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PL Sunday preview: Arsenal-Liverpool highlights opening weekend; Mourinho’s debut

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Jose Mourinho will make his Manchester United debut, followed by the season’s first clash of Premier League title hopefuls, on Sunday — is that something you might be interested in?

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Bournemouth vs. Manchester United — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The PL is chock-full of intriguing storylines this season, and Mourinho replacing Louis Van Gaal at Old Trafford is undoubtedly one of the biggest. After plummeting from league champion to unemployed in seven months’ time last season, Mourinho has never had more to prove than he does right now. The Mourinho Redemption Tour kicks off Sunday, at the Vitality Stadium, against a Bournemouth side hoping to establish itself as a fixture in England’s top division. The no. 1 hurdle Mourinho will have to clear, and it’ll ever-present this season, is “the Wayne Rooney question” — where will the Man united and England captain play? With Zlatan Ibrahimovic on board (and off to a roaring start), as well as Henrikh Mkhitaryan at the no. 10 spot, the two positions in which Rooney has most commonly featured seem very much occupied. Paul Pogba’s United re-debut will have to wait week, as the world-record signing will serve a one-game suspension for yellow-card accumulation in last season’s Coppa Italia.

After avoiding relegation with relative ease last season, Eddie Howe‘s Cherries haven’t changed their approach ahead of season no. 2 in the PL: they’re still all about young players who are ready to contribute in the present and the future. They spent $43 million on four youngsters (Jordon Ibe, Lys Mousset, Lewis Cook and Brad Smith) with an average age of 20.25 years, while recouping more than $15 million via the sale of Matt Ritchie. The defense is a big question ahead of the season, but that was the case last season and they managed to avoid relegation by two places and five points. Having Callum Wilson, who tore his ACL last September following a scintillating start to the season (5 goals in 7 games), back in the fold should result in an increase to the 45 goals scored last season, considering the additional attacking talent and service to come from all around him.

INJURIES: Bournemouth — OUT: Tyrone Mings (knee), Emerson Hyndman (ankle), Junior Stanislas (groin) | Manchester United — OUT: Paul Pogba (suspension), Chris Smalling (suspension)

Arsenal vs. Liverpool — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Depending on who you ask, either one of Arsenal or Liverpool could be the ones lifting the PL trophy in May, which makes Sunday’s main event the first 2016-17 title race six-pointer (with as many as seven sides chasing a wide open title this season, 35 percent of the season’s games will feature title hopefuls squaring off). For Arsenal, the story, as it so often tends to be, is all about injuries. Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey are expected to be available for selection after lengthy periods of international duty this summer, while Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny will be held out of action as they rebuild their fitness after a run to the EURO 2016 final. Along with Koscielny, Per Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista are out with long-term injuries, leaving Arsene Wenger very little to choose from at center back. Granit Xhaka is expected to make his PL debut and will add a great deal of quality and depth to what is annually a paper-thin unit (Jack Wilshere is recovering from yet another knee injury).

Sunday will represent the start of Jurgen Klopp‘s first full season in charge at Anfield after spending nearly $90 million in the summer (while recouping $60 million) to assemble a squad worthy of his genius capable of enacting the high-pressing, quick-countering style of football with which he thrived during his time at Borussia Dortmund. Sadio Mane ($45 million) seems to be the perfect fit for Klopp’s system, and he’ll be expected to contribute right away having spent the last two seasons in the PL, at Southampton. Speaking of perpetually injured players, Daniel Sturridge‘s status is unknown less than 24 before kickoff, and this figures to be a hugely important season in the 26-year-old striker’s career. If he can find a period of good health, he seems destined to flourish under Klopp as well.

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Olivier Giroud (fitness), Laurent Koscielny (fitness), Per Mertesacker (knee), Gabriel Paulista (ankle), Jack Wilshere (knee), Danny Welbeck (knee), Carl Jenkinson (knee) | Liverpool — OUT: Loris Karius (hand), Lucas Leiva (hamstring), Joe Gomez (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Daniel Sturridge (hip), James Milner (heel), Mamadou Sakho (fitness), Marko Grujic (ankle)

Zidane quizzed on Pogba: “We know what we want to do”

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Zinedine Zidane’s open flirtation with Paul Pogba continues, as the Real Madrid manager was asked about Manchester United’s star midfielder again on Saturday.

“We need to respect everybody, but the only thing I can say from the club is we know what we want to do,” Zidane said. “Something could happen before the end of August. We could have some changes.”

[ MORE: Wolves beat Man City in pens ]

On paper the purchase of Pogba makes sense to reloading Real, but the problem here is the sheer amount of paper the Madrid side has spent on players this season.

While sales of James Rodriguez, Dani Ceballos, and Gareth Bale could put Real in okay position regarding Financial Fair Play, buying Pogba would move the needle hard in the other direction considering the club has bought Ferland Mendy, Eden Hazard, Eder Militao, Luka Jovic, and Rodrygo.

Plus, Florentino Perez likes to buy only one Galactico per transfer session, and Hazard is undoubtedly this summer’s model.

That said, Real has assets that United could use in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s overhaul of the Old Trafford set.

UEFA gives partial stadium bans to Bulgaria, Romania for fan racism

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NYON, Switzerland (AP) Bulgaria will have to close part of its national stadium for European Championship qualifiers against England and the Czech Republic because of fan racism.

UEFA issued the order, saying Bulgarian fans were racially abusive during a 2-1 loss to the Czech Republic and a 3-2 loss to Kosovo last month.

Bulgaria hosts England on Oct. 14 and the Czech Republic on Nov. 17.

Romania has also been ordered to close part of its home stadium for a future under-21 game after UEFA ruled its fans behaved in a racist manner during the European under-21 championship last month.

Another racism case against Latvia was dropped.

UEFA also handed out various fines to Romania, Ukraine, and Greece for rowdy behavior by fans.

Transfer rumor roundup: Everton join Zaha chase; Matuidi to Man Utd?

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A roundup of Saturday’s biggest transfer rumors from around the world, including those involving a few Premier League clubs…

[ MORE: PL refs told to defer to VAR more, go to the monitor “sparingly” ]

Wilfried Zaha is one of the most wanted men in England, with Arsenal reportedly hot on his trail all summer. An deal between the Gunners and Crystal Palace is yet  to transpire, though, which has perhaps left the door open for Everton to sneak through and sign the 26-year-old Ivory Coast international.

Arsenal would obviously pay more in wages, but are yet to meet Palace’s valuation of their talisman. If Everton is the club that calls with the requisite figures on offer, it wouldn’t be the worst landing place for Zaha. With Arsenal yet to make a meaningful signing this summer, and the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny already gone or on their way out, the 2019-20 season could see the Gunners take a step back, opening the door for — you guessed it — Everton to break into the top-five… or -four.


Speaking of Ramsey, his arrival at Juventus has perhaps made Blaise Matuidi surplus to requirements, which means he could be available for cut-rate price.

Manchester United seem to be perennially in need of influential central midfielders, especially this summer after the departure of Ander Herrera and the failure of a signing that was Fred last summer. Man United have reportedly been in contact with Juve about the 32-year-old, as have Paris Saint-Germain and Everton.


Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is another midfielder who’s been linked with United, but he’ll likely just as much as, if not more than, the $59-million fee paid for Fred. Milinkovic-Savic seemed a surefire target for the world’s top clubs after a star’s showing at last summer’s World Cup in Russia, but the 24-year-old remained at Lazio and is still yet to move 12 months later.


Patrick Cutrone was one of Europe’s breakout stars of the 2018-19 season, now the 21-year-old AC Milan forward is reportedly high atop Wolverhampton Wanderers’ shopping list this summer. He won’t come cheap — Milan are expected to demand nearly $30 million — but he could offer some serious insurance in the event of an injury to Raul Jimenez.

PL refs told to defer to VAR more, go to the monitor “sparingly”

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Premier League interim chief executive Richard Masters says that referees have ben instructed “to use the referee review area a bit more sparingly” and rely on the numerous video-assistant referees (VAR) at their disposal to make simple calls upon review when video review is instituted in the PL next month.

[ MORE: Lukaku latest: Man United reject $67-million bid from Inter Milan ]

Following the 2019 Women’s World Cup, where far too many trip to the monitor were made by the center referees, the PL is keen on ensuring that “the Premier League or English football [is not] interrupted, or the pace of the game [is not] changed.” It sounds very much like a “less is more” approach  — quotes from the BBC:

“I think fans want to see those clear and obvious mistakes changed and put right. But they don’t want to see the Premier League or English football interrupted, or the pace of the game changed.

“I think the only difference you might see is the referees using the referee review area a bit more sparingly and relying more on the VAR for the more subjective decisions.

“But we are putting something new into the Premier League and if it needs to be refined or improved or tweaked we will look at it when the moment arises.”

In theory, this should work quite well for the PL. Many of the decisions that referees go to the monitor to review themselves could easily be made by the “fifth official.” If it’s obvious to the VAR and he/she can make the call with 100 percent certainty, the center ref should always take their decision in the name of keeping the game flowing. If the VAR isn’t so sure, or it’s a more subjective call that should be made by the person making 99 percent of the game’s calls, go to the monitor. But do so quickly.