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MLS Playoffs: 5 Key Battles in 1st Round

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It’s playoff time! With the new MLS postseason format, featuring single-elimination matches, the margins between victory and defeat are razor thin. Winning individual battles, or a battle to control a zone in the field, are more important than ever.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at five key battles ahead of the start of the 2019 MLS playoffs.

5. Wayne Rooney v. Michael Bradley, Toronto FC CB’s

At this point of the season, every game could be Wayne Rooney’s last in a D.C. United uniform. Along with Luciano Acosta and Paul Arriola, Rooney is clearly the key man to D.C. United’s attack. The ball will flow through him as D.C. gets going, and it will be on TFC to mark him tightly and make sure he has no space to turn and strike the ball, or get on the end of a cross into the box.

Michael Bradley, at 32-years old, is no spring chicken. Especially late in the season, it will be interesting to see how he does marking Rooney when Rooney drops into the space between TFC’s backline, or whether he can pass him off to Omar Gonzalez or Chris Mavinga in the center of defense.

4. Union central midfield v. Red Bulls central midfield

The Philadelphia Union have enjoyed an outstanding season, and a large part of that has been the play in central midfield of Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin. The two veterans are adept on both sides of the ball, can play a pass, intercept passes, and control the tempo of the match. If they’re put off their game, with some pressure as soon as they receive the ball, the New York Red Bulls have a chance to win.

Whether it’s Sean Davis, Christian Caceres, Mark Rzatkowski, or Alejandro “Kaku” Romero Gamarra (who is coming off a goal for Paraguay during the international break), their work in the middle of the park will be crucial to determining which team controls the tempo, possession, and ultimately, who creates the most chances. Otherwise, Medunjanin and Bedoya will pick out Brenden Aaronson, Marco Fabian or Kacper Przybyłko and be off to the races.

3. Julian Gressel v. Jalil Anibaba

It’s a direct rematch of the last week of the season, where Atlanta United triumphed over the New England Revolution with a 3-1 win to close out a strong regular season campaign. While there’s plenty of focus on Josef Martinez, Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez – who didn’t play in the season finale – and Ezequiel Barco, the real difference-maker in the attack for Atlanta United is Julian Gressel. The German-born wing back has plenty of marauding runs forward, is always available to receive a pass and can deliver quality crosses too. He ended up with two assists in the season finale and Anibaba was eventually substituted, though it may have been more to give the Revs some offensive punch with Juan Aguedlo coming on. It will be up to either Anibaba, or someone on the Revs to shut him down, cutting off one supply line of balls into the box for Josef Martinez to rifle home.

2. Jordan Morris v. Reggie Cannon

It’s a battle of two U.S. Men’s National Team regulars. Jordan Morris has had a resurgent second half of the season and appears to be in the best form of his life. On the other side, Cannon’s parlayed his terrific form for FC Dallas, despite his young age, into a starting role for the USMNT.

Morris in recent weeks has proven he still has his game-changing pace, as well as an improved left-footed touch. It’s going to be up to Cannon to stay with Morris down the wing, or pass him off to a teammate such as Reto Zeigler should Morris cut inside and not leave space open behind Cannon for a runner down the left wing.

1. Zlatan Ibrahimovic v. Ike Opara

One of the league’s best strikers against the reigning MLS Defender of the Year. 6-foot-5 (Zlatan) against 6-foot-2 (Ike Opara). When Ibrahimovic and Opara meet, it will be one of MLS’s duels of the ages. Zlatan has been nearly impossible for defenders to contain in MLS, as he not only uses his incredible size and tactical nous to win headers, but his technical ability on the ball ain’t bad. However, if there’s one player who can push around Zlatan, it might be Opara.

Opara has been a revelation to Minnesota United and could single-handedly be the reason they’re hosting a home game in the playoffs this year, rather than hitting the road or watching from home. He’s also part of the reason Sporting KC has been a complete mess this season.

If history is to be used as a precursor, the only meeting between Opara and Ibrahimovic this season ended in a scoreless draw. We’ll see if Opara can notch another win over Ibrahimovic this weekend as well.

Transfer news: Dembele to Man United; Sarr to Arsenal

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In the latest transfer news Ousmane Dembele has been linked with Manchester United, while Malang Sarr could be heading to Arsenal.

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Starting in Manchester, it has been reported by multiple outlets that Manchester United want Ousmane Dembele to arrive as a right-winger. With Jadon Sancho set to stay at Borussia Dortmund for at least another season, Dembele could be a cheaper and more available option as his form and fitness has been a big problem for Barcelona.

Dembele, 23, joined Barca from Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2017 as Neymar’s replacement but he’s never really settled at the Nou Camp and has been unlucky with injuries. Reports are saying that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants a right winger, center back and center forward. Dembele has two years left on his contract at Barcelona but quite why Man United want to sign a new winger is baffling.

Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood are stars in attack, while Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes are pulling the strings underneath them. With Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, Daniel James and Odion Ighalo in reserve too, attacking options is not something Solskjaer is short of. That said, Lingard could leave, James has stalled a little and Ighalo’s loan ends in January 2021, so a few gaps could open up.

Dembele will be a lot cheaper than Sancho and if he can put his injuries to one side, there’s clearly a very good attacking player there. It seems worth a gamble, especially as Dortmund want over $130 million for Sancho.

Malang Sarr to Arsenal
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Heading to north London, Arsenal have been linked with a sensible deal, for once, as the Gunners could sign free agent Malang Sarr.

The Nice defender, 21, has let his contract run out and a report from Marca says that the Gunners have made an approach for the young French center back. RB Leipzig are also interested in Sarr, who played 16 times for Patrick Vieria’s side in Ligue 1 this season as they finished in fifth place.

We know that Arsenal may not have a lot of cash to spend and Mikel Arteta’s side look unlikely to qualify for the Champions League. William Saliba will boost Arsenal’s defensive options for next season, while Calum Chambers, Rob Holding, Sokratis, David Luiz, Pablo Mari and Shkodran Mustafi are still around too.

There’s no way Arsenal can have that many center backs at the club and there will surely be an almighty clear out this summer with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang potentially leaving, Matteo Guendouzi on the outs and Alexandre Lacazette possibly leaving too.

Sarr would be a bargain buy and Arsenal certainly need to keep solidifying their defensive unit as they have the attacking weapons to hurt anyone.

NBC Sports Premier League schedule

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The new NBC Sports Premier League schedule for the 2019-20 season has been released, with time and dates for the upcoming matchweeks confirmed and here’s how you can watch it all live on TV in the USA.

[ WATCH: Premier League video ] 

With games spread out across multiple days and many in separate time slots, there are lots of changes to your regular schedule as the league returns on June 17 after being suspended on March 13 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Games will be played in empty stadiums and at home venues.

The full TV schedule for the games this month are below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com, the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold and the new Peacock streaming service from NBC.

Below is the new schedule for the Premier League on NBC Sports from June 17 to July 22 , as we will release the dates and times for the final matchweek of the 2019-20 season when they become available and how to watch them in the USA.


Premier League: How to watch, schedule in USA (all times EST)

Matchday 29

Wednesday, June 17: Aston Villa 0-0 Sheffield United
Wednesday, June 17: Man City 3-0 Arsenal

Matchday 30

Friday, June 19: Norwich 0-3 Southampton
Friday, June 19: Tottenham 1-1 Man United
Saturday, June 20: Watford 1-1 Leicester
Saturday, June 20: Brighton 2-1 Arsenal
Saturday, June 20: West Ham 0-2 Wolves
Saturday, June 20: Bournemouth 0-2 Crystal Palace
Sunday, June 21: Newcastle 3-0 Sheffield United
Sunday, June 21: Aston Villa 1-2 Chelsea
Sunday, June 21: Everton 0-0 Liverpool
Monday, June 22: Man City 5-0 Burnley

Matchday 31

Tuesday, June 23: Leicester 0-0 Brighton
Tuesday, June 23: Tottenham 2-0 West Ham
Wednesday, June 24: Man United 3-0 Sheffield United
Wednesday, June 24: Newcastle 1-1 Aston Villa
Wednesday, June 24: Norwich 0-1 Everton
Wednesday, June 24: Wolves 1-0 Bournemouth
Wednesday, June 24: Liverpool 4-0 Palace
Thursday, June 25: Southampton 0-2 Arsenal
Thursday, June 25: Burnley 1-0 Watford
Thursday, June 25: Chelsea 2-1 Man City

Matchday 32

Saturday, June 27: Aston Villa 0-1 Wolves
Sunday, June 28: Watford 1-3 Southampton
Monday, June 29: Crystal Palace 0-1 Burnley
Tuesday, June 30: Brighton 0-3 Man United
Wednesday, July 1: Everton 2-1 Leicester
Wednesday, July 1: Bournemouth 1-4 Newcastle
Wednesday, July 1: Arsenal 4-0 Norwich
Wednesday, July 1: West Ham 3-2 Chelsea
Thursday, July 2: Sheffield United 3-1 Tottenham
Thursday, July 2: Man City 4-0 Liverpool

Matchday 33

Saturday, July 4: Norwich City 0-1 Brighton
Saturday, July 4: Leicester 3-0 Crystal Palace
Saturday, July 4: Man United 5-2 Bournemouth
Saturday, July 4: Wolves 0-2 Arsenal
Saturday, July 4: Chelsea 3-0 Watford
Sunday, July 5: Burnley 1-1 Sheffield United
Sunday, July 5: Newcastle United 2-2 West Ham
Sunday, July 5: Liverpool 2-0 Aston Villa
Sunday, July 5: Southampton 1-0 Man City
Monday, July 6: Tottenham 1-0 Everton

Matchday 34

Tuesday, July 7: Crystal Palace 2-3 Chelsea
Tuesday, July 7: Watford 2-1 Norwich City
Tuesday, July 7: Arsenal 1-1 Leicester City
Wednesday, July 8: Man City 5-0 Newcastle
Wednesday, July 8: Sheffield United 1-0 Wolves
Wednesday, July 8: West Ham 0-1 Burnley
Wednesday, July 8: Brighton 1-3 Liverpool
Thursday, July 9: Bournemouth 0-0 Tottenham
Thursday, July 9: Everton 1-1 Southampton
Thursday, July 9: Aston Villa 0-3 Manchester United

Matchday 35

Saturday, July 11: Norwich City v. West Ham, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN
Saturday, July 11: Watford v. Newcastle United, 7:30 a.m. ET, Gold/Peacock
Saturday, July 11: Liverpool v. Burnley, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN
Saturday, July 11: Sheffield United v. Chelsea, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC
Saturday, July 11: Brighton v. Manchester City, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Sunday, July 12: Wolves v. Everton, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN
Sunday, July 12: Aston Villa v. Crystal Palace, 9:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN
Sunday, July 12: Tottenham v. Arsenal, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN
Sunday, July 12: Bournemouth v. Leicester City, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Monday, July 13: Man United v. Southampton, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN

Matchday 36

Tuesday, July 14: Chelsea v. Norwich, 3:15 p.m. ET
Wednesday, July 15: Burnley v. Wolves, 1 p.m. ET
Wednesday, July 15: Man City v. Bournemouth, 1 p.m. ET
Wednesday, July 15: Newcastle v. Tottenham, 1 p.m. ET
Wednesday, July 15: Arsenal v. Liverpool, 3:15 p.m. ET
Thursday, July 16: Everton v. Aston Villa, 1 p.m. ET
Thursday, July 16: Leicester v Sheffield United, 1 p.m. ET
Thursday, July 16: Crystal Palace v. Man United, 3:15 p.m. ET
Thursday, July 16: Southampton v. Brighton, 3:15 p.m. ET
Friday, July 17: West Ham v. Watford, 3 p.m. ET

Matchday 37

Saturday, July 18: Norwich City v. Burnley, 12:30 p.m. ET
Sunday, July 19: Bournemouth v. Southampton, 9 a.m. ET
Sunday, July 19: Tottenham v. Leicester, 11 a.m. ET
Monday, July 20: Brighton v. Newcastle, 1 p.m. ET
Monday, July 20: Sheffield United v. Everton, 1 p.m. ET
Monday, July 20: Wolves v. Crystal Palace, 3:15 p.m. ET
Tuesday, July 21: Watford v. Man City, 1 p.m. ET
Tuesday, July 21: Aston Villa v. Arsenal, 3:15 p.m. ET
Wednesday, July 22: Man United v. West Ham, 1 p.m. ET
Wednesday, July 22: Liverpool v. Chelsea, 3:15 p.m. ET

Tottenham – Arsenal preview: How to watch, start time, stream, prediction

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Tottenham – Arsenal preview: The north London derby should be a beauty on Sunday (start time, 11:30am ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as Spurs and Arsenal both need a win to keep alive any faint hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.

Spurs are struggling with Jose Mourinho complaining about VAR on an almost daily basis and if they lose to Arsenal, their Champions League hopes will be over. Harry Kane will be hoping to be the hero once again in the NLD.

Arsenal and Mikel Arteta are battling away and have been decent since the restart with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring goals, Bukayo Saka a threat and the duo of Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos building a great partnership in midfield.

TOTTENHAM – ARSENAL STREAM LIVE

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Tottenham – Arsenal on Sunday.

Tottenham – Arsenal stream
Start time: 11:30am ET, Sunday
TV channel: NBCSN
Stream online: Via NBCSports.com


Team news

Dele Alli could return for Tottenham as Mourinho is hopeful he can recover from a hamstring injury, while Eric Dier is serving the second game of his four-game suspension.

Arsenal are without Calum Chambers, Bernd Leno, Pablo Mari and Gabriel Martinelli, while Eddie Nkeitah starts a three-game ban after his red card against Leicester City as Arsenal failed with their appeal. Mesut Ozil is being assessed due to back soreness.


What they’re saying

Jose Mourinho on what is at stake in the NLD: A”t this moment we are both in a very similar situation. It’s not that incredible emotion that we’re fighting for something really big, more than to finish above you, or not finish above you. It’s missing that. It’s not a match that is going to decide big things. But it probably decides the only thing we can fight for, both of us. I don’t think realistically we’re fighting for a Champions League position – one-point difference, four matches to go, one between us, then the remaining three – which are of course still important – it’s a big match for the table. The fans have a special feeling for this match, so the players on the pitch have to fight for them.”

Mikel Arteta on what Mourinho brings to Spurs: “They have had some ups and downs but overall you can clearly see what he wants to bring to the club. He manages the energy, the momentum and establishes a really strong culture in every football club. As well, he makes sure that he wins and he’s won in every single club that he’s been at. Obviously the situation and the timing when he arrived is different than starting a new project right from the summer, but I’m sure he will be successful because he always finds the right way to do it. It will take him a bit of time but I’m sure he will do it… I think in a long period they’ve had a lot of injuries so he hasn’t had the chance to be consistent with his team and that’s a big disadvantage that they have. I know that he’s done it and I know people that have worked with him and he always find a way to be successful and I’m sure he’ll do it again. That’s probably one of the reasons that they have brought Jose in, because of his experience in dealing with those situations and having that extra edge to become a winning team.”


Odds and ends (full matchweek odds)

The betting couldn’t be closer as the hosts are the slight favorites with Tottenham (+160) to Arsenal (+170), while the draw looks pretty attractive at +240.


Prediction

I fancy Arsenal to win this. They have a tougher defensive unit under Arteta and their attacking weapons are looking good too. Tottenham aren’t playing well at all and I think that Arteta will get one over Mourinho to keep their faint Premier League hopes alive. 2-1 to Arsenal.

Man City get date for UEFA ban verdict

Manchester City UEFA verdict
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Manchester City will get the verdict on Monday in its appeal against a two-year ban from UEFA competitions.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport on Friday set the date to publish the ruling from its panel of three judges.

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The urgent verdict from a hearing held on June 8-10 by video link will likely have few details of the judges’ reasons and evidence heard. A full written verdict typically takes months to prepare.

UEFA punished Man City in February for “serious breaches” of rules monitoring club finances and failing to cooperate with investigators.

The allegations included that City, owned by Abu Dhabi’s royal family, misled UEFA over several years to meet financial integrity rules required to enter the Champions League.

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UEFA-appointed experts opened their investigation after leaked club emails and documents were published by German magazine Der Spiegel in November 2018. They were obtained by a hacker from Portugal.

UEFA had previously signed off on City’s submitted accounts since 2014. That year, UEFA fined City 20 million euros ($22.6 million) of its Champions League prize money in a first wave of assessments of European clubs’ finances.

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