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PL Sunday preview: New bosses battle; Brighton vs. Saints

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The battle of Leicester City and Everton’s newly installed managers is the highlights of Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures, but not before PL new boys Brighton & Hove Albion host Southampton in a south-coast derby.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Man City’s historic start; Man United, Arsenal win ]

Brighton vs. Southampton — 9:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

All three of this year’s newly promoted sides — Newcastle United, Brighton & Hove Albion and Huddersfield Town — entered the 10th weekend of the season as a top-12 side. On Sunday, it’s Brighton, who finished a close second to Newcastle in the Championship last season, who reunite an old rivalry with a fellow south-coast side, Southampton, at Falmer Stadium. Through sheer consistency, the Seagulls have established themselves as a functional top-flight side.

“What we have done over these nine games is we have been in every game,” Brighton boss Chris Hughton said this week. “Even the games against Manchester City and Arsenal, both games we have lost 2-0, but we were in the game. If there is any statement, it is that we should not be frightened of the challenges we have and I think we have got enough quality and desire in the squad to make a good account of ourselves in any games. Whether that wins you enough games, that is different. It is goals that win you games and at the moment we are doing OK.”

Saints, meanwhile, are still adjusting to life under new manager Mauricio Pellegrino, as they’ve won just one of their last four in the PL and the goals still aren’t coming. The lack of scoring is a trend that carried over from last season under Claude Puel, when Southampton scored just 41 times en route to an eighth-place finish. That lone victory came on their last outing, though, courtesy of Sofiane Boufal’s brilliant individual effort, so perhaps brighter days are indeed on the horizon.

INJURIES: Brighton — OUT: Steve Sidwell (back), Beram Kayal (fitness), Sam Baldock (fitness) | Southampton — OUT: Mario Lemina (ankle)

[ MORE: England top Spain, win U-17 World Cup ]

Leicester City vs. Everton — 12 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com

First went Craig Shakespeare on Oct. 17, followed in short order by Ronald Koeman six days later. Leicester and Everton, respectively, were second and third to fire a manager during the 2017-18 PL season (more than a month after Crystal Palace sent Frank De Boer packing), and now the two sides face off on Sunday. Former Saints boss Puel is the new man in charge at the King Power Stadium, site of Sunday’s clash, while David Unsworth hopes to impress Toffees owner Farhad Moshiri during game no. 1 of his trial run as interim manager.

After nine games played, both sides are nearer to the relegation zone than they would have imagined this season, as Leicester currently sit 15th, a point ahead of 18th-place Everton.

“It is not about me or any individual, it is about us as a team and club coming together and showing the fighting spirit and commitment we had throughout that 90 minutes,” Unsworth said this week. “Even at 2-0 we kept going and got the goal. You could see the work rate, spirit and commitment — that is what we are looking for. We can iron out issues and problems and it is a great start, something to really build and work on.”

Leicester were victorious in the fourth round of the EFL Cup, knocking of Championship side Leeds United 3-1 on Tuesday. 21-year-old Kelechi Iheanacho scored his first goal (to go with an assist) for the Foxes after arriving from Manchester City in the summer to give Puel something more to consider when he picks his first starting lineup on Sunday.

INJURIES: Leicester — OUT: Robert Huth (foot), Matty James (achilles) | Everton — OUT: Ross Barkley (hamstring), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), Yannick Bolasie (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Morgan Schneiderlin (illness)

Premier League preview: Man United vs. Newcastle United

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  • Red Devils unbeaten in 31 of last 32 home fixtures vs. Newcastle
  • Newcastle winless in its last six PL matches
  • Lukaku hasn’t scored in United’s last seven games

Manchester United hosts Newcastle United on Saturday from Old Trafford (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com) as the Red Devils could potentially welcome back several of it biggest stars for the match.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Marcos Rojo could return for Jose Mourinho’s side this weekend, as Man United looks to bounce back from its 1-0 defeat to Chelsea on Nov. 5.

The ex-Sweden international Ibrahimovic hasn’t appeared in a match since April 2017, after being United’s top goalscorer a season ago.

The Red Devils will have to deal with the absence of Phil Jones at the back, though, as the England international misses out on the match with a thigh injury.

Newcastle will be without Christian Atsu and Jamaal Lascelles, which certainly hurts the squad’s attack, while Mikel Merino and Paul Dummett remain sidelined with respective injuries.

What they’re saying

Jose Mourinho, on Paul Pogba’s status:  “I can say now because he’s back – I don’t like to speak while he’s injured – you can clearly see there is a Manchester United this season before Paul’s injury and after Paul’s injury. There are qualities in our football, qualities that influence our approach in matches, with Pogba and without Pogba. Simple as that.”

Rafa Benitez, on growing pains of being a young side“We are a newly-promoted club that has to settle down in the Premier League. We have a young squad, so it’s a learning process for everyone and losing some games is part of the process. Hopefully we can stop that this weekend, but we know it has to be like this. We have to think that the target is to stay in the Premier League, then after try to go as high as we can in the table.”

Prediction

Newcastle has had its share of struggles this season, and running into a Man United side that is gaining full fitness is a dangerous task. The Red Devils are a tough squad to beat at home, so Rafa Benitez and Co. have their hands full. Man United 2-0 Newcastle

Luiz back in Chelsea squad after being dropped by Conte

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David Luiz‘s pair of stints at Chelsea have been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride of emotions — joyous highs and painful lows.

[ MORE: Pogba, Zlatan back form injuries; available this weekend ]

After returning to the club for a second time in the summer of 2016, Luiz instantly slotted into Antonio Conte‘s three-man backline and was a pivotal part of the Blues’ title-winning team last season.

Much like the second half of his first four seasons at Chelsea, Luiz’s second season (the second time around) has started so hotly. After playing eight of the first 10 games during Chelsea’s ongoing title defense, Luiz was unexpectedly dropped from the squad for the victory over Manchester United.

Now, two weeks later, Conte has announced that Luiz has rejoined the squad and is available for selection when his side visits West Brom on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold) — quotes from the Guardian:

“David Luiz is in the squad, yes. [His exclusion] was a technical decision. When it’s a technical decision every player has to react well and accept my decision. It’s normal, this.

“I like to speak about the team and the next game that we have to pay attention to. This is the most important thing, not speaking about a single player. I repeat: I don’t like to speak about a single player.”

Pogba, Zlatan, Rojo return from injuries for Man Utd-Newcastle

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The only saving grace when it comes to injuries is that, eventually (usually), players recover from them and return to the team.

[ MORE: 2018 World Cup Power Rankings — who comes out on top? ]

It’s been a long seven months for the soccer world to be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic (torn ACL on April 20), just as it’s been a painfully long 10 weeks for Manchester United fans following Paul Pogba‘s hamstring injury on Sept. 12. Man United have dropped eight points during the latter’s absence and now coincidentally sit eight points behind Manchester City in the Premier League title race.

A bit of good news on this Friday: United manager Jose Mourinho announced today that the dynamic duo, along with defender Marcos Rojo (knee ligament damage on April 20) have returned to full fitness and will be available for selection during Saturday’s home clash with Newcastle United (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com) — quotes from ManUtd.com:

“The players that stayed here and [were] recovering from injuries, even the ones that are recovering from big injuries, they are ready to play — Pogba, Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo.”

“[Ibrahimovic] made a full recovery. Now you cannot expect him to be ready to play 90 minutes or to be ready to play consecutive matches like he did all his career.

“Now he needs time to be back to his level, his fitness, his confidence, his sharpness, his everything. But, from the clinical point of view, to be good and ready is fantastic.”

2018 World Cup Power Rankings — 7 months B.W.C.

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209 days — that’s how long the world is still being made to wait for the opening game of the 2018 World Cup. It’s close, in that all 32 berths have been secured, but still so far, in that the draw is still two weeks away.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s 2018 World Cup coverage | USMNT | Premier League ]

Perhaps then, and only then, will it begin to feel really real.

According to our esteemed panelists — Joe Prince-Wright, Nicholas Mendola, Kyle Bonn, Matt Reed, Dan Karell and yours truly — four clear-cut favorites for the semifinals have separated themselves from the rest of the pack, followed by another six or eight sides with one half of their squad firing on all cylinders but some serious kinks to work out elsewhere.

[ MORE: Round 1 of the WC power rankings | Round 2 ]

Finally, the latest edition of PST’s 2018 World Cup Power Rankings, now featuring all 32 teams qualified for Russia…

Team Points Best Worst
1 (1) Germany 189 1 2
2 (2) Brazil 188 1 3
3 (4) Spain 177 3 5
4 (3) France 176 3 5
5 (8) Argentina 158 4 10
6 (5) Belgium 156 4 10
7 (7) Portugal 153 6 10
8 (11) England 150 5 12
9 (6) Uruguay 141 6 14
10 (9) Colombia 140 7 12
11 (10) Mexico 129 8 14
12 (12) Poland 125 10 14
13 (20) Croatia 118 7 20
14 (17) Switzerland 115 12 16
15 (NR) Sweden 92 16 19
16 (NR) Denmark 86 13 23
17 (NR) Serbia 83 9 28
18 (NR) Peru 80 15 25
19 (15) Iceland 79 15 24
20 (16) Japan 71 16 27
21 (NR) Egypt 66 18 27
22 (NR) South Korea 64 13 32
23 (NR) Senegal 63 17 26
24 (18) Nigeria 58 15 27
25 (19) Costa Rica 57 14 29
26 (NR) Morocco 48 18 29
27 (NR) Australia 45 22 30
28 (NR) Russia 36 20 32
29 (NR) Iran 34 22 31
30 (NR) Tunisia 30 23 31
31 (NR) Panama 19 28 32
32 (NR) Saudi Arabia 9 31 32