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Refs training with VAR ahead of approval for Women’s World Cup

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Women’s World Cup referees are undergoing training with VARs in matches over the next two weeks, The Associated Press has learned, paving the way for the FIFA council to approve the use of video reviews at the tournament in France.

FIFA has faced criticism for not committing to using video assistant referees at the June 7-July 7 Women’s World Cup just as they were for the men’s tournament for the first time in Russia last year.

Amid growing demands for clarity on the deployment of VAR, United States women’s team coach Jill Ellis said it would be “insulting” if female players didn’t have an equal right to have decisions reviewed by video at their biggest tournament. England counterpart Phil Neville has also criticized the standard of refereeing in the women’s game and the lack of technology which could reduce mistakes.

FIFA only gave the first indication on Monday that it does plan to use the technology in France after the AP discovered previously undisclosed training with VARs was taking place in seminars and matches in Qatar. It ensures the 27 referees and 47 assistant referees will gain the necessary experience that allows FIFA executives at a meeting in Miami in March to approve the use of the technology for the World Cup.

“The final decision if VAR will be used at the Women’s World Cup will be taken by the FIFA council,” FIFA told The Associated Press on Monday. The governing body had previously only said a decision about VAR would come “in due time.”

FIFA is now ramping up testing with VAR as referees preside over matches with the assistance of technology at the Al Kass International Cup for men’s under-17 teams, including Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, from Monday through Feb. 15 at Qatar’s Aspire Academy.

“It’s similar to the men’s preparation,” FIFA said in a statement to the AP after being asked about the gathering of Women’s World Cup referees in Doha. “To have the best preparation the referees will have VAR training and in addition to that they will officiate games of the Al Kass Cup.”

It is a rare deployment of female referees at men’s games. Uruguayan official Claudia Umpierrez made the first VAR call of the tournament near Doha to disallow a goal for offside in a game involving Aspire and Moroccan side Raja Club Athletic on Monday evening.

“They have a competition, real matches and that’s is the best way to practice,” FIFA said. “VAR is only a part of their preparation. All other refereeing aspects like reading the game, uniformity and consistency in their decisions, positioning etc., are also crucial for their performances.”

While the Women’s World Cup referees and their assistants are women, most of the VARs are men, with some having gained experienced at the World Cup in Russia. No domestic women’s competition currently uses VAR.

When FIFA in December announced the appointment of referees for the Women’s World Cup, there was no mention of VAR.

FIFA appears to be operating on the same timescale to last year when VAR for the men’s World Cup was officially approved at a council meeting in March.

The video review calls in Russia were made from FIFA’s International Broadcast Center near Moscow. VARs, four to a game, sat with monitor operators trained to find the best camera angles before feeding decisions back to referees on the pitch in stadiums. Referees can also check replays themselves on pitch-side monitors.

Video review can help referees overturn clear errors in game-changing situations. This means incidents involving goals scored, the award of penalty kicks, red cards, and cases of referees showing cards to the wrong player.

New Premier League schedule for April announced

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The new Premier League schedule for April has been announced and there are plenty of changes to times and days.

This is always a huge month in the Premier League season, especially with the title about to be wrapped up, the top four battle set to go down to the wire and the relegation scrap heating up very nicely.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Take a look at the new schedule for April below and click on the link to watch every single Premier League game live across NBC Sports.


New Premier League schedule for April

April 4
7:30 a.m. ET: Aston Villa v. Wolves
12:30 p.m. ET: Sheffield United v. Tottenham

April 5
7:30 a.m. ET: West Ham v. Chelsea
12:30 p.m. ET: Man City v. Liverpool

April 6
3 p.m. ET: Everton v. Leicester

April 11
7:30 a.m. ET: Man United v. Bournemouth
12:30 p.m. ET: Tottenham v. Everton

April 12
9 a.m. ET: Chelsea v. Watford
11:30 a.m. ET: Liverpool v. Aston Villa

April 13
3 p.m. ET: Wolves v. Arsenal

April 18
7:30 a.m. ET: Crystal Palace v. Chelsea
12:30 p.m. ET: Arsenal v. Leicester

April 19
9 a.m. ET: Sheffield United v. Wolves
11:30 a.m. ET: Aston Villa v. Man United

April 20
3 p.m. ET: Brighton v. Liverpool

April 25
7:30 a.m. ET: Liverpool v. Burnley
12:30 p.m. ET: Brighton v. Man City

April 26
9 a.m. ET: Sheffield United v. Chelsea
11:30 a.m. ET: Tottenham v. Arsenal

Premier League Storylines: Matchweek 27

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Matchweek 27 is almost here in the Premier League and it is time to focus on the top storylines ahead of the action.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Below we take a deeper look and preview the big battles.


Lampard v. Mourinho in huge top 4 battle at Stamford Bridge [ STREAM ]

  • Chelsea v. Tottenham, Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

Talk about pivotal. So many storylines are swirling ahead of this one as Frank Lampard‘s Chelsea have won just four of their last 14 Premier League and are somehow still in fourth, but they are now just one point ahead of Jose Mourinho’s Spurs who at one stage were 11 points off the top four. This rivalry is always intense and both sets of players know what is expected. It may not be pretty but this London derby will be hugely important in deciding how the final months of the season pans out for both. Heung-min Son has joined Harry Kane on the injury list so Spurs will look to Steven Bergwijn and Lucas Moura for an attacking threat, while Frank Lampard is without Christian Pulisic (still) and N’Golo Kante with Tammy Abraham a doubt. The key man here could be Olivier Giroud who looks primed to play a big role either from the start or off the bench and his clinical finishing may be the difference. Expect plenty of antics from Mourinho on the sidelines as he returns to the Bridge, a place where he hasn’t won as an opposing manager since 2010 and no longer gets a warm welcome from the Chelsea faithful.


Chance for Guardiola’s boys to seal second [ STREAM ]

  • Leicester City v. Man City, Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC)

Man City have had themselves one of the toughest weeks in recent history as last Friday they were handed a two-season ban from European competitions by UEFA. Since then the fans have had their say with plenty of anti-UEFA banners and chants during their midweek home win against West Ham, while CEO Soriano has called the allegations ‘false’ and Pep Guardiola has said he will stay next season no matter what. They want all of the focus to now be on the pitch and they certainly look much better defensive with Aymeric Laporte back fit. He will have to stop Jamie Vardy and the Foxes and this should be a tight, tense game. Brendan Rodgers and Leicester sit in third and are four points back from City and if they have any hope of finishing in the second place, they need to at least not lose at the King Power Stadium. With a trip to Real Madrid coming up in the Champions League last 16 first leg next week, maybe Guardiola will rest a few starters for the trip to Leicester?


Surging Gunners, Toffees getting bounce from new managers [ STREAM ]

  • Arsenal v. Everton, Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is a former captain of Arsenal and Everton so this will always be a special game for him and as for Everton’s new man in charge, Carlo Ancelotti was linked with the Arsenal job again and again in recent seasons. Both coaches could have easily ended up in charge of their opponents this Sunday but both won’t care about that as the teams they are managing now are flying. Everton have lost just once in their last 11 games and have dragged themselves from a relegation battle to in the battle for European qualification. Arsenal sit one place and two points behind them as defensive improvement have been key to both teams turning things around. They’ve spent big money to add exciting attacking talents but their recent success is more about adding structure. This will be a tight game. That said, the Gunners are unbeaten in their last 23 league games against the Toffees, winning 19 times, and for whatever reason they just love playing against Everton in the Premier League.


Two steps forward for Man United? [ STREAM ]

  • Man United v. Watford, Sunday (Watch live, 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

They rode their luck with VAR calls going their way in a big win at Chelsea on Monday but all of a sudden Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s Man United are just three points off the top four. Will it be a case of one step forward and one step back like it has been all season long for them? Man United have beaten Chelsea (twice), Man City, Tottenham and Leicester City but they have lost against the likes of Bournemouth, Watford and West Ham to bring the back down to earth with a bang each and every time they looked like serious top four contenders once again. Anthony Martial is in fine form with goals in back-to-back games and the January additions of Bruno Fernandes and Odion Ighalo give them fresh options and extra creativity and power in the final third. Fernandes will be key against Watford as they will sit back, get 10 men behind the ball and try to hit the Red Devils on the counter. United need to develop a Plan B against teams who love to sit back against them and the Portuguese playmaker was brought in to help them break down stubborn opponents. United don’t need any help beating the big boys. It’s the strugglers they’ve struggled against this season but this is a chance for them to take two giant steps forward as defensively Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Eric Bailly, Luke Shaw and Brandon Williams look like a settled back five.

In the Mixed Zone with JPW: Episode 1

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NBC Sports’ Pro Soccer Talk lead writer and editor Joe Prince-Wright shares his behind-the-scenes access into the Premier League mixed zones highlighting the intriguing interviews from this week’s marquee matches.

This week, JPW shares his mixed zone interviews from Chelsea-Manchester United, Arsenal-Newcastle and Manchester City-West Ham.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

To listen to more from the mixed zone with Joe Prince-Wright as he takes you deep inside Premier League stadiums, subscribe to In the Mixed Zone with JPW Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow him on Twitter @JPW_NBCSports here.

Click here for In the Mixed Zone with archive ]

Click play below to listen to Episode 1 in full.

Pep reacts to Sterling’s Real Madrid comments

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Man City boss Pep Guardiola has responded to comments from his player Raheem Sterling about their upcoming UEFA Champions League opponents Real Madrid.

Sterling, 25, spoke to Spanish outlet AS and confirmed that he is really happy at Man City ‘right now’ but admitted that Real Madrid are a ‘fantastic club’ and waxed lyrical about their famous white shirt.

“Right now I’m at City and I’m really happy. But I say Real Madrid are a fantastic club,” Sterling said. “When you see the white shirt you know exactly what the club stands for, it’s massive. [Rumours of their interest], it’s something that you see all the time, but I’m a City player and I’m enjoying it at the moment, even if things haven’t gone quite planned in the league.

“We now have a massive opportunity in the Champions League. I keep saying Real Madrid is a fantastic club, there’s lovely weather, but I keep saying that I am quite happy at City. I have a contract with City now and I have to respect this. But it’s a fantastic club.”

The photo on the front of AS showed Sterling with a Real Madrid shirt on one shoulder and a Man City shirt on the other.

Guardiola was asked about his response to those comments and if he thought Sterling, or any other players, would be less committed to Man City given their two-year ban from European competitions.

“Players are free to talk and say what they believe and think,” Guardiola said. “We are not hear to tell them what they think. I am sure about the commitment of our players. They have shown it for many years and nothing changes.”

Sterling has returned to training after two weeks out through injury and he could play at Leicester City on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) as Guardiola’s men aim to open up a seven-point gap to third-place Leicester with a win.

Sterling’s comments are complimentary about Real Madrid and given their reported admiration for him for quite some time, the timing of saying this is a little odd given City’s ban from UEFA and so much uncertainty around the future of the club in the Champions League.

Despite Guardiola committing himself to staying at Man City for next season and until the end of his contract in the summer of 2021, his players will get plenty of offers to leave if the Champions League ban is upheld. Lionel Messi has joked that Barcelona should “sign the lot of them!” when asked about Sergio Aguero and others signing for the Spanish giants.

Sterling isn’t the first or last Man City player who will be targeted by European giants over the next few months as the situation remains uncertain.