Premier League preview: Watford vs. Chelsea

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  • Reigning PL champions Chelsea currently 14th (28 points)
  • Newly promoted Watford 10th (32)
  • First meeting (on Boxing Day): Chelsea 2-2 Watford
  • Chelsea unbeaten in 7 PL games since firing Mourinho

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Watford will be in search of their first victory over Chelsea this century, having last defeated the reigning Premier League champions in PL play on Sept. 18, 1999 (nine meetings – all competitions) when they welcome to the Blues to Vicarage Road on Wednesday (Watch live at 2 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

The story of the season, however, is not Watford’s stellar run through the first half of the PL campaign, but of course the trials and tribulations of Wednesday’s opponent. The post-Jose Mourinho era has seen a restored sense of direction at Chelsea, who are unbeaten in seven Premier League games since his dismissal in mid-December, though the Blues have climbed just two places in the league table in that time, thanks to four draws and just two wins under interim manager Guus Hiddink. One massive positive for Chelsea: in his five PL appearances since Mourinho’s departure, Diego Costa has scored five times, nearly doubling his output of three goals in 14 games under Mourinho.

[ MORE: Transfer grades — How did each PL club fare in January? ]

Watford, on the other hand, have seen their first season back in the PL take place in reverse of Chelsea’s. After eight wins in 17 games to start the season, the Hornets sat 7th in the PL table on Christmas Day. Since the busy festive period, it’s been just one win and one draw in six league games for Quique Sanchez Flores’ bunch. The lone victory came 11 days ago in a 2-1 victory over Newcastle United. Not coincidentally, Odion Ighalo‘s furious goalscoring ways have tapered off during the recent lull in Watford’s season; the Nigerian has scored just two league goals since the 2-2 draw with Chelsea on Boxing Day (12 goals in 17 games to that point).

On the injury front, everything looks great for Watford, who should have a full squad available for selection. As for Chelsea, it’s mostly good news as well: only Willian (foot), who will undergo a late fitness test, and Loic Remy (calf) are doubts for Tuesday’s clash.

What they’re saying

Watford striker Troy Deeney: “Of course we will take confidence from the fact that we got a draw at Stamford Bridge, but I think you have to remember that this is a different Chelsea team now and they’re obviously playing with more confidence. … We’ve had some good days against the so-called big teams, like against Liverpool for example, and we know we’ve got to be very disciplined and very street-smart to get anything from the game.”

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink: “My first experience in England was the FA Cup game against Watford in 2009. It was an easy game for Chelsea and we won with 60 percent effort, nowadays it’s impossible to think like that. It’s grown a lot and the gap between the top clubs and the bottom clubs hasn’t vanished but it’s reduced.”

Prediction

At some point, the ship will be set in the right direction for Chelsea. A month ago, everyone would have been piling on and taking the red-hot Hornets, but their recent form might just be an indicator they’ve been found out to an extent. For the first time in forever, there’s little or no pressure on Chelsea, which could make them an absolute terror during the upcoming run-in to the season. Watford 1-2 Chelsea.

MLS hopes to put 30th team in Charlotte, North Carolina

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NEW YORK (AP) Major League Soccer will try to reach an agreement for its 30th team to be Charlotte, North Carolina.

Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper made a presentation to MLS owners Thursday when they met in a hotel near the Brooklyn Bridge. Tepper would own the team, which would play at Bank of America Stadium, home of his NFL franchise. MLS Commissioner Don Garber all but confirmed the expansion fee will be $300 million.

“The MLS board authorized the MLS expansion committee to enter into what I expect to be final negotiations with David to have Charlotte be our 30th team,” Garber said. “No formal approval was granted today. What was approved was the expansion committee to now meet with David and his his staff to try to finalize an agreement.”

Charlotte would be the third MLS team to share a stadium in a long-term relationship with the NFL, joining Seattle and Atlanta.

“The remaining issues with Charlotte are related to their stadium and ensuring that we’re going to be able to put together a dynamic in that stadium that will be up to the standards of all of our current soccer stadiums,” Garber said.

He would not say whether MLS hoped to announce the team at a news conference in Charlotte on Dec. 17.

Tepper is attempting to obtain city funding for alterations at Bank of America Stadium.

“I don’t know that I’m confident, but I’m hopeful.” Garber said.

Asked about the expansion fee, Garber said: I’ve heard some of those numbers. They wouldn’t be wrong.”

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

USMNT striker Sargent out for rest of 2019

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American forward Josh Sargent will be shut down for the rest of 2019 thanks to a groin injury.

Werder Bremen said the injury first arose during USMNT duty and has bothered the 19-year-old in recent weeks.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Sargent has two goals and three assists in 13 matches this season, playing mostly a center forward or primary striker role.

Here’s Bremen head coach Florian Kohfeldt:

“Since this is a small, deep-set muscle, the problems only occur at certain, very specific loads, which is why he was able to play and train for so long with problems. We will now give Josh’s injury time to properly heal, then he will get back to training in January.”

There are four more match days in the Bundesliga before the league goes on holiday break until mid-January.

PL Club Power Rankings: Week 15

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The congested schedule means we’ve had two match days since we last took stock of the Premier League.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

We’ve got a brand new Top Five (well, in terms of the four behind eventual champions Liverpool) and two teams dipping to season lows on our ol’ litmus test.

Green: New season-high ranking
Red: New season-low

[ MORE: PL Club Power Rankings archive ]


20. Watford — As many losses as goals (9), and that figure is one more than the Hornets’ total points. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise to see them on the verge of full-time manager No. 3, as full-time manager of Watford is a bit more like seasonal help.
Last week: 18
Season high: 17
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 3-0 v. Burnley
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Southampton

19. Everton — A top half team in terms of talent seeks the manager who can organize its way out of the drop zone. Might it be this guy? Better than the alternatives.
Last week: 17
Season high: 5
Season low: 19
Last match: Lost 2-0 v. Norwich City
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday at Leicester City

18. Norwich City — The first team to 10 losses is four points shy of 17th.
Last week: 16
Season high: 10
Season low: 20
Last match: Won 2-0 at Everton
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Arsenal

17. West Ham United — A gigantic ball of “blah.” Should thank Everton for existing so people aren’t more focused on this particular collection of currently squandered talent.
Last week: 20
Season high: 5
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 3-2 v. Spurs
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Chelsea

16. Bournemouth — It’s just not good enough, is it? To have held onto Callum Wilson and get another step up in class from Philip Billing and still be so wildly inconsistent.
Last week: 11
Season high: 6
Season low: 17
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Wolves
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Spurs

15. Southampton — It really feels like the Danny Ings revival show could rival any story for the best individual one in the league this season. Happy to see Ralph Hasenhuttl get some good performances, as he was being scapegoated in a hurry.
Last week: 19
Season high: 13
Season low: 20
Last match: Drew 2-2 at Arsenal
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday v. Watford

14. Aston Villa — Allowing a league-worst 18.8 shots per game, but staying in the mix thanks to Tom Heaton and Tyrone Mings.
Last week: 13
Season high: 8
Season low: 15
Last match: Won 2-0 v. Newcastle United
Up next: 11 a.m. ET Sunday at Manchester United

13. Arsenal — The Gunners back line gets a lot of heat, and rightly so, but maybe a little help from the midfield would be nice considering Sokratis Papastathopoulos and David Luiz have combined for 39 blocks. Sokratis is third in the PL and Luiz fourth.
Last week: 12
Season high: 4
Season low: 12
Last match: Drew 2-2 v. Southampton
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Norwich City


12. Brighton and Hove Albion — First win ever away to Arsenal is another feather in the cap of Graham Potter, especially nice considering they had lost four on the bounce.
Last week: 14
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Lost 2-0 v. Leicester City
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Liverpool

11. Newcastle United — No one is punching above its weight more than Steve Bruce‘s Magpies, and they’ve been aided in a big way by Martin Dubravka. The Slovakian goalkeeper has a league-best 44 saves from shots inside the 18.

Also, according to Understat’s xG numbers, they should’ve lost to the Blades. In fat, the xG table says they should be dead last. Life’s funny like that. It’s Steve Bruce’s world and we’re living in it.
Last week: 15
Season high: 11
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-0 at Aston Villa
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday v. Man City

https://understat.com/match/11786

10. Sheffield United — Just lost for the first time since September. That’s amazing.
Last week: 6
Season high: 5
Season low: 17
Last match: Drew 3-3 v. Manchester United
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Wolves

9. Burnley — Striker Chris Wood has been credited with 12 “big chances missed” by Sofascore, more than any player in the league.
Last week: 7
Season high: 5
Season low: 15
Last match: Won 3-0 at Watford
Up next: 10 a.m. Saturday v. Crystal Palace

8. Spurs — Jose Mourinho learned Wednesday that Moussa Sissoko is nice for the squad, but not to be leaned on.
Last week: 9
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 3-2 at West Ham United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Bournemouth

7. Crystal Palace — Wilfried Zaha‘s 68 dribbles are 13 more than anyone else in the league.
Last week: 10
Season high: 5
Season low: 18
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Liverpool
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Burnley

6. Manchester United — Ole had himself a moment in outfoxing Mourinho without Pogba or Martial.
Last week: 8
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Drew 3-3 at Sheffield United
Up next: 11:30 a.m. Sunday v. Aston Villa

5. Chelsea — We told you, Frank. WE TOLD YOU.
Last week: 4
Season high: 2
Season low: 12
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Man City
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. West Ham United

4. Manchester City — Aymeric Laporte is still two months away and that’s two months too long.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Chelsea
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Newcastle United

3. Wolves — This is going to sound nuts, but there are days I’d rather see Liverpool on my schedule than Wolves. The Reds are obviously better weaponized, but Wolves come at you in waves, man, and Nuno Espirito Santo is doing it without his best center back.
Last week: 5
Season high: 3
Season low: 17
Last match: Won 2-1 at Bournemouth
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Sheffield United

2. Leicester City — How’s this for an unsustainable stat? Wilfred Ndidi and Ricardo Pereira rank first and second in the league in tackles, with 67 and 62.
Last week: 3
Season high: 2
Season low: 10
Last match: Won 2-0 at Brighton and Hove Albion
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Everton
1. Liverpool — Big Virgil Van Dijk is on track to become the first Premier League player to complete 1000 passes this season, currently at 953.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 2-1 at Crystal Palace
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Brighton and Hove Albion

Report: Everton targeting former Porto, Fener boss Pereira

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Everton might be looking to the Chinese Super League for its next manager.

Vitor Pereira is the top target for the Merseyside set, report our partners at Sky Sports, as the Toffees begin life after Thursday’s firing of Marco Silva.

Pereira, 51, has been in management since 2002, leading Porto, Olympiacos, Fenerbahce, and current club Shanghai SIPG amongst others.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

He’s won titles in Greece, China, Saudi Arabia, and his native Portugal, but there are suitors beyond the Toffees’ reported interest.

The 51-year-old is currently one of the highest paid coaches in the world and was recently offered the job of managing the Chinese national team.

It is understood he is currently considering a new contract offer from Shanghai, which will guarantee he earns £30m a year.

Duncan Ferguson is the interim boss as Everton hosts Chelsea this weekend.