Top Premier League storylines ahead of Week 12

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The Premier League is back after the international break. I can hear you celebrating…

With that in mind, let’s dig a little deeper and look at the top storylines in the 10 matches this weekend.

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Will Manchester United vs. Arsenal be an epic encounter on and off the pitch? Can Spurs and West Ham delivery a London derby for the ages in their last encounter at the original White Hart Lane? Can Liverpool keep rolling against a talented Southampton outfit?

Here’s a look at all that and more.


Mourinho vs. Wenger takes center stage

We are promised there will be a handshake this time. That’s likely where the cordiality will end.

Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger don’t get along and that will once again be the case as Manchester United host Arsenal at Old Trafford on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com). It’s been brewing for years but has intensified since Mourinho returned to the Premier League in 2013. From Mourinho branding Wenger as a “specialist in failure” to Wenger pushing Mourinho on the sideline and then refusing to shake his hand after the Community Shield final at Wembley last season, this has become very personal.

For many fans of United and Arsenal it conjures up memories of the rivalry between Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson over the past two decades. With Mourinho under pressure after winning just two of his last eight Premier League games, his United side beat Swansea City 3-1 before the break with Paul Pogba scoring a screamer and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (he’s suspended for Saturday’s game) bagging a brace. There are promising signs but then Mourinho called out Luke Shaw and Chris Smalling and seemed to question the toughness of his players before reportedly ordering a review of the clubs medical staff.

Wenger and Arsenal is 10 games unbeaten and sit two points off the top of the table, but injuries are starting to stack up as they usually do in November for the Gunners. Hector Bellerin and Santi Cazorla are out, while Alexis Sanchez’s status remains unknown after playing with an injured hamstring for Chile while on international duty.

The fact Wenger has never beaten Mourinho in the Premier League adds to the intrigue.


London derby at White Hart Lane

“That is always a big game against Spurs and maybe the biggest derby for West Ham,” Bilic told whufc.com. “It is a start of five major games. It is important to start after the international break with a good performance.”

West Ham’s trip to Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBC Sports.com) is doubly important given the incredibly tough stretch of games coming up for the Hammers. They face Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United after Spurs in the Premier League, plus head to United in the EFL Cup too. Bilic knows his side need to start off that tough stretch in the right way to try and build some momentum after failing to beat Stoke City at home before the break.

For Spurs, their momentum has stalled a little in recent weeks but they’re still the only unbeaten team in the Premier League with five wins and six draws from their 11 games so far. That killer instinct has been missing for Spurs but with Harry Kane returning against Arsenal before the break and looking sharper as the game went on, another 10 days of recovery after not being risked by England over the international break is welcome news for Mauricio Pochettino. Toby Alderweireld, Erik Lamela and Ben Davies are all out and Dele Alli could be missing. That’s not good news for Pochettino, especially as the next few weeks are season-defining for Spurs. Five points off the top and a do-or-die UCL game away at AS Monaco next week, Pochettino’s youngsters will be hungry to silence the doubters.

In this final London derby between Spurs and West Ham at the original White Hart Lane before it is rebuilt, you can expect an intense atmosphere under the floodlights on a chilly November night. On the pitch this is a game which Spurs should win but derbies are always a leveler.


Liverpool’s band of ex-Saints return

Adam Lallana. Sadio Mane. Dejan Lovren. Nathaniel Clyne. If fit (Lallana is a doubt after hobbling off for England against Spain on Tuesday) all four will start for Liverpool at Southampton on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) and return to the club which turned them into household names in the Premier League.

Lallana and Lovren haven’t got kind welcome’s when playing back at St Mary’s, while this will be Mane’s first game against the Saints since leaving for $42 million this summer. The Senegalese flyer can expect slightly less animosity than Lallana and Lovren who left in the summer of 2014 amid rumors of them requesting moves. There’s been an extra spice in this fixture in recent years but given Liverpool’s deserved ascension to the top of the Premier League table after 11 games of this season, it is clear they are now pulling away from the likes of Southampton and West Ham, both of whom finished above them in the Premier League last season.

Under Jurgen Klopp there’s been much talk about the offensive fluidity and with Liverpool leading the league in scoring (30 goals) then it’s easier to subscribe to that hype with Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Mane and Lallana in the form of their lives. However, playing away at teams who have strong offensive weapons of their own could be their downfall. Just as it was under Brendan Rodgers as they came agonizingly close to winning the title in the 2013-14 season but their woeful defensive record eventually caught up with them. There are striking similarities with this swashbuckling Liverpool side under Klopp.

Saints will be sweating on the fitness of playmaker Dusan Tadic who broke his nose playing for Serbia against Wales and will wear a protective mask. Nathan Redmond and Charlie Austin will start in attack, plus Sofiane Boufal is almost fully fit and Shane Long is ready after recovering from a hamstring injury. Saints have options in attack and Klopp will be wary after his side were 2-0 up at half time at St Mary’s in this fixture last season but somehow lost 3-2. Of course, Mane scored twice for Southampton today, so at least he doesn’t have to worry about his threat. Yet jokes about whoever scores for Saints on Saturday being lined up by Liverpool for the next transfer window will continue. When you consider who the last three Saints players to score at Anfield are (Lovren, Clyne, Mane) it makes sense. Will Saints prove to Liverpool, and the watching world, that they are sick of the jokes about them being a feeder club for the Reds?


Relegation scrap in the north east

This is not the biggest game of the weekend in the Premier League but it has the potential to be the most important.

Sunderland host Hull City on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBC Sports.com) with both teams knowing they’ll be embroiled in a season-long battle for Premier League survival.

David Moyes‘ Sunderland won for the first time this season before the international break, securing a 2-1 win at Bournemouth to win in the PL at the eleventh attempt this season. Hull also won before the break, beating Southampton 2-1 to secure their first victory since August. Mike Phelan was a relieved man. For the Black Cats and Tigers, this battle in the north east represents a chance to grab three valuable points.

Hull have won on each of their last two trips to Sunderland in the Premier League but it seems like Moyes’ side may have turned a corner in the win away at Bournemouth after going down to 10-men. Sunderland are perennial slow starters but belief and confidence mean a lot. After both teams got back to winning ways last time out, that also means they’ll both be confident of securing another precious three points to aid their relegation battle.

Premier League transfer needs: Who needs what?

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Premier League transfer needs: The summer transfer window closes on Oct. 5 at. 6pm ET and all 20 Premier League clubs will be doing plenty of business between now and then.

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Below we take a look at who needs what in the final days of the window, as managers, technical directors and owners will be working tirelessly to get deals over the line to bring players in and send them out.

Okay, here are the Premier League transfer needs ahead of the final days of the window.


Big boys scrambling late in the transfer window

Manchester United set to make moves: They need a left back and center back and want to add an extra attacking option too. It will be a busy week for Ed Woodward and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and United’s poor start to the season will have brought a new sense of urgency. Alex Telles could arrive at left back, while Edinson Cavani, Luka Jovic and Ismaila Sarr have all been linked. Then, of course, there is Jadon Sancho. Reports state Man United will make a late bid for him, but it seems more in desperation than anything else.

Chelsea need one more center back, but will they sign Declan Rice from West Ham? Probably not. That could be a problem for Frank Lampard who has upgraded his attacking options, goalkeeper and left back but Thiago Silva struggled on his Premier League debut and a host of center backs could leave Chelsea in the next few days. Expect more outs than ins at Stamford Bridge after a big summer of spending.

Jadon Sancho to Man United
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As for Arsenal, they are pushing hard to sign a new central midfielder as they haven’t given up on a move for Atletico Madrid holding midfielder Thomas Partey. That seems like a long shot, but there’s chances of signing Houssem Aouar from Lyon seem to be improving. Aouar, 22, is within their price range and is the silky central midfielder that Mikel Arteta needs to kick his project on.

Jose Mourinho and Tottenham are looking to add a few players late in the window after a busy summer in the transfer window. After adding Gareth Bale, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Matt Doherty and Sergio Reguilon, it appears that they want to sign one more forward to try and give Kane a rest as Heung-min Son has now gone down with a serious injury too. Milik to come in? Maybe one more center back too? They need both to be top four challengers.

As for Liverpool and Manchester City, it seems like their business is done. Liverpool signed Thiago Alcantara and Diogo Jota to boost their already stellar squad, while Man City added two center backs in Nathan Ake and Ruben Dias to strengthen Pep Guardiola’s defensive options. City may make a late move for another attacking option due to injuries to Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus.


Teams who have started well set to double down?

Everton have won three from three to start the season and they may look to add one more key defensive signing. Former loanee Kurt Zouma could be available from Chelsea and he would boost Carlo Ancelotti’s center back options. Everton have finally bought very well this summer.

Leicester City have been linked with signing James Tarkwoski from Burnley and Wesley Fofana from Saint-Etienne as they hope to add a new center back and Brendan Rodgers’ side will need a big squad as they’re also in the Europa League this season.

Leeds United have been linked with a move for Manchester United winger Daniel James and Marcelo Bielsa wants to add one more piece of quality after a very good start to life back in the top-flight.


Relegation strugglers need to do deals

West Ham are looking to add a center back with Tarkowski a key target, while the Hammers will want to add a few extra options in defense too. Going forward they look fine and as long as they keep Declan Rice, they’re set in midfield.

Burnley are looking to add a creative player (Harry Wilson) and a center back (Steve Cook) after a tough start to the season as they were hit hard by injuries.

Fulham will be busy in the window as they search for center backs, while Sheffield United are said to be pushing hard to sign Rhian Brewster as they haven’t scored a goal in their three opening games.


Eyes on the rest of the Premier League transfer needs…

Brighton, Wolves, Aston Villa and Newcastle United did plenty of business early in the window, so too did West Brom, as they all look set.

A few teams to keep an eye on are Crystal Palace and Southampton who are both on the hunt for a few additions. Palace want another forward option as they could also challenge for Brewster, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek is a loan option for both Palace and Saints. Southampton want a new central midfield and Ralph Hasenhuttl has said he wants three new additions late in the window. Watch out for them.

Transfer news: Man United’s Sancho bid rejected; Cavani, Jovic interest

Jadon Sancho to Man United
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Cavani to Manchester United? Jovic to Manchester United? Sancho to Manchester United?

Everyone to Manchester United!

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The latest transfer news surrounds Manchester United and with just a few days to go in the summer window it seems like Ed Woodward and Co. are perhaps panicking a little.

A report from Gianluca Di Marzio in Italy states that Man United have offered a deal to experienced striker Edinson Cavani, who is currently a free agent after leaving PSG.

The same outlet also states that Man United have made an offer to take Luka Jovic on loan from Real Madrid as they know that Odion Igahlo will be going back to his parent club Shanghai Shenhua in January when his loan is up.

Add to those two rumors that Manchester United want to sign Ismaila Sarr from Watford as a back up to Jadon Sancho, plus reports that the Red Devils want to make one final push for Sancho before the window shuts next week, and we have an absolute mess.

Cavani and Jovic make sense for short-term solutions, but Man United don’t need to add more attacking players. They need a new left back and center back to make their squad stronger, and probably a new holding midfielder too.

With Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial up top, they are set for attackers but Solskjaer doesn’t think so. Cavani to Manchester United would be a good back-up option and at 33 he could pass on plenty of tips to Rashford, Martial and Greenwood.


Jadon Sancho to Manchester United update

When it comes to Sancho, an update has arrived as our colleagues at Sky Germany are reporting that Borussia Dortmund have turned down a bid of $93.9 million initially, plus $23.4 million in add ons, from Man United for Sancho.

Dortmund captain Marco Reus had earlier poured cold water on reports that Sancho could be heading to Man United in the final days of this transfer window.

“For us players that was great news. We all were happy that he will be with us for one more year because he delivers assists and goals, so we get points,” Reus said. “If he gets as big as (Lionel) Messi or Ronaldo, we will see. He needs time, experience and it will be important how he manages the times when things don’t go so well. But he has the confidence and the quality.”

So, that’s that then? Sancho hasn’t travelled with Dortmund for the Super Cup in Munich against Bayern Munich due to a respiratory problem but he has tested negative for COVID-19.

Dortmund set a deadline of August 10 for Man United to put their money where their mouth was and pay for Sancho. But United don’t want to pay $140 million for Sancho and it appears he will now be at Dortmund for at least another 12 months.

Should Man United just wait until then? Can they manage with their current attacking crop? Yes and yes. But they probably won’t.

Fulham boss Parker upset after owner Khan apologized

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Fulham did not play well in their 3-0 defeat at home against Aston Villa and they’ve now lost all three of their Premier League games since being promoted.

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Add to that the fact they’ve conceded 10 goals and Scott Parker has a big job on his hands to keep Fulham in the Premier League.

It’s safe to say the Fulham manager also didn’t appreciate the son of owner Shahid Khan apologizing to fans for the performance on social media, as he also repeated that he’s been pushing to sign new defenders for several weeks.

Tony Khan — who is the co-owner, vice chairman and director of football operations at Fulham — detailed their search for a new center back, responded to fans comments on Twitter and said the display against Villa wasn’t good enough.

“I apologize to Fulham FC supporters for our performance tonight. We’ve looked to add centre-backs since Wembley, I’m sorry we haven’t yet as two got COVID and we lost a free we thought was close and had another issue with a fourth CB. I promise players in and better efforts from this squad,” Khan said in a Tweet after full time. “I should and will apologize repeatedly for that performance. I’m sorry everybody. We all need to do a better job. Everyone at the club for the past year worked really hard to get the team up and now we need to work significantly harder to stay up. I promise better efforts than today.”

Safe to say that Parker didn’t appreciate that statement as he spoke to the media ahead of Fulham’s League Cup last 16 game against Brentford.

“I think obviously I said it last night. People have the platform. You own a football club, you can decide how you want to communicate or send a message out. It’s not something I agree with, it’s not helpful from that sense but like I said that’s down to the owner and how he sees it,” Parker said. “There’s one thing that I’m disappointed with and that’s how he’s actually apologizing for the performance and that is something that I don’t agree with and he shouldn’t have. The performance last night was a good performance which was a group of players who have done everything they can, worked tirelessly from the first minute to the 95th. From 3-0 down they were still trying work as much as they can to try and get us back in the game and for that I don’t agree with him.”

This is a double-edged sword.

Many fans will appreciated Khan for responding to complaints publicly and being open and transparent. On the other hand, players and coaching staff at Fulham will probably be slightly bemused that this level of information was shared in a public forum.

Khan, who oversees the day-to-day running of Fulham, has taken a very different approach to transfers than when Fulham were promoted two seasons ago and spent big and were instantly relegated from the Premier League during the 2018-19 season.

It will be intriguing to see if Fulham splash the cash in a big way to back Parker in the final days of the window because their defensive performances suggest they will be relegated straight back to the Championship. It is early days in the Premier League season but Fulham are already having a bit of a meltdown.

Transfer news: Sarr to Manchester United

Ismaila Sarr to Manchester United
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Ismaila Sarr to Manchester United is the latest back-up option for Jadon Sancho.

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According to the Daily Mail, Ismaila Sarr to Manchester United is emerging as their best possible option this summer as negotiations with Borussia Dortmund aren’t going well.

Sarr would be a good alternative, but he is valued at over $57 million by Watford. Surely spending that kind of cash just for the sake of it rather than waiting an extra 6-12 months for Sancho is a mistake?

The Watford and Senegal winger, 22, was one of the only positives to come from the Hornets’ relegation from the Premier League last season and was chased by Liverpool earlier this summer before they signed Diogo Jota instead.

After a slow start to life in England after his arrival from Ligue 1 side Rennes, Sarr scored twice in Watford’s shock 3-0 win over Liverpool and added another in a shock win against Man United, as he netted six goals and grabbed four assists in total.

Not bad for his first season in the Premier League, but is he any better than Daniel James, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata as back-up options? Probably, but spending over $50 million to sign him seems more out of desperation than planning.

That’s no disrespect to Sarr, but it shows that Manchester United are perhaps getting a little nervy and anxious in the final days of the window. Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has signed Dutch midfielder Donny van de Beek this summer but United have missed out on Sergio Reguillon and Gareth Bale (who both went to Tottenham) and Thiago Alcantara who chose Liverpool instead.

Sancho is understandably their top target and Dortmund know that. They also know that selling Sancho this summer makes little sense as his transfer value is at its lowest and will rise to close to the $150 million they want for him when the market (hopefully) gets back to normal as the COVID-19 pandemic develops.

Sarr is a very good winger and in a team like Manchester United which will provide him with plenty of the ball out wide and on counter attacks he will slot in very nicely. But is he going to start ahead of Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford? No. He is a player who can be added to the rotation and add strength to the squad but what happens next summer if Man United do land Sancho?

There needs to be a better long-term transfer plan at Manchester United rather than just buying players each and every summer for the sake of it.