West Bromwich Albion vs. Everton: Can new Albion boss Pepe Mel get a surprise win?

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Romelu Lukaku returns to The Hawthorns on Monday (3 p.m. ET; watch life on NBCSN and live online viaNBC Sports Live Extra), with his task to help Everton emerge victorious against West Bromwich Albion, the side he did so much to help while on loan there last season.

The Belgian striker scored 17 goals in the league for West Brom in his time with the Baggies – a number that the struggling side are sorely missing at the moment. The Midlands outfit has but 23 goals thus far, with top scorer Saido Berahino notching four, and second best, Shane Long, has just moved to Hull City. With just one win in their last eleven matches, West Brom are currently 14th in the table, just three points above the relegation zone.

But that may all be about to change. Pepe Mel will take the reins for the first time on Monday night, set to put Albion back on track. Mel comes in after being sacked from Real Betis last month, with the side bottom of the La Liga table. That shouldn’t worry West Brom supporters too much: Juan Carlos Garrido was fired from the same post this weekend, after the side lost 5-0 to Real Madrid. And let’s not forget that just last season, Betis finished seventh, qualifying for Europa League. Mel could be just the man to pull the Baggies out of their slump.

(WATCH: West Brom vs. Everton live on NBCSN, 3 p.m. ET Monday and online via Live Extra)

Everton aren’t about to play the role of gracious visitors, allowing Mel to have his dream debut. With a win, the Toffees could go above rivals Liverpool, but even more importantly, three points put them in fourth, the coveted final Champions League position.

The visitors have but two losses to their name, one at Manchester City and the other, oddly enough, at home to Sunderland. They’re undefeated in their last three and will obviously look to extend that run. Under Roberto Martinez, Everton are playing a much more attractive sort of soccer, with an emphasis on free-flowing attack that prevents their opponents from seeing much of the ball. And they’re deadly on set pieces, whether it’s a corner or a free kick sent in from Leighton Baines or Kevin Mirallas.

Everton have a couple concerns, however. They’re without midfielder Ross Barkley, who’s been a bright spot this season, as he’s suffering from a broken toe. And the aforementioned Lukaku has hit a bit of a rough patch, having not scored since the end of November. However, that just might mean the Belgian is due…

 What they’re saying

New West Brom boss Pepe Mel on changing the side’s approach: “West Brom need to have an aggressive approach and – in my personal opinion – create more goal-scoring ­opportunities. The players are showing an awful lot of desire to adapt to my model. They are being very positive. I’m convinced things are going to go well here and they are going to be a success. They are more than capable of having a good rest of the season.”

Everton manager Roberto Martinez on Pepe Mel‘s appointment: “I think he will surprise a lot of people. He has been very successful in his time in Spain. The first time I was aware of his work was at Rayo Vallecano when he got them promoted to the top league against the odds with a very small budget and since then he has done a remarkable job wherever he has been. It is probably the wrong time to face Pepe Mel, but we wish him the best of luck after Monday.”

Prediction

Draw. With eight draws for Everton and nine for West Brom, these sides are far and away the best at coming out of games with a point. The reverse fixture ended in a goalless draw at Goodison Park back in August, although Everton did manage to hit the woodwork twice. Finally, Pepe Mel knows how important it is to make a good first impression in front of the home fans, but the visitors are simply a stronger side. He may decide to play it safe, as even a draw against the Toffees would likely spell success.

AT THE HALF: Manchester derby scoreless after 45 minutes

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After 45 minutes, the final Manchester derby of the 2016-17 Premier League season — the one that’ll go a long, long way toward deciding which of the city’s sides will finish in the top-four — is scoreless, but not without incident.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

The game’s best chances thus far fell Manchester City’s way, as Sergio Aguero missed a clear-cut chance after 10 minutes — Kevin De Bruyne whipped in the perfect ball to the back post, and Aguero put it wrong side of David De Gea‘s post.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Ander Herrera has, once again, be Manchester United’s danger man, combining well with Marcus Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but Claudio Bravo made the one save he was forced into during the first half. One thing to keep an eye on during the final 45 minutes: Rashford picked up a knock very early on, and struggled to move around the field after that.

STREAM LIVE: The Manchester Derby

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The third Manchester Derby of the season is the first away from Old Trafford, as Manchester United visits Manchester City (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday.

There’s much on the line, as the sides sit just two points apart in the race for the Top Four. Man City would leapfrog third-place Liverpool with a win, while United could join the Reds on 66 points with a match-in-hand.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Sergio Aguero starts for Man City, with Gabriel Jesus on the bench.

On the other side, it’ll be a physical middle-third guarded by Ander Herrera, Michael Carrick, and Marouane Fellaini. Wayne Rooney and Jesse Lingard start on the bench.

LINEUPS

Manchester City: Bravo, Zabaleta, Kompany (C), Otamendi, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Sterling, De Bruyne, Sane, Aguero. Subs: Caballero, Sagna, Fernando, Navas, Clichy, Gabriel Jesus, A. Garcia

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Blind, Darmian; Herrera, Carrick, Fellaini, Mkhitaryan; Rashford, Martial. Subs: Romero, Shaw, Fosu-Mensah, Tuanzebe, Young, Lingard, Rooney.

Ex-Liverpool CEO shares biting story of Suarez transfer

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Ian Ayre’s got jokes.

The former Liverpool CEO lifted the lid on some transfer stories during a Merseyside lecture this week.

Of note, Ayre admitted that the club thought Dele Alli demanded too much given what he had produced when the Reds has the chance to sign him as a 16-year-old, and said that Liverpool could’ve landed Alexis Sanchez but the player wanted to live in London (“We couldn’t move the football club to London, unfortunately,” he quipped).

The best part relayed by Sky Sports had to do with Luis Suarez, and shows the relentless nature of the transfer market. Clearly Barcelona had interest in Suarez before the fiery striker bit Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup, because, well…

“I remember the sporting director of Barcelona calling me during that game, immediately as Suarez bit the player, and he said to me ‘my friend, he’s bitten somebody, how can this be the price?’ I said ‘he’d already bitten somebody when you first bid!'”

We’re sure there’s a certain amount of storytelling in there, but undoubtedly some truth.

Given Barca paid a reported $84 million for the striker, the asking price couldn’t have started that much higher.

Men in Blazers podcast: Chelsea tops Spurs, Top Four predictions

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Rog and Davo return to discuss Chelsea’s FA Cup semifinal victory over Spurs, update their Top Four predictions (again), and dive into the depths of the relegation zone. Plus, the very important movement to change “Hudson Street” to “Ray Hudson Street.”

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