Tyrone Mings

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PL Sunday preview: Can Man United, Liverpool keep pace?

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Highly unlikely to overcome 14- and 21-point deficits in the title race, respectively, Manchester United and Liverpool — along with the rest of the Premier League’s top-six — are merely in a race for second. West Bromwich Albion and Bournemouth — their opponents on Sunday, respectively — fear relegation.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Man City untouchable; Chelsea, Arsenal win narrowly ]

West Brom vs. Manchester United — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Try telling Jose Mourinho, the only man in the PL still refusing to concede the title to Manchester City, that the title race is over. The performances have often been ugly and ground out until the final whistle — especially in the absence of Paul Pogba, who’ll once again be unavailable through suspension — but Mourinho’s men have won five of their last six (the only defeat coming last weekend, to Man City) as they head into Sunday’s annual trip to the Hawthorns, where they’ll face 19th-place West Brom. The Baggies haven’t won in their last 15 PL outings (eight draws), a woeful run which dates back to the second week of the 2017-18 season.

While United have been nearly impenetrable defensively (11 goals conceded in 17 games), a pair of costly errors — each committed by star striker Romelu Lukaku — cost the Red Devils dearly against City, as did their recurring inability (against the PL’s top teams) to control the game through possession and create scoring chances with consistency. The same struggles reared their ugly heads in a 1-0 victory over Bournemouth on Wednesday.

As poor as the results have been over the course of four months, West Brom can hang their hat on a decent defensive record — just 22 goals conceded in 17 games, which puts them squarely in the middle of the table. If Alan Pardew‘s side sets out to defend for 90 minutes, the Baggies might just get something out of Sunday’s clash. Pardew was quite pleased by the improvements he saw during Wednesday’s 0-0 draw with Liverpool, and he’s hoping for a repeat performance against United.

“We kept them very quiet and created on transition better moments, in the limited number that we had, than we did at Swansea,” he said. “That’s an improvement, but still an area to work on. We had some really strong performances — and if you get four or five ‘eights’ in your team that normally constitutes points.”

INJURIES: West Brom — OUT: Nacer Chadli (hip), Matt Phillips (hamstring), Craig Dawson (knee), James Morrison (achilles); RETURNING: Gareth Barry (thigh)| Man United — OUT: Paul Pogba (suspension), Eric Bailly (ankle), Marouane Fellaini (knee), Michael Carrick (heart)


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

Every time Liverpool take a step or two forward, they take a step or two right back to where they began. Case in point: back-to-back wins over Stoke City and Brighton & Hove Albion, by a combined score of 8-1, which briefly vaulted them ahead of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur in the race for the top-four; followed by back-to-back draws against bottom-half sides Everton and West Brom.

With that side, Jurgen Klopp‘s side is unbeaten in its last eight league games and boasts one of the league’s most potent attacking records (34 goals scored in 17 games — third-most behind the two Manchester clubs).

Cherries boss Eddie Howe was encouraged by his side’s performances in that narrow loss to United, and the 40-year-old can sense that better days are on the near horizon.

“We’re disappointed because we’ve been beaten, but I’m really pleased with the performance,” he said. “I thought we were very good today and were very disciplined out of possession. We were also very good with the ball and created numerous chances. We really did establish ourselves in the game very early and there were some really good individual performances today. The team functioned very well.”

INJURIES: Bournemouth — OUT: Tyrone Mings (back), Brad Smith (hip), Adam Federici (knee) | Liverpool — OUT: Alberto Moreno (ankle), Adam Lallana (fitness), Joel Matip (thigh), Nathaniel Clyne (back), Emre Can (suspensions); QUESTIONABLE: Daniel Sturridge (hamstring)

Zlatan Ibrahimovic confident Man United will make top four

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Zlatan Ibrahimoic is a confident man 100 percent of the time.

He’s also 100 percent confident Manchester United will finish in the top four of the Premier League.

[ MORE: Mane out for season? ]

Ibrahimovic, 35, is set to return for United on Tuesday as they host Everton at Old Trafford (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as his three-game domestic ban for elbowing Tyrone Mings is over.

United have missed their top goalscorer badly, scoring three goals in three games and all of those strikes came in an away win at Middlesbrough.

In an interview with United’s in-house TV station MUTV, Ibrahimovic revealed his strong belief that the Red Devils will finish in the top four.

“I missed Old Trafford and the games with my team, but finally I am back and hopefully I come back with positive vibes. One game can change a lot – suddenly you can be third, fourth, fifth, sixth.

“First is too far away, second probably also, but otherwise it’s very tight and if you succeed in winning two or three games in a row then you’re in the Champions League spots. I think we will make it and we will be there. We have gained the points we need to be in the Champions League, though we are on the limit now. A little bit more and we will reach the top four I believe.”

United currently sit five points behind neighbors Manchester City who occupy the fourth and final UEFA Champions League spot via the PL. The Red Devils are currently on an unbeaten run of 19 games in the Premier League but they’ve drawn a league-high 11 times this campaign and have been frustrated at home time and time again.

With many suggesting United will now focus on winning the UEFA Europa League, Ibrahimovic isn’t ready to give up just yet on finishing in the top four.

After scoring 26 goals in 41 appearances in all competitions this season, Ibrahimovic’s importance to United is clear. The veteran striker will no doubt lead the line against Everton and time and time again he has provided that lethal finish just when United need it most. In his absence Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial failed to deliver.

Now Zlatan takes back over for the run-in as United host Chelsea next weekend and head to Man City, Arsenal and Tottenham in the final weeks of the season.

Stamp fallout: Rojo could face ban for stamp on Hazard

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Manchester United is building a book of stamps, and this time the Red Devils are the oppressor.

A week after Bournemouth defender Tyrone Mings was banned five matches for his stamp on United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it looks certain a Red Devil will be on the receiving end of a suspension for a similar incident.

United’s tactic of fouling the ever-loving heck out of Eden Hazard cost them the use of Ander Herrera during the match, and will likely help Marcos Rojo to the sideline for at least three matches.

[ MORE: Chelsea 1-0 Man Utd | 3 things from JPW ]

Hazard hits the deck after contact from Rojo outside the 18, and Rojo plants his right foot into the Chelsea player’s ribs.

Perhaps better put:

While Mings almost certainly stamped Ibrahimovic on purpose, the Bournemouth man at least had plausible deniability due to the fact that he did his best to conceal his intentions. Rojo may as well have just conducted an audacious gesticulation before applying this wrestling finishing move to Hazard’s ribs.

I’ve already read several “anti-Man Utd bias” Tweets this morning regarding this incident, which is about as funny as it gets. Prepare for some time off, Marcos.

No apologies: Mings digs in after suspension for Zlatan stamp

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Not sure there’s any middle ground when it comes to the aftermath of a head stamp, but Tyrone Mings is sticking to an extreme.

The Bournemouth back was banned for five matches after stepping on the head of Manchester United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic during Saturday’s match at Old Trafford, and Ibrahimovic received three matches for later elbowing Mings in the head.

[ MORE: Top PL Storylines — Week 28 ]

Mings, who turns 24 on Monday, maintains that he did not step on Ibrahimovic’s head on purpose, and is baffled that the Football Association has banned him for an “accidental collision. The defender goes as far as to say that his foot “did not change course” on the play as he rushed back to defend.

The video is above — start around 1:26 for the incident — and at full speed you did get Mings’ drift. Yet the whole idea of his foot not changing course can also be used to make the opposite point, that Mings decided to step on Ibrahimovic’s head the moment he saw the opportunity.

Do you buy his words? Pardon the cynic in me for rolling my eyes, though Mings’ reasoning is not nearly as bad as Ibrahimovic contending that the defender “jumped into” his elbow.

Premier League Power Rankings: Stoke, Spurs, Reds rise

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Chelsea’s unfettered advantage over most opponents through N'Golo Kante and Antonio Conte has made for some boredom when it comes to No. 1, but the race to stay in the Top Ten has been a fun part of our weekly power rankings.

[ MORE: Top PL story lines — Week 28 ]

Mark Hughes‘ Potters are the latest to make a move, while Liverpool and Tottenham also dance a bit higher this week. It’s the opposite direction for Hull City, Bournemouth, and Burnley.

TEAM RANKING
source:
20 (20) Sunderland: This is the kind of season the Black Cats have had: After Southampton, Everton, and Man City, they had a shot at struggling Middlesbrough in a Northeast Derby this week only to see the match postponed. Fortunately, Burnley is next.
200px-Middlesbrough_crest 19 (19) Middlesbrough: Aitor Karanka‘s side needed the week off badly, but a visit from Manchester United is next.
Hull City logo
18 (17) Hull City: Looking improved only means so much, and the Leicester loss could be followed by another 6-point loss to Swansea City. Time to pony up, Tigers.
source: 17 (16) Bournemouth: Winless in 2017
source: 16 (18) Crystal Palace: Big Sam may have led the Eagles into the drop zone, but he’s also guided them to two big wins and an escape… for now.
source: 15 (15) Swansea City: Fate (or officiating) nearly conspired to rob Swans of a win versus Burnley, but the Welsh side overcame the bad fortune. Now they can really pad their status by beating Hull.
Leicester City logo
14 (14) Leicester City: Two in a row, but it just feels so hollow given the players clearly weren’t playing for a manager who led them to the heights. No, this isn’t about 2015-16 Chelsea.
burnley fc crest 13 (10) Burnley: No wins in five across all competitions, including losses to Watford, Swansea, and Lincoln City. I’d hate to be on Sean Dyche‘s bad side during this stretch. Also, how is Tyrone Mings not banned for the season?
source: 12 (13) Watford: A thrilling loss to Saints is still a loss, and a third in a row.
source: 11 (12) Southampton: Finally putting it together. Nathan Redmond and Manolo Gabbiadini are tactical issue for opponents.

source:
10 (7) West Brom: After losing a court case against Crystal Palace, you know Tony Pulis wanted to heap misery on the lowly Eagles. Instead, he managed a 2-0 home loss. Woof.
source: 9 (9) West Ham United: No shame in losing to Chelsea. We might put that sentence in each team’s column at some point this season.
source: 8 (11) Stoke City: Handled Sunderland before holding Man City to a draw at the Etihad Stadium. Geoff Cameron’s return has helped Mark Hughes’ side, for sure.
source: 7 (6) Arsenal: It’s bad, relatively speaking.
source: 6 (8) Liverpool: Ah, the side that loses to bad teams and “gets healthy” against bigger sides. So odd, but that’s how it was for Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund, too. Gotta be a coincidence, right? Right?
5 (5) Everton: 3-2 loss to Spurs shows that Ronald Koeman‘s side needs a few more pieces to contend for Europe.
source: 4 (4) Manchester United: A frustrating draw does have a silver lining in the fact that Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s head wasn’t caved in by Tyrone Mings’ stamp.
Logo_Manchester_City 3 (2) Manchester City: Surely Pep Guardiola didn’t see a 0-0 against Stoke at home as a likely result.
source: 2 (3) Tottenham Hotspur: Really showing mettle this year, and would have to fall apart to finish below Arsenal. Spurs supporters, I swear I’m not jinxing you.
source: 1 (1) Chelsea: Another day, another three points for Conte and Kante, who really should get some Ballon d’Or love.