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Top Premier League storylines for Week 18

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The Premier League weekend keeps the big boys clear of each other, but the challenges are still tricky for Liverpool and the clubs chasing the Reds.

[ MORE: Rating Mourinho’s MUFC signings ]


Solskjaer faces former club in debut as Man Utd boss 
Cardiff City vs. Manchester United, 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC 
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer dazzled as a striker for Manchester United, but floundered at the wheel for Cardiff City as manager. He’ll take his first steps as Red Devils interim manager when he visits the Bluebirds. Who will start in his first XI? And who will seize the chance to restore their Manchester United reputation? Paul Pogba is a good bet for both.

Fire on the touchline when Nuno matches wits with Klopp
Wolves vs. Liverpool, 3 p.m. ET Friday on NBCSN 
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Nuno Espirito Santo‘s Wolves have found their footing again, and will be hoping to add to their list of impressive results when Jurgen Klopp brings his unbeaten Reds to town. Wolves lost 3-2 to Spurs, but have beaten Chelsea and drawn Man City, Arsenal, and Manchester United.

How many minutes can Crystal Palace add to its 91-minute clean sheet v. Man City?
Man City vs. Crystal Palace, 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN 
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DYK: Only two Premier League sides blanked Man City last season, and one was Crystal Palace (Bonus points if you remembered Huddersfield Town was the other, especially if you’re not a Terriers supporter)? Palace hopes whatever magic worked last year can be recalled for this visit to the Etihad Stadium, and City will know how Liverpool fared on Friday.

(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Puel’s slumping Leicester City visits red-hot Hazard and Chelsea
Chelsea vs. Leicester City, 10 a.m. ET Saturday on CNBC 
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Leicester has slipped to 12th with just a point from its last three matches, and it’s not going to get any easier at Stamford Bridge. Eden Hazard has a goal and five assists in his last four matches, and scored the lone goal Wednesday in sending Chelsea to the League Cup semifinals with a win over Bournemouth.

Surging Spurs hope Everton’s defensive form stays down
Everton vs. Tottenham Hotspur, 11 a.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN 
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Marco Silva‘s run up the table has stalled thanks to two losses and two draws starting with their last-second loss in the Merseyside Derby, but Everton has a chance to feel a lot better about its festive season by performing well at Goodison Park against a very much in-form Spurs side. Everton has allowed seven goals in their last four matches.

Asian Cup Wrap: South Korea clinches top spot in group, and more

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Heung-Min Son started, recorded an assist and went 89 minutes three days after arriving in the United Arab Emirates as South Korea finished off the group stage with a resounding, 2-0 win over China.

With the win, South Korea’s third straight, the Taegeuk Warriors advance to the knockout stages as one of the top seeds, where they’ll face a third-place team in their next match. Ui-Jo Huang scored on a penalty kick in the 14th minute to give South Korea the lead, and six minutes into the second half, Min-Jae Kim powered home a header off a Son corner kick to put the game away.

[READ: Goal-scoring Martinez re-signs with Atlanta United]

China won’t be too upset about the defeat. They finished in second place in Group C, and will open the knockout round against Thailand.

Elsewhere in Asian Cup action, Vitalij Lux scored a hat-trick as Kyrgyzstan beat the Philippines, possibly earning a spot in the knockout stages. It’s Kyrgyzstan‘s first appearance at the Asian Cup.

In Group D action, leaders Iraq and Iran, both enemies politically, perhaps finished with an appropriate scoreline. The two sides settled for a scoreless draw, seeing both advance to the next round. Vietnam, meanwhile, picked up its first win in a 2-0 victory over Yemen, potentially keeping its Asian Cup hopes alive for a few more days.

FOLLOW LIVE: Southampton v. Derby County

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Southampton and Derby County chase the final spot in the fourth round proper of the 2018-19 FA Cup with a replay at St. Mary’s on Wednesday.

[ FOLLOW: FA Cup scoreboard ]

The clubs drew 2-2 at Pride Park on Jan. 5, with a Nathan Redmond 2-0 lead going to waste for the Premier League visitors.

The victor gets a trip to the Crown Ground to face League One’s Accrington Stanley on Jan. 26.

Full fourth round fixture list

Jan. 25
Arsenal v. Manchester United

Jan. 26
Accrington Stanley v. Derby County or Southampton
Brighton and Hove Albion v. West Bromwich Albion
Bristol City v. Bolton
Doncaster Rovers v. Oldham Athletic
Man City v. Burnley
Middlesbrough v. Newport County
Newcastle United v. Watford
Portsmouth v. Queens Park Rangers
Swansea City v. Gillingham
Shrewsbury Town v. Wolves
Millwall v. Everton
AFC Wimbledon v. West Ham United

Jan. 27
Crystal Palace v. Spurs
Chelsea v. Sheffield Wednesday

Jan. 28
Barnet v. Brentford

Leeds’ Bielsa admits he spied “all the rivals”; How widespread is spying?

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Managerial darling Marcelo Bielsa spoke out Wednesday as fallout continues from a Leeds United scout caught spying on Derby County last week.

Bielsa says he’s spied on every team the club has played in the Championship this season.

[ MORE: Neymar praises Weah ]

How rare is this? And how big of a role has it played in Leeds’ 4-point lead in the race for automatic promotion to the Premier League? From the BBC:

“I observed all the rivals we played against and watched the training sessions of all opponents,” he said. “All the information I need to clarify, I gather it without watching the training session of the opponent, so why did I send someone to watch them? Just because I thought I wasn’t violating the norm. I gathered information that I can obtain in another way.

“We feel guilty if we don’t work enough, it [watching the opponents train] allows us to have less anxiety and in my case I am stupid enough to allow this kind of behavior.”

The 63-year-old Argentine has spent time at Lille, Lazio, Marseille, Athletic Bilbao, and Espanyol in addition to running the national teams of Argentina and Chile.

It does raise the question of how much spying is done in soccer. We know that the NFL’s New England Patriots cheated during a game against the New York Jets and that MLB teams try to steal signals, but sneaking around a training session… is that okay? Should it be?

55-goal Martinez re-ups with Atlanta through 2023

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Josef Martinez has signed a new deal with Atlanta United, with a contract tying him to the club through the 2023 Major League Soccer season.

Martinez, 25, has 55 goals in 61 games for the Five Stripes since arriving from Torino in 2017, a strike rate unlike anything the Venezuelan had been able to do in his career with the Serie A club, Young Boys, or Caracas.

[ MORE: Neymar praises Weah ]

That development has him happy to lock down a new Designated Player deal in Georgia, one that certainly would raise his transfer value. From AtlUtd.com:

“This means a lot to me because of the affection that the fans have shown me, that the fans show all of the players. It’s unique,” Martinez said. “They recognize the effort that you give and they know you did everything to win, and I think that’s why we love playing here. I have to thank everyone. My teammates, the city, my family and friends, because this is a dream I’ve always had. I’ve said before that I don’t want to go anywhere because this is my home. You can expect more work, more intensity, because that’s who I am. I want to win. I want to do everything for my teammates and for the city.”

With neither Newcastle nor Real Betis ready to meet Atlanta’s transfer fee for Miguel Almiron, the Five Stripes are in a bit of a bind with a reported deal for expected DP Pity Martinez despite having the league maximum three DPs in Martinez, Almiron, and Ezequiel Barco. Perhaps the European clubs are trying to force Atlanta’s hand.