Tuesday Premier League Preview: New managers square off in Midlands derby

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We have midweek Premier League action this week, and while most of the top-half teams are saved for tomorrow, there are still some important matches today in the relegation picture, with a trio of matches kicking off at 2:45 ET.

Most notably, a Midlands derby brings us Aston Villa vs West Brom, as Tim Sherwood and Tony Pulis do battle with their new squads. Tim Sherwood has yet to pick up a single point in two matches in charge of Villa, and they remain in the relegation zone, but snagging his first win today would pull the Claret & Blue out of the drop and send them above three other clubs.

Sherwood believes should they win today, Villa would “never look back” as they rise out of the relegation area. Their drop to the Championship would be a big story, given they were a founding member of the Premier League and have played in every year since despite flirting with the drop multiple times. Villa has not won since December 7.

[MORE: Premier League News | Standings | Stats Leaders

Hull City also hosts Sunderland, with the two teams just a point apart in the bottom quarter of the table. Hull City is just four points above the relegation zone, while Sunderland precariously lays a point behind them and three above the flashing red lights. The Tigers are coming off a match where they produced just a single shot against Stoke City over the weekend, and they take on a Sunderland side that has won once since the holiday season.

But with Sunderland now stunned with Adam Johnson – who scored in this reverse fixture on Boxing Day – now suspended indefinitely following his arrest for his alleged sexual encounter with an underage girl, Hull City could make its move. Three points for either side here would be absolutely enormous, and could mark a third home win in a row for the Tigers to give Steve Bruce some wiggle room.

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Finally, Southampton welcomes a roaring Crystal Palace squad, a matchup of teams on either ends of the table but also trending in opposite directions. Palace has been revitalized under Alan Pardew and got back to winning ways this weekend with a 3-1 victory over West Ham. Pardew arrived at Palace with the club in the relegation zone, and now has them a whopping eight points clear.

Saints, meanwhile, are just trying to cling to their European position for dear life. They sit a pair above Tottenham in sixth position, but have lost two straight and four of their last five. Graziano Pelle hasn’t scored in a whopping 10 matches, and after missing an absolute sitter over the weekend, there are calls for him to get a spell on the bench. Last time Alan Pardew visited St. Mary’s, he was in charge of Newcastle and was hammered 4-0 back in September. Now he gets another chance with a different squad.

What they’re saying

Aston Villa’s Tim Sherwood on two losses so far: “Zero points could have easily been six, it could have been four. We have to bounce back and get points as soon as we can.”

West Brom’s Tony Pulis on Tim Sherwood: “I like Tim. He’s a very, very honest, straight-talking chap. There’s no fluff surrounding him. He’s a good football man, he’s worked for some good managers and coaches and has taken lots of good things on board. He is what he is and he’ll leave all the jargon to other people.”

Hull City’s Steve Bruce on the relegation battle: “We’re in a horrible dogfight and there’s eight or nine teams in with us who are all feeling it. Two weeks ago we were in the bottom three and now we’re four points clear, but we’ve got to maintain it. We’re not out of the woods yet. If you can put another couple of results together at this particular stage of the season, it will really help.”

Gus Poyet on Sunderland’s position: “To play a certain kind of football I like you need to play with your heart but also be calm. There’s a tension but at the same time on the ball you need to relax. I don’t think there will be too much relaxing now. It’s a different kind of game now. We have to try our nuts off. We need to get something, somehow. It’s not about beautiful football any more, it’s just about making sure you beat your rival. I’m convinced we’ll be OK but I’m trying to make sure we do the right thing now. That’s a challenge and a big responsibility. It would be better not to be going through this again.”

 Alan Pardew on Crystal Palace’s aims: “We need to stay in the division, it’s as simple as that. That’s our only goal.”

Ronald Koeman on scoring early: “I think [our results are] also a lot down to scoring in the game. I think 90 per cent of when we scored the first goal we won the games. That means for us it is a comfortable situation. But if we are down in the result then it makes it difficult. We still try, we still have the spirit to score, but the opponents make it very difficult for us and then you need to be patient, then you need quality in the last part of the attacking.”

Injuries/Absences

Aston Villa: Ron Vlaar was suspended for the weekend for yellow card accumulation but is doubtful today with a calf injury. Kieran Richardson and Aly Cissokho are no-go’s. Allan Hutton must also prove fit before the match.

West Brom: Victor Anichebe is a definite no with a groin problem, while Saido Berahino and Brown Ideye are question marks. Berahino would be the biggest loss by far, as he limped off against Southampton with a foot injury.

Hull City: Robbie Brady is looking at the possibility of six weeks out after picking up a calf injury, but the rest is good news. Dame N’Doye was rested Saturday and should be back, while Nikica Jelavic has a swollen knee but should be good to go.

Sunderland: Adam Johnson is suspended by the club and unavailable, but Wes Brown is ready to go after winning his red card appeal for wrongful dismissal. The rest is good news as well, with Jack Rodwell, Ricky Alvarez and Billy Jones all set to make returns.

Southampton: Toby Alderweireld is available after seven weeks on the sidelines with a hamstring tear. That appears to have cleared up the only injury problem for Southampton aside from Jay Rodriguez’s long-term injury.

Crystal Palace: Mile Jedinak was suspended four matches for throwing an elbow at Diafra Sakho over the weekend, and decided not to appeal. Glenn Murray is also suspended, and a group of Jordan Mutch, Frazier Campbell, Marouane Chamakh, and Yaya Sanogo are all out, the latter trio with hamstring injuries.

The 2 Robbies podcast: Liverpool, Chelsea through to UCL knockouts

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle on Liverpool’s nervy 2-0 win against Red Bull Salzburg to take first place in Group E of the Champions League (1:55), Chelsea’s 2-1 win over Lille to secure a place in the Round of 16 (13:15) and who is the current favorite to win it all (20:45).

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Plus, what Arsenal’s come-from-behind 3-1 win at West Ham means for both London clubs (29:10) and the Robbies discuss what they’re looking forward to most at the next Live Premier League Mornings Fan Fest in Miami Beach (46:05).

To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow them on Twitter @The2RobbiesNBC here.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

PL Club Power Rankings: Week 16

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The Premier League didn’t issue too many surprises at the bottom of the table this week, but two top-tier sides didn’t behave as such and shook up our rankings.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Chelsea and Man City have dipped low, and Bournemouth’s skid doesn’t have it sinking lower (yet) because of the teams beneath it.

Green: New season-high ranking
Red: New season-low

[ MORE: PL Club Power Rankings archive ]


20. Watford — Liverpool and Manchester United are next, and it’s looking a long way back to safety.
Last week: 20
Season high: 17
Season low: 20
Last match: Drew 0-0 v. Crystal Palace
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Liverpool

19. Norwich City — Outshot, out-passed, our possessed Sheffield United at home and still lost. Bad vibes, man.
Last week: 18
Season high: 10
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Sheffield United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Leicester City

18. West Ham United — Just feels like there’s something lurking below the surface here. Doesn’t smell right given the Irons talent.
Last week: 17
Season high: 5
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 3-1 v. Arsenal
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Southampton

17. Bournemouth — Losing to Liverpool is no shame, but it’s almost officially time to worry.
Last week: 16
Season high: 6
Season low: 17
Last match: Lost 3-0 v. Liverpool
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Chelsea

16. Aston Villa — Tom Heaton is a heck of a goalkeeper but he can’t be expected to save four A-plus danger chances per game.
Last week: 14
Season high: 8
Season low: 16
Last match: Lost 4-1 v. Leicester City
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Sheffield United

15. Southampton — West Ham and Villa back-to-back have to provide four points if Saints revival is to be believed.
Last week: 15
Season high: 13
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Newcastle United
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday v. West Ham United

14. Everton — Duncan Ferguson gives the Toffees board reason enough to be patient with their managerial hire, and then Napoli goes and fires Carlo Ancelotti.
Last week: 19
Season high: 5
Season low: 19
Last match: Won 3-1 v. Chelsea
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Manchester United

13. Burnley — The defending against Spurs — we know, Spurs are good — was enough to drop them far lower than four spots. Abject stuff from a Sean Dyche side.
Last week: 9
Season high: 5
Season low: 15
Last match: Lost 5-0 at Spurs
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Newcastle

12. Arsenal — Freddie Ljungberg started Nicolas Pepe, and Nicholas Pepe was his best player. Stunning stuff, really. Look at the assist below.
Last week: 13
Season high: 4
Season low: 12
Last match: Won 3-1 at West Ham
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Man City

11. Crystal Palace — I want to believe, but am holding out for something more. A derby win versus Brighton would suffice.
Last week: 7
Season high: 5
Season low: 18
Last match: Drew 0-0 at Watford
Up next: 2:45 p.m. ET Monday v. Brighton

10. Newcastle United — Again, Steve Bruce‘s men are getting tremendous Fortune and he’s pushing almost all the right buttons (It takes guts to start Andy Carroll over the struggling record signing Joelinton). This could be a sign of the Geordie Apocalypse.
Last week: 11
Season high: 11
Season low: 20
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Southampton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Burnley

9. Sheffield United — A little wobbly lately, but still a good comeback at Carrow Road.
Last week: 10
Season high: 5
Season low: 17
Last match: Won 2-1 at Norwich City
Up next: 10 a.m ET Saturday v. Aston Villa

8. Brighton and Hove Albion — Doesn’t it say something that a country who starves for young, strong English coaches had one sitting in Sweden for eight years? Graham Potter is legit.
Last week: 12
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Won 2-1 at Arsenal
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Wolves

7. Chelsea — Some of those young guys who’ve played so well, so early, are looking a little ragged. It’s a shame Frank Lampard is still waiting on Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who will really help things take another step.
Last week: 5
Season high: 2
Season low: 12
Last match: Lost 3-1 at Everton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Bournemouth

6. Manchester City — It probably has nothing to do with the system, and a lot to do with not having Aymeric Laporte, Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane… Still, it needs to be better than a home derby loss to a Paul Pogba-less United.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 6
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Manchester United
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday at Arsenal

5. Tottenham Hotspur — We’re gonna need multiple screens on Sunday morning, as Wolves-Spurs and Man Utd-Everton are both must-monitor.
Last week: 8
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 5-0 v. Burnley
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Wolves

4. Manchester United — Ole’s at the wheel, and still doesn’t feel like Lewis Hamilton or anything but we’re not worried about heading off a cliff.
Last week: 6
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 2-1 at Man City
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Everton

3. Wolves — Beat Spurs on Sunday and I’ll go ahead and bet on them as a Top Four finisher, even after the Brighton draw failed to deliver the goods.
Last week: 3
Season high: 3
Season low: 17
Last match: Drew 2-2 at Brighton
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Spurs

2. Leicester City — Wow.
Last week: 2
Season high: 2
Season low: 10
Last match: Won 4-1 at Aston Villa
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Norwich City

1. Liverpool — Wow, only atop the table.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 3-0 at Bournemouth
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday v. Watford

Champions League Weds. preview: Two spots remain

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Only two spots remain in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds, and those will be settled Wednesday afternoon.

In Group C, hosts Shakhtar Donetsk need to beat Atalanta to go through, while the visitors can also go through with a win if Dinamo Zagreb fails to defeat Man City.

[ MORE: Ancelotti reportedly speaking w/ Everton ]

In Group D, Atletico Madrid is through with a win over Lokomotiv Moscow, though Bayer Leverkusen can complete a remarkable comeback from an 0-3 start to the group stage if they beat already-qualified Juve and Atleti loses to their Russian visitors.

You certainly wouldn’t be against Diego Simeone there, though.

“Tomorrow is a great opportunity, every day that you wear the Atletico shirt is,” Simeone said, via Marca. “I believe in my team, in the humility that they have at the moment. The results will come based on what they are demonstrating on the field.”

Premier League sides Man City and Tottenham Hotspur both have their fortunes settled, with City having won Group C and Spurs settled into Group B’s second spot, but they still have plenty to figure out on Tuesday.

Jose Mourinho’s Spurs are going up against a Bayern team that walloped them at home, while City is living an unusual 2W-3D-2L lull in form.

Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League action

12:55 p.m. ET
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Atalanta
Dinamo Zagreb v. Man City

3 p.m. ET
Club Brugge v. Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid v. Lokomotiv Moscow
Bayer Leverkusen v. Juventus
Paris Saint-Germain v. Galatasaray
Olympiacos v. Red Star Belgrade
Bayern Munich v. Tottenham Hotspur

Ancelotti fired by Napoli as Everton, Arsenal lurk

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Carlo Ancelotti won a place in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds, then lost his job.

The Napoli’s boss strained relationship with club president Aurelio De Laurentiis came to a head, with the Neapolitan side advancing in Europe to end a nine-match winless run.

[ MORE: Sporting KC adds Liga MX top scorer ]

That run may’ve included seven draws, but it also saw Napoli dip into seventh on the Serie A table. They are seven points back of sixth and 17 points behind leaders Juventus.

A strained relationship got worse when Ancelotti refused to take the team on a De Laurentiis-ordered “team retreat” following a draw against Salzburg in early November.

Gennaro Gattuso is rumored as Ancelotti’s replacement, and the fired coach himself is being mentioned as an immediate target for Arsenal and Everton.

In fact, the Toffees are in discussions with the Italian legend already, according to Sky Sports. Football Italia claims Arsenal is in on the action, too.

Ancelotti has won the Champions League with AC Milan twice and a third time with Real Madrid. He’s claimed domestic titles in five of Europe’s top leagues, with silverware at Chelsea, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, and Real Madrid.