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PL Sunday preview: Chelsea, Spurs battle at the Bridge

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Sunday could provide a massive amount of clarity in the top-four race, or it could cloud things even further as we approach the final half-dozen games of the 2017-18 Premier League season…

[ PL ROUNDUP: Man City 1 win closer to title; Liverpool storm back ]

Arsenal vs. Stoke City — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

For a second straight season, Arsenal find themselves focusing solely on the Europa League as their only realistic route into the Champions League. With that — and a quarterfinals clash with Russian side CSKA Moscow set to begin at the Emirates Stadium this Thursday — in mind, don’t be surprised if Arsene Wenger picks a reserves- and youth-heavy squad when Stoke visit on Sunday. Injuries to a handful of first-team regulars will also weigh heavily as Wenger considers his team choices for Thursday.

While the 2017-18 season has strayed far from the plan for Arsenal, it’s been far worse for Stoke, who find themselves next-to-bottom of the league with seven games to go. 17th-place Crystal Palace sit three points clear of the Potters, just outside the relegation zone. Mark Hughes‘ men have just one win since the calendar turned over to 2018 (four draws, five losses) and haven’t won back-to-back games all season.

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Santi Cazorla (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Sead Kolasinac (knee), Aaron Ramsey (groin), Jack Wilshere (knee), Alexandre Lacazette (knee) | Stoke — OUT: Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting (groin), Lee Grant (wrist)

[ MORE: King of LA (already) — Zlatan is the hero on LA, MLS debut ]

Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

It’s a combustible situation anytime Chelsea and Tottenham take the same field, and Sunday’s encounter at Stamford Bridge will be no different, with the two London sides separated by only five points in the league table. Spurs currently sit fourth, with the Blues on the outside looking in at the top-four. Victory for Spurs would all but seal Champions League qualification, even with a visit from champions-elect Manchester City left on the schedule.

For Chelsea’s part, defender Marcos Alonso doesn’t see failing to finish in the top-four as much as an inevitable response to winning the title last season.

“In England, after winning the Premier League, it is normal to have a difficult year, especially with the level that Manchester City are maintaining throughout the season,” he said this week. “Now we have an important end of the year, to qualify for the Champions League and fight for the FA Cup. We’re looking forward to it.”

Spurs last win at Stamford Bridge came in 2008 in the League Cup, while their last win league win in west London was more than 28 years ago, Feb. 10, 1990. In order to snap that streak of nearly three decades, Mauricio Pochettino‘s side will have to navigate 90 more minutes without star striker Harry Kane, who’s still a week or two away from returning to action after suffering a ankle ligament injury on March 11. On a positive note, Spurs are unbeaten in 12 league games (nine wins), dating back to Dec. 16 against Man City.

INJURIES: Chelsea — OUT: Ross Barkley (hamstring), David Luiz (ankle); QUESTIONABLE: Andreas Christensen (fitness); RETURNING: Thibaut Courtois (hamstring) | Spurs — OUT: Harry Kane (ankle)

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.

Premier League friendlies: Liverpool meets BVB; Everton in Portugal

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The Premier League is three weeks and one day from opening its 2018-19 slate, when Leicester City will visit Old Trafford for a Friday afternoon match with Manchester United.

The end of the World Cup has eyeballs trained on friendlies, with 19 Premier League teams doing work over the weekend.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

The International Champions Cup has a pair of matches on the docket.

Friday sees Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, sans many of their World Cup stars, mixing it up with Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund in Chicago.

Then Sunday will see Borussia Dortmund switching gears and time zones, tangling with Liverpool in North Carolina as Pulisic renews acquaintances with old pal Jurgen Klopp.

Manchester United takes on San Jose on Sunday, two days after facing Club America.

Other marquee friendlies of the weekend include Bournemouth facing American back Shaq Moore and Levante on Friday, with Fulham hosting Lyon on Saturday, and Everton meeting Lille and Porto on consecutive Portuguese days Saturday and Sunday.


Bournemouth vs. Levante
Burnley vs. Macclesfield Town
Burnley vs. Curzon Ashton
Cardiff City vs Torquay
Manchester City vs. Borussia Dortmund (in Chicago)


Brighton and Hove Albion vs. AFC Wimbledon
Crystal Palace vs. Oxford United
Everton vs. Lille
Fulham vs. Lyon
Huddersfield Town vs. Real Betis
Huddersfield Town vs. Roy-Weiss Essen or Werder Bremen
Leicester City vs. Notts County
Southampton vs. Derby County
Watford vs. Fortuna Dusseldorf
West Ham United vs. Preston North End


Everton vs. Porto
Huddersfield Town vs. Darmstadt
Liverpool vs. Borussia Dortmund (in North Carolina)
Manchester United vs. San Jose Earthquakes (in Santa Clara)
Wolverhampton vs. TBD

Transfer rumor roundup: Japan, South Africa strikers to Premier League

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Percy Tau’s name isn’t yet widely known outside of South Africa, what with Bafana Bafana absent from the World Cup.

But the 24-year-old Mamelodi Sundowns winger may soon get to test his skills on a much bigger stage.

[ USMNT: More accolades for Pulisic ]

Tau, who has five goals in 12 caps, will reportedly join Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League if a medical goes well, with Sky Sports saying it’ll will be the biggest transfer fee yet for a South African Premier League player.

Yoshinori Muto could be bringing his 25 caps to the Premier League.

The 26-year-old striker made just one appearance at the World Cup, but has had a nice run with Mainz since joining from FC Tokyo. He’s bagged 23 goals in 71 appearances.

Bild report says there have been no formal offers for Muto, but that Newcastle United and West Ham are interested in the striker. Newcastle badly needs a striker, but West Ham has been spending money and Magpies owner Mike Ashley hasn’t green lit much in recent seasons.

Open Cup draw postponed as Portland protests LAFC win

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The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup draw is not going as planned, as the Portland Timbers protest the roster of victorious LAFC.

[ RECAP: Four USOC semifinalists minted ]

Philadelphia, Chicago, and Houston were the other sides to get a place in the final four teams.

LAFC’s victory had already been marred by Adama Diomande‘s claims of a racial slur hurled his way, and now their victory may be in question altogether as U.S. Soccer issued a press release saying Thursday’s scheduled draw was postponed.

From a U.S. Soccer press release:

The decision comes as a result of a protest filed by the Portland Timbers in relation to the number of foreign players fielded by Los Angeles Football Club during Wednesday night’s Quarterfinal at Banc of America Stadium in Los Angeles, Calif.

The rule says a maximum five players without green cards can be in the 18. Portland started only two Americans, Jeff Attinella and Zarek Valentin, but have green cards for many others and rules are rules.

Will the Timbers take a semifinal berth via protest?