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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)

Will winning the double be enough to keep Kovac at Bayern?

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BERLIN (AP) Niko Kovac is the first to win a domestic double in Germany as a player and coach, yet it may not be enough to keep his job as Bayern Munich coach.

[ MORE: Valencia end Barcelona’s four-year hold on Copa del Rey ]

Kovac, whose side defeated Leipzig 3-0 in the German Cup final on Saturday, a week after clinching the Bundesliga title, is yet to be given assurances in public from the club that he will remain in charge, despite bringing a successful end to what had been a testing season.

The pressure and uncertainty appeared to cast a shadow on what was Kovac’s second successive German Cup win — he was Eintracht Frankfurt coach when the side defeated Bayern in the final last year.

“Last year I was leaving the team. This year everything is a little less emotional, no tears, but still, I’m happy,” Kovac said.

“Sometimes I would really wish that things went a little differently. It’s difficult to turn the wheel back. We should all work on it, we’re all human. We should make sure that we get along with each other.”

[ U-20 WORLD CUP: Ezequiel Barco’s golazo paces Argentina to big win ]

Kovac, who won the double as a player in 2003, acknowledged the cup win on Saturday was “very important” as “it shows that we have worked well.”

Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was again coy when pressed on the coach’s future.

“At the end of the day, we have to get titles. Of course the coach plays a central role,” Rummenigge said. “It was never an issue for us with the term that he has until 2021, that he would simply not be there anymore as coach beforehand.”

John Terry is a finalist for the vacant Middlesbrough job

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In a matter of just a few days’ time, John Terry could be named the new manager of side Middlesbrough.

[ MORE: Valencia end Barcelona’s four-year hold on Copa del Rey ]

According to a report from the Guardian, Terry is being considered as one of three finalists, alongside former Fulham boss Slavisa Jokanovic and former Boro defender (and current first-team coach) Jonathan Woodgate, for the EFL Championship side’s vacant job.

Terry has reportedly spoken to the Boro hierarchy in recent days, and chairman Steve Gibson is expected to make a final decision over who will replace Tony Pulis following the weekend. Boro spent the entirety of the 2018-19 season jostling for a place in the promotion playoffs, but finished seventh and missed out by a single point.

After announcing his retirement from playing in October, Terry was named assistant coach on Dean Smith’s staff at Aston Villa, where he has remained throughout the season and will do so through Monday’s promotion playoff final against Derby County.

[ U-20 WORLD CUP: Ezequiel Barco’s golazo paces Argentina to big win ]

Jokanovic led Fulham to promotion last season before he was fired in November as the Cottagers appeared headed for an immediate relegation back down to the Championship, which ultimately came to pass.

Woodgate came through the Boro academy and played for the club on two occasions, 2006-2007 and again from 2012-2016. He was named a member of Steve Agnew‘s coaching staff in March 2017, less than a year after ending his playing days.

German Cup: Bayern Munich complete double by beating Leipzig

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BERLIN (AP) Captain Manuel Neuer returned from six weeks out injured to help Bayern Munich complete a domestic double after beating Leipzig 3-0 in the German Cup final on Saturday.

[ MORE: Valencia end Barcelona’s four-year hold on Copa del Rey ]

Robert Lewandowski scored twice and Kingsley Coman grabbed the other as Bayern claimed a record-extending 19th cup win to make up for the disappointment of losing last year’s final to Eintracht Frankfurt.

Bayern coach Niko Kovac, who was in charge of Frankfurt at the time, boosted his chances of keeping his job in Munich after bringing a successful end to what had been a testing season.

Neuer, who missed Bayern’s Bundesliga triumph the week before due to a calf injury, produced two stunning saves in either half when a goal for Leipzig might have been decisive.

Neuer somehow denied Yussuf Poulsen’s header from close range in the 11th minute, when the ball crashed back off the crossbar, and got the better of Emil Forsberg in a one-on-one after the break, when the Swedish midfielder should have equalized.

“You couldn’t write a better script,” Neuer said.

Lewandowski opened the scoring with a header in the 29th, Coman doubled the lead in the 78th after Forsberg’s miss, and Lewandowski wrapped it up with a chip over the goalkeeper in the 85th.

[ U-20 WORLD CUP: Ezequiel Barco’s golazo paces Argentina to big win ]

Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery went on late to make their last appearances for Bayern after 10 and 12 seasons respectively. Ribery became the only player to play in eight German Cup finals.

“They delivered a lot for the team and the club,” Lewandowski said. “We have to be grateful.”

Leipzig was appearing in its first, and had been hoping to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its founding date with a win. Thousands of fans made the relatively short journey from Saxony to cheer their side, though they found themselves outnumbered by Bayern fans at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, which hosts German soccer’s showpiece every year.

“It’s a huge disappointment,” Leipzig chairman Oliver Mintzlaff said. “When you come here, you want to win.”

The supporters had been warming up for hours before the encounter, downing beers and singing songs at various locations in the city before making their way to the game. Fans who arrived on chartered buses lit barbeques and shared crates of beer by the side of the road.

Leipzig coach Ralf Rangnick, the sporting director who took charge of the team on an interim basis before Julian Nagelsmann arrives from Hoffenheim, started with his strongest team, with American Tyler Adams lining up beside Kevin Kampl in midfield.

Leipzig looked sharper, fresher and quicker at the start, but one lapse was all Lewandowski needed to open the scoring. David Alaba whipped the ball in toward the penalty spot, where Lewandowski had too much space to head inside the left post.

Coman displayed a fantastic first touch to control the ball past the helpless Peter Gulacsi for Bayern’s second, and Lewandowski ensured the result was emphatic when he claimed his competition-leading seventh goal. Lewandowski was booked for removing his shirt in the celebrations, but he accepted the yellow card with a smile.

“We worked hard for the whole season. In the end you could say it was a good season for us,” the Polish striker said.

Valencia end Barcelona’s four-year hold on Copa del Rey

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Barcelona’s four-year reign as Copa del Rey holders came to an unceremonious end on Saturday, as Valencia shocked Barcelona in the 2018-19 final in Seville.

[ U-20 WORLD CUP: Ezequiel Barco’s golazo paces Argentina to big win ]

Saturday’s upset capped off a thoroughly successful 100th season for Valencia, who finished fourth in La Liga — assuring them of a second straight season in the Champions League — and lifted the club’s first major trophy since its last Copa triumph, in 2008.

Barca, on the other hand, must make do with merely winning the league title by 11 points and reaching the Champions League semifinals.

Kevin Gameiro opened the scoring with a powerful strike from the edge of the penalty area in the 21st minute. Jose Gaya’s cross came in from the left and found the Frenchman all by himself with plenty of time for a touch to settle and open up space for the shot.

Rodrigo Moreno doubled Valencia’s lead in the 33rd minute, sending a downward header past Jasper Cillessen after Carlos Soler worked his way around Jordi Alba to deliver a hard-hit ball across the face of goal.

Lionel Messi tapped home an empty-net rebound to pull a goal back for Barcelona in the 73rd minute, but that’s as close as Barca would get to mounting a comeback.

Valencia have now lifted the Copa del Rey on eight occasions (fifth-most all time), but still trail Barca’s record of 30 Copas by some way.