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LIVE: Aston Villa, Fulham battle for Premier League promotion

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The task is quite simple for the two sides competing at Wembley Stadium on Saturday; win and you’re back in the Premier League.

Aston Villa and Fulham will battle it out for the third and final promotion spot into the PL (12 p.m. ET) after boasting tremendous 2017/18 campaigns.

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For both clubs, there is a significance about restoring their role as a PL club, with Fulham last competing in the top flight four seasons ago and Villa two seasons removed.


Aston Villa: Johnstone; Chester, Snodgrass, Grealish, Hourihane, Jedinak, Hutton, Terry, Elmohamady, Adomah, Grabban. Bench: Whelan, Hogan, Bree, Onomah, Bjarnason, Kodjia, Bunn.

Fulham: Bettenelli; Fredericks, Sessegnon, Odoi, McDonald, Johansen, Cairney, Ream, Targett, Mitrovic, Kamara. Bench: Button, Fonte, Ayite, Norwood, Piazon, Christie, Kalas.

Sir Alex Ferguson returns to Old Trafford

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After suffering a brain hemorrhage in May, Sir Alex Ferguson is back at Old Trafford for the first time.

Manchester United’s legendary manager has battled back to health over the past four months, as he sent out a message in July thanking everyone for their well wishes on his road to recovery after spending time in intensive care.

Fergie arrived at Old Trafford ahead of United’s clash with Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) and the most successful manager in British history will be welcomed back by fans 15 minutes before kick off.

Sir Alex will be on the pitch before the game to celebrate his return to United’s home.

What a wonderful sight this is. Welcome back, Sir Alex.

Watch Live: Fulham vs. Watford

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Fulham host Watford at Craven Cottage on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Cottagers and Hornets aiming to get back to winning ways in the Premier League.

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Slavisa Jokanovic‘s men have played some of the best soccer in the PL this season but sloppy defensive errors have cost them dear. As for Watford, Javi Gracia‘s pragmatism saw them win their opening four games of the season before they last narrowly against Manchester United last time out.

In team news Fulham bring Calum Chambers and Timothy Fosu-Mensah into the starting XI, with yet more changes to their back four.

Watford remain unchanged and have now named the same starting lineup for all six PL games this season.


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Spanish federation withholds approval of match in U.S.

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BARCELONA, Spain — The Spanish league’s plan to play a regular-season match in the United States was put in serious doubt Friday after the national soccer federation refused to give its approval, according to a person with knowledge of the decision.

The person told The Associated Press that the federation sent a letter to league officials withholding its authorization of playing of a competitive match between Barcelona and Girona on Jan. 26 in suburban Miami unless certain conditions are met. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the person is not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

According to the person, the federation told the league it has failed to show that the overseas match would comply with Spanish and international regulations and TV broadcast contracts, and that it would not harm the other 18 league clubs and the fans of Girona and Barcelona.

The federation requested more documentation from the league on the proposal, but the person with knowledge of the situation told the AP that it believed the “holes” in the league’s proposal are “insurmountable.”

Shortly after receiving the letter, Spanish league president Javier Tebas said he still hopes to hold the match in Miami.

“The game is still on,” Tebas said. “We believe we are right, and we will try to show that to the relevant authorities. We are going to respond to everything they say and we will keep working.”

Tebas said that the match was critical to increasing the league’s global reach and rivaling the richer Premier League in England.

“This match is very important in our strategic plan in the United States,” Tebas said. “I can assure you that we are not going to just accept that they tell us no.”

Tebas did not explain what possible options the league could have of circumventing the federation’s refusal, other than convincing federation president Luis Rubiales to change his mind.

Besides the Spanish federation, the match would also need to be approved by the U.S. soccer federation, plus continental bodies UEFA and CONCACAF.

The league asked the federation for authorization to play the match last week.

The refusal by the federation was first reported by Spanish radio station COPE.

While the Spanish league manages the country’s two top divisions of men’s teams and the women’s league, the federation is the official governing body that sets the rules and regulations for all soccer played in the country.

The Spanish players’ union and some fans have been critical of the plan to play competitive matches abroad.

Even though FIFA’s permission is not mandatory, president Gianni Infantino also expressed his doubts about the game earlier this week when he said that he would “prefer to see a great MLS game in the U.S. rather than La Liga being in the U.S.”

The Spanish league has never played a match in another country, but the Spanish federation held its season-opening Super Cup abroad for the first time in August. Barcelona beat Sevilla in Tangier, Morocco.

The league’s plan to play games in the United States is part of a new 15-year partnership with sports and entertainment group Relevent, which operates the International Champions Cup, a tournament played during the European offseason in July and August around the world.

MLS Weekend Preview: Fringe playoff teams get tough tests

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A number of Major League Soccer clubs fighting for playoff position have extremely difficult tasks this weekend as the MLS season reaches the final five or six matches of the year.

In the Eastern Conference, the two teams just above the playoff cut – Montreal and Philadelphia – both meet top-tier sides. Montreal meets NYCFC on Saturday, while Philadelphia hosts Western Conference leaderes Sporting KC on Sunday. With D.C. United off this weekend, the teams have an opportunity to pull away, with Philadelphia able to give itself an 11 point lead, a near certainty to make the postseason.

Meanwhile, the Vancouver Whitecaps sit four games back of Seattle for the final Western Conference playoff spot, and the Whitecaps welcome second-place FC Dallas to BC Place. Just above Seattle is Real Salt Lake, and they travel to Eastern Conference leaders Atlanta United.

So which team in the playoff hunt will fall into danger, and which will pick up key momentum?

Atlanta United vs. Real Salt Lake – Saturday 9/22, 7:00 p.m. ET

Real Salt Lake has lost just one of its last nine, but that will be put to the test with a visit to Mercedes-Benz Stadium to take on Atlanta United. San Jose did its best to hold on for dear life, but was ultimately unable to hold off the blazing guns of the visitors. The usual suspects were at it again for Atlanta in Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron, and RSL will have plenty to think about, especially having kept just one clean sheet since the start of August.

Montreal Impact vs. NYCFC – Saturday 9/22, 7:30 p.m. ET

Montreal took one major step towards securing a playoff spot with a win over Philadelphia, and now a much stiffer test awaits as they welcome NYCFC to town. The Eastern Conference’s third-placed side is coming off a bye week, last playing September 8. While the top of the table is out of reach for NYCFC, a few more points would secure positioning for the postseason. They have faded of late, however, without a win in over a month.

Philadelphia Union vs. Sporting KC – Sunday 9/23, 1:00 p.m. ET

Both teams have suffered just one loss over their last seven games, and while both teams have offensive capabilities, only one has the defensive structure to go with it. Outside of a 3-1 loss at Seattle, Sporting KC has conceded just one single goal in its last six matches. Meanwhile, Philadelphia will be without the suspended Jack Elliott, a major loss for a team that has improved drastically at the back since Elliott’s introduction to the starting lineup in early August.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. FC Dallas – Sunday 9/23, 7:00 p.m. ET

Vancouver sits just one single position out of the playoffs, four points behind sixth-place Seattle, but lost to the Sounders last weekend and must pick up the pieces from that major Cascadia stumble. The first roadblock is a big one, welcoming the Western Conference’s 2nd placed team. Since being shut out by Real Salt Lake in early July, FC Dallas has bagged 19 goals in its last nine games, although they were blanked last time out in a 0-0 draw with Columbus after a forgettable 90 minutes.

LA Galaxy vs. Seattle Sounders – Sunday 9/23, 7:00 p.m. ET

The LA Galaxy are in slightly more peril than the Whitecaps find themselves in, and now they draw the side that beat Vancouver last weekend in the Sounders. Seattle had its winning streak finally come to an end at a relatively inopportune time, but there is still time to recover before the playoffs begin. In fact, they must recover – and fast – because Seattle is just four points above the cut line, sitting in sixth. A critical “six-pointer” at the StubHub Center will see the home side look to become the first team since the start of July to put two goals or more past Seattle.

Other games

LAFC vs. San Jose Earthquakes – Saturday @ 3:30 p.m. ET
NY Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC – Saturday @ 5:00 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew vs. Colorado Rapids – Saturday @ 7:30 p.m. ET
New England Revolution vs. Chicago Fire – Saturday @ 7:30 p.m. ET
Orlando City vs. Houston Dynamo – Saturday @ 7:30 p.m. ET
Minnesota United vs. Portland Timbers – Saturday @ 8:00 p.m. ET