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PL Sunday preview: Arsenal’s post-Emery era; Man Utd host Villa

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures features four games, including (but not limited to) the first game of the post-Unai Emery era at Arsenal, Manchester United with a chance to climb into fifth place, and what could be the final game of Marco Silva‘s tenure at Everton.

[ MORE: Mourinho praises “phenomenal” Dele Alli, Spurs supporters ]

Arsenal v. Norwich City — 9 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Unai Emery was fired by Arsenal on Friday, making way for the Freddie Ljungberg (interim) era to begin on Sunday. With no obvious candidate standing out from all the others, Ljungberg, a long-time favorite as a Gunners player, could be given the chance to impress and have the “interim” tag removed, a la Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a year ago. After taking just three points from their last five PL games, Arsenal have fallen to ninth place, eight points behind fourth-place Chelsea, and could finish the weekend as low as 10th place. On the other hand, a win over 19th-place Norwich would see them climb up to fifth, a point ahead of north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur. Norwich’s Teemu Pukki, who took the PL by storm with five goals in his first three games, hasn’t found the back of the net since Sept. 14, a run of eight straight goal-less games for the Fininish forward.

INJURIES: Arsenal —  OUT: Dani Ceballos (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: Hector Bellerin (hamstring), David Luiz (ribs), Shkodran Mustafi (foot) | Norwich  — OUT: Alexander Tettey (personal), Grant Hanley (groin), Timm Klose (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Jamal Lewis (knee), Josip Drmic (hamstring)


Wolves v. Sheffield United — 9 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Through 13 games of their debut season in the PL, Sheffield United are threatening to “do a Wolves,” in so much that the newly promoted side currently sits seventh — where Wolves finished last season — following a red-hot start. Following a poor start of their own (zero wins from their first six games), Wolves have rebounded nicely (unbeaten in their last eight, including four wins) and climbed all the way up to sixth (each side sat a place higher coming into the weekend).

INJURIES: Wolves —  OUT: Willy Boly (ankle), Ryan Bennett (groin), Romain Saiss (suspension), Morgan Gibbs-White (back) | Sheffield United  — OUT: None


Man United v. Aston Villa — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Nearly four months into the season, Man United are still without back-to-back PL victories. In fact, they’ve not repeated the same result — win, loss or draw — in consecutive league games all season. The Red Devils ave been, if anything, consistently inconsistent. After drawing Sheffield United 3-3 last time out, the best Solskjaer’s side can do on Sunday is get halfway there ahead of Tottenham’s blockbuster visit, and Jose Mourinho’s return, on Wednesday. United’s injury list remains extensive — and expensive — as Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly remain out, with Nemanja Matic perhaps set to return on Sunday. As for Villa, Dean Smith‘s side snapped a three-game losing skid last time out by thoroughly besting Newcastle United at Villa Park to put four points between themselves and the relegation zone. Following Southampton’s victory on Saturday, that gap is already down to two points.

INJURIES: Man United —  OUT: Paul Pogba (ankle), Eric Bailly (knee), Marcos Rojo (undisclosed), Diogo Dalot (groin); QUESTIONABLE: Nemanja Matic (groin), Scott McTominay (ankle) | Aston Villa  — OUT: Jed Steer (calf), Jota (hernia); QUESTIONABLE: Bjorn Engels (hip)


Leicester City v. Everton — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Every defeat in the coming days could prove to be the final day of Silva’s employment as Everton manager, with the Toffees entering Sunday’s trip to the King Power Stadium in 17th place. It’s not just the number of losses for Everton (seven) on the season thus far, but the sides to which they’ve lost (Villa, Bournemouth, Sheffield United, Burnley, Brighton & Hove Albion and Norwich, to name most of them) that stands out as most embarrassing for a club that thought it would be competing for the top-six this season. Leicester, meanwhile, have happily and swiftly taken their place as the side most likely to break up the monotony of the same clubs finishing atop the table every season. The Foxes entered the weekend in second place (they have since fallen to second), eight points back of Liverpool (now 11), on the back of five straight league victories. Jamie Vardy‘s 12 goals have garnered most of the headlines, but the play-making duo of James Maddison and Youri Tielemans have been arguably more enjoyable to watch

INJURIES: Leicester —  OUT: Matty James (achilles) | Everton  — OUT: Andre Gomes (ankle), Theo Walcott (knock), Jean-Philippe Gbamin (thigh), Morgan Schneiderlin (knock), Fabian Delph (hamstring), Cuco Martina (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Bernard (knee)

Man United charged after Liverpool game

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Manchester United have been charged by the FA for failing to control their players in the 2-0 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side surrounded referee Craig Pawson angrily after Roberto Firmino looked to have put Liverpool 2-0 up in the first half following a foul on David De Gea by Virgil Van Dijk. However, VAR then intervened and ruled out the goal.

Below is the statement from the FA, as United have until Thursday to respond to the charge.

“Manchester United FC has been charged with a breach of FA Rule E20(a). It is alleged that the club failed to ensure its players conducted themselves in an orderly fashion during the 26th minute of the Premier League fixture against Liverpool FC on Sunday (19/1/20).”

Speaking about the charge, Solskjaer had to bite his lip.

“Maybe I shouldn’t talk too much about that,” Solskjaer said. “Let’s get that decision done. It’s overturned [the decision]. I reacted myself because it was a foul.”

United’s players reacted angrily as Pawson had the whistle in his mouth and appeared to be ready to blow it after Virgil van Dijk jumped into De Gea, but then allowed played to continue, as several United players stopped and Firmino whipped the ball into the far top corner.

It seemed like Pawson was going to call it a foul but decided he would let play continue and if a goal was scored, VAR would check the incident anyway.

That is the VAR world we now live in as referees know they have a back-up and as they were told at the start of the season, they are allowing situations to unfold where they previously would have made a quick decision, then waiting for a VAR review to make the decision for them.

Could you blame United’s players for being angry about the delay which almost cost them a goal? Probably not. The reaction of some of their players crowding around Pawson and getting in his face was too much and will likely see a fine handed their way if it isn’t overturned.

VAR was supposed to take the pressure off officials on the pitch for big calls but this incident shows how they are still at the center of any controversy, even if they aren’t making the ultimate decision.

La Liga head takes on FIFA over expanding Club World Cup

La Liga president critical of FIFA
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LONDON (AP) FIFA’s determination to have a bigger role in club football worldwide is troubling the head of the Spanish league.

Javier Tebas, president of La Liga, fears FIFA expanding the Club World Cup and providing a fresh windfall for a group of elite clubs will exacerbate financial disparities between teams and harm football.

The FIFA men’s club competition is due to swell from an annual competition with seven entrants to an event featuring a 24-team group stage from 2021.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

“The major risk would be the Club World Cup,” Tebas said through a translator in London. “They want to have it every two years. I don’t know how far they wish to go.”

FIFA President Gianni Infantino is considering offers from companies willing to provide financing for the competition, which is due to have a new name for its pilot edition. Tebas believes it could pose a greater challenge to European football than attempts by clubs to break away to form any Super League.

“FIFA … stopped being regulators and organizers for national teams and start to organize other kinds of tournaments which compete directly with the national leagues and this is something that concerns me because we had a balance, an ecosystem between the different leagues in Europe and different continents,” Tebas said.

“In Europe we have the Champions League and now we have an intruder who might disrupt that balance. There was already a threat of that in Europe, even though I think the risk of that has dropped significantly with the Champions League, but I think this could have an impact on the value of international competitions.”

Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez has formed the World Football Club Association, which has been formulating plans for new competitions of its own. Those proposals only emerged in reports after Pérez met with FIFA President Gianni Infantino in November.

Eight European teams are due to feature in the new Club World Cup, including Real Madrid due to its 2018 Champions League victory.

“The idea of creating new super World Cups for super clubs could be very damaging for Real Madrid and for major clubs,” Tebas said. “It’s something he’s not taking into account and I don’t really see a future for these competitions. I don’t think there’s a real passion for these kind of events. I think when people discuss this they realize it’s damaging for them.

“I always ask why we should change a system of strong international competitions… if it’s not broken, why try to fix it?”

But Infantino is determined to elevate the status of FIFA’s club competition and provide significant income to the finalists.

“We’ve seen how the Premier League has grown significantly over the last few years,” Tebas pointed out. “La Liga has also grown significantly and why would we want to change that? Why would we want to put that at risk with these sort of ideas? It’s like building castles in the sky.”

While concerned about Infantino’s plans, Tebas is supportive of UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin who has clashed regularly with his FIFA counterpart.

“If Ceferin defends European football as I have seen with national league and championships in balance, which is the current trend, I welcome this clash, this confrontation,” Tebas said. “An organisation like FIFA is supposed to be a regulatory body. They draft the different calendars and when we need to play. Sadly, from organising World Cups, they are talking about Club World Cups and having that every two years.

“That is not an option because it would change the status quo. This can’t happen. This sort of confrontation will never harm us if it goes along the path Ceferin is trying to defend.”

Tebas has been a regular critic of governments using their wealth to finance clubs, particularly Qatar at Paris Saint-Germain and Abu Dhabi at Manchester City. Both teams have been punished by UEFA for breaching spending rules and City is subject to a fresh investigation that could lead to a Champions League ban.

“One of the major issues in European football is related to (financial) doping,” Tebas said. “Because when we have clubs being financed by states then that has an impact on salaries and that means in other countries with more strict economic controls like Spain and Germany clubs cannot actually ask the state for extra financing to pay those salaries.

“This causes inflation and people think about creating other competitions because Florentino Perez and other clubs are always saying we need more money to maintain our players.”

That isn’t necessary, according to Tebas.

“I don’t think we are helping football in any way if we generate wealth and it just goes straight back to the big clubs,” Tebas said. “But that’s what’s happening, the major clubs share out the large part of the income among their players.

“In the end instead of having 12 Ferraris, they have 15. Instead of having 10 Lamborghinis they have 12. We’re dealing with major clubs generating a huge amount of money. So our aim is to redistribute that wealth. It’s not a case of creating new competitions because anything there would only benefit large clubs and channel wealth to the major car manufacturers.”

One of Tebas’ frustrations closer to home is the Spanish football federation thwarting his bid to take La Liga games overseas. But the federation has just staged its reformatted Super Cup in Saudi Arabia despite criticism of the kingdom’s human rights violations and its role in the murder of The Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul in 2018.

Saudi Arabia has also been linked to the pirating of sports broadcasts from Qatar-owned beIN Sports to undermine its neighbor as part of a wider regional diplomatic dispute.

“The Saudi Arabian government has a policy whereby they improve the image of the government through sport – whitewashing their image,” Tebas said. “We should not forget what happened in the Turkish embassy.

“We should not forget these things. This happened in an embassy, not a pub and this is very serious, at least in my opinion. Money is not the only thing that matters.”

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

Follow AP’s global sports correspondant Rob Harris on Twitter.

USMNT left back Robinson a surprise target for AC Milan?

AC Milans wants USMNT back Robinson
Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images
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AC Milan has identified an American as a potential answer to its left back depth issues.

Hampered by Financial Fair Play concerns, the Rossoneri could be offloading Ricardo Rodriguez to Fenerbahce and chasing a replacement.

The future No. 2 to left-sided wizard Theo Hernandez? It could be Antonee Robinson.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The England-born USMNT back is in his second season with Wigan Athletic, making a permament move from Everton this summer after a loan move in 2018/19.

From CalcioMercato.com:

“The boy is American, he has already given his go-ahead to AC Milan but at the moment he has been put on stand-by… The executives like him and it’s a bet with good potential at low cost. For now, he has to wait.”

It’s a risky move; If Milan doesn’t qualify for Europa League or Champions League, minutes behind one of the most highly-regarded left backs in the world would be scarce. The 22-year-old Hernandez has six goals and two assists in 17 appearances since arriving from Real Madrid (He’s real good).

Then again, if they don’t qualify, Hernandez might want out of Milan.

Robinson, 22, has seven senior caps for the USMNT and is a major hope to solve a problematic position for Gregg Berhalter’s program.

Only one of those caps came under Berhalter, who otherwise hasn’t called up the Olympic-eligible left back in favor of Daniel Lovitz and Tim Ream.

Robinson has also played a little left mid for the Latics this season, scoring a goal in 28 Championship matches.

Premier League Storylines: Matchweek 24

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There’s no time to languish in weekend losses, revel in big wins, or — like half the Premier League’s teams — scratch their heads about draws.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

A delightful midweek match week arrives Tuesday before the weekend’s FA Cup fourth round scraps, and we’re quite pleased to reap the rewards.


Can Arteta get a statement win at Stamford Bridge? [ STREAM ]

  • Chelsea v. Arsenal, Tuesday (Watch live, 3:15 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta was denied a statement win when these sides met on Dec. 29, a 1-0 lead turned into three dropped points due to some tactical nous from Frank Lampard. Arteta is not mincing words about the import of the return affair at Stamford Bridge, calling it a “must win” against the uneven Blues.

Invincible Watch [ STREAM ]

  • Wolves v. Liverpool, Thursday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Our unscientific ranking says this is the fourth-toughest test of the 16 remaining in Liverpool’s quest for Premier League immortality as an unbeaten team. Wolves played Liverpool to the bone at Anfield, falling on a Sadio Mane 42nd minute goal.

Red Devils rebound on tap [ STREAM ]

  • Manchester United v. Burnley, Wednesday (Watch live, 3:15 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Whatever Ole Gunnar Solskjaer thinks, Manchester United’s 2-0 loss to Liverpool was not encouraging. The Red Devils also learned that Marcus Rashford is out 2-3 months, not weeks, and Burnley’s woeful defense will be feeling a lot better about this fixture than it did last week. So, of course, we should expect Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood to have a field day, right?

Can Eagles, Saints push for Europa? [ STREAM ]

  • Crystal Palace v. Southampton, Tuesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold)

Palace has had an uneven season with plenty of injuries, but held off Man City to grab another point at the weekend. That’s ninth place and 30 points, two more than surging Southampton, and Sheffield United’s 33 points provide the seventh place standard. Three points here sure would be nice for either. (Big announcer voice) But only one can take all of them.

Another Brucie Bonus at Goodison Park? [ STREAM ]

  • Everton v. Newcastle United, Tuesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold)

When these two matched up on Dec. 28, there were 42 shots but only one goal. If this one is nearly as entertaining, get your proverbial and actual popcorn ready. Steve Bruce‘s Magpies have made a habit of surprising this season, and it’s not like they used up attacking legs while defending deep versus Chelsea.