Top Premier League storylines – Week 27

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Heading into an intriguing Premier League weekend there are so many questions in the air.

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Can Liverpool and Arsenal cement themselves in the top four? Will Chelsea slip up? Can Leicester continue their resurgence?

All of that, and more, is analyzes below.


What now? – Liverpool vs. Arsenal, Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com

Both Liverpool and Arsenal harbored hopes of winning the Premier League heading into the winter months. Now, just two months into 2017, those hopes are all but over.

A poor start to 2017 has derailed the title bids of both Jurgen Klopp and Arsene Wenger and they both appear to be at crossroads. Wenger, 67, has yet to sign the two-year contract extension he has been offered and it remains to be seen what lies in store beyond this season, but it is the same old story for Arsenal. They’ll likely reach the FA Cup semifinal, they’ve been hammered in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 game and yet another title bid has faded badly as they scrap for yet another top four finish.

For Liverpool, Klopp has been left scratching his head with just one PL win in seven to open up 2017. Against the smaller teams they’ve struggled, with all five of their defeats coming against teams currently in the bottom half of the table. Klopp’s men are so good going forward with Sadio Mane the spark, Philippe Coutinho the conductor and Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino the silky industry. Yet, in defense the Reds are struggling again with an average of 1.3 goals a game being conceded. Klopp didn’t address his biggest need in the offseason and like Wenger it seems like his side can’t seriously challenge for the title until he becomes more comfortable playing in a more defensive manner.

Unless Liverpool or Arsenal chance their tact or playing philosophy (which seems unlikely) how can they become anything other than top four contenders? Even that is under serious threat this season given that two of the current top six will miss out on UCL action. This is a massive game at Anfield which will go a long way to deciding which team kicks on a cements a top four finish this season.


Hammers hope to halt Chelsea’s title procession – West Ham vs. Chelsea, Monday, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com

Some are already calling for the blue ribbons to be attached to the Premier League trophy. Chelsea’s title procession has begun. Right now, the Blues aren’t showing any weaknesses and have yet to show any signs of breaking down with their defense strong, multiple offensive weapons firing and N'Golo Kante running the show in midfield as they lead their closest contenders by 10 points.

Antonio Conte isn’t getting ahead of himself though, and neither should his players. West Ham’s players and supporters would love nothing more than to scupper the title chances of Chelsea. They beat the Blues 2-1 in the EFL Cup at the London Stadium earlier this season and Slaven Bilic‘s side will pose a very direct threat to Chelsea with Andy Carroll set to be back in the starting lineup. Chelsea didn’t cope well with that away at Burnley recently.

Crowd troubled erupted in the EFL Cup game this season between these sets of fans and that shows you just how much passion surrounds this London derby. For some reason I keep thinking back to last season when on a cold early March night at Upton Park the Hammers beat Tottenham 1-0 and put a big dent in their title bid. Surely they can’t do it again to another London rival, albeit this time in slightly more salubrious surroundings…


Aguero, Guardiola set for showdown – Sunderland vs. Manchester City, Sunday, 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com

When he dropped Sergio Aguero for Gabriel Jesus last month, Pep Guardiola created a huge problem for himself. That issue is only getting bigger.

Aguero, 28, has spoken out about talks in June between himself and the club to see where his future lies. After scoring another two goals in the midweek FA Cup last 16 replay against Huddersfield, Guardiola described Aguero’s performance as perhaps his best of the season. The predatory Argentine striker seems happy enough at City but with reported interest from Real Madrid, if he isn’t the main man at the Etihad, is it the right time for him to move on?

He has a contract until 2020 — plus he is just 20 goals away from becoming City’s all-time leading scorer — and it isn’t like Guardiola doesn’t appreciate what he brings to the table. His goals have been a big reason why City could well finish second in the PL despite all of their defensive issues and also why they look like making a deep run in the UEFA Champions League. Yet, in Guardiola’s system he needs three mobile strikers who hunt back, do defensive work and can drift around the the flanks and central positions. Aguero is a pure finisher and doesn’t do that. Therein lies the biggest problem of all.


Top 4 contenders vs. Top 4 hopefuls – Tottenham vs. Everton, Sunday, 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com

Tottenham Hotspur continue to batter the smaller teams in the PL (see: Spurs 4-0 Stoke City) but they will be tested by an in-form Everton at White Hart Lane. This game will be a good measuring stick for Ronald Koeman‘s Everton to see how far they are from the top four conversation and it will also be a great chance to see two red-hot strikers in action as Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku — they lead the PL in goals with 17 each — do battle.

Spurs and Everton have always been very evenly matched over the last 20 years or so, as they’ve hovered just outside the top six and been in plenty of cup semifinals, finals and the Europa League. Still, Spurs have kicked on considerably in the past three season since Mauricio Pochettino arrived and it looks like Koeman will have a similar impact at Everton. Spurs’ fluid attack may just have too much for Everton’s defense in this encounter but this will be an open game between two teams who hope to challenge for a top four spot for many years to come.

If they can keep hold of Kane and Lukaku, goals won’t be a problem for Spurs and Everton.


Ranieri-less Leicester to continue resurgence? – Leicester City vs. Hull City, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com

The turnaround in Leicester’s performance during their 3-1 win against Liverpool was quite remarkable. That suggested that the much-maligned decision to get rid of Claudio Ranieri last week could be the correct one, however caretaker boss Craig Shakespeare knows that the visit of fellow strugglers Hull City is perhaps an even a bigger task than facing Liverpool.

Hull will sit back, defend and look to hit Leicester on the break. The Foxes aren’t great at taking the game to teams and aren’t comfortable in possession. This should be an intriguing encounter and telling as to whether these players stopped trying under Ranieri or were simply fired up by all the criticism they had been getting and got the better of a very poor Liverpool side.

Time will tell if firing Ranieri was helpful. If the Foxes get another win this weekend they’ll finally give themselves some breathing space between from the relegation zone after they briefly slipped into the bottom three last week. The reigning champions finally seem to be regaining some of their title-winning form from last season and whether you like it or not, Ranieri’s departure has coincided with it.

FIFA approves Simunovic switch from Croatia to Bosnia

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has approved a change of nationality for Croatia-born defender Jozo Simunovic to represent Bosnia-Herzegovina in its push to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

[ MORE: Mbappe to Man City? ]

FIFA says it informed the Bosnian federation on Tuesday that its players’ status panel granted the request to change eligibility.

The 22-year-old Simunovic has Bosnian family roots but represented neighboring Croatia at youth level.

Simunovic could switch teams under FIFA rules because he never played a competitive game for Croatia’s senior team.

The Celtic player can now be selected next month in Bosnia’s squad for World Cup qualifying games away to Cyprus and Gibraltar.

Bosnia is third in its group, one point behind Greece in the runners-up spot, which can earn a playoff place.

Premier League in USA: Checking in on Manchester clubs, Spurs

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Three Premier League giants are continuing their tours in the United States of American with Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur all competing in the International Champions Cup.

[ MORE: Latest PL preseason news ]

Man United and Spurs have both played twice in the ICC, while Man City play their second game Stateside on Wednesday against two-time reigning champions Real Madrid.

Tottenham and Man City will face each other in Nashville on Saturday to finish up their preseason tours of the USA.

Below is a look at the latest action for Spurs, City and United.


Manchester City vs. Real Madrid – Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET at the Rose Bowl, Pasadena

After losing to Manchester United in their opening preseason game in Houston, Texas last week, Pep Guardiola‘s men will step up their preparations against the might of Real Madrid. With Danilo and Benjamin Mendy now on board (the latter is recovering from a small injury so will not feature), plus Kyle Walker and Ederson with Bernardo Silva on a break after appearing at the Confederations Cup this summer, Pep is likely to have two new full backs and a new goalkeeper on show in this one.

[ MORE: Kylian Mbappe to Man City?

Youngster Phil Foden dazzled against Manchester United at NRG Stadium last week and should be given plenty of chances to impress in preseason. Real Madrid are without Cristiano Ronaldo for these games but Zindeine Zidane’s men still have plenty of firepower, even though their big names failed to dazzle in the penalty kick defeat to Man United over the weekend in Santa Clara, Calif. Spanish clubs do start preseason later than PL teams due to the La Liga schedule.

Guardiola coming up against Real Madrid is always a tasty affair and City will then complete their U.S. tour by facing Tottenham Hotspur in Nashville on Saturday. Real face arch-rivals Barcelona in Miami on Sunday before then facing the MLS All-Stars in Chicago on Aug. 2.


Manchester United vs. Barcelona – Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. ET at FedEx Field, Washington D.C.

In their four games Stateside this summer United have a 100 percent record and Jose Mourinho has hailed the trip as “magnificent” for preparations and a game against Barcelona the “perfect” way to end things.

After beating Man City 2-0 and then Real Madrid on PKs after a 1-1 draw, Mourinho will face a familiar foe in Barcelona and United will meet them in a repeat of the 2009 and 2011 UEFA Champions League finals.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams “dangerous” transfer deals

Mourinho will continue to rotate his team as new signings Romelu Lukaku and Victor Lindelof have both impressed so far and the Red Devils have switched between 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1 formations. Juan Mata and Ander Herrera will not feature after picking up knocks, while Luke Shaw, Ashley Young and Marcos Rojo remain out long-term.

Barca beat Juventus 2-1 at MetLife Stadium on Saturday with Neymar scoring twice in the first half and the Brazilian’s future is the main question for the Spanish giants as Paris Saint-Germain reportedly line up a world-record bid to sign him. Expect a packed house at FedEx Field just outside Washington as United aim to end their preseason tour of the U.S. in style.


Tottenham 2-3 AS Roma – at Red Bull Arena, New Jersey on Tuesday

Mauricio Pochettino‘s men battled back from 2-0 down to tie it up late, but then Roma scored in stoppage time to win the International Champions Cup clash.

All of the big guns started for Spurs but it was Roma who took the lead with Diego Perotti scoring from the penalty spot after a harsh handball call on Spurs’ U.S. national team youngster Cameron Carter-Vickers. Tempers flared up throughout this game as Harry Kane thought he should have had a penalty kick and then lunged into a tackle, while on the sidelines Mauricio Pochettino was close to losing his cool. Maybe that was down to some uncharacteristic lackluster defending from his side…

Roma went 2-0 up in the 70th minute when Cengiz Under finished calmly but Spurs rallied late on as substitute Vincent Janssen hit the post but fellow sub Harry Winks tapped home the rebound, then Janssen equalized in stoppage time as it looked like Tottenham would grab a draw. However, Marco Tumminello struck in the 92nd minute (despite looking to haul Kevin Wimmer to the ground in the process) to grab the win for Roma in front of a raucous RBA crowd with plenty of Tottenham fans turning out to see their team in action.

Take a look at the video highlights below from the wild friendly, while next up for Spurs is their final International Champions Cup game in Nashville against Manchester City on Saturday. Roma play Juventus on Sunday to finish up their U.S. tour.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Sanches to Man United; Lemar, Fabinho off

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Just 24 hours after Jose Mourinho confirmed he wanted to sign a central midfielder and a winger the names of potential signings are already starting to fly in.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams “dangerous” transfers

Renato Sanches of Bayern Munich is the latest midfielder to be linked with a move to Manchester United, according to the Independent.

The Portuguese teenager almost arrived at Old Trafford last summer but instead joined Bayern Munich before impressing in Portugal’s triumph at EURO 2016.

Despite being one of the hottest young properties in Europe Sanches found minutes hard to come by under Carlo Ancelotti and it is believed he is available for $56.1 million.

Sanches agent happens to be Jorge Mendes, the agent of Mourinho, and with the youngster clearly brimming with talent, can he become the latest Portuguese import to flourish under the Special One?

AC Milan are also said to be interested in the two-way midfielder but with United said to be chasing Nemanja Matic and Radja Nainggolan, they may be after a center mid more suited to the defensive side of the game.


It looks like Monaco are saying “enough is enough” when it comes to selling their star players from last season.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday vice president Vadim Vasilyev revealed they are in talks with Kylian Mbappe over a new contract, while Thomas Lemar and Fabinho will not follow the likes of Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva and Tiemoue Bakayoko out of the exit door at the Stade Louis II.

“Fabinho and [Thomas] Lemar are essential players, they will stay with us,” Vasilyev said. “We have kept all of the key players we intended to keep.”

Vasilyev admitted that they have “important offers” for Mbappe but are hopeful he will remain a Monaco player for at least the upcoming season.

As for Fabinho and Lemar, the former was linked with a move to Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United, while the latter was said to be on his way to Arsenal in a $60 million deal.

Fabinho can operate at right back or in central midfield and Mourinho has already said he wants to strengthen in that area of the pitch. Lemar is comfortable out wide, primarily on the left, and would add an extra cutting edge to Arsenal’s attack, especially if Alexis Sanchez was to leave this summer.

Can Monaco really stand in the way of these players as they look around and see three stars from last season bagging big money moves to Manchester City and Chelsea?

Barcelona “confident” of signing Philippe Coutinho

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Barcelona are said to be “increasingly confident” of adding Philippe Coutinho despite Liverpool’s insistence he is not for sale.

[ MORE: Coutinho agrees deal with Barca? 

Coutinho, 25, has become the main man at Anfield over the past season and although Jurgen Klopp has reaffirmed the Brazilian playmaker is not going anywhere, Sky Sports in the UK is reporting that Barca still believe a deal can be done.

The Spanish giants are said to be readying a bid of $116 million for Coutinho to test Liverpool’s resolve after an earlier bid was reportedly turned down, while reports in Spain suggest that Coutinho has already agreed personal terms with Barca over a move.

Barcelona’s push for Coutinho could suggest that Neymar’s potential world-record move to Paris Saint-Germain is edging closer, but where could Coutinho fit in at the Nou Camp?

He would be perfect as a playmaker in Ernesto Valverde’s team and with Andres Iniesta no spring chicken, Barca need to look at filling his considerable shoes long-term. Coutinho excelled last season in the PL, scoring 13 goals and adding seven assists as he battled back from a mid-season injury to help the Reds return to the UEFA Champions League.

Coutinho can either star in a central playmaking role or could be a direct replacement for Neymar if he was to leave for PSG this summer.

Just imagine Coutinho threading through passes to Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez with the trio jinxing around defenders. Ahem, stop drooling.

Yet Liverpool’s stance remains clear: he is going nowhere. Klopp spoke about his future last week and confirmed he had a word with Coutinho during preseason but wouldn’t reveal the details of the chat.

Coutinho only sign a new new five-year contract in January but such have been the quality of his performances in setting the tempo of their play and delivering exceptional set pieces, plus scoring stunning long-range goals, the biggest teams on the planet are often linked with the former Inter Milan and Espanyol star.

Turning down Barcelona would be tough for any player and if the Catalan club do offer over $100 million for Coutinho then Liverpool will perhaps have to pay serious attention. When they sold Luis Suarez to Barca in 2014 there were extenuating circumstances around the deal, but Coutinho is about to enter his prime and could be the leader of Liverpool’s trophy push for many years.

If he is sold then it says plenty about their ambition to re-join Europe’s elite and would be a hammer blow for Klopp who has already struggled in the transfer market this summer as top targets Virgil Van Dijk and Naby Keita have yet to arrive with both valued at over $80 million by their respective clubs.

Coutinho certainly has the talent to be a star for Barcelona but the Brazilian leaving Anfield would be one of the biggest shocks of the summer. That said, does anything really surprise us anymore in this crazy transfer market?