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Top PL Storylines: Will Spurs have a chance to close down Chelsea?

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From start to finish, the Premier League always has something on the line week in and week out. This time around, there are battles up and down the table.

[ MORE: Previews for every Premier League game this weekend ]

With Chelsea’s difficult test at in-form Manchester United, could the Blues drop points and allow Spurs back into the title race? Who will gain and who will fall in the vicious relegation battle? What will the gap at the top look like at the end of the weekend? All that and more comes your way in the next few days.

Can Spurs move closer to the top?

Tottenham vs. Bournemouth — 7:30 a.m. EDT Saturday online via NBCSports.com

Spurs sit seven points back of Chelsea. If they are to catch the Blues, they obviously need some outside help. However, Mauricio Pochettino knows his side must be ready in the event Chelsea slips up, which there’s a serious chance of them doing this weekend. With Chelsea not playing until Sunday (more below), Spurs can put the pressure on and pull within four for at least a day.

Bournemouth is a dangerous team. They’ve drawn with Liverpool and Manchester United in recent weeks, and Harry Kane‘s return for Tottenham has come at a fantastic time. With the club’s leading scorer back, Tottenham will be well positioned to pull out the three points in this one, but need to get the job done.

Massive test for leaders Chelsea at Old Trafford

Manchester United vs. Chelsea — 11:00 a.m. EDT Sunday online via NBCSports.com

With Spurs at home facing a bottom-half side, Chelsea knows it needs to keep separation, or things become much more difficult. Manchester United is the highest-positioned side left on Chelsea’s remaining schedule, and should they get by this test, the title is all but secure.

That’s no given, however, considering Manchester United hasn’t lost since October 23rd – to Chelsea. That 4-0 drubbing sent the Red Devils on a 21-match unbeaten streak. A draw here would be a decent result for both sides, but the Blues would prefer not to eat up any of the cushion they’ve built on the rest of the field.

Manchester United themselves are fighting a significant battle, as they hope to gain ground on either Manchester City or Liverpool in the fight for a Champions League place. With Manchester City visiting a strong Southampton squad and Liverpool on the road at the Hawthornes, the chance could be there to pull within a single point of the promised land.

Which in-form team will pick up points?

Crystal Palace vs. Leicester City — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday online via NBCSports.com

Sam Allardyce has led Crystal Palace onto a tear of impressive results that have pulled them out of the relegation zone (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images).

 

The run Crystal Palace is on has shocked England. The run Leicester City was on rejuvenated the club. These two teams seem to have saved their respective Premier League statuses by completing a set of impressive results, but the job is not completely done.

Sam Allardyce has given the Eagles hope by rattling off five wins over their last six matches, including impressive victories over Arsenal and Chelsea. Their stretch run remains painful viewing, with Liverpool, Manchester City, and Manchester United all still to come on the fixture list. Nevertheless, with an impressively paltry four goals conceded over those six games – three of those coming in the lone loss during that span – Palace is not just out of the relegation zone but six points clear. Is that enough cushion with such a brutal end-of-season run?

Leicester City, meanwhile, was bullied around the pitch against Atletico Madrid in Champions League play this week, but the Foxes still have their impressive start to Craig Shakespeare’s managerial tenure fresh in their memory. The bottom of the table is crammed together, so their 11th place position lends more sense of security than the eight-point gap might warrant, but the Foxes are solidly in the Premier League next season barring a total collapse. Will they have enough to overcome the high-flying Eagles?

Which relegation-threatened club will gain ground?

Sunderland vs. West Ham — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday online via NBCSports.com

Stoke City vs. Hull City — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday online via NBCSports.com

Watford vs. Swansea City — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday online via NBCSports.com

Three matches, four teams in the bottom seven and another two clubs gasping for air. Sunderland has precious little room for error, and the Black Cats are catching West Ham at the right time. Could they put pressure on the rest of the relegation scrap?

Meanwhile, Hull City is flying high with three wins in its last five, and catch Stoke City at the right time. The Potters have dropped four in a row and have won just twice since late January. A win here could potentially see Hull City shoot five points above the relegation zone, a huge gap for the stretch run.

Finally, Swansea City fans were overjoyed at the start to Paul Clement‘s tenure, seeing the 45-year-old turn their fortunes around in his first few weeks on the job. Fast-forward to now, and the club is on a five-match winless run and back in the drop zone having fallen victim to the great runs by Palace and Hull. They take on a Watford side firmly entrenched in the middle of the table. The Swans will find Walter Mazzarri‘s side difficult to break down, and with few goals scored between these to teams in the past, every moment will be precious.

Can Arsenal turn things around?

Middlesbrough vs. Arsenal — 3:00 p.m. EDT Monday online via NBCSports.com

The wheels have come off Arsenal’s season, and a loss at Middlesbrough would no doubt seal their fall from Champions League grace. Even with a win, it seems unlikely for the Gunners to catch the top four, but confidence is needed to make a push, and a road win over a defensively stout team would provide just that.

Boro’s inability to score is well-known throughout the land, but their defensive shape is just the kind of mentality that seems to stifle Arsenal teams in years past. Can the hosts keep the Gunners at bay, or even nick a scrappy win? If so, it would continue Arsenal’s nosedive…and let’s not forget the relegation fight, which could give Boro a much-needed boost as they battle for their Premier League lives.

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.

PL Preview: Three Tuesday fixtures including Chelsea visit to Huddersfield

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As the holiday season nears, the Premier League begins to ramp up. While that can be hard on Premier League managers, it’s great for you, the fan, who now has plenty of options to choose from as you make your way through the work week.

[ PL SCHEDULE: Where to watch all midweek Premier League games ]


Burnley vs. Stoke City – 2:45 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

If Burnley defeats Stoke City on Tuesday, the Clarets would jump Tottenham, Arsenal, and Liverpool en route to a place in the Premier League table’s Top 4. Just pause for a moment and soak that in.

Better?

That’s right, Sean Dyche has his Burnley side on a roll, having won five of its last seven matches. In games where they were earning draws last year, they’re picking up all three points this year. Meanwhile, they face a Potters group that sits just three points above the relegation zone, meaning the heat has turned up on Mark Hughes. What is in store for us at Turf Moor?

INJURIES: Burnley – Tom Heaton (shoulder), Robbie Brady (knee), Jonathan Walters (knee) | Stoke City – Jese (personal leave), Glen Johnson (knee), Bruno Martins Indi (shoulder), Stephen Ireland (leg).


Huddersfield vs. Chelsea – 3:00 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Antonio Conte, in charge of the defending champions, is suddenly on the hot seat. Already 14 points back of leaders and expected winners Manchester City, the Blues are sitting a distant third in the table.

A trip to Huddersfield could be exactly what the doctor ordered. The Terriers started the season well, but had lost four Premier League matches in a row before a 2-0 victory over Brighton turned things around.

Conte has already ruled Chelsea out of the title, with the Blues now fighting for a Champions League place. Can the boss take advantage of the poor opposition form? He will be without star striker Alvaro Morata who is dealing with both back problems and general fatigue, with Conte calling his schedule “impossible.”

INJURIES: HuddersfieldMichael Hefele (Achillies), Philip Billing (ankle), Jon Stankovic (knee), Kasey Palmer (ineligible – parent club) | Chelsea – Alvaro Morata (back), David Luiz (knee).


Crystal Palace vs. Watford – 3:00 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

The Eagles hav a chance to pull themselves not only off the bottom of the Premier League table, but out of the relegation zone completely when they host Watford at Selhurst Park. Crystal Palace sits a point back of Swansea City on the bottom, but with somewhat improved performances under Roy Hodgson, three points would climb them completely out of the drop.

Nevertheless, it remains to be seen how Hodgson balances a desperate need to collect points with discipline of his struggling striker Christian Benteke, who remains goalless on the year after missing a critical penalty he wasn’t supposed to take in the 2-2 draw with Bournemouth over the weekend.

Watford, meanwhile, is without a win in its last three and desperately needs a result. The Hornets sit ninth in the Premier League table but could see their advantage over the bottom half evaporate with another loss.

INJURIES: Crystal Palace – Mamadou Sakho (calf), Joel Ward, Damien Delaney, Connor Wickham (knee) | Watford – Will Hughes (hamstring), Isaac Success (knee), Nathan Chalobah (knee), Younes Kaboul (hamstring), Craig Cathcart (knee)

Report: FA to open inquiry on Man United-Man City tunnel incident

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The FA is looking into what exactly happened in the minutes after the final whistle at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon.

According to multiple reports in England, an altercation took place in the area outside the dressing rooms as Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho was not particularly happy with the way Manchester City players were celebrating their 2-1 victory. According to the Telegraph, Mourinho went to the visitors dressing room and asked the players to show more respect to the hosts.

[MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks]

Mourinho then reportedly ended up with a milk carton and water thrown at him while Manchester City assistant Mikel Arteta suffered a cut to his head.

Now the FA is looking into the situation and has reportedly asked Man United and Man City to submit their version of the events, as the altercation did not make it into referee Michael Oliver’s post-match report.