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Top Premier League storylines — Week 15

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As the calendar readies itself to turn from November to December, the meaty portion of the Premier League season is finally upon us. The next six weeks, beginning this weekend and winding down in mid-January, will go a long, long way toward shaping the final PL table at the end of the season.

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

Here are five of the biggest PL storylines to follow on Saturday and Sunday…

When Will Man City lose drop points?

The winning streak is up to 12 games now, which is one short of Chelsea’s high-water mark of last season — a good omen, surely, as the Blues went on to win the PL title with relative ease. While the results remain very impressive, it’s the manner in which Pep Guardiola‘s side cruised to a dozen straight victories: a combined score of 40-12 during the run. Up next is West Ham United, who visit the Etihad Stadium on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and

A top-four rivalry once again

As clubs like Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool (very fluidly) moved into and out of the PL’s top-four in recent years, their respective progressions came at the expense of Arsenal and Manchester United during various seasons, who face off at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday. Last season, it was Arsenal who stumbled to a fifth-place finish, while Man United have finished outside the top-four in three of the last four years. This weekend’s meeting between the rejuvenated sides (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and is, at least for a day, a battle of top-four sides once again, just as it was year after year during the (earlier) days of Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson. Each side has won three in a row and risen to climbed to fourth and second in the PL table, respectively.

The new-manager boost, just in time?

Everton and West Bromwich Albion, who enter the weekend in 13th and 17th places, respectively, each announced this week a new permanent manager set to take charge of their first game this weekend. For Everton, Sam Allardyce will debut against Huddersfield Town at Goodison Park on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold); West Brom, now under the level-headed lead of Alan Pardew, host bottom-of-the-table Crystal Palace at the Hawthorns (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold).

Burnley in 6th… can they keep it up?

Burnley finishing in the top-four this season had to have been almost — I said, almost — as unlikely as Leicester City’s title win two seasons ago. Yet here we are over one-third of the way through the 2017-18 season, and Sean Dyche‘s side sits sixth — one point back of fifth-place Liverpool, three back of Arsenal, and one ahead of seventh-place Tottenham. As coincidence would have it, the Clarets are set for a trip to the King Power Stadium to take on Claude Puel‘s Leicester on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold). Winners of four of their last five, Burnley have conceded just two goals since taking a hammering at the hands of Man City well over a month ago.

Time for Spurs to stop the rot

Spurs are in semi-serious danger of falling away from the top-four race at an extremely point in the season. Having one just one of their last five PL games, and lost three straight away from home, Saturday’s trip to Vicarage Road, where they’ll take on eighth-place Watford (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on CNBC and, is inarguably a must-win game for Mauricio Pochettino‘s side. A loss to Marco Silva‘s Hornets — who are quite the story themselves — coupled with Arsenal and Liverpool victories would see Spurs fall seven points back of Arsenal and five back of Liverpool. The busiest six-week period of the season lies directly ahead, and Pochettino is already lamenting fatigue throughout his squad. You can see how things could quickly spiral out of control and get away from Spurs.

Bolt to train with Borussia Dortmund on Friday

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DORTMUND, Germany (AP) Sprint star Usain Bolt is set to train with German soccer team Borussia Dortmund on Friday.

The Bundesliga club says the eight-time Olympic champion, whose last race before retirement was at the 2017 world championships, will “participate in an open training session” with coach Peter Stoeger’s side.

Bolt posted a picture of himself in a Dortmund shirt on Twitter, saying, “BVB, get ready for Friday.”

Dortmund, which shares a sponsor with Bolt in sportswear giant Puma, had long said that the 31-year-old could train with the team at some stage.

Dortmund’s next game after the international break is at Bayern Munich on March 31. Bayern can secure the league title then if other results go its way.

Can says he wants to play for “very big club” next year

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Liverpool swing man Emre Can – whose contract expires this summer – has not yet found a club to sign with yet, and the future free agent is playing up his own talents while looking for a new home.

“I have the self-confidence to say that my qualities are sufficient to play in a very big club next season,” Can told German newspaper Suddeutche Zeitung. “I’m doing great in England. The Spanish league is also attractive. The same applies to Germany, where tactics are concerned, and the Italian club football, which has recently caught up.”

“Incidentally, the same applies to France, this league has now established itself as one of the best in Europe. Therefore, I do not want to exclude anything.”

However, Can also said that the Premier League’s spending power plays a major role, and singled out the German top flight – his home country – for its inability to pay top players.

“Sure, the Bundesliga would interest me, why not? Although I must say honestly that the level has waned in recent years,” he said. “The Premier League has the power to spend more money on players than the Bundesliga. This is very, very important for players.”

Despite those comments, the 24-year-old insists that money is not the ultimate deciding factor in where he will play.

“What counts for me is that I’m an integral part of the team and at a club with a chance of winning the title,” he added. “That’s what every footballer dreams of because that’s the reward of your hard work.”

Can has not ruled out a return to Liverpool, a club that he says “still feels like family.”

Wales boss Giggs claims he wont give in to commercial pressure to play Bale

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Wales is among the field of the China Cup, an international tournament in Guangxi, China, to play a pair of international friendlies this week.

New manager Ryan Giggs admitted there is outside pressure to play Gareth Bale in the event at some point, but admitted he will not put the Real Madrid star at risk just to appease sponsors. In fact, the only pressure he’s feeling is from himself.

“Any risks, stupid risks, I won’t be taking,” Giggs said. “But it’s also my first game and I want to get my best team out there.”

Wales missed out on the 2018 World Cup, and there’s little to gain from having Bale out on the field the entire time. Wales will play China in the semifinals on Thursday, and then meets the winner of Uruguay and Czech Republic next week.

According to reports, Wales would lose nearly $150,000 of its $1.5 million participation fee if Bale did not play.

“I’ve not spoken to [Real Madrid manager Zinedine] Zidane, but I’ve spoken to Gareth,” Giggs said. “I’ve been in contact with him regularly in the last few months and I’m not stupid because it’s an important part of the season.”

Bale has been smothered by injuries – mostly calf problems – during his Real Madrid career, missing a stretch of over two months through October and November with hamstring issues. He has been fit since, but Zidane rarely risks Bale for the full 90 minutes. In fact, Bale’s only three full 90’s of the 2018 calendar year have all come in the last three weeks.

The 28-year-old has three goals in his last five La Liga games, including one off the bench in a 6-3 win over Girona last weekend.

International preview: What is to come over the next week

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With the 2018 World Cup less than three months away, countries are taking these last moments to see players within their selection pool and make tweaks to the squad and tactics.

This week’s international window has already kicked off with the likes of South Africa, Liechtenstein, and Andorra taking the opportunity to see the field, and World Cup countries take the field tomorrow – two, to be exact. And they play each other.

Denmark and Panama meet in a rare friendly between countries set to take part in the summer festivities, with the match taking place in Bronby at 3pm ET. The two countries chose to play knowing they cannot possibly meet in Russia 2018 until at least the quarterfinals, with their respective Groups C and G split apart across the knockout rounds.

The hosts are fantastic from set-pieces and focus their attack around Tottenham star Christian Eriksen. Panama’s midfield rock Gabriel Gomez will likely be tasked with keeping Eriksen quiet, something the Republic of Ireland was unable to do last time Denmark took the field as Eriksen bagged a hat-trick. Defender Andreas Christensen is headed towards the World Cup in fantastic form with Chelsea, having earned a starting spot with the Blues. With some injuries at the back, Christensen has also played out wide along the back line before as well, something to keep watch for.

On Friday, the heavyweights begin to see the field as Uruguay hosts Czech Republic. The South American nation received a friendly draw in World Cup Group A, but brought in a solid European side to match wits with after the Czechs finished third in their qualifying group. Japan also takes to the pitch on Friday, playing Mali on a neutral field in Belgium. The Japanese will need to be at the top of their game come summer, matched into Group H against Colombia, Poland, and Senegal.

England and Argentina have both scheduled games against European sides that disappointed by failing to make the 2018 tournament. On Friday, England travels to Amsterdam to take on a Netherlands squad in turmoil, while Argentina travels to the Etihad to meet Italy.

Russia and Brazil meet in Moscow on Friday, with over 50,000 tickets already reportedly sold for the match at Luzhniki Stadium. The hosts will then get another stiff test as they take on France four days later on Tuesday. If Russia’s squad has lots of work to do before hosting the World Cup, we’ll know in a week.

The main event on Friday will be Germany and Spain meeting in Dusseldorf in a matchup of the last two World Cup winners. Germany will be without Manuel Neuer and Marco Reus, but still fields one of the deepest squads in the entire world. The Germans don’t then get the week off, having to meet Brazil on Tuesday. If Jogi Low’s side comes out of those matches on top, they could cement their status as favorites headed into the summer.

France has a stiff test as well, meeting Colombia on Friday. Like Denmark and Panama, the two countries reside in Groups C and H, meaning they could not rematch in the World Cup until at least the quarterfinals. The French then go to take on Russia next week.


Denmark vs. Panama
Slovakia vs. UAE
China vs. Wales
Algeria vs. Tanzania
Malta vs. Luxembourg

Germany vs. Spain
Italy vs. Argentina
Russia vs. Brazil
Netherlands vs. England
France vs. Colombia
Portugal vs. Egypt
Uruguay vs. Czech Republic
Mexico vs. Ireland
Poland vs. Nigeria
Austria vs. Slovenia
Peru vs. Croatia
Austria vs. Slovenia
Greece vs. Switzerland
Norway vs. Australia
Mali vs. Japan

Sweden vs. Chile

Kuwait vs. Cameroon
Nicaragua vs. Cuba

Portugal vs. Netherlands
Bulgaria vs. Kazakhstan

Russia vs. France
Germany vs. Brazil
England vs. Italy
Spain vs. Argentina
United States vs. Paraguay
Tunisia vs. Costa Rica
Colombia vs. Australia
Belgium vs. Saudi Arabia
Egypt vs. Greece
Denmark vs. Chile
Japan vs. Ukraine