Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs. Arsenal

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  • Liverpool have only won once in their last 13 PL games against Arsenal
  • Arsenal have tallied 26 points away from home, the joint-best in the PL
  • This fixture has produced more hat tricks (5) than any other rivalry in PL history

On Saturday at Anfield Liverpool host Arsenal (watch live at 7:45am ET on USA and online via NBC Sports Live Extra) with the home side looking to close the gap on the league leaders.

Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool side have only lost at home once this season and welcome the Gunners to a true fortress. But the away team are looking for a third-straight win at Anfield as Arsene Wenger’s men are in fine-form heading into this massive match.

Arsenal have 11 clean sheets this campaign and have let in just 21 goals, the second best record in the PL. But the central defensive pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have a tough task to keep Liverpool’s star duo of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, known as S.A.S., quiet on Saturday. The Gunners managed to do that in the corresponding fixture back in November, when Arsenal won 2-0 at the Emirates against a below-par Liverpool.

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All season Liverpool have failed to win a point against the three teams above them, and if they are serious about finishing in the top four, Rodgers’ side need to deliver against Arsenal on Saturday. The Reds also welcome Chelsea and Manchester City to Anfield in April, so they will have a big say in the title race even if Suarez and co. aren’t lifting the trophy in May.

In team news Liverpool are again missing defenders Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson, while Lucas Leiva, Mamadou Sakho and Jose Enrique are also ruled out.

Arsenal will assess Jack Wilshere before the game, while Mathieu Flamini serves the second game of his four-match ban and Mikel Arteta returns to fitness.

What they’re saying

Brendan Rodgers on the importance of Liverpool’s home support: “It makes a difference. It is genuinely like an extra man for us. That real passion of the supporters, it really has pushed us over the line a lot of times this season. Hopefully we’ve entertained the supporters, particularly at home, but in those so-called big games – the likes of Manchester United and Everton – those supporters have helped us. Hopefully that will be the case on Saturday, I’m sure it will because the support has been absolutely fantastic.”

Arsene Wenger on the threat of Luis Suarez: “The key is for us to dominate the game and leave them as few balls as possible. That will be one of our targets of course. At Liverpool the task might be a bit more difficult but the philosophy on our side has to be the same – to master the ball and to have the ball and to dominate the game. Liverpool have a strong offensive force with Sturridge, with Suarez, with Coutinho, with Sterling behind. All these players can score goals and make a difference. So what you want on our side is a strong defensive performance.”

Prediction

This is so hard to call. Having seen the power of the Anfield crowd in Liverpool’s dominant derby win over Everton last week, this could play a big factor. But Arsenal have been masters of grinding our results all season, especially on the road. And with Oxlade-Chamberlain returning to full-fitness and looking razor sharp, I think Arsenal could nick it. That said, I am going to sit on the fence and go for an entertaining draw. There will be a few goals in this one.

Barcelona GM: “We’re close to signing Coutinho, Dembele”

Philippe Coutinho
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Barcelona did not post a magical comeback versus Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup second leg, instead losing 5-1 on aggregate after Wednesday’s 2-0 loss at the Bernabeu.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

But perhaps the celebrated La Liga club has worked some wizardry in the transfer market, with not one but two big targets “close” to the Camp Nou.

Barca general manager Josep “Pep” Segura was on television after the match, and noted Spanish football expert Sid Lowe relays his words: Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho and Borussia Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembele are coming to Barca, “but until it’s closed I can’t say anything.”

Well, you just said something about it, so what gives.

Now before anyone freaks out at Anfield or Westfalenstadion, this is a man speaking after a relatively embarrassing performance for one of the biggest clubs in the world. Segura could simply be treading water for new manager Ernesto Valverde after his club was simply worked over in 120 minutes versus its El Clasico rivals.

VIDEO: Asensio, Real Madrid outclass out-of-sorts Barca; PSG trolls?

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This one wasn’t even close, and is going to instantly have many Barcelona fans wondering if the loss of Neymar is going to be too much for Ernesto Valverde to handle.

Real Madrid rode a stunning Marco Asensio strike to a 2-0 first half lead at the Bernabeu on Wednesday en route to a 5-1 aggregate win over Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup.

It’s Real’s 10th Spanish Super Cup, and first since 2012.

[ MORE: Bacca to Villarreal ]

Karim Benzema also scored in the opening frame, which saw Barca looking out of sorts and rudderless.

As in the first leg in Barcelona, the Blaugranas had their moments but failed to show sharpness and class against the reigning La Liga and UEFA Champions League winners.

Lionel Messi hit the crossbar, Luis Suarez headed off the post. The second half wasn’t producing a magic comeback.

Both teams kick off their La Liga seasons on Sunday, with Barca hosting Real Betis and Real off to Deportivo de la Coruna.

Meanwhile, it seems like PSG spent the afternoon trolling Barca, first posting a shot of ex-Blaugranas stars Dani Alves and Neymar training, and then an incredulous Neymar accompanied by a laughing emoji.

Carlos Bacca joins Villarreal, Boateng leaves Las Palmas

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MADRID (AP) Colombia striker Carlos Bacca joined Spanish club Villarreal on loan from AC Milan on Wednesday.

Villarreal said the one-season loan agreement includes the option to buy the player at the end of the season.

Bacca returns to a Spanish league where the 30-year-old forward flourished in two seasons at Sevilla before joining Milan in 2015.

[ MORE: UCL Wednesday wrap ]

Bacca has made 39 appearances for Colombia, scoring 13 goals. According to Villarreal, he has scored 165 career goals in 336 matches. He scored 14 goals for Milan last season.

Elsewhere in Spain, Las Palmas announced that Kevin-Prince Boateng was leaving the club after both sides agreed to end his contract two days before its season opener.

Las Palmas said that Boateng was leaving due to “personal reasons of an irreversible nature.” The club thanked the former AC Milan standout for his “professionalism” that he displayed during his single season on the Canary Islands.

Las Palmas opens the Spanish league season on Friday at Valencia.

Man City has $23 million Evans bid shot down by WBA

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Could Jonny Evans be the latest player to cross Manchester’s red and blue divide, albeit with a stop in between?

Reports Wednesday say West Bromwich Albion has rejected a $23 million Manchester City bid for the Northern Irish center back.

[ MORE: UCL Wednesday wrap ]

$23 million? That’s like 40 percent of a Kyle Walker!

Evans, 29, is the Baggies captain and a key piece of the club’s aims to continue its long stay in the Premier League.

He joined Manchester United’s academy at age 16 and stayed at Old Trafford through 2015, taking loan opportunities at Royal Antwerp and Sunderland on the way.

At United, Evans won three Premier League titles and two League Cups, and also has a Championship win from one of his two stints at Sunderland.

The 61-times capped Belfast native would give City a key component for Premier League play along with a center back corps of Nicolas Otamendi, Vincent Kompany, and John Stones. Eliaquim Mangala completes their veteran depth, and is certainly City’s weakest position.

Would West Brom sell at any reasonable price? The Baggies are not deep at center back, either — not too many clubs are — and will be in a boatload of trouble without Evans. And given the transfer market, finding a proper replacement at under $30 million is going to be difficult (Reread that sentence. What a summer).

It’s another argument for the transfer window closing before the start of the season.