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Usmanov buys first option on naming rights for Everton stadium

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LIVERPOOL, England — Russian businessman Alisher Usmanov has paid Everton $39 million to secure an exclusive option on naming rights for the Premier League club’s proposed new stadium.

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The 66-year-old Usmanov, who sold his 30 percent stake in Arsenal for $715 million in August 2018, is a long-time business partner of Everton’s majority shareholder, Farhad Moshiri, and already sponsors the club’s training ground.

His holding company, USM, now has an agreement in place for first option of naming rights, at current market rates, once the venue at Bramley-Moore Dock is near completion. It is scheduled to be completed by 2023.

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The latest investment by Usmanov was announced by Everton as the club published its accounts for 2018-19, showing a loss of $145 million despite posting the second-highest revenues in its history, of $245 million.

Premier League Preview: Sheffield United v. West Ham United

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The Premier League gets back in business on Friday at Bramall Lane when Sheffield United hosts West Ham United (Watch Live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Their table fortunes are indicative of the Premier League’s lack of clear tiers so far this season.

Blades are two points off fifth and seven back of the Top Four, while West Ham is two points off the drop zone and a win off 11th.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

West Ham cruised past Bournemouth in opening David Moyes‘ second tenure with the Irons, while the Blades are coming off back-to-back losses and are winless in three.

The sides met Oct. 26 in London, with Lys Mousset‘s goal leveling the line after Robert Snodgrass put West Ham up at home.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE


Injuries/suspensions

Sheffield United: OUT —  None. QUESTIONABLE — Michael Verrips, Simon Moore.

West Ham United: OUT — Michail Antonio, Andriy Yarmolenko, Ryan Fredericks, Mark Noble, Jack Wilshere. QUESTIONABLE — Aaron Cresswell, Mark Noble.


Probable lineups

Sheffield United: Henderson; Egan, Basham, O’Connell, Stevens, Norwood, Fleck, Besic, Baldock, Mousset, McGoldrick.

West Ham United: Fabianski, Cresswell, Ogbonna, Balbuena, Fredericks, Rice, Noble, Fornals, Anderson, Snodgrass, Haller.


What they’re saying

Blades defender John Egan on rebounding from tough losses: “They were really tough trips to (Man) City and Liverpool. They’re probably the two best teams in the country, so going away to them was always going to be tough. The Man City game, we were quite unlucky not to get a result. … The Liverpool game was a bit of an eye-opener for us. We weren’t at our best, which we have to be to try and get a result. We came away from those two games, saw where we went wrong and we have to learn from it. All we can do is try and get better so next time we play these teams we have a better chance of getting a result.”

West Ham boss Moyes on transfer links: “I think West Ham have been linked with just about every player in the country and I’m here a week and a half, so it’s interesting, but I think that’s the norm for here. Quite often we are linked with a lot of players. We won’t be bringing in a bundle of players in, but obviously we’d like to add to the squad if we can. Gedson Fernandes is one name we’re talking about. He’s a young player with potential, probably more for the future. From that point of view, I’d like to bring young players in for the future, players we can look to build to get a strong, young team, but I also have to be wary that I need players who are ready for now and can feature in the first team as well.”


Prediction

The Blades are a handful, but West Ham’s new lease on life also feels pretty real. How about another split of the spoils and 1-1 at Bramall Lane?

PL Sunday Preview: Sheffield United v. Manchester United

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Highlighting Chris Wilder‘s successful season thus far (or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s underwhelming work at Old Trafford), Sheffield United head into Sunday’s game above  Manchester United in the standings (Watch Live at 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Since their soul-crushing 1-0 loss to Liverpool, Blades are unbeaten in their last five, making them the most consistent team outside of the top five. Throughout that span of games, the newly-promoted side have picked up wins against Arsenal and Burnley.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Despite being only a win outside of the tope five, United have kept their distance from the concept of consistency. In 12, league games this season, the Red Devils have failed to pick up consecutive wins, meaning that a win at Bramall Lane would bring an end to such negative run.


Injuries/suspensions

Sheffield United: OUT — None QUESTIONABLE — John Egan (calf)

Manchester United: Scott McTominay (ankle), Marcos Rojo (calf, 7 Dec), Paul Pogba (ankle) QUESTIONABLE — Eric Bailly (knee), Diogo Dalot (groin), Timothy Fosu-Mensah (knee), Luke Shaw (thigh), Axel Tuanzebe (hip)


Probable lineups

Sheffield United: Moore; Stevens, O’Connell, Egan, Basham, Baldock; Lundstram, Norwood, Fleck; McGoldrick, Mousset

Manchester United: DeGea; Williams, Lindelof, Maguire, Wan-Bissaka; Martial, Fred, Matic, Pereira, James; Rashford


What they’re saying

Chris Wilder on Manchester United’s greatness, despite current state: “Manchester United are one of the most iconic teams in the world, and there will always be an aura surrounding them. No matter how their fortunes on the pitch may fluctuate, it’s still one of football’s true powerhouses that we are talking about whenever we mention their name. They are an incredible football club who are just going through a spell right now where they are not having it all their own way. That happens in football. But fortunes can fluctuate very quickly in this game and they will find their way back to the top, that’s for certain.”

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on the gap between Manchester United and the top four: “It’s a clear gap in the league between top four and I don’t know how many teams within a range of three or four points. It’s about consistency now. We turned a corner, we felt, performance-wise and with results after the last international break but it’s so tight I’m just looking forward to this game. We need to have a good performance and result.”


Prediction

The Blades have been decent at home this season, picking up wins against Burnley, Arsenal and Crystal Palace. With positive inertia powering them, it feels that Wilder and company may spoil Harry Maguire‘s return to Bramall Lane. That said, with both Wolves and Burnley picking up wins, United are more than obliged to go for the jugular, especially if they want to go into the most taxing part of the season with some hope and positivity. Manchester United, 3-1.

Euro qualifying: Hazard stars for Belgium, Wales grabs big win

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The early slate of Euro 2020 qualifiers on Saturday saw a few teams assure themselves of a playoff position as the qualifying cycle nears a close.

Wales was assured of at least a playoff spot after Sweden topped Romania yesterday, but they continued a push towards automatic qualification by topping Azerbaijan 2-0. Wigan striker Kieffer Moore opened the scoring 10 minutes in as Harry Wilson nearly bagged a stunning strike from outside the box, but his curler struck the underside of the bar, then the inside of the post, and came out. Moore was there to head home the rebound and Wales had the lead. They doubled that lead before halftime as Bournemouth’s Wilson would get his goal, and Wales saw out the rest of the match to move one point back of Hungary in an automatic qualifying position.

Belgium has already qualified for the finals, but Roberto Martinez’s side continued its good form with a romping 4-1 win over Russia behind a brace from Eden Hazard. Romelu Lukaku also scored in the match, while Thorgan Hazard bagged a goal as well. The win assured Belgium of the top spot in Group I, moving six points ahead of their opponents.

Scotland picked up a gutty road win at Cyprus 2-1 behind John McGinn‘s 53rd minute winner, jumping into third place in Group I, although they have already secured a playoff position thanks to their Nations League results. Ryan Christie and Georgios Efrem had cancelled each other out before Aston Villa’s McGinn poked home Greg Taylor’s cross from near the penalty area to put the visitors ahead for good in Nicosia.

Slovenia needs a miraculous comeback to qualify for the finals, but they stayed alive and in contention with a 1-0 win at Latvia behind an Igors Tarasovs own-goal in the 53rd minute. The victory pushed Slovenia to 14 points, two back of second-placed Austria in Group G and five behind Poland, but the top two teams in the group still have yet to play today and could both secure qualification wins.

Elsewhere, in a result with little effect on the qualification process, Kazakhstan topped San Marino 3-1 in a matchup of two eliminated teams.

Watch Live: Sheffield United v. Arsenal

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Arsenal looks to rise back to third in the Premier League table as they travel to Bramall Road to take on Sheffield United live on NBCSN at 3:00 p.m. ET or live online at NBCSports.com.

The Blades have lost their last three home games but have looked up for the task against other top Premier League sides this season and are hoping to finally secure the upset they’ve been searching.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The Gunners have named a nearly unchanged side from the pre-international break win over Bournemouth, with just Joe Willock coming in for Dani Cabellos in midfield. Alexandre Lacazette returns to the bench for an opportunity at a late appearance that would mark his first minutes since September 1. Kieran Tierney remains on the bench with Sead Kolasinac preferred at left-back, while Calum Chambers starts at right-back with Hector Bellerin not named in the squad.

[MORE: Preview Sheffield United v. Arsenal ]

For Sheffield United, Lys Mousset comes into the squad for Oli McBurnie, who misses out thanks to a knee injury picked up on international duty, while his DUI charge last night certainly didn’t help his chances for selection. David McGoldrick is Mousset’s strike partner with Callum Robinson dropped to the bench as well, while captain Billy Sharp can only make the bench. Chris Wilder deploys a three-at-the-back system yet again with George Baldock and Enda Stevens playing out wide on the flanks.

LINEUPS

Sheffield United: Henderson; Baldock, Stevens, Fleck; O’Connell, Basham, Lundstram, Egan, Norwood, McGoldrick, Mousset.
Bench: Freeman, Jagielka, Besic, Moore, Robinson, McBurnie, Sharp.

Arsenal: Leno; Kolasinac, David Luiz, Sokratis, Chambers; Guendouzi, Xhaka, Willock; Saka, Aubameyang, Pepe.
Bench: Martinez, Holding, Tierney, Torreira, Ceballos, Martinelli, Lacazette.