Top 5 Premier League storylines ahead of Week 4: Transfer deadline day looms


With Week 4 of the 2015-16 Premier League season upon us, one side plots its bid to stay perfect, while six more hope to simply stay unbeaten.

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While a handful of the likely suspects — Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United — remain unblemished on the year thus far, Leicester City, Swansea and Watford join them as this season’s unlikely unbeatens. Week 4 throws up massive tests for the latter two.

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With Week 4 kicking off barely 36 hours from now, here’s five storylines to watch around the Premier League this weekend:

Whose defense cracks first — Man City, Liverpool or Man United?

Three games, three clean sheets — that’s undoubtedly what Manuel Pellegrini, Brendan Rodgers and Louis van Gaal are hanging their proverbial hats on these days, as Man City, Liverpool and Man United (currently 1st, 3rd and 4th in the league, respectively) carry a spotless defensive record into Week 4 of the 2015-16 season.

While City’s attack is firing on all cylinders (more on that in a bit), Liverpool and United have needed every bit of those clean sheets to each pull out a pair of 1-0 victories alongside a scoreless draw to start the season. Chelsea won last year’s league title with the stingiest defense in the league (32 goals conceded in 38 games); it’s not the most enjoyable soccer to watch, but it gets results and could see either one of these Reds sides make a legitimate title challenge if it keeps up.

Is this the week Rooney gets his first PL goal?

Wayne Rooney, Manchester United FC

Wayne Rooney is having himself an interesting time at the moment. On one hand, the Man United and England captain is yet to score a goal in the PL this season. On the other hand, he bagged a hat trick in a UEFA Champions League qualifier on Wednesday. The goals will eventually come for the 29-year-old (we think), but how long can Louis van Gaal continue to run him out there, week after week at center forward, if he’s not producing?

Of course, his next-best option at striker aren’t exactly forcing his hand at the moment. On Sunday, Rooney will try his luck against Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium.

How long can City’s perfect start go on?

For as stout and airtight as City’s defense has looked, that’s how good the likes of Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Yaya Toure have been much further up the field. Aguero has scored just once through three games (though that number could easily be three or four given the number of chances befallen upon him — 11 shots, 7 on target), while Silva and Toure have been credited with three assists a piece (they’ve each scored once, as well).

Up next for City, it’s a potential “banana skin” matchup with newly promoted Watford, who visit the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

Spurs and Saints searching for their first wins

Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton, the two sides that finished fifth and seventh in the Premier League last season, respectively, are each winless to begin the 2015-16 season. Southampton have had to contend with Europa League qualifiers as their domestic campaign began, which is perhaps understandable, so what’s Tottenham’s excuse?

Mauricio Pochettino’s side has held three leads through three games this season, and they’ve given every single one of them away (up 2-0 vs. Stoke City, up 1-0 vs. Leicester City — drew both games). Neither side really looks to challenge for a top-four place as they did a year ago, but winning a game the first month of the season would be nice. Up next for Spurs, it’s 7th-place Everton at home. Meanwhile, Saints welcome 8th-place Norwich City to St Mary’s.

Who struggles so badly they panic buy on transfer deadline day?

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Arsene Wenger, Arsenal FC

It happens every single year without fail — one side, usually from the top half of the league but not always, sleep-walks their way through the season’s opening weeks, which sends the fans, the coaching staff and executive staff alike into a collective panic. When transfer deadline day rolls around, they spend…and they spend big.

Remember when Arsenal started the 2011-12 season winless in their first three (including an 8-2 thrashing by Man United), then spent $37 million on Andre Santos, Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker three days later? Candidates to panic buy this season include, but are not limited to, the following: Tottenham (who are already looking to buy), Newcastle United, Sunderland, West Ham United and Arsenal (yes, again).

Champions League preview: Spurs host Leipzig, Valencia visits Atalanta

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Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties kickoff Wednesday, including one being labeled as the biggest in a club’s existence.

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That would be Serie A side Atalanta, which hosts Valencia at 3 p.m. at Gewiss Stadium.

Atalanta had played in two consecutive Europa Leagues, but this is their first move into the Champions League. To make the knockout rounds is exceptional, and club president Antonio Percassi is fired up.

“We must be honest, this is the most important game in the history of this club,” Percassi told Sky Sport Italia. “It doesn’t seem real. It’s exciting just thinking that tomorrow we’ll be in a Champions League Round of 16. It’s wonderful for our fans too. … This is going to be a unique experience that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.”

Atalanta finished second in its group to Manchester City, and is fourth in Serie A. Valencia won its group.

There’s a Premier League side in action on Wednesday, too, as Spurs begin life without Heung-Min Son.

Jose Mourinho spun a tale about how badly Tottenham will need its fans against RB Leipzig, comparing the home-field advantage to an emergency rescue crew of sorts.

Leipzig is led by Julian Nagelsmann, who was once referred to as “Baby Mourinho” by his players.

The 32-year-old was quick to distance himself from the story.

“Tomorrow it is Leipzig against Tottenham, not Mourinho v. Baby Mourinho,” he said. “I have great respect for Mourinho. He has won lots of titles with big clubs, the Champions League twice. He has made his mark on European football at some big European clubs. I think it his 59th knockout game in the CL and it is my first so there is obviously respect there.”

Liverpool’s Robertson not a fan of Atletico Madrid theatrics

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Liverpool fullback Andy Robertson was not impressed with Atletico Madrid’s display as his side fell 1-0 in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Reds fell behind on a fourth-minute Saul Niguez goal and couldn’t get a shot on target despite 73 percent possession in Spain.

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Atleti executed its plan to near-perfection, slowing restarts and taking advantage of counterattacking opportunities to assuage the constant pressure of Liverpool.

At times it was reminiscent of early-century Italian national team play, and both neutrals and Liverpool knew what they were in for once Atleti took the lead.

“We gave them the best possible start to get the fans behind them and then they can start falling over and things like that, trying to get under our skin a bit which I think we handled quite well to be honest,” Robertson told BT Sport. “We know we are better than (how they played). We put in a decent performance and we can be better than that. Luckily we have got a second leg to put it right.”

Given the performance and the reputation, you’d still fancy the Reds to “put it right” at Anfield. Jurgen Klopp thinks Atleti will feel plenty of pressure at Anfield, and he will certainly feel the officiating will be more to his liking.

Liverpool’s Klopp: ‘Our people will be ready’ for second leg at Anfield

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Jurgen Klopp didn’t have any issue with Diego Simeone’s defense-first Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Spanish side flummoxed Liverpool’s attack and the Reds didn’t manage a shot on target despite eight attempts and 73 percent possession at the Wanda Metropolitano.

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What Klopp didn’t appreciate was the referee’s work, though, implying that Polish official Szymon Marciniak was overwhelmed by the occasion. Marciniak has worked UCL matches for six seasons, twice overseeing quarterfinal ties.

Klopp was shown a yellow card in the second half, and the Liverpool boss felt Sadio Mane was harassed by Atleti. Klopp removed yellow-carrying Mane at halftime.

“He was targeted obviously,” Klopp said after the game. “The only thing they wanted was to make sure he got a yellow card. The score is 1-0, that’s all but you need to be really strong as a ref in this atmosphere. So many things happened, after 30 minutes already three players were on the ground. The first yellow card was a striker from us. I’m not sure they even got a yellow card, which is funny.”

Atleti’s Angel Correa was shown a yellow, while Klopp, Mane, and Joe Gomez were cautioned for Liverpool.

The Liverpool boss found himself laughing a few times, especially when he was asked about Simeone’s touchline personality.

Klopp said before the game that if the German was a four in intensity, then Simeone was a 12. Simeone followed suit by constantly urging the crowd to get behind the home side on Tuesday.

That didn’t bother Klopp, but he issued a public relations officer’s dream in reacting to it.

“Wow, wow,” he laughed. “That’s energy. I don’t think I have to do it that much (at Anfield). Our people will be ready. Welcome to Anfield. It’s not over yet.”

Klopp finished his remarks by saying of Jordan Henderson‘s removal from the game with a hamstring injury, “I hope it was a precaution, but I’m not 100 percent sure”

Haaland wins first leg after Borussia Dortmund-PSG comes to life late

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Erling Haaland scored twice in a mid-second half flurry as Borussia Dortmund beat Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The hosts also got an assist from teenager Giovanni Reyna, who became the youngest American to appear in a Champions League match.

Haaland now has 39 goals in 29 appearances between Red Bull Salzburg and BVB, 11 of those for his new German employer.

Neymar scored off a Kylian Mbappe goal for PSG, who brings an away goal back to the Parc des Princes for a March 11 second leg.

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Neymar had an early free kick, missing just wide of the far post.

Jadon Sancho troubled the keeper twice in the first half hour, first with a cross that Mats Hummels headed over goal. Then, Keylor Navas picked another Sancho offering out of the air.

Sancho kept serving, and Erling Haaland couldn’t turn a promising cross on target.

Dortmund walked into halftime with a scoreless match but a 7-2 edge in shot attempts. Neither of PSG’s shots were on target.

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Borussia Dortmund boss Lucien Favre put in American teen Giovani Reyna in the 67th minute.

Two minutes later, it was 1-0 to the hosts through Haaland’s close-range goal.

Neymar replied from close range himself after a powerful, clever dribble from Kylian Mbappe led to a pass through the box.

But Haaland got his second in the 77th minute with a scorching shot that serves as the first senior assist of Reyna’s senior career with Dortmund (Watch it here).