Perhaps nothing can seize control of the overall narrative quite like Jose Mourinho returns to face [insert former club here], so it’s fitting that Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures caps off the weekend with the Special One returning to Stamford Bridge 10 short months after being fired.
[ MORE: All of PST’s PL coverage ]
Manchester City vs. Southampton — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com
Of course, we have to talk about Man City versus Southampton first, because as consuming as the Mourinho narrative is, it’s the blue side of Manchester that will go top of the PL with a win on Sunday. A point is all City need to leapfrog Arsenal and Liverpool and reclaim the top spot, but Pep Guardiola will be aiming for something greater than a draw — to end the Citizens’ four-game winless skid across all competitions. Since drawing with Celtic in the UEFA Champions League on Sept. 28, Guardiola’s side has picked up just a single point from two games in the PL — last week’s come-from-behind draw with Everton. A win would push Saints as high as sixth in the league table at the end of matchday 9.
Capped off by Wednesday’s thrashing at the hands of Barcelona, that’s nearly a month without a win. Opposite themselves on Sunday, City will find a Saints side riding a four-game unbeaten run (three wins), having conceded just one goal in their last 360 minutes of PL action. Charlie Austin is the in-form goalscorer of the month, averaging a goal every 62.9 minutes (7 goals in his last 7 appearances). Saints’ last trip to the Etihad Stadium, last November, resulted in a 3-1 defeat, undone by goals from Kevin De Bruyne, Fabian Delph and Aleksandar Kolarov.
Chelsea vs. Manchester United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com
Dec. 17, 2015 — Jose Mourinho fired by Chelsea; Dec. 18, 2015 — Jose Mourinho begins plotting his next move, a PL job, to exact his revenge on anyone and everyone who played a part in his downfall.
Finally, 311 days later, the time has come. Mourinho’s Man United away to Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea, with the Red Devils and Blues separated by a measly two points and two places in the league table. If Monday’s 0-0 draw with Liverpool taught us anything about the way Mourinho (still) approaches big games, we can expect a United side that’s deployed in a manner that’s difficult to break down, difficult to beat, and in all honesty, difficult to watch. What’s worse for United: that Wayne Rooney can’t get near the starting lineup for PL games, or that Zlatan Ibrahimovic has just one goal in his last seven games played (all competitions) and has been so uninvolved that it’s easy to forget he’s on the field? I’d probably play Marouane Fellaini as the most-advanced midfielder if I were in a predicament similar to that.
As for Chelsea, the goals are flowing in games involving the Blues — for both sides, which has been something of a problem in the early days of Conte’s reign, and could be a major problem on Sunday. For starters, Chelsea have kept just three clean sheets on the season (in 10 games – all competitions), though two of the three were achieved in their last two games. Furthermore, just one game involving Chelsea this season has seen the two sides combine to score fewer than three goals (a 2-0 win over Hull City three weeks ago). Sunday seems a surefire lock to be the tightest contest of Chelsea’s still-young season, and while they’ve little to no experience in grind-it-out games thus far, that just so happens to be the specialty of Sunday’s revenge-obsessed foe.