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The world’s most political game? Venezuela v. Catalonia

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MADRID (AP) There will be lots of politics to talk about when Venezuela takes on a Catalonia squad in a friendly soccer game in Spain on Monday.

Venezuela has a coach who offered his resignation over the alleged political use of his national team, while Catalonia — the region in the middle of an independence dispute with — will be missing players because some non-Catalan teams didn’t release them.

Venezuela is coming off a convincing 3-1 win over Lionel Messi’s Argentina on Friday, but what attracted most of the attention after the friendly was an announcement by Venezuela coach Rafael Dudamel. He offered his resignation because he was not happy with the politicization of a pre-game visit by a representative of Juan Guaido, the man challenging Nicolas Maduro’s claim to the presidency in Venezuela.

Dudamel and the rest of the squad had welcomed the visit but the coach apparently did not like that images were later released to the public.

“Regrettably, they politicized the visit,” Dudamel said. “The agreement was that if there was any image or video, it would have been used internally only. But they politicized the visit, and we can’t allow that to happen. It was regrettable how they used it.”

Venezuela is in the middle of a power struggle since Maduro’s re-election last year was deemed illegitimate by several governments.

Dudamel said he will remain in charge of the squad on Monday, but his future will depend on talks with Venezuelan soccer federation officials in the coming days.

Catalonia has also undergone political turmoil, peaking recently in 2017 with an independence referendum not recognized by Madrid. The issue divided Spain at the time and remains a hot topic politically.

Although the region is not independent, Catalonia has often put together squads to play in friendly matches against other nations.

Among the Catalan players expected to play on Monday are veterans Gerard Pique and Xavi Hernandez. Both have retired from the Spanish national team and are off-duty with their clubs because of the international break.

Hernandez, a 39-year-old midfielder, currently plays in Qatar. The 32-year-old Pique, still a starter with Barcelona, decided to stop playing with Spain’s national team after the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

But other players initially selected for the squad were not released by their clubs, who said their decisions were not related to politics.

Valladolid, which is fighting relegation from the top tier of the Spanish league, was the first team to keep its players from taking part in Monday’s match, and Rayo Vallecano and Huesca — also threatened by relegation — later followed suit.

“We understand the reasons why these clubs are not going to let their players play,” Catalonia coach Gerard Lopez said.

The match will be played in Girona, a Catalan city about 60 miles from Barcelona.

Watch Live: Chelsea v. Leicester City

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Chelsea host Leicester City on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) in their home opener, as U.S. men’s national team star Christian Pulisic is handed the first start of his Premier League career.

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Frank Lampard will get a great ovation on his homecoming to Stamford Bridge, while Brendan Rodgers‘ Foxes will fancy their chance of causing an upset.

In team news Christian Pulisic starts on his home debut for Chelsea as he replaces Ross Barkley on the left, as Olivier Giroud and N’Golo Kante replace Tammy Abraham and Matteo Kovacic from the team which started at Man United last Sunday.

Leicester bring in Christian Fuchs at left back with Ben Chilwell out with a minor injury and the Austrian international coming in.


LINEUPS

Leicester XI: Schmeichel, Pereira, Evans, Soyuncu, Fuchs, Ndidi, Perez, Tielemans, Choudhury, Maddison, Vardy. Subs: Justin, Morgan, Albrighton, Ward, Iheanacho, Barnes, Praet.

Sheffield United battle past Crystal Palace

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Sheffield United beat Crystal Palace 1-0 on Sunday, as the Blades’ first home game back in the Premier League ended in victory.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

John Lundstram was the hero at Bramall Lane as his goal just after half time sealed all three points for the Yorkshire club, which was their first PL win since 2007.

Chris Wilder‘s side have now picked up four points from their first two games back in the big time, while Palace have yet to score across their opening two matches.


3 things we learned

1. Bramall Lane can become a fortress: The home fans created a wonderful atmosphere in their first PL home game since 2007, and they dragged their team over the line late on. As hefty challenges flew in and Chris Wilder wound up his players from the sidelines, this will be an intimidating place for teams to play. If the Blades are going to stay up, their home form needs to be very good and it seems like that is going to be the case.

2. Overlapping CBs a joy to watch: Chris Basham and Jack O'Connell marauding down the flanks was a joy to watch, and something we will see a lot from Sheffield United this season. Basham and O’Connell are encouraged to fly down the flanks and join attacks, with the holding midfielders sitting in for them and it certainly gives opponents a very different tactical headache to solve. O’Connell pushed forward down the left wing for United’s opening goal and the overload it created in a dangerous area worked superbly. Pretty soon a lot of other teams will be copying the Blades.

3. Wilfried Zaha not up to speed: In his first start of the season, Zaha spent most of the first half having a row with the home bench and fans. Roy Hodgson was hoping he would be focused after a summer-long saga which saw him state his desire to leave Palace, but moves to Arsenal and Everton both fell through. Zaha’s display on the pitch looked like a player who doesn’t really want to be at Palace. That is very worrying for the Eagles.

Man of the Match: Chris Basham – A dominant force in the air and on the ground, the center back held United’s defensive unit together and he epitomized their gritty display. The Blades’ longest-serving current player stood tall.


After a steady start to the game for both teams, Sheffield United started to cause plenty of problems as David McGoldrick had a shot blocked and Palace managed to scramble clear from a corner as the hosts built up a head of steam in the first half.

Callum Robinson struck an effort over the bar as the Blades dug deep and substitute Luke Freeman (who replaced the injured John Fleck) brought plenty of energy to the midfield battle.

The Blades should have taken the lead just before half time as Lundstram’s perfect cross the back post found McGoldrick but Vicente Guaita saved well.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Sheffield United got off to a perfect start in the second half as Jack O’Connell raced down the left flank and Freeman cut inside and sent a ball across goal which Guaita saved but the ball fell to Lundstram who slammed home to send Bramall Lane wild.

That opening goal sprung the game into life as Andros Townsend‘s deflected shot from distance was pushed out by Dean Henderson and even though Palace tried their best to get into the game, Sheffield United’s defense held firm.

Some meaty challenges flew in late on as substitute Ollie McBurnie made a nuisance of himself, as the home fans roared their team to victory.

Report: Alexis Sanchez pushing for Inter Milan loan

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A report from Italy states that Manchester United are in talks with Inter Milan over loaning Alexis Sanchez for the 2019-20 campaign.

Sanchez, 30, has reportedly asked United to send him to Inter for the upcoming season as the Chilean star has failed to settled at Old Trafford over the last 18 months and scored once in 20 Premier League appearances last season.

He has yet to play this season or over the summer after being injured playing for Chile in the Copa America this summer, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been positive about Sanchez whenever he’s spoken about him this summer and said wants to keep him at Man United.

However, per the report from Fabrizio Romano in Italy the former Arsenal star wants to head back to Serie A — where he started his career in Europe with Udinese — and Inter only want to pay $16.6 million to sign him permanently next summer when he will still have two years left on his contract at United.

With the summer transfer window still open in Germany, Spain and Italy until Sept. 2, this move is something to keep an eye on.

This is a big call for United.

Do they really want an unhappy and lackluster Sanchez around, blocking the pathway for the likes of Mason Greenwood to break into the first team?

Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard will provide goals and will be helped out by Juan Mata and Greenwood, but if one of Rashford or Martial gets injured, Solskjaer’s attacking options diminish quite rapidly.

Selling Romelu Lukaku to Inter Milan already has them down a senior striker and if they have to subsidize Sanchez’s huge wages just to send him out on loan, is it really worth it?

After VAR drama, does new handball law need to change?

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The fallout from Manchester City and Tottenham’s wild 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium continues, as late VAR drama stole the show with Gabriel Jesus‘ strike ruled out deep into second half stoppage time.

[ MORE: VAR drama dominates

Jesus’ goal in stoppage time was ruled out for a handball on Aymeric Laporte after being checked by VAR, as the new laws brought in by IFAB this summer were interpreted correctly. The exact same thing happened as Wolves had a goal chalked out against Leicester during the opening weekend of the season.

But do those new laws need to be tweaked?

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The new rules state that if there’s a handball in the box from an attacking player which either a) leads to the ball going into the net or b) leads directly to a goal being scored, then it will be called a handball.

However, the same law states that if a defending player handles in the box then it is down to the referees discretion to decide whether or not it was a deliberate handball.

As you’d expected, Man City midfielder Ilkay Gunodgan has strong feelings on this law change, and our broadcast crew discuss whether or not this law needs to be changed in the video above.

The overall feeling is that the law needs to tweaking to state that handballs in the box by either attacking or defending players are treated the same and called a handball.