Top 5 Premier League storylines heading into Week 2

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Ahead of Matchday 2 of the 2015-16 Premier League season, let’s take a look at the top five storylines to keep an eye on.

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From a clash between title contenders, a rare Friday night match and potential banana skins for a couple of the big boys, this promises to be another enthralling weekend.

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So, here’s what we have to look forward to.

Manchester City has a chance to put down a marker vs. Chelsea

On Sunday at the Etihad Stadium Manchester City host Chelsea (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) with the Citizens given the chance to put down an early marker as title favorites. Before the season began most people had Chelsea as clear favorites to defend the PL crown they won last season, but after a shaky opening day draw with Swansea which saw Thibaut Courtois sent off, many looked on in awe as City demolished West Bromwich Albion 3-0. Both Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure ran the Baggies ragged and City look hungry to prove their doubters wrong.

Chelsea will likely sit back and soak up pressure from City, but with Sergio Aguero likely to start, Raheem Sterling buzzing down the wing and David Silva pulling the strings, this is an opportunity for City to show Chelsea they mean business this season. A clash between the top two title contenders in just the second week of the season… this will be tense, tight and there should be a fantastic atmosphere at the newly-expanded Etihad. Will the majority of the 56,000-plus fans go home happy? The safe bet is the draw, just like the two 1-1 draws which occurred between these last season, but City will be the slight favorites given their better start to the current campaign.

Friday night lights

A rare sight will grace the PL this week, as a Friday night match takes place at Villa Park. Aston Villa host Manchester United (Watch live, 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) with a packed house expected in England’s second-city. United love an away day at Villa, as they haven’t lost there in the PL in 20 years. Tim Sherwood’s new-look side improved as the game went on down at Bournemouth in their opening day win, but this will be a stern test against United. Louis van Gaal’s side will be without David de Gea once again as the Spaniard will be in the stands as his contract saga continues, while the Red Devils looked far from convincing in their opening day win over Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford.

Of course, from next season there will be a Friday night game in the PL every weekend so due to unforeseen circumstances involving other events in the Birmingham area on Saturday and United’s involvement in the UEFA Champions League playoffs next week, this game was switched to a Friday. It will be a great taster as to what we can expect from the Friday night action taking place in the coming years.

Can Gunners negotiate Selhurst?

After suffering a shock defeat on the opening day to West Ham United, Arsenal will be under a little bit of pressure as they head into the cauldron of Selhurst Park to play Crystal Palace on Sunday (Watch live, 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra). Arsene Wenger’s side won every single game in preseason and beat Chelsea in the Community Shield final as a real air of optimism surrounded the Gunners heading into this season. However, many people’s favorites for the title slipped up on day one as the same old issues cropped up. Creating plenty of chances against West Ham, they failed to put the ball in the back of the net and new signing Petr Cech made two costly mistakes at the other end of the pitch.

Cech’s mistakes were particularly disappointing as his $18 million signing from Chelsea this summer was hailed by Arsenal’s fans and pundits as one of the final pieces in the jigsaw for Wenger’s men to mount a title charge. If Cech and Arsenal crumble under the pressure in the intimate and hostile surroundings of Selhurst Park on Sunday, the pressure will continue to build on Wenger to spend big money on a new star striker before the transfer window slams shut. Alan Pardew has bought wisely over the offseason and with Yohan Cabaye pulling the strings in midfield, this could be a very tough game for the Gunners to negotiate.

Liverpool’s new boys get chance to build momentum

It was hardly a vintage start for Liverpool but the they got all three points away at Stoke in their opening game of the season. The 1-0 win was sealed by a brilliant late goal from Philippe Coutinho and Brendan Rodgers’ side are up and running for the new season. New boys James Milner, Christian Benteke, Joe Gomez and Nathaniel Clyne all started, while Roberto Firmino came off the bench for the Reds. At home, you would expect Firmino to start and the likes of Danny Ings could also get a run-out. These new boys will have been looking forward to their first taste of playing for the home team at Anfield, but playing against Bournemouth on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) represents a trip into the unknown.

Eddie Howe’s boys did most of the pressing against Villa on the opening day of the season and were unlucky to not grab anything from their first-ever Premier League game. The Cherries won’t go to Anfield and sit back, which could unsettle Liverpool a little. That said, the Reds will be heavy favorites and their new boys could rack up a few goals and make it two wins from two to start the new season. With Daniel Sturridge returning to the team in the coming weeks, everything is looking pretty good for the Reds following a busy summer of ins and outs.

Can Spurs, Everton kick on?

Fans of both Tottenham Hotspur and Everton are perennial optimists that their teams can break into the top four. Spurs came agonizingly close last season, finishing fifth, just six points off Manchester United in fourth. During the 2013-14 campaign, Everton blew up late in the season to also finish fifth and struggled last year to juggle the Europa League and PL. This time around, both teams still harbor hopes of challenging the powerhouses, but after slow starts to the season they will want to kick on and both have winnable matches this weekend.

Tottenham host Stoke City in their first home game of the season (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) on Saturday, while Everton head to Southampton (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) on the same day. Spurs have a score to settle with Stoke after losing 2-1 at home to the Potters last season, and although they played well in stages against United on the opening day, Harry Kane was isolated for large periods of the game. He desperately needs support in and around the box. As for Everton, they also have a score to settle with Saints after losing 3-0 in this fixture at St Mary’s last season. The Toffees looked unsettled defensively in their draw at home vs. new boys Watford on the opening day of the season and they must improve at the back if they’re going to get back into the top six this year. Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino knows he must improve this season or his job could be on the line next summer. The same can be said for Roberto  Martinez at Everton.

Manchester United: Solskjaer hopeful of new Paul Pogba contract

Paul Pogba contract
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Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is singing a new tune, hopeful that star midfielder Paul Pogba will stick around Old Trafford for the long term.

Reports say that United has an option to extend Pogba’s contract by an extra year beyond its 2021 expiry, but Solskjaer is thinking bigger. He has been praising Pogba plenty since the World Cup winner returned to the lineup.

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It’s a bit surprising given Pogba and his super agent’s constant time in the rumor mill, with Real Madrid often linked with the Frenchman. And that agent, Mino Raiola, has not been so nice when it comes to judging Solskjaer.

But Solskjaer is reportedly hopeful that Pogba can join Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, and others in building a new power.

“I can’t comment on discussions between player and the club but. of course, we want to keep the best players around the club,” Solskjaer said. “We want to build a squad for the future and Scott and Nemanja are a similar position but at different stages in their careers. One at the start, one really experienced one.”

Pogba leads United in key passes per game with 2.3, though his minutes have been severely limited by injuries this season. He had 13 goals and nine assists last season, and turned 27 in March.

The way United’s performed in recent weeks it would not be a surprise if keeping its main talents while adding another stalwart center back and wing would propel it into a more serious table discussion.

Do you buy the idea that Pogba could be with United well into the future?

Suarez goal gives Barcelona win, relegates neighbors Espanyol

Espanyol relegated
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Seventh-place one season ago, La Liga mainstays Espanyol are being relegated from Spain’s top flight.

The final decision came at the hands of their Catalan neighbors Barcelona, who got a second-half goal from Luis Suarez to relegate Espanyol.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Espanyol are 11 points back of 17th place and can only capture nine more points this season following the 1-0 loss in a match where both teams had a player sent off.

Suarez’s goal was a nice one after Antoine Griezmann’s back heel pass to Lionel Messi saw the Argentine’s shot deflect onto the path of the Uruguayan finisher.

Espanyol had been in the top flight since 1994 and has only spent four single seasons outside La Liga since 1929. Leganes and Mallorca may join them soon.

Barcelona moves a point back of Real Madrid. Real has four matches left to Barca’s three and holds the tiebreaker.

Klopp reacts to Liverpool wins, says Henderson injury ‘not nothing’

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Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion was a bit more what we’re used to from the Premier League champions.

But that wasn’t the focus of the post-match despite a highlight-reel show from Mohamed Salah, as Reds boss Jurgen Klopp sounded an ominous note when asked about Jordan Henderson leaving the match with injury.

“I don’t know exactly but it was something with the knee I think. We know it’s not nothing.”

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Henderson’s not exactly a player to hit the deck unless he’s feeling pain, and Klopp removed him for James Milner with 10 minutes to play.

That’s about the only bad news from the win, as Liverpool became the first team this season to breach the 90-point mark and saw Salah’s brace move him within three goals of the Golden Boot lead.

Salah would only say, “Let’s take it game-by-game,” but it’s clearly on his mind.

Trent Alexander-Arnold says the Egyptian is hungry to get a share of a third-straight Golden Boot.

From the BBC:

“He has his targets, he’s around the Golden Boot and it’s something he wants to retain,” Alexander-Arnold said. “He’s a world class player who scores so many goals for us and we try to get him on the board as much as possible.”

As for the match, Brighton almost as missed some big chances as Liverpool before the game was out of reach. Klopp admits that it was a challenge.

“We started really well,” Klopp said. “We had to adapt a little bit as we knew what they wanted to do but it was a little bit hard to defend. We left one or two players in a position where if we won the ball we had players in the counter-attack position. We got the first two goals with super balls but we could have scored more. I said to the boys at half-time they could have been 2-2 too. It was a nice game to watch.”

The Reds finish with Burnley, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Newcastle United.

Liverpool march continues with 3-1 win at Brighton

Brighton - Liverpool recap
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Mohamed Salah had two goals and an assist in the first eight minutes of Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium on Wednesday.

Salah is now three goals behind league leader Jamie Vardy, and Liverpool’s 92 points are 23 more than Man City. Jordan Henderson also scored for the Reds.

BRIGHTON – LIVERPOOL FULL MATCH REPLAY

Leandro Trossard scored for Brighton, whose 36 points are nine clear of the bottom three with four matches to play (The 18th and 19th place sides do have a match each in hand).

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Liverpool’s 30 wins through 34 outings is a Premier League record and Jurgen Klopp’s men are chasing several PL records. The Reds finish with Burnley, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Newcastle United.


Three things we learned

1. Salah somehow under the radar: Look, the Egyptian star’s 32-goal league season was an outlier. Not a lot of guys consistently hit 25, let alone the 30 mark in the Premier League. But Salah has rather quietly put together another amazing season with 19 goals and nine assists in PL play plus another four and three in cup competitions. Salah is one assist of joining the a small group of players to get double digit league goals and assists in a top five European league this season.

While it’s become sexy to praise Sadio Mane as the Reds’ top winger, Salah has been just as good. He could’ve had another goal in the 53rd but Mat Ryan made a fine intervention at close range. If Salah is under the radar, it’s because Liverpool has spread the wealth this season and had so many heroes in close matches. But boy, oh boy, is he their best weapon.

2. Lamptey shows glimpses, then youth: The sample size is very small, but 19-year-old Chelsea outcast Tariq Lamptey has played well at right back in most of his outings for Brighton since the return from the coronavirus pause. Lamptey was at blame for Liverpool’s third goal in both the chance conceded and actual finish from Salah, but the $4 million January buy looked well worth the price tag in a terrific first half at the Amex.

3. Seagulls still missing final ball: Brighton produced four big chances in the game to Liverpool’s two, but only put one in the back of the net (SofaScore). That’s sadly been par for the course this season, as Brighton’s style has been worthy of a top half place. Brighton entered the day with seven fewer goals than its expected goals total. Only Everton, Watford, and Norwich have been less fortunate.

Man of the Match:

Salah.


Brighton – Liverpool recap

Salah had a goal and an assist within 500 seconds of kickoff.

The Egyptian took a feed from Naby Keita to score off a Davy Propper giveaway and then set up Henderson’s second to have the Seagulls’ heads spinning early.

Brighton found a chance in the 19th but Neco Williams recovered with a slide to block Leandro Trossard from slotting a point-blank goal.

The Seagulls pulled within one just before halftime when in-form youngster Tariq Lamptey swept a cross into the mix for Trossard to punch home.

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Salah could’ve had it 3-1 at one end but Brighton’s Dan Burn asked the Egyptian to hold his drink with a butchered wide-open shot at the back post in the 60th minute.

Jurgen Klopp didn’t like the close score, and brought on Fabinho, Andy Robertson, and Sadio Mane in the second half. One of the players he removed, Naby Keita, had a strong hour before departing the contest.

Henderson almost produced a third Liverpool goal after a rare Lamptey error spring a chance that took a wicked turn off Dale Stephens.

The Reds made it 3-1 off the ensuing corner, Salah’s clinical header in front of Lamptey. Henderson limped off for Liverpool late in the contest.

Ryan denied Salah a hat trick in stoppage time and the Egyptian headed over the bar at the final whistle. He could’ve had five.