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PL preview: More good times for Man Utd? Chelsea host Saints

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While the entire soccer world awaits the big one on Thursday — you know, Manchester City hosting Liverpool in top-of-the-table clash that could either signal the Premier League title race being back on or all but finished — Wednesday’s six-game schedule should hold us over for 24 hours…

[ MORE: Spurs sail to win at Cardiff City | Arsenal hammer Fulham ]

Chelsea v. Southampton — 2:45 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Heading into Wednesday’s showdown with Southampton at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea appear largely locked into a battle, with Arsenal, for fourth place. The Blues, however, could simply refuse to let the Gunners — who trail by two points after having already played on Tuesday — get too close to them and position themselves for a coup slightly higher in the PL table. A win would move Maurizio Sarri‘s side to within a point of third-place Manchester City and just two back of second-place Tottenham Hotspur. Sarri’s side is currently dealing something of a short-term injury crisis and could be handcuffed in making his team selection.

“In the last two days we were a bit unlucky. Yesterday in 10 minutes we had three injuries: (Cesc) Fabregas, (Ruben) Loftus-Cheek and (Danny) Drinkwater,” Sarri said this week. “Now today Giroud, and we were already without Pedro and (Callum) Hudson-Odoi, so now we are in trouble because in January we have to play every three days.”

Southampton, meanwhile, remain very much in the relegation scrap at the bottom of the table. Finally out of the bottom-three, Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s side can now turn its focus to creating a bit of a cushion between themselves and 18th place. Back-to-back wins two weeks ago were Saints’ ticket out of the relegation zone, but back-to-back defeats in the interim have seen them slip back to an equal points tally with 18th-place Burnley.

INJURIES: Chelsea — QUESTIONABLE: Olivier Giroud (ankle), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (back), Pedro (hamstring), Cesc Fabregas (neck) | Southampton — OUT: Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (suspension), Ryan Bertrand (back), Michael Obafemi (undisclosed)


Newcastle United v. Man United — 3 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Just two places — but a full eight points — below Chelsea in the table, you’ll find a suddenly resurgent Manchester United under interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Since Jose Mourinho was sent packing, the Red Devils have won three straight games with the flair and goal-scoring prowess once associated with arguably the greatest club in English soccer history. No one has been more resurgent than Paul Pogba, whose four goals and three assists are the biggest reason Man United have outscored those three opponents by a margin of 12-3. Should the good times continue so loosely the rest of the season — especially when the quality of competition rises considerably — it would be hard to imagine Solskjaer not being a serious contender for the job on a permanent basis.

Newcastle United, on the other hand, know who’ll be their manager for as long as he’s willing to stick around and deal with the, shall we say, extenuating circumstances which make the job of keeping the Magpies in the PL far more difficult than it should be. Entering round no. 21 this week, Newcastle sit 15th in the table, just three points clear of the relegation zone. With a manager of Rafa Benitez‘s pedigree, and even a middling transfer and wage budget, Newcastle would comfortably be mid-table and two-thirds of their way to safety already. If not for the contributions of Salomon Rondon — five of Newcastle’s 15 goals this season — they would likely be two-thirds of their way to relegation, and Benitez two-thirds of his way back to sunny Spain, already.

INJURIES: Newcastle — OUT: Florian Lejeune (fitness), Sung-Yueng Ki (international duty) | Man United — OUT: Chris Smalling (foot), Marcos Rojo (undisclosed); RETURNING: Alexis Sanchez (hamsrting)


Wednesday’s remaining PL schedule

West Ham vs. Brighton — 2:45 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold
Wolves vs. Crystal Palace — 2:45 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold
Bournemouth vs. Watford — 2:45 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold
Huddersfield vs. Burnley 2:45 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Video shows Lazio fans’ racist chants aimed at Chelsea loanee Bakayoko

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ROME (AP) A video has emerged of Lazio fans directing a racist chant at AC Milan midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko.

The video posted on the Gazzetta dello Sport website shows fans singing, “This banana is for Bakayoko,” during Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Udinese at the Stadio Olimpico.

[ MORE: Pochettino “not optimistic” on Kane ]

It was an apparent response to Bakayoko and Milan teammate Franck Kessie waving the shirt of Lazio defender Francesco Acerbi in front of their supporters like a trophy after a 1-0 win on Saturday.

Bakayoko, who is black, is on loan from Chelsea.

Lazio fans have a long history of racist and anti-Semitic episodes.

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

Chelsea, Pulisic may tour U.S. in 2020

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Chelsea has announced intent to visit the United States in the Summer of 2020.

Blues chairman Bruce Buck says the club “has work to do in Middle America” as it’s built up what he believes to be significant support on the coasts of the United States.

[ MORE: Pochettino “not optimistic” on Kane ]

Chelsea will be in Boston next month to play MLS side New England Revolution in a friendly billed “The Final Whistle on Hate.”

But Buck knows that Americans have plenty of interest in new signing Christian Pulisic, who will still be with Borussia Dortmund when Chelsea visits the U.S. in May.

“He’s a personable boy. He’s well-liked in this country,” Buck told the Associated Press. “So of course I would expect him when we come here and play some friendly matches, which is what our objective is in the summer of 2020. Then, yes, I think he will be helpful.”

American fans have been skeptical about how much of Chelsea’s interest in Pulisic was based on potential for stardom versus potential for marketing appeal in the States, but it’s important to note that this article could’ve been written about signing a top Mexican player and touring Mexico, or a Japanese star and heading to Asia.

The morning after: Pochettino on returning home, Kane recovery

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Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham Hotspur flew back to North London after Wednesday’s memorable triumph in the UEFA Champions League, a few days before the club will make the same trip to visit Manchester City in the Premier League.

“We are tired after an amazing and crazy and unbelievable night,” Pochettino said, via the BBC. “We flew late and didn’t sleep too much, but the happiness made us feel strong and with energy. We need to forget the Champions League now and be ready for Saturday, for a battle.”

[ MORE: Klopp on 1st time facing Messi ]

Good luck on the forgetting part, Poch. The advancement past Man City over two legs came after VAR correctly ripped a stoppage time City goal off the board and plunged Spurs from despair into euphoria.

And now they go again.

Pochettino said he elected to bring the team back to London to sleep in their own beds and recover at their own facilities.

It also allows Spurs to keep a close eye on Harry Kane, who missed the second leg and has been expected to miss most if not all of the season with an ankle injury.

“We are not optimistic but you know Harry Kane and with Harry Kane all is possible,” Pochettino said. “We are not going to say he is not going to play again or not. We will assess him day by day.”

We have to imagine that Spurs going from, “Can we beat City and stay in the Top Four without Harry?” to “We are three wins from a Champions League title” might help Kane heal a bit faster (and he’s already a bit of a specimen when it comes to that.

Barton “emphatically denies” attacking fellow League One manager

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It seems like there is much more to the incident reportedly involving Joey Barton and a fellow League One manager.

Barnsley launched a complaint after Fleetwood Town manager Barton allegedly attacked his counterpart Daniel Stendel after a match on Saturday.

[ MORE: Klopp on 1st time facing Messi ]

Police stopped Barton from leaving the stadium after the match, and Barnsley player Cauley Woodrow has now taken down a Tweet saying that Stendel was left with “blood pouring down his face.”

Now Barton is denying allegations that he attacked Stendel, and is expected to be in the dugout for the Fishermen, who sit 11th in League One.

From FleetwoodTownFC.com:

“With regards to the alleged incident on Saturday following our game against Barnsley, I emphatically deny the allegations made. Given this matter has not been formally closed, it would be inappropriate for me to make any further comment.”

Barton’s checkered past is well-documented, but this tale continues to develop in fascinating ways.