James McCarthy

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images & Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

PL Sunday preview: Chelsea-Man United & Man City-Arsenal

Leave a comment

If the Premier League must pause during this week’s international window, Sunday’s slate of fixtures, featuring every last one of the first- through fifth-place sides, sure is one heck of a way to head into the break…

[ PL ROUNDUP: Liverpool thrash West Ham; Burnley top-six contenders? ]

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Crystal Palace — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The toast of Europe this week, Mauricio Pochettino‘s Tottenham must quickly divert its attention from beating Real Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday to avoiding a colossal slip-up against last-place Palace on Sunday. Spurs will surely find motivation in righting a perceived wrong — last weekend’s late defeat away to Manchester United — as they bid for a third straight PL title challenge this season. The gap between themselves and leaders Manchester City is presently eight points, but a friendly favor from their north London rivals on Sunday could see that number shrink to five.

With Harry Kane back from  last week’s hamstring “injury,” Spurs’ fitness issues now exist almost solely in their defensive half: Toby Aldeweireld left the win over Madrid with a hamstring strain of his own (expected to miss three to four weeks); Hugo Lloris was visibly ailed by a groin injury (two weeks); and Victor Wanyama remains unavailable with a knee injury. With Eric Dier expected to again drop into the backline alongside Davinson Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen, Harry Winks‘ coming-out party will likely be given another chapter against an impotent Palace side which has scored only four goals all season, and has scored in just two of their 10 games thus far.

INJURIES: Tottenham — OUT: Toby Aldeweireld (hamstring), Hugo Lloris (groin), Victor Wanyama (knee), Erik Lamela (hip) | Crystal Palace — OUT: Christian Benteke (knee), Connor Wickham (knee); RETURNING: Mamadou Sakho (calf)


Manchester City vs. Arsenal — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The last remaining unbeaten side in the PL, Pep Guardiola‘s Man City, welcomes Arsene Wenger‘s Arsenal — the only manager and club to complete an unbeaten season in the PL era — to the Etihad Stadium. Having already knocked off two of their presumed title contenders (Liverpool, 5-0; Chelsea, 1-0), City aim to make it a third and extend their winning run to nine games. A 4-2 victory over Napoli, Serie A’s lone remaining unbeaten side, has City full of form and confidence. As for the prospects of chasing the unbeaten season, Guardiola is having none of it.

“I would like to say to Arsene that this record belongs to him; we are not going to break it,” he said. “He has to be calm and sure that is not going to happen. It belongs to his team, an exceptional team, because to go through the Premier League unbeaten is something fantastic. It belongs to him. He has to know that we don’t want to break this record. We want to play well and beat him on Sunday. That is what we want to do.”

Similarly, the Gunners are in the best form they’ve achieved all season, having won four of their last five after a tumultuous start (two losses from their first three games). City, though, are a beast of a much higher order, and it’s the task of Wenger’s men to curtail a side which has scored 30 goals in its last seven league games. One might assume Wenger will adopt a defensive approach on Sunday, though the legendary boss told the assembled media on Friday that “the best way to defend sometimes is to attack.”

There will be goals if that’s how Arsenal approach this game.

INJURIES: Man City — OUT: Benjamin Mendy (knee), Vincent Kompany (calf) | Arsenal — OUT: Danny Welbeck (hamstring), Shkodran Mustafi (thigh), Santi Cazorla (achilles); PROBABLE: Sead Kolasinac (hip)


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

Here are some little-known facts that’ll likely gain some traction over the next 24 hours: Jose Mourinho, who’s now the manager at Man United, used to be the boss at Chelsea; he was succeeded by Antonio Conte, who won the PL title in his first season at Stamford Bridge; Mourinho, despite employment elsewhere, still appears transfixed by Conte’s threat to his own legacy; the two have engage one another in a war of words (and attempted hand-to-hand combat) in the past. You will almost certainly be reminded of this on Sunday, and probably a few further more days.

Chelsea are reeling ahead of Sunday’s clash after their 3-0 defeat at the hands of Roma in the Champions League on Tuesday. This is, by Conte’s lofty standards, the lowest point of his Chelsea tenure — coincidentally, Mourinho knows all too well Chelsea’s post-title struggles. After losing back-to-back games to Man City and Palace last month, the Blues currently sit nine points adrift of the PL leaders and find themselves still with plenty of work to do in Europe. Even their most recent win — last weekend’s 1-0 triumph over then-19th-place Bournemouth — highlighted the lack of attacking cohesion for the side with the lowest goals output (18 in 10 games) from any of the league’s top-six sides.

Meanwhile, United are slightly more confident, thanks to a 2-0 victory over Benfica during the week and a smashed-and-grabbed three points against Spurs last weekend. Mourinho, for his part, is trying to downplay the importance of his return.

“It isn’t a big thing,” he said this week. “It is normal, it is football, it is professionalism, it is football life. It’s a big thing because it’s a big match, because it’s a big opponent. They are the champions, because it’s one of these matches between the top teams in the country, but by the emotional point of view it’s just one more game.

“I played there with Inter and twice with Manchester United. I have to admit it’s a little bit different, but in the end, I want to win, like I did with Inter, and they want to win like they did last season. In four or five more years nobody will probably remember that I was Chelsea manager.”

In truth, nothing would upset him more than everyone forgetting he was once the Chelsea manager.

INJURIES: Chelsea — OUT: Victor Moses (hamstring); RETURNING: N'Golo Kante (hamstring) | Man United — OUT: Paul Pogba (hamstring), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee), Marouane Fellaini (knee), Marcos Rojo (knee), Michael Carrick (calf); QUESTIONABLE: Jesse Lingard (back)


Everton vs. Watford — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

While plenty has been said of Everton’s early-season struggles — and the firing of Ronald Koeman — not nearly enough attention has been paid to Watford and their new manager, Marco Silva. Three points against the 19th-place Toffees would see the Hornets rise up to eighth in the PL table, as few as one or two points behind the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, all of whom are currently level for fourth with 19 points. Like Conte and Chelsea, Silva and Watford find themselves wading through their first turbulent period together, having lost back-to-back games for the first time (Chelsea, 2-4; Stoke, 0-1). Silva knows his side must bounce back against Everton.

“I think we didn’t play well in the first-half,” Silva said of the loss to Stoke. “We gave our opponents the advantage for 45 minutes, we gave them a big lift in the goal we conceded. We made a mistake, we gave them a gift. We lost our focus in that moment and they scored a good goal. Everything was too slow and we knew they would come here with 10 men behind the ball and wait for our mistake. We needed to play faster and with more intensity.”

INJURIES: Everton — OUT: James McCarthy (hamstring), Ross Barkley (hamstring), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), Yannick Bolasie (knee); RETURNING: Micheal Keane (foot) | Watford — OUT: Troy Deeney (suspension), Nathaniel Chalobah (knee), Younes Kaboul (hamstring), Sebastien Prodl (hamstring), Craig Cathcart (knee), Isaac Success (knee), Roberto Pereyra (hamstring)

PL Sunday preview: Spurs take on bogey Reds; Everton vs. Arsenal

Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Every club in the world has a bogey team (or teams) that no matter what they try, no matter the circumstances, it always seems to go sideways when they meet — a side that everyone associated with the club dreads when they see their name on the upcoming schedule.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Man United shocked by Huddersfield; City, Chelsea win ]

For Tottenham Hotspur, the thorn currently in their side is Liverpool, who they’ll host at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, following Arsenal’s seasonal trip to Goodison Park to take on Everton.

Everton vs. Arsenal — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

After starting the 2017-18 Premier League season with just two wins from eight games, every game could very well be Ronald Koeman‘s last game in charge of Everton, thus a visit from top-four-chasing Arsenal is anything but well-timed for the distressed Dutchman. What’s worse, the Toffees are also without a win in their last four games (all competitions) and on the verge of crashing out of the Europa League group stage.

“The performance was under level in the first half,” Koeman said following Thursday’s home defeat to Lyon. “We made a lot of mistakes, and the team played with a lot of doubts and little confidence. It’s very difficult (to reach the next stage). Most of the time you get your points at home but we have only got one out of the two we have had at Goodison. Nothing is impossible, but to gain more points — and I think we need six or seven — we need to improve the level and that is more important.”

Sounds similar to their league performances, strangely enough — Everton currently sit 16th in the PL table, mere months after spending in excess of $200 million during the summer transfer window.

European competition has treated Arsenal far better this season, as Arsene Wenger‘s side is three-for-three in the Europa League following Thursday’s win away to Red Star Belgrade. A number of key figures — Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette, Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny, to name a few — were left in London, as a reserve- and youth-heavy side got the job done courtesy of an Olivier Giroud goal five minutes before full-time.

Still, the Gunners are in desperate need of a quick rebound following last weekend’s late defeat to Watford, after which Watford captain Troy Deeney publicly characterized the Arsenal players as mentally weak and said they lack the necessary “cojones” to compete at this level. On the bright side, Deeney’s 71st-minute equalizer (from the penalty spot) was the first goal Arsenal had conceded in 444 minutes in the PL, a streak they’ll look to start anew and build off Thursday’s win in Serbia.

INJURIES: Everton — OUT: Ross Barkley (back), Morgan Schneiderlin (knock), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), James McCarthy (fitness), Yannick Bolasie (knee) | Arsenal — OUT: Danny Welbeck (hamstring), Shkodran Mustafi (thigh), Calum Chambers (hip), Santi Cazorla (achilles)

[ MORE: Mourinho — “We deserved the punishment of defeat” to Huddersfield ]

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Mauricio Pochettino has never beaten Liverpool in six tries as Tottenham manager (two triumphs in his 18 months at Southampton); in fact, Spurs themselves haven’t beaten Liverpool in the PL since Nov. 28, 2012 (three draws and six defeats in nine tries) — the north London side’s truest bogey club this decade. Having already fallen eight points behind leaders Manchester City, Pochettino’s side will have to clear that mental hurdle on Saturday if they’re to go on and challenge for the PL title for a third straight season. On the other hand, they’re unbeaten in 10 games (seven wins) across all competitions.

Fortunately for Spurs, the Wembley monkey is off their back after narrowly edging past Bournemouth their last time out at home. Harry Kane is without goal in his last 241 minutes for club (two for England during the last international break), which is practically an eternity after scoring seven goals in the previous 188 minutes.

As for Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp‘s side enters Sunday’s clash mired in a month-long slump, having won just one of their last four league games, and just two of their last nine in all competitions. A major part of the problem is more of the poor defending that dogged the Reds last season, but perhaps they’ve been a bit unfortunate as well.

“We had bad luck in the last three or four games,” summer signing Mohamed Salah said this week. “Everyone was confident a good result was coming.”

The tough stretch has seen Klopp somewhat recalibrate his expectations in the direction of reality, dubbing his side the “challenger” when they take on Tottenham.

“(Spurs) are in a really good moment as a club and we are the challenger when we go there, that’s how it is,” he said this week. “But they know it will not be an easy game, so good, let’s play and let’s see what happens.”

INJURIES: Tottenham — OUT: Mousa Dembele (foot), Victor Wanyama (knee), Danny Rose (fitness), Erik Lamela (hip) | Liverpool — OUT: Sadio Mane (hamstring), Adam Lallana (thigh), Nathaniel Clyne (hamstring)

PL Sunday preview: Unexpected battlers at the top, bottom

Leave a comment

Sunday’s slate of fixtures features a pair of relegation battlers as well as a pair of top-six chasers, only very few of the above happen to be who you thought they’d be at the start of the season…

[ PL ROUNDUP: Man City, Spurs win while everyone else drops points ]

Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Everton — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Of the four sides set for action on Sunday, only Brighton have started the season as many predicted: in 16th after seven games, just two points clear of the relegation zone. Of the other three, Newcastle United would have been the next most likely to be faced with a relegation battle, but alas it’s Everton who head into Falmer Stadium 17th in the PL table, one spot and four goals worse off than the newly promoted Seagulls.

After spending $200 million in the summer, the Toffees were supposed to be the ones bidding to break up the top-six hierarchy — not Newcastle, as is actually the case.

“I accept that everyone is entitled to his opinion and as a coach I don’t run away from criticism,” Everton boss Ronald Koeman said this week. “We know within Everton that we currently play under our level and that the results should be better. The moment I made the move from Southampton to a club with such ambitions, I knew I could be in a difficult situation if investments were not accompanied by results. I’m pretty calm with it.”

As for Brighton, things are slowly but surely turning around. Having scored just five goals through seven games, four of the five have come in their last two home games — 3-1 and 1-0 victories over West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle, respectively. Brighton boss Chris Hughton, for one, isn’t panicking.

“We could have had slightly more than seven points but we’re a new team coming into this division and we’ve already played Arsenal and Man City,” he said this week. “There’s not a sense of satisfaction at this moment because when you have competitive players, you don’t like losing. But there’s more positives to come from the game than negatives.”

INJURIES: Brighton — OUT: Tomer Hemed (suspension), Steve Sidewell (back), Beram Kayal (leg), Sam Baldock (calf); QUESTIONABLE: Davy Propper (thigh) | Everton — OUT: Ross Barkley (hamstring), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), Yannick Bolasie (knee); RETURNING: James McCarthy (knee)

[ MORE: De Bruyne’s brilliance lauded | Klopp no fan of Mourinho’s style ]

Southampton vs. Newcastle United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

A win at St. Mary’s Stadium on Sunday could see Newcastle climb as high as fifth in the league table, depending on the margin of victory (a run-of-the-mill five-goal win would do the trick). Rafa Benitez‘s side is undoubtedly one of the biggest stories of the still-young season, having lost their first two games following a tumultuous summer of transfer dealings, only to rebound with three straight wins and points from four of the following five games.

As for their opponents, back-to-back losses to Manchester United and Stoke City leave Southampton chasing three points just to climb back into the top half of the table. While Newcastle will have been disappointed for the recent international break to arrive when it did (their 1-1 draw with Liverpool two weeks ago put everyone on notice), it couldn’t have come at a better time for Saints. These kind of early-season struggles are to be expected, though, according to midfielder James Ward-Prowse.

“This season we have a new manager, a new style of play and a few new signings as well, which have had a positive impact on the team,” he said this week. “It’s a building process still for us all, but it’s a positive one in the making. After this two weeks, it’s a great chance for us to hit the ground running and take the league by storm now.”

INJURIES: Southampton — PROBABLE: Shane Long (hip) | Newcastle — OUT: Paul Dummett (hamstring); PROBABLE: Jonjo Shelvey (finger), Matthew Ritchie (thigh), Christian Atsu (knee)

PL Sunday preview: Liverpool, Arsenal face newly promoted sides

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

A pair of Premier League big boys take on a pair of sides only just promoted from the Championship over the summer, while Everton host Burnley in the other of Sunday’s three PL fixtures…

[ MORE: PL roundup — Man City win at Chelsea; Kane gets 2 more ]

Arsenal vs. Brighton & Hove Albion — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Away in Belarus for Europa League action on Thursday, back home in the PL on Sunday — that’s the not-so-simple reality for Arsenal this season, and it rears its ugly head again this week. The Gunners victory over BATE Borisov will have come less than 72 hours prior to taking on Chris Hughton‘s Brighton on Sunday. Further complicating matters, last week’s 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion came on Monday, less than 72 hours prior to their 1,400-mile European excursion. As such, the majority of Arsene Wenger‘s first-choice starters were left in London, but the likes of Shkodran Mustafi and Per Mertesacker could be asked to pull double-duty given injury concerns along the three-man backline.

Brighton, meanwhile, will be without star striker Tomer Hemed, who on Wednesday was handed a three-match ban for his stamp on DeAndre Yedlin last weekend. Hemed maintains he did not intend the contact with Yedlin.

“I accept the decision against me but do not agree with it and I am devastated to miss three matches,” Hemed wrote on his Instagram account. “I would never go out and injure a fellow professional on purpose, and those of my friends and teammates who know me, know that this is not in my nature.”

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Mesut Ozil (knee), Danny Welbeck (groin), Santi Cazorla (achilles), Francis Coquelin (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: Laurent Koscielny (achilles), Alex Iwobi (thigh) | Brighton — OUT: Tomer Hemed (suspension), Steve Sidwell (back), Sam Baldock (calf), Beram Kayal (leg); QUESTIONABLE: Glenn Murray (ankle)


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

Things are beginning to look up for Everton — maybe just a tad — as Ronald Koeman‘s side is unbeaten in its last three games (all competitions), with a winnable home date with Burnley on Sunday. While the likes of Wayne Rooney, Davy Klaassen and Gylfi Sigurdsson have largely faltered of late (just two PL goals between them — both Rooney’s — and zero assists), Oumar Niasse has stepped into the void and lent the Toffees three goals en route to a pair of wins last week, over Sunderland (League Cup) and Bournemouth (PL).

As for the Clarets, Sean Dyche‘s side is four games unbeaten in PL play (three draws) and up to ninth in the league table. Sunday’s clash at Goodison Park will be the first meeting between Burnley’s current players and former teammate Michael Keane, now at Everton, provided he’s passed fit to play.

“We all got on with Keano. He’s a great lad,” midfielder Jeff Hendrick said. “He’s been brilliant for the club here. It was his time to step on and challenge himself in a different way. He’s still young and he’s still improving. We all speak highly of him here and I’m sure they do at Everton as well. It will be good to play against him. He’s a good player but we want to get one over on him.”

INJURIES: Everton — OUT: Ross Barkley (back), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), James McCarthy (knee), Yannick Bolasie (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Michael Keane (foot) | Burnley — OUT: Tom Heaton (shoulder), Nakhi Wells (ankle), Jonathan Walters (knee), Dean Marney (knee)


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

Rafa Benitez guided Liverpool to UEFA Champions League glory in 2005, a short dozen years ago now, an on Sunday welcomes his former club, and the many by whom he’s still so beloved, to St. James’ Park.

“He’s a very, very interesting person,” Jurgen Klopp said on Friday. “I know he’s still connected, not only because he lives around here still, he’s really connected to the club still, wishes the club all the best and all that stuff — it’s how it should be after this fantastic time he had here.”

The visitors enter Sunday’s game in frustratingly indifferent form, having won just one of their last five games (all competitions). During that stretch, the Reds have conceded 13 goals. Klopp is yet to figure out the perfect formula for consistent defending in the PL, as that very shakiness at the back ultimately ended Liverpool’s title bid last season. Klopp writes a bit of that off as bad luck.

“We in this moment are not the luckiest team in world football, so it’s not that things go easy for us,” he said this week. “We did enough and we had four or five 100-percent chances and that’s then disappointing but it is like it is.”

INJURIES: Newcastle — OUT: Paul Dummett (hamstring) | Liverpool — OUT: Adam Lallana (thigh), Nathaniel Clyne (hamstring)

PL Sunday preview: Chelsea host Arsenal; Rooney returns to OT

Leave a comment

Gigantic top-four implications in game no. 1, and a “real legend” returns to his old haunt in game no. 2 — Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures are nothing short of must-see TV.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Man City unstoppable; Liverpool, Spurs held ]

Chelsea vs. Arsenal — 8:30 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

This is Arsenal’s new reality, six times minimum this season: Thursday night Europa League, followed by an even greater challenge, PL opposition, less than 72 hours later. Suffice to say, much rides on Arsene Wenger‘s side re-establishing themselves as a Champions League club next season. Sunday’s trip to Stamford Bridge, where the Gunners will take on the defending champions in fine form (three straight wins after an opening-day defeat), is the type of game in which they’ve squandered what might be seen as “bonus” points in recent seasons.

Sunday could also see the return of Eden Hazard to the starting lineup, quite an untimely occurrence from Arsenal’s vantage point. After playing the final 30 minutes of Tuesday’s CL thrashing of Qarabag, the Belgian superstar is nearing full fitness after three months on the sideline due to a broken ankle suffered in early June.

“For sure he’s improving,” Conte said. “Having this patience with him is paying off. He is very close to being totally fit. We have to continue in this way. I have to make the best decision for the team and the players, but he is improving a lot and is very close to being 100 percent fit.”

INJURIES: Chelsea — OUT: Danny Drinkwater (calf) | Arsenal — OUT: Francis Coquelin (hamstring), Santi Cazorla (achilles); PROBABLE: Aaron Ramsey (knock), Mesut Ozil (knock)

[ MORE: Guardiola salutes Aguero’s brilliance, but has one complaint ]

Manchester United vs. Everton — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Not only does Sunday’s meeting between Manchester United and Everton mark the return of Wayne Rooney to Old Trafford, the arena in which he thrilled and dazzled for 13 years, but also Romelu Lukaku‘s first clash with his former club following his $97-million transfer this summer. Familiarity (typically) breeds contempt, though Sunday should prove a joyous reunion for so many familiar faces.

After essentially swapping frontmen in the summer, the start of the 2017-18 season has produced drastically different sets of results for Man United and Everton. Take, for example, Toffees boss Ronald Koeman, who’s already feeling a bit of pressure after spending nearly $180 million this summer.

“It is not the time or the place to criticize the players,” Koeman said. “I have to criticize myself because the team was not prepared. It is a big lesson. I thought that was happening after the third goal against Tottenham at the weekend but I need to ask myself the question what I did wrong.”

As for Jose Mourinho’s men, for the first time since the Portuguese took over last summer, all is well at Old Trafford. Back in the CL (where they’re flying high) and battling with Chelsea and Manchester City in the race for the PL title, last week’s 2-2 draw away to Stoke City is the still-young season’s only blemish. Lukaku has already paid off in the form of five goals (four in the PL), while the youthful duo of Anthony Martial (21 years old) and Marcus Rashford (19) each have a pair of PL goals to their name. United, along with no one other than Man City, have conceded just twice this season.

INJURIES: Man United — OUT: Paul Pogba (hamstring), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee), Luke Shaw (fitness), Marcos Rojo (knee) | Everton — OUT: Ross Barkley (back), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), James McCarthy (knee), Yannick Bolasie (knee)