Yannick Bolasie

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Top Storylines for Premier League Week 23

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With the Premier League back following a week of FA Cup action, let’s take a look at the top storylines heading into this weekend…

Can Liverpool end Man City’s unbeaten run

Manchester City faces another stiff test to its unbeaten run – and perhaps its title aspirations – with a trip to Liverpool to end the Premier League’s Sunday slate.

Sunday (Watch live, 11:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) also marks the start of the post-Philippe Coutinho era, as the Brazilian was finally given his dream transfer to Barcelona last week. It’s a key moment for Liverpool, a team fighting for another top four position as well as this year’s UEFA Champions League knockout stage only to lose one of its top attackers. How will Jurgen Klopp‘s team respond. On the other side, Man City has rebounded well from its scoreless draw with Crystal Palace, with three straight wins as it looks to wrap up the Premier League title by March.

[MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 23]

Arsenal’s transfer saga continues

Arsenal is expected to sell Alexis Sanchez any day now, but there’s nothing yet pointing to the Chilean forward not being part of the first-team squad in the meantime. The Gunners hit the road to face Bournemouth and Eddie Howe, a man who has been touted as an eventual successor to Arsene Wenger, on Sunday (Watch live, 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). The Gunners are winless in their last three, including a rough scoreless draw at Chelsea in the League Cup on Wednesday, and will be without Jack Wilshere for at least a game or two. And possibly Alexis Sanchez? Who knows.

Howe will be reminding his men of the repeat fixture last year: where Bournemouth ran riot and took a commanding 3-0 lead, only for Olivier Giroud to lead Arsenal’s comeback to earn a point with a 3-3 draw. Howe will be expecting a win this time around.

Mahrez vs. Hazard at Stamford Bridge

Chelsea and Leicester City have an interesting relationship. Chelsea’s wild 2-2 draw with Tottenham secured Leicester City’s improbable and incredible Premier League title, and with Leicester City’s midfield dynamo N'Golo Kante, the Blues won the title last year.

But perhaps the focus will be on another sought-after player who just passed his four-year mark in Leicester – Riyad Mahrez. With Coutinho – who basically plays a similar position to Mahrez – making a big-money move to Barcelona, the French-born Algerian international may want to show potential suitors that he can provide plenty to a future club, or perhaps he’ll turn these performances into a new contract. It will be fun to see Mahrez go up against former teammates Kante and Danny Drinkwater, as well as Premier League star Eden Hazard (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Spurs look to break into Top 4

Despite all its talent, Tottenham is currently sitting on the outside of the top four and looking in. But perhaps not for long.

If Spurs can get past a more defensively-sound Everton side on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 .m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com) and Liverpool lose to Manchester City, depending on goal differential, Tottenham can jump past Liverpool into the top four, keeping its Champions League hopes alive for next season. It will be a tactical battle on Saturday, with Mauricio Pochettino‘s side looking to break down Sam Allardyce‘s Everton, which is playing somewhat better since he’s taken charge. With Yannick Bolasie back for Everton as well, it will inject more pace into the squad that has been lacking it.

Can Burnley break out of slump

Burnley has had a fantastic first half of the Premier League season. But can the club sustain it for the second half?

It’s now been five-straight games in the Premier League that Burnley has failed to win – six in total – and the team has lost all of the momentum it built up when it momentarily sat in the top four. Now down to seventh, Sean Dyche‘s side looks to arrest its slide with a trip to Roy Hodgson‘s Crystal Palace (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold). Palace are fighting tooth and nail to escape relegation and it will be a difficult road test for Burnley. It’s a time for the likes of Robbie Brady, Stevan Defour and others to step up, while Wilfried Zaha will look to use his past to dangerous effect at home.

Allardyce: We better get a scorer, or we’ll have to grind out points

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Sam Allardyce is dealing with his first difficult run as Everton boss, the Toffees now winless in four matches following a 2-0 home loss to Manchester United.

His side has scored once in those four matches, two against relegation battlers, and Big Sam’s putting it down to Everton’s lack of a top class striker.

[ MORE: Match recap | Mourinho reacts ]

“No shot on target? That’s normal for us,” he said. “We know where our problems are, the club knew before I got here that was the problem. We’re trying to cure that in this window by getting a frontline that can threaten and score goals. Until then we have to be a team who can only win if we get a clean sheet, for me.”

Everton was in 13th place when Allardyce first hit the dugout for a 2-0 win over Huddersfield Town. The Toffees have since, in no order, drawn Liverpool, Chelsea, and West Brom, beating Newcastle and Swansea, while losing to Bournemouth and Manchester United.

They’re still ninth, nine points clear of the drop zone, and have Spurs, West Brom, and Leicester next, the latter two at home. If form follows and Allardyce sees his men lose to Spurs but beat West Brom, that visit from Leicester City will be huge in separating the two sides (as well as 10th place Watford, who has a match-in-hand and will play the Foxes in that span.

Allardyce has done a very good job at shoring up what was a porous defensive unit, but hasn’t found a way to manufacture goals. Winger Yannick Bolasie agreed:

“It’s been known we probably need a striker,” he said. “It’s a difficult job for any club to replace Romelu Lukaku. It’s obvious but I’m not the manager.”

He says he’ll know within 24 hours whether the club’s big Cenk Tosun recruiting push comes through for him.

The latter is going to be enough to keep Everton up, but the latter may put Alladyce in the same position he was at West Ham: unable to make an ambitious side into a top performer.

Premier League Preview: Everton vs. Chelsea

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  • Alvaro Morata is suspended for Chelsea but the club has a clean bill of health.
  • Chelsea has won their last three Premier League matches against Everton by an aggregate score of 10-0.
  • Sam Allardyce has won his last two PL matches versus Chelsea and will become the first manager to win against them with five different clubs if Everton are victorious.
  • Wayne Rooney has scored 10 goals in 16 PL appearances this season; the fewest amount of matches it’s taken him to reach 10 goals in a season since 2011/12.

Everton has seen its fortunes change spectacularly since Sam Allardyce has taken over as manager but the Toffees will be put to the test on Saturday when they host Chelsea. (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

[MORE: Top Premier League storylines — Week 19]

Since being named manager on November 30, Allardyce has led Everton to Premier League wins over Huddersfield Town and Swansea City at home and Newcastle United on the road, as well as a 1-1 draw at Liverpool in the derby and a 3-0 win on the road in the Europa League.

It’s been an up-and-down last few weeks meanwhile for the defending Premier League champions, which were on a low after a draw at Atletico Madrid and defeat to West Ham before consecutive wins over Chelsea, Southampton and then Bourmenouth in the Carabao Cup.

The big question looking ahead for Chelsea will be how they deal with the loss to suspension of Alvaro Morata, with Michy Batshuayi likely stepping in.

What they’re saying

Everton boss Sam Allardyce on Yannick Bolasie, who is making his comeback from a torn ACL: “Physically he is ready, technically he’s a little rusty but we have to think about throwing him in at some stage. He could be on the bench tomorrow”

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte on being without Morata: “Now I have to prepare a different plan and I have different options. I have another day to make the best decision and looking at the training today, every single player is in good form.”

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Prediction: Everton has shown a much-improved defense since Allardyce joined the club but facing Chelsea is another challenge that may be a step too far for the fragile Everton squad. Chelsea should take care of business on the road. Chelsea 2-1 Everton

Premier League notes: Wanyama, Bolasie return after long layoffs, Sakho injured

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Two Premier League clubs saw a pair of players return to the field after long spells on the sidelines.

Tottenham revealed that Victor Wanyama took part in training on Monday for the first time since suffering a knee injury in late August, which has kept him off the field since then. Wanyama started in both of Tottenham’s first two fixtures of the season before the injury.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

At the same time in the northwest of England, Yannick Bolasie returned to the field for Everton’s reserves for the first time since suffering a torn ACL last December against Manchester United. Everton manager Sam Allardyce hinted recently that Bolasie could even make the first team subs bench before the end of the calendar year as he continues his rehab.

(more…)

PL Sunday preview: Derby day in Manchester, Merseyside

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Sunday is derby day for two of the fiercest, longest-standing local rivalries in the Premier League. Need we say more?

[ PL ROUNDUP: Spurs bounce back in a big way; Leicester on fire ]

Southampton vs. Arsenal — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Arsenal turned in arguably their best performance of the season last weekend, and were hammered on the scoreboard, 3-1 by Manchester United. On the one hand, they’ll feel good about the performance; on the other hand, questions remain about their abilities to compete with other top-six sides. It was a fourth straight impressive performance by the Gunners, who over the last six weeks have stabilized (wins in five of their last seven) after a rocky first few games (one win from their opening three).

Much Sunday’s opponent, who are comfortably slotted into the top-four battle, Southampton find themselves in a familiar place as a mid-table side with very little hope of catching the elites of the PL, and in very little danger of sliding into a relegation battle. Saints have hit-or-miss at home this season, as Mauricio Pellegrino‘s side has won 11 of its 16 point at St. Mary’s Stadium, site of Sunday’s clash, but have also lost three of eight games at the ground, by a combined score of 7-1.

INJURIES: Southampton — OUT: Cedric (hamstring) | Arsenal — OUT: Shkodran Mustafi (thigh), Santi Cazorla (achilles)

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

Red-hot Liverpool (nine games unbeaten in all competitions, with seven wins; six games unbeaten in the PL, with five wins) welcome a suddenly resurgent and re-energized Everton side (riding back-to-back PL wins for the first time all season) to Anfield for the 229th Merseyside derby.

Only first-and second-place sides Manchester City (46) and Man United (35) have scored more goals this season than the rabid attack of Liverpool (33), but it’s those pesky defensive struggles (once again) which have held Jurgen Klopp‘s side back from putting forth a genuine title challenge. There have been massive improvements in recent weeks, though, as the Reds have conceded just three goals during their current six-game run in the league. As if they need anymore confidence ahead of Sunday’s clash, history also happens to be on their side: Liverpool haven’t lost a derby at Anfield in 17 outings.

As for the Toffees, Sam Allardyce is in charge now, and they’ve won all three games since his appointment — though he’s only actually managed one of the three. Allardyce’s debut saw Everton grind out a 2-0 victory over Huddersfield Town last weekend, though they were far from dominant in doing so. Alas, goals from Gylfi Sigurdsson and Dominic Calvert-Lewin are wonderful signs for a side which managed only 13 goals in as many games to start the season.

INJURIES: Liverpool — OUT: Joel Matip (leg), Nathaniel Clyne (back); QUESTIONABLE: Adam Lallana (fitness), Alberto Moreno (ankle) | Everton — OUT: Leighton Baines (calf), James McCarthy (hamstring), Ross Barkley (hamstring), Seamus Coleman (leg), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Yannick Bolasie (knee)

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

No PL side has ever won 14 straight games in the league, a feat Man City can achieve on Sunday, and can do so against their most hated local rivals to boot. Undoubtedly, Jose Mourinho has thought of nothing other than Pep Guardiola‘s quest for history this week, and will set out to ruin the party by any means necessary.

Without the services of star midfielder Paul Pogba (suspension), expect a heavy dose of bludgeoning courtesy of Marouane Fellaini, who is set to return after two weeks out with a knee injury. The absences are truly a shame, as United have appeared — when healthy — to be genuinely capable of matching City stride for stride at the very top of their game. While City have scored nine more goals than the Red Devils — two two sides were on a nearly identical scoring pace prior to Pogba’s injury back in mid-September — United’s defense is predictably best in the league once again.

What’s more, a City win at Old Trafford feels as though it would — even 16 games into the season — all but end the title race, as Guardiola’s men would go 11 points clear of United, their closest title rivals.

For the first time all season, City fell to defeat in the Champions League on Wednesday. Prior to that loss to Shakhtar Donetsk, they had won 20 straight games across all competitions and were unbeaten in 22. Having already secured the top spot in the group, Guardiola elected to rest a handful of regular starters with Sunday’s showdown presumably in mind. As for what this particular derby means for the Citizens and their fans, defender Vincent Kompany believes the tables have turned 180 degrees in recent years.

“I think to every player it means more than any other game,” he said this week. “It started as something that was way more important for the City fans than the United fans. At this moment in time, we are the team they want to beat more than any other team.”

INJURIES: Man United — OUT: Paul Pogba (suspension), Eric Bailly (groin) | Man City — OUT: John Stones (hamstring), Benjamin Mendy (knee)