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Premier League Sunday Preview: Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United and City can make up points on Arsenal

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Arsenal’s leadership in the Premier League is surprising enough. But seven points as calendar turns to December?

Four high-profile PL contenders are in action Sunday, increasingly desperate to keep up.

Some of that gap is about Arsenal gaining all three points on Saturday, while two of its closest pursuers, Liverpool and Chelsea, join the Week 13 action on Sunday.  Current champs Manchester United and Manchester City, both a little further back in the table than most of us suspected, also appear on Sunday’s schedule .

As always, you can watch feature matches on NBC Sports Network and watch every game live this season online via NBC Sports Live Extra and the NBC Sports Live Extra App.

Here is a look at the foursome of contests coming up:

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Manchester United (NBCSN, 7:00 am ET)

Teams beginning to move in opposite directions meet in North London. Andre Villas-Boas (pictured above) and his Spurs are certainly eager to wash away the bitter taste of last week’s 6-0 embarrassment at Manchester City. (In fact, “embarrassing” is the very word Tottenham’s manager used to describe Spurs’ painfully off night.) The speculation on Villas-Boas’ future at White Hart Lane went immediately into overdrive after that stinker, as you would expect.

David Moyes and his Red Devils weren’t at their Premier League best either last week in a draw with Cardiff (where Manchester United lost two leads, in fact). But November was generally good to the Old Trafford bunch, especially with developments earlier this week.

Ryan Giggs was introduced to help stabilize an occasionally underperforming central midfield (two days before the man’s 40th birthday), and United produced perhaps its best overall performance under the club’s first-year boss, a stunning and comprehensive 5-0 Champions League win at Bayer Leverkusen.

Starting striker Robin Van Persie (groin) and center back Nemanja Vidic (concussion) remain questionable for Manchester United; final decisions will be subject to pre-game fitness tests. A groin injury makes Tottenham striker Emmanuel Adebayor doubtful.

Hull vs. Liverpool (NBCSN, 9:05 a.m. ET)

source: APLiverpool has lost just twice this year, but is this a bit of a “trap match,” facing a team in the bottom half while coming off last weekend’s emotional Merseyside derby?

And it won’t help that Liverpool’s fine young striker Daniel Sturridge is expected to miss another match as these teams meet for the first time since the final match day of 2009-10.

Still, Liverpool come into this one with far more striking power than offensively challenged Hull; Brendan Rogers’ team has outscored Sunday’s opposition 24-9 this year. Luis Suarez (pictured left) has nine of Liverpool’s strikes in just seven league appearances. Overall, midfield fixture Steven Gerrard and his team have feasted against the league laggards, having won all six games in 2013 against clubs from the bottom half.

Hull and manager Steve Bruce will hope to return to better ways at home, having suffered the season’s first home defeat in Premier League matches last weekend, against bottom-on-the-table Crystal Palace, no less. They’ll need goals to do so; Bruce’s team has scored just three times in league since September.

Strikers will be on the list as Bruce and Co. go shopping in January – but that’s not going to help Sunday at the KC Stadium.

Chelsea vs. Southampton (NBCSN, 11:10 a.m. ET)

Things have been threatening to go a little sideways lately for Chelsea, as Jose Mourinho’s team needed a controversial penalty to dodge defeat two weeks ago at home against West Brom. Just a few days ago, his team was upset at Basel in mid-week Champions League play (although the Blues still qualified for the knockout stages, backing in to the lucrative competition’s Round of 16).

Sunday’s match is back in West London, where the manager does still have that showy 66-match unbeaten streak in the Premier League play. Mourinho says he doesn’t expect Southampton to play defensively, but rather to remain true to its free flowing ways, which means this one could be a real joy to watch.

Maurico Pochettino’s Southampton is one of the real surprise stories, currently level with far higher profile Manchester City, tied for sixth.

Manchester City vs. Swansea (Premier League Extra Time, 11:10 a.m. ET):

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has another tough choice to make in goal, where he can go with Costel Pantilimon or slightly fallen fixture Joe Hart for Sunday’s match at the Etihad. It will be an even bigger choice if captain and back line leader Vincent Kompany remains out with a thigh injury.

And the City manager always has attacking options for his high-scoring side, of course; His club leads all PL teams with 34 goals. That’s why we’ll look for Swansea to play quite defensively against a club that really tends to pour it on at home – 26 goals so far in just six league matches at the Etihad, in fact. Sergio Agüero and Álvaro Negredo lead the way, with 15 goals between them in all matches (home and away).

Second coach in England loses job after newspaper sting

BARNSLEY, ENGLAND - JULY 23:  Tommy Wright assistant head coach of Barnsley during the pre-season friendly match between Barnsley and Everton at Oakwell Stadium on July 23, 2016 in Barnsley, England. (Photo by Clint Hughes/Getty Images)"n
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BARNSLEY, England (AP) A British newspaper investigation led to a second soccer coach getting fired in England on Thursday.

Two days after Sam Allardyce lost his job as England manager following an undercover operation by the Daily Telegraph, second-tier club Barnsley fired assistant coach Tommy Wright.

Wright was filmed apparently accepting an envelope which the Telegraph said contained 5,000 pounds ($6,500) from a fake Asian firm to help place players at the northern club. Video footage was released by the newspaper late Wednesday and Wright was immediately suspended by Barnsley.

[ MORE: Man Utd-Zorya recap | Zlatan reacts ]

“After considering Mr. Wright’s response to allegations in today’s Daily Telegraph about breaching (Football Association) rules over player transfers, Mr. Wright was dismissed,” the club said after a meeting with the coach on Thursday.

Barnsley said it was “unaware of such matters or involved in any wrongdoing.”

The English Football Association decided to terminate Allardyce’s contract on Tuesday after video showed him appearing to offer advice to fictitious businessmen on how to sidestep an outlawed player transfer practice and also negotiating a 400,000 pound ($519,000) public-speaking contract to top up an annual England salary of 3 million pounds ($4 million).

English soccer is reeling after three days of accusations by the newspaper following its months-long investigation into alleged wrongdoing in the game.

Second-tier Queens Park Rangers is investigating footage that appeared to show its coach, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, seeking a fee of 55,000 pounds ($71,600) to work for a fake Far Eastern firm that had suggested selling players to the second-tier London club.

[ MORE: JPW hangs with USMNT prospect Gooch ]

Hasselbaink denied any wrongdoing, saying he was only offered a fee to make a speech in Singapore and did not ask QPR to sign players said to have been represented by the fake firm. QPR said it had “every confidence” in Hasselbaink, and its chief executive and director of football spoke to Hasselbaink on Thursday to get his version of events.

QPR said it wanted to view an unedited version of the video footage and a full transcript.

Hasselbaink, a former Chelsea and Leeds striker, will prepare the QPR team for the league match against Fulham on Saturday.

The Daily Telegraph also filmed an agent accusing 10 managers, which it did not name, of taking bribes linked to player transfers.

Premier League Preview: Everton vs. Crystal Palace

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 16: Yannick Bolasie of Crystal Palace chases down Seamus Coleman of Everton  during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Crystal Palace at Goodison Park on April 16, 2014 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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  • Lukaku back for Everton
  • Bolasie faces former club
  • Palace on three-match win streak

An angry Everton looks to make amends from a rough outing, when improving Crystal Palace pays a visit to Goodison Park on Friday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on USA Network and online via NBC Sports).

The Toffees fell 1-0 to Bournemouth last weekend, dropping out of the Top Four after a strong start to the season.

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After winning three-straight over lower table competition, Palace gets a big test in Everton. Road wins over Northeast opponents Sunderland and Middlesbrough highlights the run, which includes a home win over Stoke City.

Yannick Bolasie has been very good for Everton, and now gets his first look at former club Palace. And he’ll have company in Romelu Lukaku, who’s passed a fitness test and will start the match.

What they’re saying

Everton’s Gerard Deulofeu on Friday night football: “It’s a different day for us, it’s not normal to play on a Friday but it’s a good chance to put on a good performance and get a win for the Toffees to enjoy. It’s a good opportunity for us to take three points because we are coming into the game on the back of a loss to Bournemouth.”

Alan Pardew on Bolasie’s return: “I love Yala but I just hope he is not going to have one of his super games that he is capable of but of course he will be looking to impress. He has nothing to prove to us or our fans, they still love him although I don’t think they are particularly happy that they have the song but that type of thing goes with a club signing big players.”

Prediction

Alan Pardew‘s charges will have a lot of trouble with Bolasie, the sort of player who has given Palace fits in the past. Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka also present the sort of center back pairing that can handle a Christian Benteke type, so look for Everton to win at home, 2-0.

Mourinho praises Rooney, stays level after Manchester United’s third-straight win

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 29:  Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United celebrates following his sides 1-0 victory during the UEFA Europa League group A match between Manchester United FC and FC Zorya Luhansk at Old Trafford on September 29, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho implored Manchester United to relax after a three-match losing streak included losses to Manchester City, Feyenoord, and Watford.

So it makes sense that the Portuguese boss isn’t throwing a parade after United went in the other direction with a trio of wins over Northampton Town, Leicester City, and Zorya Luhansk.

[ MORE: Match recap | Zlatan reacts ]

“One week, three defeats. One week, three victories,” Mourinho explained after Thursday’s 1-0 win over Zorya at Old Trafford.

“But I was not depressed by the defeats and I am not over the moon with three wins.”

United looked ready to score from the opening whistle, but only found a single goal. Mourinho went out of his way to praise substitute Wayne Rooney, whose flubbed shot turned into an assist to Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

From the BBC:

“Since the first minute we were waiting for the goal but it didn’t arrive. You never know what happens and Sergio Romero made a good save when the score was 0-0.

“I had good players on the bench to help change the game. Wayne Rooney gave us different positions and speed when the opposing team was getting tired.”

United has a visit from Stoke City before the international break, with Sunday’s Premier League kickoff slated for 7 a.m. ET.

Zlatan after Manchester United win: “I expect much more from the team”

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 29:  Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrate following their sides 1-0 victory during the UEFA Europa League group A match between Manchester United FC and FC Zorya Luhansk at Old Trafford on September 29, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Manchester United has gone from a three-match losing streak to a three-match winning streak after Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s second half goal led the Red Devils to a 1-0 win over Zorya Luhansk at Old Trafford on Thursday.

The UEFA Europa League match was heavily titled in United’s favor, as Jose Mourinho’s men controlled the ball but didn’t find a finish outside of their big Swedish striker.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

Ibrahimovic was happy to pick up all three points after losing the group stage opener to Feyenoord, but expects better moving forward.

From the BBC:

“It was not an easy game, we played well, created chances but this is a typical game. When you don’t score in the beginning, the spaces get smaller and smaller. After the goal, we had more space but it was a decent game. We won and that is what counts after losing against Feyenoord.

“If you want to go through, you need to win the game, we did that. We could have done much more though and I expect much more from the team. We did not score as we did against Leicester but it is good for confidence. If we continue this and step it up, we will do good.”

United didn’t look like they’d concede a goal during the match aside from a very brief stretch early in the second half. Next up is an Oct. 20 trip to Fenerbahce.