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Top Premier League storylines for Week 36

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If you blinked and missed the first 35 weeks of the 2018-19 Premier League season — here’s hoping you didn’t — at least you’re here for what should be a thrilling sprint to the finish for each of the top-six positions, plus a desperate sprint away from the third and final relegation spot.

[ MORE: Man City win Manchester derby, inch closer to defending title ]

Liverpool look to re-apply the pressure on Man City
Liverpool v. Huddersfield, 3 p.m. ET, Friday, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]
Burnley v. Man City, 9:05 a.m. ET, Sunday, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

As Manchester City and Liverpool go back and forth in the PL title race, it’s Liverpool who’ll go first in Week 36 and look to leapfrog Man City once again before they take the field later in the weekend. Already-relegated Huddersfield Town are set to visit Anfield on Friday, which means the Reds could be two points clear of City for nearly 48 hours, until the Sky Blues visit 15th-place Burnley on Sunday. Liverpool have won six straight in league play, which would be deserving title-winning form if City hadn’t won 11 straight to not only remain top of the table, but also to get there in the first place. The title race should come down to the season’s final day, but we can’t get to Week 38 without first playing Week 36.

Red Devils’ last stand

Man United v. Chelsea, 11:30 a.m. ET, Sunday, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

This one is really quite simple: if Manchester United were to lose to Chelsea at Old Trafford on Sunday, they would fall six points back of the Blues — and fourth place — with just two games left to play. Given that their goal differential is already eight worse than Chelsea, their top-four dreams would be dead. On the other hand, it would be the highest remaining hurdle cleared by Chelsea who finish the season with games against Watford and Leicester City.

Bluebirds’ last stand

Fulham v. Cardiff City, 10 a.m. ET, Saturday, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

Cardiff City, who currently sit 18th in the table and three points adrift of safety, will face 12th-place Crystal Palace and sixth-place Man United in their final two games of the season. It’s a tricky proposition should they need a victory in either game to avoid relegation. But first, a lifeline: a trip to Craven Cottage to take on already-relegated Fulham on Saturday. Would it be impossible for Cardiff to stay up without beating Fulham? Sure, but it doesn’t mean they should willingly go down that route.

Arsenal spiraling toward collapse

Leicester City v. Arsenal, 7 a.m. ET, Sunday, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

Just a few weeks ago, Arsenal appeared the surging frontrunners to finish third. Tottenham Hotspur had blown a 10-point in a span of two weeks and the Gunners were hitting their late-season stride just in time to reinstate St. Totteringham’s Day. Now, Arsenal are the losers of three of their last four games, including a 3-1 no-show performance against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Wednesday, and no longer hold their destiny in their own hands. Unai Emery‘s side is in grave danger of not only failing to finish above Tottenham, but also of missing the Champions League, for a third straight season.

Court date for USWNT’s law suit versus U.S. Soccer delayed

USWNT equal pay
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A court case that has dragged U.S. Soccer’s administration through the mud and led to a change of leadership may drag into the summer.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

A judge in California has delayed the May 5 trial of gender discrimination against the USSF until June 16 due in part to the coronavirus pandemic. A pretrial conference was also moved to June 1.

The federation is being sued by members of the two-time reigning World Cup champion USWNT under the Equal Pay Act.

The women are requesting more than $66 million in damages.

The extra month gives both parties more time to reach a settlement which could keep this ugly case away from trial. Given the uncertainty in our world, it could of course be delayed again.

The USSF has a new CEO in Will Wilson, who can make a major statement of change by stopping the trial from reaching court.

Handicapping the Final Four of Premier League March Madness

Premier League March Madness
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Our Premier League March Madness results have been as topsy-turvy as the 2019/20 on-field campaign before coronavirus halted it last month.

Yes, the runaway No. 1 seed is alive, but the second, third, fourth, and fifth seeds have been expelled from the tournament within the first two rounds.

Voting in the semifinal round begins Thursday.

[ RESULTS: March Madness Round of 16 ]

Before we go any further, if you’re unfamiliar: To make sure you’re not missing out on either March Madness or the business end of the PL season, we’ve gone ahead and merged the two competitions. The March Madness Final Four and Championship game were due to take place this weekend in Atlanta but now you will be voting on Tottenham v. Arsenal instead of Duke v. Kansas.

Teams are seeded from 1-16 based on their current spot in the table, with Aston Villa winning the relegation playoffs on Monday to remain in the Premier League.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ] 

Before we handicap the semifinal matches, let’s take a look at where the field sits after your Wednesday voting.

No. 1 Liverpool v. No. 12 Everton
No. 6 Wolves v. No. 7 Sheffield United

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Look, all bets are off for the derby. The Everton faithful has shown up in a big way during voting, dispatching Manchester United and Chelsea.

That’s big time stuff, though Liverpool ended the dreams of our presumptive sleeping giant favorite Arsenal after beating West Ham in the Sweet Sixteen.

The Reds are going to have to not just been upstart Everton but overcome the legions of rival supporters who would happily click the Toffees’ box rather than see Liverpool gain the crown.

The other side of the bracket sees No. 7 Sheffield United looking to continue its surprising run in both the PL season and our voting.

The Blades knocked off Man City, potentially aided by the same phenomenon Everton hopes to see on Thursday.

Now they meet Wolves, who may be riding a crest of North American momentum in the form of affinity for El Tri hero Raul Jimenez.

Our prediction: Everton and Wolves in the Final.

RESULTS: Premier League March Madness Elite Eight

Premier League March Madness
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Everton continued its upset path toward in our Premier League March Madness voting, showing its sensational support and setting up a fantastic eMerseyside Derby in the Final Four.

Thousands of votes were cast Wednesday, and the Toffees upset isn’t even the top underdog story.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ] 

Chris Wilder’s Blades of Sheffield United won a back-and-forth affair with No. 2 seed Manchester City to move into the semifinals.

That’s where they’ll meet No. 6 seed Wolves, who powered past Leicester City as if it wasn’t a challenge.

If you want to see the full game schedule, seedings and bracket, here is the post you need as the tournament will run all week long:

Monday: Relegation semifinals, final – Aston Villa prevailed, Norwich, Bournemouth, Watford relegated
TuesdaySweet 16 results in full
Wednesday: Elite Eight
Thursday: Final Four
Friday: Championship game

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

IFAB: New handball rule can be adopted when games resume

Handball rule
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The International Football Association Board (IFAB) issued a letter from secretary Lukas Brud on Wednesday, outlining several changes to the game.

The “tee shirt line” handball rule may be coming to club football quicker than expected due to the coronavirus suspension of the 2019/20 season.

IFAB will allow leagues the choice to use the new handball rule when matches resume this season, also making changes to VAR protocol and vowing to review the offside rule.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

The new handball rule states that the shoulder goes to the end of the shirt sleeve or the bottom of the armpit (though obviously not in the case of a long-sleeve jersey).

For the purposes of determining handball offences, the ‘arm’ stops at the bottom of the armpit

So… get ready for baggy, longer jersey sleeves, or the increased recruitment of players with the longest armpits.

Kidding aside, the handball rule desperately needed clarification and we’ll see if this gives enough to fans and players alike.

Referees will now be “expected” to go to the screen on the field when a call is subjective, forcing the official to either uphold or overrule his initial call.

This same post says IFAB will now allow accidental handballs in the run-up to a goal in certain situations.

“Accidental handball by an attacking player should only be penalized if it ‘immediately’ results in a goal or an obvious opportunity for the player and/or their team to score a goal (i.e. following the handball, the ball travels only a short distance and/or there are very few passes).”

Well, that needs some clarification.

Back to the timing issue for the new handball rule, it seems logical that leagues would want to introduce new laws with a new season but stand-by for the decision of your favorite league.

As for the offside rule, “The members agreed that the fundamental philosophy of offside is underpinned by a desire to encourage attacking football and the scoring of goals. It was further agreed, therefore, that Law 11 – Offside should be analyzed and reviewed with a view to potentially proposing changes reflecting this philosophy.”

It’s a lot to unpack, and we’ll surely here from proponents and opponents of the changes soon. As always, implementation will make the biggest difference in how these changes are received.