FIFA has hectic month of football politics before World Cup

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GENEVA (AP) Before the World Cup kicks off in Russia, expect a hectic month of football politics that could transform the face of the game.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino is driving his agenda of adding new and bigger competitions, even as FIFA prepares a June 13 vote in Moscow to pick a 2026 World Cup host: Morocco or the United States-led North American bid.

[ MORE: Championship Sunday TV, stream schedule ]

It is FIFA’s most intense pre-World Cup period since a financial crisis ahead of the 2002 edition.

In his day, former president Sepp Blatter ensured FIFA would not be so distracted so close to a World Cup that almost entirely funds the governing body.

Blatter would use the eve-of-tournament meeting of FIFA member federations to announce bonuses from World Cup profits – effectively starting his campaign to be re-elected the next year.

Infantino could also build toward winning a second term in June 2019 by moving to add 16 teams at the 2022 World Cup. He also wants to defy European skeptics and sign a deal potentially worth $25 billion which includes a new competition for more than 200 national teams.

Here’s a look at FIFA’s busy agenda:

2018 WORLD CUP

On June 14, Russia plays Saudi Arabia in Moscow. Finally, some actual games after the politicking.

Russian President Vladimir Putin should be at Luzhniki Stadium with Infantino. They have seen FIFA’s expansion talk steer some attention away from this tournament.

Calls to follow England and Iceland by not sending VIP guests to the tournament have died down. The focus on issues such as racism in Russian stadiums and FIFA’s inability to sell a full slate of global sponsorships has been low-key.

FIFA says it will beat its revenue target of $5.656 billion, which is less than the total income for the previous four-year World Cup cycle.

Infantino would welcome new income streams to help meet funding promises he gave voters in 2016.

2022 WORLD CUP

Long-time FIFA watchers were stunned in April to learn Infantino was keen to expand the 2022 World Cup in Qatar from 32 teams to 48.

Qatar cannot realistically provide the four extra stadiums needed. Suddenly, a geopolitical move seemed in play, forcing Qatar to share hosting with regional neighbors currently blockading the emirate. Infantino has met in recent months with the ruling monarchies in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Sports and politics are being mixed, at a much higher level than the inevitable anger from European soccer leagues who see four extra World Cup playing days in November 2022 eating into their schedules.

In Moscow, Infantino will likely seek – at a June 10 FIFA Council meeting or the June 13 congress – permission for a “feasibility study” to change the 32-team tournament Qatar began building more than seven years ago.

2026 WORLD CUP

The 48-team World Cup was meant to start in 2026, and extra demand for FIFA-standard stadiums and training bases created a clear favorite to host.

The United States-Canada-Mexico bid already has a surplus of venues. Morocco was a late entry with government-backed plans to construct or renovate all playing areas.

The North American bid forecasts setting World Cup records of $14 billion revenue and $11 billion profit for FIFA.

Moroccan officials suspect Infantino is so tempted by those numbers he would meddle in the selection process.

FIFA created a system to score the candidates, in fallout from the controversial 2010 picks of Russia and Qatar. It also let all member federations vote, instead of the closed circle of elected FIFA board members, and it is unclear if they care about evaluation scores.

More voters also means more factors affecting the June 13 ballot, including resentment toward policies and comments from U.S. President Donald Trump. Russia and its allies could also help inflict an American defeat in Moscow.

Potential FIFA presidential candidates might also think a Moroccan win weakens Infantino, if he is believed to have supported a losing American bid.

CLUB WORLD CUP

A $25 billion, 12-year offer from unnamed investors (a Japanese-led, Saudi-backed consortium) with just 60 days to close the deal.

Infantino presented this to council colleagues in March, met resistance, and began a series of secretive meetings to win over skeptics.

A 24-team Club World Cup would be worth at least $3 billion for each edition, played in June-July every fourth year from 2021 through 2033. It could be played in China, Saudi Arabia, or the U.S.

It would make an elite group of teams worldwide much richer, and widen a wealth gap critics say unbalances national and continental competitions. It would also challenge UEFA’s Champions League as the top club competition.

Infantino is forcing the pace of consultations, and on Wednesday FIFA will take part in a UEFA-hosted meeting of leaders from clubs, leagues and players’ union groups.

NATIONS LEAGUE

The other half of the $25 billion deal is a competition for national teams from the federations who are FIFA’s voters.

The global Nations League idea was developed by UEFA last year to replace most friendly games, and could now come under FIFA control.

In a two-yearly competition, worth $2 billion per edition, each continent would play qualifying games in tiers with promotion and relegation. Group winners would advance to eight-team intercontinental finals in each of eight tiers.

The top-tier finals tournament would look like a mini-World Cup played in October every second year. It could be approved within weeks.

Infantino wants to call a special council meeting to agree on the $25 billion deal in Zurich even before heading to Moscow.

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Bruno Lage fired by Wolves

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Wolves have cut ties with head coach Bruno Lage after a little more than a year on the job.

The 46-year-old Lage took over for Nuno Espirito Santo last season and finishes his tenure with a record of 19W-9D-23L across all competitions.

[ MORE: Man City clobbers Man Utd | Player ratings out of 10 ]

Wolves improved their point total from 2020-21 to 2021-22, but the Portuguese boss has overseen a poor start to the 2022-23 Premier League season despite purchases of Goncalo Guedes, Nathan Collins, and Matheus Nunes.

Wolves also bought Stuttgart striker Sasa Kalajdzic, who has since torn his ACL, and the club has failed to manufacture offense at almost every turn.

The club fell 2-0 to West Ham on Saturday and has scored just three goals this season. Wolves sit 18th on the Premier League table, and visit Chelsea on Saturday.

Bruno Lage sacked: What does it mean for Wolves?

Lage firmed up Wolves’ defending last season but his attack has struggled as Raul Jimenez hasn’t reached pre-injury heights and Adama Traore’s been often kept on the bench in favor of a more defensive stance.

Traore is one of the possible beneficiaries of a change, as both Espirito Santo and Lage stripped him of regular starter status but did not sanction a sale for the solid speedster.

Lage played five at the back for much of last season but went to four this season and also tooled around with a three-man back line.

There are some very good pieces for a new manager, who still has Ruben Neves, Pedro Neto, Max Kilman, Collins, and Rayan Ait-Nouri amongst the admired players on the squad.

Wolves statement on firing Bruno Lage

Wolves chairman Jeff Shi said: “Bruno is an excellent coach, a hardworking and dedicated manager, and a warm, wise and honest man.

“He and his staff have been a pleasure to work with throughout their time at Wolves, so it is with much sadness that we have had to make what has been a difficult decision.

“I honestly have no doubts about Bruno’s ability, and I’m sure he will succeed elsewhere, however the team’s form and performances over the last few months mean that we have no choice but to act.

“On behalf of everyone at Wolves, I would like to place on record our gratitude to Bruno and his coaching team for all their efforts during their time with the club, and wish them the very best for the future.”

Manchester City vs Manchester United player ratings out of 10

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We’re entering new territory when it comes to grading anything that has to do with Manchester City, making Man City vs Manchester United player ratings a real hassle.

As bad as Manchester United was in going down five goals en route to a 6-3 loss at the Etihad Stadium, there’s something about the sheer style, grace, and systematic presence of Man City that demands a curve.

[ MORE: What we learned from Man City 6-3 Man Utd ]

David De Gea allowed six goals and it’s a challenge to say he should’ve stopped more than one of them. Antony was United’s star and the fact that he’s done it against a system that challenges attackers makes you want to push him up a notch.

Mostly the Manchester City vs Manchester United player ratings beg you to consider if you’re watching the start of one of the very best seasons to ever be put onto the pitches of the Premier League.


Manchester City vs Manchester United player ratings

These are not going to be kind to the visitors.

Manchester City player ratings

Ederson: 6 — Yes, three goals conceded (one a penalty) but he’s so important to how Pep Guardiola wants to play as evidenced by his 78 touches and 88 percent passing rate.

Kyle Walker (Off 41′): 6 — Had little to do, relatively speaking, before leaving with a left leg injury.

Nathan Ake: 6 — Not a terrible day but you feel better when he’s on the left of the defense rather than central.

Manuel Akanji: 8.5 — Could City have added a better fit? Akanji passes supremely well and is brave when dangers comes his way.

Joao Cancelo: 7.5 — Seven recoveries in a different and perhaps just as important role than his usual marauding self.

Bernardo Silva: 8 — How old that another Silva has replaced David as City’s somehow underappreciated but clearly world class star?

Ilkay Gundogan (Off 75′): 7 — Sunday’s captain didn’t have to do too much.

Kevin De Bruyne (Off 75′): 8 — Two assists and three shots.

Jack Grealish (Off 75′): 8 — Oh boy was he a pest from moment No. 1. Terrific day for the former Villa star.

Erling Haaland: 10 — What looked like a near-perfect fit is turning out to be a perfect fit. What was anyone doubting, anyway: That a gigantic beast of a man didn’t know how to pass?

Phil Foden (Off 75′): 10 — A hat trick on six shots, four of which were on target. Twenty-one of 22 passes completed over 75 minutes. You could argue that Foden has the chance to be Pep Guardiola’s great development if the Catalan wizard didn’t help produce Messi.

Phil Foden
fotmob.com

Subs

Sergio Gomez (On 41′): 7 — An assist but a bit too rash with the ball. Still, reassuring to see a new player make such a difference.

Julian Alvarez (Off 75′): 6.5 — Could’ve (should’ve?) scored.

Cole Palmer (On 75′): 6 — 20-year-old connected all six of his passes and created a good look to goal, but was out there for two conceded.

Riyad Mahrez (On 75′): — 6

Aymeric Laporte (On 75′): 5.5


Manchester United player ratings

David De Gea: 4 — His expected goals on target was under three, so there’s that, but it’s hard to fault the Spanish keeper for not depriving more than one of City’s six goals. Just two saves, however.

Tyrell Malacia (Off 46′): 4.5 — A halftime sacrifice on a yellow card, was far from the biggest culprit but not great.

Raphael Varane (Off 41′): 5 — Blocked a shot and connected on all of his passes. The extent of his injury could badly set United’s plans back.

Lisandro Martinez: 3.5 — A dreadful day for the physical center back

Diogo Dalot: 3 — Too many crosses found their way to the other side of the pitch. He was a part of both ends of that.

Scott McTominay (Off 59′): 5 — A busy, busy boy. That was likely due to Erik ten Hag’s choice to deploy Christian Eriksen next to him against the best possession team in the world. A goal line clearance, a blocked shot, an interception, and four tackles.

Christian Eriksen: 4 — Created chances and picked up an assist, but really wasn’t the right fit for what Ten Hag was attempting to do at the Etihad.

Antony: 7.5 — Quite good, scoring a beauty and showing fire over 90 minutes despite the lopsided score line.

Antony
fotmob.com

Bruno Fernandes: 5.5 — The system was a big part of his struggles, and it will be as long as a Casemiro or Fred isn’t out there; For Bruno to be near his best, he needs the freedom that will open up holes in the midfield.

Jadon Sancho (Off 70′): 5 — Seven recoveries on just 37 touches. System didn’t play to his strengths.

Marcus Rashford (Off 59′): 5 — Twelve touches in almost an hour as the center forward in a 4-2-3-1. Can’t really put that on him, can you?

Subs

Victor Lindelof (On 41′): 45 — Actually performed extremely well with the ball. Compared to peers’ days… hard to gripe with the Swede.

Luke Shaw (On 46′): 4.5 — Suffice it to say he didn’t fix what ailed United from the first half.

Anthony Martial (On 59′): 7.5 — A difference-making sub (unfortunately the difference was a three-goal loss instead of a five-goal loss).

Casemiro (On 59′): 6 — If Erik ten Hag could back and start one player, we bet it would be Casemiro. His insertion wasn’t going to save the day but his start could’ve given them a platform to play forward with more confidence.

Fred (On 70′): 6.5 — Tidy and in-control, likely a good-enough showing to merit a longer look.

Leeds vs Aston Villa live! Score, how to watch, stream link, TV, lineups

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Leeds vs Aston Villa: Two sides in desperate need of a victory to stop their ongoing slides will meet at Elland Road on Sunday (watch live, 11:30 am ET on USA Network and online via NBCSports.com). 

STREAM LIVE LEEDS vs ASTON VILLA

Leeds came flying out of the gates to begin Jesse Marsch’s first full season in charge as they went 2W-1D-0L in their first three games. Since then, two defeats and a draw.

Seven games into their own season, and Aston Villa appear on the verge of stabilizing the ship after an incredibly rocky start which included four defeats from their first five games.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Leeds vs Aston Villa

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


How to watch Leeds vs Aston Villa live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 11:30 am ET, Sunday
TV channel: USA Network
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com


Key storylines & star players

As expected under Marsch, Leeds have taken a high-volume approach to their tactics — lots of pressing and challenges, lots of counter-attacking and lots of scoring chances created. Their 1.57 expected goals (per 90 minutes) ranks 7th in the Premier League. Leeds haven’t played a game (in any competition) since Sept. 3, one day shy of a month come Sunday, due to the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the ensuing fixture postponements. Leading goal-scorer Rodrigo remains out with a shoulder injury, but the Spaniard could be back in the next week or two.

Goal-scoring has been a major issue thus far for Aston Villa, who have scored multiple goals in a game just once this season. Six different players have scored a goal, but no one has scored two. Unsurprisingly, Steven Gerrard’s side sits 19th in the PL for xG (0.76 per 90).


Leeds team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT:  Stuart Dallas (thigh), Adam Forshaw (ankle)

Aston Villa team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Diego Carlos (achilles), Lucas Digne (ankle), Boubacar Kamara (knee), Matty Cash (hamstring)

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Demolition derby: Man City slices up United with Haaland, Foden hat tricks

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Erling Haaland and Phil Foden both recorded hat tricks as Manchester City built a five-goal lead before settling for a 6-3 blowout derby win over Manchester United on Sunday at the Etihad Stadium.

Haaland finished with three goals and two assists, while Kevin De Bruyne set up two of the big Norwegian’s goals. Haaland now has 14 goals through eight Premier League games, 18 off the league record for a 38-game season set by Mohamed Salah in 2017-18.

WATCH MAN CITY vs MAN UNITED FULL MATCH REPLAY STREAM

Antony had the game at 4-1 after 56 minutes, but it was 6-1 before Anthony Martial chipped in a pair of late goals off the bench.

Unbeaten champions Man City move a point back of Arsenal, eight clear of sixth-place United. Man Utd has played one fewer match.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


What we learned from Manchester City vs Manchester United

Erling Haaland’s goal record chase is real: Thirteen goals through eight games? Really?!? Erling Haaland is on fire, and every single Premier League defense should be terrified. We spent an entire season wondering what last season’s Man City would look like with a finisher at center forward and now we’ve found out that it is flat out ridiculous.

Erik ten Hag handcuffs his team: Look, hindsight is always going to be 20:20. We get that, but expecting to go toe-to-toe with City away by deploying Christian Eriksen and Scott McTominay at the heart of your midfield while leaving Fred and Casemiro on the bench was almost absurd. Eriksen’s defensive skills weren’t up for the task and left McTominay running around like a maniac. The ball barely found its way to the front four, which was United’s only hope of hanging with the hosts. Antony’s incredible goal is a cruel hint of what might’ve been for ETH’s young team.

Phil Foden, Kevin De Bruyne unfair: That’s the lesson. Unfair.

Can 2022-23 Manchester City supplant 2008-09 Barcelona as Pep’s masterpiece? It’s difficult to Imagine a season better than Barcelona’s league and Champions League double. Barcelona was stunned on Opening Day but did not lose again until February 21. It did not lose a meaningful European match nor trail after a leg of the knockout rounds. Of its five league losses, four came after building a 13-point table lead in mid-February. Even throwing in 105-goal, plus-70 goal differential La Liga figures somehow doesn’t change the thought that this City could better most of those marks. City is currently on pace for 133 goals and a nearly triple-digit goal diffrential, though it’s yet to have played Liverpool, Spurs, Chelsea, or Arsenal. It’s also in second place (laughing emoji).


Phil Foden reaction

“It’s a dream come true, playing a derby as a City fan as well. Erling and I have built a connection, just finding each other.”

Erling Haaland reaction

“Not bad,” Haaland said on USA Network. “We scored six goals. What can you say? It’s amazing. To win at home and score six goals here, it’s nice.

“You can feel it all the time. You see the passes we give each other. We always want to go forward, to attack. In the end it’s amazing, there’s nothing more to say.”
Erling Haaland
fotmob.com

Tactical focus

Rodri’s absence for Man City threatened an opening for United but the midfield duo of Scott McTominay and Christian Eriksen were left without a rudder by Erik ten Hag (See what we learned, above). That left City a lot of freedom if it stayed calm with the ball, which it characteristically did, and Raphael Varane’s exit meant the visitors were going to be in a whole lot of trouble.


Stars of the show

Erling Haaland

Phil Foden

Manuel Akanji

Kevin De Bruyne

Bernardo Silva

Anthony Martial: Ask Erik ten Hag how happy he is that second-half sub Martial didn’t go through the motions and instead delivered a pair of goals to make the score line a little more palatable.

Antony: The two ‘Ants’ carried well more than their weight despite their team’s struggles.

Antony
fotmob.com

What’s next?

Man City hosts Copenhagen on Wednesday in the Champions League before Southampton visits on Saturday.

Man United has a long trip to Cyprus for a scrap with Omonia in the Europa League on Thursday, then visits Everton on Sunday.


Phil Foden goal video: City strikes first with splendid team goal

Erling Haaland goal video: Rinse, repeat.

Phil Foden goal video: Haaland can assist, too


How to watch Manchester City vs Manchester United live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 9 am ET, Sunday
Online: Stream via Peacock Premium


Key storylines & star players

Despite a pair of disappointing draws (Newcastle and Aston Villa), it’s been an unbeaten start to the 2022-23 season for Man City, who still lead the PL in possession (66.4 percent per game) while also becoming an unstoppable offensive force from last season (14 goals in their first seven games) to this season (23). That’s not to say it’s been easy as Manchester City go through a tactical shift of their own to better appeal to the big Norwegian’s poaching abilities. Though they have been forced to grind out results a few times already this season, it’s highlighted a newfound spontaneity for a side that’s been as regimented as any in the world. Will that freedom be what ultimately lands Pep Guardiola his first Champions League trophy since 2011, and perhaps a third straight PL title (and a fifth in six years) to boot?

As for Manchester United, the Ten Hag era has been a wild roller-coaster ride already, short as it’s been. The back-to-back defeats were one thing, but the abject performances were the real cause for discontent. While picking up the four straight victories, the Dutchman has also settled on a midfield setup with Scott McTominay and Christian Eriksen operating in (effectively) a double pivot with Bruno Fernandes the most advanced of the three. It has brought defensive stability, of course, but more importantly the change has revealed a deadly counter-attacking side. Each of Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Fernandes have scored twice during the winning run, with new boy Antony also getting in on the fun on his debut. With space in behind (and the proper service from deep), Ten Hag might just have his first winning formula (albeit quite unlike him).


Manchester City team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Kalvin Phillips (shoulder), John Stones (hamstring), Benjamin Mendy (suspension – MORE)

Manchester United team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Harry Maguire (hamstring), Marcus Rashford (thigh), Brandon Williams (undisclosed), Mason Greenwood (suspension – MORE), Donny van de Beek (knock), Martin Dubravka (knock)

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