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PL Sunday preview: New bosses battle; Brighton vs. Saints

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The battle of Leicester City and Everton’s newly installed managers is the highlights of Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures, but not before PL new boys Brighton & Hove Albion host Southampton in a south-coast derby.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Man City’s historic start; Man United, Arsenal win ]

Brighton vs. Southampton — 9:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

All three of this year’s newly promoted sides — Newcastle United, Brighton & Hove Albion and Huddersfield Town — entered the 10th weekend of the season as a top-12 side. On Sunday, it’s Brighton, who finished a close second to Newcastle in the Championship last season, who reunite an old rivalry with a fellow south-coast side, Southampton, at Falmer Stadium. Through sheer consistency, the Seagulls have established themselves as a functional top-flight side.

“What we have done over these nine games is we have been in every game,” Brighton boss Chris Hughton said this week. “Even the games against Manchester City and Arsenal, both games we have lost 2-0, but we were in the game. If there is any statement, it is that we should not be frightened of the challenges we have and I think we have got enough quality and desire in the squad to make a good account of ourselves in any games. Whether that wins you enough games, that is different. It is goals that win you games and at the moment we are doing OK.”

Saints, meanwhile, are still adjusting to life under new manager Mauricio Pellegrino, as they’ve won just one of their last four in the PL and the goals still aren’t coming. The lack of scoring is a trend that carried over from last season under Claude Puel, when Southampton scored just 41 times en route to an eighth-place finish. That lone victory came on their last outing, though, courtesy of Sofiane Boufal’s brilliant individual effort, so perhaps brighter days are indeed on the horizon.

INJURIES: Brighton — OUT: Steve Sidwell (back), Beram Kayal (fitness), Sam Baldock (fitness) | Southampton — OUT: Mario Lemina (ankle)

[ MORE: England top Spain, win U-17 World Cup ]

Leicester City vs. Everton — 12 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com

First went Craig Shakespeare on Oct. 17, followed in short order by Ronald Koeman six days later. Leicester and Everton, respectively, were second and third to fire a manager during the 2017-18 PL season (more than a month after Crystal Palace sent Frank De Boer packing), and now the two sides face off on Sunday. Former Saints boss Puel is the new man in charge at the King Power Stadium, site of Sunday’s clash, while David Unsworth hopes to impress Toffees owner Farhad Moshiri during game no. 1 of his trial run as interim manager.

After nine games played, both sides are nearer to the relegation zone than they would have imagined this season, as Leicester currently sit 15th, a point ahead of 18th-place Everton.

“It is not about me or any individual, it is about us as a team and club coming together and showing the fighting spirit and commitment we had throughout that 90 minutes,” Unsworth said this week. “Even at 2-0 we kept going and got the goal. You could see the work rate, spirit and commitment — that is what we are looking for. We can iron out issues and problems and it is a great start, something to really build and work on.”

Leicester were victorious in the fourth round of the EFL Cup, knocking of Championship side Leeds United 3-1 on Tuesday. 21-year-old Kelechi Iheanacho scored his first goal (to go with an assist) for the Foxes after arriving from Manchester City in the summer to give Puel something more to consider when he picks his first starting lineup on Sunday.

INJURIES: Leicester — OUT: Robert Huth (foot), Matty James (achilles) | Everton — OUT: Ross Barkley (hamstring), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), Yannick Bolasie (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Morgan Schneiderlin (illness)

It’s official: Goalkeeper Alisson completes record transfer to Liverpool

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Liverpool fans finally have a highly-touted goalkeeper to mind the net as they look to continue the upward trajectory under Jurgen Klopp.

After much speculation, courtship, and negotiation, AS Roma accepted a world-record transfer fee of $85 million, the highest ever paid for a goalkeeper. It obliterates the record held for nearly 17 years by Gianluigi Buffon for his $62 million transfer from Parma to Juventus in 2001. According to reports, the breakdown is a $73 million fee plus $12 million in potential add-ons.

Alisson’s Liverpool medical was completed on Thursday, and the deal was complete. First, Roma gave Alisson an official send-off on social media, confirming the Brazilian had left the club.

Then came the official confirmation from Liverpool about a half-hour later.

“In terms of my life and my career, it’s a huge step for me being part of this club and this family,” Alisson said in the official club release. “You can be certain that I’ll give my all.”

Alisson comes highly rated from his time in the Italian top flight. Originally a youth product of Brazilian Serie A club Internacional, Alisson moved to Roma in the summer of 2016 after three professional seasons in his home country. Statistically, Alisson was the best goalkeeper in Serie A last season, with not only the best save percentage in the league (77%) but also the best distribution rate.

At the 2018 World Cup this summer, Alisson started for Brazil and played every minute of their World Cup journey in Russia. While he wasn’t terribly impressive, he didn’t have too many chances to put on a starring performance, but again his distribution out of the back was stellar. Alisson was the only player at the World Cup to play the entirety of his team’s first two matches and not misplace a single pass, reaching all the way to Brazil’s third group stage match against Serbia before failing to complete a pass. He went 31 straight pass attempts over those two-plus matches without a miss.

“When a very substantial bid comes in, you have to consider it,” Roma sporting director Monchi said about the transfer. “We thought about the pros and cons and decided to talk to Liverpool about the deal.”

The 25-year-old will now likely slot straight into the Liverpool starting lineup, and the club will need to figure out what to do with its other goalkeepers Loris Karius, Simon Mignolet, and Danny Ward. Mignolet began last season as the starter before conceding the gloves to Karius who infamously committed a pair of egregious errors in the Champions League final.

Toronto FC suspends all supporter groups after Ottawa stadium fire

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The Ottawa police were called and the match halted after flares thrown from the Toronto FC supporter section set fire to the stadium and pitch during a Canadian Cup match between Toronto FC and Ottawa Fury on Wednesday night.

Videos caught the Toronto FC supporters holding and throwing flares around the 72nd minute of the match, but things backfired when their flags accidentally caught fire, followed by parts of the bleachers next to them. One video posted to Twitter (shown below) shows the fans scrambling to put out the blazing flags and the fires in the stands where they are sitting.

Toronto FC announced Thursday afternoon that the club was temporarily suspending all supporter group privileges while they conduct an investigation to root out who is responsible.

“The safety of our fans, employees, and supporters is the highest priority for TFC,” said Toronto FC club president Bill Manning in a statement. “The events which took place in Ottawa last night involving TFC supporters were unacceptable and needlessly put the safety of others at risk.”

Due to the seriousness of this incident, we are left with no choice but to suspend all recognized supporter group privileges indefinitely as we conduct a thorough review TFC’s recognized supporter program. We are cooperating fully with the Ottawa Police Department as they investigate this incident and work to identify those responsible.”

Another video posted from a lower angle shows a player attempting to stamp out a small fire on the field of play when a loud bang comes from the Toronto FC supporter section behind him.

Ottawa Fury released a statement of their own after the match, seemingly downplaying the incident after the flares were smuggled in past security checkpoints.

“Upon seeing smoke and fire, which appeared to be more serious than they were, fans in other parts of the stadium notified Ottawa Police and Ottawa Fire that an incident had occurred and emergency services quickly responded,” the Ottawa Fury statement said. “Upon arrival they confirmed the incident had been resolved and returned to their respective stations.”

“All members of the visiting supporters group had been subjected to bag checks and security scans prior to entering the stadium and no fireworks or other devices were detected. TFC has apologized for the behavior of the members of the supporters group responsible for igniting the fireworks. Ottawa Police have launched an investigation into the incident.”

Canadian media is reporting that the ownership group of the stadium will be fined for allowing the flares to enter the stadium undetected. The match was temporarily halted while the incident was sorted, and the fans were reportedly ejected from the match. The game ended in a 1-0 road victory for Toronto, with the second leg of the semifinal to come.

Scottish club Hearts fields ineligible player in Cup match

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Scottish club Hearts of Midlothian has issued a statement saying they are “embarrassed” after fielding an ineligible player in a League Cup match against 5th-tier semi-pro team Cove Rangers on Wednesday.

18-year-old Hearts youth product Andrew Irving entered in the 65th minute as a substitute for Olly Lee, but was ineligible due to what the club is calling an “administrative error.” Irving, according to the Hearts statement, signed a contract extension back in January but the paperwork was never correctly submitted to the league, hence leaving Irving as unregistered.

“It is with much embarrassment that we have to advise that during last night’s Betfred Cup group stage match away to Cove Rangers, Hearts inadvertently fielded an ineligible player,” Hearts Chief Executive Ann Budge said in a statement on Thursday morning.

“While stringent processes are already in place to try to prevent something of this nature occurring, clearly mistakes can happen.  An additional step in our internal procedures will be implemented immediately to try to ensure this cannot happen again. The club would like to apologize to its supporters, to Cove Rangers Football Club and to the footballing authorities for this inadvertent breach of the rules.”

Since the Scottish League Cup – currently known as the Betfred Cup – has utilized a group stage format the last few years, it is possible that the club will be docked points instead of ejected from the tournament. Previously, clubs such as Brechin, Dunfermline, and East Stirling were all disqualified in the past for similar offenses, according to Mark Donaldson of ESPN. The league will hold a hearing on Monday to determine the appropriate sanctions.

Hearts won the match 2-1 on a 57th minute goal by former Cardiff City, Plymouth, and Rangers striker Steve MacLean.

This is the second incident of this nature of late, as Major League Soccer club LAFC is under investigation for potentially fielding an illegal seven international players in a US Open Cup match against Portland Timbers on Wednesday. As a result, US Soccer postponed the draw for the semifinals until the investigation is complete.

6 clubs fined, risk FIFA transfer bans for debts to players

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ZURICH (AP) Clubs from Russia and Qatar are among six fined by FIFA and warned they risk one-year transfer bans for failing to settle debts to players.

[ MORE: Steffen to England? ]

FIFA says the clubs also face deductions of six league points if they fail to pay the debts in 30 to 90 days.

The clubs are: Kuban of Russia; Al Arabi and Al Kharaitiyat of Qatar; Zamalek of Egypt; Al Jazira of the United Arab Emirates; and Mersin Idman Yurdu of Turkey.

FIFA says all failed to comply with rulings by FIFA or the Court of Arbitration for Sport “to pay significant overdue amounts of money to players.”

They were fined between 15,000 and 30,000 Swiss francs ($15,000 and $30,000).

FIFA says national soccer federations face disciplinary cases if they fail to enforce the verdicts.