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PL Sunday preview: Man Utd, Spurs, Arsenal hit the road

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures is chock-full of top-six sides in action, as Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur all look to advance their respective bids to topple this season’s favorites, Manchester City and Liverpool.

[ MORE: What did we learn from PL Saturday, Week 4? ]

Cardiff City vs. Arsenal — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The pressure has eased — even if only ever so slightly — on Unai Emery after picking up his first victory as Arsenal manager last weekend. What the Spaniard could now use is a healthy haul of points from the Gunners’ next seven games, all of which come against non-top-six sides. Up first is a trip to the south of Wales to take on 16th-place Cardiff, a side still seeking its first win (and goal) this season. Emery and midfielder Mesut Ozil have reportedly fallen out with one another, but the manager maintains the story is little more than tabloid fodder.

“Throughout my career I have respect for the media, for newspaper, radio, TV. But there are a lot of people in the media and at not every moment is the information real. It isn’t true, the news. … In this situation with Mesut Ozil, it is clear: he is OK, he has the commitment we want, he is a very important player for us and we want to help him to give us the best performance in each match and each moment.”

As for the Bluebirds, Neil Warnock‘s side is the last remaining team without a goal to their name this season. On the bright side, the two points they have to their name means they’ve kept a pair of clean sheets — in back-to-back games, no less — against Newcastle United and Huddersfield Town.

INJURIES: Cardiff — OUT: Junior Hoilett (groin), Aron Gunnarsson (knee) | Arsenal — OUT: Sead Kolasinac (knee), Laurent Koscielny (achilles), Carl Jenkinson (ankle), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (knee)

Burnley vs. Manchester United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

It might be early in the 2018-19 season, but it’s not too early for Jose Mourinho to find himself facing the possibility of being fired should Man United lose away to Burnley a week after losing 3-0 to Tottenham Hotspur. It’s not just Monday’s result, but the overwhelming sense of discontent around Old Trafford that has begun to make Mourinho’s position feel as if it’s untenable. He and his players are saying all of the right things, publicly, ahead of Sunday’s trip to Turf Moor, but it’s not as if anyone has any other choice at the moment.

Luke Shaw, for instance, feels the players must stick together and keep their heads down to right the ship.

“You see a lot of things in the media that go on about what our dressing room is like, but we have a really good spirit, a really good group of lads who want to work and achieve big things here. We have a group of hard workers and amazing talents, everywhere you look on the field. We have got to start taking our chances and I am sure we will start winning games. We have got to pick ourselves back up, keep working hard and we need to pick up points after two losses. We need to win and win in a good way.”

Burnley, on the other hand, are dealing with adversity of their own after failing to qualify for the group stage of the Europa League this week. Now, Sean Dyche‘s men seek their first win of the season, and their first point since opening day. Back-to-back defeats to Watford (3-1) and Fulham (4-2) have dropped the Clarets to 19th place in the league table.

INJURIES: Burnley — OUT: Johann Gudmundsson (hamstring), Steven Defour (calf), Robbie Brady (hastring) | Man United — OUT: Marcos Rojo (undisclosed), Diogo Dalot (fitness), Sergio Romero (fitness)

Watford vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 11 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

At the other end of the table, Sunday also provides an unlikely meeting of unbeaten sides when Watford host Tottenham at Vicarage Road. The Hornets have feasted on bottom-half sides in their first three games, while Spurs landed the first blow of the season amongst the “other” top-six sides vying for Champions League qualification.

While much of the talk about Mauricio Pochettino‘s side has focused on the fact that not a single player was signed this summer — the first such occurrence for a PL club since the summer transfer window began — Monday’s demolition of the Red Devils served as a coming-out party for Brazilian attacker Lucas Moura, a $___-million acquisition who had virtually no impact last season after signing in January. As a well-known former manager in north London might say, getting Moura up to speed with a full preseason behind him has been kind of like a new signing.

Pochettino’s counterpart on Sunday, Javi Gracia, has pushed all of the right buttons thus far, and he’s had to do so when it comes to picking his lineup and substitutes. With such a healthy, deep squad, Gracia might feel this is Watford’s best chance to knock off Spurs for the first time in the PL era. In 12 league meetings spanning two and a half decades, they have just three points to show for their efforts, and haven’t beaten the north London side in league play since 1987.

INJURIES: Watford — OUT: Tom Cleverley (achilles), Younes Kaboul (foot) | Tottenham — OUT: Hugo Lloris (thigh), Heung-Min Son (international duty), Moussa Sissoko (hamstring)

Manchester United reportedly set to add Lee Grant to GK corps

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Is Manchester United set to add Lee Grant as a third goalkeeper behind David De Gea and Sergio Romero?

That’s the report from The Telegraph, which says Jose Mourinho likes the idea of the 35-year-old goalkeeper as his safety net.

[ MORE: Rooney to DC this week ]

Romero missed the World Cup through injury, and has tossed aside rumors that he was angling for an Old Trafford exit.

Grant was most recently with Stoke City, where he started 31 Premier League matches. Twenty-eight of those came in 2016-17.

He also has spent significant time with Derby County (two stints), Burnley, and Sheffield Wednesday.

Grant represented England at all youth levels between 15 and 21, though that time was long ago.

Germany looks to become first to repeat at World Cup in half-century

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MOSCOW (AP) After raising the World Cup eight miles from Copacabana Beach four years ago, Germany hopes to lift the trophy four miles from the Kremlin on July 15 and become the first repeat champion in more than a half-century.

[ MORE: PST’s 2018 FIFA World Cup roundtable ]

The soccer world gathers at 12 stadiums in 11 cities across the European portion of Russia starting Thursday for a 32-day, 64-match championship. Much has changed since Die Mannschaft humiliated the host Selecao 7-1 in the 2014 semifinals, then left Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium with a 1-0 extra-time win over Argentina on Mario Goetze’s 113th-minute goal.

The United States will be missing from soccer’s showcase after seven straight appearances. Four-time champion Italy will be watching from home for the first time since 1958, its streak of 14 consecutive appearances ended by a playoff loss to Sweden. The Netherlands, which lost the 2010 final to Spain, missed out after slumping to third in its qualifying group. And Chile failed to qualify after consecutive Copa America titles.

Iceland and Panama are World Cup debutantes, Peru is back for the first time since 1982, and Egypt ends an absence dating to 1990.

Germany and Brazil are the pretournament favorites, and France is fancied behind them with a young roster . England will try to end more than five decades of hurt since winning its only major title on home soil in 1966. Mexico will try to advance past the second round for the first time since 1986, but El Tri opens against Germany and its likely second-round opponent is Brazil.

There also has been a generational change within FIFA. Many of its leaders have moved from penthouses to prisons following indictments by the U.S. Department of Justice that detailed kickbacks to be as much a part of soccer as free kicks.

Expect controversy on a regular basis.

FIFA’s Congress votes June 13 on the host of the 2026 tournament, and a joint bid by the U.S., Mexico and Canada is competing against Morocco – where most of the infrastructure would have to be built – on a ballot that includes a none-of-the-above option.

Following the drug-testing scandal that engulfed the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, FIFA’s medical committee chairman said no Russians will be involved in collection of urine and blood samples, which will be flown to Lausanne, Switzerland, for analysis.

VAR will be the acronym of the moment: video assistant referees in soccer-speak, instant replay for most viewers at home.

And as soon as the final whistle of the tournament is blown at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, attention will shift to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, moved to Nov. 21 through Dec. 18 because of summer desert heat and compressed to 28 days because it is in the middle of the European club season. Gianni Infantino, who succeeded the disgraced Sepp Blatter as FIFA president in 2016, has discussed increasing the World Cup field from 32 to 48 in 2022, four years ahead of schedule.

Some of the top storylines likely to dominate play in Russia:

MESSI AND RONALDO

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have split the last 10 FIFA Player of the Year awards, and this is likely their last chance to win a World Cup. Messi turns 31 on June 24, two days before Argentina finishes the first round against Nigeria, and has lost four finals with the national team. Ronaldo, 33, helped Portugal win the 2016 European Championship for its first major title.

BREAKOUT STARS?

Brazil’s Neymar, England’s Harry Kane, Egypt’s Mohamed Salah, France’s Antoine Griezmann and Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne are stars who could lift themselves into Player of the Year contention with stellar World Cups.

BACK TO BACK

Italy in 1934 and `38, and Brazil in 1958 and `62 are the only teams to win consecutive World Cups. Germany was 10-0 in qualifying, the only European team with a perfect record, and outscored opponents 43-4.

PLAY IT AGAIN

Following the first use of goal-line technology at a World Cup in 2014, FIFA has expanded off-the-field decision-making. A video assistant ref can notify the referee by headset of the need to reverse a decision if there is a “clear error” involving goals and their buildups, penalty kicks, straight red cards, and mistaken identify for red and yellow cards.

ICE ICE BABY

Iceland at about 335,000 becomes the least-populous nation to appear in a World Cup, a mark that had been held since 2006 by Trinidad and Tobago at 1.3 million.

MISSING

Injured players missing the tournament include Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero and midfielder Manuel Lanzini; France defender Laurent Koscielny; Serbia defender Matija Nastasic; Brazil right back Dani Alves; and England midfielder Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain.

SPLIT SCREEN?

The World Cup final starts two hours after the beginning of the Wimbledon men’s singles final. If Spain and Rafa Nadal are playing for titles, and the tennis isn’t decided in straight sets, which event do fans watch?

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Three things we learned from France v. USMNT

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The U.S. men’s national team drew 1-1 with France in Lyon on Saturday as the youngsters came close to causing a huge surprise against one of the favorites to win the World Cup this summer.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings

Julian Green put the USA 1-0 up right on half time to stun France, but Didier Deschamps’ side equalized late on through Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe.

Below is a look at what we learned from Dave Sarachan’s kids impressing against France.


CCV TO LEAD NEW-LOOK DEFENSE

The main reason the USMNT took such a young squad to Europe for these games against Ireland and France as for experience, and these youngster will have learned so much from playing on the road in tight games.

Especially in Lyon against a virtual first-choice France side.

10 of the USA’s starting 11 had less than 10 caps to their name, and that showed in a shaky start in a 3-5-2 formation. But Cameron Carter-Vickers and Matt Miazga looked particularly assured, with both Shaq Moore and Antonee Robinson also impressing at wing back.

CCV and Miazga (who left the game early in the second half after a nasty clash of heads) have played together throughout the U.S. youth ranks and they will now get the chance to shine together for the USMNT. Carter-Vickers was particularly impressive as he stepped in and stopped attacks, plus kept Olivier Giroud quiet. The Tottenham Hotspur youngster is maturing rapidly.

Miazga’s ball-playing ability complements CCV power well and with DeAndre Yedlin and Moore to battle it out for the right back spot, plus Robinson pushing hard to start at left back, a long-term back four of Yedlin-CCV-Miazga-Robinson would be able to develop together over the next few years with all four playing for clubs across the top-flight of European soccer.

A special shoutout for Zack Steffen too, as the Columbus Crew goalkeeper looks to have cemented his spot as the heir to Tim Howard‘s throne as the USMNT’s starting stopper. Steffen came up big late on with a fine double-stop.

It’s a cliche, but you know what: the kids, they’re alright.


USMNT STILL A LONG WAY OFF

Yes, there were some promising displays, especially defensively, but let’s not get carried away here. This was a France side which had one eye on the World Cup kicking off in Russia next week.

And you can totally understand if a few of the French stars didn’t want to get injured and join the long list of heartbreaking World Cup absentees (Manuel Lanzini, Sergio Romero, Kamil Glik et al.) ahead of what is the biggest tournament of their careers so far.

The U.S. bunkered down and barely got in the France half in the first half but when they took the lead, they weathered the storm and despite Mbappe’s equalizer, the USMNT were fairly comfortable. But they were also far from adventurous in what resembled a 5-3-1-1 formation for most of the game.

This draw will give the young group confidence as U.S. Soccer will now focus on implementing Earnie Stewart’s plans as the new GM (appointed on Wednesday) will focus on hiring a new head coach over the summer.

A long, tough road to recovery is ahead but the nucleus of this side which drew at France should be given the chance to lead the USMNT to the World Cup in Qatar in 2022.


WAKE-UP CALL FOR FRANCE

Boos rang out during spells of the game in Lyon as the home fans weren’t overjoyed with what they saw from their team in their final outing before flying to Russia on Sunday.

A virtual full-strength France started well but faded badly.

Didier Deschamps is under pressure (he has been for a while) and with the likes of Arsene Wenger and Zinedine Zidane now out of jobs, it’s likely that anything other than a trip to the World Cup final this summer will see the current France boss keep his job.

France looked disjointed and although Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba came close to scoring in the first half, they never really got out of second gear. Hugo Lloris shouldn’t have been beaten at his near post for the USA’s goal and Djibril Sidibe should have cleared the initial cross as a lapse in concentration cost Les Bleus.

Placed in Group C along with Denmark, Peru and Australia, France are still expected to get out of their group and go far this summer in Russia. But unless Deschamps’ men gel remarkably fast in the next few weeks, they won’t go all the way.

Man United 1-0 Watford: Rashford caps Red Devils season

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If there ever was a game to provide a microcosm of what Manchester United’s season has been, this one was it. Largely a snoozefest, Manchester United scored off a speculative long-ball and then bunkered in for the remainder of the match as they finish the season with all three points at Old Trafford.

Manchester United saw most of the early half-chances, but nothing of true value. Marcus Rashford fired an early shot over, while Alexis Sanchez looked for an ambitious volley but fired it well wide. Watford was forced into an early change as

The home side, keeping disciplined on the defensive side, earned the opener out of nothing on 34 minutes. A speculative long-ball by Michael Carrick unlocked the messy Watford back line and fell straight in to the path of Juan Mata, who was through on goal alongside Marcus Rashford, and the Spaniard laid off to his teammate to get past goalkeeper Huerelho Gomes, and the English international had a tap-in to open the scoring.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The goal was fitting for the cagey first half, something out of nothing as Mourinho’s strategy held the visitors at bay. Watford nearly had the equalizer two ticks before halftime as Richarlison picked out a header at point-blank range, but he struck it directly at deputy goalkeeper Sergio Romero who held his ground and kept out the effort.

The second half had hardly a chance in it until the 80th minute, when Watford looked to equalize off a corner, but the header was speculative and Romero could collect. Manchester United was happy to sit back and soak up the pressure,

[ MORE: Final Premier League standings ]

Michael Carrick got a standing ovation as his Manchester United career came to an end with an 85th minute substitution, and the Red Devils had one more big opportunity as Alexis Sanchez ran the break, but his ball to the middle of the penalty area fell unclaimed.

The final whistle came to mercifully end the season finale at Old Trafford, giving Manchester United a final tally of 81 points, 12 more than last season’s haul. They end the year four points clear of third-placed Tottenham, and 19 points back of champions Manchester City. For Watford, the goalscoring continues to be a clear issue, and they end the campaign in 14th with 41 points.