilford Flames, the first-division side who use the Phoenix as their developmental side. He was signed to be the team’s third-choice goalkeeper, just a chance for him to get in on the action before his body gives way for good, but he was given a chance to play right away. He wore number 39, a nod to famous Czech goaltender Dominik Hasek. His custom helmet was adorned with Arsenal and Chelsea colors. Regulation finished level at 2-2 before Cech’s shootout heroics.

“I wanted to win, that was the main thing, and I’m glad we did,” Cech said after the match. “I was surprised that I wasn’t more nervous. I didn’t know what to expect so it was nice how quickly my body switched into matchday mode.”

Giroud upset with reserve role at Chelsea

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Olivier Giroud does not look back on his transfer to Chelsea and wish he had done things differently, but that doesn’t mean things are all sunshine and roses for the 33-year-old.

Giroud, who moved to Chelsea from Arsenal in the winter of 2018 after six years with the Gunners, has played just 43 times in the Premier League, averaging just 35 minutes per appearance. That has him frustrated, hoping to prove his loyalty to the club and work harder than the other options up front.

“I had competitors in attack – [Alvaro] Morata, [Gonzalo] Higuain, who ended up leaving,” Giroud said. “I won at the end: I played the final of the FA Cup in 2018 and the [Europa League] final in 2019. Once again, I’m starting the year in a difficult situation. But as my brother says, I have always built myself in the face of adversity.”

Giroud is trying to be smart about how he approaches the competition for time with the likes of Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi, but he says it is emotionally taxing.

“You do not have to be fatalistic in certain situations,” Giroud says about keeping a level head. “I have always been respectful and humble. Even if I do not agree with the coach, I do not criticize him. But in myself, I cannot accept it because I know what I’m worth on a pitch.”

The French international has made just three league appearances this season, mostly thanks to Abraham’s scalding form. Abraham, still just 22 years old, has snatched his opportunity for first-team minutes with eight goals in eight games to start the campaign. That has left Giroud on the sidelines for each of the last five league games, missing out on a spot in the matchday squad altogether for the last three.

Despite his struggles at the club level, Giroud has maintained his place in the French national team, missing just five matches of France’s last 64 games, including 37 of the last 39.

James says he was not knocked unconscious in Wales draw

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Head injury awareness again rose to the forefront in the 1-1 draw between Wales and Croatia in Cardiff when Daniel James went down after colliding with a pair of opponents.

The Manchester United winger looked to almost sure have been knocked unconscious when Domagoj Vida’s knee appeared to tap the back of his head while challenging for a ball in the air. Vida went toppling over the back of teammate Borna Barisic who ducked out of the way, but it was James who many were concerned for as he lay motionless on his back with his eyes closed.

Yet James was allowed to come back onto the field and completed the full 90 minutes, sparking criticism from injury advocates and fans who were concerned for James’ safety on the field, at potential risk for even more serious consequences should he indeed have suffered a concussion.

After the game however, despite what fans saw as James lie on the turf, the 21-year-old insisted he was not knocked unconscious. “I’m fine,” James claimed after the match, speaking to Sky Sports. “I think he just caught me in the head but I didn’t get knocked out fortunately.”

Wales boss Ryan Giggs backed up the decision as well, calling James’ motionless display “a bit of acting.”

“The medical staff went over, he was compos mentis and we did all the checks at half-time and he was fine,” Giggs said, referring to the latin phrase for “of sound mind.”

If James was indeed faking unconsciousness, it’s natural to wonder if he should face a fine from UEFA for looking to con referees, and in the process possibly confusing the independent neurologists on site assigned to assess head injuries.

ESPN broadcaster Taylor Twellman, who has been outspoken over the past few years advocating for head injury awareness after his career was cut short by concussions, took to Twitter to criticize Wales for allowing James back into the game. Twellman, who was on the ESPN call of the broadcast with Ian Darke, said more needs to be done to prevent players from being able to force their way back onto the field, lest someone be killed by second impact syndrome.

Former Hull City player Ryan Mason, who was forced to retire after a serious skull fracture saw him fighting for his life, was also seriously concerned about the incident.

Interestingly enough, later in the match just seconds after the second half restart, young Wales midfielder Ethan Ampadu was whalloped from behind by Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic in a wild and reckless aerial challenge. Petkovic’s elbow went clattering into the back of Ampadu’s head, and the was left writhing on the ground holding his head. The Chelsea youngster was taken off the field and immediately replaced by Joe Morrell, while Petkovic was lucky to escape with just a yellow card.

Kane reflects on Tottenham, England struggles

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Harry Kane keeps finding the back of the net, but his teams keep losing.

The 26-year-old striker has bagged five Premier League goals in eight games for Spurs thus far, plus another seven goals for England in five Euro 2020 qualifiers this cycle. Yet Tottenham sits ninth in the table after three losses already this season, while England slumped to its first Euro defeat last time out, putting its seeding at the Euro finals next summer in jeopardy.

Kane is hoping to be a leader through the tough times for both club and country, wearing the armband for both as it currently stands.

“I think you need to lead by example,” Kane said ahead of England’s visit to Bulgaria on Monday. “Not getting too down when you lose a game, not getting too high when you win games. It is a long, old season for club and country ahead – a lot of games to be played so there are going to be tough periods.”

Kane has taken over the England captaincy on a permanent basis, and is filling in for the injured Hugo Lloris at Tottenham. “I am still the same person,” he said. “I still try and lead by example on and off the pitch and I will continue to do that. I have been in high pressure situations before in my career, whether that is going through goal droughts, playing in high-pressure games or not playing well as a team. It is something I will take in my stride and improve on.”

Leading by example includes finding the back of the net, while also supporting teammates both on and off the pitch. He knows even if he’s in good personal form on the stat sheet, there’s always ways to improve and help the squads through tough times.

“I am scoring goals but can I get more assists, create more chances? So yeah, I always look at little things I can get better at. Yes, the England form has been good but as ever, it can be better. We will see if I can continue scoring. It has been a good campaign but important I do not stop now.”