Marcos Rojo

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Mourinho has no timetable for Pogba return

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Jose Mourinho did not proffer much hope when it comes to the status of Manchester United star Paul Pogba, who has been out since suffering a thigh injury against Basel on Sept. 12.

The United manager classed Pogba with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo, two players still working to return from long-term knee injuries.

[ MORE: Klopp “can’t shoot from the bench” ]

Pogba had been fantastic for Mourinho, and has missed a pair of Premier League matches and will add a third when Crystal Palace visits on Saturday.

And there’s nothing but vagueness when it comes to the potential of a return versus Liverpool after the international break. It could be gamesmanship, but it sounds a bit ominous. Here’s the boss:

“Paul Pogba’s injured he cannot play tomorrow and his injury I cannot have hope like Jones or Valencia who I can see in training and hope for positive answer. So don’t speak about long term injury – Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba, Marcus Rojo – I don’t speak about them.”

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. Manchester United

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  • Southampton has 3 clean sheets in 5 PL games this season
  • 8 players have scored for MUFC, the most in the PL
  • Saints have lost to MUFC 24 times, more than any other PL team

Manchester United can equal its club record best start to a Premier League season if they defeat Southampton at St. Mary’s Saturday morning (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

The Red Devils, as they were all of last season, have one of the best defensive records in the Premier League, conceding just two goals through five matches, joint-best alongside Manchester City.

[ LIVE: Stream Premier League games

The Southampton defense, however, will be most hyped in this match as Virgil Van Dijk is likely to make his first start for the Saints since January. The Dutchman has been out of action after holding out of preseason and the start of the campaign over transfer rumors, but is back with the club after returning as a substitute last time out.

Southampton has conceded just four goals in five games without their most coveted defender, but they have also scored just four goals on their way to eight points thus far, which leaves them in ninth position.

On the other side, Manchester United will be missing Paul Pogba and Marcos Rojo, but otherwise have a clean bill of health as they look to at the least keep stride with their cross-town rivals atop the league table. Jose Mourinho has six away fixtures over the next four weeks across all competitions, and will likely look to rotate the squad at some point during that stretch.

What they’re saying

Mourinho on Southampton: “Southampton to be fair, I played them in my second spell in England, I played them and they had Mauricio [Pochettino], and then [Ronald] Koeman, and then [Claude] Puel and now Mauricio [Pellegrino] – and I don’t see many changes. It’s the kind of club where they are very stable in the way they play, the way they think (about) football, the qualities of their players. It’s a good team to be a manager. Honestly, it’s a very good club to be a manager and I see the match as a very difficult match.”

Pellegrino on Manchester United: “When we play against the biggest team in the world, it allows us to draw some conclusions about how we are. This is for me the nice challenge and we have to strive for this. Playing against Manchester United is one of the most beautiful things. I will live this opportunity, I will live this game, and now we have to try to enjoy this game.”

Prediction

This could be a difficult match for Manchester United. Southampton’s defense is very stout, and the Red Devils could potentially find themselves frustrated should they find themselves goalless through the first 60 minutes. Ultimately, the smartest play here is a close 1-0 win for Manchester United with a late goal, but a similar result in the other direction wouldn’t be the most shocking thing.

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

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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)

Premier League Preview: Manchester United vs. Leicester City

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  • Manchester United has lost only two of their 22 PL matches with Leicester City and only one of these came at Old Trafford: 0-1 in January 1998.
  • Henrikh Mkhitaryan has already registered four assists in two PL matches this season. The Armenian could become the first player in PL history to assist two goals in three consecutive matches.
  • Leicester has scored in all but one of their 15 PL matches under Shakespeare and striker Jamie Vardy has scored in eight of these.
  • Manchester United is still without Ashley Young and Luke Shaw, both of whom are approaching full fitness. Marcos Rojo (knee) is a long-term absentee, as is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who signed a one-year deal on Thursday to return to the club.
  • Leicester City captain Wes Morgan has recovered from a back injury. Kelechi Iheanacho (toe) and Harry Maguire (knock) will be assessed.

The Premier League’s hottest team returns home to face 2016’s surprise Premier League champions in a primetime match on Saturday afternoon on national television (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

NBC will televise Manchester United vs. Leicester as Jose Mourinho’s side look to continue its dominance through the early part of the season. Man United has won two consecutive games 4-0, with Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan impressing.

Leicester City meanwhile enter the match coming off a pair of wins, 2-0 over Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League and 4-1 at Sheffield United in the EFL Cup during the week. Leicester City were also a few defensive lapses away from beating Arsenal on the road to open up the season.

Both teams have the ability to score goals, and there should be plenty of attacking action on display.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

What they’re saying

Jose Mourinho on Mkhitaryan: “I think Henrikh [Mkhitaryan] understands me, and to be honest, I understand him because in the beginning of the season if he understands me better, he would have started better. But at the same time, if I understand him better, I would probably help him in a faster way than I did. But, we spent our time together, working together, learning about each other. The second part of last season was good for him and I believe, with his talent, that this season is going to be even better.”

Mourinho on Leicester City: “I think they are the same team as they were two seasons ago. Are they going to be champions again? Honestly, I don’t think so because there are many teams that I don’t think all of them are going to fail. But I think in terms of their qualities, I think they are the same team and they are playing exactly the same way they played before.”

Leicester City’s Craig Shakespear on facing Man United: “They have looked powerful. To score eight goals in two games in the Premier league is no mean feat. It will be a massive challenge but we look forward to that challenge. We have had a couple of good results recently and we need to take that confidence into that game, but we know what stands before us.”

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Prediction

Manchester United is the Premier League’s hottest team and for good reason. The club spent more than $100 million this summer to upgrade its frontline and with Romelu Lukaku’s early season form, there’s no reason why Man United shouldn’t beat Leicester, which are still figuring out things somewhat defensively against the top teams. Manchester United 3-1 Leicester City

PL Sunday preview: Man Utd, Spurs begin title quests

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We’re 80 percent of the way through the opening weekend of the 2017-18 Premier League season, which means two games — featuring two of the six presumed title hopefuls — on the Sunday schedule…

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — A wild return for the top flight! ]

Newcastle United vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Tottenham haven’t spent a penny all summer (maybe you’ve heard), despite netting $65 million in exchange for Kyle Walker, but worst of all, Danny Rose went public with his own frustrations this week, leaving one to wonder if everyone in the dressing feels the same. Suffice to say, Mauricio Pochettino welcomes the “distraction” of real games to be played.

The last time Spurs visited St. James’ Park, Newcastle embarrassed Pochettino’s men, 5-1, on the final day of the 2015-16 season. The defeat saw Spurs fall from second in the league table, down to third, behind Arsenal. The Magpies had been relegated to the Championship weeks earlier, but manager Rafa Benitez stuck around for a season in England’s second division and brought the club back to the PL at the first time of asking.

INJURIES: Newcastle — OUT: DeAndre Yedlin (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: Dwight Gayle (hamstring) | Tottenham — OUT: Danny Rose (knee), Erik Lamela (hip), Son Heung-min (arm); QUESTIONABLE: Kieran Tripper (ankle), Victor Wanyama (knee)

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

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

While far from the busiest of the PL’s six title hopefuls this summer, Man United’s transfer business was conducted on a must-be-addressed basis — star striker Romelu Lukaku, to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney; Nemanja Matic, to anchor the midfield and protect a shaky set of center backs; Victor Lindelof, to displace those shaky center backs — perhaps more so than any other side. Given the number of injuries Jose Mourinho was forced to navigate last season, spending just short of $190 million on reinforcements was the Red Devils’ only way back into genuine title contention.

As for West Ham, Slaven Bilic needs to deliver serious improvement on last season’s 11th-place finish — and a much faster start to the campaign — if he’s to complete his third full season in charge of the Hammers. While Marko Arnautovic goes down as the club-record signing ($26 million) from the summer, it’s Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez ($18 million) on whom all eyes will be focused on Sunday, as Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer returns to Old Trafford, to face the manager who many believe forced him out, for the first time since leaving the club for Bayer Leverkusen nearly two years ago.

“I can just say it’s luck,” Hernandez said when asked about his storybook return to life in the PL. “It was a great experience [there] … only happiness. I was living my dream and made that big step, which is not common. There is nothing negative about going there. It’s going to be my first game with my new club, against my old club in my old house. It’s only positive things – it’s an important moment for me.”

INJURIES: Man United — OUT: Luke Shaw (foot), Marcos Rojo (knee), Ashley Young (hamstring), James Wilson (knee) | West Ham — OUT: Michail Antonio (hamstring), Sofiane Feghouli (hamstring), Andy Carroll (groin); QUESTIONABLE: Manuel Lanzini (knee), Marko Arnautovic (leg)