Week 8: Top Premier League headlines – Arsenal vs. United, Merseyside derby

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Ahead of Week 8 in the Premier League there are so many great games to look forward to.

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From local rivalries, to the big dogs clashing and teams at the top and bottom of the standings shuffling ahead of the two-week international break, it should provide some mouth-watering matches as we enter the first week of October and the sun is still shining (for now) in England.

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Here are five storylines to keep an eye on this weekend.

Title pretenders clash at the Emirates: Arsenal vs. Manchester United

Manchester United sit top of the tree as they head to the Emirates Stadium to face Arsenal on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra). Louis Van Gaal‘s side dispatched Wolfsburg 2-1 in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday but the Dutchman said his side were “tired” and must be more clinical. With Anthony Martial and Memphis continuining to gel but Wayne Rooney looking short in confidence, United’s toughest test of the season so far provides a good yard-stick for just how good they are.

The same can be said for Arsenal, as the Gunners are still reeling from their 3-2 midweek UCL defeat to Olympiakos. Arsene Wenger has come under plenty of criticism for playing David Opsina in goal over Petr Cech in the Champions League, especially as the former produced a howler to leave Arsenal with a very slim chance of qualifying for the last 16 as they’ve lost both of their opening UCL games and now face Bayern Munich back-to-back. All is not well at the Emirates, but if they beat United on Sunday, maybe it will breathe new life into a season which hasn’t unfolded as anybody expected. Last season United won 2-1 at the Emirates, before Arsenal grabbed a late point at Old Trafford and sealed a 2-1 win in the FA Cup quarterfinal away to United. This will be tight and tense, as two teams who aren’t seen as legit title contenders try to suggest they are ready to return to past glories and win the PL trophy. A fascinating encounter awaits.

Chelsea must rebound against stubborn Saints

Jose Mourinho wasn’t too unhappy with his side despite the midweek 2-1 defeat at FC Porto in the UEFA Champions League. Good finishing from an impressive home side was the difference, but poor defending once again cost Chelsea as Mourinho continues to harmfully tinker with his lineup, with John Terry still on the sidelines. Eden Hazard and Nemanja Matic were also on the bench for the midweek match, and heading in Saturday’s clash with Southampton at Stamford Bridge (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra) the Blues need a big performance after stalling again. When they beat Arsenal 2-0 at home in Week 6, everyone said “here we go, Chelsea is back in business.” But a stumbling display in a 2-2 draw away at Newcastle proved that they weren’t and now they come up against a team who they failed to beat on both occasions last season.

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It will not be easy for Chelsea against a Southampton side who is working towards regaining their defensive solidity. With Ryan Bertrand returning from injury, Virgil Van Dijk settling in at center back and Ronald Koeman‘s men increasingly looking more like the team who finished in seventh last season and flirted with the top four, this will be a tough test. Last season Chelsea drew 1-1 with Saints home and away. The same result this season would mean the pressure continues to mount on Mourinho.

Sturridge ready to roll for Merseyside derby

For the first time in over six months, last week Daniel Sturridge‘s wacky goal celebration returned to Anfield. Sturridge, 26, has been out injured for most of the last 12 months and it has hit Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers hard. Pressure has been mounting on Rodgers, as he believes there is “hysteria” from the media and former players surrounding his position at Anfield If Sturridge can stay fit for the rest of this season, it is great news for Liverpool and Rodgers.

The England international has recovered from his hip and thigh problems to return and lead the line. Against Everton on Sunday (Watch live, 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) he will be the focal point of Liverpool’s attack, with Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho, Danny Ings and maybe Roberto Firmino making runs off him. The importance of Sturridge — who long with Luis Suarez delivered 52 of Liverpool’s goals as they came agonizingly close to winning the PL title in 2013-14 — is not lost on Rodgers as he’s wrapped the forward in cotton wool and rested him for the Europa League game against Sion in midweek. If Everton is to get anything from this, they must stop Sturridge, but as they proved away at West Brom last week, they have quality attacking talents of their own. Romelu Lukaku bagged a brace and Ross Barkley is regaining his best form. The Toffees sit in fifth and could go second with a win. Liverpool would leapfrog their city rivals with a derby-day win. There’s plenty on the line as these fierce rivals collide.

Battle of the newly-promoted boys: Bournemouth vs. Watford

As you know if you watched the video above, it’s been a rough few weeks for AFC Bournemouth and their manager Eddie Howe. The Cherries, like their opponents on Saturday, Watford (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via Live Extra) have adapted superbly to life in the PL but have been hit by three hammer blows. First up their two most expensive signings of the summer both went down with ACL injuries. Promising left back Tyrone Mings is out for the season, Max Gradel out for six months. Then, the biggest blow of them all arrived last weekend as striker and top goalscorer with tfive goals, Callum Wilson, crumpled in a heap against Stoke City. Wilson ruptured his ACL too, leaving Bournemouth without three key men for the next six months, at least. Howe will have to find a solution to those injury issues, but all of a sudden — unless they spend big in January — Bournemouth’s hopes of staving off relegation have taken a monumental hit.

As for Watford, they suffered defeat at home for the first time this season last week, and against Palace Quique Sanchez Flores’ team seemed to struggle with self-belief. Especially in the final third as they now scored just one goal at home all season and fired three blanks in four matches. Both Watford and Bournemouth have shown they can survive in the PL, but different issues are impacting both squads heading into a game which could provide either side with a vital three points when all is said and done at the end of the season.

Can Pardew take Palace where Pulis hoped to?

Last week I asked Crystal Palace’s manager Alan Pardew how he assessed the Eagles’ start to the season which sees them currently sitting in sixth place.

“It’s a good return, whichever way you look at it,” Pardew said. “We find ourselves on 12 points with a game at home coming up. We are going to try and exploit that because we’ve not always done that. It’s Tony [Pulis] coming as well so we know there will be extra resilience in that West Brom team. It’s a big game for us. We kick off early and it is a chance to find ourselves in a very nice position if we can win it.”

That early kick off against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) provides Palace with the chance to go second in the standings. They’d need a monster win to achieve that, but if Pardew can get one over former Palace boss Pulis, his side will more than likely be in the top four with just and a quarter of the season gone. There is, of course, history there between Pulis and Palace. The man who kept them in the PL during the 2013-14 season, then left on the eve of the 2014-15 campaign due to differences with Chairman Steve Parish, left Palace in the lurch. They rushed to appoint Neil Warnock as manager but he lasted under December when Pardew arrived to take the Eagles up to 11th. Many would argue Pulis started this resurgence as the south London club are in their third-straight PL season for the first time in their history. The big difference between Pulis and Pardew at Palace (lot of P’s flying around here) is that Pardew was backed by Parish and the board as he signed Yohan Cabaye for a club-record $20 million over the summer and has huge backing from the fans as a former Palace player. There is a little resentment for Pulis from Palace’s fans, but also appreciation for how he helped kick-start their recent resurgence. However on Saturday, Pardew, Palace and Parish would love to get one over on Pulis to show him what he’s missing out on at Selhurst Park.

 

Cruzeiro relegated from Brazilian top flight for first time

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Brazilian side Cruzeiro was relegated from the top flight for the first time in the club’s 98-year history following a 2-0 defeat to Palmeiras on the final day of the season.

Cruzeiro required victory and a loss by Ceara at Botafogo to stay safely in the Brazilian Serie A, but neither came to pass.

Palmeiras midfielder Ze Rafael scored in the 58th minute to send the visitors on their way, with fellow midfielder Dudu finished things off in the 84th minute. Referees ushered the players off the field immediately after the conclusion of the match as Cruzeiro fans rioted in the Mineirao stadium, ripping out seats, setting off smoke bombs, and clashing with police.

Cruzeiro finished 17th in the 20-team table, three points back of Ceara in 16th. In the Brazilian top flight, the bottom four teams are relegated. CSA, Chapecoense, and Avai were also relegated. Cruzeiro had won the Brazilian Serie A as recently as 2013 and 2014, winning four titles in its history. They also have six Copa do Brasil titles, most recently winning the league cup in 2017 and 2018.

Flamengo ran away with the championship, finishing on 90 points, 16 points clear of second-placed Santos and third-placed Palmeiras who both finished level on 74 points. Palmeiras had challenged for the title, but fell off at the end of the season with a five-match winless run through November.

Premier League Preview: West Ham United v. Arsenal

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Two struggling London sides meet Monday when West Ham United hosts Arsenal (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The sides might’ve expected they’d be within close proximity at this point on the fixture list, but two wildly disappointing seasons means the three points between the Gunners and Irons comes with the former in 11th and the latter 16th.

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It’s been nine matches since Arsenal beat someone, 11 since it happened in the Premier League. West Ham hasn’t been much better, winning once in its last 10.

Freddie Ljungberg has yet to win as Arsenal interim boss, while West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini could see his current stint in London end without more results like the Nov. 30 win at Chelsea.

Monday versus Arsenal would qualify.


Injuries/suspensions

West Ham United: OUT —  Jack Wilshere, Lukasz Fabianski, Manuel Lanzini, Winston Reid. QUESTIONABLE — Michail Antonio.

Arsenal: OUT — Dani Ceballos. QUESTIONABLE — Rob Holding.


Probable lineups

West Ham United: Martin; Cresswell, Ogbonna, Balbuena, Fredericks; Rice, Noble, Yarmolenko, Anderson, Snodgrass, Haller.

Arsenal: Leno; Kolasinac, Sokratis, Luiz, Bellerin, Xhaka, Torreira, Ozil, Pepe, Aubameyang, Lacazette.


What they’re saying

West Ham’s Antonio sees an opportunity: “The only three teams that are really performing are Liverpool, Leicester and Man City. Everyone else is getting beaten, and it means we’ve had a missed opportunity so far this season. We started the season off brightly, the best start we’ve had for four years, but then we’ve had a slump. Everyone’s having a slump and this is our slump. Now it’s time for us to start turning up. We’ve been in this situation before and we know how to dig in and pull ourselves up again.”

Arsenal’s Ljungberg on setting targets: “I don’t think we should stop talking about the top four, but for us it’s about concentrating on what we’re doing here now and not look up, down, sideways. We just need to work on our own game and our own confidence.”


Prediction

Really, you wouldn’t want to predict anything from these sides right now besides goals. We’ll give an edge in desperation to the hosts and a 2-2 draw.

La Liga: Sevilla held at Osasuna, Getafe maintains UCL fight

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Sevilla was held to a 1-1 draw at 10-man Osasuna on Sunday, giving both Real Madrid and Barcelona space at the top of the La Liga table.

Munir El Haddadi put the visitors 1-0 up just 11 minutes in, but Ezequiel Avila struck just before halftime to share the points. Sevilla was held to just two total shots through the opening 45 minutes, and despite Osasuna defender Oier Olazabal being shown a second yellow card with 29 minutes to go, Sevilla still managed just 11 total efforts through the 90 minutes, with four on target.

Getafe continued its battle for a top four spot as they won 1-0 on the road at Eibar. Angel Rodriguez bagged his eighth goal of the season to secure the win, cropping up in the 67th minute to finally put Getafe through. They had been turning the screw for some time, forcing Marko Dmitrovic into a pair of big saves just before the opener which came from an absurdly tight angle after Angel had rounded the goalkeeper. The win leaves them fourth, level with Real Sociedad on 27 points.

They were allowed to close the gap after Real Sociedad was held scoreless in a 0-0 draw at 14th placed Real Valladolid. The visitors put just two of their 14 shots on net, and dropped to fifth thanks to Getafe holding the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Athletic Club also fell back in the race for a top four spot, dropping a 3-2 decision on the road at Real Betis. Joaquin scored a first-half hat-trick, with all three goals coming in the opening 20 minutes to give him five in his last three games. Inaki Williams brought Athletic Bilbao one back before halftime from the spot, and Yuri Berchiche made things interesting with a minute to go, but that was all they could muster as the visitors fell to sixth on 26 points, above Atletico Madrid on goal differential with the two yet to play head-to-head.

Celta Vigo made it interesting as Iago Aspas scored a man-down goal, but Leganes held on for a 3-2 win over the 10-man visitors. Oscar Rodriguez had a first-half brace to help the hosts to a 3-0 lead, but Nestor Araujo and Aspas helped Celta Vigo make things interesting. Still, a 71st minute second yellow card for halftime substitute Gabriel Fernandez hampered the visitors in their efforts for a comeback, leaving Celta Vigo in the relegation zone, a point back of safety, with Leganes is four points behind them in 19th.

Gerrard reacts to Rangers’ Old Firm heartbreak in final

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Steven Gerrard lined his Rangers side up for success, but fate was cruel to the Liverpool legend.

Rangers lost the League Cup Final to their Old Firm rivals on Sunday despite out-shooting the Bhoys by a 16-5 margin, winning a penalty, and playing almost a half-hour up a man.

[ RECAP: Rangers 0-1 Celtic ]

“To a man we were very good … by much the better side,” Gerrard said. “But unfortunately that’s not what gets you a trophy.”

But Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster stopped Alfredo Morelos’ penalty, three minutes after goal scorer Christopher Jullien was offside on the lone goal of the game.

Scotland doesn’t yet use VAR, and Gerrard doesn’t love VAR but he likes it more than he likes Scottish officials.

“There were three Celtic players standing in offside positions but unfortunately we play in a country where there is no VAR,” he said, via the BBC. “I’d be a liar if I said I was 100% in favour of it, but the one thing I do know is that officials up here need support.”

Now he has the task of getting his men to rebound ahead of its biggest non-derby in ages, as Rangers need at least a draw against Young Boys at home on Thursday to advance to the Europa League knockout rounds

“It’s a bit raw right now… It’s up to me to pick the players up. One thing I will say is I’ll stay with these players on the evidence of today because they gave me absolutely everything. We might have to suffer a bit short-term. I need to pick them up a bit physically and mentally for Thursday which is huge but our day will come on the evidence of today.”

Gerrard has done a very good job with Rangers, who are two points back of Celtic in a two-horse race for the Scottish top flight title. Celtic has won eight-straight titles to improve their total to 50, four less than the Rangers.