Eric Bailly

PL Sunday preview: Derby day in Manchester, Merseyside

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Sunday is derby day for two of the fiercest, longest-standing local rivalries in the Premier League. Need we say more?

[ PL ROUNDUP: Spurs bounce back in a big way; Leicester on fire ]

Southampton vs. Arsenal — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Arsenal turned in arguably their best performance of the season last weekend, and were hammered on the scoreboard, 3-1 by Manchester United. On the one hand, they’ll feel good about the performance; on the other hand, questions remain about their abilities to compete with other top-six sides. It was a fourth straight impressive performance by the Gunners, who over the last six weeks have stabilized (wins in five of their last seven) after a rocky first few games (one win from their opening three).

Much Sunday’s opponent, who are comfortably slotted into the top-four battle, Southampton find themselves in a familiar place as a mid-table side with very little hope of catching the elites of the PL, and in very little danger of sliding into a relegation battle. Saints have hit-or-miss at home this season, as Mauricio Pellegrino‘s side has won 11 of its 16 point at St. Mary’s Stadium, site of Sunday’s clash, but have also lost three of eight games at the ground, by a combined score of 7-1.

INJURIES: Southampton — OUT: Cedric (hamstring) | Arsenal — OUT: Shkodran Mustafi (thigh), Santi Cazorla (achilles)

Liverpool vs. Everton — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Red-hot Liverpool (nine games unbeaten in all competitions, with seven wins; six games unbeaten in the PL, with five wins) welcome a suddenly resurgent and re-energized Everton side (riding back-to-back PL wins for the first time all season) to Anfield for the 229th Merseyside derby.

Only first-and second-place sides Manchester City (46) and Man United (35) have scored more goals this season than the rabid attack of Liverpool (33), but it’s those pesky defensive struggles (once again) which have held Jurgen Klopp‘s side back from putting forth a genuine title challenge. There have been massive improvements in recent weeks, though, as the Reds have conceded just three goals during their current six-game run in the league. As if they need anymore confidence ahead of Sunday’s clash, history also happens to be on their side: Liverpool haven’t lost a derby at Anfield in 17 outings.

As for the Toffees, Sam Allardyce is in charge now, and they’ve won all three games since his appointment — though he’s only actually managed one of the three. Allardyce’s debut saw Everton grind out a 2-0 victory over Huddersfield Town last weekend, though they were far from dominant in doing so. Alas, goals from Gylfi Sigurdsson and Dominic Calvert-Lewin are wonderful signs for a side which managed only 13 goals in as many games to start the season.

INJURIES: Liverpool — OUT: Joel Matip (leg), Nathaniel Clyne (back); QUESTIONABLE: Adam Lallana (fitness), Alberto Moreno (ankle) | Everton — OUT: Leighton Baines (calf), James McCarthy (hamstring), Ross Barkley (hamstring), Seamus Coleman (leg), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Yannick Bolasie (knee)

Manchester United vs. Manchester City — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

No PL side has ever won 14 straight games in the league, a feat Man City can achieve on Sunday, and can do so against their most hated local rivals to boot. Undoubtedly, Jose Mourinho has thought of nothing other than Pep Guardiola‘s quest for history this week, and will set out to ruin the party by any means necessary.

Without the services of star midfielder Paul Pogba (suspension), expect a heavy dose of bludgeoning courtesy of Marouane Fellaini, who is set to return after two weeks out with a knee injury. The absences are truly a shame, as United have appeared — when healthy — to be genuinely capable of matching City stride for stride at the very top of their game. While City have scored nine more goals than the Red Devils — two two sides were on a nearly identical scoring pace prior to Pogba’s injury back in mid-September — United’s defense is predictably best in the league once again.

What’s more, a City win at Old Trafford feels as though it would — even 16 games into the season — all but end the title race, as Guardiola’s men would go 11 points clear of United, their closest title rivals.

For the first time all season, City fell to defeat in the Champions League on Wednesday. Prior to that loss to Shakhtar Donetsk, they had won 20 straight games across all competitions and were unbeaten in 22. Having already secured the top spot in the group, Guardiola elected to rest a handful of regular starters with Sunday’s showdown presumably in mind. As for what this particular derby means for the Citizens and their fans, defender Vincent Kompany believes the tables have turned 180 degrees in recent years.

“I think to every player it means more than any other game,” he said this week. “It started as something that was way more important for the City fans than the United fans. At this moment in time, we are the team they want to beat more than any other team.”

INJURIES: Man United — OUT: Paul Pogba (suspension), Eric Bailly (groin) | Man City — OUT: John Stones (hamstring), Benjamin Mendy (knee)

Premier League preview: Arsenal vs. Manchester United

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  • Arsenal striker Alexandre Lacazette will miss Saturday’s match with a groin injury. Alexis Sanchez had a hamstring problem against Huddersfield Town but should be fit for the weekend.
  • Manchester United defenders Phil Jones (thigh) and Eric Bailly (groin) have been ruled out, while midfielder Nemanja Matic is a major doubt.
  • Arsenal has lost only one of their last five Premier League home matches against Manchester United (W2 D2), winning each of the last two without conceding a goal. But no team has won more PL away matches at Arsenal than Manchester United (7, level with Liverpool) and only Chelsea (4) has won more at Emirates Stadium than United’s three.

Manchester United head into a massive two-game stretch in the Premier League with a prime-time matchup at Arsenal on Saturday afternoon (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: Top Premier League story lines ]

Jose Mourinho’s side head to face Arsene Wenger and co. with one eye on the game and another on the upcoming Manchester derby next weekend against league leaders Manchester City, which currently hold an eight point lead. Two Man United defeats and that could be an insurmountable deficit to make up over the rest of the season.

Arsenal has won three-straight Premier League games and is coming off a confidence-boosting 5-1 thumping of Huddersfield Town, with Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Alexis Sanchez each putting in star performances. But the team will be without starting forward Alexandre Lacazette due to injury.

What they’re saying

Manchester United’s Jose Mourinho on possibly looking ahead to Manchester City: “I play a game at a time and I think it’s the way to do it. Yesterday I was watching an interesting movie: Bjorn Borg v John McEnroe. Bjorn’s coach was telling him that all the time. ‘One point at a time, think just about one point’. I tell my players to think just about the game. I always say this.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on facing Man United: “I haven’t seen them a lot and it is not down to me to judge the way they play. I have just to look at the way we play and to prepare well for the game. They are a dangerous team, they have made fantastic results so to beat a team like that you need to be at your best and that’s what I want to focus on.”

Prediction: Overall, Jose Mourinho has had Arsenal’s number, and even on the road, the Red Devils pull out a win to remain in the title hunt against a valiant Arsenal side. Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal 

PL Preview: Man United v. Brighton

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  • United have scored 19 goals, 6 wins from 6 at home this season
  • Brighton unbeaten in 5 games
  • Zlatan, Pogba, Rojo all fit for United

Manchester United host newly-promoted Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Red Devils aiming to keep their 100 percent home record in the PL intact.

[ MORE: Mourinho hits back at critics

Brighton are on a five-game unbeaten run in their debut campaign in the PL and Chris Hughton‘s side have settled impressively as they sit in ninth-place in the table.

Jose Mourinho’s United sit in second place but are eight points behind crosstown rivals Manchester City who are settling a rasping early-season pace in the Premier League. United and City clash at Old Trafford on Dec. 10 so Mourinho’s men can’t afford any dropped points between now and then.

In team news United are without central defenders Eric Bailly and Phil Jones, while Brighton have no new injury concerns.

What they’re saying

Mourinho on Pogba’s return to fitness: “Paul is still on this process where he cannot reach the fatigue limit, he cannot go more than 65 to 70 minutes because that’s when fatigue normally arrives and with so many matches consecutively we need to protect such an important player for us.”

Chris Hughton on Brighton’s mindset heading to Old Trafford: “There aren’t many teams at our level that are going to go there and win. You’ve got to play at a very high level and you’ve certainly got to have that bit of luck that goes with a win away from home at any one of the big clubs. But these are the days you’ve worked so hard for as a team and it’s what we got promoted for. What we hope to do is to make a good account of ourselves there and we hope we can do that.”

Prediction

I expect a big home win for United who are simply too powerful in attack for most PL clubs to handle. Sure, their direct approach gets criticized by many but they’re second in the PL table for a reason and Mourinho’s squad has extreme strength in depth in attack. 3-0 to the Red Devils.

Mourinho slams critics, reveals team news; Fellaini update

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Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United are almost back to full strength but he has a few concerns.

The Red Devils host Brighton & Hove Albion at Old Trafford on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with Mourinho now having just a handful of injury concerns.

Long-term absentees Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo have all returned to action over the past week, while Mourinho has a small defensive problem with Eric Bailly and Phil Jones out for the visit of the newly-promoted Seagulls.

“They are out. But we are okay because we have [Chris] Smalling, [Marcos] Rojo and [Victor] Lindelof,” Mourinho said.

He also said that Pogba isn’t yet able to play a full 90 minutes as he continue his recovery from a hamstring injury, while Zlatan is improving all the time after jumping off the bench in the victory over Newcastle United last weekend and the midweek defeat at Basel in the UEFA Champions League.

“I prefer him [Ibrahimovic] on the pitch than off the pitch,” Mourinho said. “On the pitch, he’s another option for us and he’s an option of quality. His physicality and his intelligence, the way he moves, the way he plays. But he needs time. We managed to give him 15/20 minutes in both matches, he needs more of that, so hopefully, tomorrow, we play him again.”

Mourinho also took exception to a question about the criticism his team receives about their defensive style of play, with the Portuguese coach pointing towards United’s superb home record this season.

“I don’t know who is more ambitious than us,” Mourinho said. “We played against Newcastle with Pogba, Rashford, Martial, Mata, Lukaku, the full backs are not full backs, everybody knows they are wingers, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young. So, I don’t know what you want.”

United have won all six PL home games this season and have scored 19 goals, conceding just once. So, yeah, he has a point but the only real test they’ve had so far at home was against Tottenham Hotspur.

Aside from an injury update and hitting back at critics, Mourinho also gave an update on Fellaini’s contract situation and revealed he is concerned the Belgian midfielder may leave.

Fellaini, 30, is out of contract at the end of the season and Mourinho has praised the lanky midfielder on numerous occasions over the past few months. Is he worried Fellaini will leave for nothing?

“Yeah,” Mourinho said. “This is a discussion between the player and the board. I’m not involved in contracts, in deals, and I respect both – I respect the player because he has the right to decide his future. So I just wait wishing they will have an understanding, but it’s out of my control.”

Morocco, Tunisia grab last CAF World Cup spots

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Morocco has qualified for its first World Cup since 1998 with a resounding 2-0 defeat of Cote d’Ivoire.

The visitors in Abidjan came into the match a point ahead of the hosts, meaning they needed just a draw to secure qualification, but instead they left no doubt. Despite missing Manchester United defender Eric Bailly due to yellow card suspension, Morocco used a pair of first-half goals to advance.

Both first-half goals came in quick succession. The first came on 25 minutes in spectacular fashion, as Fenerbahce winger Nabil Dirar sent in what appeared to be a cross into the area for Khalid Boutaib, but as Boutaib whiffed on his attempt at a header and left Ivory Coast goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo remained indecisive, Dirar’s ball tucked inside the far post for the opening goal.

Just five minutes later, Gbohouo’s error on a corner led to Morocco’s second. As Mbark Boussoufa sent in a pinpoint delivery, Gbohouo attempted to charge down the corner to collect. Before the ball arrived, the goalkeeper inexplicably bailed out of his charge and attempted to retreat to his net. That left Juventus defender Medhi Benatia all alone to whack the ball into the back of the net.

Tunisia also qualified, albeit less gracefully. Coming into the final matchday with a three-point lead over Group A rivals DR Congo, the Tunisians drew 0-0 with Libya to earn the necessary point required. It was nervy down the stretch, as DR Congo was leading Guinea at both 1-0 and then 2-1 to put pressure on, but Tunisia held on for qualification. Congo won 3-1 but it was in vain.