Premier League previews 2016-17

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PL Sunday preview: North London derby; clarity for the top-four?

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There’s Super Sunday, and then there’s this Sunday, when six of the top seven sides in the Premier League will be in action…

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Manchester United vs. Swansea City — 7 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

Injury crisis — noun: see, also: United, Manchester

With five games to go in the PL season, and a top-four place very much within reach — as well as the Europa League trophy — Jose Mourinho is without a half-dozen players whom would have been considered automatic first-choice starters at the season’s start (see below). Fortunately for him, he’s got players like Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan beyond anxious for additional playing time.

Following a 0-0 draw with Manchester City on Thursday, Man United have climbed to within two points of third-place Liverpool (with a game in hand), and control their own destiny as far as finishing in the top-four goes. Following three straight defeats to Swansea in 2014 and 2015, order has somewhat been restored with the Red Devils winning the last two meetings between the sides. As badly as United need three points to qualify for the UEFA Champions League, the Swans need them more in their bid to stave off relegation from the PL (they currently sit three points back of 17th-place Hull City, with a better goal differential).

INJURIES: Man United — OUT: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee), Paul Pogba (leg), Marcos Rojo (knee), Juan Mata (groin), Marouane Fellaini (suspension), Chris Smalling (knee), Phil Jones (toe) | Swansea — OUT: Angel Rangel (foot), Nathan Dyer (achilles), Wayne Routledge (hernia)

Everton vs. Chelsea — 9:05 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

Sunday’s trip to Goodison Park, where they are winless in their last two visits (PL and FA Cup), looks to be Chelsea’s toughest remaining fixture as Antonio Conte‘s side seeks to lift the club’s fifth PL trophy (sixth in all eras). After a pair of losses in four games’ time saw their lead cut from 10 points to four, the Blues reasserted themselves as the team to beat with an FA Cup semifinal victory over Tottenham Hotspur, their last remaining challenger, and a convincing 4-2 victory over Southampton in league play on Tuesday.

INJURIES: Everton — OUT: Seamus Coleman (leg), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), James McCarthy (hamstring), Yannick Bolasie (knee), Muhamed Besic (fitness) | Chelsea — OUT: None

[ MORE: Sunderland officially relegated to Championship ]

Middlesbrough vs. Manchester City — 9:05 a.m. ET, on NBCSports.com

Following that 0-0 draw in the Manchester derby, Man City remain fourth in the league table, a single point back of Liverpool (with a game in hand). Given the mathematics involved, their margin for error is greater than any of the three sides fighting for the final top Champions League places. With that said, a loss away to 19th-place Boro would be horrendous, season-defining result — one that would take their destiny out of their own hands and see them rely on results elsewhere to finish top-four in Pep Guardiola‘s first season.

INJURIES: Boro — OUT: Victor Valdes (ribs); QUESTIONABLE: Grant Leadbitter (hamstring) | Man City — OUT: John Stones (knock), Ilkay Gundogan (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Sergio Aguero (back), David Silva (ankle), Gabriel Jesus (fitness)

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Arsenal — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

It was confirmed on Friday that Sunday’s North London derby would be the very last meeting between Tottenham and Arsenal ever played at White Hart Lane, as the 118-year-old stadium will be demolished this summer as construction on Spurs’ brand new, 61,000-seat stadium continues. As fate would have it, not only can Spurs round out the White Hart Lane era with another famous derby when at the Lane, but Sunday also offers Mauricio Pochettino‘s side the chance to do something the club has failed to do in each of the last 22 seasons: clinch a finish above Arsenal in the league table.

Everything is in Spurs’ favor, too, as they’ve won eight straight league games for just the third time in club history (the first time in the PL era), by a combined score of 23-4. Following back-to-back 4-0 wins, over Watford and Bournemouth, their title hopes were kept alive by a brilliant, late strike from Christian Eriksen on Wednesday at Selhurst Park. At the same time, Arsenal were fortunate to top Leicester City courtesy of a comical own goal scored by Robert Huth. If any of those things — stadium nostalgia, form, or current standing in the league (Spurs sit second, 14 points clear of the Gunners — mattered, we’d hand Spurs the three points now. But, this is still Spurs we’re talking about, and why would we ever skip out on the North London derby?

INJURIES: Tottenham — OUT: Erik Lamela (hip), Harry Winks (ankle), Michel Vorm (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Danny Rose (knee)| Arsenal — OUT: Santi Cazorla (achilles), Shkodran Mustafi (thigh); QUESTIONABLE: Laurent Koscielny (knee)

PL Sunday preview: Liverpool, Man Utd chasing top-four finishes

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Are Manchester United really in the top-four race? Will Liverpool sprint or stumble to the finish line? Are Burnley and Crystal Palace safe from relegation?

Questions to ponder ahead of Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures…

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

After eight sterling months (17 PL goals, 28 in all competitions), now begins the post-Zlatan Ibrahimovic era at Man United after the Swedish superstar suffered a “significant” knee injury (as did defender Marcos Rojo) during United’s Europa League triumph over Anderlecht on Thursday. 22 games unbeaten (12 wins, 10 draws) in league play, and United have not only kept pace with Liverpool and Manchester City in the race for a top-four finish, but closed the gap to six and four points, with two and one games in hand, respectively.

With Ibrahimovic out for the remainder of the season — and perhaps the rest of the calendar year — Marcus Rashford has already stepped up and assumed the role of line-leading, goal-scoring striker in his absence. Last weekend, Rashford started in place of a healthy Ibrahimovic and scored what turned out to be the winning goal against PL leaders Chelsea. The 19-year-old followed that up with the 107th-minute winner against Anderlecht to reach double-digit goals, including three in his last four games, for the first time in his career.

With the Manchester derby not far on the horizon (Thursday), a United win would move the Red Devils to within a single point of fourth-place Man City, with the two sides finally level on games played.

INJURIES: Burnley — QUESTIONABLE: Sam Vokes (hamstring), Johann Gudmundsson (knee) | Man United — OUT: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee), Marcos Rojo (knee), Juan Mata (groin), Chris Smalling (knee), Phil Jones (toe)

[ MORE: Chelsea beat Tottenham to reach FA Cup final ]

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

Unbeaten in their last seven PL games (five wins, two draws), Liverpool’s disastrous start to 2017 (zero wins in their first five games after New Years Day) has long faded from the rearview mirror. With signature victories over Arsenal and Everton, plus a convincing win over Tottenham Hotspur separating the above streaks, Jurgen Klopp‘s first full season at Anfield sits 450 minutes from achieving a goal thought improbable or impossible by many back in August: Champions League qualification.

Klopp, for one, is wary of coming up against Christian Benteke, not long a former Liverpool striker, in red-hot form (three goals and an assist in his last four games — two wins and a draw for Crystal Palace).

“He is obviously another player with confidence, in a good run and all that stuff,” Klopp said. “Like it is always when you play against Zlatan, other strikers, these kinds of strikers — tall, good with their back to the goal — you have to avoid the crosses and you have to avoid the passes. That’s how it works.

“If we let them cross 50 balls it’s pretty likely he will have a few dangerous headers. That’s not his only strength, of course, but that’s a real strength.”

INJURIES: Liverpool — OUT: Sadio Mane (knee), Adam Lallana (thigh), Jordan Henderson (foot), Danny Ings (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Joel Matip (knock), Daniel Sturridge (hip), Ragnar Klavan (knee) | Crystal Palace — OUT: Scott Dann (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Loic Remy (calf), James Tomkins (calf)

Premier League Preview: Swansea City vs. Stoke City

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  • Potters won 3-1 on Halloween
  • Stoke leads all-time 25W-21D-21L
  • 5W-3D-3L in Premier League

Swansea City’s safety fight gets a Saturday visit from a Stoke City side seeking club history (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

Swans are two points back of Hull City for 17th and have been ice cold in recent weeks, failing to build on a remarkable run at the turn of the calendar. Since winning five of eight to start 2017, Swans are winless in six with just a single point gained in a visit from Middlesbrough.

Stoke hasn’t been great shakes, either, though perhaps the Potters woke up in snapping a four-match losing skid with a 3-1 win at Hull City last week. They also have the goal of finishing in the Premier League’s top half for an unprecedented fourth-straight season.

What they’re saying

Swans captain Leon Britton on the import of win“Stoke is the biggest game we have had in a long time. And whenever we have had big games in the past, our fans have always played a vital role for us. They have helped us achieve all the things we have achieved during my time at the club and we need them to do it again for us now.”

Stoke boss Mark Hughes on facing a struggling foe“We need to go to Swansea and understand their situation and capitalize on it. The key is to suck confidence from them.I’m sure Paul Clement is enjoying the experience of managing in the Premier League even if it’s a difficult situation for him.”

Prediction

Stoke has a bunch of battlers, and that character will serve it well against a desperate Swans. Expect both teams to strike in a 1-1 draw.

Premier League Preview: West Ham vs. Everton

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  • Toffees won 2-0 on Oct. 23
  • Irons took 4 points last season
  • Everton leads all-time 68W-30D-37L

Everton aims to keep its slim Top Five hopes alive when it attempts to sweep West Ham United for the fourth time in five seasons (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Romelu Lukaku should be a big part of that as he looks to build his 4-goal lead in the race for the Premier League’s Golden Boot. The soon-to-be 24-year-old has 24 goals on the season.

It hasn’t been a great couple months for West Ham, which the club is looking to turn around having picked up four points in the last two weeks (albeit against relegation candidates).

What they’re saying

West Ham’s James Collins on stopping Lukaku“Of course, Lukaku has got a good record against us, and we probably haven’t defended as well against him as we could have done in games gone by. Physically, he has got everything, he is big, strong and he can finish so it’s going to be a tough game. He’s obviously on top of his game, but I’m happy with the way I’m playing at the minute, so I’m looking forward to pitting my wits against one of the best strikers in the Premier League.”

Everton boss Ronald Koeman on away form: “It’s all about the attitude and having that in the same way when we play at home and away. Of course, it’s going to be slightly different because at Goodison we have the backing of 39,000 home fans. When those fans are against you [in an away game], that makes a difference. But we need to start well, start aggressive and try to score. We need a little bit more of that mentality away from home.”

Prediction

Something has to give between Everton’s road form (three matches in 13) and the Hammers being better away from the London Stadium than inside its walls. We expect that to sway toward the better quality on Everton, which wins 2-0.

PL Sunday preview: Chelsea go to Old Trafford; West Brom-Liverpool

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Manchester United and Liverpool are chasing a return to the Premier League’s top-four, while the former — led by former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho — have can kill two birds with one stone on Sunday: better position themselves in relation to the top-four places, and complicated the Blues’ sprint to the title.

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West Bromwich Albion vs. Liverpool — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The 2016-17 season’s run-in is rather straightforward for Liverpool: with leads of six and nine points on Man United and Arsenal (having played two more games than each), respectively, Jurgen Klopp‘s side just about controls its own destiny. A return to the UEFA Champions League next fall is well within reach, doubly so given their current six-game unbeaten run (four wins, two draws). Arsenal, meanwhile, have lost five of their last eight; United are unbeaten in 20 league games, but have drawn just as many games (10) as they’ve won during that stretch.

For Liverpool, the word of the week is “injuries,” with Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson all key absences this weekend (and beyond).

“With Jordan, it was clear from the beginning that it’s not a fixed time until he is back. We have to wait until he feels absolutely nothing, that’s how it is,” Klopp said. “That’s what we are still waiting for. … With Adam, it is a little bit easier to say. I am pretty sure after the Crystal Palace game he will probably be in normal training and that means then (for Watford) he is in the squad or we can think about him then.”

INJURIES: West Brom — OUT: None | Liverpool — OUT: Sadio Mane (knee surgery), Adam Lallana (thigh), Jordan Henderson (foot), Danny Ings (knee surgery), Adam Bogdan (knee surgery)

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Spurs apply pressure to Chelsea (again) ]

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

As he would have it, Mourinho is the focal point ahead of Chelsea’s first visit to Old Trafford since the former Chelsea manager took charge last summer. The Blues routed the Red Devils in their first meeting of the season, 4-0 back in October.

“You say it’s emotional, but for me, it’s a game,” Mourinho insisted this week. “It’s one more game. No different for me. Not at all. They are top for some reasons – it’s not just because they are fresh. It is also because they have individual quality. It’s because they have collective quality. They have a certain style of play. They stick to it. They do it very well. So they are a strong team.”

Chelsea, meanwhile, saw their lead in the PL title race cut to just four points by Tottenham Hotspur’s scintillating destruction of Bournemouth on Saturday. The two sides, Chelsea and Tottenham, will meet in the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley Stadium next Saturday.

INJURIES: Man United — OUT: Juan Mata (groin), Chris Smalling (knee), Phil Jones (toe); QUESTIONABLE: Wayne Rooney (ankle), Ashley Young (groin) | Chelsea — OUT: None