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PL Sunday preview: Man Utd, Spurs, Arsenal hit the road

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures is chock-full of top-six sides in action, as Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur all look to advance their respective bids to topple this season’s favorites, Manchester City and Liverpool.

[ MORE: What did we learn from PL Saturday, Week 4? ]

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

The pressure has eased — even if only ever so slightly — on Unai Emery after picking up his first victory as Arsenal manager last weekend. What the Spaniard could now use is a healthy haul of points from the Gunners’ next seven games, all of which come against non-top-six sides. Up first is a trip to the south of Wales to take on 16th-place Cardiff, a side still seeking its first win (and goal) this season. Emery and midfielder Mesut Ozil have reportedly fallen out with one another, but the manager maintains the story is little more than tabloid fodder.

“Throughout my career I have respect for the media, for newspaper, radio, TV. But there are a lot of people in the media and at not every moment is the information real. It isn’t true, the news. … In this situation with Mesut Ozil, it is clear: he is OK, he has the commitment we want, he is a very important player for us and we want to help him to give us the best performance in each match and each moment.”

As for the Bluebirds, Neil Warnock‘s side is the last remaining team without a goal to their name this season. On the bright side, the two points they have to their name means they’ve kept a pair of clean sheets — in back-to-back games, no less — against Newcastle United and Huddersfield Town.

INJURIES: Cardiff — OUT: Junior Hoilett (groin), Aron Gunnarsson (knee) | Arsenal — OUT: Sead Kolasinac (knee), Laurent Koscielny (achilles), Carl Jenkinson (ankle), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (knee)

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

It might be early in the 2018-19 season, but it’s not too early for Jose Mourinho to find himself facing the possibility of being fired should Man United lose away to Burnley a week after losing 3-0 to Tottenham Hotspur. It’s not just Monday’s result, but the overwhelming sense of discontent around Old Trafford that has begun to make Mourinho’s position feel as if it’s untenable. He and his players are saying all of the right things, publicly, ahead of Sunday’s trip to Turf Moor, but it’s not as if anyone has any other choice at the moment.

Luke Shaw, for instance, feels the players must stick together and keep their heads down to right the ship.

“You see a lot of things in the media that go on about what our dressing room is like, but we have a really good spirit, a really good group of lads who want to work and achieve big things here. We have a group of hard workers and amazing talents, everywhere you look on the field. We have got to start taking our chances and I am sure we will start winning games. We have got to pick ourselves back up, keep working hard and we need to pick up points after two losses. We need to win and win in a good way.”

Burnley, on the other hand, are dealing with adversity of their own after failing to qualify for the group stage of the Europa League this week. Now, Sean Dyche‘s men seek their first win of the season, and their first point since opening day. Back-to-back defeats to Watford (3-1) and Fulham (4-2) have dropped the Clarets to 19th place in the league table.

INJURIES: Burnley — OUT: Johann Gudmundsson (hamstring), Steven Defour (calf), Robbie Brady (hastring) | Man United — OUT: Marcos Rojo (undisclosed), Diogo Dalot (fitness), Sergio Romero (fitness)

Watford vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 11 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

At the other end of the table, Sunday also provides an unlikely meeting of unbeaten sides when Watford host Tottenham at Vicarage Road. The Hornets have feasted on bottom-half sides in their first three games, while Spurs landed the first blow of the season amongst the “other” top-six sides vying for Champions League qualification.

While much of the talk about Mauricio Pochettino‘s side has focused on the fact that not a single player was signed this summer — the first such occurrence for a PL club since the summer transfer window began — Monday’s demolition of the Red Devils served as a coming-out party for Brazilian attacker Lucas Moura, a $___-million acquisition who had virtually no impact last season after signing in January. As a well-known former manager in north London might say, getting Moura up to speed with a full preseason behind him has been kind of like a new signing.

Pochettino’s counterpart on Sunday, Javi Gracia, has pushed all of the right buttons thus far, and he’s had to do so when it comes to picking his lineup and substitutes. With such a healthy, deep squad, Gracia might feel this is Watford’s best chance to knock off Spurs for the first time in the PL era. In 12 league meetings spanning two and a half decades, they have just three points to show for their efforts, and haven’t beaten the north London side in league play since 1987.

INJURIES: Watford — OUT: Tom Cleverley (achilles), Younes Kaboul (foot) | Tottenham — OUT: Hugo Lloris (thigh), Heung-Min Son (international duty), Moussa Sissoko (hamstring)

Bologna draws 3-3 at Lazio to secure Serie A safety

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ROME (AP) Bologna secured Serie A football for another season after drawing at Lazio 3-3 in a thriller on Monday.

Bologna moved four points clear of the relegation zone with one match remaining.

Lazio was still celebrating winning the Italian Cup midweek and Joaquin Correa fired the capital side in front in the 13th minute.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

However, two goals in the space of a minute from Andrea Poli and Mattia Destro saw Bologna take the lead early in the second half.

Bastos curled in a stunning effort to level for Lazio in the 59th but Riccardo Orsolini restored Bologna’s lead shortly after.

Substitute Sergej Milinkovic-Savic secured a draw for Lazio with a sensational free kick 10 minutes from time.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Choosing a USMNT XI for the Gold Cup

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Noting that most positions on the international stage are up for grabs based on form, there are special opportunities on the wing, right back, and center back when it comes to the USMNT at the Gold Cup this summer.

That’s because of two related things, one fact and one close to it:

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

  1. DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks are missing from the lineup due to injury. Brooks is easily the Yanks’ No. 1 center back, and Yedlin is a right back when Tyler Adams is unavailable and good enough that Gregg Berhalter tries to shoehorn him in at right wing when Adams is manning that spot.
  2. Mexico’s the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament with more in-form club players in Europe than the U.S., including would-be Premier League Best XI forward Raul Jimenez of Wolves. And who’s going to have to deal with Raul? You guessed it, the big American center backs.

Presuming Berhalter is still wed to Adams as the part-fullback, part distributing midfielder role, that has our lineup for important Gold Cup matches with few sure things.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — XXXXX — XXXXX — XXXXX

McKennie — Bradley

XXXXX — Pulisic — XXXXX

Altidore

Now you may not like that I’ve assumed Bradley and Altidore’s places here, but there’s little doubt both are still quite capable against CONCACAF competition and also have the experience in this exact competition and against Mexico. Surely both are motivated for a bit of redemption as well.

Friendlies against Jamaica and Venezuela will give Berhalter a chance to try out players like Tyler Boyd, Marlon Fossey, and Miles Robinson should they impress amongst a 40-player field (although the Jamaica match on June 5 in Washington, D.C. is a day before the final rosters are due for the Gold Cup).

Now what we are trying to solve here is who is the best bet to help the Yanks win the dang thing.

Defenders: Aaron Long, Matt Miazga, and Tim Ream are the favorites to start at the two center back spots and left back, but Daniel Lovitz will try to push Ream after a rough season at Fulham. Both Walker Zimmerman and Omar Gonzalez are in good form, and you can bet Berhalter will give Cameron Carter-Vickers a chance to earn some time. A flat back four role gives Antonee Robinson hope in place of Ream, and if Adams moves into the midfield, Nick Lima did alright in his right back role in January.

Midfielders/Wingers: The spots around Pulisic should be filled by those who can keep the width of the field but also serve somewhat as enforcers for the No. 10. Sebastian Lletget gives them a good shot on one side, and Paul Arriola provides a similar spot. While Joe Gyau, Josh Sargent, Duane Holmes, and Djordje Mihailovic can hope to challenge, the MLS vets with experience outside the country are good bets to get the gigs.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — Miazga — Long — Ream

McKennie — Bradley

Arriola — Pulisic — Lletget

Altidore

Does that get the job done against Mexico? Probably not, but it’ll give Tata Martino’s men a hassle.

Report: Man City could use Gabriel Jesus to get Rodri

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At the root of this report is a question to which we don’t know the answer: How highly does Pep Guardiola rate Gabriel Jesus?

A report from Spanish outlet AS says Guardiola could use his young striker to lure Atletico Madrid into a swap deal, landing Manchester City their stirring defensive midfielder Rodri.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Rodri is a nearly year older than 22-year-old Jesus, and is more instrumental to his current club. One of Atletico Madrid’s top talents, his $78 million release clause is an obvious route for City.

If Guardiola doesn’t see Jesus as a huge part of the club’s future, however, the manager may be able to go nearly like-for-like money-wise.

Jesus scored nearly every other game for City in all competitions, nabbing 21 goals in 47 matches, and has 13 goals in 27 caps for Brazil. Those are good numbers, especially with still-electric Sergio Aguero turning 31 this summer.

At his relatively tender age, Jesus has appeared 100 times for Man City and his 45 goals are made more impressive by less than 5600 total minutes in those matches.

Giving up on him to complete his midfield is a tough one. We think it’s more likely Guardiola pays the release clause… unless the manager simply doesn’t rate the player.

Players to watch at the U-20 World Cup

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The U-20 World Cup begins this week in Poland, and there are a bevy of future stars to watch, as well as several who will make their names during the tournament.

We’ll focus on the former. While England’s failure to qualify somewhat limits the Premier League starlets on show, there are still plenty from the English top flight.


Tim Weah, United States (PSG) — After a loan at Celtic and time with the full USMNT, how much can he dominate back in his age group?

Alban Lafont, France (Fiorentina) — At age 20, he’s already the starter between the sticks for his Serie A mainstays.

Diego Lainez, Mexico (Real Betis) — Eighteen with 12 league appearances for Real Betis, Lainez is a massive part of El Tri‘s future and carries four caps to his name.

Ruben Vinagre, Portugal (Wolves) — Wolves were promoted, and Vinagre actually made eight more appearances (17) than he made in the Championship.

Ezequiel Barco, Argentina (Atlanta United) — His sophomore season for the Five Stripes has been better than his debut campaign, though that’s not saying a ton given the hype.

Evan N’Dicka, France (Eintracht Frankfurt) — Plenty of playing time in the Bundesliga at the age of 19 for this towering center back.

Paxton Pomykal, United States (FC Dallas) — Looking good in MLS. How much should that translate on this stage?

Andriy Lunin, Ukraine (Real Madrid) — Won’t be wearing the white of Madrid in meaningful action any time soon, but made four appearances on loan for Leganes as a 20-year-old.

Sebastian Soto, United States (Hannover 96) — Not the American-born Bundesliga starlet we expected had we created this list months ago, but Soto has made his Bundesliga debut, so there’s a lot to like while Josh Sargent works with the full USMNT.

Dan Zagadou, France (Borussia Dortmund) — The left- and center back has 25 first team appearances for BVB at 19.

Diogo Dalot, Portugal (Manchester United) — Red Devils supporters know about this fella, who was purchased under the watch of Jose Mourinho last summer.

Mickael Cuisance, France (Borussia Monchengladbach) — Took a step back after his blockbuster ‘Gladbach breakthrough in 2017-18, but will be a key piece for the favorites.

Moussa Sylla, France (Monaco) — The winger is already a factor for AS Monaco, even if they struggled this season.

Bonus: Erling Håland, Denmark (Red Bull Salzburg); Ronald Araujo, Uruguay (Barcelona); Tom Dele-Bashiru, Nigeira (Manchester City).