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).

Keeper Ederson hopeful he can score this season for Man City

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The prospects for a goalkeeper scoring during a match are usually uncommon, but that hasn’t halted Manchester City’s number one choice from aiming to break the trend this season.

Ederson — who has moved into the starting role at the Etihad Stadium with relative ease in 2017/18 — has dreamt of scoring a goal of his own for the Premier League champions in waiting.

“I heard the fans chanting my name, asking me to take the penalty but Gabriel went there,” Ederson said. “Unfortunately he missed it and Bernardo happily scored. But if the manager have asked me to go there, definitely I’d score.

“I’m not sure if I would be able to do set-pieces, but I’m good at penalties, either using power or technique on shooting it. But City have [their] regular penalty-takers and we are well-served.

Citizen supporters chanted for the goalkeeper to take a penalty kick over the weekend in the team’s 5-0 win over Swansea City.

However, Gabriel Jesus was the man selected for the opportunity, but had his attempt saved by Lukasz Fabianski before Bernardo Silva was in the right spot to score the game’s fifth goal.

“If Pep asks me to take it, I’m there,” Ederson said of the penalty kick. “Hopefully it will happen [before the end of the season], I’d like to score.”

This isn’t the first time Ederson has discussed exploring opportunities outside of the net, though.

The Brazilian shot-stopper has long been a fan of former Brazil international goalkeeper Rogero Ceni — who scored 65 goals for club side Sao Paolo.

Earlier this season, the 24-year-old joked around with the media, saying that he’d be more than happy to fill a role in the midfield when City was experiencing some injury issues within the squad.

Everton 1-0 Newcastle: Walcott blast has Toffees up to eighth

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Everton earned a 1-0 win against Newcastle on Monday behind Theo Walcott‘s second-half strike at Goodison Park.

The victory puts the Toffees into eighth place, leaping over Leicester City for the time being — as the Foxes have an extra game in hand.

[ MORE: Sweden coach says Ibra must reach out to have shot at World Cup ]

The former Arsenal man broke the deadlock six minutes into the second half when Walcott blasted the ball into the roof of the net following a lofted cross from Yannick Bolasie.

For Walcott, it’s his third goal since joining Everton in 2017/18 from the Gunners.

The visitors had their fair share of opportunities on the day, particularly through Ayoze Pérez, who was active all throughout the match.

Perez nearly broke the deadlock after the half hour mark when he tested goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in the 31st minute with a diving save in the bottom left corner.

Phil Jagielka came close four minutes later when his close-range attempt narrowly missed the top left corner after Michael Keane‘s flicked header off a corner kick.

The Spanish forward was at it again in the second stanza, and nearly found the back of the net when his header was saved in the center of the goal off of a cross from Kenedy.

Newcastle pushed hard for an equalizer in the dying moments, and even played up a man for a few minutes when Leighton Baines was tended to for a head injury, but the Magpies couldn’t even the score.

Sweden coach: Ibrahimovic must call in order to have chance at World Cup

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic recently raised the stakes when he said, “I am going to the World Cup, yes!” despite having previously declared his retirement from international soccer.

Although the LA Galaxy forward’s comments on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night show may not be a clear indication of his involvement in this summer’s World Cup in Russia, Ibrahimovic certainly has an interest in representing his native Sweden once again.

[ MORE: FIFA subjects Morocco 2026 bid to scrutiny ]

Now, all the veteran goalscorer has to do is pick up the phone and call Sweden coach Janne Andersson, according to the manager.

“He can do it,” Andersson told kicker. “But If he changes his opinion, contacts me and tells me ‘yes, I want to be part of it,’ then we’ll sit down and discuss what that would mean, how we play these days and so on. But that’s all speculation.

“I don’t know [if he’d still fit into the team]. But I also don’t think about it. I take the things as they come if they come. If you want to be part of it, you must call me. Easy as that.”

The 36-year-old retired from the international game following Sweden’s involvement in EURO 2016, and Andersson says that he had no intention of calling up Ibrahimovic prior to the media-driven questions surrounding the striker.

Ibrahimovic ranks first all-time for his homeland in goals scored (62) since debuting for Sweden back in 2001.

“Not him, or anyone else who retired. But there’s this media noise,” he said. “I have no problem with those questions [about a possible return]. Not with what he says or what is written in media.”

Several of Sweden’s current players, including goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson recently stated that bringing Ibrahimovic back into the fold may disrupt the rhythm created within the squad — who handled Italy in their World Cup qualifying playoff to reach the final tournament in June.

FIFA subjects 2026 Morocco World Cup bid to fresh scrutiny

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Morocco’s World Cup bid is facing fresh scrutiny this week with the arrival of another delegation from FIFA after an initial task force found deficiencies in the proposals for the 2026 tournament.

In a downbeat conclusion to the visit by the FIFA inspectors last week, Morocco’s bid leader acknowledged it had to improve the quality of the submission made to FIFA in March because inadequacies were identified by football’s governing body.

[ MORE: UCL semifinals predictions ]

The previously unplanned second inspection of Morocco is an indication of the more rigorous process introduced by FIFA following criticism in 2010 that World Cups were awarded to the riskiest nations in 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar).

There will also be closer scrutiny of human rights of the bidders before the vote on June 13 when Morocco is currently due to be taking on a joint challenge from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The Associated Press revealed last week Morocco did not declare its anti-LGBT law to FIFA in the human rights risk assessment included in the bid book. The documents – along with the North American submission – will now be scrutinized for any gaps by human rights experts.

“That process involves an expert third-party assessment of the robustness of the human rights content of both bids that will directly inform the administration’s own evaluation,” Rachel Davis, who sits on FIFA’s human rights advisory board, told the AP.

“We are confident that the process will result in a fair assessment of the human rights situation in all four countries involved in the bids, and a roadmap for how to deal with any deficiencies that FIFA will then require the successful bidder to commit to.”

Davis, who is managing director of the Shift human rights organization, said an evaluation of the human rights in the bidding nations will be included in a report to the FIFA Council, which will also assess the verdict of the evaluation task force. A bid with low scores can be blocked by the council from advancing to a vote of up to 207 football nations at the FIFA Congress on June 13.

While Morocco has said it needs to spend almost $16 billion on infrastructure for the 48-team World Cup, including building or renovating all 14 stadiums, North American does not require any tournament-specific building work. Morocco bid president Moulay Hafid Elalamy said at the end of the FIFA inspection that officials “made some remarks on the conditions of some of the stadiums.”

The new batch of technical staff being deployed from FIFA HQ to Morocco did not make a similar follow-up visit to North America after the task force inspected the rival bid’s facilities this month.

“Following the visit of the 2026 bid evaluation task force to Morocco last week, it was decided to have an additional working visit this week to complement the initial analysis of the task force and clarify some aspects of the bid,” FIFA told the AP.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup