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Premier League 2017-18 preview – Liverpool

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Liverpool’s 2016-17 season was baffling for neutrals and agonizing for supporters; How did one of the world’s best managers and most talented attacks manage to go unbeaten against the best teams in the Premier League yet lose six matches to non-traditional powers?

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How could the Reds score three or more goals on 12 occasions but not manage a single marker over 180 minutes of the League Cup semifinals against Southampton?

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There’s pressure on Jurgen Klopp, he of the tremendous tactical and motivational reputation, to find the answers to those questions and flip the script this season.

Best, worst case scenarios –  The best scenario is pretty easy; The Reds don’t have the depth right now to compete for a quadruple or anything historically lofty, but on a match-by-match basis they can hang with any team in the Premier League or UEFA Champions League. Winning one is not out of the question, and scooping a pair of trophies from their four competitions is probably their ceiling.*

*This assumes the Reds don’t add Virgil Van Dijk, Naby Keita, and/or a number of other big name targets.

The worst case scenario is Klopp’s fire burns his players, whose defensive depth fails the test of a congested schedule and falls in all four pursuits and also manages to finish short of the Top Four. A season in the Europa League then hampers their 2018-19 preparations and life begins, probably with a new manager.


Best possible XI is… 

Mignolet

Milner — Matip — Lovren — Clyne

Henderson — Can

Salah — Coutinho — Mane

Firmino


[ MORE: 2017-18 PL season preview hub ] 

Transfers In: Mohamed Salah (Roma, $48 million), Dominic Solanke (Chelsea, tribunal), Andrew Robertson (Hull City, $11 million).

Transfers Out: Lucas Leiva (Lazio, $7 million), Kevin Stewart (Hull City, $5 million).

Last season:

— 4th place in Premier League
League Cup semifinalists
FA Cup fourth round loss to Wolverhampton Wanderers

Star player: Sadio ManePhilippe Coutinho is better, but as long as his future remains in even minimal doubt, let’s wax about another player. Mane arrived from Southampton with a bit of hype, probably not as much as he deserved, and totally delivered when healthy. The Senegalese 25-year-old scored 13 goals and added 8 assists in his first year at Anfield, one that stuttered thanks to the Africa Cup of Nations and was stopped early by a knee injury. His star could rise even higher this season.

Coaches’ Corner:  Jurgen Klopp — The German is claiming Liverpool can win the Premier League. In order to do that, he’ll have to overcome a penchant for losing to lesser lights in both England and his previous stint at Borussia Dortmund. The fiery players’ manager and tactician oversaw a team that the casual viewer would figure won the league based solely on performances against top sides, but falling short against lower half sides (Crystal Palace, Burnley, Bournemouth, Swansea City, Hull City, Leicester City) cannot be the name of the game again this season.

PST predicts:  Depending on additions before the August transfer window closes, a prolonged European run will test the Reds defense and depth in ways last season did not. The ceiling is high for the Reds, who could win any competition or fall flat. It’s a massive year for Klopp, who needs a trophy of some sort. We predict he’ll get one via the FA or League Cup.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis/Mkhitaryan transfer saga and more

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle recap all the key stories from the latest Premier League Saturday fixtures including Manchester City’s 3-1 win over Newcastle (0:20), Chelsea’s 4-0 victory at Brighton (10:15) and the latest on the Alexis Sanchez/Henrikh Mkhitaryan saga after wins for Arsenal and Manchester United (19:00). Plus, a closer look at the bottom of the table and thoughts go out to James McCarthy after his serious injury against West Brom (29:00).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Video: Stoke’s Imbula scores stunner on loan at Toulouse

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Stoke City supporters know the name Giannelli Imbula, and perhaps they’ll be clamoring for the Frenchman to return to the bet365 Stadium if he can score more goals like this.

[ MORE: PL Roundup — Top three all victorious; Gunners thrash Palace ]

The holding midfielder is currently on loan with Ligue 1 outfit Toulouse, and for the first time this season, Imbula opened his goalscoring account in some fashion.

Right on half-hour mark, Imbula unleashed a left-footed strike from nearly 40 yards out to give Toulouse the lead over Montpellier (below).

Imbula joined Stoke during the 2015/16 PL season, and has made 26 appearances for the Potters in his time with the club, prior to his loan to France.

Willian proves he’s Chelsea’s x-factor against Brighton

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There’s a considerable difference when watching a Chelsea team that plays with and without one of its Brazilian influences in the attacking part of the field.

Willian — who first debuted for the Blues back in 2013 — hasn’t always managed to be a regular starter for Chelsea, whether it was Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink or current manager Antonio Conte at the helm, though.

[ SOURCES: Jack Harrison expected to join Stoke City this winter ]

The 29-year-old plays with considerable flair, something that certainly isn’t uncommon amongst many players that have grown up in Brazil.

At times Willian’s overconfidence is a significant blessing, and at others it can be considered a curse, however, the former Corinthians player’s presence is something that Chelsea needs now more than ever.

That was on display on Saturday during the side’s 4-0 win at Brighton, a match in which Chelsea dominated from start to finish with Willian on the pitch. While the performance cannot solely be attributed to the attacking midfielder’s showing, it’s easy to argue that the Blues midfielder is becoming the club’s biggest x factor — one that can determine the outcome of a match.

Just look six minutes into the match, when the Blues put together one of the best team goals you’ll see in a match this year (or any year for that matter), which of course, was started and finished by none other than Willian.

What stands out about the play isn’t the brilliant slicing shot into the near post corner by the veteran playmaker, but instead the confidence that Willian exudes and brings to a Chelsea lineup that has plenty of talent to be considered one of the best teams in England and all of Europe.

After all, Conte’s group is just a season removed from winning the Premier League and still sits inside the top three in the world’s top league.

Then, there’s the Blues’ third goal against Brighton, which was set up by a smart, and instinctive, through ball played into the path of Eden Hazard by Willian (below).

Even though Hazard ends up with a ton of time on the ball to make his next decision, which was ultimately to cut inside on his preferred right foot, the run by Willian towards the end line dragged a defender away from the Belgian international — allowing the sequence to progress.

Arguing Willian’s importance isn’t a knock on Hazard — a world-class player in his own right — or Alvaro Morata, who has had the intolerable task of replacing a key player like Diego Costa.

Instead, it simply shows that Chelsea has a plethora of talent, and that some of the club’s attacking struggles throughout the 2017/18 season can be chalked up to Willian being left out of the starting XI on a regular basis.

[ MORE: Sergio Aguero continues to display brilliance for Man City ]

The Brazilian international has scored eight goals and added seven assists this season in all competitions for the Blues, despite only starting 19 matches.

The mind of manager Conte is an ever-changing one, so maybe Willian still doesn’t get the starting nod on an every week basis, but just by watching the team’s performance at the Amex Stadium it’s quite hard to argue against the player being on the field as much as possible.

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. Tottenham

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Southampton will host Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with both sides hoping to pick up three points for very different reasons.

The Saints are currently in the midst of a fierce relegation battle through 23 matches, and sit in 18th place in the Premier League, while Spurs are hoping challenge for a top-four position.

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Mauricio Pellegrino‘s Southampton could get defender Maya Yoshida back in time for Sunday’s match, however, the side will be without Charlie Austin once more, who is currently nursing a hamstring injury.

Meanwhile, a number of key figures will miss the match for Tottenham, including goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and Harry Winks. Also, Danny Rose and Toby Alderweireld remain sidelined with injuries, although the latter is expected to be back soon.

What they’re saying

Mauricio Pellegrino on state of the Saints: “We are not happy with our position but in three or four weeks’ time everything can change. It’s part of our competition. I feel in our team the spirit is really good and everybody is conscious about what we need. I receive these messages from players every day, and we have to convert these feelings into stats.”

Mauricio Pochettino on potential January moves: “To be honest it will be difficult. At some point you always dream but not too much exciting [is happening]. If it happens, it happens. If not, then it doesn’t happen. We are happy with the squad.”

Prediction

Harry Kane is firing at an absurd rate recently, and Southampton’s current form is worrisome to say the least. With just four wins all season, it’s hard to imagine the Saints coming out in front in their clash. Southampton 0-3 Tottenham