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PL Sunday preview: Man City, Chelsea, Man Utd all in action

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Sunday sees four final fixtures, featuring top-four hopefuls Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United, to round out the 2018 calendar year in the Premier League…

[ MORE: Liverpool go nine points clear with dismantling of Arsenal ] 

Crystal Palace v. Chelsea — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

With one giant slaying already to their name in the last week, Crystal Palace now turn their attention to Sunday’s visit from Chelsea. Following their unlikely upset of Manchester City a week ago, the Eagles suffered an abrupt come-down in the form of a 0-0 draw with Cardiff City on Wednesday. Despite taking 32 shots, just five were on target and not a single one found the back of the net — an all too familiar tale for a side with just 17 goals scored this season (third-fewest in the PL).

Chelsea themselves were on the wrong side of a giant slaying of significantly lesser proportions last weekend when Leicester City turned the Blues over. It’s been relatively tough sledding for Chelsea of late, as they’ve lost three of their last seven league games after going unbeaten in the season’s first dozen.

INJURIES: Crystal Palace — OUT: Christian Benteke (knee), Martin Kelly (groin) | Chelsea — OUT: None


Southampton v. Man City — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The math is simple for Man City these days: nothing short of a victory — followed by another victory, and another victory, and lots more victories — will do, if they are to stay in the title race with current leaders Liverpool. Heading into Sunday’s trip to St. Mary’s Stadium, the defending champions trail the runaway Reds by 10 points. With defeats in three of their last four games, Pep Guardiola‘s side is reeling and needs not only a victory, but a resounding response and performance, to re-establish themselves and set the table for a chase-down in the second half of the campaign.

Southampton, on the other hand, have largely enjoyed the busy festive period thus far as they won back-to-back games last week and climbed out of the relegation zone, where they remain with a game in hand.

INJURIES: Southampton — OUT: None | Man City — OUT: Benjamin Mendy (knee), Fernandinho (thigh), Fabian Delph (suspension), Claudio Bravo (achilles)


Burnley vs. West Ham — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Speaking of the relegation zone, that’s where Burnley begin their second half of the 2018-19 season — in 19th place following Fulham’s victory on Saturday. With just one victory in their last 12 games — and just two draws during that period — it’s been a dire three months for Sean Dyche‘s relegation-threatened side.

Unfortunately for the Clarets, West Ham head into Turf Moor riding a wave of optimism and point — five wins in their last six games have seen them climb all the way to 11th place in the table. Another win on Sunday would see them go seventh. Felipe Anderson has been the danger man of late and has begun to repay a hefty chunk of the $48 million spent to bring him to the London Stadium this summer with seven goals in his last eight games.

INJURIES: Burnley — OUT: Aaron Lennon (knee), Stephen Ward (knee), Steven Defour (knee),  | West Ham — OUT: Marko Arnautovic (hamstring), Manuel Lanzini (knee), Winston Reid (knee), Andriy Yarmolenko (achilles), Jack Wilshere (ankle), Ryan Fredericks (ankle)


Man United vs. Bournemouth — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

As for clubs enjoying better days following a poor start to the season, no one has done a sharper U-turn than Man United. Since firing Jose Mourinho and installing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as interim manager nearly two weeks ago, the Red Devils have won both games they’ve played, victories over Cardiff and Huddersfield Town, by a combined score of 8-2. Paul Pogba, more than anyone else, is enjoying his new lease on life and turning in the type of performances expected of a former world-record signing.

As for Bournemouth, the Cherries’ season has largely moved in reverse of United’s, as their strong start has been undone by recent struggles (seven losses in their last nine games). Losing captain Simon Francis to a torn ACL — just weeks after midfielder Lewis Cook to the same injury — has left Bournemouth thin at the back and on the leadership front. Manager Eddie Howe has made no attempts at downplaying the loss.

“He’s been our leader on the pitch and a role model and a big miss in the dressing room. As a team it’s a big loss and a big gap to fill. He didn’t deserve that, but it’s happened and now we’ll do our best to support him through this process.”

INJURIES: Man United — QUESTIONABLE: Alexis Sanchez (hamstring), Chris Smalling (foot) | Bournemouth — OUT: Lewis Cook (knee), Simon Francis (knee), Adam Smith (knee), Dan Gosling (knee)

Bulgaria goalkeeper, coach on racist abuse: “England overreacted”

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Bulgaria’s goalkeeper Plamen Iliev believes their fans ‘behaved well’ in Sofia on Monday, despite the game being halted twice in the first half due to racist chants from the home fans.

UEFA’s anti-racism protocol was put into place as the racist abuse was reported to officials who then stopped the game and an announcement was made over the stadium speakers threatening to abandon the game.

Bulgaria’s prime minister has condemned the incidents of racism and called for the Bulgarian FA president, Borislav Mihaylov, to resign with immediate effect.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Iliev praised Bulgaria’s fans and said that England’s complaints were an overreaction.

“If I am honest, I believe they [the fans] behaved well today,” Iliev said. “There wasn’t any abuse [as far as I could hear] and I think they [the England players] overreacted a bit. The public was on a good level – I didn’t hear any bad language used towards their or our players.”

Despite England’s players, fans and staff all hearing the abuse, plus television microphones picking up monkey chants during the game, the fact Iliev has uttered these words is truly shocking.

His manager echoed the same views, while saying that the reason Bulgaria’s captain Ivelin Popov went over to speak to home fans at half time was probably because they weren’t playing well…

During a press conference with both managers after the game, local journalists shouted “exaggeration” when questions about the racist abuse were asked.

Bulgaria’s manager, Krasimir Balakov, said he heard nothing and he was shown having a heated exchange with Jordan Henderson on the pitch during the second stoppage as he’d shown signs of frustration that the game was paused.

“I personally did not hear the chanting,” Balakov said. “I saw the referee stopped the game but I also have to say the behavior was also not only on behalf of the Bulgarian fans but also the English fans, who were whistling and shouting during the Bulgarian national anthem. During the second half they used words against our fans which I find unacceptable.”

With UEFA launching a full investigation into the chants and England making a formal complaint, Bulgaria can expect a hefty punishment for their latest incident of racist abuse of opposition players. A section of the stadium in Sofia was shut on Monday due to racist abuse of players from both Kosovo and the Czech Republic during EURO 2020 qualifying.

We can only hope that Iliev and Balakov apologize for these comments in the coming days and weeks ahead.

Golden Boy shortlist revealed

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The top 20 players under the age of 21 in European soccer have been announced, as the famous Golden Boy award nominees for 2019 will raise a few eyebrows.

An award dished out by Italian outlet Tuttosport, previous stars to be named Golden Boy include Raheem Sterling, Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney and Paul Pogba, as Matthijs de Ligt was the winner in 2018 and is nominated once again.

Nominees must be under the age of 21 and play in one of Europe’s top-flight leagues.

Four of the 20 finalists play in the Premier League with Mason Mount, Phil Foden, Matteo Guendouzi and Moise Kean all named on the shortlist.

Alongside de Ligt, the likes of Joao Felix, Jadon Sancho and Kai Havertz are all expected to be among the favorites for the award. Felix’s rise to stardom at Benfica and Atletico Madrid will likely see him win this award.

Canada’s Alphonso Davies is a finalist as the former Vancouver Whitecaps star continues to develop at Bayern Munich.

Below is the full list of nominees for 2019, with the winner announced on December 16 as media outlets across Europe vote for the winner.


Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich)
Matthijs de Light (Juventus)
Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan)
Ansu Fati (Barcelona)
Phil Foden (Manchester City)
Matteo Guendouzi (Arsenal)
Erling Braut Haland (RB Salzburg)
Kai Havertz (Bayer Leverkusen)
Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid)
Dejan Joveljic (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Moise Kean (Everton)
Kang-in Lee (Valencia)
Andriy Oleksiyovych Lunin (Real Valladolid)
Donyell Malen (PSV)
Mason Mount (Chelsea)
Rodrygo (Real Madrid)
Jadon Sancho (BVB)
Ferran Torres (Valencia)
Vinicius Jr (Real Madrid)
Nicolo Zaniolo (AS Roma)

UEFA wants to “wage war on racists”

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UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has reacted strongly to the racist abuse of England’s players in Bulgaria on Monday.

[ MORE: England’s players react ]

During the EURO 2020 qualifier monkey chants were heard from sections of the home crowds at Sofia’s Vasil Levski stadium, while Nazi salutes were also made and the officials stopped the game twice in the first half and then followed step one of UEFA’s anti-racism protocol as a message was broadcast over the speakers that the game was in danger of being abandoned.

A section of home supporters were seen leaving their seats just before half time, covering their faces with hoods and some had shirts which said “UEFA No Respect” written on them.

UEFA will investigate the incidents in Sofia after England made a formal complaint, and this comes after section of the stadium in Sofia was shut on Monday due to the racist abuse of players from both Kosovo and the Czech Republic during previous EURO 2020 qualifiers.

Ceferin called on governments and other organizations to work with them to “wage war” on racists as incidents continue to crop up across Europe.

“There were times, not long ago, when the football family thought that the scourge of racism was a distant memory. The last couple of years have taught us that such thinking was, at best, complacent. The rise of nationalism across the continent has fuelled some unacceptable behaviour and some have taken it upon themselves to think that a football crowd is the right place to give voice to their appalling views.

“As a governing body, I know we are not going to win any popularity contests. But some of the views expressed about UEFA’s approach to fighting racism have been a long way off the mark. UEFA, in close cooperation with the FARE network (Football Against Racism Europe), instituted the three-stage protocol for identifying and tackling racist behaviour during games.

“UEFA’s sanctions are among the toughest in sport for clubs and associations whose supporters are racist at our matches. The minimum sanction is a partial closure of the stadium – a move which costs the hosts at least hundreds of thousands in lost revenue and attaches a stigma to their supporters.

“UEFA is the only football body to ban a player for ten matches for racist behaviour – the most severe punishment level in the game. Believe me, UEFA is committed to doing everything it can to eliminate this disease from football. We cannot afford to be content with this; we must always strive to strengthen our resolve.

“More broadly, the football family – everyone from administrators to players, coaches and fans – needs to work with governments and NGOs to wage war on the racists and to marginalise their abhorrent views to the fringes of society. Football associations themselves cannot solve this problem. Governments too need to do more in this area. Only by working together in the name of decency and honour will we make progress.”

Turkish players defy UEFA with another military salute

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PARIS (AP) Turkish players defied UEFA with another military salute in Turkey’s 1-1 draw with France in their European Championship qualifier on Monday.

UEFA was already looking into Turkish players’ salutes from during and after Friday’s 1-0 win over Albania. The European soccer federation prohibits political statements in stadiums.

But Turkish players lined up again to show a military salute after Kaan Ayhan’s late equalizer in Paris. Captain Burak Yilmaz was joined by goalkeeper Mert Gunok and several other outfield players in giving the salute toward the crowd – in apparent support of the Turkish forces involved in the country’s invasion of Kurdish-held regions in northern Syria.

Defender Merih Demiral urged Ayhan to salute, too, leading to what looked like a heated discussion between the two, but the goal-scorer desisted and made his way back to the pitch.

Ayhan and Turkey striker Kenan Karaman both play for German side Fortuna Dusseldorf, which had issued a statement after Friday’s game to distance itself from “politically motivated acts.”

“Both players stand for values that the club lives by,” Dusseldorf sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel said.

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