Premier League Sunday Preview: Chelsea looks to go top; Arsenal welcomes West Brom

Leave a comment

Coming off last week’s win at Anfield, Chelsea can go top of the Premier League on Sunday when relegation-embattled Norwich City visits Stamford Bridge. Two points behind both Manchester City and Liverpool, the Blues can vault from third to first with a win over the Canaries, all but confirming Norwich’s relegation in the process. Though a loss will keep Neil Adams’ team three back of Sunderland, a huge goal difference disadvantage will leave the Canaries all but mathematically relegated, with the club left hoping the courts can provide a loophole that will keep it in the Premier League.

Before that match, however, West Bromwich Albion will try to get its third straight result from Arsenal when it visits the Emirates for the day’s opener. Only four points above the drop, Pepe Mel’s team still have a mathematic chance of being relegated, one that disappears with two points in its last three games. With Arsenal having confirmed its top four finish with Everton’s Saturday loss, the Gunners have little to play for, even though they could still catch Chelsea for third.

WATCH LIVE – All Premier League action available via NBC Sports Live Extra

Those are the implications. Here are more details on Sunday’s action in the Premier League:

Arsenal vs. West Bromwich Albion, 8:30 a.m. Eastern, NBCSN/NBC Sports Live Extra

  • Manager Pepe Mel with 15 points in 15 games since taking over at West Brom.
  • Baggies have earned 1-1 draws in each of the teams’ last two meetings.
  • Arsenal’s lost once at home all season.

With a top four (and, UEFA Champions League) spot sewn up, Arsenal can focus on the season’s last major objective: Winning the FA Cup. While that doesn’t necessarily mean Arsène Wenger will preserve his regulars, he is likely to approach his league season’s last two games asking How does this help us win the FA Cup? 

Need playing time ahead of the final? You’re in. Feeling a little bit tired? Sit this one out. Wenger won’t want to take any chances, but he also won’t want a rusty team taking the field on the 17th against Hull City. For most of his squad, playing will be the best way to stay in shape ahead of the final.

If Wenger subscribes to that view, expect Arsenal to be without Bacary Sagna, who is struggling with a knee injury. Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere have already been ruled out for another week, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott are out for the season.

Those absences leave an obvious area for West Brom to exploit. Without two of his fullbacks, Wenger will be forced to start Nacho Monreal at left back. With Morgan Amalfitano likely to get the call at right wing in its 4-2-3-1, West Brom has a player who can take advantage of Arsenal’s weakest defender.

Chelsea vs. Norwich City, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, NBCSN/NBC Sports Live Extra

  • Norwich have lost eight in a row on the road.
  • Chelsea have the league’s best defense, having conceded only 26 goals.
  • The Canaries are tied for the league’s worst attack, having scored only 28 times.

Norwich needs at least four points from its last two games to survive, a task that’s highly improbable for a team that’s claimed only 32 points all season. Add in the quality of their competition, and the Canaries look destined to go down. The miraculous can happen (as Sunderland’s shown), but closing the season with Chelsea and Arsenal, Norwich may be beyond help.

Against a Chelsea team looking to climb to the top spot in the table, Canaries supporters should get quick answers. Either Chelsea will come out, play to its talent-level, and immediately move beyond the midweek disappointment of having been eliminated from UEFA Champions League, or the team will start low, again play down to its competition, and give Norwich a chance to replicate Sunderland’s success at Stamford Bridge.

If the teams’ first meeting of the season is any indication, there’s a small chance Norwich could have that kind of success, though Eden Hazard blew that match open with two late goals. This week, however Hazard has been the target of his manager’s ire, while fellow attacking midfielder Óscar is currently out of favor. Even so, the fresh legs players like Frank Lampard, Nemanja Matic, and Mohamed Salah carry into this match should help Chelsea avoid any Champions League hangover.

Mourinho: Mkhitaryan “disappeared” during games, got dropped

Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It would appear that Henrikh Mkhitaryan has become the new Luke Shaw, who not so long ago became the new Juan Mata, who had become the new Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Pepe, who all previously become the new Kaka and Mesut Ozil — players previously perceived to be undroppable, only to fall out of favor and be dropped from Mourinho’s side.

[ MORE: Carrick back in training after operation to fix irregular heartbeat ]

Similarly to many of the aforementioned stars of Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid sides of the not-so-distant past, Mourinho recently singled out Mkhitaryan for not working hard enough for the team and failing to meet expectations with his performances.

Mkhitaryan last featured in Man United’s 1-0 loss to Chelsea on Nov. 5, prior to the most recent international break. He played just 62 minutes, to follow an UEFA Champions League appearance of just 45 minutes against Benfica. Mkhitaryan was then absent from the substitute’s bench for a victory over Newcastle United and a defeat to Basel.

[ MORE: Pochettino sees Sanchez as one of world’s best defenders already ]

In Mourinho’s mind, Mkhitaryan hasn’t merited a place in the team — quotes from the Guardian:

“I was not happy with his last performances. I’m not speaking about one or two, I’m speaking about three, four or five. He started the season very well and after that, step by step, he was disappearing. His performance levels in terms of goalscoring and assists, pressing, recovering the ball high up the pitch, bringing the team with him as a no. 10, were decreasing.

“That was enough [to drop him] because the others worked to have a chance. Everybody works to have a chance. It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t know if Mkhitaryan will start but, for sure, he will be back in the group. For him to be back to the group, it means that somebody is going to leave the group.”

Davinson delights Pochettino, who predicts “massive” strides

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s still very early days for Davinson Sanchez as a Tottenham Hotspur player, but the early returns are extremely positive as the Colombian center back has featured in 14 of the club’s 17 games in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League this season.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Dortmund again to win group with Real Madrid ]

What’s more encouraging than Sanchez’s initial performances? The 21-year-old’s “massive” room for improvement and the expectation he’ll one day soon be one of the world’s best defenders, according to manager Mauricio Pochettino.

After signing for Spurs in August, Sanchez went straight into Pochettino’s starting lineup, slotted in between stalwarts Toby Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who together last season led the defense with the PL’s best record (26 goals conceded in 38 games), as part of a back-three. Sanchez has taken to Tottenham like a duck to water, in Pochettino’s estimation — quotes from ESPN FC:

“You saw against against Dortmund how many times he was with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang one-versus-one. How many central defenders can play one-versus-one and escape and go, be tight and press? If you run, I run because I am so confident when running. I think not many center backs in the world can do this.

“Or against Swansea against Tammy Abraham: how many times he was one vs. one and the ball was behind him, he was on the halfway line and running was not a problem? And against Cristiano Ronaldo, too?”

“We expect more from him, but I am so happy with him. He is doing well, very well. He’s only 21 years old, but he shows more maturity [than that], and he’s so aggressive when he’s marking, his concentration [is good] and then with the ball he’s good, but I think he can improve.

“There is massive scope to improve potentially, it’s massive for him. In only a few months, he’s showing he’s doing a fantastic job for us. [He can improve in] every single aspect, tactic, physical condition, technique.

“We need with him one and a half months or two months preseason every day, and then I’m sure he’s going to show a different level. I think he’s one of the best today, but has potential to improve a lot more.

“Because he’s so clever, and he’s very humble, and he’s very open to learn, he’s a player when you tell something his reaction is to be open, and be critical with himself, and that is a massive skill from a player, when he’s so open to improve, and then the conditions he has are amazing to be one of the best center halves in the world.”

To state the completely obvious, Pochettino was wise to utilize Aldeweireld and Vertonghen as training wheels for Sanchez, if you will, upon his arrival. His athleticism and pace make him 1) the ideal complement to a pair of players who read the game so well; and, 2) perfectly positioned to operate as the last-man, emergency defender on the rare occasion either Belgian is breached.

[ MORE: Liverpool host Chelsea in massive top-four clash ]

For the first time all season, Sanchez started out wide in Alderweireld’s absence (hamstring) against Arsenal last weekend, and for the first time since his arrival, he appeared a flawed — which is to say, human — defender. To his credit, Sanchez gave a quality account of himself on the whole, and finished the game much stronger than he’d started.

No one was more aware of this than Pochettino, though, as he slid Eric Dier into Aldeweireld’s spot for Tuesday’s Champions League triumph over Borusia Dortmund, again deploying Sanchez in the middle. With Aldeweireld expected to miss a couple more weeks at minimum, the Tottenham teamsheet should routinely read Vertonghen-Sanchez-Dier from left to right until he returns.

Lille appoint four interim managers to replace Bielsa

Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LILLE, France (AP) A four-man coaching team will take provisional charge of French soccer club Lille in the wake of Marcelo Bielsa’s dismissal.

Lille says Fernando Da Cruz, Joao Sacramento, Benoit Delaval and Franck Mantaux will be in charge of the team until further notice.

Lille announced earlier this week that Bielsa had been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club” following a 3-0 loss at Amiens.

The northern side is in 19th place and next travels Saturday to Montpellier, which has the best defense in the league.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but failed to make the club competitive. After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the coach – affectionately known as El Loco Bielsa (Crazy Bielsa) – with the aim of returning to the Champions League.

Irregular heartbeat the cause of Carrick’s recent absence

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester United captain Michael Carrick hasn’t played for his club since Sept. 20, a confounding period of more than two months now, and the reason for the 36-year-old midfielder’s absence has finally come to light: an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams critics (again), gives injury updates ]

The condition, which Carrick announced himself on Friday, was first detected after Man United’s League Cup victory over Burton Albion. He has since undergone a cardiac ablation, a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in your heart that’s allowing incorrect electrical signals to cause an abnormal heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Carrick was named the new United captain this summer following the departure of Wayne Rooney. As told in the above statement, he is working toward full fitness and once again being available for selection in Jose Mourinho’s side.

Hooray for modern technology and medicine, which allow otherwise baffling medical conditions to be diagnosed, treated and recovered from in a matter of weeks or months.