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2019 Women’s World Cup preview: Groups D, E and F

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The Women’s World Cup begins Friday at the Parc des Princes in Paris, where hosts France will tangle with South Korea to kick off a month-long chase for the honor of being crowned the best team in women’s football.

PST’s Nicholas Mendola gave us the tour of Groups A, B and C this morning, so here’s the lowdown on the other half of the field.

Group D

The inside track: After finishing third in a World Cup (2015) and reaching the semifinals of the European Championship (2017) just two years apart, England enter this summer’s showpiece a trendy pick to make yet another deep run. Only this time, the Three Lionesses are under the guidance of a head coach, Phil Neville, without any major tournament experience. If you’re not already familiar with the work of forward Nikita Parris, it won’t be long before you are. Kim Little is one of the all-time greats and she can singlehandedly give Scotland every chance of challenging England for the top spot. Meanwhile, Japan appears halfway through a transition between the old guard (back-to-back World Cup finals, winning it all in 2011) and a younger generation of future stars. They could go either way.

Game schedule

Sunday, June 9: England v. Scotland

Monday, June 8: Argentina v. Japan

Friday, June 14: Japan v. Scotland

Friday, June 14: England v. Argentina

Wednesday, June 19: Japan v. England

Wednesday, June 19: Scotland v. Argentina

Three star players to watch

1) Kim Little, Scotland
2) Nikita Parris, England (below)
3) Karen Carney, England

Prediction

While Group D has three teams that are absolutely worth of the knockout rounds, it’s entirely possible — if not likely — that one of the three will be left out on account of a heavy concentration of points going to England and one of Scotland or Japan. England should finish top, then it’ll be the combination of Little and 20-year-old Erin Cuthbert ascending to superstardom to push Scotland past Japan.

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Group E

The inside track: Once upon a time (not so long ago), this would have been Canada’s group to walk over, but that’s simply no longer the case, for two reasons: 1) Christine Sinclair’s legendary career is still going strong, but she’s now 35 and no longer the one-woman terror she once was; 2) the Dutch have built and attacking juggernaut and could very well put three (or more) past every team in the tournament. New Zealand will set out to defend for their lives, while Cameroon is a rising team more than capable of leapfrogging the Football Ferns for the inside track to third place and a spot in the knockout rounds.

Game schedule

Monday, June 10: Canada v. Cameroon

Tuesday, June 11: New Zealand v. Netherlands

Saturday, June 15: Netherlands v. Cameroon

Saturday, June 15: Canada v. New Zealand

Thursday, June 20: Netherlands v. Canada

Thursday, June 20: Cameroon v. New Zealand

Three star players to watch

1) Lieke Martens, Netherlands (below, center)
2) Christine Sinclair, Canada
3) Vivianne Miedema, Netherlands

Prediction

It’s setting up to be a tournament that rewards teams willing to take risks and attack with fervor, therefore it’ll be: Netherlands, Canada, Cameroon, New Zealand.

(Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Group F

The inside track: Arguably the most straightforward of all the groups, the only question we need answered from Group F is who’ll finish top — is it the obvious choice of the Americans, or the surprising Swedes? It’ll almost certainly be the former, which means Jill Ellis’ team will likely go into the same half of the bracket as England (potential quarterfinals opponent) and France (semifinals), assuming they can get past either Spain or China in a trick round-of-16 matchup. As for the others, Chile and Thailand will try to defend as if their lives depend upon doing so, likely making for an entertaining goal-differential contest between the favorites.

Game schedule

Tuesday, June 11: Chile v. Sweden

Tuesday, June 11: USA v. Thailand

Sunday, June 16: Sweden v. Thailand

Sunday, June 16: USA v. Chile

Thursday, June 20: Sweden v. USA

Thursday, June 20: Thailand v. Chile

Three star players to watch

1) Tobin Heath, USA (below)
2) Alex Morgan, USA
3) Kosovare Asllani, Sweden

Prediction

Tobin Heath is (finally) widely recognized as one of the world’s best players after putting up six-plus goals and assists (combined). The fact that Sweden is the USWNT’s final group game all but assures the starters will feature in all three games.

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Watch Live: Man City v. West Ham

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Manchester City looks for a reaction in its first match after the UEFA sanctions were announced as they host West Ham at the Etihad on Wednesday (Watch live at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Citizens will want to finish this season strong given the future uncertainty surrounding the club, and with Leicester City nipping at their heels, a strong performance will be imperative. Man City sits just a single point above the third-placed Foxes and a poor result could leave them vulnerable for when the two meet on Saturday.

[ STREAM LIVE: Man City v. West Ham ]

Man City’s lineup sees John Stones, Ilkay Gundogan, and Fernandinho all sat on the bench. Nicolas Otamendi partners with Aymeric Laporte at the back with Rodri covering them in midfield. Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva start in the middle with Bernardo Silva in the attacking midfield role, while Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero both start up front.

The match is massively important for West Ham as well, with the Hammers sitting 18th in the Premier League table a point off safety. The Hammers counter Man City’s attacking lineup with three at the back as Declan Rice provides cover per usual and captain Mark Noble partners with Tomas Soucek in midfield.

LINEUPS

Man City: Ederson; Walker, Otamendi, Laporte, Mendy; Rodri, De Bruyne, Silva; Bernardo, Jesus, Aguero.

West Ham: Fabianski; Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Masuaku; Rice, Soucek, Noble; Snodgrass, Antonio.

Solskjaer admits Rashford’s season may be over, Euros in jeopardy

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted Wednesday that Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford suffered a setback in his recovery from a stress fracture in his back, and that he may not return before the end of the Premier League season. In addition, Solskjaer admitted there is a chance that Rashford’s availability for England in this summer’s Euro 2020 tournament could be in jeopardy.

Speaking ahead of United’s visit tomorrow to Club Brugge in Europa League action, Solskjaer said that he hopes Rashford can make a return, but that it’s certainly in question as he will be out “another few months definitely.”

[ MORE: McTominay, Lindelof back fit ]

“It will just be touch and go towards the end [of the season],” Solskjaer said. “Hopefully we can get through this tournament and prolong the season. It takes time, I’m not a doctor. I was hoping he would recover quicker than what it looks like he’s going to be out for.”

When asked about his potential availability for selection at the Euros this summer, Solskjaer said, “If he’s not fit enough he won’t go.”

It seems that Manchester United expected Rashford to be back “He had a scan and it was maybe more severe, that fracture, than what we hoped for and expected, he felt fine the few days before that. And I’ve never had anatomy in school, so I didn’t know it just takes that time to recover.”

[ MORE: Neymar upset with PSG for extra rest ]

News of a potential injury to Rashford cropped up during the Premier League match against Norwich City game on January 11, when he was withdrawn after 59 minutes. Solskjaer admitted later that Rashford needed rest, but decided to risk the 22-year-old England international anyways against Wolverhampton Wanderers in an FA Cup replay four days later, a decision he later came to publicly regret. Rashford came off after just 16 minutes and it was later announced that he had aggravated his injury from a single stress fracture to a double stress fracture.

After the Wolves match, Manchester United announced a 2-3 month timetable for Rashford’s return, meaning he could be back by late March or early April. Now it seems he could be done for the year, and England’s Euro adventure may suffer as well.

Braithwaite to Barcelona imminent, could debut Saturday

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Barcelona is taking the controversial step of signing Leganes striker Martin Braithwaite outside the January transfer window, reportedly set to trigger his $19.4 million release clause. According to a report by ESPN, Braithwaite has already agreed to terms and will join the club immediately, possibly soon enough to make his debut on Saturday against Eibar.

The Catalan club was given an exception by La Liga after Ousmane Dembele was ruled out for the season, leaving the squad with just three healthy first-team forwards in Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, and 17-year-old Ansu Fati. The injury to Dembele, which follows a long-term injury spell for Luis Suarez, led La Liga to allow Barcelona 15 days to sign a forward outside the window, provided it was either a free agent or a player already registered in the Spanish top flight.

Reports from all over Europe state that Barcelona attempted to negotiate with Leganes, but they held out for Braithwaite’s full release clause and Barcelona had little choice but to relent. The ESPN report states that Barcelona had come to an agreement with Getafe for Angel Rodriguez but Barcelona manager Quique Setien stepped in with a preference for Braithwaite due to his positional flexibility.

The controversial part of the situation is that Barcelona somewhat put itself in this spot by offloading forwards Abel Ruiz and Carles Perez in the January window without replacing them, and now have been saddled with an injury crisis. Many are upset that a big club like Barcelona is being bailed out by La Liga while Leganes suffers the loss of its leading scorer having already seen  Youssef En-Nesyri depart in the January window. Guillem Ballague reports that Leganes will appeal to La Liga for its own exception to sign an emergency player but as the rules stand, they cannot add a replacement for Braithwaite. The league office can authorize exceptions on a case-by-case basis, which they did for Barcelona, although policy has been to grant exceptions for long-term injuries.

The 28-year-old has scored eight goals across all competitions this season while Leganes has struggled at the bottom of the table all year long. They currently sit 19th in the La Liga table, two points clear of safety.

McTominay, Lindelof return to Man United training

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Off the heels of a statement win at Stamford Bridge, Manchester United has more good news coming its way as both Scott McTominay and Victor Lindelof returned to Red Devils training on Wednesday.

Ahead of Thursday’s Europa League Round of 32 matchup against Club Brugge in Belgium, McTominay’s return represents a massive boost for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who has been forced to piece together a makeshift midfield for the last two months. McTominay has been missing since suffering a knee injury on Boxing Day.

The 23-year-old has been one of the Premier League’s most improved players this season, anchoring the Red Devils midfield both with and without the aid of Paul Pogba. In the seven Premier League matches without McTominay, Manchester United has lost three games and been shut out four times, although a number of other injuries to key players have likely contributed to that as well.

Lindelof missed the Chelsea win through illness but is set to make his return as well. The 25-year-old Swede is considered Manchester United’s best defender and was absent for the disappointing 2-0 loss to Burnley in late January through illness as well, but is reportedly fully recovered by now.

United has struggled with injuries all season, with the likes of Pogba, Marcus Rashford, and Mason Greenwood all sidelined at the moment. No reason was given for the latter’s absence, with Greenwood an unused substitute at Stamford Bridge over the weekend.