Week 16: Top Premier League Storylines — Chelsea to play Leicester with roles reversed

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With January closing fast and the clogged fixture schedule of the holiday season around the corner, teams are making moves across the Premier League table both up and down.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Can Manchester United rebound from Champions League exit?

The Red Devils suffered an embarrassing departure from the Champions League group stage with a 3-2 loss to Wolfsburg that saw them drop into the Europa League knockout stages, but now they must shift their focus to a return to European play. Sitting fourth in the Premier League table, they must hold off those surging below them such as Tottenham and Liverpool.

[ RELATED: Schweinsteiger banned for 3 matches ]

Manchester United visits a revived Bournemouth side that has not lost in three and has pulled itself out of the bottom three despite heavy losses due to injury. It will be a tough test for Louis Van Gaal and company who need to regroup fast or feel the breath of Spurs, Crystal Palace, Liverpool, Everton, West Ham, and others on the back of their necks.

[ SPORTSWORLD: Marouane Fellaini has full confidence in Van Gaal ]

Chelsea and Leicester face off

A title challenger takes on a relegation candidate in a prime-time Monday matchup. Except this one is backwards. Leicester City sits atop the Premier League table, while Chelsea rots in 14th, just two points off the drop zone.

[ RELATED: Diego Costa apologizes ]

So who will grab a hold of the chance they have? The Foxes can slowly tighten the vicegrip on the rest of the league with a win over the defending champions, while the Blues have another opportunity to begin their rise back up the table while dealing a blow to the shock league leaders.

Who is for real, Stoke City or West Ham?

These two clubs are just a point apart, but as they meet at Upton Park, the two sides are on very different paths. Stoke City comes into this game with three wins in their last four, the most recent a galvanizing 2-0 win over Manchester City that has pumped Mark Hughes‘ side up to 22 points. West Ham, meanwhile, has just three points in their last five matches – without a win over that span – missing playmaker Dimitri Payet for the forseeable future. So what team is the true Europa League contender?

Clogged middle of the table

Just two points separates 12th position – Southampton – from sixth position – Crystal Palace – as the two square off at Selhurst Park. The middle of the Premier League table is jam-packed with teams rising and falling all mired together. The top four seem established for now, but can anyone from the middle pack stake a claim to the Europa League positions, and will any drop out of contention?

Can Newcastle put together a winning streak?

The Magpies have three wins this season, and they lost the follow-up to their first two. Having shockingly topped Liverpool last week to reinvigorate their charge out of the relegation zone, can they build on this step forward? They get another in-form side in Spurs, which won big on Thursday in Europa League play with its B squad. Newcastle can move out of the relegation zone should things fall correctly.

Everton stays perfect in energetic win over Crystal Palace

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Crystal Palace – Everton: Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison scored as Everton won a battle of unbeatens with Crystal Palace on Saturday at Selhurst Park.

The Toffees claimed a 2-1 win to go 3-0 on the young Premier League season, handing Palace their first loss.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]   

Palace’s goal came from a Cheikhou Kouyate header.


3 things we learned: Crystal Palace – Everton

1. Ancelotti pushing the right buttons, especially with James: Carlo Ancelotti’s first full season guiding the Toffees could hardly be going better, with away wins at Palace and Spurs and a home blowout of 10-man West Brom. Yes, Everton got penalty luck on a similar play that was deemed not an offense when Palace took a shot, but few would argue that the visitors didn’t do enough anyway for a win. James Rodriguez remains on another level when playing under the Italian, which is reason enough to celebrate the relationship.

2. Palace a bit unlucky in losing perfect mark: Roy Hodgson’s men will feel they should’ve had a point when Calvert-Lewin’s half-torso, half-arm block in the 18 was not given to Palace as a chance to level from the spot, especially with Ward’s handball being awarded as a pen. With Guaita getting a piece of Calvert-Lewin’s opening goal and Palace having a strong late run of possession, these were fine margins even if Everton likely deserved no less than the point.

3. Is goalkeeping an issue for Everton? Jordan Pickford is being questioned again, days after a silly giveaway cost Everton a goal. Maybe we’re not talking about the goalkeeper’s inability to get a hand on Kouyate’s hammered header if not for the midweek moment, but the goal was Palace’s only shot on target. Pickford hasn’t been great since the season

Man of the Match:

Seamus Coleman. It’s difficult to choose who was better in attack between Calvert-Lewin and Rodriguez, but the Irish right back was dynamic at both ends in setting up the first goal and making three tackles, an interception, and a blocked shot.


Crystal Palace – Everton recap

The Toffees are playing really good football and the opening goal exemplified their attacking prowess as Seamus Coleman started a move with Abdoulaye Doucoure and James Rodriguez which returned to the Irishman for a pass inside the box that Calvert-Lewin put off Vicente Guaita and into the goal.

Palace found a leveler off a set piece, Andros Townsend’s corner kick finding the leaping Kouyate for a header through the flailing arms of Jordan Pickford.

 

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Joel Ward had two close-range handball penalty shouts reviewed by VAR. The second was just a bit closer to the real deal and VAR awarded Richarlison his chance from the spot. 2-1, 40′.

VAR did not give Palace a chance to level from the spot when Calvert-Lewin blocked a shot inside the box with a combination of his arm and torso, the appendage squeezed close to his side but

‘Not the bad guy’: Koeman hits back on Suarez exit at Barcelona

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman is not worried about the commitment of Lionel Messi to the team despite his ongoing conflicts with the club leadership.

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Koeman said Saturday that he cared about the efforts of Messi on the field – and not his criticisms of the board for stopping him from leaving Barcelona while pushing out teammate and friend Luis Suarez.

“It is normal that a player is sad when a friend leaves,” Koeman said in a conciliatory tone toward Messi, a day after the star forward went to social media to complain that Barcelona’s board had not given Suarez the exit he “deserved.”

“But the most important thing for me is how Leo has trained. He has been an example for the rest in practice and in the (preseason) matches,” Koeman said a day before his official debut as Barcelona’s coach against Villarreal.

Suarez learned of the club’s decision to get rid of him through a call from Koeman, who was hired after the team lost 8-2 to Bayern Munich to end last season. After probing a transfer with Juventus in Italy, Barcelona ended up sending Suarez to Spanish league rival Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.

Koeman, however, made clear that he did not want to be considered solely responsible for the departure of the 33-year-old Suarez, who left Barcelona as its third all-time leading scorer.

“I must say that I look like the bad guy … That is not true,” Koeman said. “It was a decision of the club. The club, before I had become its coach, took some decisions. This was not my sole decision as coach; it was also the decision of the club. It is an effort to change the team. Younger players will have more opportunities.”

Those younger players include new signings Francisco Trincao and Pedri, and 17-year-old Ansu Fati.

“Ansu is a great talent,” Koeman said about the striker who became Spain’s youngest all-time scorer on his debut earlier this month.

“There are few players who have shown they can play for Barca. He is a player of the future.”

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

West Brom – Chelsea: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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West Brom – Chelsea: The Blues are in desperate need of a strong rebound when they visit The Hawthorns on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 pm ET, on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

WEST BROM – CHELSEA STREAM LIVE

The Baggies, on the other hand, are simply hoping to collect their first point of the season after suffering a 3-0 defeat to Leicester City on the opening day of the 2020-21 season and following that up with a 5-2 beatdown at the hands of Everton last weekend.

As far as favorable matchups go, facing the 20th-place side a week after losing to defending champions Liverpool is quite timely for Chelsea, who is still a week or two away from seeing Christian Pulisic in a match.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of West Brom – Chelsea this Saturday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: West Brom – Chelsea (INJURY REPORT)

Hal Robson-Kanu’s leg is not a problem after a good midweek in the League Cup and he’ll start on the bench.

Christian Pulisic is out for Chelsea but Cesar Azpilicueta is fit to see the bench.


What they’re saying: West Brom – Chelsea

West Brom manager Slaven Bilic, on struggling to sign players: “We don’t have a huge budget, that is why we are trying to be creative and lucky. That’s not easy but we are trying. … We have to do it to maintain a good chance.”

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard, on Thiago Silva: “It is exciting for us because he has had just over a week training with us. It was a perfect 60 minutes for him tonight. He will show the qualities he has. Of course, he will get fitter and better. He also gave us something for me on the night in the dressing room and on the pitch of a leader with authority in terms of his demands on others. He can’t speak the language but at the minute that’s not even a problem because his presence and the way he commands people around him is already showing that to me in training and in our game tonight.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

West Brom (+750) represent one of the biggest underdogs — or, opportunities, depending on how you look at it — of the still-young PL season. There’s not much to be won by betting on Chelsea (-280). Even the draw (+400) is pretty far out there.

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Prediction: West Brom – Chelsea

Barring some unforeseen circumstances — for example, a 12th-minute red card — it’s virtually impossible to see West Brom getting anything from this game. They’ve been incredibly poor defensively through two games, and they’re yet to face a side with anything close to the firepower which the Blues possess. West Brom 1-3 Chelsea.


How to watch West Brom – Chelsea stream and start time

Kickoff: 12:30 pm ET Saturday
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Potter, Trossard lament latest bit of Brighton misfortune

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Less than 18 hours after ProSoccerTalk posited that positive Brighton and Hove Albion’s lack of luck must be coming to an end, Graham Potter’s hosts smashed the post five times and had VAR award a penalty after the final whistle had blown.

Sorry, Seagulls supporters.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The match ended when Neal Maupay’s handball was spotted after the Seagulls had leveled the match at 2 deep in stoppage time, Bruno Fernandes scoring the decisive penalty in a 3-2 for the visitors to the Amex Stadium.

United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted his side was lucky on a day they were out-attempted 18-7, while Potter could simply muster, “That’s football” regarding the posts and extremely late VAR drama.

That said, he does wonder how the match got to the eighth-minute in the first place. Hashtag Fergie Time.

Here’s Potter via the Brighton and Hove Independent:

“I’d say we deserved something from the game,” Potter sad. “I would say that’s an understatement.”

Potter said he “didn’t know where the extra time came from,” adding: “I thought we scored with the last kick of the game. … We are bitterly disappointed to concede the way we have, at the time we have.”

Expected goals site Understat says Brighton won the xG battle 2.98-1.58.

Brighton winger Leandro Trossard was responsible for three of the five posts struck by the losing side.

“Unbelievable, the feeling I can’t describe, we were the better team today,” he said. “We deserved at least a point, it’s a shame. There were five minutes added on and we played at least seven. Sometimes it’s just not your day.”

Even for a side as snakebit as the Seagulls, Saturday’s loss is a sick one.