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PL Sunday Preview: Liverpool host Chelsea; Man City visit Crystal Palace

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In what may be Liverpool’s toughest remaining league match of the season, the Reds host the Blues of Chelsea in an epic matchup between two big six sides. Chelsea will be looking to spoil Liverpool’s title hopes yet again. It was Chelsea and Demba Ba who pounced on Steven Gerrard‘s slip in midfield which led to Liverpool losing the title in 2014.

Liverpool v. Chelsea — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Liverpool took care of business last week early against Porto, and with a 2-0 lead, it may allow manager Jurgen Klopp to focus more of his attention on one of the biggest games of the season against Chelsea. When these teams met earlier in the season, Chelsea recorded a 1-1 draw in the Premier League and a 2-1 win in the League Cup. More than Manchester City, Chelsea may be Liverpool’s bogey team. The Reds haven’t beaten Chelsea in six games, dating back to 2016.

One of Liverpool’s big boosts heading into the match is the return of the marauding Scottish left wing back Andrew Robertson. That should allow James Milner to either return to midfield or take a place on the bench, where he can make a second-half impact with fresh legs. In addition, Joe Gomez is available after a long injury layoff while Adam Lallana is expected to take part as well. But it will be up to the likes of Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane to break down Chelsea’s backline and secure a massive three points to stay alive for the title.

An interesting little facet of this game is that it will come minutes after the end of Manchester City’s match at Crystal Palace. Liverpool and Chelsea’s players will know if Man City has taken back the lead in the table, or whether Liverpool can extend its lead at the top.

INJURIES: Liverpool —  OUT: None | Chelsea — OUT: None

Crystal Palace v. Manchester City — 9:05 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Before Thursday’s defeat to Tottenham in the UEFA Champions League, Manchester City hadn’t lost a match since a 2-1 loss at Newcastle at the end of January. Now, Pep Guardiola heads back to London for the second time in a week looking to remain in the title hunt.

With Liverpool keeping pace at the top, Man City can’t afford a slip on on the road, but Roy Hodgson and his side will be hoping to pick up at least a point at Selhurst Park. Unsurprisingly, Crystal Palace has struggled against the Big Six sides this season, with the exception a 3-2 win….at Manchester City. Andros Townsend‘s world-class strike helped to prove the difference. Could Crystal Palace secure six points over the title-favorites?

Meanwhile for Man City, Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sane could inject some freshness back into the squad after sitting out the past couple of games. Also in Man City’s favor, Crystal Palace has lost 12 of its 16 Premier League home games this season. Plus, with a win, Man City goes one point ahead of Liverpool, putting all the pressure on Klopp’s side.

INJURIES: Crystal Palace —  OUT: James Tompkins (groin), Mamadou Sakho (knee) | Manchester City — QUESTIONABLE: Oleksandr Zinchenko, Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy

Late penalty puts Liverpool atop table (video)

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  • Mane opens scoring in 26th
  • Ex-Reds striker Babel stars in loss
  • Mane wins late penalty, Milner converts

James Milner‘s 81st minute penalty saved Liverpool blushes in a 2-1 defeat of Fulham at Craven Cottage on Sunday.

The Reds had a Sadio Mane-inspired lead, but had given it back through a comedy of errors Ryan Babel equalizer.

Liverpool goes atop the Premier League on 76 points, having played one more match than Man City (74 points).

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Some lively dribbling from ex-Liverpool man Ryan Babel cued up Jean-Michael Seri for a shot that sailed over the goal.

Andrew Robertson hit a cross too close to Fulham keeper Rico after some fancy dribbling of his own.

Liverpool was asking all the questions when Mane put them ahead, beginning the move on the left wing before passing to and receiving from Roberto Firmino for 1-0.

Mane joins three players chasing Sergio Aguero’s league-leading goal total of 18: Mohamed Salah, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Harry Kane.

Mane has nine goals in his last nine PL matches, and 11 in 11 overall.

Liverpool was a bit lucky that a rash foul from Fabinho didn’t earn him as second yellow card and send the Reds down to 10 men at the break.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Fulham did not quit, and looked the better money for a second half goal. A first break saw Aleksandar Mitrovic nod into the goal only to see an offside flag deny the marker.

Babel was at the center of it all, and led a second break which ended with a Alisson Becker save on Andre Franck Zambo Anguissa.

That’s when calamity occurred in the center of the pitch. James Milner mishit a clearance, and Virgil Van Dijk casually headed back toward Alisson. The goalkeeper lost the ball in his feet, and Babel was on the doorstep to slot home.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

The stalemate lasted just a few minutes, as Milner converted a penalty conceded when Rico impeded Mane in the box.

Mohamed Salah had a chance to put the match to bed following a Mane-led run, but the Egyptian fired right at Rico.

Q&A with newly-named NISA president Bob Watkins

@NISALeague
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The National Independent Soccer Association (NISA) has announced its new president, and made him available for media interviews.

[ MORE: USMNT-Brazil preview ]

ProSoccerTalk spoke with Bob Watkins, NISA’s commissioner and the founder of United States Rugby, about plans for the nascent league. He’s also one of the owners of San Diego’s 1904 FC, the club with connections to Demba Ba, Eden Hazard, Yohan Cabaye, and Moussa Sow.

Other reports have also announced that 1904 FC — formerly an applicant for the USL — will be a founding member of NISA.

ProSoccerTalk: What attracted you to the position?

Bob Watkins: “Excitement of the concept. I’ve been involved with the NASL a number of years ago with the club in San Diego. As that began to collapse if you will, it became apparent to me that a lot of the things that seemed to be not going well could’ve been avoided if it had been an activity looking at it from a future point of view, looking at where soccer in the United States was going, and what could be done to support that. When Peter Wilt and John approached me to look at this activity, I thought it was a different way of doing things. Not necessarily that they were better than anything else, but I liked the concept. It was a little bit more democratic. It was about playing soccer rather than trying to build an empire or change the world.”

Bob Watkins, @NISALeague

PST: When you say “democratic,” what do you mean?

BW: “The league is owned by the owners. All the teams who come into the league subscribe to the league. We don’t have any high financial barriers. It’s relatively modest if you’re looking at MLS or USL, and to me that makes a lot of sense so that groups who want to participate can do it, and there are no geographic boundaries or franchise areas.”

PST: How can your experience growing U.S. Rugby help with a new American soccer league?

BW: “When I looked at this from years ago, and began to think about how do I help develop a club in San Diego, I took the veneer of the sport of rugby on, and took the veneer of the sport of soccer off, and compared them both. Rugby is in its infancy in comparison to what soccer is, and there’s a lot of embedded activity in soccer that is just becoming part of the system in rugby. But if you flip the base to the top, and then build your system based on the enthusiasm, participation, and passion for it, that’s where you’re going to win hearts and minds. We’re here to promote the game, not to promote individual fiefdoms or organizations. What rugby has not had, which is in the process of doing, is building a youth development program.”

PST: You mentioned your time with NASL. Are you concerned with the U.S. Soccer Federation’s support of a new league?

BW: “I look at U.S. Soccer as I look at U.S. Rugby or any other national governing body. They’re there, they command the respect and ability to promote the national presence of the game. We have to build a system that supports that process. If change comes as a result of the way we’re doing things, so be it. We’re not there to change the rules of U.S. Soccer. We’re there to play the game at the base level and make it enjoyable and pleasant.”

PST: Being owner-owned should help, but how do you make sure you follow a good path in terms of expanding/growing the league?

BW: “What one has to look at, is there are certain standards that U.S. Soccer has for professional teams to participate, so we don’t want to drop down in terms of teams like NASL. At the same time, we want to make sure that we’re not ahead of our skis in terms of our ability to manage the growth. One of the challenges that we’re going to have is that a number of teams will be coming into a professional level which is different than the amateur level. We need to support the clubs with as much on-boarding as possible. It’s like taking an amateur player and making them a professional … to compete in the marketplace. Each that comes into the league has to hit the same standards as everybody else has so we can help them promote them, and grow them.

PST: What’s next?

BW: “Timing wise we’re looking at the Fall of 2019 coinciding with the FIFA schedule. Until then we’re building a relationship with each of the clubs, with U.S. Soccer, and fan bases around the country.”

Changchun Yatai player accused of racially abusing Demba Ba

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BEIJING (AP) Chinese Superleague team Shanghai Shenhua has accused an opposing player of racially abusing its Senegalese star forward Demba Ba during a match Saturday.

Shenhua coach Wu Jingui told reporters that a Changchun Yatai player used racially insulting language toward Ba during an altercation late in the match, which ended in a 1-1 draw. The Shanghai team later published a Twitter post demanding that the Chinese Football Association take serious disciplinary action against the Yatai player, Zhang Li.

[ MORE: 2018-19 Premier League previews]

The incident generated controversy on the Chinese internet, with fans calling for an immediate investigation.

A prominent Chinese sports blogger wrote on social media that Zhang allegedly shouted “You black” repeatedly at Ba.

Newcastle makes pivotal goalkeeper’s loan move permanent

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Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez was reportedly chasing a new goalkeeper all last summer, finally getting a starting caliber backstop on loan in January.

That keeper was 29-year-old Martin Dubravka, and that loan from Sparta Prague had an option to buy.

[ MORE: Lewandowski wants to leave Bayern ]

Newcastle has purchased Dubravka and signed him through 2021-22 after an outstanding 12-match stint between the sticks.

Dubravka kept three clean sheets and allowed just one total goal in a trio of wins over Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea.

Here’s Benitez, from NUFC.co.uk:

“Ever since he arrived with us on loan he has shown a fantastic attitude and great work ethic, and of course we have been very impressed with his performances for us on the pitch last season.

“This was one of the key positions we had identified we needed to strengthen and had been concerned about, so it is excellent news that we are able now to sign him on a permanent basis.”

That one fix was as important as any in Newcastle’s second half revival, with Kenedy‘s loan from Chelsea another revelation. A clinical striker, something they’ve lacked in Premier League play dating back to Demba Ba, Loic Remy, and Papiss Cisse‘s early days, would catapult them into a higher table discussion.