Top Premier League storylines — Week 25

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There’s only one big battle for the Top Four sides this week, but don’t let the match-ups fool you into thinking there won’t be table tumult.

[ VIDEO: Previewing every Week 25 match ]

Struggling Arsenal and Liverpool are amongst the clubs hoping to stop the bleeding in a brutal couple of weeks (for the Reds, even longer).

Spurs next step and Reds last stand?

Liverpool vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. EDT Saturday on NBC and NBCSports.com

Thirteen points is a big gap, and that’s what former title darling Liverpool are staring down with 14 matches left in the season. The distance to second-place Spurs is a lot closer, as the Reds are four points behind Mauricio Pochettino‘s bunch.

Liverpool — and we can’t stop finding this stat hard to believe — has only won one match since the calendar hit 2017. Sure a couple of those matches were Cup games with weakened lineups, but it’s still a bad run.

Spurs are still harboring title hopes, but will be taking it one match at a time en route to a hopeful end to their 21-year run of finishing below rivals Arsenal.

Can Arsenal handle the giant killers?

Arsenal vs. Hull City — 7:30 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The visitors have beaten Liverpool in league play and Manchester United in an EFL Cup semifinal leg in the last two weeks, and now take aim at another big boy in struggling Arsenal.

The Gunners have now lost back-to-back PL matches, home to Watford and away to Chelsea. Arsenal hasn’t lost three-consecutive league matches since January 2012, when the Gunners were beaten by Fulham, Swansea City, and Manchester United.

Can Hull knock off another giant?

Relegation six-pointer No. 1

Swansea City vs. Leicester City — 11 a.m. EDT Sunday on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Paul Clement‘s resurgent Swans would love to put another team in their rear view mirror, especially given that the team in question is the reigning Premier League champions. Both teams have 21 points, though the Foxes enter the day with eight goals’ better differential.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27: Jamie Vardy of Leicester City holds off Jordi Amat of Swansea City during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Swansea City at The King Power Stadium on August 27, 2016 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Relegation six-pointer No. 2

Sunderland vs. Southampton — 10 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSports.com

It reads kinda odd: Saints as relegation candidates. But Claude Puel‘s Southampton is 7 points clear of the drop zone and a tough handful of matches ahead. Sunderland will be buoyed by its battering of Crystal Palace, and primed to leap out of the drop zone.

West of Reality

West Ham United vs. West Bromwich Albion — 10 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSports.com

Both the Irons and Baggies aren’t yet out of the race for European action, especially if Manchester United wins the EFL Cup and another big boy takes the FA Cup. Slaven Bilic and Tony Pulis square off in a match of wits that may be decided by giant strikers Andy Carroll and Salomon Rondon.

Reports: Barcelona holding talks with Verratti’s agent

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Barcelona has their eyes set on a new Andres Iniesta.

Sure, projecting anyone to meet Ballon d’Or finalist standards is silly, but news that Barca has had multiple meetings with Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti does inspire comparison hunting.

[ MORE: Klopp explains Lovren extension ]

An influential and creative central midfielder, the 24-year-old Verratti is 8.5 years younger than Iniesta and wowed Barca in the first leg of PSG’s ill-fated UEFA Champions League tie with the Catalans.

Mundo Deportivo, amongst others, reports that Verratti feels life at PSG has gotten stale and that Barca is one of the few clubs that represents a significant jump up in class. He’s also been linked with Real Madrid and Manchester United in the past few transfer windows.

Verratti has a contract through 2020-21, so any purchase will not be cheap considering PSG’s desire to continue growing its status as a UCL contender. The Italian is 21 times capped by the Azzurri.

Klopp talks new Lovren deal, Top Four worries, Watford

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Liverpool announced a new contract for Dejan Lovren on Friday, complete with the requisite “I love my club” comments from the defender.

Then Jurgen Klopp got his hands on a microphone.

The outspoken manager explained that re-signing Lovren to a new “long-term” deal ensures that the Croatian spends the best years of his career with the Reds.

[ MORE: Top PL Storylines ]

He also spoke plainly about Lovren’s perceived struggles and successes since arriving at Anfield from Southampton in 2014.

From The Liverpool Echo:

“If Dejan played for another club you would want to sign him – and pay a lot of money. He is 27, the best time is still to come.”

“If you’d asked fans after the Dortmund game they would said give him a 20-year contract. After the Palace game fans would have said ‘can we find another team who will have him?’ Truth is somewhere in between.”

Turning to Monday’s trip to Watford, Klopp isn’t concerned about the chance that his Reds will open the day outside the Top Four if Man City and Manchester United both win at the weekend.

He also says the Reds could have Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge at Vicarge Road, though Jordan Henderson remains out.

Premier League Preview: Sunderland vs. Bournemouth

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  • Sunderland won 2-1 on Nov. 5
  • Fourth meeting since 1990
  • Sunderland leads all-time 5W-3D-1L

Sunderland looks to keep its faint hopes of Premier League safety alive by managing a season sweep of Bournemouth when the two sides meet at the Stadium of Light on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

The Black Cats are a mess, having lost to Tees-Wear Derby rivals Middlesbrough on Wednesday and living 12 points back of 17th place Swansea City.

Bournemouth battered Middlesbrough 4-0 last weekend to move seven points clear of the drop zone, and can finish the day in the top half with a win up north.

What they’re saying

Sunderland boss David Moyes on calls for him to quit“I’m here, I’m the manager, you take it on the chin. … I’m a football supporter, I know what it’s like. You don’t like seeing your team lose. There is nobody who wants to win more than me. I am used to winning, I’m not used to losing and I don’t want to get used to it either.”

Bournemouth captain Simon Francis on Sunderland’s woes“It just show how things can happen when clubs are not run properly. If we do lose Sunderland from the Premier League it will be a real shame. They are an enormous club and playing at grounds like theirs is the pinnacle of anyone’s career.”

 

Prediction

The Black Cats haven’t quit, but manage two fewer points than they need, all but heading for the Championship after a 2-2 draw.

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. Hull City

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  • Hull won 2-1 on Nov. 6
  • Tigers two points clear of drop zone
  • Saints lead all-time 23W-20D-15L

After back-to-back losses to Man City and Chelsea, Saints meet a different kind of desperation when Hull City arrives at St. Mary’s (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

With a win, Hull can move five points clear of the final relegation spot and heap pressure on Swansea City, who plays Sunday. With a loss, Marco Silva’s men open the 17th place door for Swans.

[ MORE: JPW on Romeu the Destroyer ]

Since the start of the 2011-12 season in the Championship, Southampton has won six of seven matches against Hull. That seventh, however, was the match at the KCOM Stadium earlier this season, one that saw now-West Ham man Robert Snodgrass spur a Tigers comeback.

Saints open the day four points back of eighth place West Brom, and also hold a match-in-hand on the Baggies.

What they’re saying

Saints boss Claude Puel on slump busting“After two losses it’s important to move forward now and take points on Saturday in front of our own fans. We have to improve in the right areas and find a good balance of play, but also a good clinical edge in both penalty areas.”

Marco Silva on Hull’s away troubles““We have conceded goals on the counter-attack away from home in games when the result has been looking good for us – we cannot make it possible for our opponents to do this to us. The second goal we conceded at Stoke is an example of this – conceded at a time when we were in control of the game. Details like this are making the difference and these are things we must look to change. This is clear to me and I pass this on to my players.”

Prediction

Saints have more quality than Hull, but may not have as much fire in the belly. Still, home field means a lot here and Southampton should reverse the score line from November’s tilt. 2-1, with Manolo Gabbiadini and Dusan Tadic leading the way.