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)
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).