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PL Sunday preview: Man Utd to delay City’s party another week?

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Manchester United are the last hurdle standing between Manchester City and the Premier League title, a race which could come to its rather anti-climactic end on Sunday, while Arsenal continue battling for Champions League Europa League qualification…

[ MORE: Man City on the brink of PL title ]

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

10th-place Newcastle entered the weekend every bit as hot as sixth-place Arsenal, with both sides having won three straight PL games ahead of Sunday’s clash at St. James’ Park. The Magpies have clawed their way back following a disastrous start to the season (just four wins from their first 18 games, including a run of one point from nine games from October to December) and are all but mathematically safe from relegation after knocking off fellow relegation battlers Southampton and Huddersfield Town, as well as eighth-place Leicester City. Rafa Benitez will surely feel this is one of the best coaching jobs of his illustrious career, given the (lack of) resources at his disposal in the summer.

For Arsenal, the top-four is no longer a possibility (they sit 13 points behind north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur), and even fifth appears a big ask with just five games to go (six points separate them from Chelsea). In short, Arsene Wenger is all-in on the Europa League, which will see them face Atletico Madrid in the semifinals beginning next week. Similarly to Newcastle, their three-game streak has come against sides all currently 12th or lower in the table (12th, 18th and 19th). After a late scare away to CSKA Moscow in Thursday’s quarterfinals second leg, expect a heavily rotated lineup on Sunday.

INJURIES: Newcastle — OUT: Jesus Gamez (ankle) | Arsenal — OUT: Henrikh Mkhitaryan (knee), David Ospina (ankle), Santi Cazorla (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Granit Xhaka (flu)

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Man City’s win over Spurs ]

Manchester United vs. West Brom — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Jose Mourinho’s Man United already delayed Man City’s PL title-winning party one week, and they have the chance to do it again on Sunday. City breezed past Tottenham on Saturday, leaving them three points from the title, which could also be achieved by a United loss to last-place West Brom at Old Trafford — an unlikely outcome, in all honesty.

“During the week I was trying to fight that result (the win over Man City) by working hard and trying to make the players understand that it’s not enough to deserve to finish second, we need the points to finish second,” Mourinho said this week. “Obviously to finish top-four we need four or five points, but to finish second we need much more than that and after three important points last weekend, we have to try to … be closer to the second position, which is, in this moment, our ambition.”

As for West Brom, their fate as a Championship side next season could be sealed as soon as next weekend. A loss on Sunday would mean the only way to avoid relegation is to win their final four games and Swansea City would have to lose all of their final five while overturning a minor goal-differential disadvantage (-19 to -26). An even more unlikely sequence of extraordinary events.

“From my discussions with the owners already, I know there is a genuine desire to build a team with greater goal power and attacking threat which can capture the fans’ imagination,” chief executive Mark Jenkins said this week. “In the event of our losing Premier League status, it will be a squad we will want to compete strongly for promotion back to the top tier.”

INJURIES: Man United — OUT: Phil Jones (fitness), Daley Blind (fitness), Sergio Romero (knee) | West Brom — OUT: Gareth Barry (knee), Hal Robson-Kanu (concussion), James Morrison (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Daniel Sturridge (hamstring), Nacer Chadli (thigh), Jonny Evans (knee)

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.

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.

Friday

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

Saturday

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

Sunday

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