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Preview: Watford v. Arsenal

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Watford host Arsenal at Vicarage Road on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), with both teams pushing hard for European qualification.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

The Hornets are still flying high after reaching the FA Cup final last weekend, as Javi Gracia‘s men will play Manchester City at Wembley on May 18 after their stunning semifinal comeback against Wolves. They are also in a great position to finish seventh and qualify for the Europa League, as Everton, Leicester and Wolves all lost at the weekend.

Unai Emery‘s Arsenal lost at Everton last time out, but they followed that up with an impressive defeat of Napoli in the UEFA Europa League quarterfinal first leg and the Gunners are very much in the hunt to finish in the top four.

In team news Watford are without Jose Holebas, Domingos Quina and Tom Cleverley who are all injured, while Arsenal’s Sokratis is serving the first of a two-game suspension after picking up 10 yellow cards and Granit Xhaka is struggling with a groin injury.


What they’re saying…

Javi Gracia on Watford focusing on Europe: “Our final is against Arsenal – not in May. This is the mentality we will keep and then at the end we will see the position and the points. But in this moment, our final is on Monday. My feeling is that the players are really focused on the next game. In this moment, I prefer to keep the same attitude we had during all the season, trying to give importance to the next game.”

Unai Emery on Gracia, Watford: “I know Javi Gracia and above all his teams are very organized with a big commitment to helping each other. They are very difficult teams to battle because defensively they are very strong and this is now at Watford. They are a very organized team, with a big capacity offensively because they create a good movement and a good idea, a good style to take that. I want to play matches against Javi Gracia and Watford because I think they are doing a big season.”


Prediction

This is a big week for Arsenal with the second leg of their Europa League quarterfinal at Napoli on Thursday, then they host Crystal Palace on Sunday. Emery will rotate his squad and Watford will be high on confidence after they reached the FA Cup final for just the second time in club history. I’m calling this a draw. 1-1.

Alaves seeks new coach after Fernandez resigns

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MADRID (AP) Spanish club Alaves says coach Abelardo Fernandez has resigned.

Alaves says it was Fernandez’s decision to leave after leading the modest Basque Country team to an 11th-place finish in the Spanish league.

[ MORE: La Liga results, stats

Fernandez said in a news conference on Monday the club did everything it could to try to keep him, but he felt he “would not be at 100 percent next season” and decided it was best to resign.

Fernandez joined Alaves at the end of 2017, helping the team finish 14th in the league last season, comfortably escaping relegation.

The club had a surprising start to this season, being as high as second in the standings and remaining in the fight for the final Champions League place until about 10 rounds to go.

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

Transfer rumor roundup: Felix to Man United; Sane to Bayern

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The Premier League transfer window is officially open again and that means one thing: transfer reports are going to start kicking up a few notches.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Here’s a look at some of the latest gossip from around the PL…


Benfica’s teenage superstar Joao Felix reportedly has a release clause of $130 million, and Manchester United are among the host of clubs ready to trigger it.

A report from the Daily Record says that United and Real Madrid are both ready to seal the deal for the 19-year-old attacking midfielder. Per the report United have opened talks with Benfica and their representatives were in Lisbon to see him play for the final time this season.

Felix has burst onto the scene in Europe this season and has helped Benfica win the Portuguese league title. His 20 goals and 11 assists in all competitions this season prove his pedigree, and United certainly need to rebuild their squad. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has constantly spoken about adding young, hungry, talented players this summer, and Felix is touted as the best young playmaker in Europe right now.

This transfer deal would make Felix the most expensive signing in United and Premier League history, and it does make you wonder if a deal is being lined up to offload Paul Pogba to Real Madrid and replace him with Felix.


Manchester City are struggling to keep hold of one of their stars, as a report from the Daily Mirror says that Bayern Munich are increasingly confident of signing Leroy Sane this summer.

Sane, 23, has failed to agree a new contract at City despite being in talks with the club for 18 months and Pep Guardiola has admitted he could leave this summer in search of more game time. Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva are City’s main starters in the wide attacking midfield roles, which has meant Sane and Riyad Mahrez have had to fight for minutes off the bench and starts here and there during their historic 2018-19 season.

That has often led to Sane looking pretty unhappy on the sidelines, but when he has got the chance to play he has been pretty good with his best-ever season in terms of goals scored with 16 across all competitions. Coming off the back of his shock omission from Germany’s 2018 World Cup squad, Sane has bounced back well and scored a pivotal goal in Man City’s PL win against Liverpool and a stunning free kick late on against his old club Schalke in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16.

Sane moving to Bayern would make sense as legendary wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben are moving on, with Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman set to take their mantle and any summer move for Callum Hudson-Odoi now in doubt after his serious injury. The German international has delivered in his three seasons at City, but Guardiola often seems enraged by his penchant for drifting inside with his runs and with the ball instead of staying wide on the touchline.

It seems like the stars are aligning for Sane to return to Germany and be a star at Bayern.

Out of contract Premier League Best XI

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With the 2018-19 season in the books, Premier League clubs are already turning their attention to next season.

Players are coming towards the end of their contracts, with the PL’s summer transfer now open which means some players can move on free transfers when their deals expire, usually on July 1.

Which players are available to pick up at the end of their deals on freebies?

There is always a lot of chatter at this time of the year about who will stay, which players have a one-year option to extend their deals, and which clubs also have that option. Olivier Giroud will stay at Chelsea for one more season, but he would have been the top striker available on a freebie this summer, while Ander Herrera is expected to sign for PSG after announcing he will leave Man United when his contract expires.

However, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding several star names at some of the PL’s biggest clubs. If you are a newly promoted club (Norwich, Sheffield United and one of Aston Villa and Derby County) you are no doubt looking at this list of experienced PL players and getting pretty excited.

Take a look at our “Out of Contract Best XI” below, as several players have yet to agree new deals with their current clubs.


Premier League, Out of Contract Best XI – 4-4-2 formation

—– Michel Vorm —–

Danny SimpsonGary CahillPhil JagielkaNacho Monreal — 

Antonio ValenciaMohamed DiameJuan MataAlberto Moreno — 

—- Daniel Sturridge —- Fernando Llorente —- 

On the bench
Willy Caballero
Leighton Baines
Danny Williams
Ander Herrera (expected to join PSG on free transfer)
Samir Nasri
Bakary Sako
Andy Carroll


Mbappe to stay at Paris Saint-Germain

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It appears that one of the transfer sagas of the summer is over before it truly began.

Kylian Mbappe, 20, hinted at leaving Paris Saint-Germain this summer for “a new project” in another country during his acceptance speech after being crowned the Ligue 1 Player of the Year on Sunday.

He has since stood by those comments, telling French outlet L’Equipe: “When I say something, I mean it. I said it. If it is at PSG, that’s good, if it is elsewhere, it is elsewhere.”

With Real Madrid leading the long list of clubs hoping to sign the Frenchman, who arrived at PSG in the summer of 2017 on loan from Monaco and then the move was made permanent for a fee of $210 million. That makes Mbappe the second most-expensive player in history behind his PSG teammate Neymar.

But PSG aren’t having any of this departure talk from Mbappe. Nope. Nada.

The French champions released a statement on Tuesday dismissing Mbappe’s comments and drawing their line firmly in the sand.

“Very strong ties have united Paris Saint-Germain and Kylian Mbappe for two years and this story will continue together also next season. With the shared ambition to write the history of European football, in the year of the 50th anniversary of PSG,a long awaited moment to write together a big page in the history of our club and in which everyone will have to do his part, always giving value to the collective.”

So, Monsieur Mbappe, over to you…

At 20 years of age he has plenty of time to move to Spain or England in the future but there’s no doubting Mbappe’s quality to move on and be a star for Real Madrid, Barcelona, Man City, whoever he wants.

Those three are probably the only three clubs who can afford his transfer fee and wages combined, but his 32 Ligue 1 goals this season show his quality and we all saw how good he was for France at the 2018 World Cup last summer. Real need a new hero and if they offer Gareth Bale and a large chunk of cash to PSG for Mbappe, could Les Parisiens really turn that down?

After all, PSG have Neymar and Edinson Cavani up front, so losing Mbappe would hardly hit them in terms of their attacking prowess. But Mbappe is a local kid who is the rising star in the game. Selling him before they’ve conquered the UEFA Champions League, their holy grail, would be unthinkable.

Mbappe’s comments suggest he isn’t totally happy at PSG, but unless Real Madrid put down an offer the French champs can’t refuse, he’s staying in the French capital.