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Top Storylines for Premier League Week 23

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With the Premier League back following a week of FA Cup action, let’s take a look at the top storylines heading into this weekend…

Can Liverpool end Man City’s unbeaten run

Manchester City faces another stiff test to its unbeaten run – and perhaps its title aspirations – with a trip to Liverpool to end the Premier League’s Sunday slate.

Sunday (Watch live, 11:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) also marks the start of the post-Philippe Coutinho era, as the Brazilian was finally given his dream transfer to Barcelona last week. It’s a key moment for Liverpool, a team fighting for another top four position as well as this year’s UEFA Champions League knockout stage only to lose one of its top attackers. How will Jurgen Klopp‘s team respond. On the other side, Man City has rebounded well from its scoreless draw with Crystal Palace, with three straight wins as it looks to wrap up the Premier League title by March.

[MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 23]

Arsenal’s transfer saga continues

Arsenal is expected to sell Alexis Sanchez any day now, but there’s nothing yet pointing to the Chilean forward not being part of the first-team squad in the meantime. The Gunners hit the road to face Bournemouth and Eddie Howe, a man who has been touted as an eventual successor to Arsene Wenger, on Sunday (Watch live, 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). The Gunners are winless in their last three, including a rough scoreless draw at Chelsea in the League Cup on Wednesday, and will be without Jack Wilshere for at least a game or two. And possibly Alexis Sanchez? Who knows.

Howe will be reminding his men of the repeat fixture last year: where Bournemouth ran riot and took a commanding 3-0 lead, only for Olivier Giroud to lead Arsenal’s comeback to earn a point with a 3-3 draw. Howe will be expecting a win this time around.

Mahrez vs. Hazard at Stamford Bridge

Chelsea and Leicester City have an interesting relationship. Chelsea’s wild 2-2 draw with Tottenham secured Leicester City’s improbable and incredible Premier League title, and with Leicester City’s midfield dynamo N'Golo Kante, the Blues won the title last year.

But perhaps the focus will be on another sought-after player who just passed his four-year mark in Leicester – Riyad Mahrez. With Coutinho – who basically plays a similar position to Mahrez – making a big-money move to Barcelona, the French-born Algerian international may want to show potential suitors that he can provide plenty to a future club, or perhaps he’ll turn these performances into a new contract. It will be fun to see Mahrez go up against former teammates Kante and Danny Drinkwater, as well as Premier League star Eden Hazard (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Spurs look to break into Top 4

Despite all its talent, Tottenham is currently sitting on the outside of the top four and looking in. But perhaps not for long.

If Spurs can get past a more defensively-sound Everton side on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 .m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com) and Liverpool lose to Manchester City, depending on goal differential, Tottenham can jump past Liverpool into the top four, keeping its Champions League hopes alive for next season. It will be a tactical battle on Saturday, with Mauricio Pochettino‘s side looking to break down Sam Allardyce‘s Everton, which is playing somewhat better since he’s taken charge. With Yannick Bolasie back for Everton as well, it will inject more pace into the squad that has been lacking it.

Can Burnley break out of slump

Burnley has had a fantastic first half of the Premier League season. But can the club sustain it for the second half?

It’s now been five-straight games in the Premier League that Burnley has failed to win – six in total – and the team has lost all of the momentum it built up when it momentarily sat in the top four. Now down to seventh, Sean Dyche‘s side looks to arrest its slide with a trip to Roy Hodgson‘s Crystal Palace (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold). Palace are fighting tooth and nail to escape relegation and it will be a difficult road test for Burnley. It’s a time for the likes of Robbie Brady, Stevan Defour and others to step up, while Wilfried Zaha will look to use his past to dangerous effect at home.

Ross Barkley seals $20 million move to Chelsea

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Ross Barkley has sealed his move to Chelsea on a five-and-a-half-year deal.

The Everton and England midfielder, 24, was at Stamford Bridge with his representatives on Friday discussing the finer points of his move from Merseyside, with the two clubs reportedly agreeing a fee in the region of $22 million and Barkley already completing a medical.

Barkley’s move was announced later on Friday, while his new manager Antonio Conte had the following to say about Barkley when speaking to the media ahead of Chelsea’s FA Cup trip to Norwich City on Saturday.

“He is very young, he has a lot of space for improvement. He is very strong physically with great technique. He is a good prospect,” Conte said.

The Liverpudlian, who was handed the No. 8 jersey, had the following to say after completing his move to Chelsea.

“I’m overwhelmed, I’m looking forward to it and I’m really excited to get started,” Barkley said. “To be given a fresh start at a new club like Chelsea, it’s unbelievable for me. I’m looking forward to continuing where I left off at the end of last season and hoping to improve and add more goals to my game.”

We have been here before with Barkley, who has just six months remaining on his Everton contract.

On Transfer Deadline Day back in the summer he seemed set to move to Chelsea but with the clock ticking away he changed his mind when at Chelsea’s training ground and decided to stay with the Toffees until the January window.

Just five days into this window the deal is all but completed for a man linked with a big money move to Manchester City, Tottenham and Arsenal in the past.

Barkley hasn’t played this season at all after he injured a hamstring in training in August. He also fell out of favor with former Everton boss Ronald Koeman who insisted he either signed a new deal with the club or left in the summer.

The academy product was available on a free transfer in the summer, so at least Everton recouped something for an attacking midfielder who was the brightest talent in English soccer in 2014.

Barkley has lost his way in recent seasons but if he can regain his form and fitness then Chelsea have a hugely talented player who is hungry to prove doubters wrong and force his way back into the England squad in a World Cup year.

After a nightclub altercation in his hometown of Liverpool, many called for Barkley to get out of his bubble and his comfort zone. He has done just that and it will be intriguing to see how he slots in at Chelsea and how often he plays.

With Tiemoue Bakayoko struggling to adapt to life in the PL, plus Danny Drinkwater more of a defensive option alongside N'Golo Kante and Cesc Fabregas not getting any younger, Barkley could play a big role for Chelsea in the future.

Player Ratings: Arsenal v. Chelsea

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A big London derby between Arsenal and Chelsea didn’t disappoint with a pulsating 2-2 draw seeing plenty of top performances from individuals on both teams.

[ MORE: 4 things we learned ]

There were also some very shaky displays, especially defensively.

Here are marks out of 10 for the players who contributed to a cracking encounter.


Arsenal

Petr Cech – 8 – Made two fines saves from Hazard and Alonso early in the second half.

Callum Chambers – 5 – Bad mistake early on let in Morata. Shaky display overall.

Shkodran Mustafi – 6 – Decent enough defensively and tried to start attacks by pushing into midfield.

Rob Holding – 6 – Steady enough but struggled to contain the runs of Morata and Hazard.

Hector Bellerin – 6 – Silly challenge for the penalty kick, even if it was harsh, but somewhat redeemed himself with a fine half volley in stoppage time.

Granit Xhaka – 6 – Did his job breaking up the play but failed to provide an adequate shield for the back four in the second half.

Jack Wilshere – 7 – Scored his goal, crunched into a tackle with Cesc Fabregas and probably should have been given a second yellow for diving. A mixed night for the Englishman but his best form is returning.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles – 7 – The youngster playing out of position at left wing-back excelled. Composed on the ball, solid defensively and provided a threat going forward.

Mesut Ozil – 8 – Simply sublime on the ball at times and was the creative hub of an impressive attacking display from Arsenal.

Alexis Sanchez – 7 – Went close with his shot that Courtois tipped onto both posts and drifted around the attacking line looking for the ball.

Alexandre Lacazette – 7 – Didn’t get a goal but was tireless up front and his link-up play with Ozil and Sanchez is underrated.

Subs:
Danny Welbeck (on for Lacazette, ’80) – 5 – Struggled to get into the game and wasted a few good crossing opportunities.
Theo Walcott (on for Chambers, 88′) – 5 – No real impact but did help Arsenal salvage a draw by being around the box during the equalizer.


Chelsea

Thibaut Courtois – 8 – Superb stops to keep Chelsea in the game, the Belgian used his full size to tip a Sanchez shot onto the post, then smother other efforts. A fine display.

Cesar Azpilicueta – 6 – Solid as ever defensively but was shackled by Arsenal and couldn’t whip in any of his now trademark crosses from center back.

Andreas Christensen – 7 – The young Danish defender had a telling interception at a crucial moment early on and was Chelsea’s best defender.

Gary Cahill – 6 – Solid display at center back but did struggle to contain Ozil, Sanchez and Lacazette, as most defenders do.

Victor Moses – 5 – Subbed off in second half and a very poor display. Offered nothing in attack.

N'Golo Kante – 7 – One fine tackle to set up a big chance for Fabregas but steady in central midfield as ever.

Tiemoue Bakayoko – 5 – Poor display defensively and Arsenal ran rings around him.

Marcos Alonso – 7 – A constant threat in attack and a fine finish for his goal to make it 2-1. What a signing he has been.

Cesc Fabregas – 7 – Lovely passes and flicks to get Chelsea back into the game. Subbed off in second half and applauded by most of the home fans. Nice to see.

Eden Hazard – 8 – Won the penalty kick somewhat controversially but tucked it away. Some superb touches throughout.

Alvaro Morata – 5 – Should have had a hat trick. Missed three glorious chances when one-on-one with Cech. Poor.

Subs
Davide Zappacosta (on for Moses, ’56) – 7 – Great cross for Alonso’s goal and smashed a shot against the bar right at the death. Lively.
Danny Drinkwater (on for Fabregas, 71′) – 5 – His job was to help shore up the Chelsea midfield but Arsenal kept pouring forward.
Willian (on for Hazard, 82′) – 6 – Lovely ball to Zappacosta to help set up the Alonso goal and dangerous in his brief cameo.

Premier League roundup: Man City has a new second place side

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For the first time this season, Manchester United will finish a match week outside the Top Two.

[ MORE: Old Firm Derby finishes level ]

Jose Mourinho’s men stumbled to a third-straight draw on Saturday, and rampant Chelsea gleefully leapt over their former boss.

All that and plenty of tumult near the bottom of the table in this Saturday’s Premier League roundup.

Manchester United 0-0 SouthamptonRECAP

Chances were there before and after Romelu Lukaku was stretchered off the field following head-to-head contact with Wesley Hoedt, but make no mistake about it: Though United was ascendant, Saints could’ve easily had a lead were it not for David De Gea‘s continued heroics between the sticks for Manchester United.

Chelsea 5-0 Stoke City — RECAP

Antonio Conte saved Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas, Tiemoue Bakayoko, and Andreas Christensen from his usual Starting XI… and still waxed Mark Hughes‘ leaky Stoke City to the tune of 5-0. Davide Zappacosta finished the scoring in the 88th minute after Pedro, Willian, Antonio Rudiger and Danny Drinkwater (what a goal) scored for the now second place Blues.

Bournemouth 2-1 EvertonRECAP

Ryan Fraser likes his doubles, scoring in the 33rd and 88th minutes to give the Cherries a huge win, and end Sam Allardyce‘s loss-free run as Everton boss. Idrissa Gana Gueye scored in the 57th minute to temporarily restore level terms.

Huddersfield Town 0-0 BurnleyRECAP

Burnley missed its fair share of chances but will focus its frustrations on the penalty not awarded when Town goalkeeper Jonas Lossl got a piece of Jeff Hendrick in an 18-yard-box collision. The Clarets could be six points behind the “Big Six” as a result of the draw if other matches go against them.

Watford 1-2 Swansea City — RECAP

Carlos Carvalhal got the new boss bounce, but not before he saw Swansea City go down 1-0 at the feet of Andre Carrillo. The deficit stood until the 85th minute, when Jordan Ayew and Luciano Narsingh scored within five minutes to boost Swans to within sight of safety.

Newcastle United 0-0 Brighton and Hove AlbionRECAP

The Magpies will rue not finding the back of the net against Australian backstop Mat Ryan, who was very good against relegation-struggling Newcastle United. The visiting Seagulls move four points clear of the drop zone with the point, while Newcastle is just one point ahead of 18th place West Ham and 17th place Crystal Palace.

Liverpool 2-1 Leicester City — RECAP

Jamie Vardy took advantage of a rare Joel Matip error to put Leicester ahead, but that man Mohamed Salah scored twice to lift Jurgen Klopp into ecstasy at Anfield. The Reds are now fourth, three points behind Manchester United.

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Manchester City 20 19 1 0 61 12 49 9-1-0 10-0-0 58
 Chelsea 21 14 3 4 39 14 25 8-1-2 6-2-2 45
 Manchester United 21 13 5 3 43 16 27 8-2-1 5-3-2 44
 Liverpool 21 11 8 2 48 24 24 6-5-0 5-3-2 41
 Tottenham Hotspur 20 11 4 5 39 20 19 6-3-1 5-1-4 37
 Arsenal 20 11 4 5 37 25 12 8-1-1 3-3-4 37
 Burnley 21 9 7 5 18 17 1 5-2-3 4-5-2 34
 Leicester City 21 7 6 8 31 32 -1 4-2-4 3-4-4 27
 Everton 21 7 6 8 25 32 -7 6-1-3 1-5-5 27
 Watford 21 7 4 10 30 37 -7 3-3-5 4-1-5 25
 Huddersfield Town 21 6 6 9 18 32 -14 4-4-3 2-2-6 24
 Brighton & Hove Albion 21 5 7 9 15 25 -10 3-5-2 2-2-7 22
 Southampton 21 4 8 9 20 30 -10 3-4-4 1-4-5 20
 Bournemouth 21 5 5 11 20 32 -12 3-3-5 2-2-6 20
 Stoke City 21 5 5 11 23 46 -23 4-2-4 1-3-7 20
 Newcastle United 21 5 4 12 19 30 -11 3-2-6 2-2-6 19
 Crystal Palace 20 4 6 10 18 32 -14 3-3-4 1-3-6 18

 West Ham United 20 4 6 10 22 38 -16 3-2-4 1-4-6 18
 Swansea City 21 4 4 13 13 32 -19 2-2-6 2-2-7 16
 West Bromwich Albion 20 2 9 9 14 27 -13 1-6-3 1-3-6 15

Conte relaxed after rotation risk works out well for Chelsea

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Chelsea’s in fine form and looking primed to challenge for second place in the Premier League, and that has Antonio Conte in a fairly relaxed mindset regarding his roster.

Chelsea walloped Stoke City 5-0 on Saturday at Stamford Bridge, running their clean sheet streak to 360 minutes and giving the Blues 32 of their last 39 available points.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 5-0 Stoke ]

That has Conte’s men neck and neck with Manchester United in the battle for second, and Chelsea’s boss says his squad can improve but it’s not a necessity. From the BBC:

“I am very happy to work with my players. I have had conversations with the club and they know my opinion. I am the coach and I look after the things on the pitch, if the club can help us, it would be okay, but if they can’t it will be okay as well.”

It’d be difficult for Conte not to be encouraged after he left Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas, Tiemoue Bakayoko, and Andreas Christensen out of his lineup and still clobbered a Premier League opponent.

Now Hazard and the Blues will have one more day’s rest than Arsenal when the London rivals meet Wednesday at the Emirates Stadium.

“We need to have all my players in the best form, and we know very well in January will be a difficult time because of the games, and in February the Champions League starts again, so I need all my players at the top of their game.”

Conte got goals from Davide Zappacosta and Antonio Rudiger to go with markers from Willian, Pedro, and Danny Drinkwater.