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    Alexis Sanchez Reportedly Made Main Chelsea Transfer Target by Antonio Conte


    Chelsea have made Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez their top transfer target for the summer window.  That's according to Fabrizio Romano of the Guardian, who has stated that Blues boss Antonio Conte has made it clear he wants the Chilean ahead of the...

    Chelsea have made Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez their top transfer target for the summer window. 

    That's according to Fabrizio Romano of the Guardian, who has stated that Blues boss Antonio Conte has made it clear he wants the Chilean ahead of the 2017-18 season. Paris Saint-Germain, Inter Milan and Juventus are also said to be keen to secure his signature.

    Sanchez's future with Arsenal is very much in doubt, with his contract set to expire in 2018. Manager Arsene Wenger has confirmed that talks over an extension have been shelved until the end of the campaign.

    More to follow…

    LaVar Ball Reportedly Shopping Reality TV Series and Documentary

    LaVar Ball Reportedly Shopping Reality TV Series and Documentary


    LaVar Ball is reportedly working to secure multiple projects featuring his family, including a potential reality television series and a documentary. TMZ Sports reported Tuesday that Ball's production company, Big Baller Media, is behind both attempts to...

    LaVar Ball is reportedly working to secure multiple projects featuring his family, including a potential reality television series and a documentary.

    TMZ Sports reported Tuesday that Ball's production company, Big Baller Media, is behind both attempts to land financial backing. TMZ noted "no contracts have been signed," though.

    More to follow.

    MLB Metrics 101: Exposing the Worst Contracts of Baseball


    The best thing about Major League Baseball contracts is they're guaranteed. Sometimes, that can also be the worst part. After starting with a look at baseball's most unhittable pitchers, Bleacher Report's MLB Metrics 101 series shifts to the worst...

    The best thing about Major League Baseball contracts is they're guaranteed.

    Sometimes, that can also be the worst part.

    After starting with a look at baseball's most unhittable pitchers, Bleacher Report's MLB Metrics 101 series shifts to the worst contracts in MLB. This is a conversation that can take many different shapes. For starters, it involved:

    Contracts worth at least $50 million total and $10 million in average annual value. Contracts that are at least two seasons old. Active players only.

    Be warned that no attempt was made to predict the futures for the worst of these contracts. There are ways to do that, but not without dealing with assorted hypotheticals.

    The focus was on what is known: how much these contracts have paid and how much value the player has produced. The question answered: Which of the game's largest contracts have been the biggest sunk costs to date?

    For more about how everything worked, read on.

    Begin Slideshow

    Ranking the 25 Best Baseball Players of All Time


    MLB has gifted fans an unprecedented crop of young stars capable of etching their names among baseball royalty. Perhaps history will one day prop these burgeoning studs alongside the game's all-time greats. Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Carlos Correa,...

    MLB has gifted fans an unprecedented crop of young stars capable of etching their names among baseball royalty. Perhaps history will one day prop these burgeoning studs alongside the game's all-time greats.

    Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, Kris Bryant, Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard all have the potential to write Hall of Fame legacies with another 10-15 years of dominance. If Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw continue along their current trajectories, they will eventually merit prominent billing among the best ever to play the game.

    For now, none of these young pups have accomplished enough to join iconic names like Ruth, Mays, Aaron and Cobb. They also have a long road ahead before catching up to underappreciated superstars from the early 20th century, who substituted fence-clearing pop with elite contact, plate discipline, baserunning, gap power and defense.

    Of course, boiling down a full catalog of baseball folklore to 25 players will never yield perfect agreement. Everyone has their personal preferences and varying standards of greatness. This list, however, cares more about results than reputation.

    Begin Slideshow

    Final Four 2017: Odds and Predictions for Teams Seeking NCAA Title Game Berth

    Final Four 2017: Odds and Predictions for Teams Seeking NCAA Title Game Berth


    There's March Madness...and then there's March Madness 2017, which has proved to be even wilder than its billing would have suggested.  The four teams that compose this year's Final Four are ones few would have predicted. Our underdog is No. 7 South...

    There's March Madness...and then there's March Madness 2017, which has proved to be even wilder than its billing would have suggested. 

    The four teams that compose this year's Final Four are ones few would have predicted.

    Our underdog is No. 7 South Carolina, a team that finished third in the SEC and secured a berth to the Final Four for the first time in program history. After all, the Gamecocks hadn't even won an NCAA tournament game in the last 44 years. 

    Joining South Carolina as a member of the first-timers club is Gonzaga, whose seeding (No. 1) does not necessarily mesh with past achievements in the tournament. Finally, the Bulldogs appear ready to achieve what recent history has suggested they've been capable of.

    No. 3 Oregon has been here before, but few people reading this article were even alive when it happened. The year was 1939, and though the Ducks made the Elite Eight as recently as last year, this is a whole different ballgame. 

    Finally, there's last year's runner-up North Carolina, which got its heart broken as Villanova won 77-74 to claim the NCAA championship title in 2016 and rejoice in the opening notes of "One Shining Moment."

    Let's take a look at the odds for these Final Four contenders, via OddsShark, and then make some predictions about the upcoming matchups on Saturday, April 1. 

    South Carolina vs. Gonzaga

    The Gamecocks continue to defy the odds, but it's hard to see them finding a way past Gonzaga and into the NCAA championship game. 

    South Carolina's strength lies in its scoring prowess. Sindarius Thornwell is averaging 21.6 points per game, while PJ Dozier averages 13.8 points per game. The Gamecocks were able to undo Florida thanks to their offensive efficiency. 

    South Carolina also had to defeat Duke and Baylor en route to this opportunity—no small feat. That might be more impressive than Gonzaga's path, which took it through Northwestern and West Virginia. 

    However, the Bulldogs have gotten so close so many times, and they can now taste triumph. They are a well-coached team that is better prepared to face the circus that is the NCAA Final Four and all the distractions that surround it. 

    That's not to say that Gonzaga has this in the bag. As ESPN's Dana O'Neil pointed out, "Gonzaga's arena seats 6,000. The Bulldogs will play in front of 70,000 on Saturday at [the] University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona."

    For these two squads, whichever one wins will be making the NCAA championship game for the first time ever. That's must-see TV.

    Prediction: Gonzaga wins by two

     

    Oregon vs. North Carolina 

    The first matchup of the Final Four is more balanced; this one feels as lopsided as they come.

    Despite the fact that the Gamecocks are a seventh seed matched up against a No. 1 seed in Gonzaga, those two teams are well-matched.

    However, No. 3 Oregon could be in way over its head with perennial contender UNC, which is on a revenge tour after falling to Villanova in last year's title game.

    The Tar Heels needed every last second of regulation to advance past Kentucky in the Elite Eight and just barely did so to the tune of 75-73. This squad isn't unbeatable. 

    Still, UNC is a well-oiled machine led by the talents of Joel Berry II even if it was Luke Maye who scored 17 points and drained that game-winning shot to send his squad to the Final Four. 

    The Ducks showed their mettle when they held off heavyweight Kansas to advance to the Final Four. Still, this feels like it could be North Carolina's year; if Oregon keeps it up, it'll have many more to come than it has had over the last 75 years. 

    Prediction: North Carolina wins by four

    Iceland Reportedly Has Record Birthrate 9 Months After England Win at Euro 2016

    Iceland Reportedly Has Record Birthrate 9 Months After England Win at Euro 2016


    Iceland has reportedly had a record number of births nine months on from beating England at UEFA Euro 2016.  According to Icelandic newspaper Visir (h/t The Independent), the country has had a record-breaking birthrate with epidurals—painkilling...

    Iceland has reportedly had a record number of births nine months on from beating England at UEFA Euro 2016. 

    According to Icelandic newspaper Visir (h/t The Independent), the country has had a record-breaking birthrate with epidurals—painkilling injections often administered during childbirth—reaching record numbers over the weekend of March 25 and 26.

    Goals from Ragnar Sigurdsson and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson saw Iceland come from behind to beat the Three Lions 2-1 in the round of 16 as the country made a sensational debut at an international tournament.

    Per football commentator Juan G. Arango, Gerard Pique suggested Barcelona might enjoy a similar baby-boom after the Catalan giants completed a stunning 6-5 comeback against Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Champions League earlier this month:

    In December, perhaps we'll see if the people of Barcelona celebrated the victory in the same manner as the Icelanders.

    Jose Mourinho Has Been 'Unlucky' at Manchester United, Says Sir Alex Ferguson

    Jose Mourinho Has Been 'Unlucky' at Manchester United, Says Sir Alex Ferguson


    Manchester United’s legendary former manager Sir Alex Ferguson has hailed the job being done at Old Trafford by current boss Jose Mourinho, suggesting the team have been "unlucky" during his tenure.  The Red Devils sit in fifth place in the Premier...

    Manchester United’s legendary former manager Sir Alex Ferguson has hailed the job being done at Old Trafford by current boss Jose Mourinho, suggesting the team have been "unlucky" during his tenure. 

    The Red Devils sit in fifth place in the Premier League table and have won the EFL Cup already under the Portuguese. Ferguson, who enjoyed 27 memorable years in charge of United, believes that with a bit more fortune the season could have been even better for Mourinho’s men.

    "I get on well with Jose and think he’s doing a really good job," he told Sirius XM FC (h/t James Ducker of the Daily Telegraph). "He’s been a bit unlucky actually because there are home games this season they’ve been absolutely brilliant in but have drawn them. If they’d got those wins they deserved they’d be challenging for the league, there’s no doubt about that."

    As things stand, United are 17 points back on runaway leaders Chelsea, with their main domestic aim now to finish in the Premier League’s top four. They have a decent chance of doing so, too, as they’re just four points back on Liverpool, who occupy fourth spot, having played two games less than the Merseyside outfit.

    United are slowly beginning to take shape under Mourinho. In the top flight they’ve not been beaten in 18 matches and while performances have lacked fluency at times, the team has shown tremendous determination to battle through matches.

    Yet supporters will lament the amount of draws on the record this season. Per Samuel Luckhurst of the Manchester Evening News, the team have been profligate against modest opposition:

    Those ties will be lamented even more should United fail to qualify for the UEFA Champions League next season. But with the Red Devils still involved in the UEFA Europa League, there are two avenues open into Europe’s elite club competition for 2017-18.

    Ferguson hinted in the same interview that he’d like to see United prioritise the Europa League over a top-four finish.

    "They could do it [finish fourth], but I look on the Europa League as a great chance," said the 75-year-old. "First of all, the club has never won the Europa League. It adds to the CV, so I think we’ve got a good opportunity."

    The Red Devils do have a good opportunity, as they’ve made it into the last eight of the competition, where they will face Anderlecht. While it’s not an easy tie, drawing the Belgian outfit was one of the more favourable draws, per James Ducker of the Telegraph:

    It’s difficult to determine where to draw the line between unlucky finishing and poor finishing, although thinking back over the matches United have drawn at home this season, you’d say they’ve suffered with both at times. However, it’s clear they remain very much a work in progress under Mourinho.

    Indeed, the Portuguese will be content with the chances being created by his team in front of the Old Trafford crowd, especially given the Red Devils were so ponderous in their attacking play under his predecessor. Another trophy win, qualification for the Champions League and some smart summer recruitment can be crucial steps in remedying this problem.

    Liverpool Transfer News: Mamadou Sakho Eyed in Virgil Van Dijk, Chelsea Rumours

    Liverpool Transfer News: Mamadou Sakho Eyed in Virgil Van Dijk, Chelsea Rumours


    Southampton are reportedly eyeing up Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho as a potential replacement for Virgil van Dijk, whom Chelsea are in "pole position" to sign.   According to the Telegraph's Chris Bascombe, Chelsea will make replacing John Terry a...

    Southampton are reportedly eyeing up Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho as a potential replacement for Virgil van Dijk, whom Chelsea are in "pole position" to sign.  

    According to the Telegraph's Chris Bascombe, Chelsea will make replacing John Terry a "priority" this summer and are the prime candidates to recruit Van Dijk in a deal likely to be worth over £50 million.

    The Saints are considering Blues defender Nathan Ake and Sakho—who is also attracting interest from Napoli—among their options to replace the Dutchman.

    Per Bascombe, the Reds are also searching for a centre-back this summer, but offering Sakho in exchange for Van Dijk or Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly is unlikely to work "given the competition for their services and the huge fees."

    Sakho has made three appearances for Crystal Palace since joining on loan in January and has helped the Eagles win all three and keep clean sheets in each.

    As noted by Liverpool writer Joel Rabinowitz, that's a marked contrast to their prior form:

    Per ThisIsAnfield's Jack Lusby, his outstanding impact has not gone unnoticed:

    The centre-back was perhaps Liverpool's best defender last season, but he has not played for the Reds since April last year.

    Sakho missed the end of the season because of a failed drugs test, which also cost him his place in France's UEFA Euro 2016 squad.

    Though UEFA ultimately dropped the case against him, a falling out with Reds boss Jurgen Klopp saw him exiled from the team this season.

    As the Guardian's Richard Foster noted, Palace have benefited greatly from his situation with Liverpool:

    Indeed, Sakho has been sent out on loan while midfielder Lucas Leiva has been unconvincingly filling in at centre-back for Liverpool.

    Lusby believes the 27-year-old should never have been allowed to leave:

    The somewhat farcical situation his departure has led to would suggest there's no future for the Frenchman at Anfield, but Klopp's position on him is perhaps worth reconsidering given the form he's displayed.

    As for Van Dijk, he has established himself as one of the best centre-backs in the Premier League, so it's of little surprise there are seemingly a number of clubs circling ahead of the summer.

    He'd make a tremendous capture for Liverpool—particularly if Sakho does depart—and the Reds have successfully recruited several prized assets from the Saints in recent years, though Van Dijk appears set to be far more expensive.

    Champions-elect Chelsea may indeed hold greater sway and the cost would be less of an issue for the Blues, but the more Sakho impresses at Selhurst Park the more viable he'll become as a possible makeweight.

    Why 'Cachondo' Gerard Pique Is Such a Hate Figure Among Spain's Football Fans

    Why 'Cachondo' Gerard Pique Is Such a Hate Figure Among Spain's Football Fans


    On Tuesday evening, Gerard Pique will win another cap for Spain when he runs out on to the pitch at Stade de France in Paris. All being well, he'll make a century of caps at some stage during the 2018 World Cup finals—should Spain qualify, as...

    On Tuesday evening, Gerard Pique will win another cap for Spain when he runs out on to the pitch at Stade de France in Paris. All being well, he'll make a century of caps at some stage during the 2018 World Cup finals—should Spain qualify, as expected—in Russia. Then he will call it quits on his international adventure.

    At international games on Spanish soil, he's booed by his own fans. He ships abuse outside of matches, too—getting off the team bus, walking the streets of Gijon and during training sessions, for example.

    Things turned sour in the relationship between Pique and Spain supporters in autumn 2015. Fans started barracking him during a friendly against Costa Rica in Leon in September 2015. A month later, he got further abuse all through the Euro 2016 qualifier against Slovakia in nearby Oviedo.

    Columnists for Spain's newspapers pondered why their people had turned on one of their own players. El Pais dubbed the saga "whistlathon" (h/t the Daily Telegraph).

    Former Barca star Xavi Hernandez traced its roots back to Pique's goading of Real Madrid during Barcelona's treble-winning celebrations earlier that summer. "Only Real Madrid's fans boo him for his words at the Camp Nou and nothing else," he said, per Bolsamania (in Spanish).

    After an open-top bus tour through its city streets on a balmy evening, the team's official celebrations concluded at Barcelona's stadium. On a podium in the middle of the pitch before 75,000 fans, Pique gave thanks to "the technical team, the physios, the club medical staff, the fans … and thanks to Kevin Roldan—it all started with you!" The crowd howled with laughter.

    Midway through the previous season, Real Madrid had been galloping along, notching up a 22-game winning streak, but the wheels came hurtling off, notably during a Madrid derby at the Vicente Calderon in February 2015. Atletico Madrid stuffed them 4-0.

    Within hours of the defeat, Cristiano Ronaldo went ahead with a party for his 30th birthday. The leaked pictures of the Portuguese star and his Real Madrid team-mates partying with the Colombian reggaeton singer Roldan didn't go down well with the fans. The optics were awful.

    Soon after, Real Madrid coughed up their lead in La Liga. By season's end, their manager, the popular Carlo Ancelotti, got the sack. Pique saw a gaping wound and tossed some salt on it.

    Pique had form. During the incendiary years of Jose Mourinho's tenure as Real manager, Barcelona and Madrid played several nasty Clasico matches.

    Mourinho stoked up the animosity in the press and in team meetings. It affected relations between both sets of players. Pique and Sergio Ramos fell out.

    Then-Spain coach Vicente del Bosque admitted on the eve of the 2012 Euro finals, that the tetchiness between the pair of central defenders threatened to scupper the team's chances of success, alluding to "episodes in the past," adding euphemistically "they are young and they have their differences," per Yahoo Sports (in Spanish).

    Pique and Ramos patched up their grievances and Spain triumphed, dispatching Italy 4-0 in that summer's final, but the tension lingered.

    Ramos was miffed by Pique's Roldan jibe and his triumphalist comment caught on a TV camera after Barcelona's 5-4 extra-time win over Sevilla in the UEFA Super Cup final in August 2015. "Come on guys, let's celebrate. Screw those at Madrid. Let them see us make the lap of honour!" Pique said, according to a report by El Mundo.

    Ramos confirmed Xavi's reading of the situation. Real fans were annoyed by Pique's showboating. “It's true that due to the rivalry that exists between Barcelona and Madrid, the latest actions don't help with respect to the treatment he had," Ramos said, per El Mundo (in Spanish).

    Pique's repeated support for Catalonia's push for a referendum on independence gave Spain's nationalists further ire. For the last several years, every September 11—on La Diada, Catalonia's national holiday—there have been protest marches through the streets of Barcelona by separatists.

    In 2012, Barcelona icon Pep Guardiola posted a video message while on sabbatical in New York, urging on his fellow Catalan separatists during their march, per Marca (in Spanish): "Here's one more vote for independence."

    In 2014, Pique lent his support by posting a message on Twitter alongside a picture of himself with his son, Milan. The child was wearing Barcelona's away strip, which is modelled on the Catalan flag. Among the 1.8 million people who took to the streets that day, there were lots of dogs, too, draped in Catalan flags.

    Pique took the photo crouched on Diagonal, the avenue that cuts across Barcelona. It's the same street that General Franco's victorious nationalist troops—among them Santiago Bernabeu whose name adorns Real's stadium—used to march into the city towards the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939.

    In Pique's tweet, which he wrote in Catalan, a language that is more like French than Spanish, he wished his 9.4 million followers a "happy Catalonia Day everyone!" He was criticised in the Spanish media for making the gesture. He defended his right, and the right of Catalonia's citizens, to vote on independence.

    He stressed his dual identity doesn't dilute his passion when playing football for Spain. "I feel Catalan and I'm in favour of the referendum, which is a democratic process, but that has nothing to do with the national team," he said, per El Pais (in Spanish).

    Interestingly, Pique has never said publicly whether he'd vote for independence or not if a referendum came to pass. He might be swayed by pragmatism, as he hinted at in a 2012 radio interview with RAC1. "I sincerely believe that, to begin with, it would make Catalonia and Spain weaker. Separation would weaken the two territories," per La Voz Libre (in Spanish).

    What is curious about Pique's predicament is that he is the only Barca player who plays for Spain who attracts sustained abuse by the country's football fans. Other Barcelona international players, such as former captain Carles Puyol, who was vocal in his support for Catalan independence, and current stars Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets don't ship the abuse Pique does.

    The thing with Pique is that he's mouthy. He's got attitude and can't help himself. It's his nature to provoke. In Spain, they say he's "cachondo," a kidder. He's always up to pranks. In Barcelona's dressing room, he once took the battery out of Lionel Messi's mobile phone. The unsuspecting Argentinian couldn't fathom why his phone wouldn't function.

    Pique's jokes don't go down as well outside the walls of Catalonia. In December 2015, Real Madrid fielded a player, Denis Cheryshev, who was ineligible to play in a Copa del Rey match.

    The hapless Cheryshev scored in the match but was hauled ashore at half-time. It was too late. Real Madrid got dumped out of the cup competition for their mistake.

    Pique thought the cock-up was hilarious, tweeting nine emojis crying with laughter.

    Ramos was incensed by the tweet, saying it was "stupid" and did nothing for harmony among his international team-mates: "The lack of respect adversely affects the atmosphere [with Spain's players in camp]," per El Pais (in Spanish).

    Pique will only partake in a few more Spanish national-team camps. In a fit of pique, he announced his decision to retire from the La Roja at the end of Spain's World Cup campaign, following a bizarre "sleevegate" episode in October 2016.

    Before an away qualifying game against Albania, Pique cut off the sleeves off his long-sleeved Spain jersey—rather than wear Spain's short-sleeved kit—because the sleeves were "bothering" him. Some paranoid Spain fans cooked up a conspiracy, screaming online that he had "cut off the Spain flag" in protest.

    Some Spanish media outlets followed suit, including the Madrid-based sports paper AS, which temporarily posted a story online regurgitating the barney, for which it later apologised. It was absurd. Pique called them out, handing over his cut-off sleeves to Canal+ television reporter, Ricardo Sierra, after the match.

    He was at his wit's end. "I've tried everything, but I can't take it anymore. The thing with the sleeve is the straw that broke the camel's back,” he said, admitting he was exasperated, per EcoDiario.es (in Spanish). "Yes, I'm tired of it and the World Cup in Russia is going to be my last commitment with the Spain team and I hope I can be left in peace."

    It remains to be seen whether he will generate some love from Spain's Real Madrid cohort of fans and go out on a high, aged 31, with national team at the tournament finals. No doubt, there'll be a prank or two from him in the meantime, though.

    Arsenal Transfer News: Alexis Sanchez Reportedly Eyed in Bayern Munich Rumours

    Arsenal Transfer News: Alexis Sanchez Reportedly Eyed in Bayern Munich Rumours


    Bayern Munich are reportedly keen to sign Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez amid reports the Gunners would demand £50 million for his signature this summer. According to Sport (h/t Rhys Turrell of the Daily Star), the German giants are hoping to land a...

    Bayern Munich are reportedly keen to sign Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez amid reports the Gunners would demand £50 million for his signature this summer.

    According to Sport (h/t Rhys Turrell of the Daily Star), the German giants are hoping to land a world-class attacker to help preserve their stranglehold in the Bundesliga and remain a force in the UEFA Champions League. 

    It has also been reported by James Olley of the Evening Standard that the Gunners would still demand a sizeable amount before deciding to cash in. Even with just a year left on his contract, Arsenal are said to value Sanchez at £50 million.

    The Chilean's future at the Emirates Stadium is far from certain. Sanchez's contract is set to expire at the end of the 2017-18 season, and manager Arsene Wenger recently revealed talks over a new deal have been shelved for the time being.

    Although the former Barca man has cut a disinterested figure in recent weeks, he's been the standout attacker since arriving at the Emirates in 2014, per OptaJoel:

    Indeed, when he's at full flight, there aren't many footballers more entertaining than Sanchez.

    The forward can link the play with finesse and intelligence in dangerous positions. Additionally, the Chile international is dynamic and aggressive enough to beat his marker and fire a shot into the top corner.

    Finding a player who is willing to work hard, commit defensively and is still capable of scoring goals is rare. It's why, if Sanchez were to leave the Emirates Stadium, he would leave a massive chasm in the attacking third.

    He's one of the few Arsenal players who seems to relish the big stage, too. Per Paul Hayward of the Daily Telegraph, when Sanchez played at the Allianz Arena earlier in the campaign, he unsettled the Bayern defence:

    No doubt these attributes would have attracted Bayern to the 28-year-old when they met in the Champions League round of 16, although the German side were by far the dominant force in a 10-2 aggregate win over two legs.

    Sanchez would surely be keen to become part of the setup at the Allianz Arena. After a difficult start to his tenure, manager Carlo Ancelotti is getting a tune out of this Bayern side; they look set to waltz away with the league title, while Real Madrid stand between them and a spot in the Champions League's last four.

    The prospect of Sanchez linking up with some of Bayern's attacking stars is a tantalising one, too. Per the German champions' official Twitter feed, in Robert Lewandowski they have one of the most potent goalscorers around:

    The only worry for Sanchez would be getting regular game time in Munich. As talented as the South American is, Ancelotti has Lewandowski and Thomas Muller to call upon up top, while in the wide positions Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman are arguably the finest crop of wingers in the world.

    Nevertheless, the forward looks set to leave the Emirates Stadium with no movement over an extension. And given the talent and determination Sanchez possesses, if he made the switch to Bayern, you would back him to force his way into the side on a regular basis somehow.

    FIFA 17 Ultimate Team: FUT Team of the Week 28 In-Form Predictions, Pack Details

    FIFA 17 Ultimate Team: FUT Team of the Week 28 In-Form Predictions, Pack Details


    FIFA 17 Ultimate Team will take on an international flavour this week amid the break from club football, and Cristiano Ronaldo could be set to headline Team of the Week 28 when it's released on Wednesday.  The Portugal star netted twice in a 3-0 win...

    FIFA 17 Ultimate Team will take on an international flavour this week amid the break from club football, and Cristiano Ronaldo could be set to headline Team of the Week 28 when it's released on Wednesday. 

    The Portugal star netted twice in a 3-0 win over Hungary and he could feature in the attack alongside Olivier Giroud, who did the same in France's 3-1 win over Luxembourg, and Neymar after he scored a sublime chip and provided an assist in Brazil's 4-1 thrashing of Uruguay.

    Paulinho was the real star of that fixture as he bagged a hat-trick, but the Guangzhou Evergrande midfielder isn't in the game and so won't make the team.

    Dusan Tadic received his second in-form card of the season in Team of the Week 25, but after spearheading a Serbian comeback to beat Georgia 3-1 with a goal and two assists, he may have forced his way into contention again.

    Meanwhile, Italy stalwart Gianluigi Buffon could receive a purple hero card, after he reached the incredible milestone of 1,000 career appearances.

    Read on for our Team of the Week 28 predictions and pack details:

     

    Gold Pack: 5,000 coins, 100 FIFA points

    Premium Gold Pack: 7,500 coins, 150 FIFA points

    Silver Pack: 2,500 coins, 50 FIFA points

    Premium Silver Pack: 3,750 coins, 75 FIFA points

     

    Team of the Week 28 will be announced on Wednesday, March 29, at 3 p.m. GMT (11 a.m. ET) and will be released into card packs at 6 p.m. GMT (2 p.m. ET) later that day. Stats and ratings have been provided by FUTHead.com

    If a player's original rating is the highest available in bronze (64) or silver (74), his first in-form cannot feature an overall increase but will feature improved individual stats.

     

    Gianluigi Buffon, Italy

    At 39, Buffon continues to defy expectations and on Friday he joined an elite group of players to make 1,000 senior appearances over the course of their career.

    BT Sport shared a breakdown of those matches:

    He also achieved another milestone as he earned his 168th Italy cap, taking him past Iker Casillas' 167 appearances for Spain and making him the most capped European player, per UEFA Euro.

    Fittingly, the stopper finished the match with a clean sheet as the Azzurri beat Albania 2-0.

    As a result of his achievement he may well be on the receiving end of a purple hero card, which may not be enough to give him a place in the starting lineup—Wayne Rooney didn't in Team of the Week 19 despite becoming Manchester United's all-time top scorer—but a place among the substitutes could be on the cards.

     

    Olivier Giroud, France

    France weren't convincing against Luxembourg at the Stade Josy Barthel, but one player who stood out was Giroud.

    The striker opened the scoring with a close-range finish from Djibril Sidibe's pull-back and rounded out the night with Les Bleus' third with a header from Benjamin Mendy's cross.

    Giroud took his France tally to 23 goals, and, as Get French Football demonstrated, he has an impressive minutes-per-goal ratio with the national team:

    The Arsenal man already boasts a staggering 97 heading stat in his 85-rated Team of the Week 17 card, and that could be upgraded to the maximum 99 if he receives another boost here.

    That could see his 43 defending attribute increase, while his 88 positioning and 88 shooting are likely to improve and in turn increase his 86 overall shooting.

     

    Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal

    Ronaldo has a history with Hungary after netting a brace against them in Portugal's final group match of UEFA Euro 2016, which allowed them to reach the knockout stage and go on to win the tournament.

    The forward was in similar form on Sunday. After playing a key role in a neat passing move that led to Andre Silva's opener, Ronaldo rifled in a low left-footed effort from 20 yards and picked out the bottom corner with a free-kick to put the match to bed.

    Ronaldo is no stranger to milestones and reached yet another thanks to his brace:

    He also made it to a staggering 70 international goals with Portugal.

    Football writer Liam Canning was in awe:

    There's scarcely room for improvement on his 96-rated Team of the Week 10 card, but his 84-rated passing stat could get a healthy boost, not only for his involvement in Silva's goal but also his free-kick.

    Free-kick accuracy is encompassed in the overall passing stat rather than shooting, though his considerable finishing and long shot stats might well improve also.

    Chapecoense Fans to Pay Atletico Nacional Tribute in Cup Final After Air Crash

    Chapecoense Fans to Pay Atletico Nacional Tribute in Cup Final After Air Crash


    Supporters of Brazilian club Chapecoense want to pay tribute to the fans of Atletico Nacional next week when the two sides meet in the first leg of the Recopa Sudamericana final. The pair were set to meet in the final of the Copa Sudamericana in November...

    Supporters of Brazilian club Chapecoense want to pay tribute to the fans of Atletico Nacional next week when the two sides meet in the first leg of the Recopa Sudamericana final.

    The pair were set to meet in the final of the Copa Sudamericana in November before an aircraft carrying the Chapecoense team tragically crashed on the way to the game, killing 19 members of the squad and 71 of the 77 people on board.

    Per CONMEBOL (via the Associated Press and USA Today), after Nacional anointed Chapecoense as tournament winners following the crash, the people of Chapeco want to "pay in their own city a special tribute to Atletico Nacional for their actions of solidarity and support offered at the time of the air crash."

    The first leg between the two teams will be staged in Chapeco on April 4, with the return leg scheduled for Medellin, Colombia, on May 10.

    The Recopa Sudamericana sees the winners of South America’s two most prestigious club competitions meet. Nacional are the holders of the Libertadores, having beaten Independiente del Valle over two legs in the final in July last year.

    Per USA Today, Chapecoense require special authorisation to host the contest at their Arena Conda stadium. That’s because the venue has a capacity of 22,000, and confederation regulations state that for a continental final, the minimum must be 40,000.

    Lionel Messi Reportedly Could Face Argentina Suspension After Rant at Official

    Lionel Messi Reportedly Could Face Argentina Suspension After Rant at Official


    Lionel Messi may miss Argentina’s FIFA World Cup qualifying match with Bolivia on Tuesday after he allegedly abused a match official during the team’s recent 1-0 win over Chile.  As reported by Daniel Edwards of Goal, the Barcelona forward is said...

    Lionel Messi may miss Argentina’s FIFA World Cup qualifying match with Bolivia on Tuesday after he allegedly abused a match official during the team’s recent 1-0 win over Chile. 

    As reported by Daniel Edwards of Goal, the Barcelona forward is said to have been unhappy with linesman Marcelo Van Gasse during the contest and reportedly aimed a volley of invective his way in the second period. The incident is said to have been notified to CONMEBOL on Monday, and Messi could subsequently be set for a ban.

    The 29-year-old reportedly bellowed "f--k off, your mother’s c--t" at Van Gasse during the Albiceleste’s narrow triumph last week.

    Aside from his tangle with the official, it was a good night for Messi and his team, as they secured a crucial three points in their pursuit of a place at the World Cup. 

    Messi exorcised some personal demons too; having missed from the spot in last summer’s Copa America final against Chile in a shootout, he stepped up to score from 12 yards in this one.

    Argentina may be without their talisman for a major part of what promises to be a crucial run-in for Edgardo Bauza and his team. According to Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl, Messi may be banned for as many as four international matches as a result of his conduct:

    That’ll be of huge concern to fans of the Argentina team, as their automatic place is far from secure in the CONMEBOL qualifying phase. They sit in third place in the standings behind Brazil and Uruguay, but only four points separate them and Paraguay, who are down in seventh.

    For Argentina, Messi would be a huge loss. Although there have been some harsh critics of the Barcelona man’s displays for the national team down the years, in the main he’s been magnificent as of late in the blue and white jersey.

    And despite a surfeit of attacking talent in the squad, without their talisman they’ve struggled to pick up results, as 101 Great Goals noted here:

    Per Edwards, if Messi was to be immediately suspended for his conduct he would be ruled out of Tuesday’s match in La Paz at late notice. However, there’s a chance the ban won’t be actioned until after the match, while an appeal against might also temporarily suspend any sanctions.

    The Argentina team will be hopeful CONMEBOL are lenient, as Argentina have more important games to come. After their match against Bolivia, the next time they will take to the field will be against Uruguay in August in what is potentially a decisive showdown for both sides.

    Chelsea Transfer News: Eden Hazard 'Test' Expected from Real Madrid, Top Rumours

    Chelsea Transfer News: Eden Hazard 'Test' Expected from Real Madrid, Top Rumours


    Real Madrid are reportedly weighing up a potential world-record move for Chelsea forward Eden Hazard in the summer.  According to Sami Mokbel of the Daily Mail, Los Blancos are ready to embark on "Operation Eden Hazard" in the coming months and will...

    Real Madrid are reportedly weighing up a potential world-record move for Chelsea forward Eden Hazard in the summer. 

    According to Sami Mokbel of the Daily Mail, Los Blancos are ready to embark on "Operation Eden Hazard" in the coming months and will test the Blues' willingness to keep their star forward with a massive bid.

    Indeed, it's suggested that any successful bid for the Belgium international would need to break the £100 million mark. As Mokbel noted, that would eclipse the current world-record acquisition of £89.3 million, which Manchester United parted with to sign Paul Pogba from Juventus ahead of the current campaign.

    The latest report follows on from a story from Marca that Hazard is warming to the idea of a possible move to the Santiago Bernabeu:

    "Real manager Zinedine Zidane is a huge fan of Hazard and is the driving force behind the club's interest, which is not always the case at the Santiago Bernabeu," Mokbel wrote. "But suggestions that Hazard is learning Spanish ahead of a move to Madrid are wide of the mark. He is well aware of Real's interest but is taking a relaxed view on his future."

    It’s little surprise that Madrid's interest in the 26-year-old has spiked again, as Hazard has rediscovered his best for the Blues in 2016-17.

    While plenty of focus has been drawn to the midfield displays of N'Golo Kante in the heart of the Chelsea team, it's Hazard who knits together the Blues' attacking play with flair and incision. A return of 11 goals and four assists doesn't do justice to how good he's been in the current campaign.

    As noted by WhoScored.com, defenders have found Hazard difficult to contain in the Premier League this season:

    Madrid's pursuit of Hazard may look like an indulgent one on the face of it. After all, not only do they have Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale, but pushing for a place in the team are Isco, James Rodriguez, Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio.

    Yet Hazard would bring something different to any of those players. Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo are all at their best with space to burst into, whereas Hazard is adept at weaving his magic in tight spaces infield or on the flank.

    He's a player who ties in with the "Galactico" recruitment strategy Madrid have been synonymous with down the years, too.

    However, as noted by Lucas Navarette of Managing Madrid, should Real take a more sensible approach to their transfer dealings, other facets of the squad will surely be addressed first:

    Arguably, Real need a new goalkeeper, with Keylor Navas struggling for form this season, while they could also do with reinforcements in defence and at the base of the midfield. Nevertheless, you wouldn't put it past Los Blancos going all out for a big-name attacker. It's what they have done so frequently down the years.

    Chelsea won't be in any rush to sell, nor will they be under any pressure to do so. Hazard has a contract with the Blues until 2021, and given just how crucial he is to the Chelsea cause, it would be no surprise if the Premier League leaders turned their nose up at any offer that comes their way this summer.

    B/R Experts: Big-Game Predictions, March 28-29


    The latest round of international action concludes this week, with a host of friendlies and World Cup qualifiers. The intensity levels will be vastly different—depending on what is at stake—and our experts will guide you through the games. There are...

    The latest round of international action concludes this week, with a host of friendlies and World Cup qualifiers.

    The intensity levels will be vastly different—depending on what is at stake—and our experts will guide you through the games.

    There are tasty-looking friendlies such as Netherlands vs. Italy and France vs. Spain, while the United States face Panama in World Cup qualifying.

    Read on for our pundits' views on the week's action.

    Begin Slideshow

    Bolivia vs. Argentina: World Cup 2018 Qualifying Live Stream, Preview

    Bolivia vs. Argentina: World Cup 2018 Qualifying Live Stream, Preview


    Argentina face a difficult trip to Bolivia in CONMEBOL qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup on Tuesday, desperately needing a victory to solidify their top-four place in the standings. The two-time world champions cannot afford any slips in the...

    Argentina face a difficult trip to Bolivia in CONMEBOL qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup on Tuesday, desperately needing a victory to solidify their top-four place in the standings.

    The two-time world champions cannot afford any slips in the final matches, with Ecuador and Chile banging on the door of automatic qualification.

    The contest will be in the altitude of La Paz, making the task an even more nervous encounter for Lionel Messi and his team-mates.

    Here is how you can watch the qualifier:

     

    Date: Tuesday, March 28

    Time: 4 p.m. ET/9 p.m. BST

    TV: BeIN Sports (U.S. only) 

    Stream: BeIN Sports Connect

     

    Preview

    Argentina have struggled throughout Round 1 of South American qualification, and they have left the door open to a number of dangerous teams.

    According to Mauricio Savarese of the Associated Press, Argentina have not prevailed in Bolivia since 2005, and they were thrashed 6-1 in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers. 

    While Brazil have found their equilibrium under new coach Tite, the Argentinians have fallen into a poor run of form.

    They have won just six of their qualification games, drawing four and losing three on the way.

    La Albiceleste defeated Chile in their previous match in a controversial 1-0 victory, but coach Edgardo Bauza will not care how the wins are accumulated at this stage.

    Former international Diego Latorre wrote in La Nacion (h/t Tim Vickery of ESPN FC) the Argentina unit has many flaws:

    The midfield is the heart of a side. It should not be empty. But that is what keeps happening with Bauza's team. Operating with three strikers requires that the ball is played well out of defence, with a circuit that in every action offers three passing options.

    None of this is apparent in the current Argentina side. There is no capacity for association, no one playing the pass and getting in position to receive the return ball, and as a consequence the strikers are isolated and not participating.

    According to Savarese, Bolivia rested their senior players in their last contest against Colombia, leaving them fresh and motivated to handle Argentina.

    If this tactic bares fruit, the visitors could struggle as they fight for oxygen in testing conditions against a tricky host.

    A World Cup without Messi seems unbelievable, but this version of Argentina doesn't match up to vintage editions.

    Messi cannot do it on his own, and his country could be set for a huge failure if they do not strike first in La Paz.

    Netherlands vs. Italy: Date, Time, Live Stream and TV Schedule for 2017 Friendly

    Netherlands vs. Italy: Date, Time, Live Stream and TV Schedule for 2017 Friendly


    The Netherlands will hope to salvage some pride when they meet Italy in an international friendly at the Amsterdam ArenA on Tuesday, the first match since the sacking of manager Danny Blind. It's a chance for the Oranje to make amends after their recent...

    The Netherlands will hope to salvage some pride when they meet Italy in an international friendly at the Amsterdam ArenA on Tuesday, the first match since the sacking of manager Danny Blind.

    It's a chance for the Oranje to make amends after their recent 2-0 defeat to Bulgaria in a qualifier for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, a result which prompted Blind's dismissal.

    Blind was sacked on Sunday after two years in charge, with the news being confirmed in a statement from the KNVB (h/t the FIFA World Cup Twitter account).

    Losing to Bulgaria left the Netherlands fourth in Group A, trailing leaders France by six points. By contrast, Italy are keeping pace with Spain in Group G, with both teams level on 13 points, according to the same source.

    Before a preview, here are the schedule and viewing details for this friendly: 

    Date: Tuesday, March 28

    Time: 7:45 p.m. BST, 2:45 p.m. ET

    TV Info: beIN Sports

    Live Stream: fuboTV

     

    Preview

    While the Dutch have stumbled recently, the Azzurri have been winning with room to spare thanks to a core of exciting young talents. Manager Giampiero Ventura recently lauded the promise the future holds for this burgeoning generation after Italy beat Albania 2-0 on Friday.

    Speaking to Rai Sports (h/t ESPN FC), Ventura said: "We are starting the work here. Those who didn't play today will play tomorrow or the day after. There are many young and new players who are gaining experience, and we've got everything in place to have a strong future for the Azzurri."

    Ventura has a point, as there is a clutch of youthful defenders breaking through at once. An article from Forza Italian Football heaped praise on three 22-year-old centre-backs: Atalanta's Mattia Caldara, Juve's Daniele Rugani and AC Milan's Alessio Romagnoli.

    Italy's young defence may not be tested too much by a struggling Netherlands attack, though. The Dutch need inspiration from senior figures such as winger Arjen Robben and Liverpool playmaker Georginio Wijnaldum.

    However, what is really hurting the Netherlands is the struggles of Eredivisie players like Ajax maestro Davy Klaassen to make the grade on the international stage. PSV Eindhoven attacker Luuk de Jong has also floundered when given the chance up front.

    Those who follow the Netherlands will be hopeful that a change in manager can be a catalyst for an upturn in fortunes, though, with Fred Grim to take temporary charge against the Italians, per MailOnline's Amitai Winehouse.

    KNVB football director Jean Paul Decossaux told the Dutch FA's website (h/t the Press Association, via the Guardian) how fears of reaching the World Cup forced the decision to dump Blind: "Because the sporting results are disappointing and it will now be difficult to qualify for the World Cup in Russia, we feel unfortunately we have to say goodbye to him."

    The first step to restoring faith in the Netherlands' World Cup hopes has to be winning this marquee friendly.

    By contrast, Italy are on an upward trajectory and will arrive in confident mood on Tuesday. Expect the likes of Andrea Belotti and Ciro Immobile to run a suspect Dutch defence ragged.

    Trinidad and Tobago vs. Mexico: World Cup 2018 Qualifying Live Stream, Preview

    Trinidad and Tobago vs. Mexico: World Cup 2018 Qualifying Live Stream, Preview


    Mexico will try to keep their unbeaten start to the Hexagonal round of 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying alive on Tuesday, as they travel to take on Trinidad and Tobago. The Soca Warriors grabbed their first win of the round over Panama on the previous...

    Mexico will try to keep their unbeaten start to the Hexagonal round of 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying alive on Tuesday, as they travel to take on Trinidad and Tobago.

    The Soca Warriors grabbed their first win of the round over Panama on the previous matchday, courtesy of a single goal from Kevin Molino. Javier Hernandez and Nestor Araujo found the net in Mexico's routine 2-0 win over Costa Rica.

    A trip to Port of Spain is never easy, and El Tri might be in for their toughest match of the Hexagonal yet. Here's everything you need to know about the upcoming clash.

    Date: Tuesday, March 28

    Time: 7 p.m. ET / Midnight BST

    Venue: Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain

    Live Stream: beIN Sports Connect, fubo.tv

     

    Preview

    As shared by ESPN FC's Tom Marshall, El Tri enter Tuesday's match with some injury concerns:

    Mexico haven't been threatened much during the Hexagonal so far, opening the round with wins over the United States and Costa Rica either side of a draw in Panama. Manager Juan Carlos Osorio and his troops are on course for World Cup qualification, with several of CONCACAF's other top teams struggling so far.

    That includes Trinidad and Tobago, who played some phenomenal football at times in the previous rounds but have failed to deliver in the Hexagonal so far. Losses against Costa Rica and Honduras were disappointing, and even in the win over Panama, the Soca Warriors looked far from impressive.

    But in the safe confines of Port of Spain and already facing quite a bit of pressure, the home side should give Mexico quite the challenge with their disciplined defence.

    Fortunately for El Tri, they'll be able to rely on star forward Hernandez.

    The 28-year-old tied Jared Borgetti's record of 46 goals for the team on Friday, and per Marshall, he talked about what it meant to him afterwards:

    It is very nice, but this is just starting, that's how I see it. It helps my confidence to be level as the maximum scorer. It is something I never dreamed about or imagined, but the most important things is the result for the group.

    It's a remarkable achievement for Hernandez, who still has several years left at the top of the game and should retire with a healthy lead at the top of Mexico's scoring charts. It also speaks to the extent of the Bayer Leverkusen man's talent and what a threat he will be to Trinidad and Tobago.

    The Soca Warriors mostly rely on talent that plays at home or in Major League Soccer, with the likes of John Bostock and Cornell Glen not a part of the squad on this occasion. In terms of raw talent, there's no comparison between the two sides.

    Expect El Tri to dominate possession on Tuesday and turn the match into a tactical battle against Trinidad and Tobago's athletic side.

    There are few teams that can match Mexico in terms of speed and counter-attacking ability, but the Soca Warriors should not be underestimated in that department. 

    Republic of Ireland vs. Iceland: Time, Live Stream, TV for 2017 Friendly

    Republic of Ireland vs. Iceland: Time, Live Stream, TV for 2017 Friendly


    The Republic of Ireland will get the chance to restore some confidence after their recent bruising 0-0 draw with Wales when they host Iceland in a friendly at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Tuesday. Ireland will be without Everton full-back Seamus...

    The Republic of Ireland will get the chance to restore some confidence after their recent bruising 0-0 draw with Wales when they host Iceland in a friendly at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Tuesday.

    Ireland will be without Everton full-back Seamus Coleman, who suffered a gruesome injury after being tackled by Welsh defender Neil Taylor on Friday.

    Meanwhile, veteran centre-back John O'Shea, who was hit by a rough challenge from Wales star Gareth Bale late on, has returned to his club, as have Jonathan Walters, Glenn Whelan and James McCarthy, per BBC Sport.

    Before a preview, here are the schedule and viewing details:

     

    Date: Tuesday, March 28

    Time: 7:45 p.m. GMT, 2:45 p.m. ET

    TV Info: beIN Sports Connect

    Live Stream: fuboTV

     

    Preview

    Ireland could have used O'Shea against an Iceland squad featuring underrated quality in attack. It's Swansea City man Gylfi Sigurdsson who represents the biggest threat.

    The 27-year-old can pick a pass between the lines and is also an excellent finisher, both from open play and set-piece situations. Having a central defender with O'Shea's experience would have surely helped keep Sigurdsson in check.

    The Sunderland man was hoping for a swift recovery from his clash with Bale, per BBC Sport. However, Ireland manager Martin O'Neill has decided to "give some of his fringe players the opportunity to impress."

    Among those involved will be Burnley winger Robbie Brady, who will skipper the side in Dublin, per the report. He will be expected to offer some graft and ingenuity to help break down Iceland.

    Meanwhile, Brentford's John Egan could replace O'Shea. The 24-year-old central defender has been described by club manager Dean Smith as a "proper centre back and has a hunger to keep the ball out of the net. He is a good defender and a good footballer as well," per Jack O'Toole of the Irish Independent.

    O'Shea may have been ready to feature against Iceland, but Coleman was not so fortunate. In fact, he was left with a double leg fracture after being tackled by Taylor.

    It's an injury set to keep the Toffees defender out of action for the foreseeable future. O'Neill told BBC Five Live's Sportsweek he is unsure when Coleman will return.

    O'Neill's squad may be weakened in defence, but he can expect his forward line to fire on Tuesday. Specifically, he will count on the pace of Shane Long to stretch a rugged Iceland back line.

    If wingers James McClean and Aiden McGeady can use their skill and flair to supply Long with chances, the Southampton striker's movement should prove decisive in Dublin.

    Brazil vs. Paraguay: World Cup 2018 Qualifying Live Stream, Preview

    Brazil vs. Paraguay: World Cup 2018 Qualifying Live Stream, Preview


    Brazil welcome Paraguay in CONMEBOL qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup on Tuesday. They lead the group by seven points. The visitors have won five games in Round 1, but their faint hopes of qualifying appear challenging as they remain in...

    Brazil welcome Paraguay in CONMEBOL qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup on Tuesday. They lead the group by seven points.

    The visitors have won five games in Round 1, but their faint hopes of qualifying appear challenging as they remain in seventh.

    The Canarinho have been in a ruthless mood as they've chased a place at the finals in Russia, and they are comfortably clear of second-placed Uruguay.

    Here is how you can watch the qualifier:

     

    Date: Tuesday, March 28

    Time: 8:45 p.m. ET/1:45 a.m. BST (Wednesday)

    TV: BeIN Sports (U.S. only)

    Stream: BeIN Sports Connect

     

    Preview

    Brazil have stuttered and stumbled in recent years as they have attempted to live up to their top billing, but the current squad are a motivated unit under manager Tite.

    Only complacency from the hosts can assist the Paraguayans on their travels, but Brazil will be overwhelming favourites to collect their 10th win of qualification.

    Manager Tite has been forced to draft cover for full-back Dani Alves after the veteran was booked and thus suspended in their last game against Uruguay.

    ESPN.co.uk reported Sevilla right-back Mariano has been called up to give the Selecao further options.

    The 30-year-old has impressed in La Liga this term as his team fight Real Madrid and Barcelona at the summit.

    The versatile talent, who can also feature in midfield, has appeared 32 times for his club in La Liga and the Champions League this season, according to WhoScored.com.

    Mariano is uncapped and has developed late in his career. He was initially in the provisional squad for the match.

    Brazil were in splendid form as they romped past the Uruguayans, winning 4-1 as Paulinho scored a hat-trick.

    The Montevideo crowd failed to damage the visitors' confidence, proving this incarnation of Brazil has thicker skin than the one which crashed out in the World Cup finals on home soil in 2014.

    Paulinho is experiencing a renaissance for his country, and Tite expressed his delight with his team, per the Associated Press (via the Guardian).

    "I was happy about the 90 minutes," said Tite. "Our capacity to absorb a goal against us and keep playing was based on one idea. Our team is very self-aware. We did more than controlling the match, we were dominant."

    A fifth-placed finish will see a South American nation battle in a play-off for a spot in Russia.

    With mid-table congested, Paraguay have a chance of grabbing a finals berth.

    A stunning victory against the leaders could see them leapfrog Ecuador and Chile, placing them one step closer to Russia.

    France vs. Spain: Time, Live Stream and TV Schedule for 2017 Friendly

    France vs. Spain: Time, Live Stream and TV Schedule for 2017 Friendly


    France and Spain will both get the chance to show their credentials as potential winners of the 2018 FIFA World Cup when they meet in a friendly at the Stade de France on Tuesday. Both sides top their qualifying groups and are yet to taste defeat after...

    France and Spain will both get the chance to show their credentials as potential winners of the 2018 FIFA World Cup when they meet in a friendly at the Stade de France on Tuesday.

    Both sides top their qualifying groups and are yet to taste defeat after five matches. Each squad is loaded with enough quality to find the net often in Saint-Denis.

    Before a preview, read on for the schedule and viewing details:

    Date: Tuesday, March 28

    Time: 8 p.m. BST, 3 p.m. ET.

    TV Info: ITV 4, ESPN2

    Live Stream: ITV PlayerWatchESPN.

     

    Preview

    Les Bleus boast the firepower to torment any opposition, with a host of options now at manager Didier Deschamps' disposal. Those options include Arsenal target man Olivier Giroud, Atletico Madrid talisman Antoine Griezmann and AS Monaco starlet Kylian Mbappe.

    The latter has immense promise. Still just 18, Mbappe became the youngster first-time international for France in over 60 years when he came off the bench during Saturday's 3-1 win over Luxembourg, per MailOnline's Spencer Morgan.

    Mbappe's pace and power would make him a menace for the Spanish defence. A friendly certainly seems like the ideal format for Deschamps to give him a first full start. If so, the teenager would dovetail superbly with Griezmann.

    Of course, the Spanish possess their own match-winners in the final third, including Chelsea striker Diego Costa and Manchester City playmaker David Silva, both of whom scored in Friday's 4-1 win over Israel.

    The beauty of the Spain squad is how manager Julen Lopetegui can call on more than one batch of legitimate game-changers in attack. If he opts to rest Costa, Silva and Co. for a friendly, Lopetegui can still turn to Real Madrid duo Alvaro Morata and Isco as well as Chelsea winger Pedro.

    Such a rich bounty of options underlines why Spain have to be fancied to make waves at the World Cup next summer. How they stand up to an equally formidable France squad will be a good barometer for how the 2010 winners will do in Russia.

    USA vs. Panama: World Cup 2018 Qualifying Live Stream, Preview

    USA vs. Panama: World Cup 2018 Qualifying Live Stream, Preview


    The United States will continue their bid to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup on Tuesday as they travel to Panama in the Hexagonal round of CONCACAF. The visitors grabbed a much-needed win over Honduras in their last outing on Friday and sit in fourth...

    The United States will continue their bid to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup on Tuesday as they travel to Panama in the Hexagonal round of CONCACAF.

    The visitors grabbed a much-needed win over Honduras in their last outing on Friday and sit in fourth place. A win over Panama would put the Stars and Stripes in one of the three automatic qualifying positions.

    Here's everything you need to know about the upcoming fixture. 

    Date: Tuesday, March 28

    Time: 10 p.m. ET/3 a.m. BST (Wednesday)

    Venue: Estadio Rommel Fernandez, Panama City

    Live Stream: beIN Sports Connect, fubo.tv

     

    Preview

    After back-to-back defeats to start the Hexagonal, the Stars and Stripes finally got their bid to qualify for the World Cup on track with a 6-0 trashing of Honduras.

    As shared by former USA international Alexi Lalas, the win represented far more than three points:

    It was the first competitive match under new manager Bruce Arena, who replaced Jurgen Klinsmann following the two defeats to start the round. While the team had found some success in friendlies, the win over Honduras meant so much more.

    The returning Clint Dempsey was the big story, scoring a hat-trick to guide the team to the win.

    Per U.S. Soccer, he reacted to his incredible showing in a short video:

    On the same matchday, Trinidad and Tobago also grabbed their first win, leaving Panama just a point ahead of them and Honduras. The match in Panama City could have major consequences as a result―a win would give the Stars and Stripes a tremendous advantage heading forward.

    Per Steven Goff of the Washington Post, the USA will be without four players who made the squad for the Honduras match, including two starters: Sebastian Lletget and John Brooks, who have both returned to their clubs with either injury or illness.

    Paul Arriola has joined the team, while Jermaine Jones is eligible and likely to play upon his return from suspension. Alejandro Bedoya replaced Lletget on Friday and is in line for the start on Tuesday.

    Panama generally play their best football at home and held Mexico to a draw in November, and they just lost out on the Copa Centroamericana title to Honduras in January.

    The squad lacks big stars, and some of their best players ply their trade in Major League Soccer, including Seattle Sounders defender Roman Torres.

    On paper, an American team led by the likes of Dempsey and Christian Pulisic should beat the hosts comfortably―particularly given their momentum after the win over Honduras. International football is rarely that simple, however.

    The Stars and Stripes were efficient in front of goal on Friday, and if the side can finish at a similar clip, another win should follow. But even a draw would be a good result with an eye on the rest of the Hexagonal.

    Cowboys Rumors: Tony Romo Distancing Himself from Staff Who Prefer Dak Prescott

    Cowboys Rumors: Tony Romo Distancing Himself from Staff Who Prefer Dak Prescott


    Tony Romo is reportedly unhappy with some members of the Dallas Cowboys. Citing a league source Monday, NFL Network's Jane Slater reported Romo "has taken [the] situation very personally in Dallas and has distanced himself from teammates and coach who...

    Tony Romo is reportedly unhappy with some members of the Dallas Cowboys.

    Citing a league source Monday, NFL Network's Jane Slater reported Romo "has taken [the] situation very personally in Dallas and has distanced himself from teammates and coach who were 'Team Dak.'"

    Romo hasn't offered any hints regarding his future since the offseason started, but ESPN's Jeff Darlington recently shed some light on the signal-caller's thought process.

    On March 24, Darlington tweeted Romo "believes it's [Houston] Texans or retirement for 2017." The same day, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported both Fox and CBS have been pursuing Romo as an analyst for their television coverage if he does decide to call it quits.

    But for the time being, Romo remains a member of the Cowboys, as NFL Network's Ian Rapoport noted Monday:

    And while it was initially believed the Denver Broncos would have interest in Romo, general manager John Elway did not indicate the team has interest in the 36-year-old when he spoke to reporters at the NFL's annual spring meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, on Monday.

    "The plan is to stay the course there and see what's available in the (April 27-29) draft," he said, according to the Denver Post's Nicki Jhabvala. "We'll go from there."

    Yoan Moncada's Turnaround Hints He May Now Be Close to MLB Stardom

    Yoan Moncada's Turnaround Hints He May Now Be Close to MLB Stardom


    When Yoan Moncada was coming up with the Boston Red Sox, he would sometimes eat 10 Twinkies in a single sitting, according to Eli Saslow of ESPN The Magazine. Now, after a rough start to spring training with the Chicago White Sox, the gifted Cuban may be...

    When Yoan Moncada was coming up with the Boston Red Sox, he would sometimes eat 10 Twinkies in a single sitting, according to Eli Saslow of ESPN The Magazine.

    Now, after a rough start to spring training with the Chicago White Sox, the gifted Cuban may be ready to chew through big league pitching like so much cream-filled sponge cake.

    Few have questioned Moncada's talent or tools. He's a linebacker in baseball clothing, a physical specimen blessed with the speed and raw power to take MLB by storm.

    There's a reason the Red Sox handed him a record-shattering $31.5 million signing bonus as a teenager and why he slashed .287/.395/.480 with 23 home runs, 100 RBI and 94 stolen bases in 187 MiLB games.

    He hit just .211 in a brief big league audition with Boston last season, striking out 12 times in 20 plate appearances. Then came the offseason trade, which sent Moncada to the South Side and ace left-hander Chris Sale to Boston.

    Moncada wasn't the only prospect the White Sox netted—they also got right-handers Michael Kopech and Victor Diaz and outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe—but he was the headliner. Expectations were calibrated accordingly.

    So when the 21-year-old switch-hitter struck out 12 times in his first 12 exhibition games with Chicago, it sounded a few alarm bells. Maybe this kid was further away than many assumed.

    The White Sox have to be thrilled with what they've seen since.

    While the obligatory small-sample caveats apply, Moncada raised his spring average to .317 and his OPS to 1.074. Eight of his 13 hits went for extra bases, including four doubles, a triple and three home runs.

    Perhaps most promisingly, he struck out just twice after his initial dozen-game whiff binge.

    It wasn't enough to crack the Opening Day roster, as Moncada was optioned to Triple-A March 21.

    That's no great surprise. Moncada has never taken a minor league at-bat above Double-A. From a service-time standpoint, the White Sox can gain another year of control if they call him up after May 15, as FanGraphs' Craig Edwards elucidated.

    Sox fans eager to see their shiny new prospect in action will balk at such bland, business-related calculations. Moncada wasn't especially enthusiastic.

    "It was kind of difficult for me, but it wasn't my decision to make," he said, per Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times.

    The truth is, Moncada could use more seasoning.

    He committed a team-leading five errors this spring, and he's still learning to handle breaking pitches, as ESPN's Keith Law outlined:

    ...Moncada wraps his bat and can't get to the stuff thrown inside and backspin it, getting on top of those pitches or missing them entirely. When he reached the majors, it was as if he'd never seen a breaking ball in his life.

    This isn't Kris Bryant and the Chicago Cubs, in other words. There are legitimate baseball reasons to keep Moncada down despite his Cactus League surge.

    We'll see him at some point in 2017, though, make no mistake.

    The White Sox have an opening at second base after releasing Brett Lawrie in early March. Veteran third baseman Todd Frazier might be traded at some point. There's been talk of moving Moncada to center field.

    There could be holes all over the diamond, and the rebuilding Sox will eventually fill one of them with their prized position prospect and potential superstar.

    The projection systems are mixed on Moncada's 2017 output. ZiPS foresees a .236/.325/.384 slash line with 17 homers and 34 stolen bases, per FanGraphs. Steamer is less bullish and predicts a .228/.305/.356 line with six homers and 13 steals.

    The former would earn Rookie of the Year votes. The latter would merely tease potential.

    "Overall, he's so talented and so athletic, a lot of times it just takes care of itself," Chicago bench coach Joe McEwing said of Moncada's continued development with the leather and the lumber, per Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune. "He's a tremendous kid who wants to learn and get better every single day. He works his butt off."

    Enough, perhaps, to break through this season—and atone for all those Twinkies.

       

    All statistics current as of Monday and courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.

    Imagining 2017 Final Four Stars as NFL Prospects


    The NFL draft doesn't spend many days outside the headlines, but the NCAA tournament—and specifically the Final Four—has claimed a rare place atop the news cycle. But what if those popular sporting events intersected? We're taking a look at some of...

    The NFL draft doesn't spend many days outside the headlines, but the NCAA tournament—and specifically the Final Four—has claimed a rare place atop the news cycle.

    But what if those popular sporting events intersected?

    We're taking a look at some of the remaining March Madness stars and thinking about those college basketball players as NFL prospects. Instead of a true comparison, our goal is identifying the best positional match when factoring body frames and skill sets.

    Inevitably, there will be disagreement about hypotheticals. Let's all try to remember it's just sports and briefly enjoy the ridiculous.

    Begin Slideshow

    Paige Talks Alberto El Patron, Life Since Sex Videos and Nude Photo Leak

    Paige Talks Alberto El Patron, Life Since Sex Videos and Nude Photo Leak


    WWE Superstar Paige released a statement on Twitter Monday evening after nude photos and videos of her were leaked as the result of an online hack, according to Wrestling Inc's Raj Giri. Paige's extended message comes on the same day her fiancee,...

    WWE Superstar Paige released a statement on Twitter Monday evening after nude photos and videos of her were leaked as the result of an online hack, according to Wrestling Inc's Raj Giri.

    Paige's extended message comes on the same day her fiancee, Alberto El Patron, announced on Instagram the two plan to get married Wednesday:

    Paige, 24, has been engaged to El Patron since she proposed to him in October 2016.

    As far as her career in the ring is concerned, the two-time Divas champion has been sidelined ever since she had neck surgery in October. After the operation was complete, Paige tweeted that she had three screws inserted in her neck.

    It's unclear when, exactly, Paige will return to action, but she did note in January that she started attending physical therapy sessions to aid in her recovery from surgery.

    WWE Raw Results: Winners, Grades, Reaction and Highlights from March 27


    WWE Raw crammed the final chapters of the WrestleMania 33 build to varying degrees of success on Monday night. Seth Rollins and Triple H's rivalry thrived as they barked at each other, filling the holes of their narrative with backstory and raw emotion....

    WWE Raw crammed the final chapters of the WrestleMania 33 build to varying degrees of success on Monday night.

    Seth Rollins and Triple H's rivalry thrived as they barked at each other, filling the holes of their narrative with backstory and raw emotion. Simplicity powered the Cruiserweight Championship feud. A strong image aided the road to the Raw Women's Championship match.

    Sami Zayn punched his ticket to Sunday's pay-per-view in dramatic fashion after not being on the card to this point.

    For both Roman Reigns vs. Undertaker and Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg, big moments unfolded in Philadelphia, but as part of incomplete stories. WWE doesn't have another week to add depth to Reigns' battle with The Deadman, though. We won't see any more altercations between Lesnar and Goldberg until The Show of Shows.

    How effective were Monday's matches and confrontations in garnering momentum ahead of the massive event? What bouts benefited from what went down in Philly?

    The following is a look at Raw, from Bayley's opening remarks to The Beast Incarnate taking a shot to the ribs.

    Begin Slideshow

    The UFC Should Embrace the Weirdness and Make Compelling Fights

    The UFC Should Embrace the Weirdness and Make Compelling Fights


    Last week, former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold made headlines when he called out former heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum. The two men have had issues for years, going back to when they both fought under the Strikeforce banner. In the...

    Last week, former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold made headlines when he called out former heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum. The two men have had issues for years, going back to when they both fought under the Strikeforce banner. In the absence of a meaningful hierarchy of challengers in the middleweight division, Rockhold said, he might as well fight Werdum in the meantime.

    "They're [the UFC] into making money fights, right?" said Rockhold on UFC Tonight. "They want to make a money fight, sell some tickets? Let's do this thing."

    One can argue whether the trend toward big-name fighters meeting in sometimes odd matchups is new or not in the WME-IMG era, or the current state of affairs is best understood as the continuation of the trend of the last year of the Zuffa era, which saw the return of Brock Lesnar and two bouts between Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor.

    What isn't arguable is that fighters' awareness of and willingness to seek out these kinds of bouts are absolutely on the upswing.

    Whether it's Rockhold pitching a fight with Werdum or Tyron Woodley seeking out matchups with Nick Diaz or Michael Bisping, rumors of wild pairings are constantly in the news. They're a continual facet of following the sport now, and not an occasional deviation (Randy Couture vs. James Toney, for example) from the baseline norms of the UFC's matchmaking.

    The UFC should fully embrace bouts like Rockhold vs. Werdum in this new and exciting age. There's no point in pining for a lost age of meritocracy in the UFC that never fully existed anyway, and if the UFC's goal is to make as much money as possible in the short term, then it needs to find creative ways of using the various pieces at their disposal.

    Let's break this down.

    In terms of pay-per-view sales, this is an increasingly star-driven age. Fans buy the biggest names in enormous quantities, meaning McGregor and Ronda Rousey (and before them Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva). The middle class of pay-per-view draws formerly occupied by fighters like BJ Penn, Rampage Jackson and a whole host of other big-name former champions has essentially disappeared.

    In the absence of a star like McGregor or Rousey, the UFC will occasionally be content with cards that draw low numbers, like the paltry 150,000 that Anthony Pettis vs. Max Holloway drew at UFC 206.

    Alternatively, the promotion can attempt to stack the card with a variety of meaningful bouts in the hope that quantity will entice fans to pay full price. That worked well for UFC 200, which drew 1.1 million buys on the strength of Brock Lesnar, Miesha Tate and Jose Aldo.

    Throwing a couple of champions on a card and hoping the aggregate effect will draw fans in isn't a bad option, and it's probably the best use of the belts for extremely talented and accomplished but not big-name fighters.

    This is what the UFC is trying with UFC 211 in Dallas, which features Stipe Miocic vs. Junior dos Santos for the heavyweight belt and a strawweight title fight between Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Jessica Andrade. It was the original plan for UFC 201, though Demetrious Johnson withdrew, and it worked at UFC 199, which featured Rockhold vs. Bisping for the middleweight strap and the trilogy fight between Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber.

    Champions are a commodity the UFC can use in a variety of ways; stacking cards with generic title fights is one, and matching them up with each other—McGregor vs. Alvarez and St-Pierre vs. Bisping both qualify in this regard—is another, though a bit dicier and harder to pull off.

    Beyond the champions, however, the UFC has a wide array of fighters under contract who have some measure of name value. These are often former champions, fighters like the aforementioned Rockhold and Werdum. In the current star-driven landscape, that's not enough name value to drive huge TV ratings or enormous pay-per-view buys, but that doesn't mean they have no value.

    If there's a market inefficiency, someplace where the UFC can make more creative money fights in the WME-IMG era with the resources at its disposal, it's through the clever use of these kinds of fighters.

    There's precedent for this. The UFC put together Nick Diaz and Anderson Silva, both somewhat faded but still with substantial followings, back in January 2015; the event was a surprise success, drawing 650,000 buys. On their own, neither Diaz nor Silva would have drawn that much as a pay-per-view headliner at that point; both fighters had lost two straight, Silva had suffered a devastating injury and neither had fought recently.

    Pitting the two against each other made the matchup more than the sum of its parts, and did so without disrupting a title picture or taking away pieces that might have been used in another fashion. Other examples of this dynamic include Daniel Cormier vs. Silva, a fight that came up on very short notice, and the Fight Night headlining bout of Frankie Edgar vs. Urijah Faber.

    So let's put our money where our mouth is and consider a few of these options. Cruz is capable of winning back his bantamweight title, but if the timing works out after Edgar's upcoming bout with Yair Rodriguez, why not match the two of them up? That might not be a pay-per-view killer, but it could be a strong co-main event to a big-time card or a headliner on Fox. 

    The next two months have both light heavyweight and heavyweight title fights booked. Why not match up the losers of those two fights? The size disparity isn't huge. If Stipe Miocic loses to Junior dos Santos, he'll have two losses to the champion; ditto for Anthony Johnson with Cormier. Miocic would be a long way from another title shot, and Cormier could find himself playing second fiddle to a returning Jon Jones.

    If Aldo loses his featherweight belt to Max Holloway in June at UFC 212, this might be the right time to finally make that long-lost fight with Pettis, one that was scheduled and then canceled back in 2013. A violence special between former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler and Donald Cerrone would be a nice touch.

    Rockhold vs. Werdum might prove to be a bit too wild for the UFC's tastes, but surely there are more productive uses for these former champions than slotting them back into matchups within their respective divisional hierarchies.

    Things are changing in the UFC; the question is one of degree, not whether those changes are in fact happening. Those changes don't have to be bad, though, and putting together big-name fighters in fun matchups serves the needs of both a UFC that is desperately trying to generate money fights and fans who would like to see fun, creative matchups.

    This is a way of doing both.

     

    All pay-per-view figures drawn from MMA Payout, which collects numbers from Dave Meltzer's Wrestling Observer Newsletter.

    Patrick Wyman is the Senior MMA Analyst for Bleacher Report and the co-host of the Heavy Hands Podcast, your source for the finer points of face-punching. For the history enthusiasts out there, he also hosts The Fall of Rome Podcast on the end of the Roman Empire. He can be found on Twitter and on Facebook.

    Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns Will Exceed Expectations at WWE WrestleMania 33

    Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns Will Exceed Expectations at WWE WrestleMania 33


    Despite negative fan reactions for Roman Reigns, his match against Undertaker at WrestleMania 33 will exceed the WWE Universe's lowered expectations. There is no question that the 52-year-old Undertaker is a legend, but he has lost a step or two in the...

    Despite negative fan reactions for Roman Reigns, his match against Undertaker at WrestleMania 33 will exceed the WWE Universe's lowered expectations.

    There is no question that the 52-year-old Undertaker is a legend, but he has lost a step or two in the ring recently and can't carry a match the way he did in his more formidable years.

    On the other hand, Reigns has improved his in-ring work, but he still needs to be working with an elite talent to get the most out of his matches. The issues with both Superstars have led to concern from hardcore wrestling fans about the quality of the bout.

    Luckily for the WWE Universe, Undertaker knows how to use his surroundings to his advantage and will turn this standard one-on-one bout into a legal hardcore match.

    By using the ring posts, the stairs, the guardrail and anything else that bends the rules, the two men don't have to focus on technical wrestling and can keep the fans enthralled with more dangerous moments.

    Undertaker is no stranger to getting physical on the outside of the ring, and he knows how to protect himself. Reigns has also proved he can thrive in a more hardcore setting—as he did against Bray Wyatt at Hell in a Cell 2015—which takes more pressure off both men to put on an in-ring clinic.

    By adding the hardcore element into the bout and letting Reigns and Undertaker only get back in the ring for big spots without forcing them to chain wrestle, the match will exceed expectations.

    In addition, Reigns continued to show Monday that he will be playing the heel in the match Sunday against Undertaker.

    While there is serious and deserved skepticism about whether he actually turns heel anytime soon or not, the reaction from those in attendance for both wrestlers will make the atmosphere in that moment unforgettable.

    With hardcore fans hating Reigns and respecting Undertaker for his contributions to the business, the wrestling fans in Orlando will make the staredown before the match begins between Reigns and The Deadman something the WWE Universe will never forget.

    By creating a unique moment and with the match likely to be better than expected, wrestling fans should take solace knowing Undertaker vs. Reigns will exceed the low expectations. 

    For more wrestling talk, listen to Ring Rust Radio for all of the hot topics or catch the latest episode in the player above (some language NSFW).

    LeBron James Suffers Spine Injury vs. Spurs; Says He Won't Miss Games

    LeBron James Suffers Spine Injury vs. Spurs; Says He Won't Miss Games


    The Cleveland Cavaliers are going through a rough patch, but at least LeBron James won't miss any time with an injury. Despite taking an elbow to the spine in Monday's game against the San Antonio Spurs, the superstar will play in his team's next game,...

    The Cleveland Cavaliers are going through a rough patch, but at least LeBron James won't miss any time with an injury.

    Despite taking an elbow to the spine in Monday's game against the San Antonio Spurs, the superstar will play in his team's next game, per Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com.

    "I'll be ready by Thursday," James said.

    The Cavaliers lost 103-74 to the Spurs on Monday. They will visit the Chicago Bulls on Thursday as they try to end a two-game losing streak.

    James needed 17 shots to score 17 points, and the rout was Cleveland's fourth loss in the last six games—with each setback by at least 12 points.

    The slide has allowed the Boston Celtics to take over first place in the Eastern Conference.

    While disappointing, the more important thing for the Cavs going forward is the health of key players. James has sat out three games since the All-Star break in order to remain fresh for the playoffs.

    Considering his importance to the team, Cleveland is likely to remain cautious with James with just nine games remaining in the regular season.