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Premier League Preview: Tottenham Hotspur v. Arsenal

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  • North London derby, for the 198th time
  • NLD wins: Arsenal – 82, Spurs – 64, Draws – 51 (all competitions)
  • Arsenal 4-2 Spurs, in December
  • Arsenal 0-2 Spurs, two weeks later (League Cup)

It feels like I write this sentence ahead of the season’s final north London derby every season, and it applies once again in March 2019: no matter the drastically different paths they take to arrive here, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal always seem to come together, both in the Premier League table and on the field, at a crucial crossroads this time of year.

Just a week ago, Tottenham led Arsenal by 10 points, and St. Totteringham’s Day could have just about been canceled for the third straight year. Then, Spurs lost back-to-back PL games for the first time since September, and the gap is now four points and successive places in the table. Up next? Yes, of course, the Gunners visit the new White Hart Lane Wembley Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

If one of these clubs ceased to exist, the other might as well fold and dissolve its assets as well, because what would be the point without its adversary? Good, never great. Top-four, never title winners. Kings of north London, or not.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Harry Kane recently returned from yet another ankle ligament injury, so Spurs should be operating at full-strength and humming right along, right? Try again. Sure, Kane leads his side with 15 goals this season (fourth-most in the PL) and he even bagged one on his return against Burnley last weekend, but Spurs managed to win six of eight games in his absence and scored 18 goals in the process (six from Son Heung-min). Since Kane returned? The aforementioned defeats in succession, and just the lone goal scored.

On the other side, Arsenal have waltzed to three straight PL victories in exceedingly comfortable fashion (a two-goal lead before halftime of each). That said, the difference in the Gunners’ home and away records this season is startling: 12 wins in 15 games at home (38 points), compared to just 5 wins in 13 games away from home (18 points). Their victory over last-place and almost-relegated Huddersfield Town two weeks ago was their first away win since November. It’s unclear if Mesut Ozil is back in the good graces of manager Unai Emery, but the club’s highest-paid player made just his fourth PL start in three months on Wednesday and tallied a goal and an assist.

Injuries

Spurs OUT: Eric Dier (tonsillitis), Dele Alli (hamstring); RETURNING: Jan Vertonghen (hip) | Arsenal — OUT: Hector Bellerin (knee), Danny Welbeck (ankle), Rob Holding (knee) | QUESTIONABLE: Laurent Koscielny (knock), Sead Kolasinac (knock)

What they’re saying

Mauricio Pochettino, on NLD lessons: “I’ve learned that every game is completely different and you cannot guess what is going to happen. You need to be ready for different circumstances. It’s always special, always different. I’ve learned that if you have a lot of experience playing this type of game, it shows you the more times you play, you understand that it’s not a plan, it’s to play with your heart, to play with focus and try to deliver your best. One game and another game is never similar. We saw that when we played in the Premier League and then the Carabao Cup, two different results, performances and two completely different games. We need to be ready for all circumstances that can happen in the game.”

Unai Emery, on catching Spurs: “We have been speaking about the opportunity [to finish above Tottenham]. Each match is giving us the opportunity to win three points. There was a 10-point difference between Tottenham and us two weeks ago and now it is four points. … The big opportunity for us is to play with confidence in our moment. They have lost two matches but are having a very big season.”

Prediction

It’s been nearly five years (10 games) since one of these sides last won a league meeting away from home. Thus, advantage Spurs, to get something out of this one. In nine NLD appearances (PL only), Kane has scored nine goals, so it’s pretty safe to assume he’ll bag at least one. Still, it’s hard to look at Spurs’ midfield of Harry Winks and Mousa Sissoko and believe they can keep a clean sheet against Arsenal’s firepower. This one has wholly-unsatisfying-to-both-sides draw written all over it.

Fans who want to try their hand at predicting PL games can down the NBC Sports Predictor app, with a chance to win up to $50,000 each week. Download it on iOS or Google Play.

U.S. Soccer makes it official: USMNT’s first Gold Cup tuneup to be vs. Jamaica

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It will be a rematch of the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup final as the U.S. begins its preparations for this summer’s Gold Cup.

U.S. Soccer announced that the U.S. Men’s National Team will host Jamaica in a friendly match on June 5 in Washington D.C. at Audi Field, the home of D.C. United. Jamaica, ranked No. 53 in FIFA’s latest world rankings, has made the finals of each of the last two Gold Cups, and they’ll be hosting matches at the Gold Cup for the first time in tournament history in this year’s edition.

“As we prepare for the start of the Gold Cup, this is the perfect opportunity in terms of opponent and venue,” USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter said in a statement. “Playing against Jamaica we get exposure to another different style of play, and one that we may see later in the tournament. For us, there’s always something special about playing in the nation’s capital. There have been so many memorable games for the National Team in Washington, D.C., and now we look forward to beginning another chapter in the new stadium.”

For the U.S., it’s a strong test and part of a really solid 1-2 punch of friendly matches, beginning with Jamaica and then Venezuela ahead of the Gold Cup. Berhalter is hoping it will prepare the U.S. for battles with Panama and Trinidad and Tobago. Should the U.S. advance, it could face potentially Jamaica, Honduras, or even El Salvador in the quarterfinals or semifinals, with a trip to the final on the line.

Gregg Berhalter has just a few weeks before he has to make one of his first big decisions, albiet one with a lot of flexibility. By May 16, Berhalter must submit to CONCACAF his provisional Gold Cup squad, which can include up to 40 players and four goalkeepers. By Monday, June 3, just two days before this friendly match against Jamaica, Berhalter must submit his final roster of 23 players, including three goalkeepers.

Berhalter, any any coach, has up until 24 hours until the USMNT’s first game (on June 18) to make any emergency replacements. As such, it’s likely that Berhalter will carry more than 23 players with him when the U.S. plays Jamaica and Venezuela.

Adebayor reveals reason behind that celebration against Arsenal

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Just about everyone remembers it. (If not, watch it here on Youtube)

Then Manchester City striker Emmanuel Adebayor finds himself in space between two of Arsenal’s centerbacks, Adebayor’s former teammates, before the Togolese striker heads home a terrific goal. Adebayor then go on a 100-yard sprint down the left side of the field, finishing in an epic knee slide right in front of the Arsenal away support at the Etihad, then called the City of Manchester Stadium.

[MORE: MLS still has a long way to go]

It was audacious. It was outrageous. But we didn’t know why he truly did that until now.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Daily Mail, Adebayor said that racist abuse from Arsenal fans that day was what led to his famous celebration for Man City. Racist abuse has been back in the news recently, as many Afro-descended players including Raheem Sterling, Danny Rose and Daniel Sturridge have spoken out about the hate, abuse, and vitriol they experience on a weekly basis.

“I remember getting to the stadium and Arsenal fans were there,” Adebayor told the Daily Mail. “All I heard was the the chant ‘Your mother is a whore and your father washes elephants.’ My father worked in currency exchange and my mother is a businesswoman. But this went on and on. So how can I reply? I didn’t have a voice to go against thousands of supporters.

“And now the same FA are trying to stop racism? I’m sorry. It does not work that way. Today is too late. We are tired. Enough is enough. I see Mario Balotelli and Didier Drogba on Instagram. How many times do we have to post something? We have to react. We have to leave the pitch.”

Earlier in the interview, Adebayor also stated he did not want to leave Arsenal, but said he was forced to by then-manager Arsene Wenger. The now 35-year-old striker also admitted that Arsenal didn’t do enough to hold onto its top players, allowing the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie, along with himself, to leave and win titles and earn more money elsewhere.

“I did not just wake up one morning at Manchester City,” Adebayor said. “I had signed a five-year contract at Arsenal. I came back for pre-season and Wenger said ‘You have to leave’. I said ‘Why should I leave?’ I asked for one more year and if it does not work, I will walk off. He’s like ‘No.’ He said if I stayed he would not put me in the squad. When you hear that, you have to go.”

The rest of the interview is worth your time, in which Adebayor reveals he nearly committed suicide as a teenager in the Metz academy, what it was like seeing death flash before his eyes in Angola during the 2010 African Cup of Nations, when the Togo team bus was attacked by militants, and, on a lighter note, who his favorite teammates were.

Marseille president proposes video-game like rule changes

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If he’s serious, Marseille’s club president could be proposing a rule change that would drastically alter the way soccer is played.

Speaking at a summit in France for start-up companies, Jacques-Henri Eyraud stated his support for allowing goals scored from shots fired outside of the box to count for two goals, instead of one. It would be similar to how in basketball, a ball shot from outside the arc is worth three points instead of two. Of course, when that rule came into existence in the NBA in the late 1970s, it completely revolutionized the game.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Eyraud compared the rule change to the ultra-popular FIFA video game, saying if it could happen in the video game, why not in real life (note: it’s unclear whether this is actually possible in FIFA, but Eyraud could have been speaking in hypotheticals).

“FIFA (the video game) is one of my competitors,” Eyraud said. “Fortnite is one of my competitors in the digital world. Football is extraordinarily conservative, it has to evolve. “Why does (the video game) now propose that a goal put outside of the box, is worth two points? Why could not that be the case in real life?”

While soccer is still the world’s most popular game, it’s true that video games in general – and the rising cost of tickets in certain countries – are having an impact on getting fans into the stadium. With the ease and joy of playing soccer in a video game, some people could be convinced to stay inside on their couch and enjoy the game from home instead of going out to the stadium.

It may just be a crazy idea or a marketing ploy, but it’s fun to think about how that rule change could revolutionize soccer. It would certainly have made players such as David Beckham and Steven Gerrard, as well as free kick experts like Beckham, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo all the more valuable. Plus, one free kick late in the match, with a team trailing 1-0, could lead to a dramatic 2-1 victory with one kick.

It probably won’t happen – though it would be cool to toggle that on in the FIFA video game – but it’s a fun idea to think about.

Impact travel saga highlights how far MLS still has to go

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Major League Soccer has made many impressive strides in its 24 seasons of existence. But if the Montreal Impact’s travel situation proved anything, it’s that the league still has a long way to go to be compared alongside the big four American leagues – The NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL.

[READ: Top Premier League Storylines for Week 36]

The Montreal Impact spent around 13 hours on Tuesday and Wednesday in transit ahead of its match on Wednesday evening against the New England Revolution. Remarkably, the Impact beat the Revolution, 3-0 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., but it should never have taken that long to get the Impact down – or any professional team – from Montreal to the Boston suburbs.

According to an article in the Athletic, which details the Impact’s administrative travel mishaps, the team ended up spending seven hours in the Montreal International Airport waiting for a delayed flight to Logan International Airport in Boston, only for the flight to be cancelled at 10 p.m.

The players were then scheduled to arrive back at the airport the next morning to take a charter flight, but then that flight was delayed a further five hours, due to a flight schedule change – Logan Airport wouldn’t accept the charter – and having to go through customs and immigration in Montreal before re-boarding the flight and waiting their turn.

Shockingly, the Impact arrived at their hotel with just three and a half hours before kickoff. Evan Bush, the Impact’s starting goalkeeper and representative for the MLS Players Association, believed that the game should have been called off. Per the Athletic, the Impact asked the league to postpone the game, but the league apparently didn’t want to inconvenience fans and TV broadcasters, who are ultimately the ones that pay to watch the players. So it was a financial decision. The Impact had all their limbs, hence, they were ready to go.

As per the most recent collective bargaining agreement signed between the MLSPA and the league, teams are only allowed four charter flights per season (Montreal’s charter planes to and from Boston reportedly won’t count against their four for this season). MLS views charter flights – now seemingly archaic considering how many incredibly rich owners there are in the league – as a type of competitive advantage, which could sway one international or domestic signing from joining one team over another.

Thus, in 2019, everyone from Evan Bush to Wayne Rooney and Zlatan are taking commercial flights and sitting in economy, sometimes having to split up into multiple groups on different flights to get everyone to the final destination. Most teams save their charter flights for long-haul journeys, like Montreal to Los Angeles or Vancouver to Atlanta, leaving medium and short-haul flights to the mercy of the weather or flight delays at some of North America’s busiest airports.

In 2019, it’s a shame that MLS is still operating this way, as though team owners can’t afford to fly their players around in the type of accommodations that would – over the course of a long, difficult season filled with a lot of travel – help keep players fresher by the end of the year.

Since it’s been negotiated, there’s nothing the league can do right now, but hopefully when the CBA next comes due in 2020, the league will take that off the table and allow all teams to use charters as they choose.

While events like this can happen in the other sports, having players take charter flights significantly helps both the team administration and helps avoid many of the pitfalls of flying basic economy with the rest of the country.