Week 7: Top Premier League storylines – Chelsea’s resurgence, Liverpool pressure

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Things are starting to heat up and the standings are starting to shake out. The early-season excuses are over in the Premier League as we enter Week 7.

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With three teams still searching for their first win, reigning champs Chelsea finding some form and other giants faltering, we have a lot to look out for in the 10 games coming your way.

Here’s five things to focus in on this weekend.

Chelsea aim to end St James’ Park hoodoo under Mourinho

Believe it or not, Jose Mourinho has never led Chelsea to victory at St James’ Park. There’s something about the roar of over 51,000 Geordies which strikes fear in those wearing blue and now, more than ever, Newcastle’s players need a huge helping hand from their fans as the reigning PL champs roll into town on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra). New manager Steve McClaren is still searching for his first win as Magpies boss and admitted his side is “close to crisis” following their League Cup defeat to second-tier Sheffield Wednesday in midweek.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Talking about crisis, Chelsea have shown signs of getting through theirs as they beat Arsenal 2-0 last weekend and hammered Walsall in the League Cup. Diego Costa‘s three-match retrospective ban for flailing his arms at Laurent Koscielny has not sat well with Mourinho, especially after Arsenal’s Gabriel had his red card rescinded following his clash with Costa. Chelsea will miss Costa on Saturday in the fiery cauldron of St James’ but it is time for Radamel Falcao and Loic Remy to step up and score the goals which will continue Chelsea’s resurgence.

Pressure mounting on Rodgers

Liverpool squeaked past fourth-tier Carlisle at Anfield in the League Cup in midweek and the Reds fielded an incredibly strong side for what should have been a cakewalk. That points to problems for Brendan Rodgers as his side look devoid of confidence in attack and have score just five times in six league outings this season. Rodgers is the bookies’ favorite to get fired first out of all 20 PL managers and if the Reds lose at home to Aston Villa on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via Live Extra) expect that pressure to crank up. True, Rodgers can’t be expected to work miracles as players like Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling have left, but he has spent over $300 million on new signings over the past 18 months and, in truth, many have failed to live up to the expectations.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Talking of pressure, Tim Sherwood isn’t on a much longer leash at Aston Villa. After selling Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph this summer, Sherwood is in a similar situation to Rodgers, but with no win in five since the opening day of the season, Villa look likely to be in another relegation battle. Two teams low in confidence will clash at Anfield. Expect a nervy and close encounter.

Can City bounce back away at Spurs?

Manchester City’s lead at the top of the Premier League standings was cut to two points last week as they suffered a shock home defeat to West Ham. Manuel Pellegrini‘s men looked unstoppable until last week. Winning their first five PL games of the season without conceding a goal, they first lost to Juventus in the UEFA Champions League after a late collapse, then came the shock loss to the Hammers. Pellegrini’s men ripped open Sunderland in the League Cup this week, winning 4-1 as Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero all got on the scoresheet. The Citizens, on paper, will be wary of this trip to Spurs on Saturday (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) and if they lose to Mauricio Pochettino‘s side and Manchester United beat Sunderland, the Red Devils will replace them at the PL’s summit. Spurs, who lost to North London rivals Arsenal in the League Cup, have won two-straight in the PL but have struggled for goals this season as Harry Kane‘s drought continues.

Foxes aim to stay unbeaten as Arsenal come to town

Claudio Ranieri is fostering something special at the King Power Stadium. Leicester is the only unbeaten team left in the PL and in their last two games they’ve fought back from 2-0 goals down to grab four points from losing positions. The veteran Italian manager hasn’t changed much, as over the summer the Foxes have ridden their wide of euphoria from last season’s incredible escape from the relegation zone. With Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy ready to exploit weaknesses in Arsenal’s defense, and the home fans fired up to welcome the Gunners, this will not be an easy game for Arsene Wenger‘s side on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on USA Network and online via Live Extra). The Gunners showed grit and determination in their 2-1 League Cup win over Spurs in midweek and they will need plenty of that to get past Ranieri’s side. 

Saints, Swans ready to take next step

When you mention either Southampton or Swansea City, most people have positive thoughts. Both clubs have been promoted to the PL in recent years and have finished in the top 10 after building their squads shrewdly yet still retaining their loyalty to players from their journey up the pyramid to the top-flight. Saints and Swansea finished in seventh and eighth respectively last season and the challenge for them now is, despite selling star players once again, they must try to kick on further and finish in the top six. That will not be easy but in Ronald Koeman and Garry Monk they possess two managers both getting plenty of plaudits. Koeman is older, wiser and has worked wonders at Saints as they have offload star talent and bolstered the squad considerably. 

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As for Monk, his swift promotion to manager at the Liberty Stadium while his modest playing career (compared to Koeman’s anyway) wasn’t even officially over has brought out the best in him. Swansea started the season impressively but have failed to score in their last two games and lost at Watford last weekend and away at second-tier Hull in the League Cup. Southampton had a slow start and crashed out of the Europa League at the final qualifying hurdle, but after smashing six past MK Dons in League Cup play and putting up a strong offensive showing against Manchester United last week in a 3-2 defeat, Koeman’s boys are starting to gather some steam. Both clubs are perfect models of how to build success from the bottom up off the pitch. On the pitch the last three meetings have ended in 1-0 wins for the away side to show how tight things are between them on the pitch. 

Reports: Ajax, Barcelona reach agreement over USMNT’s Dest

Sergino Dest Barcelona
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Ronald Koeman couldn’t convince Sergino Dest to represent the Netherlands over the United States, but the Barcelona boss has reportedly talked the Ajax back into choosing the Blaugranas over the Bavarians.

Dest, 19, has been widely linked with Bayern Munich in recent weeks, though Barcelona was also mentioned with the caveat that Koeman would have to sell players to bring others in due to the La Liga outfit’s salary problems.

[ MORE: Mendy to Chelsea analysis ]

Wolves’ pursuit of Nelson Semedo and Atletico Madrid’s move for Luis Suarez may have opened the door for Dest, and multiple reports say Ajax and Barcelona have reached an agreement on a $22 million transfer with another $6 million in incentives in the deal.

Dest was named Ajax Young Talent of the Year last season and is also a member of the 2020 Golden Boy shortlist. He has two goals and six assists in 37 senior appearances for the club after coming through its vaunted academy. He’s also been linked with moves to Juventus and Tottenham Hotspur.

Capped thrice by the United States after the Yanks won a recruitment battle with the Netherlands, Dest went 90 minutes in eight of Ajax’s last 10 Eredivisie matches and came off the bench in their opening two Eredivisie matches of the 2020-21 campaign. That’s likely due to transfer issues.

Dest would become the second American to represent Barcelona on a matchday 18, just missing out on the honor of being first. Barca academy product Konrad de la Fuente signed a contract with the club this summer, and was an unused sub when the Blaugranas beat Napoli in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg on Aug. 8.


League Cup: Manchester United wins; West Brom, Watford bounced

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Luton Town made Manchester United work for its spot in the League Cup fourth round, while another lower league side simply ended another Premier League side’s tournament in Tuesday’s FA Cup results.

[ MORE: Mendy to Chelsea analysis ]

West Bromwich Albion is out of the tournament after blowing two leads and losing in penalties at home to Brentford, while West Ham blasted Hull City after an alarming COVID-19 moment and League Two side Newport County dismissed Watford.

Then there’s Tottenham and Leyton Orient, who didn’t even get to play. It’s all in the FA Cup wrap.

Luton Town 0-3 Manchester United

The score line does not tell the story here (aside from, you know, the goal total).

Brandon Williams won a late first-half penalty that Juan Mata smashed home as the Red Devils labored to a win over the Championship’s Hatters.

Marcus Rashford came off the bench to ice the game off a feed from fellow sub Mason Greenwood, who was later assisted by another sub in Bruno Fernandes.

Dean Henderson made an outstanding save in his long-awaited Manchester United senior debut.

The 23-year-old has been United property since he was 14 and has taken loans with four clubs including a highly-celebrated two years with Sheffield United.

Henderson did not have to make a save until the 81st minute, when he made a big stop to keep United on top at Kenilworth Road.

Mata’s goal came in his 200th appearance for the Red Devils. Donny van de Beek made his first Manchester United start in the win.

West Ham United 5-1 Hull City

Andriy Yarmolenko scored twice and set up two others as the Irons showed no ill effects of learning that David Moyes, Issa Diop, and Josh Cullen tested positive for coronavirus (The club says all three are asymptomatic).

Yarmolenko now has nine goals and five assists in just over 1700 minutes with West Ham. He missed 2.5 months with a muscle tear last season.

Sebastien Haller had a brace and Robert Snodgrass scored the other goal as West Ham’s “second string” continues to beat up on lower league competition while awaiting chances off the bench in the PL.

Mallik Wilks had brought Hull within two in the 70th minute only to see Haller and Yarmolenko complete their braces in stoppage time.

League Cup results
West Ham United’s Andriy Yarmolenko (center front) with Felipe Anderson, Haller, and Lanzini (Photo by ALASTAIR GRANT/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Newport County 3-1 Watford

The Hornets had little going for them despite having the better of possession, outshot 12-2 by the time League Two’s Exiles reclaimed their two-goal lead with 25 minutes on the clock.

Adelberto Penaranda came off the bench to score for Watford after the Exiles built a 2-0 lead through Tristan Abrahams and Josh Labadie. Padraig Amond bagged County’s third goal to turn the screws on the former Premier League side.

Stipe Perica sealed Watford’s fate with an 88th-minute red card. The Hornets have a win and a draw in their return to the Championship and will focus on that until the FA Cup.

West Bromwich Albion 2-2 (4-5 pens) Brentford

The Bees couldn’t catch the Baggies in the race for the automatic promotion last season but kept scrapping en route to a pair of equalizers at the Hawthorns on Tuesday.

Brentford made all of its penalties, its fifth sealing the win after Grady Diangana’s effort was saved by David Raya.

Hal Robson-Kanu scored both of West Brom’s goals but answers came from Emiliano Marcondes and Marcus Forss to have it level with 17 minutes left in scheduled time.

Leyton Orient (ppd) Tottenham Hotspur

A raft of positive COVID-19 tests for the hosts put this tie in doubt Monday and we’re still awaiting the plan.

For now, health aside, Spurs are probably quite happy to have day off given a wild fixture list across three competitions which includes a trip to Macedonia for Europa League action on Thursday.

Next League Cup third round fixtures

All times ET

Preston North End v Brighton — 2 pm
Millwall v Burnley — 2 pm
Fulham v Sheffield Wednesday — 2 pm
Stoke City v Gillingham — 2 pm
Chelsea v Barnsley — 2:45 pm
Leicester City v Arsenal — 2:45 pm
Fleetwood Town v Everton — 2:45 pm
Morecambe v Newcastle United — 2:45 pm

Bristol City v Aston Villa — 2 pm
Lincoln City v Liverpool — 2:45 pm
Manchester City v Bournemouth — 2:45 pm

League Cup fourth round draw

Lincoln City/Liverpool v Leicester City/Arsenal
Millwall/Burnley v Manchester City/Bournemouth
Brentford v Fulham/Sheffield Wednesday
Fleetwood Town/Everton v West Ham United
Bristol City/Aston Villa v Stoke City/Gillingham
Leyton Orient/Tottenham v Chelsea/Barnsley
Newport County v Morecambe/Newcastle United
Preston North End/Brighton v Manchester United

USMNT learns Nations League dates, says no October friendlies

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CONCACAF’s summer is going to be red-hot as its top sides will scrap multiple times on the road to World Cup qualifying.

In other words, we might see the USMNT meet Mexico twice in a month.

The USMNT, Mexico, Honduras, and Costa Rica are among the group of sides waiting to see who advances from the postponed first stage of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. The final round of World Cup qualifying had already been postponed.

It was revealed Tuesday that the quartet will now play the first ever CONCACAF Nations League Finals in June, three months behind schedule and just before the 2021 Gold Cup.

[ MORE: How 7 Americans fared in Bundesliga Wk 1 ]

The Gold Cup was previously postponed to June 10 – July 1 and the draw is set for Monday.

The Nations League semifinals see No. 1 seed Mexico against No. 4 Costa Rica and the No. 2 Catrachos of Honduras meeting the third-seeded USMNT.

A U.S. Soccer Federation release said the move is to put the focus on first stage of qualifying (It also gives all of the participants more time to figure out the pandemic atmosphere if it, as anticipated, reaches into a second year dramatically affecting sporting competitions):

This official competition Finals event will take place in a centralized location in the United States in June 2021. Concacaf will now work with our stakeholders to finalize the location and specific dates for this competition.

Playing this competition in June 2021 will enable the First Round of the Concacaf Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup, which involve 30 Concacaf Member Associations, to take center stage in March 2021.

Concacaf remains in discussions with FIFA to agree a new schedule for the Concacaf Qualifiers which retains the current format.

[ WATCH: Gooch’s solo goal for Sunderland ]

U.S. Soccer also announced that it will not play any matches or train in the October international break, aiming for a November return. That means Christian Pulisic will have even more time to find top form for Chelsea.

General manager Brian McBride says Gregg Berhalter’s group may have an additional December camp with its January camp, which is great news for MLS players hoping to cement their statuses in Berhalter’s mind while the European talent continues to play overseas.

“After extensive conversations about holding a men’s national team camp in October, we ultimately determined the unique challenges created by COVID-19 as it relates to hosting international opponents and getting our players together wouldn’t allow us to move forward,” men’s team general manager Brian McBride said, via the Associated Press. “While we won’t have the team together in this upcoming window, we are making considerable progress for November.”

West Ham manager Moyes, two players test positive for COVID-19

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West Ham United’s preparations for Tuesday’s League Cup match against Hull City were rocked by positive COVID-19 tests for three members of the first team.

Irons boss David Moyes, center back Issa Diop and midfielder Josh Cullen all were informed of positive coronavirus tests before the match. All were sent home and said to be asymptomatic.

[ LIVE: Follow League Cup scores ]

The match went on with assistant manager Alan Irvine taking the reigns.

Diop is by far the most significant name on that list when it comes to West Ham’s competitive fortunes (Yes, we know Moyes in the manager).

West Ham stressed that it’s been vigilant when it comes to COVID-19:

The Club’s measures and protocols around COVID-19 remain stringent. This included offering to test the Hull City team ahead of tonight’s fixture – an offer which they opted not to accept.

Diop went the distance in both of West Ham’s PL matches this season, while Cullen has not featured for Moyes. The Irons lost 2-0 to Newcastle and 2-1 to Arsenal.