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Top Storylines for Premier League Week 23

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With the Premier League back following a week of FA Cup action, let’s take a look at the top storylines heading into this weekend…

Can Liverpool end Man City’s unbeaten run

Manchester City faces another stiff test to its unbeaten run – and perhaps its title aspirations – with a trip to Liverpool to end the Premier League’s Sunday slate.

Sunday (Watch live, 11:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) also marks the start of the post-Philippe Coutinho era, as the Brazilian was finally given his dream transfer to Barcelona last week. It’s a key moment for Liverpool, a team fighting for another top four position as well as this year’s UEFA Champions League knockout stage only to lose one of its top attackers. How will Jurgen Klopp‘s team respond. On the other side, Man City has rebounded well from its scoreless draw with Crystal Palace, with three straight wins as it looks to wrap up the Premier League title by March.

[MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 23]

Arsenal’s transfer saga continues

Arsenal is expected to sell Alexis Sanchez any day now, but there’s nothing yet pointing to the Chilean forward not being part of the first-team squad in the meantime. The Gunners hit the road to face Bournemouth and Eddie Howe, a man who has been touted as an eventual successor to Arsene Wenger, on Sunday (Watch live, 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). The Gunners are winless in their last three, including a rough scoreless draw at Chelsea in the League Cup on Wednesday, and will be without Jack Wilshere for at least a game or two. And possibly Alexis Sanchez? Who knows.

Howe will be reminding his men of the repeat fixture last year: where Bournemouth ran riot and took a commanding 3-0 lead, only for Olivier Giroud to lead Arsenal’s comeback to earn a point with a 3-3 draw. Howe will be expecting a win this time around.

Mahrez vs. Hazard at Stamford Bridge

Chelsea and Leicester City have an interesting relationship. Chelsea’s wild 2-2 draw with Tottenham secured Leicester City’s improbable and incredible Premier League title, and with Leicester City’s midfield dynamo N'Golo Kante, the Blues won the title last year.

But perhaps the focus will be on another sought-after player who just passed his four-year mark in Leicester – Riyad Mahrez. With Coutinho – who basically plays a similar position to Mahrez – making a big-money move to Barcelona, the French-born Algerian international may want to show potential suitors that he can provide plenty to a future club, or perhaps he’ll turn these performances into a new contract. It will be fun to see Mahrez go up against former teammates Kante and Danny Drinkwater, as well as Premier League star Eden Hazard (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Spurs look to break into Top 4

Despite all its talent, Tottenham is currently sitting on the outside of the top four and looking in. But perhaps not for long.

If Spurs can get past a more defensively-sound Everton side on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 .m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com) and Liverpool lose to Manchester City, depending on goal differential, Tottenham can jump past Liverpool into the top four, keeping its Champions League hopes alive for next season. It will be a tactical battle on Saturday, with Mauricio Pochettino‘s side looking to break down Sam Allardyce‘s Everton, which is playing somewhat better since he’s taken charge. With Yannick Bolasie back for Everton as well, it will inject more pace into the squad that has been lacking it.

Can Burnley break out of slump

Burnley has had a fantastic first half of the Premier League season. But can the club sustain it for the second half?

It’s now been five-straight games in the Premier League that Burnley has failed to win – six in total – and the team has lost all of the momentum it built up when it momentarily sat in the top four. Now down to seventh, Sean Dyche‘s side looks to arrest its slide with a trip to Roy Hodgson‘s Crystal Palace (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold). Palace are fighting tooth and nail to escape relegation and it will be a difficult road test for Burnley. It’s a time for the likes of Robbie Brady, Stevan Defour and others to step up, while Wilfried Zaha will look to use his past to dangerous effect at home.

Champions League score predictions: Round of 16

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The 2019-20 UEFA Champions League is finally back as the Round of 16 kicks off this week and two of the four Premier League clubs are in action.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, the two finalists from last season, are first up and both will be happy enough with their draws in the last 16.

That said, Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool know that Diego Simeone’s Atleti are a very dangerous team to play as they will scrap and battle for every ball against the reigning European champions. As for Spurs and Jose Mourinho, the news that Heung-min Son has broken his arm and could be out for the rest of the season is a huge blow but they host an inconsistent RB Leipzig.

Borussia Dortmund host Paris Saint-Germain and Atalanta host Valencia in the other last 16 ties this week and both should be cracking encounters between two very evenly-matched teams.

[ MORE: Which Premier League team(s) will reach last eight? ]

Next week the other four last 16 first legs take place as Man City and Chelsea are in action against Real Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively. Out of the four Premier League teams still in the competition, Liverpool and Spurs will be the most confident of advancing.

Below we predict the scores for the UCL round of 16 games taking place over the next two days. Feel free to make your own predictions in the comments section below, too.


Tuesday
Atletico Madrid 1-2 Liverpool
Borussia Dortmund 3-2 PSG

Wednesday
Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 RB Leipzig
Atalanta 2-1 Valencia

Lampard issues Chelsea injury update; Pulisic remains out

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Chelsea boss Frank Lampard issued a lengthy injury update after their 2-0 defeat against Man United and USMNT fans will not be happy to hear that Christian Pulisic remains out.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Ahead of Chelsea’s pivotal top four clash at home against bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), Lampard could be without as many as five key players.

Andreas Christensen broke his nose and came off at half time against United, while N’Golo Kante was subbed off early after yet another leg injury for the French superstar.

“Callum, no. Pulisic, no. N’Golo, no, from that today. Tammy is a maybe. It is not going our way with injuries at the moment but the players who come in they have to show that. That is what the squad is there for. It is frustrating,” Lampard told Chelsea TV when asked about availability for Saturday.

Lampard then gave an extra update on Kante, who walked through the mixed zone after the game looking okay and told the French journalists who were assembled that it wasn’t too bad.

“It is an adductor injury,” Lampard confirmed. “We will have to assess it and scan it. It doesn’t look great. It is on the same leg [as he injured before].”

With four wins in their last 14 Premier League games Chelsea are not in good form and are just one point ahead of fifth-place Tottenham ahead of their game this weekend.

They also have a nasty habit of dominating matches but are failing to put multiple chances away and with these injuries piling up it certainly makes Chelsea’s decision to not spend in the January window to strengthen their squad, especially in terms of strikers, very surprising.

With Bayern Munich coming up in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League last 16 tie next week, Lampard will hope Chelsea’s luck turns and plenty of players return from injury.

FC Cincinnati coach Jans resigns amid investigation over remarks

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CINCINNATI — FC Cincinnati coach Ron Jans resigned amid an investigation by Major League Soccer of his use of a racial slur in the locker room.

Jans resigned late Monday, FC Cincinnati President Jeff Berding said: “The club had suspended Jans pending the investigation, which was prompted by a complaint from the MLS Players Association.

“As Major League Soccer’s investigation unfolded and some themes emerged, Ron offered his resignation and we agreed that it was the best course of action for everyone involved with FC Cincinnati,” Berding said.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The club designated Yoann Damet as interim head coach while the team conducts a search. Cincinnati is training in Florida for its second season in MLS.

Cincinnati has been through two head coaches during its brief stay in the league. It fired Alan Koch after its 11th first-tier match, which left the expansion club with two wins, seven losses and two draws.

Damet also was the interim head coach while the team conducted a search that resulted in Jans’ hiring last August.

Cincinnati finished with the worst record in MLS in its inaugural season, with six wins, six draws and 22 losses. It scored a league-low 31 goals in 34 matches.

Cincinnati gained entry into MLS after a successful debut under Koch, who led the team to the semifinals of the United Soccer League’s playoffs in both 2017 and 2018.

German fans turn on fellow supporter for racist abuse

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BERLIN — The fans of German soccer club Preußen Münster showed how racist abuse can be handled, shouting “Nazis out! Nazis out!” after one of their own fans targeted a visiting player with monkey chants.

The perpetrator was a 29-year-old man who was forced out of the stadium. And the player, Würzburger Kickers defender Leroy Kwadwo, thanked the opposing fans their “exemplary” reaction.

“I was racially abused by one single spectator. It just makes me sad,” Kwadwo wrote on Saturday, a day after the match. “I indeed have a different skin color, but I was born here in this wonderful land that has given my family and I so much and made so much possible. I am one of you. I live here and can live my calling as a professional with the Würzburger Kickers.

“Something like yesterday just makes me sad and angry because everyone has to know, racism does not belong in OUR world. We all have the opportunity to oppose it and stop it if it happens.”

The incident occurred during a third-division match in Münster.

On Monday, Münster said it would seek to ban the suspect from all German stadiums for three years, the toughest possible sanction permitted under current regulations.

“The least we an do is ensure that this person is no longer allowed in our stadium,” Münster president Christoph Strässer said. “We will not tolerate racism or any form of discrimination. The issue of integration is naturally important to us as a sports club, and Article 1 of the constitution applies primarily, namely: Human dignity is sacrosanct. That goes for everyone in this country.”

The perpetrator also faces legal consequences. Local police said the man would be charged with incitement, which can lead to financial penalties and a jail term of three months to five years if convicted.

Referee Katrin Rafalski stopped the 0-0 draw in the 88th minute after being informed of the racist abuse by Kwadwo. It was followed by a stadium announcement against the abuse and the “Nazis out!” chants from the fans.

The German soccer federation praised the fans’ reaction on Twitter on Saturday.

“So sad and shameful as the racist incident against Leroy Kwadwo was, so exemplary was the immediate reaction to it,” the federation said. “The third division stands together and says, no to racism and discrimination!”

The incident occurred only days after Bundesliga club Schalke was fined 50,000 euros ($54,600) after some of its fans subjected Hertha Berlin player Jordan Torunarigha to racist abuse during a German Cup game on Feb. 4.

Torunarigha, the son of former Nigerian player Ojokojo Torunarigha, was targeted with monkey chants and was eventually sent off in extra time when he picked up a second yellow card after appearing increasingly upset as the game went on. The 22-year-old German defender was consoled by Schalke’s Amine Harit.

Numerous other racist incidents have tarnished European soccer this season.

On Sunday in Portugal, Porto striker Moussa Marega was visibly angered by monkey noises targeting him after he scored his team’s second goal in a 2-1 win at Guimarães. Several Porto and opposition players attempted to dissuade him from walking off the field in the 71st minute, when he demanded to be substituted.