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PL Sunday preview: All eyes on Manchester derby

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Two critically important matches to the Champions League picture take the field on Sunday as Chelsea hosts Everton at Stamford Bridge and Manchester United welcomes cross-town rivals Manchester City to Old Trafford.

Both Chelsea and Manchester United are hunting for European places, and the race is still wide open as ever after Saturday’s results. Chelsea currently holds the final Champions League place on 45 points, but both Wolves and Sheffield United are nipping at their heels on 43 points while Manchester United is right in the mix with 42 points.

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This week proves a critical opportunity for Manchester United especially given Chelsea’s heavy list of scratches. The Red Devils have the opportunity to catch and pass the Blues should the

Chelsea v. Everton  — 10:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Chelsea currently hold the coveted fourth spot in the Premier League table, but the Blues are limping to the finish line this season with a walking wounded squad that could ultimately cost them a place at the Champions League table. Tammy Abraham, N’Golo Kante, and Callum Hudson-Odoi all remain confirmed out for the Blues. Add to the list Christian Pulisic who remains unlikely to play in the match with his lingering thigh injury plus new injuries for Mateo Kovacic and Willian, with the former ruled out and the latter requiring a late fitness test to prove his availability. Sprinkle in a yellow card suspension for Jorginho and the Blues look seriously undermanned.

All that gives Everton a valuable opportunity to move back into the top half of the table, currently logjammed in 12th among the rabble. They could move as high as 10th with a win at Stamford Bridge, potentially pulling level with ninth-placed Arsenal on points. Carlo Ancelotti‘s side has looked far better and more organized since the Italian arrived, but the results remain inconsistent. The Toffees have won just two of their last six league matches, but have lost just twice in their last 13. The next step for Ancelotti is converting draws to wins, an important hurdle to clear before the end of the seasons.

Ancelotti has also admitted his return to Stamford Bridge, where he used to manage, will be an “emotional” one. Everton fans will hope he can bottle that emotion and save it for after the final whistle.

Manchester United v. Manchester City  — 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com

Champions League race aside, this rivalry has plenty of sting on its own. Manchester United is looking to complete a league double over its bitter rivals for the first time since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Man City seems firmly entrenched in second and does not appear to have much else to play for in league play, but their failings against United are a microcosm of what has gone wrong at times this season for Pep Guardiola‘s side. City out-passed United 588-199 in early December but created little in terms of good chances on net, able to put just five of its 23 shots on target. John Stones and Rodrigo were exposed on the counter, with Stones then left out of the squad for the entire rest of December.

Still, City come into this game in great form, having won their last five matches in a row across all competitions and conceding just two goals in that span. They have also won three straight at Old Trafford among all competitions and could record a fourth straight road victory at Manchester United for just the second time in club history. With Aymeric Laporte the only serious injury concern for the visitors, Manchester United will have to work hard for its place among the Premier League European places.

Southgate: Smalling could be recalled for Euro 2020

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Chris Smalling has been a revelation for AS Roma this season, and the England National Team manager has taken notice.

With Smalling back to playing some of the best soccer of his career, Gareth Southgate said in an interview with The Guardian that Smalling could be in contention for a return to the England National Team. Smalling was unceremoniously dropped from the Three Lions in 2017 in the middle of World Cup 2018 qualification, but he’s had a renaissance since moving to Italy from Manchester United last summer.

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“I think he’s done well in Italy,” Southgate said. “He’s playing at another big club. He was obviously playing at a big club before. We’re watching everybody because we’ve got to make sure we make the right decision. I’ve never ruled anybody out. I think that would be wrong.”

Playing in a slower, yet more tactical and techncal league, has helped the quick centerback stand out. What’s also helped him, Smalling revealed in previous interviews since coming to Roma, was his ease at maintaining a vegan diet, which has given him new life, and perhaps another England National Team call-up. Smalling has made 21 starts this season in Serie A, recording six clean sheets and two goals.

Smalling’s success this season comes at a great time for him personally, in terms of the national team. Southgate has a crisis on his hands in central defense. John Stones is hardly playing (12 Premier League appearances so far), while Harry Maguire hasn’t had the same kind of impact at Manchester United that he appeared to have while at Leicester City.

Of most recent call-ups, only Fikayo Timori (hasn’t played in the Premier League since the turn of the year) and Tyrone Mings, he of two total caps, fit that position. And if Eric Dier is facing a suspension from the FA, that could keep him out of the Three Lions for Euro 2020. Suddenly, Southgate must look at former players he once cast out for options.

In addition to Smalling, if Joe Gomez would be fit, he’d be a decent option to pair with Maguire, but you’d like to Smalling either starting or at least in the squad to provide some insurance.

Man City wins third-straight League Cup

Man City wins third-straight League Cup
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Manchester City won its third-straight League Cup trophy, outlasting a game challenge from Aston Villa at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

[ MORE: “Clinical” Foden reacts ]

It’s the eighth trophy of the Pep Guardiola era at Manchester City, as Rodri and Sergio Aguero scored in a 2-1 win. City’s seven league cups trail only Liverpool’s eight.

Mbwana Samatta pulled a goal back for Villa, who was denied extra time by a brilliant Claudio Bravo save. City had 70 percent of the ball and a 22-5 shots edge, but made a furious bid over the final few minutes.

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Three things we learned

1. Another trophy for City, with new heroes: Winning silverware never gets old, and this one will feel especially nice given the tumultuous season at the Etihad Stadium and impending UEFA Champions League ban. Villa proving difficult to beat lent the occasion more intensity.

The names helping City to glory were mostly new to the trophy chase, or at least unusual to it. Rodri helped set up the first goal and scored the second. Phil Foden was an absolute menace. And Bravo made a tremendous late save to ensure the match didn’t go beyond 90 minutes.

2. Foden announces himself: It can be easy to tire of the “did the young English player play and how did he play?” storyline with Premier League, but this isn’t that: Phil Foden was electrifying in this one, recalling fellow spark plug Jack Grealish on the opposite sideline.

The kid was sensational, completing 90 percent of his passes including two key passes. He completed three of four dribbles, won 7 of 10 duels, and made an interception to go with two tackles. That says nothing of his ability to move the ball in tight spaces before finding a safe outlet. Wonderful from a kid who’s still a teenager until May 28.

3. Bad call burns Villa, as fans provide occasion: Neither the AR nor head referee saw the ball touch Ilkay Gundogan last ahead of a wrongly-awarded Man City corner. VAR isn’t going to be deployed for every corner, nor should it be, but the missed call allowed Gundogan’s corner that Rodri buried for 2-0.

Villa’s fans were tentative early, but snapped to life once Samatta scored and found another level after the hour mark. It will have been a memorable day for a big club even if Dean Smith‘s men can’t shake the relegation blues.

Man of the Match: It’s between Rodri and Foden, with an acknowledging nod to Villa defender Tyrone Mings. We’ll give it to Rodri, City’s underrated star.


Early chances went both ways, Anwar El Ghazi heading over the goal at one end before John Stones headed a Gundogan did the same at the other.

City took the lead on an incisive, clinical play. Rodri swept a pass over the line to a streaking Phil Foden, who cut back for Aguero.

The Argentine had plenty to do with a leaping side-footed finish of an airborne ball.

El Ghazi cut around Stones to shoot toward the near post, but Claudio Bravo was in position.

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Rodri had it 2-0 off a Gundogan corner that should not have been. The ball went off Gundogan last on the end line, but VAR cannot review every corner.

Villa got one back when Stones fell over, allowing El Ghazi to cross between Fernandinho and Oleksandr Zinchenko for a waiting Samatta.

City couldn’t find the goal to put the game to bed and introduced Kevin De Bruyne for Ilkay Gundogan, Guardiola not content to ride out a one-goal win.

Rodri almost had another when Nyland pawed away a 74th-minute bid, and Aguero slipped in a bid to side volley a Sterling cross past Nyland.

Villa won a corner in the 87th minute through the industry of Trezeguet, the crowd again meeting the moment. Bravo made an incredible save to push Bjorn Engels‘ header off the post.

FOLLOW LIVE: Villa, Man City in League Cup Final

League Cup Final
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Can Dean Smith and Aston Villa deny Manchester City its eighth trophy under Pep Guardiola?

The heavy underdogs will try during the 2019/20 League Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, which kicks off at 11:30 a.m. ET.

[ FOLLOW: Aston Villa v. Man City ]

City has won the last two League Cups to give the reigning Premier League champions six in its existence. Only Liverpool’s eight number more.

Villa can join City on six with a Wembley win, the Midlands side last lifting the cup in 1996.

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Phil Foden gets a start in Guardiola’s engine room, while John Stones partners with Fernandinho at center back.

Jack Grealish, of course, will captain Villa, with Mbwana Samatta leading the line and Orjan Nyland between the posts.

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Watch Live: Leicester City v. Man City

Leicester City v. Man City stream link
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Manchester City can put Leicester City deep in its rearview mirror when the two sides meet at the King Power Stadium on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

Leicester opens the day four points back of the second-place visitors. The Foxes also saw Chelsea move four points back with a win over Spurs.

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Aymeric Laporte again pairs with Fernandinho in Man City’s back line, keeping John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi on the bench.

Harvey Barnes and Ayoze Perez start on the bench for Brendan Rodgers‘ Foxes.

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