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Premier League Preview: Despite Mourinho’s claims, title hopes on the line when Chelsea visits Manchester City

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If Chelsea can’t beat Manchester City at the Etihad, one might reckon nobody in the Premier League can.

Having scored 42 goals in their friendly confines, Manchester City have a chance to pick up an enormous win to not only go top of the table but shatter Chelsea’s hopes at finishing first.

The two teams meet in the City of Manchester Stadium at 3pm ET Monday on NBCSN and live online at NBC Sports Live Extra.  Coverage will begin at 2:30.

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has been at his usual mind games ahead of the match, declaring that Manchester City should have won more titles in the recent years, but also oddly declaring they are “not title candidates” and that the Premier League title is “not what we’re working for.”

He also declared that Manchester City are not the best team in the world as Tottenham boss Tim Sherwood claimed, but instead, “They are lucky,” he declared, suggesting the referees have given them “everything in their favor.”

Lucky or good, Manchester City have a sparkling home record that has been highlighted week in and week out, and yet the longer it extends the more it bears repeating.

Not only do they have 42 of their 68 goals this season at home, but those goals have translated directly into points – a perfect 11 of 11 at the Etihad.

source: Getty Images
Even the calm, collected Pellegrini has trouble keeping his emotions in when he faces off with Jose Mourinho.

There is a history between Mourinho and City manager Manuel Pellegrini.  The former supplanted the latter after just one season at Real Madrid, which left Pellegrini bitter as ever at the lack of a serious opportunity to build a squad of his own.

He’s never let Mourinho live it down, and Jose has always held it over his counterpart’s head.  It didn’t help the situation that the Blues defeated their lighter-tinted opponents in the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge in the midst of Joe Hart’s dark days.

Since then, Manchester City have embarrassed team after team at the Etihad, with scorelines like 7-0 over Norwich, 6-0 over Tottenham, 4-1 over Manchester United, and 6-3 over Arsenal.  No doubt Pellegrini would be delighted if he could add Chelsea to that ever-growing list.

However, with Chelsea on their own bit of a run, this could be Pellegrini’s toughest test at home thus far, and he will have to complete the quest without leading scorer Sergio Aguero who popped his hamstring midweek.

That means Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo will take over the reigns in City’s furious attack, something they did earlier in the season when Aguero missed time with the same problem, and the team didn’t miss a beat.

City won all five matches during that stretch, including 2-1 at home over Liverpool, and putting four past Fulham and three on Swansea both on the road. However, they are also dealing with a long-term injury layoff for Samir Nasri, and missing both will seriously impair their attack.

A key player in the battle, thanks to the injuries, may be Stevan Jovetic.  The Serbian has barely featured this season, but the quality summer addition can without question be a spark the team needs with the current nucleus on the sidelines.

Eventually, however, it all comes back to the managers.  Will Mourinho play disciplined defense and look to absorb pressure and counter City when given the chance? Or will they take the bull by the horns and press early? Will Pellegrini let his dogs loose from the get-go and look to shock the visitors, or will they sit back and build from defense?

And finally, Pellegrini will hope he can  get Mourinho off his shoulders and finally gazump the perpetual thorn in his side, but if anyone can stop the City train in its tracks, its Chelsea.  They’ve kept clean sheets at Old Trafford and the Emirates.  Is the Etihad next on the list?

VIDEO: Premier League Team of the Week – Round 25

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In a week where defenders scored critical goals, it’s no surprise to see a 4-3-3 in the Premier League’s Team of the Week.

Robert Huth‘s brace while blanking Manchester City leads the way for the PL’s top XI from the weekend, while Southampton’s vaunted back line and keeper have two in mix.

[ MORE: Ailing Chelsea, Man Utd showcase obvious deficiencies ]

Liverpool and Arsenal both put offensive forces on the team, while big goals for safety hopefuls Newcastle United and Aston Villa found three players between the two in the XI.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Premier League Team of the Week — Round 25 ARCHIVE ]

Goalkeeper: Fraser Forster (Southampton)

Defenders: Kieran Trippier (Tottenham Hotspur), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Robert Huth (Leicester City), Joleon Lescott (Aston Villa)

Midfielders: Aaron Lennon (Everton), Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)

Forwards: Roberto Firmino (Liverpool), Aleksandar Mitrovic (Newcastle United), Gabriel Agbonlahor (Aston Villa)

Premier League Player of the Week — Round 25

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Score one for the Midlands.

In a season for lowlights, Aston Villa captain Gabriel Agbonlahor is celebrating a bit of hope for his beleaguered club after his classy finish gave the 29-year-old his first goal of the season.

[ REACTION: Agbonlahor says Villa now ready to produce great escape ]

It also inspired Villa to consider that eight points off the Premier League safety chase isn’t unrealistic if it can put together some more gritty performances like the 2-0 defeat of Norwich City on Saturday.

Premier League Players of the Week

Week 1: Riyad Mahrez, Leicester City

Week 2: Romelu Lukaku, Everton

Week 3: Callum Wilson, Bournemouth

Week 4: Bafetimbi Gomis, Swansea City

Week 5: Steven Naismith, Everton

Week 6: Anthony Martial, Manchester United

Week 7: Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal

Week 8: Sergio Aguero, Manchester City

Week 9: Raheem Sterling, Manchester City

Week 10: Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur

Week 11: Arouna Kone, Everton

Week 12: Jesse Lingard, Manchester United

Week 15: Riyad Mahrez, Leicester City

Week 16: Ayoze Perez, Newcastle United

Week 17: Odion Ighalo, Watford

Week 19: Xherdan Shaqiri, Stoke City

Week 20: Jermain Defoe, Sunderland

Week 21: Jermain Defoe, Sunderland

Week 22: Sergio Aguero, Manchester City

Week 23: Dele Alli, Tottenham Hotspur

Week 24: Fraser Forster, Southampton

Week 25: Gabriel Agbonlahor, Aston Villa

Napoli fans wear Koulibaly masks to support defender after racial abuse

NAPLES, ITALY - FEBRUARY 07:  Fans of Napoli  during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Carpi FC at Stadio San Paolo on February 7, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
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Napoli fans showed their support for Kalidou Koulibaly on Sunday after the Senegalese center-back was the subject of racial abuse in a match against Lazio last week.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

The Lazio match was temporarily stopped in the second half as Lazio supporters hurled racial insults at Koulibaly.

At Napoli’s match against Carpi on Sunday, fans wore Koulibaly masks and painted signs in his honor to show their support for the 24-year-old defender.

A statement from Napoli’s supporters’ group read: “Everyone in Naples is offended by what happened to our young star. Because of this, we want to show our full support to Koulibaly.”

[ VIDEO: Van Gaal rips journalist who questions his Manchester United future ]

Lazio was fined more than $50,000 and will be forced to close certain sections of their stadium for the next two league matches because of the incident.

Afobe says he scored 15 goals a game with Harry Kane at the Arsenal academy

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on February 2, 2016 in London, England.
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Benik Afobe and Harry Kane are Premier League foes, but as kids, they were teammates.

Now Afobe is at Bournemouth and Kane at Tottenham, though both strikers played together with the Arsenal U-9 team as children.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal ]

While Kane left Arsenal at 10 and eventually settled at crosstown rivals Tottenham, Afobe stayed under contract with the club until 2015 despite never making an appearance for the Gunners.

Afobe went on six loan spells before moving to Wolverhampton last season, then joining Bournemouth in January.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

With three goals in his first five Premier League matches for the Cherries, Afobe is no stranger to scoring, as he said he would combine with Harry Kane for 15 goals a game back in the day.

I’ve got pictures of us from Arsenal.

He was so small at the time, a bit of a late developer, but he’s always loved scoring. The scores used to be 17-15 and stuff – we just knew we’d score in every game.

But it’s weird because he used to play in goal sometimes, and wasn’t bad actually. You wouldn’t think it – remember that goal he let in for Tottenham a couple of years ago (against Asteras Tripolis in the Europa League) when he had to play in goal.

I think Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs’ supporters are happy Harry Kane chose to play striker over goalkeeper…

[ MORE: Deficiencies visible on both sides as Chelsea draw Manchester United ]

Kane has proven that he is an elite goalscorer in the Premier League, and Afobe is off to a fine start himself. With both players just 22-years-old, we’ll likely be seeing many more goals to come from the duo.