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.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ]

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.