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Picking a 2019 Rugby World Cup team based on your PL club

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Okay, we know the balls are shaped slightly differently, but there is plenty of shared history between soccer and rugby and the 2019 Rugby World Cup kicks off this Friday across NBC Sports.

WATCH 2019 RUGBY WORLD CUP

Barring in mind you’ll be able to watch every single game live from the World Cup in Japan via NBC Sports Gold and across the NBC family of channels, now is a good time to brush up on your rugby knowledge.

Let’s make it as easy as we can for you.

Below we take a look at which of the 20 World Cup nations is most similar to one of the 20 PL clubs.

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If you’re looking to watch the World Cup but don’t know which team to support, this will help you out, as all you have to find the PL club you support and, hey presto, you have a team for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.


Argentina = Everton
A team which is usually the ‘best of the rest’ in world rugby. Yep, Toffees fans can sympathize with being just good enough to be included in the big conversations but never quite getting over the line. This year could be different, though. Argentina and England are expected to advance from their pool, as France aren’t as good as they’ve been in past World Cups. Opportunity knocks for Argentina.

Australia = Chelsea
Both have had success in the past but both are just on the outside looking in when it comes to the favorites. Australia, like Chelsea, have plenty of inexperienced players heading into this World Cup. Could be a good outside bet to cause a few shocks and will always be in the conversation at the business end of the tournament.

Canada = Brighton
Canada are in the midst of a rebuild after struggling at the 2015 World Cup. Brighton are in the midst of a rebuild after just staying up in the Premier League last season.

England = Liverpool
The second favorites, for many, to win the World Cup, there is a lot of excitement around this England side. Like Liverpool, historically they are always up there, but a new approach from the eccentric Eddie Jones has brought about good results. Like Jurgen Klopp, an exciting team has a charismatic leader. This could be the year for both of these teams…

Fiji = Aston Villa
Upstarts who have a fine heritage in the game, Fiji have arrived after big recent wins against France and Wales. Villa have returned to the big time and are expected to say, and this tournament provides Fiji with a perfect chance to secure their best-ever finish at a World Cup. Semi Radradra is to Fiji what Jack Grealish is to Aston Villa.

Georgia = Burnley
Placed in a tough pool, nobody expects anything from Georgia. They are the heavy underdogs and have never made the knockout rounds of a World Cup. Burnley know all about being the underdogs, and Georgia are a physical side who make it tough for opponents. Yep, this comparison works perfectly.

France = Leicester City
Much-changed France have been overlooked by many, but they have the young talent to succeed. Leicester have a plan and identity and even though this season may not be their year to break into the top four, there is potential for them to do it. France will be lucky to get to the semifinals, but if they do, they are very unpredictable under Jacques Brunel.

Ireland = Man United
They possess so many talented players and although they are currently ranked as the top team on the planet, Ireland a real Jekyll and Hyde team. Like Man United, they are well-supported and will be there or thereabouts, but many aren’t backing them to succeed. This time.

Italy = Southampton
Always around, and capable of causing upsets, both Italy and Southampton fly under the radar. Like Saints, this Italian side has a small core of key players and they cannot afford any injuries. If they make it out of the group stage it would be a big achievement, and if Saints finish in the top 10 that would be comparable.

Japan = Wolves
A team aiming to join the big boys, Japan and Wolves have a lot in common. Japan won three of their pool games in 2015 but agonizingly failed to make the quarterfinals. Hosts Japan will have a lot of expectation on them this time around, while Wolves’ expectations levels have also increased. Can they deliver?

Namibia = Bournemouth
One of the smallest nations at the World Cup, Namibia have defied the odds to reach seven-straight World Cups. How much longer can they keep doing that? Bournemouth are now regulars in the PL, as Eddie Howe has worked similar miracles. Both minnows don’t get the respect they deserve, but how long will their fairytales last? And can they finally step up to the next tier?

New Zealand = Man City
The undisputed favorites to win, both teams seem too strong for their opponents. Dynasties have been produced as a string of superstars are well-drilled and hungry for continued success. Like Man City, New Zealand are going for the three-peat after winning the 2011 and 2015 World Cups on home soil and then in England. The All Blacks are stacked.

Russia = Norwich City
The Russians only qualified due to Romania and Spain breaking rules, and they are expected to be battered in the World Cup. Like Norwich, nobody gives them a chance. But we all know how Norwich have fared so far. If Russia can secure one win in pool play this will be deemed a huge success.

Samoa = West Ham
They have the squad to prevail, but so many changes behind-the-scenes has led to chaos for Samoa. Sound familiar, West Ham fans? Both teams have the potential to disrupt the big boys but haven’t come close to doing so in recent years. Talented, but more structure needed.

Scotland = Newcastle
Capable of beating anyone, Scotland and Newcastle are very good when it all slots together. But that only happens rarely. Sleeping giants, they are even close geographically. For all of the passion of their fans, there has been little to shout about in recent times. Neither team has a Plan B.

South Africa = Tottenham
A contender, for sure, but can they put it all together to lift the trophy? Tottenham have struggled with that in recent years, and although South Africa won the World Cup in 1995 and 2007, those are their only two finals in history. Both teams a little too inconsistent right now.

Tonga = Crystal Palace
A team always punching above their weight and modest resources, Tonga can cause upsets, just like they did when beating France at the 2011 World Cup. Crystal Palace love to play the underdogs too, and are willing to dig deep in a solid, defensive system. Tealusa Veainu is the speedy star of this Tonga side, and just like Wilfried Zaha for Palace, they need him to shine in key moments.

Uruguay = Sheffield United
This Uruguay side have totally overhauled their team since the last World Cup in England, and that mirrors what Chris Wilder has done at Sheffield United. A totally new playing style has arrived for Uruguay, as they’ve ditched the defensive style for being fluid and exciting to watch. That slots in with the Blades’ identity where overlapping center backs are kings. A work in progress. Fun to watch.

USA = Watford
Well, rugby in the U.S. is clearly on the up. This is the best-ever team from the USA but they have been placed in a very tough pool alongside England, Argentina and France. Watford have the best-ever team right now, but have they also reached the proverbial glass ceiling? Capable of upsets, the U.S. will have to rack plenty of them up to make it to the last eight for the first time in their history. AJ MacGinty runs the show for the Eagles, just as Gerard Deulofeu keeps Watford moving forward.

Wales = Arsenal
Warren Gatland is leaving after this tournament, and like Arsene Wenger for Arsenal, he brought sustained success for Wales. But all good things come to and end. Unlike Wenger, Gatland will be hoping to go out on top and this Welsh side have the potential to do just that after their Six Nations’ success. They don’t have the biggest squad depth in some key areas (Arsenal fans will sympathize with that) but when their best lineup is out there, they can beat anybody.

Arsenal ‘too scared’ of Watford in collapse

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Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka admitted the Gunners were “too scared” of Watford as they collapsed in the second half.

Leading 2-0 at half time thanks to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal were totally outplayed in the second half as Watford roared back to draw 2-2 at Vicarage Road on Sunday.

Speaking after the game, Xhaka said the Arsenal players were not confident enough to see out the game.

“No-one wanted the ball. In the end we are happy to take a point,” Xhaka said. “We didn’t show our game in the second half, we were too scared… Every team in the Premier League is strong enough to score but you have to keep calm, to show good character, to be mentally strong. We weren’t today.”

If only this was a rare occurrence for Arsenal.

Under Unai Emery their defensive collapses have been frequent, and this issue even dates back to Arsene Wenger‘s final few seasons in charge.

Arsenal were their own worst enemies on Sunday.

Instead of playing the ball out of dangerous areas they tried to play short goal kicks time and time again and were caught in possession on several occasions. David Luiz gave away a penalty kick, Xhaka and Mateo Guendouzi were overrun in central midfield in the second half and in the end they were lucky to grab a point.

Trying the same things time and time again and expecting different results is just bonkers, and that is what this Arsenal squad is going.

Luiz, Bernd Leno, Sokratis and Xhaka are players Arsenal have built their defensive core around, and the same issues keep cropping up when they are in the team. Adding Luiz to the mix after losing Laurent Koscielny was a risk and it seems like a move which will backfire for the Gunners.

It is true that defenders Rob Holding, Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney are all close to returning from injury, so when that happens perhaps we will see a newfound defensive solidity and things will improve.

Then again, it’s likely neutral everywhere will be grabbing their popcorn whenever Arsenal play this season because you’re guaranteed entertainment at both ends of the pitch.

Mourinho: Lampard has ‘all the conditions to succeed’ at Chelsea

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Jose Mourinho as a pundit has turned out to be a very interesting thing.

Happy to stoke the fires of controversy as a manager, Mourinho has largely brought a measured, thoughtful approach to his commentator’s seat. He’s also been fairly funny, like his quip about Man City’s B Team as a candidate to win the league.

[ MORE: Poch’s message to wantaway stars ]

A big part of this is Mourinho’s lack of bias, which is perhaps the most surprising part of it all given his readiness to take digs at old rivals like Arsene Wenger and Rafa Benitez during his time as a Premier League manager.

Consider Frank Lampard. Mourinho was not shy about the Chelsea manager’s mistakes against Manchester United, but not because it was his former job or a desire for headlines. Mourinho just didn’t like the Chelsea man’s job that day (and Lampard didn’t particularly enjoy the criticism).

This weekend, however, sees Mourinho backing Lampard on the whole, and “The Special One” thinks Chelsea’s current boss will be able to use the composition he usually displayed as a player to grow as a boss.

“He plays for big things,” Mourinho said. “He plays Champions League, he played a European Super Cup, he had already big matches in his hands, and he has to grow up with the level of experiences, which I believe he can because he has huge experience.”

“I cannot separate from the fact that football has been always in his life. He was born son of a player, he grew up [nephew] of a football manager, he became a player, he became a top player… I think he has all the conditions to succeed.”

Chelsea faces Wolves in a very challenging match at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live online on NBC Sports Gold).

Barcelona preparing lifetime contract for Lionel Messi

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According to a report by Spanish publication Mundo Deportivo, Barcelona is preparing a contract extension for Lionel Messi that would see him stay at Barcelona for the rest of his playing career and possibly beyond.

Triggered by the recent revelation that Messi’s current contract, signed in 2017 and good through the summer of 2021, has an opt-out clause this coming summer, the two sides are set to discuss the next step in his career. According to the Mundo Deportivo report, there is no hurry or tension in the current contract situation, as the club feels Messi is fully committed to Barcelona and has shown such loyalty on a number of occasions.

Still, the report states Barcelona has been carefully considering and constructing a lifetime contract for quite some time now, and is prepared to present the final product soon. The report does imply that the contract could include a position with the club following the end of his playing days, but does not explicitly state what that role would be or discuss how Messi would be involved with the club.

The report does note that Messi is likely to continue playing through the 2022 World Cup before considering retirement. It also interestingly states that he has long wished to return for at least a few months to his first club Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina before fully retiring, which Barcelona would be reportedly open to allowing in his lifetime contract.

Messi’s agent – his father Jorge Messi – is reportedly “in no hurry” to sit down and begin negotiations given the good relationship between the two sides, suggesting sincere confidence in the ability to come to an agreement.

Recently, former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admitted that the Gunners attempted to bring Messi to the Emirates back in 2003 alongside Cesc Fabregas. At the time, Messi was just a Barcelona youth player, yet to make his senior team debut. Still, Wenger says Arsenal failed as Barcelona could already see Messi’s talent and considered him “untouchable.”

Arsenal: Mustafi, Elneny can leave

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Arsenal could see more first team veterans leave the club, after Unai Emery has allowed Shkodran Mustafi and Mohamed Elneny the chance to leave before the European transfer deadline closes.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Mustafi started 38 times in all competitions for the Gunners last season, but he’s remembered for many miscues and blunders that cost the Gunners points, even if he did help take Arsenal to the Europa League final. Elneny meanwhile played in just 17 games last season. Both players are not in Emery’s plans.

“They are very big players but for one circumstance or another they are going to have fewer chances to show their capacity or to be happy with us and the minutes they play in matches,” Emery told reporters in London, via the Guardian. “But they know the situation and really I am wishing the best for them. I think now the best for them is to be protagonists in another team and to get another challenge for themselves.”

It’s a huge fall from grace for Mustafi, who just a few years ago was a major signing for the Gunners and was coming off playing three times on Germany’s way to winning the 2014 World Cup. However, that was then, and Mustafi’s form has dropped off enough that he hasn’t been called up by Joachim Low since 2017. It’s hard to realize that Mustafi is only 27, but it appears that he either peaked much earlier, or injuries have kept him from realizing his past form.

Elneny meanwhile came in 2016 as a mid-season, January signing for Arsene Wenger. However, he was always used as a depth piece, and never truly blossomed to become a main player.

For some coaches knowing they’ll be playing a taxing schedule in four competitions, they might have done whatever it took to keep players like Mustafi and Elneny, both comfortable at Arsenal, for at least depth and help in the cup competitions. But to Emery’s credit, his honesty to the players will surely be appreciated, and allow them to look elsewhere for more playing time.

Ultimately, Elneny and Mustafi will play at Arsenal if they don’t leave, but it just won’t be in as many games as they hope, unless there’s some sort of crazy injury crisis.