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 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 “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 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 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 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.

USMNT’s Arriola likely will miss MLS season, six World Cup qualifiers

Paul Arriola
AP Photo/LM Otero
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WASHINGTON (AP) D.C. United midfielder Paul Arriola had major knee surgery Monday and likely will miss the entire Major League Soccer season and the United States’ first six qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup

The operation was to reconstruct his right anterior cruciate ligament. The team said there was no additional cartilage damage.

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The 25-year-old midfielder injured his knee Feb. 15 during D.C. United’s preseason match against Orlando in Tampa, Florida.

Arriola has been a regular starter for the U.S. national team under coach Gregg Berhalter. Arriola has five goals in 33 international appearances.

After failing to reach the 2018 World Cup, the U.S. starts qualifying for the 2022 tournament this year. The Americans have two matches each in September, October and November, then complete qualifying with two games apiece in March and September 2021.

More AP soccer: and

State of play in CONCACAF Champions League

CONCACAF Champions League
AP Photo/Carlos Gonzalez
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Four of five Major League Soccer clubs alive in the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 are in fine shape to reach the quarterfinals after one leg.

The fifth has a tall hill to climb.

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LAFC trails Club Leon by two and did not collect an away goal in Mexico during first leg play last week.

“It’s 2-0, but we’re going to work hard,” said LAFC attacker Latif Blessing. “We’re going to prepare ourselves to win the next game. … We did good, but we want to win. It couldn’t happen that way but we’re going to prepare next game to win this game. We need to win.”

The second leg in L.A. is one of the last two matches of the round, kicking off at 10 p.m. ET Thursday just as Seattle Sounders square off with Olimpia.

The Honduran side managed a controversial comeback in the 2-2 draw with Jordan Morris-fueled Seattle last week, but the Sounders will be happy to have those two away goals and home field.

Montreal Impact has the same situation for Deportivo Saprissa’s visit at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, while Atlanta United scored an away goal in a draw with Motagua and hosts the visitors from Honduras’ capital at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday.

That leaves us with NYCFC, who got a Heber hat trick amongst five away goals at Costa Rican side San Carlos in a 5-3 win. The second leg begins at 6 p.m. ET Wednesday at Red Bull Arena (yes, you read that correctly).

Elsewhere, Liga MX sides don’t have it much better. Cruz Azul leads Portmore 2-1 heading back to Mexico, while Club America scored an away goal in a draw with Comunicaciones.

Finally, Tigres UANL trails 2-1 after one leg with Alianza in El Salvador.

CCL second leg schedule
all times ET

Atlanta United v. Motagua (1-1) — 8 p.m. Tuesday
Cruz Azul v. Portmore United (2-1) — 10 p.m. Tuesday
NYCFC v. San Carlos (5-3) — 6 p.m. Wednesday
Montreal Impact v. Deportivo Saprissa (2-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tigres UANL v. Alianza (1-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Club America v. Comunicaciones (1-1) — 10 p.m. Wednesday
Seattle Sounders v. Olimpia (2-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday
LAFC v Leon (0-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday

Eleven to go: Ranking obstacles on Liverpool’s unbeaten path

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Liverpool has won all five of its matches since the last time we evaluated its path to an unbeaten Premier League season.

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Those matches were ranked 14th, 12th, 11th, 10th, and 4th on our first rankings of obstacles to immortality, so very little of the heavy lifting has been conducted.

Let’s get something out of the way: If Liverpool is unable to overturn their first leg deficit against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, you can probably etch that zero in the league loss column into stone.

That said, many expect the Reds to overcome that 1-0 disadvantage from Madrid, so here’s where we slot the difficulties moving forward.

Unranked — Crystal Palace at home (March 21) and Brighton away (April 18) — Both of these dates are very easy on the eyes, but will be moved if Liverpool is alive in the FA Cup.

9. Newcastle away, time TBD May 17 — We’re now calling this the easiest date left. Klopp’s men aren’t going to lose an unbeaten season at the altar just because Steve Bruce bunkers down. St. James’ Park is a hassle, but

8. Watford away, 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday Klopp probably feels like he’s already playing with house money in the FA Cup, so there’s no reason to think he’ll hand any priority at all to the following FA Cup meeting with Chelsea.

7. Bournemouth home, 7:30 a.m. ET March 7 Situated between Chelsea in the FA Cup and the home UCL second leg versus Atleti, it’s not easy…  but the Cherries have given us less reason to believe they’ll threaten the Reds than any other team besides Newcastle.

6. Aston Villa home, 11:30 a.m. ET April 12Dean Smith‘s desperate Villans will have Villa Park rocking before Liverpool’s possible UCL quarterfinals 2nd leg days later.

5. Burnley home, 7:30 a.m. ET April 25 — Taking place just before a possible UCL quarterfinal first leg, Burnley will try to trouble the Reds in a similar manner to West Ham.

4. Chelsea home, time TBD May 9 — Both the Blues and Reds could be coming off UCL semifinal second legs. Don’t forget that Chelsea took the Reds to the wire in the UEFA Super Cup despite it being very early in Frank Lampard‘s tenure.

3. Arsenal away, time TBD May 2 — Both sides may be days away from needing a result to qualify for the UCL or UEL final.

2. Everton away, 4 p.m. ET March 16 — This may as well be the only match left on the Toffees’ docket that matters more than another, as Carlo Ancelotti and his men know the message they could send regarding the building up of Everton.

Not only that, but Everton has nothing else left to circle, no other competitions, nothing.

1. Man City away, 11:30 a.m. ET April 5 — Taking place 3-4 days before the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals and on the heels of an international break, it’s the lone date on the calendar that Liverpool won’t be heavy favorites to win.

Champions League: Chelsea, Napoli aim to slow Lewandowski, Messi

UEFA Champions League preview
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Four of the most dangerous attacks in Europe begin their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties on Tuesday.

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For Chelsea that means trying to find a way to limit the damage of away goals when Bayern Munich visits Stamford Bridge.

Of course, that means trying to slow lethal Robert Lewandowski. The 31-year-old Polish striker has scored 38 times in 32 appearances this season.

Here’s Frank Lampard, via Football.London:

Form of his life means something special with Lewandowski because of how well he’s been consistently in Europe for the last, how many years, I don’t know,” Lampard said. “Everything about him, from a distance, from afar, is just top class. Having the opportunity to watch a lot of Bayern in build-up to this game, that shines through. Of course, he’s going to be a huge threat. He’s not the only threat but he is a spearhead.”

Lampard points to the Blues work without the ball and away from it that will determine whether they can limit Lewandowski and Bayern.

“We traveled to Ajax and had a fantastic game off the ball,” he said. “We’ve had games like that this year in the league as well. But the levels have to go up.”

The Blues won’t have Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and N’Golo Kante, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek is finally available after a long injury absence. Pedro may play.

[ MORE: JPW’s score predictions ]

Tuesday’s other first leg sees Napoli hosting Barcelona, which means Gennaro Gattuso trying to find a way to cool down Lionel Messi.

The world’s top player scored four goals at the weekend and had six assists in his three previous La Liga outings.

Another player who’s helped Barcelona reclaim the league lead will be critical to controlling the midfield against Napoli, and that’s Frenkie de Jong.

The 22-year-old has had fits and starts at Barca, especially this month. He admits that he’s had an odd time adjusting to Messi, the teammate, though it hasn’t been part of the problem. From

“When I began training with him it was strange, because when I was 12, still in secondary school, I used to watch a lot of football. He was already the best in the world. He won the Ballon d’Or back then, so I was a fan, or whatever you want to call it.”

Napoli boss Gattuso was a bit more effusive when addressing Messi, via Football.Espana:

“I have read whether to make a cage or not, but we need the collective game to combat someone like him, and it is not just him,” Gattuso said. “He is the best in the world, for how he has lived his entire career. He is always perfect, never a misplaced word, he is an example for everyone. He does things that I only see on the PlayStation. He has an incredible quality and for years he has been the best of all-time.”

Both matches kick off at 3 p.m. ET Tuesday.