Top 5 Premier League storylines: Boxing Day

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Here’s a look at what we should keep an eye out for on Boxing Day in the Premier League.

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December 26 always dishes out some late Christmas gifts, and shocks, around the PL.

This year should be no different…


Liverpool to stay unbeaten? – Liverpool v. Newcastle United, 10 a.m. ET NBCSN [STREAM]

It is 18 and counting for Jurgen Klopp‘s men, who host Newcastle United at Anfield in a fixture which has historically provided plenty of goals and dramatic moments. Klopp and the Liverpool faithful will be hoping it is nothing more than a routine win to keep them four points clear atop the table. With just seven goals conceded so far this season, Virgil Van Dijk in majestic form and squad rotation working out very well, the Reds should be just fine. Newcastle have the potential to cause a shock with Salomon Rondon getting on the end of things, but everything points to Liverpool being unbeaten for the first half of the season.


Man City, Guardiola need a positive response – Leicester City v. Man City, 10 a.m. ET – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

After their shock loss at home to Crystal Palace, Pep Guardiola needs a big response from his stars away at Leicester. Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero have returned form injury in recent weeks, but the loss of David Silva and Fernandinho has arguably been a bigger blow in City’s engine room. Leicester will be buoyed by their win away at Chelsea and they will look to stay tight and use James Maddison and Jamie Vardy on the counter to cause City problems. Ahead of their Jan. 3 game against Liverpool, City need to keep the gap between themselves and Liverpool to at least four points. But Leicester is a tough place to go, especially on Boxing Day and especially with plenty of doubts creeping in about City repeating their title heroics of last season.


Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s Old Trafford return – Man United v. Huddersfield Town, 10 a.m. ET – NBC Sports Gold[STREAM]

A perfect start for Solskjaer at Cardiff saw United score five times in a Premier League game for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge. After that big win, the Norwegian’s return to Old Trafford as United’s manager will have the home fans lauding him even more. He is a club legend and he is trying to help them return to the glory years of the Ferguson era. Alongside him is Mick Phelan, Sir Alex’s former assistant, and they’ve simply taken the shackles off this team. Jose Mourinho asked this group of young, attack-minded players to play in a safety-first manner and they couldn’t do it. Solskjaer may not be the right man to lead United beyond this season when his caretaker role is due to expire, but beating Huddersfield (who have lost five on the trot) and Bournemouth in the next two games will give the Red Devils plenty of momentum heading into the next year. The top four dream is now back on for United.


Chelsea aim to get back on track – Watford v. Chelsea, 2:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN [STREAM]

Antonio Rudiger called Chelsea’s defeat at home to Leicester “stupid” and that was a fair summation. Maurizio Sarri‘s men are the most Jekyll and Hyde team in the Premier League this season. They’ve beaten Man City and Arsenal, pushed Liverpool all the way but lost to Wolves and now Leicester and were humiliated by Tottenham. The mentality issue is something Sarri and his players keep bringing up and that is a pretty easy excuse. The issues run a lot deeper at Chelsea, as this squad is largely the same one which downed tools first under Mourinho and then under Antonio Conte just a season after winning the Premier League title for both. A trip to Watford, who have won two on the spin and sit seventh, will be a real test for Chelsea’s creaking defense. It will be intriguing to see if either Alvaro Morata or Olivier Giroud return to the starting lineup as the false nine with Eden Hazard as the fulcrum faltered against Leicester. More than that, it will be intriguing to see if Chelsea can get themselves up for a clash against a team outside of the top six.


Big home games for basement boys – Fulham v. Wolves, 7:30 a.m. ET – NBCSN [STREAM& Burnley v. Everton, 10 a.m. ET – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Boy, how both Fulham and Burnley need big wins on Boxing Day. Both play at home and both have tricky tests against top 10 teams. Fulham host Wolves, while Burnley welcome Everton to Turf Moor. Being in the bottom three for Christmas has been compounded by big wins for Southampton, Crystal Palace and Newcastle over the past few weeks. The only saving grace for Fulham is that Claudio Ranieri‘s men are just four points from safety despite all of their struggles, while Burnley are two points from safety. Both teams need to focus on sorting out their defensive issues if they’re going to remain in the top-flight and getting big wins on Boxing Day can propel an upturn in the second half of the season.

MLS to seek training compensation; Players oppose move

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With teams spending millions of dollars annually on their youth academies, the league has decided it will now fight to recover some of that investment should a youth player sign their first professional contract abroad.

MLS announced in a statement that it will now work to acquire training compensation and solidarity payments from international clubs when players from team academies sign with clubs or transfer to other clubs abroad, while also agreeing to pay those fees when signing players from abroad. In the past, MLS had refused to pay training compensation and solidarity payments – in opposition to FIFA regulations – over fears for an anti-trust lawsuit from the MLS Player’s Association or others as well as possibly violating U.S. child labor laws, per ESPN.

U.S. Soccer even forbade these solidarity payments and training compensation on these grounds, but now have stated that they won’t enforce their decree from 24 years ago.

If a player signs their first professional contract outside of the country they were developed in, training compensation is provided to all clubs that helped develop the player between the player’s age 12 and 21 years. If a player then is transferred at any point from one country/federation into a different one (like Christian Pulisic from the Bundesliga to the Premier League), up to five percent of the transfer fee will be distributed to clubs that helped develop the player between the ages of 12 and 23.

In response to the MLS decision, the MLS Players Association has come out in total opposition of this decision, pointing out the hypocrisy of MLS choosing to apply some FIFA rules but not all of them.

In addition, the players association believes that this doesn’t work to help develop better soccer players in the U.S., only to make it harder for them to move abroad. In theory, a team abroad now will know it may have to pay thousands, or millions to sign a young American, and may hurt that player’s chances from moving to a country with a higher competition level.

“Today’s announcement by MLS regarding training compensation and solidarity payments is a step backward for the development of soccer in the United States and Canada,” the MLS Players Association said in their statement. “It is an effort by the league to inhibit player choice, does nothing to address the development of youth soccer, and makes plain MLS’ selective application of international rules to suit its own agenda.

“Despite claims to the contrary, this move is not about improving youth development. Rather, it is simply about trying to force players to sign with MLS by limiting opportunities abroad. Limiting opportunities to train and play in other environments does not further the development of young professionals. The MLSPA strongly supports efforts to improve youth development, but we do not believe that placing the burden to fund these efforts solely on players is a sensible approach. A levy on professional clubs and/or the Federation that is unrelated to individual player transactions would spread that burden across the industry, which would be a far better approach to funding development.

“The fact that training compensation and solidarity payments are paid elsewhere in the world under applicable FIFA regulations is an indefensible justification for MLS’s change in position on these issues. The league routinely ignores regulations that protect players under contract with MLS – like those requiring guaranteed contracts, prohibiting unilateral options and limiting the length of contracts – yet is now attempting to rely upon these same regulations to limit opportunities for players in youth academies.

“We will review these changes, including the Consent Decree entered into by the US Federation on this subject, and will explore all of our options with other stakeholders.”

It appears that MLS is only interested in fighting for training compensation when it benefits them. The most recent famous case is Weston McKennie, who spent seven years with FC Dallas but left on a free transfer in 2016, with FC Dallas not recouping a dime and McKennie soon establishing himself as a first team player in the Bundesliga.

In a Q&A, MLS stated that it won’t pay training compensation for players it signs through the draft or acquires into its youth academies. In addition, if a player was developed with both an MLS club and an independent youth club, MLS said it would only seek the training compensation for themselves and not for other clubs.

MLS states intention to expand to 30 teams

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In a move that was more a matter of when, then if, MLS announced on Thursday it plans to continue expansion to 30 teams.

The league released a statement stating that the decision to expand to 30 teams was approved by the league’s board of governors at a recent meeting in Los Angeles. In addition, the board of governors approved the MLS commissioners office to move forward into “advanced discussions” with Sacramento and St. Louis over expansion bids, enabling those market’s to make formal presentations to the league. The governors also approved a $200 million expansion fee for the No. 28 and No. 29 expansion teams, with the fee yet to be determined for No. 30.

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While it doesn’t confirm that Sacramento and St. Louis will be the next MLS expansion markets, it certainly puts them in the front seat for spots No. 28 and No. 29, with a plethora of other cities in the mix for the latter two slots and the – for now – final No. 30 spot.

As of the 2019 MLS season, the league has 24 teams. Inter Miami and Nashville SC will make it 26 in 2020, and Austin FC will make it 27 teams in 2021.

Other previous MLS expansion possible markets have included Detroit, San Diego, Phoenix, Tampa, Louisville, and more.

While MLS continues to focus on expanding across the country, it may be losing sight of some of its established teams in major markets. The Chicago Fire, New York Red Bulls and New York City FC have all experienced poor attendance so far this season, and little has been said about how best to correct this problem.

There’s no doubt that soccer is big in both cities, but fans aren’t making the trek out to see their local teams play, which is a big problem in MLS, especially with the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga all expanding marketing operations into the U.S.

U.S. National Soccer Team players association speaks out against U.S. Soccer

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Even though the U.S. Men’s National Team doesn’t have to play multiple matches per year on artificial turf like the U.S. Women’s National Team, the USMNT players are taking a stand against the U.S. Soccer Federation.

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In a statement, the U.S. National Soccer Team players association said that it opposes playing on both turf or grass laid on top of turf due to player safety concerns. Since Nippert Stadium is an artificial turf surface, it’s expected that U.S. Soccer will pay to fly in and lay down grass on top of the field ahead of the USMNT’s friendly match with Venezuela on June 9.

“In the view of the Players Association, this is just one more example of a serious problem that the United States Soccer Federation is not advancing the interests of the sport of soccer or the interests of the players or the fans, but is solely focused on generating ever-increasing revenues and profits for the Federation, its employees, its sponsors, and private businesses associated with the Federation,” the the players said in its statement, after corresponding with U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro via e-mail.

The players association highlighted a section of the U.S. Soccer press release in announcing the friendly match in Cincinnati, noting the strong FC Cincinnati fan support. This backed the players association’s point that U.S. Soccer is more interested in revenues than player safety.

Even with all of our society’s technological advances, it appears that only old-fashioned planting and allowing grass to gain roots deep in the soil is the best way to ensure a strong, stable field, and not one that will come up with a quick change of direction. Issues at Yankee Stadium recently highlighted this problem.

New York City FC captain Alex Ring, who played in that match, said he slipped on some of that temporary sod and suffered an injured ankle, but soldiered on to play through the pain for the final hour of the game.

“It hurts, unfortunately,” Ring told reporters on April 6, via Front Row Sports. “What can I say? I can’t complain about the pitch, but it happens after 30 minutes and you play the whole game with a sore ankle, it’s not the best.”

While coming to Cincinnati and bringing the USMNT to cities it has never been before – this will be the first USMNT trip to Cincinnati – is an important mission for U.S. Soccer, it’s also surprising because the beautiful pitch at Crew Stadium, the heart and soul of U.S. Soccer, is right up the road. Of course, Crew Stadium’s capacity is much smaller than Nippert Stadium, which I’m sure had something to do with this decision.

The USMNT hasn’t had to play on grass laid on top of turf since the 2017 Gold Cup semifinals against Costa Rica, which was played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, which is an indoor facility and thus uses artificial turf.

For U.S. Soccer, that now means all of its senior national team players are against the federation’s current position. The USWNT has made its sentiments known about playing on turf, even before Megan Rapinoe tore her ACL in a match on a turf pitch in bad shape, and they’ve even recently filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging U.S. Soccer is engaging in gender discrimination against the USWNT players.

Regardless of the outcome, it’s a bad look for U.S. Soccer that all of its main players are against the federation in one form or another, and together they could use their media platforms to make an even bigger statement.

Europa League Roundup: Arsenal shutout Napoli; Eintracht, Valencia advance

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What road problems?

For the second consecutive match, Arsenal picked up a 1-0 win on the road, this time against even tougher competition. Arsenal beat Napoli, 1-0, and 3-0 on aggregate to advance to the Europa League semifinals. Alexandre Lacazette scored a terrific free kick from 30-yards out, taking advantage of Alex Meter shifting the wrong way.

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In the second half, with Napoli needing four goals and pushing, Arsenal relied heavily on its centerback trio of Sokratis, Laurent Koscielny, and Nacho Monreal, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Saed Kolasinac helping in defense.

It’s a reversal of Arsenal’s recent fortunes, where before Monday, they hadn’t won on the road since February, including in the Europa League to Rennes. However, the 2-0 scoreline from the first leg really gave Arsenal the push and momentum it needed to get past a struggling Napoli side under Carlo Ancelotti.

Elsewhere, Valencia took care of languishing Villarreal in style with a 2-0 victory, winning 5-1 on aggregate, but the real drama took place in Germany.

With Eintracht Frankfurt trailing before kickoff by a pair of goals, the Eagles – well, both Benfica and Eintracht are the Eagles – managed to secure a 2-0 result to advance in the Europa League. Sebastian Rode’s second-half finish off an Ante Rebec pass has kept Eintracht’s season alive in Europe, where Luka Jovic can continue to market himself to the world’s biggest clubs.