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Leicester City – Sheffield United, Everton – Aston Villa: How to watch, stream

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Leicester City – Sheffield United and Everton – Aston Villa are both massive games but for very different reasons on Thursday (start time, 1pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

If Leicester City is to hang onto its top four spot, it will have earned it in a three-match crucible beginning with a visit from Sheffield United on Thursday. While at Goodison, Aston Villa badly need a win to boost their survival hopes as they head to Everton.

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King Power Stadium is the scene for the big tilt, with both Foxes and Blades aiming for places in Europe in the fall. Injury-hit Leicester was given a slight reprieve after its embarrassing loss to Bournemouth when Southampton drew Manchester United, while Blades helped, too, by clobbering Chelsea.

Fourth-place Leicester’s a point back of Chelsea on 59 points, ahead of Manchester United on goal differential. Only the top four will make the 2020-21 Champions League unless Man City wins the 2019-20 edition in August. Sheffield United has an outside shot to catch the Foxes. The Blades have 54 points and will know Leicester still has to face Manchester United.

LEICESTER CITY – SHEFFIELD UNITED STREAM

EVERTON – ASTON VILLA STREAM

As for Everton – Aston Villa, the Toffees are playing for pride after some shocking recent displays and Carlo Ancelotti at least wants a top 10 finish to show for as their Europa League hopes are all but over.

For Aston Villa, this is a massive game in their battle against relegation. Dean Smith’s side beat Crystal Palace last time out know they must win at Everton to try and drag West Ham and Watford further back into the relegation battle. Villa play at West Ham on the final day of the season and if they can get to that game knowing a win in a what would essentially be a relegation playoff would keep them up, they would take that.


Team news

Caglar Soyuncu is suspended and Ricardo Pereira is out injured, while three other key players are questionable in Ben Chilwell, James Maddison, and Marc Albrighton all miss out with youngster Luke Thomas coming in for the start.

John Fleck is back on the bench as Sheffield United are unchanged from their win against Chelsea.

Aston Villa have no new injury concerns as Matt Targett comes back into the starting lineup, while Everton make five changes from the team embarrassed at Wolves last time out.


What they’re saying

Leicester’s Brendan Rodgers on holding off Chelsea and Manchester United“If you look at the clubs below us and around us. We’re ambitious but we understand that there are super clubs around us. Are we as big as them? No. We want to be up there challenging irrespective of size of club. It doesn’t change the way I approach it. We were 12th when I came in, and to be fighting for a Champions League place. That’s amazing.”

Blades boss Wilder on Sheffield Wednesday fan Jamie Vardy: “To be released by the team you love is a hammer blow but he got up off the canvas and proved people wrong by getting his hands dirty at Stocksbridge and Halifax and Fleetwood. Then for Nigel (Pearson) to take a punt for a million quid was a huge statement, and one that’s been justified. … I go to the pub after a win and people say: ‘I could have made it but had an injury.’ Well it wasn’t you because you didn’t do it. You didn’t prove it like Vardy did, so you deserve to be in the pub and have the career you had, not the one Vardy had. So shut up. And I’ve got a few pals like that who I have to put in their basket sometimes. He keeps going so he deserves everything that comes his way, even though it’s from a Blade to an Owl.”


Odds and ends (Full matchweek odds)

DraftKings has any result within reasonable reach, with host Leicester at +100 and Sheffield United at +310 with a tie near the middle at +225. Jamie Vardy and Oliver McBurnie traded goals early when these two met at Bramall Lane in August before Harvey Barnes found the decisive goal in a 2-1 Leicester City win.

The hosts Everton are favored (+110) but don’t rule out Aston Villa (+250) who have improved defensively and have the likes of Trezeguet, Grealish and McGinn looking dangerous. The tie is +250 but Villa have to go all-out for the win.


Prediction

It’s tempting to pick against Leicester City due to their injuries and form but the Foxes are a proud, experienced bunch and a good match for the Blades. Call it points split in score draw.

Aston Villa have to go for the win and they will just get it at a sloppy Everton side.


Premier League: How to watch, stream, Leicester City – Sheffield United

Kickoff: 1 pm ET Thursday
TV Channel: NBCSN + Gold/Peacock
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

German health officials block soccer clubs’ plans for fans

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BERLIN (AP) Bundesliga fans in the stands in September? Not yet.

[ MORE: Bundesliga schedule  ]

German health officials have blocked professional soccer clubs’ plans to allow fans at Bundesliga games when the new season begins in September.

“Thousands of fans in the stadiums – that doesn’t fit with the current situation with infections. Now it’s about not taking any unnecessary risks,” national health minister Jens Spahn said on Twitter of the coronavirus pandemic on Monday.

The 36 clubs in Germany’s top two divisions had been planning on having limited numbers of socially distanced and seated supporters at games, and had produced a proposal last week that included prohibiting away fans, restrictions in standing areas of stadiums, and a ban on sales of alcohol. They mooted personalized tickets to help with contact tracing, though those plans have been criticized by fans.

“The league’s concept is good in theory,” Spahn said. “But what’s decisive is what happens every day in practice.”

In a follow-up tweet, Spahn added, “We feel that we have to stay alert. Having spectators in the stands would be the wrong signal in the current situation.”

Germany’s 16 state health ministers met on Monday and agreed that having fans in stadiums for league games was not a priority.

Germany has registered 217,835 coronavirus infections, and a relatively low number of deaths at 9,203 compared to neighboring France, Spain and Italy, but there has been some concern over a recent increase in the daily rate of new infections.

Last week, Germany recorded its highest daily tally of new infections in three months. The national disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, said 1,045 cases were recorded last Wednesday – the first time since May 7 that it has counted more than 1,000 cases in a day.

Berlin health senator Dilek Kalayci said on Monday the ministers came to a unanimous position that stadiums should remain closed to Bundesliga fans based on the current pandemic situation.

“In terms of health policy, we are currently not in favor of opening the stadiums until Oct. 31, at least. Then you can discuss the situation again,” Kalayci said.

Bavarian governor Markus Soder had been one of those most vocally in favor of the Bundesliga resuming without fans after its two-month break last season, but he said allowing fans to attend games when the new season begins on Sept. 18 would send the wrong signal.

“It would send a devastating signal to the public, both in terms of what it means for medical capacities and in relation to cultural events,” Soder said.

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

Ciaran Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

Celtic, Aberdeen games called off after coronavirus breaches

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Celtic and Aberdeen have been slammed by the Scottish government and their games in the next week will not go ahead after coronavirus breaches from players.

[ MORE: UCL, Europa picks ]

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon addressed the situation regarding the two Scottish Premiership clubs and said fans should “not expect to see Aberdeen or Celtic play over the course of the coming week.”

It has emerged that Celtic player Boli Bolingoli had traveled to Spain and failed to quarantine on return before Celtic’s game against Kilmarnock on Aug. 9, breaking Scottish law, as the club released a statement saying the Belgian wide-man will be disciplined and slammed the ‘stupidity’ of his actions.

That came after eight Aberdeen players apologized after they broke guidelines by going out to a bar following a loss to Rangers on Aug. 1.

Here is more information on the situation in Scotland regarding Boli Bolingoli and the Aberdeen players from our partners at Sky Sports:


“What I regret is that some football players seem incapable of living up to their responsibilities. I very much regret that. When I stood here on Friday I think my frustration with the Aberdeen football situation was pretty palpable,” Sturgeon said.

“I don’t want the season to be in jeopardy. I don’t want people who are not responsible for this to pay the price but we have to be very clear that this situation is not acceptable. We’ll set out the conclusion of the talks later today but as a minimum, you should not expect to see Aberdeen or Celtic play over the course of the coming week.”

It comes just days after Aberdeen’s trip to St Johnstone was called off due to two of their players testing positive for coronavirus.


Quite simply, these players should know better.

The Scottish government went on to acknowledge that the vast majority of people with Scottish football are following the guidelines but the actions of a small minority are putting everyone at risk.

After ending the 2019-20 season early due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020-21 Scottish Premiership season has just kicked off and already these issues are cropping up.

Celtic were due to play St Mirren on Aug. 12 then, ironically, Aberdeen on Aug. 15. Aberdeen were due to play Hamilton Academical on Aug. 12.

Solskjaer warns “could have been one of those nights” for Manchester United

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was clearly relieved after his dominant but wasteful Manchester United finally beat goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson and Copenhagen in extra time of their Europa League quarterfinal in Cologne.

“I think it was just one of those nights,” he said after the win. “I think we deserved to win, that’s clear, but they made it very hard for us.”

Johnsson made 13 saves as United out-attempted the minusM-1000 underdogs from Denmark by a 26-9 margin. The Red Devils blocked several Copenhagen chances in tight, making the Danes’ total of zero shots on target a bit deceiving.

[ RECAP: Manchester United 1-0 Copenhagen ]

“Their keeper was unbelievable and we hit the post a few times,” Solskjaer said. “It could have been one of those nights that you end up with a shootout. We had to block, defend well and they made it hard for us.”

But United was clearly the better team on the day, as expected. Juan Mata entered late in the game and was an influential sub in extra time.

He says the Red Devils were a bit beat up on a hot night in Germany.

“The team is quite tired physically,” Mata said. “At this stage of this season it is important to win games like today and we go through. We stay in Germany for quite some time and hopefully we can win.

“Both teams got a little tired and there were more spaces and more chances. They played some good football and credit to them. We could have scored more goals in extra time but we are through.”

United will meet either Sevilla or Wolves in a dynamite semifinal in one week.

Manchester United breaks through Copenhagen in extra time

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Manchester United – Copenhagen: The Europa League’s biggest underdogs of the quarterfinals took the tournament favorites to extra time before succumbing 1-0 in Cologne.

Bruno Fernandes highlighted his Man of the Match performance by converting an Anthony Martial-won penalty in the 95th minute for Manchester United, the only way past Copenhagen’s terrific goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson.

But Fernandes gave United a scare, needing care for his hamstring at the final whistle.

[ MORE: Liverpool announces new left back ]

Johnsson made 13 saves, seven from inside the box, to keep Copenhagen within a sucker punch of eliminating the Red Devils over 90 minutes.

Manchester United heads to Dusseldorf for an Aug. 17 semifinal against the winner of Tuesday’s tilt between Wolves and Sevilla.


Three things we learned

1. Copenhagen plays prime tournament soccer: The heaviest underdogs in the quarterfinals, Copenhagen executed a traditional 4-4-2 in a less-traditional low block for much of the match. The low block wasn’t the surprise, but instead of two banks of five, the rows of four with two men hassling up front challenged United for time and helped spring a number of dangerous counters. The Danes opened up in extra time after going behind, but taking it to extra time was more than many expected out of them.

2. VAR denies the Red Devils: A rout would’ve been on if this match was staged a year ago without VAR, as the assistant referee twice allowed United goals to go to video. Harry Maguire was offside before assisting the first would-be Red Devils goal, while Mason Greenwood was off before ripping a rocket off the far post and into the goal.

3. Bruno is a beast: Fernandes was everywhere, cueing up his teammates for chances when he wasn’t smashing them off the frame in a bid to win it himself. The Portuguese playmaker registered three key passes, put three of his five shots on target, and won the majority of his duels on top of scoring the game’s lone goal (SofaScore). Now United must hope his late leg injury was just a product of 120 minutes and nothing major.

Man of the Match

Fernandes, and yes we had him here before he smashed his penalty home. Fernandes is now the Europa League’s leading scorer with seven goals between Sporting Lisbon and United.


Manchester United – Copenhagen recap

United has plenty of the ball in the first 10 minutes but Copenhagen provided legitimate danger that Eric Bailly managed in his own six.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka blocked a cross with his face and needed treatment, looking quite dazed before returning to the game.

Another Copenhagen chance was blocked in the six by Bailly (again), who proved a wise choice over Victor Lindelof.

VAR had a look at an early United goal and rightly chalked Harry Maguire offside in the build-up. And it took Mason Greenwood’s hammer off the far post off the board for offside early in stoppage time.

Copenhagen was in it at the break. Would United pay?

[ MORE: Lukaku leads Inter past Bayer Leverkusen ]

The early stages of the second half remained with the Red Devils, Copenhagen parking all its men behind the ball at times.

Rashford flubbed a chance to shoot or pass to Paul Pogba when Bruno Fernandes spotted him at the back post just after the hour mark.

Fernandes tried his luck from distance in the 63rd, ripping a shot off the far post.

Ex-Everton man Bryan Oviedo nearly put Copenhagen ahead in the 66th only to see Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Bailly clog his shooting lane after Rasmus Falk dazzled to get into the box.

Karl-Johan Johnsson made a flying save on Anthony Martial to force an 84th-minute corner that came to nothing for United.

Johnsson denied Martial again in-tight at the start of stoppage time, but the high was short-lived as the Frenchman was dropped in the box moments later.

Fernandes stepped to the spot and used a stuttering run-up before blasting his penalty home.

Martial nearly had it 2-0 after the restart when he dribbled through the Copenhagen 18 but took it himself instead of laying off to Juan Mata in what would’ve been a fairly straight-forward chance for the Spaniard.

Johnsson denied Fernandes at the end of the first 15 minutes of extra time, United unfortunate to not score on the ensuing corner when Mata’s shot was blocked to Lindelof, who fired off the outside of the post.

Lindelof made a fine intervention to block a close-range equalizer bid in the 116th.