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PL Sunday preview: Litmus test time for Spurs, Man United

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures will see a pair of top-four hopefuls do battle head-to-head, as Tottenham Hotspur host Manchester United at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: What we learned in the Premier League, Week 22 ]

Everton v. Bournemouth — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

With just one win in their last eight PL outings, Everton will be hoping that their narrow victory over League Two side Lincoln City in the FA Cup last weekend will help to right the ship once back in league play. Marco Silva‘s fingers crossed it does the trick after slipping to 11th in the league table.

“Winning matches is the best way to win confidence and to start playing at our best level,” he said this week. “The best way to show (our quality) is by the results and the wins. We achieved the main thing against Lincoln and we have to work strongly again to achieve a good result in the next match.”

INJURIES: Everton — OUT: None | Bournemouth — OUT: Lewis Cook (knee), Simon Francis (knee), Adam Smith (knee), Dan Gosling (knee), Dominic Solanke (hamstring)


Tottenham Hotspur v. Man United — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Sunday’s showdown at Wembley will serve as a litmus test for both Tottenham and Man United, as well as their respective managers. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will put his unblemished record as United boss on the line against Mauricio Pochettino, who might just replace him at Old Trafford in the summer.

With all due respect to the likes of Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town, third-place Spurs will pose a challenge Solskjaer’s side has not yet seen since Jose Mourinho was fired following a humbling defeat to Liverpool last month. United didn’t fare so well the first time these sides met this season, as the Red Devils suffered a thoroughly embarrassing 3-0 defeat that home in August. While Solskjaer has restored the attacking intent at United, he will be without a number of key defensive figures on Sunday, with Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, Eric Bailly, Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian all reportedly unavailable or left out of the squad.

Along the same lines, Spurs are enjoying their best run of results all season, despite experiencing a rash of injuries — particularly to the midfield, where Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko have, somehow, become an irreplaceable duo. Finally, Eric Dier (appendectomy) is expected to return, as is defender Jan Vertonghen (thigh), thus affording Pochettino a majority of first-choice midfield and defensive options. Son Heung-min, who has amassed seven goals and five assists in his last seven games (all competitions), will play on Sunday before departing to join up with South Korea at the Asian Cup. It was agreed between the two side that Son remain with his club until after the game against United, missing the first two group games in the process.

INJURIES: Tottenham —  OUT: Mousa Dembele (ankle), Victor Wanyama (knee) | Man United — OUT: Eric Bailly (suspension), Chris Smalling (foot), Marcos Rojo (undisclosed)

Martino angry at Corona absence from Mexico squad

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New Mexico boss Gerardo “Tata” Martino did not hold back when asked about Jesus “Tecatito” Corona’s absence from the Mexico squad for the upcoming international break.

Corona pulled out of the squad due to an ankle injury he has apparently been playing through at his club side Porto. Still, Martino said he wished for Corona to travel to San Diego to meet up with the squad despite the injury as he is hoping to meet as many of the players in person and get to know them better.

“On Sunday, I spoke with him twice, once early in the morning and the other in the airport,” Martino explained to Azteca Deportes. “In the morning, I manifested the idea that even with impossibility [of playing with] the injury he had, we needed him to be with the group to get to know each other, it being the first meeting we’d have had. He didn’t have to train or play if he couldn’t, but we needed him to be here. At first he said yes and then on midday on Sunday, he called to say he’d thought about it and that his ankle wasn’t right and that he preferred not to travel.”

While Martino said that ultimately the decision was Corona’s to make, he made sure to note that “he’s [Corona’s] done something wrong” and that “he knows there will be repercussions in the future.”

“No one goes gun in hand asking them to come in and when they decide not to come we move on and keep going with the group that does want to be here,” Martino explained.

The Mexico boss also succinctly described his decision to leave LAFC striker Carlos Vela out of the squad, saying simply, “I don’t meet up [with the players] to make pacts. I had to take a decision and name the squad list and in that list I decided that Carlos shouldn’t be in.”

Just two months ago, upon officially receiving the job, Martino had described Vela as a “world class player.”

FA to investigate after coin thrown towards Chelsea’s Barkley at Goodison

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The FA has announced it is launching an investigation into the claims that a coin was thrown in the direction of former Everton player Ross Barkley during his return to Goodison Park with current club Chelsea.

The announcement confirmed that the FA has reached out to both clubs to make them aware of the investigation and procure any relevant information they may have regarding the incident.

Everton also announced it is conducting its own investigation of the incident at its home park. “We are investigating the alleged incident and reviewing footage,” Everton said in a statement. “If anyone is found responsible for this or other such incidents, the club will take robust action.”

Barkley transferred to Chelsea in January of 2018, and this was his first match back in his old stomping grounds. Everton won the match 2-0 to reach the 40 point mark and also pile pressure on Blues manager Maurizio Sarri.

The alleged coin assault came just two days after the FA, Premier League, and EFL issued a joint statement reminding “all supporters to carefully consider their behavior” at the weekend’s games and “all games in the future.” The statement came after a number of high-profile crowd disturbances, including a fan who ran onto the field and attacked Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish, plus another pitch invader who shoved Manchester United defender Chris Smalling during a match against Arsenal.

Euro 2020 qualification set to begin Thursday

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With the international break upon us, qualification for Euro 2020 is set to begin, with 55 countries spread across 10 groups to determine who will make the final field of 24 that will take place in the main event in the summer of 2020.

As the group stage draws nearer, we take a look at the important matches that will begin qualification play through the first three competitive days of the international break in round one of qualifying.

Austria v. Poland

Bayern Munich teammates Robert Lewandowski and David Alaba will go head-to-head as Austria hosts Poland in Vienna. Lewandowski hasn’t scored for the national team since a pre-World Cup friendly last summer, and the visitors will be looking to put a poor World Cup behind them for good. As the two highest-ranked teams in Group G, there will be plenty of eyes on this match between two teams who haven’t met in over a decade.

Belgium v. Russia

The two favorites in Group I go head-to-head to kick off the competition as two teams fresh off happy World Cup memories clash in Brussels. Both of these teams failed to win their UEFA Nations League groups, meaning Euro qualification is their only method of entry into the final competition. Kevin De Bruyne misses out for Belgium, but the rest of the star-studded Belgian roster is intact. The Russians are looking for a new goalkeeper after the international retirement of Igor Akinfeev, and the three men called up to replace him have a combined 12 caps between them.

Slovakia v. Hungary

In surely one of the most hotly contested groups of Euro 2020 qualification, Slovakia and Hungary meet hoping to get the jump on one another as they compete with Croatia, Wales, and Azerbaijan for a slot in the final tournament. Hungary has not won a competitive road match since 2016, and they have scored just one goal against Slovakia in their last five tries. Marek Hamsik, fresh off his move to Chinese club Dalian Yifang, leads the lines for Slovakia in this critical match.

England v. Czech Republic

The two favorites in Group A meet to see if either side can get a leg up on the other four teams early. England will be without John Stones and Luke Shaw due to injury, but otherwise most first-choice players are fit. Jadon Sancho may get a chance to continue his stellar club form on the international level, while Callum Hudson-Odoi is with the squad as well. The Czech Republic called up just 18 players, including Burnley forward Matej Vydra, one of only five players on the squad with over 20 international appearances.

Portugal v. Ukraine

Group B has three main contenders, and two of them will meet on Friday looking for an early advantage. Cristiano Ronaldo is in great club form and was rested in the latest Juventus match as they lost for the first time all Serie A season. All the usual suspects are back for a ridiculously experienced Portugal team that hopes to defend its Euro 2016 title. The squad features five players with at least 50 caps, including three with over 100. Ukraine, meanwhile, is without the injured Andriy Yarmolenko who tore his Achilles back in October. Coach Andriy Shevchenko made the bold decision to leave experienced defenders Yaroslav Rakytskyi and Yevhen Khacheridi at home, with their 104 caps more than the entire defensive unit currently in the squad.

Spain v. Norway

An absolutely loaded Group F begins play on Saturday as Spain hosts Norway in Valencia. While Spain is considered the favorite for the group, the rocky and disappointing World Cup journey and spotty Nations League performances leaves them considered vulnerable heading into qualifying, and with Sweden, Norway, and Romania all considered contenders for that second spot, Luis Enrique’s squad will have to be on top of its game throughout. Enrique has left out Real Madrid struggler Isco as well as Atleti pair Koke and Saul in favor of greener players like Iker Muniain. On the other side, Norway boss Lars Lagerback has an inexperienced squad captained by West Brom midfielder Stefan Johansen.

FULL ROUND 1 SCHEDULE (all times Eastern)

Thursday, 3/21

Kazakhstan v. Scotland – 11am
Cyprus v. San Marino – 1pm
Austria v. Poland – 3:45pm
Belgium v. Russia – 3:45pm
Israel v. Slovenia – 3:45pm
Macedonia v. Latvia – 3:45pm
Netherlands v. Belarus – 3:45pm
Northern Ireland v. Estonia – 3:45pm
Slovakia v. Hungary – 3:45pm

Friday, 3/22

Bulgaria v. Montenegro – 1pm
Albania v. Turkey – 3:45pm
Andorra v. Iceland – 3:45pm
England v. Czech Republic – 3:45pm
Luxembourg v. Lithuania – 3:45pm
Moldova v. France – 3:45pm
Portugal v. Ukraine – 3:45pm

Saturday, 3/23

Georgia v. Switzerland – 10am
Gibraltar v. Republic of Ireland – 1pm
Malta v. Faroe Islands – 1pm
Sweden v. Romania – 1pm
Bosnia & Herzegovina v. Armenia – 3:45pm
Italy v. Finland – 3:45pm
Lichtenstein v. Greece – 3:45pm
Spain v. Norway – 3:45pm

Inter handed suspended sentence for more racist chants

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MILAN (AP) — Inter Milan has been handed a suspended sentence of having one of its stands closed for a match after its fans were again found guilty of racist chanting.

The Italian league says in a statement that “a significant percent” of supporters in the stand in question were heard racially abusing AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie during Sunday’s derby victory, in the seventh and 39th minutes of the first half.

The sentence will be suspended for a year but will be added onto any additional punishment if Inter’s fans commit more racist abuse during that period.

It is the second time this season that Inter has been sanctioned for racial abuse.

Inter was forced to play two games in an empty stadium in January after a Dec. 26 game at San Siro was marred by racist chants aimed at Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly.