It happened just like that, after a day’s worth of hype for Sunday morning’s MLS is Back Tournament debuts from Toronto FC and DC United.
Two COVID-19 tests — an unconfirmed positive COVID-19 test and an inconclusive one — were enough to postpone the 9am ET kickoff from Orlando, where the participating teams are living for the month-long affair.
Under the league’s health and safety protocols, clubs are tested the day before each match. The results of yesterday’s tests for D.C. United and Toronto FC produced an initial unconfirmed positive COVID-19 case for one player and an inconclusive test for another player. Because of the arrival time of the clubs in Orlando, the league’s protocol called for retesting both teams this morning and to await the results of those tests prior to playing the match.
Barcelona is a long shot to claim a third-straight La Liga title but that isn’t stopping Lionel Messi from setting new standards.
Messi slipped Arturo Vidal through for the lone goal of Barcelona’s win at Real Valladolid on Sunday, collecting his 20th assist of the league season in the process.
The helper makes Messi the second player this century to record 20 goals and 20 assists in a top five European league season after his former teammate Thierry Henry did it with Arsenal (24+20). Messi has 22 goals this season.
He’s also the first player to do it in La Liga, and the first to record 20 assists in a La Liga season since another former teammate, Xavi Hernandez.
Messi is one of eight players in Europe’s top five leagues to score 20-plus goals and one of only two with 20 assists (Thomas Muller). Only five others have double-digit goals and assists: Kevin De Bruyne, Serge Gnabry, Jadon Sancho, Alassane Plea, and Mikel Oyarzabal.
Barcelona hosts Osasuna and visits Alaves on the final two match days of the season. Can he match or even beat Henry’s goal output? He has 30 goals in 28 career appearances against the aforementioned opponents.
Real Madrid will edge closer to wrapping up the league with a win at Granada on Monday. Zinedine Zidane’s men are on an incredible and near-imperious run, having won eight-straight games and riding a 457-minute league shutout streak.
Real currently leads Barca by a point with a match-in-hand, then finish with Villarreal and Leganes.
Tottenham – Arsenal preview: The north London derby should be a beauty on Sunday (start time, 11:30am ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as Spurs and Arsenal both need a win to keep alive any faint hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.
Spurs are struggling with Jose Mourinho complaining about VAR on an almost daily basis and if they lose to Arsenal, their Champions League hopes will be over. Harry Kane will be hoping to be the hero once again in the NLD.
Arsenal and Mikel Arteta are battling away and have been decent since the restart with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring goals, Bukayo Saka a threat and the duo of Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos building a great partnership in midfield.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Tottenham – Arsenal on Sunday.
Tottenham – Arsenal stream
Start time: 11:30am ET, Sunday
TV channel: NBCSN
Stream online: Via NBCSports.com
Dele Alli could return for Tottenham as Mourinho is hopeful he can recover from a hamstring injury, while Eric Dier is serving the second game of his four-game suspension.
Arsenal are without Calum Chambers, Bernd Leno, Pablo Mari and Gabriel Martinelli, while Eddie Nkeitah starts a three-game ban after his red card against Leicester City as Arsenal failed with their appeal. Mesut Ozil is being assessed due to back soreness.
What they’re saying
Jose Mourinho on what is at stake in the NLD: A”t this moment we are both in a very similar situation. It’s not that incredible emotion that we’re fighting for something really big, more than to finish above you, or not finish above you. It’s missing that. It’s not a match that is going to decide big things. But it probably decides the only thing we can fight for, both of us. I don’t think realistically we’re fighting for a Champions League position – one-point difference, four matches to go, one between us, then the remaining three – which are of course still important – it’s a big match for the table. The fans have a special feeling for this match, so the players on the pitch have to fight for them.”
Mikel Arteta on what Mourinho brings to Spurs: “They have had some ups and downs but overall you can clearly see what he wants to bring to the club. He manages the energy, the momentum and establishes a really strong culture in every football club. As well, he makes sure that he wins and he’s won in every single club that he’s been at. Obviously the situation and the timing when he arrived is different than starting a new project right from the summer, but I’m sure he will be successful because he always finds the right way to do it. It will take him a bit of time but I’m sure he will do it… I think in a long period they’ve had a lot of injuries so he hasn’t had the chance to be consistent with his team and that’s a big disadvantage that they have. I know that he’s done it and I know people that have worked with him and he always find a way to be successful and I’m sure he’ll do it again. That’s probably one of the reasons that they have brought Jose in, because of his experience in dealing with those situations and having that extra edge to become a winning team.”
The betting couldn’t be closer as the hosts are the slight favorites with Tottenham (+160) to Arsenal (+170), while the draw looks pretty attractive at +240.
I fancy Arsenal to win this. They have a tougher defensive unit under Arteta and their attacking weapons are looking good too. Tottenham aren’t playing well at all and I think that Arteta will get one over Mourinho to keep their faint Premier League hopes alive. 2-1 to Arsenal.
Starting in Manchester, it has been reported by multiple outlets that Manchester United want Ousmane Dembele to arrive as a right-winger. With Jadon Sancho set to stay at Borussia Dortmund for at least another season, Dembele could be a cheaper and more available option as his form and fitness has been a big problem for Barcelona.
Dembele, 23, joined Barca from Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2017 as Neymar’s replacement but he’s never really settled at the Nou Camp and has been unlucky with injuries. Reports are saying that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants a right winger, center back and center forward. Dembele has two years left on his contract at Barcelona but quite why Man United want to sign a new winger is baffling.
Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood are stars in attack, while Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes are pulling the strings underneath them. With Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, Daniel James and Odion Ighalo in reserve too, attacking options is not something Solskjaer is short of. That said, Lingard could leave, James has stalled a little and Ighalo’s loan ends in January 2021, so a few gaps could open up.
Dembele will be a lot cheaper than Sancho and if he can put his injuries to one side, there’s clearly a very good attacking player there. It seems worth a gamble, especially as Dortmund want over $130 million for Sancho.
Heading to north London, Arsenal have been linked with a sensible deal, for once, as the Gunners could sign free agent Malang Sarr.
The Nice defender, 21, has let his contract run out and a report from Marca says that the Gunners have made an approach for the young French center back. RB Leipzig are also interested in Sarr, who played 16 times for Patrick Vieria’s side in Ligue 1 this season as they finished in fifth place.
We know that Arsenal may not have a lot of cash to spend and Mikel Arteta’s side look unlikely to qualify for the Champions League. William Saliba will boost Arsenal’s defensive options for next season, while Calum Chambers, Rob Holding, Sokratis, David Luiz, Pablo Mari and Shkodran Mustafi are still around too.
There’s no way Arsenal can have that many center backs at the club and there will surely be an almighty clear out this summer with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang potentially leaving, Matteo Guendouzi on the outs and Alexandre Lacazette possibly leaving too.
Sarr would be a bargain buy and Arsenal certainly need to keep solidifying their defensive unit as they have the attacking weapons to hurt anyone.
Aston Villa – Manchester United preview: Manchester United can pull within a point of fourth place by beating desperate Aston Villa at Villa Park on Thursday (Watch live at 3:15 pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)
There’s also the potential for Premier League history, as United can become the first team to win four-straight matches by three or more goals come Thursday.
Dean Smith on Villa needing to get production from forwards: “I’ve just been talking to our front three. They want to get involved with our build-up play at times, but I want them to go and get inside our six-yard box. As I get judged by results, they get judged by goals. Our goals return hasn’t been great for the five games but we have actually created chances. We’ve put some really good crosses into the box at Newcastle, Sheffield United and Liverpool but we weren’t able to execute them chances so it’s something been working on this week.”
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on stopping Jack Grealish: “There’s been lots said and talked about him and we need to be aware of him. Whoever is close to him, if he’s off the left, in the middle, on the right. What he does is attract players to him and create space for others, so there’s not just one player in that Villa team. There’s many of them.”