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Top Premier League storylines — Week 7

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Following this weekend’s slate of Premier League fixtures, club soccer won’t take another break for five months, thus the meaty portion of the season is so nearly upon us. First, though, one more round of league games followed by that dreaded weekend off.

[ MORE: JPW’s PL predictions | TV, stream schedule for the weekend ]

Here are five of the biggest PL storylines to follow over the next 72 hours…

First of 6 battles among the “Big 3”

If we’re operating under the wide-spread notion that Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea — as they currently sit 1, 2 and 3 in the league table — are the main contenders for this season’s PL title, Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. ET kickoff at Stamford Bridge (Watch live, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) is of massive importance: 3rd vs. 1st.

Man City (21-2 combined score through six games), like Man United, are yet to lose a game in the PL this season, while Chelsea haven’t lost since opening day (10-2 combined score in the ensuing five games). To say Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola‘s sides are in good form would be quite the understatement.

Conte got the better of Guardiola on both occasions last season, knocking off a nine-man City side at the Etihad Stadium in December before doing the double with a 2-1 win at home in April. Each side was victorious in the UEFA Champions League this week, with City brushing Shakhtar Donetsk aside, and Chelsea snatching all three points from their away trip to Atletico Madrid.


Undefeated vs. only defeated

Five wins, one draw — Man United’s start to the season. Zero wins, zero draws, six losses — Crystal Palace’s start to the season. Unfortunately for Frank de Boer Roy Hodgson, up next for the Eagles is a trip to Old Trafford (followed by a visit from Chelsea, so expect things to get worse before they get better). Will Palace score their first goal this season? Tune in to find out.

Further complicating matters for Hodsgon and Co. is the scintillating form of Romelu Lukaku (nine goals in eight games, all competitions) and the young attacking duo of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial (10 goals between them, all competitions, already this season), even with Paul Pogba still unavailable through injury (hamstring). Jose Mourinho’s men did the double over Palace last season, winning 2-1 away in December and cruising to a 2-0 victory at home in May.


Rafa faces his former club

Rafa Benitez served six seasons as manager at Anfield, and while he’d previously faced his former club as manager of Chelsea, Sunday’s 11:30 a.m. ET kickoff (Watch live, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) will be just the second time he’s done so while at Newcastle United. While it’s still early in the season, the Magpies’ current standing in the league table — 9th, and they trail the Reds by just two points — is undoubtedly one of the biggest surprises thus far.

No side currently in the top-16 of the league table has conceded more goal than Liverpool, which is welcome news for a Newcastle side that has struggled a fair bit in the goal-scoring department (six in six games). On the other hand, nothing they’ve seen thus far will have prepared them for the all-out attacking onslaught Liverpool are set to unleash.


Trouble ahead for Huddersfield?

Huddersfield were the single biggest story in the PL through two games — two wins as a newly-promoted side had them level on points for the league lead — though David Wagner‘s side has come back down to earth in its last four games — three draws and a loss, which slots them into 8th place ahead of Saturday’s visit from Tottenham Hotspur (7:30 a.m. ET, Watch live onNBCSN and NBCSports.com).

It’s the first time the Terriers have faced any of the PL’s “big six,” and signals the start of a run of five-of-eight games against those very sides — Man United, Liverpool, Man City and Arsenal all follow in relatively quick succession.


Battles at the bottom

  • Bournemouth vs. Leicester City — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold
  • West Ham United vs. Swansea City —Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

League-table places 15 through 19 currently read as follows: Swansea, Stoke City, Leicester, West Ham and Bournemouth. While it’s too early to call any game a relegation six-pointer, it’s far from too early to preclude yourself from the relegation dogfight which will be cultivated over the following two months.

Wild day in American soccer: Crew relocation, NASL LOIs, USL reserves

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The top three soccer leagues in the United States of America are dealing with varying bits of turmoil this Tuesday in October.

It began late Monday with reports that Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt aims to take the MLS founding member to Texas, seemingly only paying lip service to the idea of investment keeping the team in Ohio.

[ MORE: Leicester sacks Shakespeare ]

Some have said Precourt’s goals have always been to find a way out of Ohio, and the Crew owner was asked what has changed in the four years he’s owned the club (From ColumbusCrewSC.com):

Q:When we read your story about your purchase of the team, this was back in 2013, part of that was that it was very important to the Hunt family that the Crew remained in Columbus and you said at the time that you were committed to that. So what’s changed?

AP: I was committed to that and I believe that I demonstrated my commitment through significant investment in infrastructure, in personnel, in the quality of our product on the field. What has changed? Our League has grown leaps and bounds, it’s been unprecedented the improvement we’ve seen year over year and new markets that have come in the League have shown dramatic attendance. Let’s look at Atlanta with over 70,000 fans over their last few games, with Orlando building a new facility and averaging over 30,000 fans a game, with New York City FC. The list goes on and on. Our peers get stronger and stronger, year in and year out and I have to get back to our ambition as a club. This is key: our ambition as a club is to be a standard bearer in Major League Soccer, to be respected on and off the field in terms of our soccer operations and our business operations and to operate world-class, soccer-specific infrastructure. We’re going through growing pains now. It’s time for us to explore building a world-class, soccer-specific stadium so that we can be celebrated and successful and sustainable.

So, yes, barring a king’s ransom — word use intended — from the Ohio business community, it’s not being cynical to read Precourt’s intention to leave Ohio as very strong. The idea is very sad for the league, and makes every pro/rel honk’s argument against the closed model.

Then there’s the NASL, where it’s almost head-spinning to keep abreast of the future of the league. New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso has taken the wheel in an attempt to not only see the NASL rise, but remove Sunil Gulati from power at the United States Soccer Federation in the hopes of a complete overhaul. In what should not be read as a footnote, the NASL is currently suing the USSF.

There are reports that the league could have as many as 17 teams next season in a bid to regain sanctioning from the Unites States Soccer Federation, including a series of teams from the fourth-tier National Premier Soccer League.

According to SocTakes.com, the NASL has letters of intent from NPSL clubs in Boca Raton, Boston, Detroit, Arizona, New Orleans, and Virginia Beach. Additionally, there’s interest in Hartford and it may not be the NPSL club.

Then came this Tweet:

Now here’s a league, the USL, whose only issues have been perception-related. Growing well and instituting a D-3 companion, the biggest concern has been the mentioned MLS Reserve sides creating a minor league feel for the league.

All of this is manageable, and you could argue that the disappearance or at least rebranding of most of these reserve sides would be a boon for the league.

Taken in a vacuum, any of these stories has the potential to carry a day’s news. Together, and in the wake of the United States men’s national team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup, they give Tuesday one of those Soccer-USApocalyptic feelings.

UEFA Champions League Weds. preview: Chelsea, Man Utd look to break out

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Only one of 16 teams was held off the score sheet on Tuesday. Could the same level of entertainment reach the UEFA Champions League a day later?

Two more Premier League teams take the pitch on Wednesday, with Manchester United facing its stiffest test of the group stage and Chelsea with a tricky visit from AS Roma.

[ MORE: Champions League Tues. wrap ]

Manchester United has a significant challenge in Benfica, and may need a man familiar with the Estadio da Luz to help them out. Center back Eric Bailly remains out for United, which could bring Victor Lindelof into the fold to help stop Haris Seferovic, Gabriel Barbosa, Raul Jimenez, and especially Jonas.

Coming off a sleepy weekend draw versus Liverpool in an underwhelming derby, United will take on a desperate Benfica team which is traditionally strong but lost at home to CSKA Moscow and was crushed in Switzerland by Basel.

(AP Photo/Armando Franca)

Speaking of the need to rebound, Chelsea’s loss to Crystal Palace still has many scratching their heads. Fortunately, Roma is also in a mini-funk after a weekend loss to Napoli that ended a five-match winning streak.

There’s a reunion for Antonio Rudiger inside Stamford Bridge with Roma in town. I Lupi has been pretty one-dimensional in terms of offense, with ex-Man City man and reigning Serie A capocannoniere winner Edin Dzeko. He’s scored eight times in nine matches for Roma this season.

Full Wednesday UCL schedule
All kickoffs at 2:45 p.m. ET except where indicated

Qarabag vs. Atletico Madrid — Noon ET
Anderlecht vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Benfica vs. Manchester United
Juventus vs. Sporting Lisbon
Barcelona vs. Olympiacos
Chelsea vs. Roma
Bayern Munich vs. Celtic
CSKA Moscow vs. Basel

U-17 World Cup wrap: England advances to meet USA

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The United States now knows it’ll have to take down England’s best to get to the semifinals of the U-17 World Cup in India.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

England, don’t laugh, won in penalty kicks after a scoreless match with Japan, advancing to meet the Baby Yanks.


England 0-0 (5-3, PKs) Japan

There wasn’t a single miss amongst the England shooters, as Rhian Brewster (Liverpool), Callum Hudson-Odoi (Chelsea), Phil Foden (Man City), Nya Kirby (Crystal Palace), and Curtis Anderson (Man City) converted from the spot to set up a date against the U.S.

Mali 5-1 Iraq

Lassana Ndiaye scored twice to join France’s Amine Gouiri atop the goal scoring list for the tournament as Mali advances to face the winner of Ghana vs. Niger.

France 1-2 Spain

Barcelona prospects Juan Miranda and Abel Ruiz get the better of France to set up a date with high-flying Iran.

 

Iran 2-1 Mexico

Iran conceded for just the second time in the tournament, but not before Mohammad Sharifi and Allahyar Sayyad (both of Iranian club Saifa) made it 2-0 by the 11th minute.

UEFA Champions League wrap: Tables turned on wild day

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One clean sheet in eight Tuesday matches certainly helped the entertainment value of the UEFA Champions League, and the group ramifications follow suit.

Borussia Dortmund whiffed on a chance to take advantage of Real Madrid’s home draw versus Spurs, while Sevilla was waxed in Russia, and Besiktas continues to strut in UCL play.

Real Madrid 1-1 Tottenham HotspurRECAP, VIDEO

Raphael Varane’s plans to mark Harry Kane were subverted by the French defender’s unwitting legs, but Serge Aurier chopped down Toni Kroos in the 42nd minute for a yellow card and penalty that Cristiano Ronaldo sent beyond the reach of Spurs backstop Hugo Lloris.

It was Lloris’ outstanding day, along with a couple timely Keylor Navas saves, that kept the score line 1-1 after 90 minutes. The backstops will likely match wits again come Nov. 1 at Wembley Stadium.

Manchester City 2-1 NapoliRECAP

Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus scored in the ninth and 13th minutes as City has been an unwelcoming host for the Neapolitan side. Ederson stopped a Dries Mertens penalty, adding insult to Napoli’s twin concessions, but Napoli would get a second penalty kick and pulled back a goal courtesy of Amadou Diawara.

Monaco 1-2 Besiktas

Reported Newcastle United and Crystal Palace target Cenk Tosun scored a pair of goals as group-leading Besiktas came back to beat Monaco after Radamel Falcao made it 1-0 to the hosts.

Feyenoord 1-2 Shakhtar Donetsk

Similar story in the Netherlands, where Ex-Watford man Steven Berghuis gave the Eredivisie hosts a lead only to see a Bernard brace lead Shakhtar at De Kuip.

Spartak Moscow 5-1 Sevilla

Liverpool’s score line was a bit surprising, but this one raised eyebrows even given Sevilla’s long road (or flight path) to Russia. Quincy Promes scored twice to make Sevilla consider its Europa roots (though plenty of time remains in the group stage).

Spartak’s Luiz Adriano scores past Sevilla’s Sergio Rico (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

Maribor 0-7 LiverpoolRECAP

Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds are sent their finishing demons off a cliff. It was 3-0 after 20 minutes, 4-0 at half, and when all was said and done there were braces for Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah to go with single markers from Philippe Coutinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Trent Alexander-Arnold.

APOEL Nicosia 1-1 Borussia Dortmund

A significant step backward for BVB, who would’ve done well to take advantage of Real and Spurs drawing at the Bernabeu. The Germans even trailed for five second-half minutes before Sokratis Papastathopoulos provided the equalizing goal.

RB Leipzig 3-2 Porto

Five first half goals felt like the start of something special, but the upstart Germans held on through a scoreless second half to claim their first UCL win.