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.

The 2 Robbies podcast: Analyzing chaos at Everton, Arsenal

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In the latest The 2 Robbies podcast, Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle discuss Everton’s decision to sack Marco Silva after their 5-2 defeat to Liverpool in the Merseyside Derby (0:50), Arsenal’s shocking defeat at home to Brighton (14:00) and Tottenham’s 2-1 loss to Manchester United in the Jose Mourinho’s return to Old Trafford thanks to a brace from Marcus Rashford (22:25).

Plus, thoughts on Gabriel Jesus‘ long-term role at Manchester City (29:00), Jamie Vardy and Leicester City can’t stop winning (35:10), back to winning ways for Chelsea (39:00) and the Underappreciated Performances of the week (43:40).

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 ]

Projected lineups: Man City v. Man United

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A feisty Manchester Derby takes center stage at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via as Man City and Man United need the points for their respective title and top four bids.

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With key players missing or injury doubts for both teams, there is plenty of debate about who will line up for Man City and Man United.

Below we look at how Pep Guardiola and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should set up their teams and give our own analysis of the situation.

Man City

—– Ederson —–

— Walker — Stones — FernandinhoAngelino

—- Rodri —- Silva —-

—- Bernardo —- De Bruyne —- Sterling —-

—– Jesus —–

Man United

—– De Gea —–

— Wan-Bissaka — Lindelof — Maguire — Young —

—- McTominay —- Fred —-

— James — Lingard — Rashford —

—– Martial —–

Analysis: Man City have a few big decisions to make in defense, with either John Stones or Nicolas Otamendi expected to partner Fernandinho at center back, with Otamendi likely to get the nod after playing against Burnley in midweek. At full back Pep has been rotating his options with Angelino maybe edging ahead of Mendy, while Walker seems to be winning the battle with Cancelo. For now. Midfield picks itself with Rodri the holder and Kevin De Bruyne playing ahead of him, but the big decisions is who out of David Silva and Ilkay Gundogan starts alongside Rodri. Up top Riyad Mahrez is pushing Bernardo Silva for a start with Raheem Sterling on the other flank and Gabriel Jesus continuing up top with Aguero out injured.

Given their injury issues, which have eased a little, Man United’s lineup choices are a little simpler. De Gea will have Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire and probably Young ahead of him, while McTominay’s return in midfield is a big boost and he will likely line up with Fred. Up top they are sweating on the fitness of Anthony Martial who missed the midweek win against Tottenham and is questionable to start, but Rashford, Lingard and James are expected to start behind either Martial or Mason Greenwood.

Brendan Rodgers signs new contract at Leicester

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Brendan Rodgers has been rewarded for his incredible start to the 2019-20 season with Leicester City, with the club extending his stay in charge by three-and-a-half years to 2025.

The Northern Irishman has signed a new five-and-a-half year contract with the Foxes, as he’s led them to second place in the table through the opening 15 games of the Premier League season as they’ve won seven in a row.

Rodgers had been linked with the vacant position at Arsenal in recent days and seemed to confirm that there was a release fee of $18 million in his old Leicester contract. It is believed that clause has either been removed or the amount has been increased substantially.

Rodgers spoke to the media about his decision to sign a new deal with the Foxes and believes there is plenty more to come as they aim to secure a return to the UEFA Champions League.

“It’s something we’ve been speaking about for a few weeks. I’m delighted to commit the next five-and-a-half years to here,” Rodgers said. “I was honored that the club was happy with our work since we came in. I’ve got a great team here at the stadium and the training ground. My commitment is to the players and the team. The key thing for me was the potential here at Leicester City. Since we came in we’ve identified a way of playing that improves the players and gets results.”

After joining Leicester from Celtic in February in a midseason move which was lambasted by many, Rodgers has 17 wins from 26 Premier League matches in charge with Jamie Vardy, James Maddison, Caglar Soyuncu, Wilfred Ndidi and Youri Tielemans in particular playing superbly since he arrived at the King Power Stadium.

Rodgers has the Foxes playing with an increased swagger on the ball but they have also kept their ruthless streak as Vardy has scored in each of his last seven goals (netting nine times in that run) and leads the PL with 14 goals this season.

It may be too much for Leicester to push Liverpool all the way for the Premier League title this season — they are currently eight points behind the league leaders — but with Rodgers locked down to a new deal and so many young players in incredible form, the future is very bright for the Foxes.

Leicester seem set to become genuine top four contenders for the next few seasons, at least, and locking Rodgers into this deal sets everything up.

Chelsea transfer ban reduced after appeal

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Chelsea will be able to sign new players in January after their transfer ban from FIFA was reduced to one transfer window after their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) was successful.

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The Blues had previously been banned for two transfer windows, summer 2019 and winter 2020, for 150 rule breaches involving 69 academy players over a period of several years, but they will now be able to sign new players from Jan. 1 when the next transfer window opens.

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard was obviously delighted with the outcome, as he can now reinforce his young squad and has plenty of cash in the bank after a no-spend summer (the deal for Christian Pulisic was sealed last January and Mateo Kovacic arrived permanently after his loan move saw a clause triggered which made it a permanent move).

“It’s a positive outcome for us,” Lampard said. “It allows us the potential to look at the market going forward. So I’m pleased from a footballing level. It was never my business to get involved in the reasons why or the legal side of it.”

Which areas should Chelsea strengthen in now they can buy again? And which players will be their top targets?

It is clear that left back is an area where Lampard will want to add a new starter as both Marcos Alonso and Emerson Palmeri are fine as back ups neither have made the position their own this season. Up top is another key location where Lampard will look to strengthen as Olivier Giroud seems to be on his way out of Stamford Bridge and that would leave just Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi as the options at center forward.

Elsewhere, Chelsea look pretty set, although a new center back could be handy but isn’t necessary given the fact that Kurt Zouma and Fikayo Tomori have both been superb for most of this season and Andreas Christensen is also around with Cesar Azpilicueta also able to slot in at center back with Reece James developing well at right back.

After 12 months without spending and having transfer fees from the sale of Eden Hazard, David Luiz and Tomas Kalas and many other fringe players which brought in an incredible $180 million, Lampard will have money to spend.

The big question now is: Given Chelsea’s great start to the season as they sit in the top four with their young team progressing together as a group, do they risk bringing in new additions to potential upset the team spirit? Is it better to wait until the summer when the likes of Pedro and Giroud, and maybe Willian, could all leave Stamford Bridge?