Week 5: Top Premier League storylines – Debuts galore, bitter rivals, upset-alert

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As we head into Week 5 of the Premier League season, let’s take a quick look around at the top five storylines this weekend.

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With a huge rivalry match between Manchester United and Liverpool taking center stage, tricky tests away for Chelsea and Man City and the first chance for us to see the plethora of new players signed at the end of the transfer window 10 days ago, there’s a lot going.

[ MORE: LVG on Martial, player unrest, Giggs ]

Here’s five things you need to look out for.

Here come the debutants

The likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Nicolas Otamendi, Anthony Martial, Virgil Van Dijk and Heung-Min Son could make their Premier League debuts this weekend as a record $1.3 billion was spent during the 2015 Summer Transfer Window with PL sides bolstering their squads. A flurry of deals were done in and around Deadline Day and there are always a few transfers which initially raise eyebrows but after this weekend it could seem like money well spent. On the flip side, is De Bruyne really worth $86 million? We are about to find out.

Manchester United vs. Liverpool takes center stage

So many storylines swirling around this monster clash between two of world soccer’s fiercest rivals. United welcome Liverpool to Old Trafford on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra) with nobody sure if David De Gea will start in goal after his move to Real Madrid collapsed on Deadline Day. Will new $55 million signing Anthony Martial — Louis Van Gaal said that price was “ridiculous” by the way — be the hero on his debut? Can Wayne Rooney finally deliver the goods for United as their talisman has failed to score this season? As for Liverpool, this will be their first derby in 17 years without Steven Gerrard and no local lads are likely to appear on the pitch in this game. The bigger concern for Brendan Rodgers‘ side will be scoring goals, as they’ve scored just twice in their opening four games this season. Roberto Firmino and Christian Benteke, it’s time to step up.

Upset-alert: Surely Chelsea won’t slip up again? Also, what about City?

Both Chelsea and Manchester City face tricky trips away from home this weekend. When it comes to Chelsea, the Blues may be sweating ahead of their match against Everton on Saturday (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) at Goodison Park. Mourinho’s men have one win and two defeats from their opening four games and with the Toffees impressing away against Southampton and Tottenham, can they now finally get going at Goodison? Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley will be key for Everton, while John Stones remained with the Toffees despite heavy interest from Chelsea in the transfer window. Seeing how he gets on against Jose Mourinho’s side will be a treat. As for City, they head to Crystal Palace, the team who beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge before the international break, and the Eagles are more than capable of following up that shock win by beating City. However, this is a City side that will also add Nicolas Otamendi and Kevin De Bruyne to the ranks and Manuel Pellegrini‘s men have been on fire in the first four weeks of the season, scoring 10 times and conceding zero on their way to four wins. Then again, City fans will not need reminding about their damaging defeats away to the likes of Burnley last season…

Searching for that win…

Heading into Week 5, there are five PL teams still without a win. I’m sure they’ll love me for putting this out, but Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United, Stoke City, Watford and Sunderland have all yet to register that all-important ‘W.’ Okay, early in the season you can get unlucky with tough schedules working against you and new players failing to settle in, but with no victories heading through the first international break, managers, fans and players are all starting to get a bit nervous. Spurs play Sunderland, Stoke head to Arsenal, while Newcastle head to West Ham and Watford host Swansea. Out of that lot, you’d say that only Spurs have a legit chance of heading into Week 6 with a win under their belt. As for the other four… things are getting a little bit tense.

The wantaway boys 

It will be very interesting to see how the likes of Saido Berahino, Victor Wanyama and the aforementioned De Gea react this weekend. In the case of all three, they’d probably rather be elsewhere than lining up for West Brom, Southampton and Manchester United respectively, but they are where they are. They must deal with it. Berahino has dealt with having his move to Tottenham rejected by West Brom poorly, while Wanyama is said to have changed his tune after Saints told him they would not sell him to Spurs. As for De Gea, the big question mark remains over whether or not he will start vs. Liverpool. If he does it will be his first United game since July 29. That would be a big call by Van Gaal if he does play him over Sergio Romero. But then again, it is a big game and those top class players will win you them, as long they are focused. For those three players, and others who maybe didn’t get the move away on Deadline Day that they were hoping for, focus is key.

PL Sunday preview: Wolves, Man United, Everton, Arsenal in action

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures promise to have a wide-range of action, as Wolves, Manchester United and Arsenal all take the field.

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Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Norwich City  — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBC Gold and NBCSports.com

Wolverhampton Wanderers are heading into Sunday’s match against bottom dwellers Norwich City with fresh, positive inertia.

On Thursday, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men thumped Espanyol 4-0 in the knockout stages of the Europa League, giving Wolves a much-needed boost of confidence. The club, who has yet to win in Premier League play since January 18, ended a two-game streak without generating a goal against the Spanish side.

Wolves are the clear favorites heading into Molineux Stadium on Sunday. But on the other side stands a well-rested and hungry Norwich, who before going to winter break, showcased class and discipline against Liverpool in their last league showing.

Daniel Farke‘s side are eight points out of the safe zone but time is running out. The sense of urgency is at an all-season high for the Canaries, believers of their under-appreciated strengths.

“They (Wolves) are playing in Europe, they have kept three clean sheets, they have individual quality and it is a huge task,” Farke said. “But I don’t see any easy fixtures at this stage. It is about us. We always have a chance if we are good at our topics.

“People can write us off and say we have no chance to close the gap. But I don’t agree. It is possible.”

INJURIES: Wolves — OUT: Ruben Vinagre (hamstring) | Norwich — OUT: Timm Klose (knee), Sam Byram (hamstring)

Manchester United vs. Watford — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

History and data say Watford, who have never won a league game at Old Trafford, stand no chance against Manchester United on Sunday.

But if one victory inspired a mostly-lethargic Hornets this season under Nigel Pearson it was the 2-0 win over United at Vicarage Road. The second-to-last side went on a six-match unbeaten streak following the said victory. It brought the club back to life, lifting them out of the bottom three.

Watford have since faltered and dropped back below the red line, but Pearson promises to stick to his philosophical guns.

“We approach every game in a very similar way and that is to try and be as positive as we can,” he said. “We’ll go out there and we’ll do what we can to win the game, we’ve not changed our approach, it’s just that results sometimes change how people perceive things.”

United will certainly look different, as Odion Ighalo is expected to make his home debut against his former club following his arrival in earlier this month.

United, who stand in the seventh spot with 38 points, have a clear window of opportunity to surpass fifth-place Tottenham with a victory. Prior to Sunday’s match, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer addressed questions regarding consistency.

“It is team selection – you’ve got to maybe rotate in Europe like we’ve done, then maybe go back to what we were at Chelsea this week,” Gunnar Solskjaer said. “I feel that Bruno [Fernandes] and Odion [Ighalo] coming in will get more goals in the team. That’s been lacking. The games we’ve lost – West Ham, Burnley, Palace, Bournemouth – we’ve had chances but we haven’t scored goals.”

Perhaps Ighalo could finally contribute towards a win at Old Trafford with Watford jerseys on the field.

INJURIES: Manchester United — Paul Pogba (ankle), Axel Tuanzebe (thigh), Marcus Rashford (back) | Watford — OUT: Daryl Janmaat (knee), Tom Cleverley (match fitness)

Arsenal vs. Everton — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Subplots reign supreme ahead of Everton’s visit to the Emirates.

Mesut Ozil, who missed the Gunners’ 1-0 Europa League victory, and Andres Gomes, 16 weeks after an ankle dislocation and fracture, are both expected to return to action. Meanwhile, Mikel Arteta and Carlo Ancelotti will meet for the first time after being linked to each other’s position before the start of the new year.

Perhaps the most significant one, however – at least to Everton – is that it’s been 24 years since the Toffees won at Arsenal. If they can pull it off this time around, the Liverpool-based side will be one step closer to the European dream.

“We have to be focused on Arsenal,” Ancelotti said. “Then there are very important games after. There’s [Manchester] United, Chelsea, Liverpool. After these four games, we can see what is going on for Europe.”

“This is a really important game against a strong team, away, but we have to have confidence to do our best and try to win. We’ve got 13 games to go and have got ourselves in a decent position,” he said. “It gives us the platform to have a decent season. I think we’ve done okay. We’ve had huge problems over six weeks and fair play to the squad for showing that resilience.”

Everton have picked up 17 points out the 24 possible under the Italian, while Arsenal have only experienced two wins under the Spaniard.

INJURIES: Arsenal — Cedric Soares (knee), Kieren Tierney (shoulder), Callum Chambers (knee), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (knee) | Everton — OUT: Jean-Phillipe Gbamin (thigh)

La Liga roundup: Messi puts four goals past Eibar in one-sided Barcelona victory

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Lionel Messi’s masterclass against Eibar highlights La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Eibar 0-5 Barcelona 

It seemed as if nothing was going to wake up Barcelona from their nightmare, but then Lionel Messi went on to put on one if his traditional magic shows.

The Argentine pelted four goals on Eibar on Saturday, sending the Blaugrana to the top of La Liga following Real Madrid’s loss to Levante.

 

 

 

Just how bad was Barcelona’s nightmare, one may ask? So bad that Barcelona supporters waving white handkerchiefs during a part of the game, expressing their frustration towards club’s board and chanting for president Josep Maria Bartomeu to resign.

As it’s been for the past decade or so, Messi was at the right place and at the right time to put the fires away.

Barca’s No. 10 broke the deadlock in the 14th minute, before completing his first-half hat-trick. He added a fourth in stoppage time, stretching his season goal count to 18 – the best in the league.

The goal-heavy performance ended Messi’s four-match goal drought – the longest for the Argentine since the 2013-14 season.

Messi’s masterclass proved to be quintessential potion to Barcelona’s illness. They needed it, especially with Napoli up next in the Champions League, which leaves the Catalans with no options then to win.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Celta Vigo 1-0 Leganes

Real Sociedad 3-0 Valencia 

Levante 1-0 Real Madrid

Championship Focus: West Brom, Leeds improve promotion chances with wins

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By no means is the race for promotion within the Championship sealed and delivered, but West Brom and Leeds United continue to add to their lead on the rest of the pack.

Despite playing the final 13 minutes down a player after Romaine Sawyers saw a straight red card, the Baggies went on to earn a formidable 3-0 win over Bristol City.

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Sheffield United loanee Callum Robinson opened the scoring in the 32nd minute, while Hal Robsun-Kanu sealed his brace with 11 minutes left in regular time. With the victory, Wes Brom extends their league unbeaten streak to five matches, and their total point to 66.

At Elland Road, Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United registered their first back-to-back wins since October, following a minimal-margin victory over Reading. Leeds holds a five-point cushion on third-place Fulham.

Meanwhile, with goals quick fire goals from Paul Gallagher and Alan Browne over a four-minute stretch against an aching Hull City, Preston moved into play-off contention.

Saturday’s results

Brentford 2-2 Blackburn
Bristol City 0-3 West Brom
Swansea City 3-1 Huddersfield
Wigan Athletic 1-0 Millwall
Barnsley 1-0 Middlesbrough
Birmingham 3-3 Sheffield Wednesday
Nottingham Forest 0-0 QPR
Preston 2-1 Hull City
Charlton 3-1 Luton Town
Stoke City 2-0 Cardiff City
Leeds United 1-0 Reading

Ronaldo matches record in 1,000th game as Juve beats Spal

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MILAN (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo shows no sign of slowing down as he marked his 1,000th official match by scoring a record-equaling goal to help Juventus win 2-1 at Spal in Serie A on Saturday.

Ronaldo scored for an 11th straight league game, matching the Serie A record set by Gabriel Batistuta in 1994 and equaled by Fabio Quagliarella last season.

Ronaldo also hit the crossbar with a free kick late on and had an early goal disallowed.

Aaron Ramsey doubled Juve’s lead in the second half before Andrea Petagna got Spal back into the match with a penalty.

Juventus visits Lyon in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16 on Wednesday.

Serie A leader Juventus extended its advantage to four points above Lazio, which visits Genoa on Sunday. Third-place Inter Milan is also playing a relegation-threatened team on Sunday as it hosts Sampdoria.

Spal remained firmly bottom of the table, eight points from safety, after a fifth successive defeat.

Ronaldo thought he had given Juventus the lead in the fifth minute but it was ruled offside on video review.

However, the Portugal forward did get on the scoresheet six minutes from the break, rushing in at the far post to volley Juan Cuadrado‘s cross into the roof of the net.

It took Juventus until the hour mark to double its lead when Paulo Dybala sent in a delightful through ball for Ramsey, who lifted it above Spal goalkeeper Etrit Berisha.

Spal reduced the deficit nine minutes later after Juventus defender Daniele Rugani fouled midfielder Simone Missiroli. After a lengthy wait and the use of video review, a penalty was awarded and Petagna fired it into the bottom right corner.

AC Milan was playing at Fiorentina later. Bologna drew 1-1 at home to Udinese earlier.

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