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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).

Xavi backs Dybala, Verratti to succeed at Barcelona over Pogba

TURIN, ITALY - JANUARY 24:  Paulo Dybala (R) of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal with team mate Paul Pogba during the Serie A match between Juventus FC and AS Roma at Juventus Arena on January 24, 2016 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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With Paul Pogba linked with a possible summer move to Barcelona worth more than $100 million, one legend at Camp Nou believes Pogba may not be the right signing.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

After making more than 700 appearances for Barcelona, Xavi knows the club as well as anyone, and he prefers Pogba’s Juventus teammate Paulo Dybala for a move to the Catalan giants.

Xavi also praised the play of Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti, saying that while Pogba is a star player, Dybala and Verratti have “Barca DNA.”

There’s two players I really like, both of whom I think have Barca’s DNA. They are Marco Verratti and Paulo Dybala.

They are amazing and, thanks to their quality and style of play, would easily integrate into the [Barca] machine. I see them as future stars at the club.

[Pogba] is a great player. He’ll be a star for France as he is for Juve, but I see him with a different game to ours.

Both Pogba and Dybala are 22-years-old, while Verratti is 23. All three players have been among the elite young talents in the world, with Pogba earning the most praise of the group and always linked with a big-money move to Europe’s top clubs.

[ RELATED: Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career ]

Dybala is enjoying a breakout season at Juventus, currently with 13 goals and eight assists in Serie A play. In Paris, Verratti is part of a PSG side that hasn’t lost in 25 matches and holds a 24-point lead at the top of the table.

Vincent Kompany set to make Manchester City return this weekend

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at Etihad Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Manchester, England.
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Vincent Kompany is set to make his first appearance for Manchester City since Boxing Day as the defender has returned from injury.

City’s captain and center-back missed more than six weeks with a calf injury before Christmas, and then reaggravated the injury just minutes into his return at the end of December.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

However, Kompany has been back in training and manager Manuel Pellegrini said he is fit to play this weekend when City host Tottenham in a huge top-four matchup.

We’ll see what the starting XI is tomorrow – we’re not just thinking about one player and one game, we’re involved in a lot of competitions. Maybe we have a lot of criticism when we don’t play well but I’m happy with the squad over the whole season.

Every player must play a game when they’re 100%. Vincent has worked for three weeks with no problems. He played 45 minutes in a friendly game against the under-21s and I think he’s ready to play.

Kompany’s presence in the City back-line has been pivotal this season. In the eight Premier League games Kompany has started, City have kept seven clean sheets. In the 18 matches without the big Belgian in the starting lineup, City have kept just five.

[ RELATED: Diego Costa suffers broken nose in Chelsea training ]

With City just a point behind Tottenham, Kompany returns from injury just in time for one of the biggest matches of the season. Tasked with slowing down Harry Kane and Spurs’ high-flying attack, Kompany’s play could prove crucial to the Citizens getting a result.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Newcastle United

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  • CFC unbeaten under Hiddink (W5, D6)
  • Newcastle have just 6 away goals all season
  • Diego Costa: 6 goals in his last 7 PL matches

Chelsea look to extend their unbeaten streak under Guus Hiddink to 12 matches on Saturday when the Blues host relegation-threatened Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

The Blues’ last loss came under Jose Mourinho in December.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Chelsea are up to 13th on the table, currently riding a run of 11 matches unbeaten in all competitions. Guus Hiddink is yet to suffer a loss after taking over for his second stint at Stamford Bridge in December, although draws have kept Chelsea from climbing further up the table. Diego Costa has had the hot-hand with six goals in his last seven appearances, but the Spanish striker will be forced to play with a mask after suffering a broken nose in training.

[ MORE: Hiddink has “no fear” of playing youngsters in Zouma’s absence ]

For Newcastle, the Magpies sit 17th on the table just one point above the drop. Their away form has hurt the club all season, as Steve McClaren‘s men have scored a league-low six goals on the road this year. The Magpies are coming off of a win over West Brom, and supporters will be hoping the club’s new January signings continue to produce. Seydou Doumbia could make his Premier League debut on Saturday, which would be a massive boost to the attack.

What they’re saying

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink: “The status of being unbeaten sounds good but realistically we would have wished to have more victories, especially at home. And we have an opportunity to do so against Newcastle. They improved their squad with substance, some good signings, and they are more competitive now.”

Newcastle boss Steve McClaren: “In our home games we are starting to get a consistency in our performance and the way we play. We need to start transferring that to our away games and picking up points away from home – we owe it to the fans.”

Prediction

Newcastle have just two wins in their last 18 league matches away from home, and I don’t see that trend changing this weekend. Chelsea have looked a new team with Guus Hiddink in charge, and they stay unbeaten under the Dutchman. Chelsea 2-1 Newcastle United.

Pochettino enjoying best spell of career ahead of massive clash at Man City

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Mauricio Pochettino (R) Manager of Tottenham Hotspur is seen on arrival at the stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur at Selhurst Park on January 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Mauricio Pochettino is getting ready for one of his biggest matches in charge at Tottenham, but he’s not letting the pressure get to him.

The Spurs’ boss talked down the importance of Sunday’s match against Manchester City (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra), and went on to say he is currently having the most enjoyable time of his career.

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

Pochettino has Tottenham sitting second on the table, and they travel to the Etihad this weekend for a clash against fourth-placed Manchester City, who sit one point behind Spurs.

When asked if this weekend’s match could be a decisive result in the title race, Pochettino was unwilling to admit it was anything more than three points in a long campaign. However, when asked about the season as a whole, the Argentinian manager said he was having great fun at White Hart Lane, responding “Is it my most enjoyable time of career? Yes, maybe yes if I’m honest.”

[ MORE: Who are the Premier League title favorites? ]

Pochettino’s work at Tottenham has made him one of the most well-respected managers in the Premier League, with some reports tabbing him as the potential future boss of Manchester United.

Spurs have won six on the spin in all competitions, and will be confident facing a City side they smashed 4-1 earlier this season. With leaders Leicester facing Arsenal on Sunday, Tottenham could see themselves just two points off the pace if results go their way.