10 things to look forward to as the Premier League returns

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After the international break robbed us of the Premier League for nearly two weeks, don’t worry, it’s back!

Week eight of the PL kicks off on Saturday and below are 10 things to look forward from England’s top-flight.

[RELATED: PL highlights | Stream live via Live Extra |Full match replays]

Remember, you can watch channels across the NBC Sports Group for our feature games and watch every single second of every single game live this season online via NBC Sports Live Extra and the NBC Sports Live Extra App. Via your TV you can watch the games live on Premier League Extra Time.

Here we go…

Guzan or Howard? Watch USMNT ‘keepers square off

USA! USA! USA! Nothing like a good old fashioned USMNT goalkeeper on goalkeeper battle, is there? Watch the video above to see myself, Mike Prindiville and Jenna Corrado discuss if Tim Howard or Brad Guzan is better. Well… who you got? Anyway, Everton host Aston Villa at Goodison Park with both teams without a win in three and while Howard is taking a year out from USMNT action, he’s had a bit of a stinker this far this season with Everton conceding 16 goals in seven games, the worst defense in the PL. Guzan is now the USA’s new no. 1 but will that still be the case next September when Howard returns from a self-imposed sabbatical? On Saturday they lock horns and we’ll get an up close look at who the better ‘keeper is.

Will City maul Spurs, again?!

Everything kicks off on Saturday morning at the Etihad, as Man City welcome Tottenham (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN) for what they hope will be another mauling. The Citizens have failed to click into gear this season but are sitting in second place and look solid, yet unspectacular. Against Spurs last season they won 6-0 and 5-1 and tore the heart out of the North Londoners. Mauricio Pochettino has come in and made Spurs a solid outfit, who looked back to their best vs. Southampton before the break. Will Spurs get their revenge of will City’s potent strikeforce give Hugo Lloris a bad back once again?

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Costa to miss out vs. Palace?

Can Manchester United keep their roll going?

This is an intriguing question. Not so much of a roll, albeit it a subtle canter in the right direction. You felt that United’s 2-1 win over Everton before the break was a huge momentum builder but how many times have we said that over the past 12 months? One fine victory needs to be followed by another, and a trip to West Brom is a tricky affair for Louis van Gaal to negotiate. With Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao slotting in nicely, the Red Devils will look to smother the Baggies defense. Goals, goals, goals is the answer, as United aim to stay in the top four with a win.

Upset central: Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool face tricky tests

Last season Chelsea lost away at Crystal Palace 1-0, and they face the Eagles in a London derby on Saturday. It can’t happen again, can it? Arsenal host Hull with a depleted back line (more on that shortly…) and Liverpool head to QPR with question marks over Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge, to face a Rangers side battling for their lives. That’s why I’m pressing the buzzer for these three matches: UPSET ALERT!

Hull can rip apart Arsenal’s makeshift defense

More on that Arsenal defense. Calum Chambers is suspended, while Laurent Koscielny and Matheiu Debuchy are out injured. That means poor old Nacho Monreal has to switch from left back to center back for the first time in his career. This could go very badly for the Gunners, as Arsene Wenger admitted earlier this week that he should have bought more defenders in the summer. Uh, yup, you should have. With Abel Hernandez in fine form since signing on Deadline Day, Hull have scored two goals in each of their last four games since Steve Bruce’s shrewd business and look very handy going forward. They may rip up Arsenal’s patched-up back four at the Emirates.

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Will the curse strike Koeman, Pelle and Saints? Source: Southampton FC

Can Chelsea cope without Diego Costa at Palace?

Jose Mourinho confirmed that Diego Costa is struggling to be fit for Chelsea’s trip to Palace on Saturday. *Changing PL fantasy team.* Costa has scored nine goals in his first seven PL games and has been a revelation since arriving at Stamford Bridge from Atletico Madrid this summer. Can Loic Remy and/or Didier Drogba fill Costa’s void if he’s missing? Chelsea could struggle. They have so many great attacking talents, but that predator in a round the box was missing last season when they lost to the Eagles and it could be missing again this Saturday at Selhurst. Remy’s big chance to shine in Costa’s absence?

Will the monthly award voodoo strike Southampton?

Saints picked up both monthly awards for September from the Premier League, as Ronald Koeman was named Manager of the Month and Graziano Pelle was named Player of the Month. Usually that means one thing: an almighty downward spiral. So many times managers and players get these awards and suddenly they’re struck with a curse. Southampton are third in the table and will fancy all three points at home to Sunderland. Will Italian international Pelle (who scored his first goal for the Azzurri on his debut last Monday) be the game-winner for Koeman’s men once again?

This is it: Newcastle, Burnley might win this weekend…

Seven games in and fans of both Newcastle and Burnley are salivating. “This is it lads… we might win this weekend!” With Newcastle suffering a horrendous start to the campaign and newly promoted Burnley (Read Joe Posnanski’s amazing longform piece for SportsWorld on the Clarets) just hanging on in games after going over six matches without scoring, supporters of both teams have been struggling. However battling 2-2 draws before the break were cause for optimism and Newcastle host newly-promoted Leicester, while Burnley welcome West Ham to Turf Moor. Great chance to get that first ‘W’ this week.

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Sterling to play or be rested vs. QPR?

Will Liverpool rest Raheem Sterling? Plus Daniel Sturridge’s return delayed

Over the international break little Raheem Sterling was at the center of plenty of controversy. After telling England manager Roy Hodgson he was “too tired” to play for the Three Lions vs. Estonia, fingers were pointed at Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool who were still smarting from losing Sturridge to injury while on international duty last month. Liverpool deny telling Sterling what to do, but the teenage winger was under plenty of scrutiny for speaking out about his tiredness. It will be interesting to see if Sterling starts against his old club QPR for Liverpool on Sunday at Loftus Road or is rested. He may start, as Sturridge’s return has been delayed by another three to four weeks after another injury. Boy, do they miss him.

Harry Redknapp on the chopping block

Defiant. Sassy. Bullish. Redknapp was all three of those things in his pre-match press conference on Friday when asked if he worried about losing his job.Newly-promoted QPR have lost five of their first seven games and are bottom of the standings after shipping 15 goals. All is not well. If QPR get a hiding at home to Liverpool on Sunday, many feel ruthless R’s owner Tony Fernandes will fire Redknapp. After the first seven games of the season, QPR look out of their depth. Redknapp needs a win on Sunday or it could be ‘adios.’

PL Sunday Preview: Leicester travel to Burnley; Liverpool put perfect record on the line against Man Utd

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With eight Premier League fixtures on Saturday, two more remain in Matchweek 23.

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Burnley v. Leicester City  — 9 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Burnley are free falling and there doesn’t seem to be a safety net in sight.

The Clarets, who are two points removed from the relegation zone, head into a tough three-match window without striker Ashley Barnes. Recuperating from a hernia surgery, the 30-year-old is set to miss bouts against Leicester, Manchester United and Arsenal – to name some.

But quite possibly more alarming than that is the team’s recent form. Losing seven out of their last nine, just two points divide Burnley from the drop zone. Sean Dyche‘s team are clueless in the box, scoring one goal in four league bouts. Trouble looms over Turf Moor.

But even then, Dyche, who has made Burnley a force to be reckoned with in the past, believes his side are still a threat.

“They are a good side,” Dyche said about Leicester. “We are on a tough run of form, but I don’t think they are naive enough to think it is turn up and get the business done. We are not a million miles away.”

Can Burnley pull a Southampton and stun a top-four bound Leicester?

“We weren’t at our best [against Southampton] and we didn’t have the energy and intensity that we would have liked,” Brendan Rodgers said ahead of Sunday’s early match.

“We work twice as hard and that’s what we’ve done after every setback. We still have a lot to improve on.”

The Foxes had a rare full week to train, so one can bet that Rodgers is serious about his word.

INJURIES: Burnley —  OUT: Barnes (hernia), Gudmundsson (hamstring) | Leicester City — OUT: Ndidi (knee), Amartey (ankle), James (match fitness)

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

Manchester United are a part of the exclusive anti-Liverpool club for more than the obvious reason.

Yes, the North West Derby is one of the league’s most heated rivalries, with countless flashbacks in its 203 meetings during its over 100 years of history.

But these two, star-studded squads led by Jurgen Klopp and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, respectively, also have a permeating rivalry of their own. The Reds, who have yet to taste defeat this season, have dropped points to only United.

It can be argued that Sunday’s bout may be Liverpool’s most complicated and least favorable, despite maintaining an immaculate record at home. This is the “big one” that many didn’t particularly circle on the calendar.

“It’s a very, very important football game,” Klopp said. “Very important. We have to learn how to deal with games like this in the right manner. We haven’t done bad in the past but we can still improve.

“Old Trafford [a 1-1 draw in October] was a good example, [we were] not at our best because of their quality. We have to make it more likely we’re at our best.”

Solskjaer had his tactics in place last time around; a small injection of final quality and the team would have crushed Liverpool’s aspirations of matching the Iinvincibles or Manchester City’s points record.

“The last two performances [against Liverpool] at Old Trafford we have drawn twice and been close to winning both games, so we’ve got some games to look back at and that will give us loads of belief… if we perform to our best we have a chance to win,” Solskjaer said.

Sunday presents itself as the final chance for United to pull the upset, and reaffirm why they’re a part of the exclusive club to begin with. But Liverpool are slowing becoming invincible themselves.

INJURIES: Liverpool —  OUT: Lovren (hamstring), Clyne (knee), Keïta (groin), Milner (hamstring) | Manchester United  — OUT: Tuanzebe (hamstring), McTominay (knee), Pogba (ankle)

Serie A roundup: Immobile nets hat-trick, Lazio runs over Sampdoria (video)

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Lazio’s record-extending 11th straight Serie A win highlights Saturday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Lazio 5-1 Sampdoria  

Like Lazio’s season, Ciro Immobile continues to make strides with each passing day.

The 29-year-old’s hat-trick powered Simone Inzaghi’s side past Sampdoria 5-1, extending his goal count to 23, nine more than Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaka.

 

Lazio, who are three points behind top-of-the-table Juventus and one behind second-place Inter Milan, were up three goals by the 20-minute mark. By the 65th minute, Immobile reached the three goal mark, converting from the spot.

“We would need too much time to count his records,” coach Simone Inzaghi said on Immobile’s magnificent run of form. “We are talking about an extraordinary team player. He has shown that so many times. Immobile has been doing extraordinary things for four years, I’m not surprised.”

Full of confidence, Lazio turn one of the most challenging corners of the season, as they take on rivals AS Roma defend the Italian Cup against Napoli.

“We’ll enjoy this 11th win but we have to already be thinking about the next matches,” Inzaghi said. “We know what a derby means but I can’t allow myself to think about Roma.

“We play Napoli on Tuesday, we know what the Italian Cup means for us, what it meant last year, we have it on our shirts and we will fight for it again.”

When it comes to Sampdoria, things are going from bad to ugly, quick.

“Tonight I’ll add salt and pepper and I’ll eat them alive,” Sampdoria coach Claudio Ranieri said of his players.

“Lazio was too good for us, you could clearly see the difference between the two teams, but it was without doubt the worst Samp performance since I’ve been here.”

Elsewhere

Sassuolo 2-1 Torino

Napoli 0-2 Fiorentina

La Liga roundup: Casemiro’s brace earns injury-riddled Real Madrid win (video)

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Casemiro’s heroic performance against Sevilla highlights La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Real Madrid 2-1 Sevilla

Real Madrid’s goalscoring hero on Saturday wasn’t Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard, or even Sergio Ramos.

With two crucial goals in the second half, Casemiro single-handedly earned three points at the Santiago Bernabeu, days removed from cathartic Spanish Super Cup win against arch rivals Atletico Madrid.

With Bale, Hazard, Ramos injured, Benzema on the bench far from match-fit, and Federico Valverde suspended, Los Blancos were in dire need of someone to lead the way, and place pressure on struggling co-leaders Barcelona, who are now under Quique Setien’s tutelage.

By the time the first 45 minutes came to a close, the overall impression was that it would take a miracle for the home side to earn much-needed three points.

That all quickly changed in the second half as the Brazilian midfielder chipped Tomas Vaclik after a picture-perfect backheel from Luka Jovic. Madrid were edging Julen Lopetegui’s side, and Casemiro foreshadowed what was to come.

With the score level, the Brazilian leaped inside the box and headed home a lofting ball from the right flank, catching Sevilla’s defense completely off guard.

Casemiro’s brace came just five minutes after Luuk De Jong‘s left-footed goal in the 64th minute.

League leaders with 43 points, Madrid prepares for their Copa del Rey bout against third-division side Unionistas midweek. Sevilla, on the other hand, host Levante in the same tournament.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Eibar 2-0 Atletico Madrid

Osasuna 0-0 Real Valladolid

Levante 0-1 Alaves

16-year-old Cherki scores 2 as Lyon advances in French Cup

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PARIS (AP) Two goals and two assists from 16-year-old forward Rayan Cherki helped Lyon win 4-3 at Nantes and reach the last 16 of the French Cup on Saturday.

But the run of Reunion Islanders JS Saint-Pierroise ended with a 1-0 loss away to Epinal, which scored deep into extra time.

Cherki put Lyon ahead in the first minute, deftly rounding goalkeeper Alban Lafont and then clipping the ball beyond a defender. He made it 2-0 in the ninth, slotting the ball through Lafont’s legs after being set up by right winger Bertrand Traore.

New signing Renaud Emond headed in Moses Simon’s cross from the left to pull a goal back for Nantes in the 16th. Cherki then showed great awareness to release forward Martin Terrier with a fine pass from midfield in the 37th for 3-1.

Cherki shaved the crossbar with a shot in the 60th and won a penalty in the 67th after robbing the ball off Thomas Basila. He generously allowed striker Moussa Dembele to take it, but Lafont saved Dembele’s attempt.

Two minuter later, Cherki threaded the ball down the right to Dembele, who slotted in, and the irrepressible Cherki set up another chance for Terrier.

Lyon’s defense remains vulnerable and Simon set up Imran Louza’s goal before heading in late on to ensure a tense finish.

Saint-Pierroise had caused an upset in the previous round by knocking out second-division Niort and the players again traveled 6,000 miles (around 9,700 kilometers) from the small island in the Indian Ocean, located off the east coast of Africa.

Saint-Pierroise, the former club of France midfielder Dimitri Payet, was looking to become the first club from the Reunion Islands to reach the last 16 and almost forced a penalty shootout, despite having forward Jean-Michel Fontaine sent off in the 15th minute.

But substitute Adel Berkane rifled home a half-volley for fourth-tier Epinal with two minutes left in extra time.

Also, there were wins for first-division sides Nice, Lille, Saint-Etienne and Strasbourg.

Lille won 2-0 at fifth-division Gonfreville thanks to goals from forwards Loic Remy and Victor Osimhen, while coach Patrick Vieira’s Nice side held on to beat third-tier Red Star 2-1.

Saint-Etienne won 3-2 at Paris FC, a team fighting relegation in the second division.

Paris FC led 2-1 with goals from former Paris Saint-Germain forward Jeremy Menez and ex-Rennes winger Jonathan Pitroipa. Teen forward Charles Abi equalized for Saint-Etienne with 20 minutes left before veteran right back Mathieu Debuchy netted the winner.

Strasbourg won 5-1 at fourth-tier Angouleme.

On Sunday, Rennes plays at fifth-tier Athletico Marseille and PSG travels to face second division league leader Lorient.

Rennes beats PSG in last year’s final.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports