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International preview: What is to come over the next week

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With the 2018 World Cup less than three months away, countries are taking these last moments to see players within their selection pool and make tweaks to the squad and tactics.

This week’s international window has already kicked off with the likes of South Africa, Liechtenstein, and Andorra taking the opportunity to see the field, and World Cup countries take the field tomorrow – two, to be exact. And they play each other.

Denmark and Panama meet in a rare friendly between countries set to take part in the summer festivities, with the match taking place in Bronby at 3pm ET. The two countries chose to play knowing they cannot possibly meet in Russia 2018 until at least the quarterfinals, with their respective Groups C and G split apart across the knockout rounds.

The hosts are fantastic from set-pieces and focus their attack around Tottenham star Christian Eriksen. Panama’s midfield rock Gabriel Gomez will likely be tasked with keeping Eriksen quiet, something the Republic of Ireland was unable to do last time Denmark took the field as Eriksen bagged a hat-trick. Defender Andreas Christensen is headed towards the World Cup in fantastic form with Chelsea, having earned a starting spot with the Blues. With some injuries at the back, Christensen has also played out wide along the back line before as well, something to keep watch for.

On Friday, the heavyweights begin to see the field as Uruguay hosts Czech Republic. The South American nation received a friendly draw in World Cup Group A, but brought in a solid European side to match wits with after the Czechs finished third in their qualifying group. Japan also takes to the pitch on Friday, playing Mali on a neutral field in Belgium. The Japanese will need to be at the top of their game come summer, matched into Group H against Colombia, Poland, and Senegal.

England and Argentina have both scheduled games against European sides that disappointed by failing to make the 2018 tournament. On Friday, England travels to Amsterdam to take on a Netherlands squad in turmoil, while Argentina travels to the Etihad to meet Italy.

Russia and Brazil meet in Moscow on Friday, with over 50,000 tickets already reportedly sold for the match at Luzhniki Stadium. The hosts will then get another stiff test as they take on France four days later on Tuesday. If Russia’s squad has lots of work to do before hosting the World Cup, we’ll know in a week.

The main event on Friday will be Germany and Spain meeting in Dusseldorf in a matchup of the last two World Cup winners. Germany will be without Manuel Neuer and Marco Reus, but still fields one of the deepest squads in the entire world. The Germans don’t then get the week off, having to meet Brazil on Tuesday. If Jogi Low’s side comes out of those matches on top, they could cement their status as favorites headed into the summer.

France has a stiff test as well, meeting Colombia on Friday. Like Denmark and Panama, the two countries reside in Groups C and H, meaning they could not rematch in the World Cup until at least the quarterfinals. The French then go to take on Russia next week.

FULL SCHEDULE:

Thursday
Denmark vs. Panama
Slovakia vs. UAE
China vs. Wales
Algeria vs. Tanzania
Malta vs. Luxembourg

Friday
Germany vs. Spain
Italy vs. Argentina
Russia vs. Brazil
Netherlands vs. England
France vs. Colombia
Portugal vs. Egypt
Uruguay vs. Czech Republic
Mexico vs. Ireland
Poland vs. Nigeria
Austria vs. Slovenia
Peru vs. Croatia
Austria vs. Slovenia
Greece vs. Switzerland
Norway vs. Australia
Mali vs. Japan

Saturday
Sweden vs. Chile

Sunday
Kuwait vs. Cameroon
Nicaragua vs. Cuba

Monday
Portugal vs. Netherlands
Bulgaria vs. Kazakhstan

Tuesday
Russia vs. France
Germany vs. Brazil
England vs. Italy
Spain vs. Argentina
United States vs. Paraguay
Tunisia vs. Costa Rica
Colombia vs. Australia
Belgium vs. Saudi Arabia
Egypt vs. Greece
Denmark vs. Chile
Japan vs. Ukraine

PL Sunday preview: Man City get on without KDB; Brighton-Man Utd

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Manchester City’s Premier League title defense continues on Sunday, while last season’s second-place finishers and the grumpy, forgotten neighbors, Manchester United, are also in action amid the constant rumors over the future of Jose Mourinho.

[ MORE: Chelsea top Arsenal in thriller | Three things we learned ]

Man City vs. Huddersfield Town — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

City’s title defense began in fantastic fashion last week — a 2-0 victory away to Arsenal setting the tone as Pep Guardiola‘s side follows up its historically dominant season with more of the same — but it wasn’t without consequence, as Kevin De Bruyne suffered a knee injury that’ll keep him sidelined for as long as three months. The Belgian playmaker was instrumental during City’s romp to the title last season — arguably their best and/or most important player — which will up the degree of difficulty between now and November, but only slightly. The likes of David Silva and/or Bernardo Silva will be leaned upon more heavily to create chances from central areas — the former will be available on Sunday after missing the season opener following the birth of his prematurely born son — which should be more than enough to bridge the gap for as long as De Bruyne is away.

As for Huddersfield, only the Terriers and Arsenal can empathize with one another over identically brutal starts to the season: each will have faced City and Chelsea in their opening two fixtures, and will likely have a combined zero points to show for their efforts (Arsenal lost, 3-2, away to the Blues on Saturday; Huddersfield received a 3-0 hiding at home a week ago). The gulf in class between the two sides is far from lost on Huddersfield boss David Wagner, though he stubbornly backs his players against anyone.

“Everyone can see that we went for young, talented players under the age of 24 or free transfers where we didn’t have to pay a fee for them,” he said this week. “We have tried to strengthen our offensive line with speed and you can see from their ages that we have signed a lot of potential talent. … We have players who have shown their quality, not necessarily in the Premier League, but in good divisions such as France. We want to give them the platform to show what they are capable of here with us.”

INJURIES: Man City — OUT: Kevin De Bruyne (knee), Danilo (ankle) | Huddersfield — OUT: Mathias Jorgensen (knock), Danny Williams (ankle), Jonathan Hogg (hip)

Burnley vs. Watford — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Burnley finished last season in a place which Watford aspired to reach following a blistering start to the 2015-16 campaign — their first back in the PL — before falling back to the pack and finishing 13th, 17th and 14th. 2018-19 started brightly for the Hornets, as they topped Brighton & Hove Albion — without allowing a single shot on target — on the opening day of the season. The Clarets, meanwhile, are enjoying their first taste of European competition (they advanced a round further in Europa League qualification on Thursday), but it will undoubtedly leave Sean Dyche‘s men with heavy legs by the time the second half rolls around at Turf Moor on Sunday.

INJURIES: Burnley — OUT: Matej Vydra (fitness), Nick Pope (shoulder), Robbie Brady (hamstring), Steven Defour (calf) | Watford — OUT: Gerard Deulofeu (knock), Stefano Okaka (thigh), Tom Cleverley (achilles), Younes Kaboul (foot)

Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Man United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

There’s no club filled with more drama this season — yes, already — than Man United, with the vast majority of thanks going to the man in charge, Mourinho. After spending the final days of the summer transfer window complaining about a lack of signings, Mourinho’s men went out and beat Leicester City on the opening day of the season, but then Paul Pogba, who starred in the win just hours earlier, made some eyebrow-raising comments which seemed to be aimed at his manager. Mourinho has since denied a rift exists between the two of them, but it’s an all too familiar story involving Mourinho and his star players, nonetheless. The Red Devils will likely be shorthanded once again, as a number of players work their way back from injuries and star forward Romelu Lukaku (reportedly) starts a second straight game on the bench.

Brighton, on the other hand, are devoid of drama, but also devoid of points following the season’s opening game. Still searching for their first shot on goal, it’s the other end of the field where the Seagulls will be without their star man and captain, Bruno, who will miss a second straight game due to a hamstring injury.

“Bruno is a very important player, and when he’s not playing, that’s not good for us,” fellow defender Bernardo said this week. “We need to improve, because if we play like that in our next matches, it won’t be an easy season. I have the impression that we didn’t give our best performance, but I’m sure we have the quality and mentality to correct things and have a good season. … With time and more games together, we will get better chemistry and play better matches.”

INJURIES: Brighton — OUT: Bruno Saltor (hamstring), Jason Steele (thigh) | Man United — OUT: Diogo Dalot (knee), Marcos Rojo (undisclosed), Sergio Romero (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Jesse Lingard (fitness), Phil Jones (fitness)

Chelsea, Arsenal offer both hope and despair

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LONDON — Encounters like this are why we love this game. Joy. Agony. Hope. Despair. This had all of that wrapped into a neat 90-minute bundle in west London.

There was so much for both Chelsea and Arsenal to be happy about after their five-goal thriller in a London derby on Saturday.

There were also plenty of red flags for both Maurizio Sarri and Unai Emery in their embryonic careers as Premier League managers.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

New eras have been ushered in at both clubs, with new playing styles and ideals for their players to both embrace and perfect. That produced Jekyll and Hyde moments from both teams at Stamford Bridge in a game which thrilled the neutral but had both sets of fans ecstatic one moment, then despairing the next.

Sarri’s side were the 3-2 winners and they have two wins from two to start the season and they are top of the league. But Sarri wasn’t in a celebratory mood after the game.

“I think we have done very well for 75 minutes. 15 minutes before half time was horrible,” Sarris said. “We lost distances. We were not able to recover the lost ball immediately. We were not able press in the other half as a team. Only one player or two players at the others too far. I think the players were very good in the second half. It was not easy to answer the final part of the first half from a mental point of view.”

The Italian boss wasn’t happy with the defensive display of his team, with his hallmark of pressing high up the pitch not working as well as they coughed up a 2-0 lead in the first half and could have conceded four goals. Arsenal’s direct play out way picked Chelsea’s defense apart and that will be concerning for the former Napoli boss.

After the game Sarri was asked if Chelsea are Premier League title contenders this season.

“No, not in this moment. We did very well in the last 25 minutes today. But we have to work and improve in the defensive phase. I am not talking about only the defenders. The defensive phase of all the team, all the players,” Sarri said. “If we press very high we are able to do well but in other moments when we are not able to press in the other half we are in trouble. We have to work and we need to improve.”

“We did a lot in 75 minutes but we need to continue to press, press and press the other half. Otherwise we are in trouble in the defensive phase. We need to improve and I hope we will be able to play 90 minutes like the first 25. We must.”

As for Arsenal, their boss was happy enough with their attacking play but he is also concerned with the defensive balance as they were twice opened up by long balls over the top in the first half as center backs Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis were woefully exposed.

“We spoke before the match about the need to improve. To be competitive. To learn in the match. I think today it was a very good reaction after 2-0,” Emery said. “In the first half we created more chances in the first half to score. We created more chances to score. The second half, we conceded to Chelsea more moments to score the third goal. For that we needed the balance and our result is like that. Our process is continuing, to improve things and to do more with the balance with the attacking and defensive moments. Today we finished the match with 22 years old Lucas and 19 years old Mateo. The process is clear for us. We have a big responsibility to win the match.” 

Arsenal’s manager saw his side squander several glorious chances in the first half as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was guilty of two huge misses and Henrikh Mkhitaryan had another, but they did cause Chelsea plenty of problems with their more direct style.

But old problems, especially defensive ones, remain the greatest problem for the Gunners.

“I have calm when I see my team creating chances. I want to do the balance with the attacking and defensive moments. I think we conceded a lot today for Chelsea,” Emery said. “In the second half we need to keep and hold the control in the match with the ball, with the positioning. In the second half we lost a little the positioning on the pitch and we were a little deep.”

Overall, Emery is pleased with the progress being made and is unperturbed by two defeats from two (albeit it against Man City and Chelsea) to begin his Premier League reign.

“I’m calm. I think we need to give the players calm and keep on working. I know we need to improve things. I know we need to push the players to work,” Emery said. “For me, there are many positive things in the first match against Manchester City. It is clear we are difference to them. Today the team competed well. Had chances in the match. For the young player it is a process, they are playing each match, growing up with us and the quality I am demanding.”

The new process for Chelsea and Arsenal will bring plenty of joy, and heartache, this season.

Hazard talks life as a sub after winning Chelsea assist

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Eden Hazard came off the Chelsea bench for the second-straight week under new manager Maurizio Sarri, though he’d rather not.

That’s likely a function with the possibility that the Belgian could yet leave Stamford Bridge before the end of the European transfer window, but doesn’t make it any easier for one of the world’s best attackers to start matches out of the Starting XI.

[ MORE: Recap | JPW’s 3 things from Stamford Bridge ]

“It is better to be on the pitch than watching on the bench,” he said. “But the boys when they are playing they did well so I am just happy for the win.”

Hazard found a marking mismatch on the left of the 18, expectedly shaking Alexandre Lacazette and driving toward the end line before cutting back for Marcos Alonso, who scored another memorable late goal for the Blues.

Whether Hazard stays in England or not, he’s enjoyed the Maurizio Sarri experience apart from coming off the subs’ bench. From the BBC:

“He is the kind of manager who wants the ball, to control the ball. I can’t say a wrong thing about that. I want to play and have the ball at my feet. We have players who can do something magic. He is a great manager, like we had before.”

Hazard admitted he might like to leave Chelsea in mid-July, though Sarri was said to be anxious to keep both he and Belgian teammate Thibaut Courtois.

The latter didn’t come to fruition, with Sarri selling Courtois and buying Kepa Arrizabalaga, but there’s still time for Hazard to become a star for Sarri. Will it happen?

Alonso gets Chelsea past Arsenal in thriller

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  • Pedro, Morata put hosts up 2-0
  • Mkhitaryan, Iwobi level by half
  • Winner comes from Alson

Marcos Alonso buried Eden Hazard‘s 81st minute pass to lead Chelsea past Arsenal 3-2 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Alvaro Morata and Pedro helped the Blues build a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes, but Unai Emery’s Gunners recovered to make it 2-2 at halftime.

Arsenal next hosts West Ham United, while Chelsea is off to Newcastle United.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]

The hosts were up thanks to a left-sided barnstorming, with Willian starting the play with a with a lay-off inside his own half. The next move saw Marcos Alonso racing toward the edge of the 18 to pass across for Pedro to finish with calm.

Ross Barkley came close to doubling the advantage in the 13th minute.

It should’ve been level when Matteo Guendouzi fired Hector Bellerin through the right of the Chelsea back line, but the offside and uncalled Spaniard’s pull back was aired over the goal by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Moments later, it was 2-0 Chelsea through Morata. The Spanish striker ran from midfield and held off a Shkrodan Mustafi challenge before cutting to fire past Cech.

Arsenal blew a second well-worked chance over the frame, this time with Henrikh Mkhitaryan sending a point-blank offering into the stands. Woof.

Mkhitaryan redeemed himself with a powerful shot from outside the box. The Armenian captain was in good position after Alex Iwobi found him with Nacho Monreal‘s inspired interception.

That was not the end of the first half scoring.

It was close to a mirror image of an earlier missed chance by Aubameyang, as Iwobi ran into the 18 to belt  a shot home for 2-2.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

The chances did not dry up as the second half began in London, and a N'Golo Kante shot was blocked to the cries of handball from Chelsea’s players.

Jorginho‘s deflected 64th minute rip was collected by Cech after Chelsea introduced Eden Hazard off the bench.

Momentum swung Arsenal’s way as the match reached is final quarter-hour, as Kepa Arrizabalaga made a save and took a beating in the 77th minute.

Kante popped a header over the goal in the 79th minute after running in front of Sokratis.

Scoring defender extraordinaire Alonso put Chelsea back on top in the 81st, slapping Eden Hazard’s hopeful pullback beyond Cech.