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Top 5 Premier League Storylines for a big weekend

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Time flies when you’re having fun. So goes the old maxim, but time may rocket when you’re facing a relegation fight, too.

The Premier League is more than one-third of the way through its season, and this weekend finds its clubs critical match-ups up-and-down the table.

[ MORE: New Spurs deal for Kane ]

Man City and Chelsea jockey for position at the top of the table, while Everton and Manchester United could dash each other’s Top Four hopes.

As for the relegation scraps, one involves last season’s champs. All make our top storylines for this PL weekend.

Pep vs. Conte, Round 1

Manchester City vs. Chelsea — 7:30 a.m. EDT Saturday, NBCSN and NBCSports.com.

We’ll know before the mid-morning matches kickoff whether there will be a new Premier League leader after this weekend. Chelsea hopes the answer is no, that their boss Antonio Conte will win his first tete-a-tete with fellow tactical wizard Pep Guardiola. City has had a tough go of it, relatively speaking, at home this season. Three wins and three draws give City a lesser share of the points at home than away from the Etihad Stadium.

Can a London rivalry help West Ham’s home woes?

West Ham United vs. Arsenal — 12:30 p.m. EDT Saturday, NBC and NBCSports.com.

Fits and starts was not supposed to be the way for West Ham this season, but the presumed contenders remain just a point ahead of the drop zone. The Irons have just two wins from six home PL matches this season, but could there possibly be a better way to create good vibes at the Olympic Stadium than a triumph over the Gooners? West Ham can’t make its way into the Top Four mix, but it can dent Arsenal’s title hopes.

Separation day for Toffees, Red Devils

Everton vs. Manchester United — 11 a.m. EDT Sunday, NBCSN and NBCSports.com.

One point separates Ronald Koeman‘s Toffees and Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, and it’d be fair to say both thought this battle would be higher up the table as recently as one month ago. United has a one point edge on Everton for sixth, and the loser could find itself as far as 7 or 8 points off the Top Five pace.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 05: Leighton Baines of Everton competes with Juan Mata of Manchester United during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Everton at Old Trafford on October 5, 2014 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Juan Mata and Leighton Baines (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images).

Relegation scrap at the Riverside Stadium

Middlesbrough vs. Hull City — 3 p.m. EDT Monday, NBCSN and NBCSports.com.

The Tigers have managed just 4 of their 11 points away from the KC Stadium, but can guarantee a trip out of the drop zone by managing a win (though a draw could do the trick if Palace falls to Southampton). Aitor Karanka‘s hosts had much higher aims than a relegation battle, perhaps naively, and will be feeling the heat of the drop with anything but three points on Saturday. A large part of their struggles have come at home, which will be music to Hull’s ears; Boro is 1W-1D-4L at home.

Sunderland aims to make relegation fears deeper for champions

Sunderland vs. Leicester City — 10 a.m. EDT Saturday, Premier League Xtra Time and NBCSports.com.

The Premier League champions have one point away from home this season. That’s bad, as is their awful standing in 14th. The Foxes are two points clear of the drop, five points ahead of the last-place Black Cats. David Moyes‘ hosts have been playing much better as of late, beating Hull and Bournemouth before falling to Liverpool. That Hull win is their lone victory at the Stadium of Light this season, but Sunderland can take comfort in the fact that Leicester has four losses and a draw in matches preceding a Champions League fixture.

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Everton completes move for Walcott: “I’m dead excited” (video)

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Everton continues to supply its managers with top-end talent, adding Theo Walcott to its expensive season of boys which includes Gylfi Sigurdsson, Wayne Rooney, Cenk Tosun, Jordan Pickford, and Michael Keane.

[ MORE: Plenty to prove for Big Sam ]

The deal is reported to be near $28 million for Walcott, who’s made only a half-dozen Premier League appearances this season but did nab three goals in five Europa League matches.

Walcott, 28, scored 108 goals in 397 appearances for the Gunners. His 19-goal campaign last season was his second-best — he scored 21 in 2012-13 — but Walcott dipped down Arsene Wenger‘s depth charge and is leaving to pursue regular football.

And his comments will be lapped up by the #WengerOut brigade at his now former club:

“The Club has won trophies but I want them to win trophies now. The manager is very hungry and it’s just what I need. I’ve had a couple of chats with him and straightaway I felt that hunger and that desire that he wanted from me. I need that and I wanted that

The move is another exciting one for Everton, which has underachieved under Ronald Koeman and now Sam Allardyce. And it’s another sale from Arsenal which gives pause: Are the underperforming Gunners going to regret the move?

In the 2005-06 season, Walcott made his Southampton debut in the Football League Championship at the age of 16, and moved to Arsenal the next season.

Walcott has eight goals in 47 caps for England, and won two FA Cups at Arsenal.

[ MORE: Montreal nabs Algerian DP ]

Here is a useful quote from Sam Allardyce:“His physical output is excellent, he would be one of our top players in that area as well, which will hopefully bring us a lot more excitement and more ability to get forward quicker and create.

And here is an utterly useless one: ““If you analyse his goal record, then we are looking at a player who contributes goals on a regular basis.”

You don’t say. To paraphrase: If you look at all his goals, he regularly scores goals. Here’s more from the player on his move.

Montreal to nab Algerian DP Taider from Bologna

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The loss of Swiss power Blerim Dzemaili is a big one for the Montreal Impact, but another World Cup player may be taking his place in Quebec.

[ MLS: Club-by-club SuperDraft needs ]

Tutto Bologna reports that Algerian playmaker Saphir Taider, 25, is set to sign with the Impact on a contract through 2020.

On loan to Montreal last season, Dzemaili went back to Bologna. Taider is coming back the other way and will reportedly be a Designated Player.

Taider isn’t as consistent a player as Dzemaili, but presents a skill set that should be a massive problem for MLS midfields.

He has 42 caps with five goals for Algeria, and was once property of Juventus. He spent parts of four seasons at Inter Milan, with loan stints back to Bologna, at Sassuolo, and a unremarkable time at Southampton.

2018 MLS SuperDraft club-by-club needs

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Six MLS teams have three picks between Friday’s first and second rounds of the SuperDraft, while two teams — Portland and Philadelphia — aren’t scheduled to select anyone at all.

[ MORE: USL granted second tier status ]

Atlanta United
Picks: 14, 36
Needs: They’ve signed a number of defenders this offseason, but wouldn’t be surprised to see them take someone to do the dirty work — at back or center defensive mid.

Chicago Fire
Picks: 15, 38
Needs: A youngster behind Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty in the center of the park. Maybe Joao Moutinho from Akron, though he shouldn’t drop this far.

Colorado
Picks: 25, 27
Needs: Attacker — The club has a number of good defenders and new coach Anthony Hudson has brought a few in, too. Forward or attack-minded midfielder seems the player here.

Columbus
Picks: 21, 32, 44
Needs: Attacking talent — Justin Meram wants out, Federico Higuain is quite the veteran, and Ola Kamara may be wanted by La Liga clubs. Trading up may be the call.

DC United
Picks: 3
Needs: FW, CAM — An electric attacker is atop DC’s wish list, and there are a few in this draft, but DC will also like the idea of trading down to scoop a couple picks. Thought of them when I saw this Tweet;

FC Dallas
Picks: 11, 29, 34
Needs: Anywhere — FCD’s academy has been so productive that the club can take massive home run swings and be happy just hitting on one.

Houston Dynamo
Picks: 20, 43
Needs: Defender — There’s an outside shot for a midfielder or goalkeeper here, but with Erick Torres, Romell Quioto, and Alberth Elis, it’s fair to assume attacker isn’t the desired outcome.

LAFC
Picks: 1, 24
Needs: Everywhere (It’s their first year, after all). Selecting first overall, LA would do well do deal for more picks, though it’s probably hard for Bob Bradley to overlook center back Tomas Hilliard-Arce of Stanford as a center back for a decade.

LA Galaxy
Picks: 2, 40
Needs: CB, ST –An out-and-out big body center forward is a good idea, especially with no guarantees that Gyasi Zardes comes back from the form wilderness.

Minnesota United
Picks: 5, 28, 41
Needs: Center back, full back, defensive mid — The Loons are pretty set at forward and playmaking midfielder, and have Alex Kapp as a young backup to Bobby Shuttleworth between the sticks. Anywhere else is possible.
Would love to land: Joao Moutinho, Akron

Montreal Impact
Picks: 4, 7, 37
Needs: Expect the Impact to take a swing at an attacker with one of their first two picks, and go best available player with the other.

New England Revolution
Picks: 8, 9
Needs: Center midfield — Whether a box-to-box CDM or an heir to Lee Nguyen, New England needs presence in the middle of the park.

Nguyen (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

New York City FC
Picks: 19, 42
Needs: Defender — Finding functional, U.S. born backs is always a good idea. When your parent club keeps finding you legitimate elite attacking prospects, there’s every reason to choose backs.

New York Red Bulls
Picks: 16, 31, 39
Needs: Forward — RBNY has produced Homegrown talent everywhere, but it’d be interesting to see them find someone to develop behind Bradley Wright-Phillips.

Orlando City
Picks: 6
Needs: Anywhere but midfield — With Sacha Kljestan, Josue Coleman, Yoshimar Yotun, and a number of X-factors, it seems more likely Orlando looks to find a defender or forward.

Philadelphia Union
Picks: None
Needs: Assuming they find some picks, defenders and a developmental center forward could be the play.

Portland Timbers
Picks: None
Needs: Could go anywhere given the shift in manager, but a winger seems possible.

Real Salt Lake
Picks: 10, 33
Needs: Center midfield, goalkeeper — An heir apparent to Kyle Beckerman and Nick RImando seems appropriate here.

San Jose Earthquakes
Picks: 12, 30, 35
Needs: Who knows who Mikael Stahre wants, and really the Quakes seem halfway decent all over the park. A young, shifty forward would be the play if available.

Seattle Sounders
Picks: 22, 45
Needs: Forward — Don’t really need anyone, but Clint Dempsey‘s getting a bit older. Jordan Morris isn’t and Will Bruin’s here, too, so any position is possible.

Sporting KC
Picks: 13, 18
Needs: Like TFC and Vancouver below, KC can take the best players available.

Toronto FC
Picks: 23, 46
Needs: Maybe wingback depth or a Michael Bradley or Jozy Altidore understudy? Best available player is the call here.

Vancouver Whitecaps
Picks: 17, 26
Needs: Another team that can go best available player, though wide midfielders or backs seem a decent shout.

Man City defensive leader Otamendi signs through 2021-22

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Manchester City defender Nicolas Otamendi is a part of the long-term, signing a new deal to keep him with the Etihad Stadium through the 2021-22 season.

[ MORE: Fred to Man City? ]

The 29-year-old Argentine center back has authored four goals this season, and has found a groove in Pep Guardiola‘s system.

Otamendi leads the team in aerials won (3), interceptions (1.7), clearances (3.5), and offsides drawn per game (1.1) while also five times being named Man of the Match for City. He leads the team in yellow cards, too, with seven.

Here’s Otamendi, from ManCity.com:

“My only aim is to help the team and give all I can for this Club. I am learning every day under Pep and enjoying my football and I feel I can still improve as a player. I’m a family man who enjoys being at home and I love living in Manchester, you sort of get hooked by it.”