Top PL Storylines: Merseyside Derby, relegation special

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The international break is over and the Premier League is back.

[ MORE: What’s left for each PL club? ]

This stretch run begins now, as teams have around eight more matches left in league play with which to move up or down. Who will climb the table, and who will lose spots? The best picks are below:


Merseyside clubs clinging to European places

Liverpool vs. Everton — 7:30 a.m. EDT Saturday online via NBCSports.com

Everton and Liverpool doesn’t need any sideshows to hype up the heated rivalry, but a little added spice won’t hurt anything. Spice is what we have as the two teams clash at Anfield Saturday as both teams are battling for European places.

Liverpool comes into the game in fourth, four points ahead of Manchester United for the final Champions League spot. A return to Europe’s top competition is overdue for Jurgen Klopp and the Reds, having made the tournament just once since 2010. It’s been a dogfight all year at the top of the table (aside from Chelsea, of course), and Liverpool is right in the mix. A misstep here would give Manchester United the chance to climb just one point back, really putting on the pressure. For Everton, they sit in seventh, level with Arsenal on points and just two behind Manchester United. They still have a good shot at Europa League play, and any spot in a European competition is a welcome moment for an Everton team that has appeared just once since 2010.

Both teams have to contend with injuries suffered over the international break. Everton’s Seamus Coleman is out at least for the rest of the season after his nasty leg break, while Liverpool will miss Adam Lallana who aggravated a muscle injury while on duty with England and will likely be out a month.

Will Arsenal or City turn their season around?

Arsenal vs. Manchester City — 11:00 a.m. EDT Sunday online via NBCSports.com

Arsene Wenger continues to find himself under more and more pressure. It seems Pep Guardiola takes one step back for every one step forward. As the two managers meet at the Emirates on Sunday, will either man manage to get a high-profile win to boost its season’s fortunes?

The Gunners are in serious peril. Wenger has never missed the Champions League in his 20 seasons in charge, but that could all change this year as Arsenal sits in 6th on 50 points, six back of fourth position. There is little to no room for error the rest of the way, and even against a strong opponent, the Gunners cannot afford to drop more points. For Pep Guardiola, City still sits in an envious position in third place and five points clear of dropping off the top four, but it’s not been without bumps and bruises. City is without a win in its last three matches, having dumped out of the Champions League and drawn a pair in league play over that time. Both managers are struggling. Will either turn things around?

A relegation special

Swansea City vs. Middlesbrough — 8:30 a.m. EDT Sunday online via NBCSports.com

Middlesbrough is in the relegation zone. Swansea City isn’t out of the weeds yet. Premier League status could be on the line.

As the two teams meet at the Liberty Stadium, Middlesbrough can go a long way towards climbing out of the bottom 3, while Swansea City can build space from it. Boro sits in 19th place, on 22 points, five back of safety. In that final safe spot is Swansea, on 27 points, and depending on the results of this match, things could get hairy for the loser. A draw helps nobody, so expect both sides to go all out.

Spurs with a tough road test

Burnley vs. Tottenham — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday online via NBCSports.com

Spurs sit in second, 10 points off the top but in control of the tight Champions League battle. Yet, they face a difficult challenge on Sunday. Burnley has lost just twice all season long at home, the latest coming January 2nd. Their away form has been miserable, but at home, they’re a completely different team.

Enter Tottenham, who has won three Premier League games in a row, but it’s not all rosy for the title contenders. They’re still without Harry Kane, who has returned to light training but still remains sidelined with his ankle injury. Sean Dyche can coach with the best of them in the English top flight, and it remains to be seen if Mauricio Pochettino can break down a strong Clarets defense. Spurs managed a 2-1 home win over Burnley, but a similar performance won’t get it done at the fortress of Turf Moor.

Pochettino: “Challenge is to keep going” ahead of North London Derby

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Mauricio Pochettino was thrilled to see Tottenham Hotspur’s title push continue with a win over in-form Crystal Palace on Wednesday.

Spurs won 1-0 on a beautiful Christian Eriksen goal from distance, moving back to within four points of Premier League leading Chelsea.

[ RECAP: Palace 0-1 Spurs ]

Pochettino’s men didn’t stop fighting for the winner despite relentless fight from the home side, with improving mettle on display this season.

“Unbelievable. Very good performance. I think second half we played much better than in the first half. It was difficult in the first half for us to move the ball and find the space but we changed the shape at half time and it was more fluid, we started to find the space and started to push Palace deeper and deeper.”

After two tough London Derbies — Spurs fell 4-2 to Chelsea in Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal — Tottenham now has the big one: a visit from Arsenal in the North London Derby.

“It was good to get the three points and be alive in the race for the title. The challenge is to keep going. It is always better to win but it is true [the Arsenal game] is a big derby, perhaps the last at White Hart Lane and I think it will be an exciting game.”

We’re ready for it. Spurs will be favored to pick up all three points, but all bets are off when it comes to the NLD. That’s especially true considering the ticking Top Four clock for Arsenal and the title fight for Spurs.

Palace 0-1 Spurs: Eriksen saves the day

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  • Sakho stretchered off
  • Eriksen rescues title hope
  • Spurs four back of Chelsea

Palace made them work for it.

Tottenham Hotspur didn’t exactly sends chills down the spine of Chelsea with its performance, but Spurs found a way past tricky and in-form Crystal Palace on Wednesday at Selhurst Park.

Christian Eriksen‘s pretty goal sealed the three points for Spurs, who have five matches to chase down four points from the Blues.

Palace sits 12th, seven points clear of 18th place Swansea City.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Two in-forms started with confidence, Harry Kane lashing wide of the frame for Spurs and Wilfried Zaha driving Palace on the right wing.

Another in-form Eagles attacker, Christian Benteke, did well to create space and hit a low shot that forced Hugo Lloris to ground.

Victor Wanyama was on yellow when he slid to intercept Andros Townsend, taking the Englishman to the turf. Jon Moss gave Wanyama a harsh warning, but did not produce the red card.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Moussa Sissoko and Son Heung-min were called upon soon after the break to liven up Spurs attack.

The substitution that stood to shake up the match was Palace center back Mamadou Sakho, who was hurt with about 40 minutes to play.

Eriksen stung a shot across goal for the eventual winner, a rare moment of class from a three-match day that didn’t quite fit the standard of the Premier League.

Arsenal 1-0 Leicester City: Only an own goal

AP Photo/Alastair Grant
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  • Chances at a premium
  • Monreal forces Huth own goal
  • Arsenal moves sixth
  • Foxes six clear of drop

Nacho Monreal‘s desperate shot ricocheted off Robert Huth‘s chest and gave Arsenal a 1-0 win over Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.

Entertainment value wasn’t high over the course of the match, as Arsenal had trouble piercing Leicester’s congested back four.

Arsenal is now three points back of Manchester United and four behind Man City before Thursday’s Manchester Derby.

Leicester is six points clear of 18th and has played one less game than most of the teams chasing them.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Arsenal had most of the ball to start the match, but needed to make the first big stop. Petr Cech kept the match goalless when he flew to stop a left-footed whip from Riyad Mahrez.

At the other end, Mesut Ozil set up Theo Walcott for a chance that prodded a solid save from Kasper Schmeichel.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Wilfried Ndidi was again a monster in the middle third for Leicester, arguably the main reason the Foxes have rebounded from their relegation plight.

Arsenal had a chance pushed away from danger by Robert Huth after Alexis Sanchez misjudged his time on the ball in front of goal in the 56th minute.

Schmeichel then dove to slap away a deflected Francis Coquelin shot.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Laurent Koscielny went down in pain after landing awkwardly in the 79th minute, leaving a gap in space that Shinji Okazaki would’ve exploited were it not for a block from Gabriel Paulista.

Leicester’s Yohan Benalouane should’ve seen red with 10 minutes to play following a leaping boot to the back of Olivier Giroud, but only a foul was given.

Ndidi made a sliding intervention on Mesut Ozil in the 85th minute, another terrific bit of work from the Nigerian.

That’s when Huth’s unlucky moment lifted Arsenal to the lead.

Middlesbrough 1-0 Sunderland: Derby honors and a bit of life

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  • Boro’s first PL win since Dec. 17
  • Smoggies move within six of 17th
  • Sunderland on verge of relegation

Marten De Roon snared Middlesbrough new hope at safety and a derby win as Boro scored early to complete a season sweep of Tees-Wear Derby rivals Sunderland on Wednesday.

The 1-0 win means Sunderland is 12 points back of 17th place Hull City with five matches to play. Hull has four matches left.

For Boro, it’s six points back of Hull but a devastating run-in that includes Man City, Chelsea, Southampton, and Liverpool.

The win was USMNT backstop Brad Guzan‘s second of the Premier League season, the first coming in the reverse fixture.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

De Roon tilted the Tees-Wear Derby to Boro’s side with an opening goal that could signal the end of Sunderland’s slim safety hopes.

Stewart Downing tempted 2-0 with a hard low shot that Jordan Pickford did very well to save with a leg.

Sunderland did find a bit of danger when Didier N’Dong forced Brad Guzan into a save, but Billy Jones nodded over the frame.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]