PL Sunday preview: Man City go for 11 straight

Leave a comment

Manchester City’s bid to run away with the Premier League title continues on Sunday with a visit to one of the feel-good stories of the still-young season. Elsewhere, Burnley host Arsenal in a battle for the top-four (yes, really), and a pair of severe underachievers do battle at St. Mary’s Stadium.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool drop points; Manchester rejoices ]

Southampton vs. Everton — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

It’s still early in the 2017-18 PL season, but no side has displayed levels of disarray capable of rivaling that of (permanent) manager-less Everton — at least, not yet. After firing Ronald Koeman on Oct. 23, David Unsworth was put in charge on an interim basis. Burnley’s Sean Dyche was coveted and unsuccessfully hired, as was Watford’s Marco Silva. Here the Toffees sit, a month later, 16th in the league table and just 12 points to their name from 12 games, with owner Farhad Moshiri publicly claiming a new appointment is imminent, and Unsworth completely in the dark.

“Look, what will be will be,” he said this week. “I’m a proud man, I’ve stood proud for the past five weeks and I will continue to do that until someone tells me otherwise. I was only made aware of this development as I came off the training pitch, and if it is the case that we are close to getting a manger, I am delighted. I just want what’s best for the club. They asked me to stand in and I was pleased to do it. There were never any guarantees.”

Sunday’s opponent, Southampton, meanwhile, have come under plenty criticism of their own these first three-plus months of the season. Same as under Claude Puel last year, Saints have struggled to create chances and score goals under new manager Mauricio Pellegrino — to the tune of nine goals in 12 games, a -5 goal differential and 14th place in the league table. A win on Sunday could vault them as high as ninth. Pellegrino insists his employment is safe.

INJURIES: Southampton — OUT: Mario Lemina (ankle) | Everton — OUT: Oumar Niasse (suspension), James McCarthy (hamstring), Ross Barkley (hamstring), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), Yannick Bolasie (knee), Maarten Stekelenburg (groin); RETURNING: Morgan Schneiderlin (toe)


Burnley vs. Arsenal — 9 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

For the first time in what feels like decades, the football club known as Arsenal has an almost entirely clean bill of health — only Santi Cazorla (out since October 2016) and an ill Theo Walcott, who already lives on the periphery of the squad anyway are unavailable for Sunday’s trip to Turf Moor.

On top of their newfound fitness, are also in the midst of a particularly purple patch of results in recent weeks — last weekend’s victory over Tottenham Hotspur erased memories of the defeat away to league-leading Manchester City. In total, the Gunners (22 points) have won six of their last nine games in the PL and would leapfrog both Liverpool and Tottenham to go fourth with a win on Sunday.

The Clarets, meanwhile, are the surprise team of the season thus far. Level on points with Arsenal, Dyche’s side could also finish the weekend by occupying a top-four place. With three straight wins and just two defeats all season, it’s no wonder Burnley have been approached time and again by “bigger” clubs in an effort to lure Dyche away from Turf Moor. Dyche is pleased with Burnley’s place in the PL pecking order, but his focus remains solely on reaching the 40-point mark, at which point everything else will be a cherry on top.

“The league table is to be enjoyed and I’ll probably do that for an hour before I start thinking about the next one,” he said after last week’s win over Swansea City. “We know it’s a big challenge going forward, and 40 points is the marker, so we look to the next challenge that comes our way and that’s Arsenal.”

INJURIES: Burnley — OUT: Tom Heaton (shoulder), Jonathan Walters (knee), Dean Marney (fitness) | Arsenal — OUT: Theo Walcott (illness), Santi Cazorla (achilles)


Huddersfield Town vs. Man City — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

96 days have elapsed since Man City last dropped a point, in any competition. Since their 1-1 draw with Everton way back on Aug. 21 — game no. 2 of the 2017-18 season — Pep Guardiola‘s side has won 10 straight in the PL, as well as five straight in the UEFA Champions League, and another two in the League Cup — altogether, 17 straight victories for the runaway PL leaders.

Sunday’s trip to take on newly promoted Huddersfield affords the Sky Blues to make it 11 in a row in the PL, and re-establish their eight-point lead in the title race after Manchester United closed the gap to just five with a victory over Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday. It’s not just the results which have been so dominant for Man City, but the scorelines by which they’ve been achieved: 37-6 combined score during the 10-game winning streak; six clean sheets during the run; and, they have trailed for all of eight of a possible 900 minutes.

As for Huddersfield, this first season in the PL has been a stomach-churning roller-coaster ride for David Wagner‘s side. After winning their opening two games of the season, the Terriers went winless in their next six (three draws), followed by alternating wins and losses each of the last four weeks, including the shocking slaying of Man United, destruction at the hands of Liverpool and even worse from Bournemouth. For all the peaks and valleys, they’ll gladly accept their 10th-place standing a dozen games into the campaign, while remaining cognizant of the fact there’s still a million miles to travel in their bid to stave off relegation.

INJURIES: Huddersfield — OUT: Michael Hefele (achilles), Philip Billing (ankle), Kasey Palmer (fitness), Jon Gorenc-Stankovic (knee) | Man City — OUT: John Stones (hamstring), Benjamin Mendy (knee)

MLS roundup: Timbers end road trip with emphatic win in Philly

AP Photo/Matt Rourke
Leave a comment

A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in MLS…

[ MORE: USA topped by Ukraine in U-20 World Cup opener ]

Philadelphia Union 1-3 Portland Timbers [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Just when everyone had begun to take the Union seriously — to give them the respect befitting a first-place team — Jim Curtin’s side fell flat on its face and fell out of the Eastern Conference’s top spot. Saturday’s defeat to the suddenly streaking — and homeward bound — Timbers snapped Philadelphia’s six-game unbeaten run (four wins).

24-year-old attacker Brian Fernandez, signed as a Designated Player earlier this month, made his first MLS start and marked the occasion with two first-half goals (31st and 36th minutes). Diego Valeri added the third (87th) after Kacper Przybylko pulled the Union back to 2-1 in the 47th.

Now, with 14 points from their 12-game road trip to start the season, Portland heads home for 17 of their final 22 games to be played inside a newly renovated — and expanded — Providence Park. The gap between themselves and a Western Conference playoff place is just four points.

New England Revolution 1-1 D.C. United [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

With the Union slipping up and dropping all three points, D.C. United made the most of their opportunity to return to the top of the East on the back of Wayne Rooney‘s 90th-minute penalty kick to snatch a 1-1 draw with (what will soon be) Bruce Arena’s Revolution.

Juan Agudelo put the home side ahead with a header in the 61st minute, and the lead held firm for nearly the final half-hour. Alas, video review reviewed a handball late in the game, which presented Rooney the chance to play the part of hero. He duly obliged and hammered his spot kick past backup goalkeeper Brad Knighton, who replaced Matt Turner following his 56th minute red card for cleaning out Rooney.

Arena is expected to take charge of Revs training this week and make his debut as head coach next Sunday, when his new side visits… his old side, the LA Galaxy.

Colorado Rapids 3-2 Columbus Crew SC [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Don’t look now, but the Rapids have won two straight games under interim head coach Conor Casey and appear set on clawing their way out of the league’s basement.

Sure, they blew a pair of leads at home, but they also hit back with another goal of their own every time Crew SC drew level, culminating in a stunning winner from Nicolas Mezquida.

The gap between Colorado and 23th place is now just three points, as expansion side FC Cincinnati come closer and closer on the horizon.

Elsewhere in MLS

Chicago Fire 1-1 New York City FC [ HIGHLIGHTS ]
Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 FC Dallas [ HIGHLIGHTS ]
FC Cincinnati 0-2 New York Red Bulls [ HIGHLIGHTS ]
Minnesota United 1-0 Houston Dynamo [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Sunday’s MLS schedule

Sporting Kansas City v. Seattle Sounders — 6 p.m. ET
Toronto FC v. San Jose Earthquakes — 7:30 p.m. ET

Will winning the double be enough to keep Kovac at Bayern?

AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
Leave a comment

BERLIN (AP) Niko Kovac is the first to win a domestic double in Germany as a player and coach, yet it may not be enough to keep his job as Bayern Munich coach.

[ MORE: Valencia end Barcelona’s four-year hold on Copa del Rey ]

Kovac, whose side defeated Leipzig 3-0 in the German Cup final on Saturday, a week after clinching the Bundesliga title, is yet to be given assurances in public from the club that he will remain in charge, despite bringing a successful end to what had been a testing season.

The pressure and uncertainty appeared to cast a shadow on what was Kovac’s second successive German Cup win — he was Eintracht Frankfurt coach when the side defeated Bayern in the final last year.

“Last year I was leaving the team. This year everything is a little less emotional, no tears, but still, I’m happy,” Kovac said.

“Sometimes I would really wish that things went a little differently. It’s difficult to turn the wheel back. We should all work on it, we’re all human. We should make sure that we get along with each other.”

[ U-20 WORLD CUP: Ezequiel Barco’s golazo paces Argentina to big win ]

Kovac, who won the double as a player in 2003, acknowledged the cup win on Saturday was “very important” as “it shows that we have worked well.”

Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was again coy when pressed on the coach’s future.

“At the end of the day, we have to get titles. Of course the coach plays a central role,” Rummenigge said. “It was never an issue for us with the term that he has until 2021, that he would simply not be there anymore as coach beforehand.”

John Terry is a finalist for the vacant Middlesbrough job

Photo by George Wood/Getty Images
Leave a comment

In a matter of just a few days’ time, John Terry could be named the new manager of side Middlesbrough.

[ MORE: Valencia end Barcelona’s four-year hold on Copa del Rey ]

According to a report from the Guardian, Terry is being considered as one of three finalists, alongside former Fulham boss Slavisa Jokanovic and former Boro defender (and current first-team coach) Jonathan Woodgate, for the EFL Championship side’s vacant job.

Terry has reportedly spoken to the Boro hierarchy in recent days, and chairman Steve Gibson is expected to make a final decision over who will replace Tony Pulis following the weekend. Boro spent the entirety of the 2018-19 season jostling for a place in the promotion playoffs, but finished seventh and missed out by a single point.

After announcing his retirement from playing in October, Terry was named assistant coach on Dean Smith’s staff at Aston Villa, where he has remained throughout the season and will do so through Monday’s promotion playoff final against Derby County.

[ U-20 WORLD CUP: Ezequiel Barco’s golazo paces Argentina to big win ]

Jokanovic led Fulham to promotion last season before he was fired in November as the Cottagers appeared headed for an immediate relegation back down to the Championship, which ultimately came to pass.

Woodgate came through the Boro academy and played for the club on two occasions, 2006-2007 and again from 2012-2016. He was named a member of Steve Agnew‘s coaching staff in March 2017, less than a year after ending his playing days.

German Cup: Bayern Munich complete double by beating Leipzig

AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
Leave a comment

BERLIN (AP) Captain Manuel Neuer returned from six weeks out injured to help Bayern Munich complete a domestic double after beating Leipzig 3-0 in the German Cup final on Saturday.

[ MORE: Valencia end Barcelona’s four-year hold on Copa del Rey ]

Robert Lewandowski scored twice and Kingsley Coman grabbed the other as Bayern claimed a record-extending 19th cup win to make up for the disappointment of losing last year’s final to Eintracht Frankfurt.

Bayern coach Niko Kovac, who was in charge of Frankfurt at the time, boosted his chances of keeping his job in Munich after bringing a successful end to what had been a testing season.

Neuer, who missed Bayern’s Bundesliga triumph the week before due to a calf injury, produced two stunning saves in either half when a goal for Leipzig might have been decisive.

Neuer somehow denied Yussuf Poulsen’s header from close range in the 11th minute, when the ball crashed back off the crossbar, and got the better of Emil Forsberg in a one-on-one after the break, when the Swedish midfielder should have equalized.

“You couldn’t write a better script,” Neuer said.

Lewandowski opened the scoring with a header in the 29th, Coman doubled the lead in the 78th after Forsberg’s miss, and Lewandowski wrapped it up with a chip over the goalkeeper in the 85th.

[ U-20 WORLD CUP: Ezequiel Barco’s golazo paces Argentina to big win ]

Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery went on late to make their last appearances for Bayern after 10 and 12 seasons respectively. Ribery became the only player to play in eight German Cup finals.

“They delivered a lot for the team and the club,” Lewandowski said. “We have to be grateful.”

Leipzig was appearing in its first, and had been hoping to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its founding date with a win. Thousands of fans made the relatively short journey from Saxony to cheer their side, though they found themselves outnumbered by Bayern fans at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, which hosts German soccer’s showpiece every year.

“It’s a huge disappointment,” Leipzig chairman Oliver Mintzlaff said. “When you come here, you want to win.”

The supporters had been warming up for hours before the encounter, downing beers and singing songs at various locations in the city before making their way to the game. Fans who arrived on chartered buses lit barbeques and shared crates of beer by the side of the road.

Leipzig coach Ralf Rangnick, the sporting director who took charge of the team on an interim basis before Julian Nagelsmann arrives from Hoffenheim, started with his strongest team, with American Tyler Adams lining up beside Kevin Kampl in midfield.

Leipzig looked sharper, fresher and quicker at the start, but one lapse was all Lewandowski needed to open the scoring. David Alaba whipped the ball in toward the penalty spot, where Lewandowski had too much space to head inside the left post.

Coman displayed a fantastic first touch to control the ball past the helpless Peter Gulacsi for Bayern’s second, and Lewandowski ensured the result was emphatic when he claimed his competition-leading seventh goal. Lewandowski was booked for removing his shirt in the celebrations, but he accepted the yellow card with a smile.

“We worked hard for the whole season. In the end you could say it was a good season for us,” the Polish striker said.