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.

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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?

Pochettino: Dembele “next to Ronaldinho, Maradona”

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Mousa Dembele‘s been appreciated as a midfielder for sometime, but the Belgian is getting as many rave reviews as any other non-scorer these days.

Tottenham’s middle man got the twice-over from his manager on Friday, as Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino prepares for Crystal Palace.

[ MORE: Europa League draw ]

Calling Dembele a “genius,” Pochettino heaped praise on the 30-year-old.

“I’ve told you, I put him next to Ronaldinho, Maradona, Okocha – players I’ve been lucky enough to play with. For me he’s one of the unbelievable talents in the history of football.”

The temptation is to make a joke about Dembele being next to Ronaldinho and Maradona in the lobby of an awards ceremony, but the player has been dynamite for some time.

The advanced stats, for what they’re worth, aren’t incredibly kind to Dembele aside from his club-best 93 percent passing percentage and average of 2.2 successful dribbles per game. Still, it’s improbably hard to ignore the eye test, and Dembele passes that one every time.

Spurs are off to Selhurst Park for a Sunday match with Palace (Watch live at 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Fonte leaves West Ham after one year (for Dalian Yifang)

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Surely it was supposed to go a bit better than this: West Ham has moved center back Jose Fonte to the Chinese Super League.

Fonte, 34, is the latest member of Dalian Yifang, the Irons announced Friday. Reports say it’s a move for about $7 million.

[ MORE: Europa League draw ]

It ends an unexceptional 12 months for the center back, who made just 24 appearances for West Ham after engineering a move away from Southampton.

Fonte was publicly criticized by West Ham’s co-owner David Sullivan earlier this season as Sullivan said his children “begged him” not to sign Fonte and Robert Snodgrass last January. Ouch.

Injured for much of this season, Fonte was one of the Saints’ heroes as the club moved from the disappointment of League One to the Europa League.

Those heroics inspired this longform piece from Joe Prince-Wright.

Premier League TV, streaming schedule

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Week 28 of the Premier League season is here and the main talking points are the battle for the top four and the ever-changing relegation situation.

MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

Remember: due to the League Cup final on Sunday, finalists Arsenal will host Manchester City on Thursday, Mar. 1 as they were also scheduled to play in the PL this weekend. That worked out smoothly.

The full TV schedule for the games this weekend are below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at for all the goals as they go in around the grounds. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Stoke City – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Liverpool vs. West Ham – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Newcastle United – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Brighton vs. Swansea City – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Southampton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM
10 a.m. ET: West Brom vs. Huddersfield Town – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM
12:30 p.m. ET: Watford vs. Everton – NBC [STREAM]

Sunday
7 a.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur – NBCSN [STREAM]
9:05 a.m. ET: Manchester United vs. Chelsea – NBCSN [STREAM

Pep sticking with Bravo for final: “Locker room more important”

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Petr Cech and Ederson will watch from the bench as their clubs start the League Cup Final on Sunday.

Pep Guardiola announced that Manchester City will turn to Claudio Bravo between the sticks against Arsenal, which has already appointed David Ospina as its backstop for the final.

[ MORE: Europa League draw ]

And if you think Pep, having seen his side lose to Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup, should go back to Ederson for the final, he gets it.

“You can have an opinion, I am the manager. We are here for Claudio. He saved two lots of penalties. He deserves to play in the final. The locker room is more important than the final.”

The points aren’t completely independent, of course, but at this point the final is pretty darn important as Man City could see its trophy potential drop from 4-2 in little more than a week’s time.

Bravo has played just 45 minutes in the Premier League, against Liverpool in relief of Ederson, but has been the man for each of eight League and FA Cup matches.

City has just one clean sheet in that group, but won the seven matches apart from the 1-0 Wigan defeat. Two of those, against Wolves and Leicester, came in penalty kicks.