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

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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)

Wry Mourinho “was waiting for (Klopp) to open up game”

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Ah, derby days…

Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho knew rival manager Jurgen Klopp wasn’t going to be pleased after a defensive 0-0 draw at Anfield on Saturday.

Mourinho set his Red Devils up to stymy, and Liverpool wasted several chances to post what would’ve been a statement-making three points against the Premier League leaders.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

After the game, Klopp said that he’d never be allowed to play so cautious at Liverpool. Mourinho seemed to think the Reds were plenty cautious (or he was going troll, which seems far more likely).

Mourinho claimed that Liverpool’s three-man midfield was too much for United, which was missing Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick through injury.

From The Liverpool Echo:

“Well, you were at home and you don’t move anything? I don’t know. I was waiting for that. He (Klopp) didn’t.

“I’m not criticising him.I think he did well, honestly. He didn’t let the game break. Lingard and Rashford were waiting for game to be broken but the game wasn’t broken.

“For me second half was a bit of chess but my opponent didn’t open the door for me to win the game.”

These comments will bring a wry smile from Klopp, and probably the temptation to punch a hole in the wall. This is what Mourinho does: manages to pick at an opponent and then sprinkle salt onto the wounds.

Premier League Preview: Manchester United vs. Crystal Palace

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  • United leads all-time 34W-10D-7L
  • Palace winless in last 9 vs. MUFC
  • Last CP win at Old Trafford came in 2011

Injury-hit and goal-starved Crystal Palace faces red-hot Manchester United in its latest bid to comeback from a horrible start to this Premier League season (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Old Trafford is the venue for Roy Hodgson’s next opportunity to lead Palace to a goal, and a point, and he’s going to have to do it without two of his top attackers Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Christian Benteke.

[ MORE: Mourinho says Pogba amongst “long-term” injuries ]

United’s had injury issues, too, and will still not have Paul Pogba nor Michael Carrick on Saturday. The Red Devils also played midweek in Russia, a talking point for both managers on Friday (see below).

Palace has yet to score in the league play this season, the longest stretch to start a campaign in Premier League history.

What they’re saying

Mourinho on United’s mindset during congested fixtures: “It is very important. We played Wednesday night and we arrived in Manchester at 4 a.m., home at 5 a.m., and we have to play tomorrow, so our mentality is always  very important.”

Hodgson on perceived fixture advantage: “I don’t know if their schedule helps us at all. There’s never a good time to play United and there’s always a good time to play against United. I guess Jose will say it’s not ideal to be playing on a Saturday at 3 p.m. after a trip to Russia, but they have a strong team on paper. The game is not played on paper though and we can only hope to give them a good game and any good luck going around will come our way.”

Prediction

If Hodgson was able to engineer an away result at Old Trafford without Benteke and Loftus-Cheek, we’d hand him the keys to the USMNT, and several other jobs at once. United easy, 3-0.

UCL Weds. preview: Man Utd in Russia, Chelsea in Spain

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Two gigantic matches highlight Wednesday’s eight match slate in the UEFA Champions League group stage.

One of those involves a Premier League side (Chelsea), finds this season’s “it” team at home to a German giant.

[ MORE: UCL Tues. roundup ]

We’ll start with Bayern Munich, who heads to Paris Saint-Germain to face the reportedly quarreling trident of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, and Edinson Cavani.

Neymar was rested this weekend with a toe injury, but is fit for Wednesday and ready for one of two matches which are likely to determine who’s seeded for the knockout rounds. PSG visits Bayern on Dec. 5.

As for the Blues of Chelsea, they face a mightier ask than their opening romp over Qarabag. Chelsea will visit Atletico Madrid, which held Roma scoreless in its opener and sits second in La Liga having allowed just four goals in six matches.

Manchester United is also on the road, and far from home. CSKA Moscow is the opposition, boasting five Russian national teamers including longtime backstop Igor Akinfeev. Midfielder Alan Dzagoev is also one to watch, especially given United’s absences in the center of the park; Marouane Fellaini, Paul Pogba, and Michael Carrick will all miss the match.

Here’s Jose Mourinho:

“I won’t have Fellaini, I won’t have Pogba, we won’t have Carrick, so all three midfield players that we lose for this match,” the boss told reporters. “So there are not many solutions, but we try not to focus on individual battles or in specific areas on the pitch. We try to focus on the globality [team as a whole] and we are going to have a team with quality, with balance, to try to win the match which is our objective.”

Full schedule
All matches kick at 2:45 p.m. ET except where indicated

Qarabag vs. Roma — Noon ET
CSKA Moscow vs. Manchester United
Anderlecht vs. Celtic
Basel vs. Benfica
Juventus vs. Olympiacos
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Bayern Munich
Atletico Madrid vs. Chelsea
Sporting Lisbon vs. Barcelona

Jose Mourinho on Man United’s midfield injury crisis

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Jose Mourinho has been speaking in Moscow ahead of Manchester United’s UEFA Champions League clash with CSKA Moscow on Wednesday.

[ MORE: UCL team news for PL clubs ]

The Man United boss has had a positive start to the new season with seven wins from nine games in all competitions as his side are second in the Premier League table only on goal difference.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule

That said, injuries are mounting up for the Red Devils, particularly in central midfield as Marouane Fellaini, Paul Pogba and Michael Carrick are all missing for United’s trip to CSKA.

“We don’t have Fellaini. We don’t have Pogba. We don’t have Carrick. All three midfield players that we lose for this match. The solutions are not many,” Mourinho said. “We are trying not to focus on individual battles in specific areas on the pitch. We are going to have a team with quality and balance to try to win the match. That’s our objective.”

What are Mourinho’s solutions to plug these gaps?

Ander Herrera will likely start in central midfield alongside Nemanja Matic which should be enough but given the extent of the injuries to both Pogba and Fellaini they will also have to play against Crystal Palace on Saturday.

Fellaini was injured by Southampton’s Shane Long on Saturday and Mourinho confirmed the Belgian midfielder would not play again before the international break.

“Fellaini was lucky. It could be a much worse situation but in a moment where we don’t have Pogba and Carrick he becomes even more important than he always is. I expect Fellaini not to be out for a long time,” Mourinho added.

As for Mourinho, he was asked about the decision by the English Football Association to take no further action after he was sent to the stands late on in United’s 1-0 victory at Southampton on Saturday.

“If I am not punished it is because there are no reasons for the sending off,” Mourinho said. “I am happy that it is recognized and I can do my work normally against Crystal Palace. That’s enough for me.”