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Preview: Manchester United vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea have the slight edge in the series of 42 PL games (14-13-15)
  • Frank Lampard has missed two of his last three penalties
  • Danny Wellbeck’s goals last week were his first in 19 PL games

In just the second week of the Premier League season, two of England’s biggest clubs square off in a huge clash at Old Trafford on Monday.

Manchester United host Chelsea (3pm ET, watch live on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports Live Extra) in David Moyes’ first home game in charge of the Red Devils… and José Mourinho is coming to town.

In the build up to this gigantic clash plenty of the talk has been about Moyes vs. Mourinho, as the two managers square up early this season in their new roles. Both managers were said to be the favorites to take over from Sir Alex Ferguson when the Scot retired last season, before Moyes got the nod.

Mourinho’s return will cast him as the villain in the awesome amphitheater that Old Trafford has become. Expect a cold reception for the “Special One” as his Chelsea side aim to make it three wins from three to open the season. If they do so, they’ll open up a six point gap between themselves and United early on.

But another subplot is brewing behind the focus on the managers. Enter the fray, Mr. Wayne Rooney.

The subject of two failed bids from Chelsea already this summer, Rooney’s demeanor and silence suggests he wants to leave the Red Devils and join Mourinho’s revolution at Chelsea. But will he start against the team he wants to join?

source: AP
Will Rooney and Torres be teammates next season?

Putting Rooney’s future to one side, United got off to a great start to the season last time out with a 4-1 win against Swansea as Robin van Persie scored two terrific goals and Danny Welbeck added a double. Rooney made a brief cameo against the Swans and all eyes will be on the England international forward on Monday.

As for Chelsea, two routine wins against Hull City and Aston Villa to begin the season made it seem like Mourinho had never left. The Chelsea boss won two Premier League titles in two and a half years in West London from 2004-07 before managing Inter Milan and Real Madrid.

But now he’s back at Stamford Bridge, Mourinho will be keen to make his mark early and this game against Untied offers Chelsea a marque opportunity to get ahead of their title rivals.

As for injuries, Manchester United have several worries ahead of the clash. Right back Rafael is out while Nani, Ashley Young and Javier Hernandez will all be missing for Moyes.

Chelsea’s Brazilian defender David Luiz could miss out, with the eccentric 26-year-old struggling with a hamstring injury. Of course this fixture last year saw Luiz get hacked down by Rafael near the corner flag, during Chelsea’s 2-1 win, and smirk to the crowd while his fellow Brazilian was given a red card.

Expect a frantic start in Manchester, as both teams aim to put their marker down for the season. Hold on tight, this could be a classic.

What they’re saying

Jose Mourinho on facing United at Old Trafford in the past:I knocked them out in the Champions League, I was knocked out by them in the Champions League. I have every result against them. Maybe I have won more than lost, but what playing Man United gives me is pleasure, I like it. Last year when Real Madrid were playing the Champions League knockout phase and everybody was in Madrid with some tension because at that early stage we have to play Man United, I was happy. I like the stadium, I like the opponent and I like the difficulty of the game.”

David Moyes on his first game at Old Trafford: “There has been a lot of things I have been looking forward to – like taking the team on tour and leading them out at Wembley. But to do it at Old Trafford for the first game against Chelsea is a thrill for me, it really is.”

Oscar on facing United: “If we win we can open up a gap of six points to Manchester United already, in addition to the fact they’re the champions and the importance a victory against them has. We know it will be difficult but nevertheless we know we can win at Old Trafford. We did it last year and we’ll hope to accomplish the same this year.”

Prediction

Such a tough game to call. United are at home and it’s David Moyes’ first league game at Old Trafford. The crowd will be buzzing and both sets of players will be desperate to steal a march on their close rivals. Chelsea will want to open up a six point gap over United, and as long as they lock down Van Persie I can see Mourinho’s men leaving with a win. Promises to be an end-to-end affair, and the Blues will just shade it. Advantage Mourinho.

Report: Granit Xhaka accused of racial abuse

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Granit Xhaka (R) of Arsenal protests to referee Jonathan Moss after shown a red card during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Burnley at the Emirates Stadium on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka has not had the best 48 hours of his life.

[ MORE: Coutinho key to Liverpool? ]

Xhaka, 24, was sent off for the ninth time in his career on Sunday for a two-footed lunge in Arsenal’s dramatic 2-1 win against Burnley.

It has new been reported by the Telegraph that Granit Xhaka has been accused of racially abusing a member of staff at Heathrow Airport on Monday, just over 24 hours after being sent off.

The Swiss midfielder, who joined Arsenal from Borussia Monchengladbach for $43.8 million in the summer, was reported by a third party for abusing the staff member as he dropped off a friend at Heathrow airport but they were then refused entry to security after turning up late for the flight.

Xhaka is said to have abused the staff member in German but he refutes the claim.

“Police were called at 19:29hrs on Monday, 23 January following an allegation that a member of staff had been racially abused at Heathrow Airport, Terminal Five. The allegation was made by a third party. Officers attended and spoke with a man in his 20s. He was not arrested. He voluntarily attended a west London police station where he was interviewed under caution. Enquires continue.”

Arsenal have no comment on what they call “a private matter” according to Sky Sports, but it has certainly not been a great 48 hours for the club who also had manager Arsene Wenger hit with a misconduct charge by the FA after being sent to the stands for his reaction at a late penalty kick was awarded to Burnley.

Wenger is also being investigated for an apparent push on fourth official Anthony Taylor as he watched from the tunnel area with many expecting Arsenal’s manager to receive a touchline ban.

Again, not a vintage 48 hours for Arsenal as they sit eight points clear of Chelsea and prepare for a pivotal week in their Premier League title hopes which culminates with a battle against their London rivals on Feb. 4 at Stamford Bridge.

How important is Philippe Coutinho to Liverpool?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24:  Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool scores their fourth goal during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Hull City at Anfield on September 24, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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With reports circulating that Philippe Coutinho‘s agent is in talks with Liverpool over a new deal, it is easy to see why the Reds want to reward the Brazilian playmaker.

[ MORE: Klopp on title chances

Coutinho, 24, is undoubtedly the key cog in Jurgen Klopp‘s offensive machine and since he went down with an ankle injury in November against Sunderland they’ve missed him being back to his best.

In the nine games since Coutinho was injured Liverpool have dropped 12 points in the Premier League. In the 13 PL games before his injury they dropped just nine.

Now, this isn’t down to one man but there’s no coincidence here. He makes Liverpool tick and as good as Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino have been, Coutinho is the main man. Even when you look at Liverpool’s defensive record, their much-maligned backline is slightly better with Coutinho in the team. They conceded 14 goals in 13 games before he was injured and they’ve conceded 13 in their last nine games.

Maybe that’s because Coutinho takes the pressure off his teammates by getting on the ball, dipping between the lines of defense and attack and easing pressure to allow Liverpool to dominant play rather than seeing them susceptible to counter attacks like we did against Swansea City.

Klopp’s main man started at Plymouth last week and against Swansea at the weekend, playing over an hour in each game and showing flashes of his ability. Slowly but surely he is getting back to his best and Liverpool need him to be fully fit for a pivotal stretch of games.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

On Wednesday they host Southampton in the EFL Cup semifinal second leg as the Reds trail 1-0 from the first leg. They then play an FA Cup game against second-tier Wolves and host Premier League leaders Chelsea next Wednesday in a game which they simply must win to have any hope of overhauling Chelsea to win the Premier League title.

Top four is the priority for Klopp’s men but keeping Coutinho fit and in-form is a close second.

This season he has scored five goals and added five assists in just 13 starts in the Premier League and Coutinho’s ability to thread balls in-behind to onrushing attackers, always seem to have time on the ball and ability to change the direction of play has been much missed by Liverpool over the past two months. It is inevitable that in recent displays Coutinho hasn’t looked as sharp as he did before he got injured but Klopp will be hoping the rust has been shaken off and he’s back to his best in the next week.

Along with Sadio Mane‘s absence at the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal (which will likely be until the first week of February at least as he led them to the knockout stages) Liverpool’s attack looks less dangerous and that extra bit of quality and pace is missing.

That’s because Mane and Coutinho have been missing.

With Mane away, more pressure is now on Coutinho’s shoulders.

Last season was Coutinho’s most productive of his career with 10 goals and seven assists in all competitions. He is well on the way to breaking that record this season based on goals and assists in the Premier League alone.

If Liverpool is going to at least finish in the top four this season and make at least one Wembley final, they have to keep calm and pass it to Coutinho.

He’ll do the rest.

Yaya Toure slams big money moves to China

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 21:  Yaya Toure of Manchester City looks on during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Manchester City and Sevilla at Etihad Stadium on October 21, 2015 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Yaya Toure is sick of hearing about players moving to the Chinese Super League for big money.

[ PLAYBACK: Ref calls cost Man City ]

Toure, 33, is out of contract at the Etihad Stadium this summer but after coming back into the fold at Manchester City in recent weeks (thanks to an apology from his agent to manager Pep Guardiola) he has been a key cog in central midfield and wants to stay at City.

The towering Ivorian midfielder has been instrumental since joining City in 2010 from Barcelona. Toure has won the FA Cup, two League Cups and two Premier League titles with City and has questioned what means more to players.

Money or enjoyment?

“I always say that if I went to China I would end up feeling angry there. Do you play football because you love football, or do you play because you want to make money? What’s the purpose?” Toure said. “Me, I just want to play football because I enjoy it, I love playing. I enjoy helping my team-mates, I enjoy playing against the big players and teams. I want to carry on in that way. Some people have the mentality that they want to do that, to try something different but, for me, my feeling is that I want to play more football.”

Toure also said that he hopes to remain at City beyond the end of his current deal which expires in the summer.

“I’ve said before that I’ve been involved with a lot of clubs but, especially at City, I want to give something back to the fans,” Toure said. “I’d like to continue to work hard for them, keep giving them entertainment, keep them happy – that’s what I want. If I was tired, I’d say ‘no more, move on’, but I don’t feel like that. I feel very, very good. I feel young.”

Over to you Pep and Man City. Toure clearly wants to say.

Toure certainly has a lot more to give and now that Pep is on board, a two-year extension would surely be signed if it was offered.

The song below becomes more and more poignant. All together now…

Hull give latest update on Ryan Mason after skull fracture

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Ryan Mason of Hull City is examined by a medical staff after the collision with Gary Cahill of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Hull City at Stamford Bridge on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Ryan Mason is making “excellent progress” after fracturing his skull in Hull City’s 2-0 defeat at Chelsea on Sunday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Mason, 25, collided with Chelsea’s Gary Cahill when challenging for a header in the first half.

The English midfielder has since been diagnosed with a fracture in his skull and has undergone surgery at a central London hospital

On Tuesday the Premier League club gave the latest update on Mason’s condition.

The Club can confirm that Ryan Mason continues to make excellent progress after sustaining a skull fracture in Sunday’s game against Chelsea. He will continue to be closely monitored by staff at St Mary’s Hospital over the next few days, whilst also remaining in contact with our medical team to assess his progress. There will be no further updates from the club until there are any changes in Ryan’s condition. We also ask that people respect Ryan and his family’s privacy whilst he remains in hospital.

Mason has been visited in hospital by Chelsea’s John Terry, Gary Cahill and assistant manager Steve Holland, plus Hull captain Michael Dawson and members of their staff have also been by his side.

This is very promising news.