Sam Baldock

PL Sunday preview: Unexpected battlers at the top, bottom

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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

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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: Newcastle shoot for top-4 place at Brighton

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures offers up a meeting of two newly promoted sides in the only game of the day.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Goals galore on a wild Saturday ]

Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Newcastle United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Newcastle’s return to the PL had all the makings of another spectacular flame-out and an immediate return to the Championship — owner Mike Ashley promised manager Rafa Benitez a busy summer of signings, but that never materialized; Benitez’s discontent was widely reported, some going so far as to say he had considered stepping down; the Magpies lost their first two games of the season, failing to score in either — until Jamaal Lascelles decided he was having no more of it.

Lascelles, Newcastle’s 23-year-old captain and star center back, has helped Benitez’s boys to three straight victories, in which they’ve conceded just one goal (in last week’s 2-1 victory over Stoke City), has united a group of players which seemed headed for self-destruction just four short weeks ago. The key, according to Lascelles, is accountability evenly shared by every player in the dressing room.

[ MORE: Pochettino — “I am in love with Harry Kane” ]

“A couple of seasons back, we’d go a goal down or concede a goal and heads would drop,” Lascelles said. “We’d be looking at each other like, ‘who’s going to step up?’ But everyone steps up, the 11 of us. This group of boys are excellent, we just keep going.”

Three points on Sunday would see Newcastle leapfrog Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, two sides level on 11 points and presently fighting over fourth place, to finish the weekend in the PL’s final Champions League place (after six of 38 games, of course).

[ MORE: Mourinho bewildered by sending-off; Man United beat Southampton ]

As for Brighton, returning home to Falmer Stadium is a welcome development after losing twice at Bournemouth (first in the PL, then in the League Cup) in the span of four days. In charge of Brighton is another former Newcastle manager, Chris Hughton, who guided his new club to promotion from the Championship last season (just as he did for Newcastle in 2010). Brighton held the league lead heading into the season’s final days before the Seagulls faltered and Newcastle pounced, but Hughton says there isn’t any ill will onto which to be held.

“There shouldn’t be, because they deserved it,” Hughton said. “We had opportunities in the last three games to clinch the title and we weren’t good enough at that particular moment to do that. All credit goes to Newcastle for doing it and certainly there’s no revenge. We are up against a good team that’s in good form at the moment.”

INJURIES: Brighton — OUT: Steve Sidwell (back), Sam Baldock (calf), Beram Kayal (leg); QUESTIONABLE: Izzy Brown (hamstring) | Newcastle — OUT: Aleksandar Mitrovic (suspended), Paul Dummett (hamstring), Florian Lejeune (ankle), Karl Darlow (ankle)

Premier League Preview: Brighton and Hove Albion vs. Manchester City

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  • Brighton and Hove Albion set to make Premier League debut.
  • Benjamin Mendy is out but Manchester City can debut Ederson, Kyle Walker, Danilo and Bernardo Silva.
  • Manchester City has won each of their last six opening matches in the Premier League, the best current run in the competition.
  • Brighton’s Beram Kayal set to miss 12 weeks with broken leg.

Pep Guardiola and Manchester City look to rebound from a disappointing season as the Sky Blues start off on the road against newly-promoted Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday afternoon (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The 2016-2017 season was the first since 2008 that Guardiola didn’t win a single trophy in a season. It was also the first empty campaign for Manchester City since the 2012-2013 season. That means the heat is on full blast under Guardiola’s seat and while he’s spent upwards of $270 million on new signings, he’ll have to quickly get his team to the top of the table to satisfy the critics.

In advance of its first Premier League season, Brighton and Hove has been busy in the transfer marking, signing ten new players including Dutch international Davy Propper and Chelsea and England youth international Izzy Brown. After scoring 74 goals in the Championship last year, plenty will be expected from Brighton’s strikeforce of Glenn Murray, Tomer Hemed and  Sam Baldock.

Ahead of its opener, Brighton suffered a bit of a blow, as starting holding midfielder Beram Kayal suffered a broken fibula, ruling him out for 12 weeks. Baldock too, who underwent calf surgery over the summer, is still working on his recovery.

What they’re saying

Guardiola on if Manchester City are title favorites: “Last season at my first press conference we were favorites, so nothing has changed. I was confident then too.”

Guardiola on spending so much on transfers this summer: “We make good things last season with the players we had. But we were not able to achieve what we were looking for. Like a lot of top teams here in England and around the world, always they are looking for the best possible. But we had one of the oldest teams in the Premier League and we decide to put energy and new players for the next four, five, six years.

“Our average is 24, so it means a lot for the future of the Club.”

Chris Houghton on starting life in the Premier League: “We’re all glad that it has come around, because when you have that initial excitement, you know that has to drop down at some stage, and the reality is we’re playing in arguably the toughest league there is.

“The work starts from the day you get promotion. It’s normal that the players and supporters are going to be celebrating for a period of time, but we have had to come down to reality. We’ve got a very level-headed group of professionals that have trained well every week and have applied themselves very well for games.

“But this division is far tougher and we’ll certainly need all of the experienced heads around us.”

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Prediction

Manchester City may have retooled much of its team this offseason but it is still one of the title favorites. Brighton and Hove meanwhile will just be happy to stay up. While Brighton should put up a fight, especially at home, this one should go easily to Manchester City. Manchester 3-0 Brighton and Hove