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Premier League festive roundtable – Part 2

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We are nearly at the midway point of a fascinating Premier League season. Let’s see what lies ahead.

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Below Pro Soccer Talk’s writers discuss what’s coming up in the second half of the PL season in Part 2 of roundtable, as Part 1 looked at the story so far.

Feel free to get involved in the debate by adding your thoughts in the comments section below.


Which current midtable team do you expect to be dragged in to the relegation battle? Each season there’s always one which sinks like a stone to the bottom…

Joe Prince-Wright: I actually think Bournemouth may get dragged into it. They’ve just been too inconsistent this season.

Nick Mendola: I’d say West Brom, but they’ve defied me enough already this season. I’ll say Watford, though I think all the teams between 21 and 24 points are safe.

Kyle Bonn: At the moment it looks like Watford. They had a false table position, and despite having a good manager, they are in poor form and could drop to the bottom.

Matt Reed: Watford. I think the Hornets have some solid talent in the squad but their defense has been way too inconsistent so far and that could spell trouble as the season progresses.

The perennial top six is starting to pull away from the rest. How tight do you think this title race will be?

Joe: I think teams will catch up with Chelsea by the end of January and it could all be set for one of the tightest-ever finishes. There’s not much between Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City and Arsenal.

Nick: Very, and I still expect the champion’s point total to be relatively low unless Chelsea is on an almost Invincible-type run.

Kyle: Not close. Chelsea will lose eventually, but they’re running away with it.

Matt: I think as good as Chelsea has played thus far they’ll have to come back down to earth at some point, even if it’s only for a brief period. Liverpool, Arsenal and Man City are too strong for it not to be an intriguing title race, and I think those four teams will be in the mix up until the final weeks of May.

When you look at the schedules for the current top six, which upcoming games stick out to you as particularly pivotal in the title race?

Joe: Chelsea has Liverpool and Arsenal at the end of January and early February and that will be pivotal. I also think Chelsea’s trip to Tottenham on Jan. 4. will be crucial in deciding how the second half of the season will go. For Manchester United, they have Arsenal and Tottenham back-to-back in May which will could be crucial for everyone concerned.

Nick: Liverpool-Man City on New Year’s Day will be a good litmus test, but neither side seems like they’d wilt from a bad result. I’ll go with Chelsea-Arsenal on Feb. 4. It’s the next true big test for the Gunners —look at their schedule… they play almost no one of traditional threat until then — and it’s 10 days before their UCL first leg against Bayern. Talk about a chance to build or break.

Kyle: Chelsea has Liverpool and Arsenal back-to-back at the end of January. That will make or break their title run.

Mat: Liverpool-Man City on New Year’s Eve is the big one, particularly with both sides already having lost ground on Chelsea, but I also like Chelsea-Tottenham a few days later.

Looking at the top players thus far, who do you want to see more from? Who has the most to prove?

Joe: I’d still like to see from Paul Pogba, despite his recent upturn in form. Also, Kevin De Bruyne has faded after a bright start and Harry Kane has to take more responsibility for Tottenham.

Nick: I need more from Harry Kane. We saw how much Spurs struggled without him, but shouldn’t we have seen a big leap once he arrived back at WHL. He may have the most to prove, though it’s between two Everton players as to who has the most to prove: Ross Barkley, who is a shell of his much-lauded star potential, and Romelu Lukaku, who is on the verge of a massive contract but not quite showing the wattage we’ve seen in recent years.

Kyle: To be honest, I think Dimitri Payet has more to offer. He carried West Ham last season, and while he’s been very good statistically, he hasn’t been able to match his match-winning form thus far. Also, Mesut Ozil has come under justifiable fire for laziness in Arsenal’s recent dip, and he needs to prove he still can be their anchor in the attack.

Matt: Harry Kane. Seven goals isn’t terrible through essentially the first half of the season but he’s definitely capable of more and Spurs need him to improve in finishing if they want to contend for a top four place.I think Eden Hazard has really shown his stuff this season and he’ll continue to pile it on to show that 2015/16 was just a minor setback for the Belgian international.

Which team needs to crack on in the second half of the season and fulfill its potential?

Joe: Tottenham. They are extremely talented but have the Champions League exit hit them hard. If Pochettino can boost confidence with a few big wins in January then they can get red hot.

Nick: Spurs. Even more than Manchester United, because Mauricio Pochettino’s set added very little to its well-oiled machine. With Kane and Dembele back, and Toby Alderweireld coming, now is the time to look like the beast that was born last season.

Kyle: Tottenham. They’ve been struggling to scrape out results against lesser team, and have lost close results to teams at the top. They need to turn those close losses to into results or they could end up back in the Europa League next year, or worse.

Matt: Man United. When you have Jose Mourinho as the manager and spend excessive money to bring in Zlatan, Pogba and others the target is always on your back in terms of the success that you bring. I think the Red Devils definitely need to finish top four this season or else it will be a similar failure to that of a year ago when the squad was nowhere near as loaded with talent.

Out of the top names coaching in the Premier League, (Guardiola, Mourinho, Conte, Wenger, Klopp, Pochettino, Koeman) who has the most to prove?

Joe: Guardiola. I think the players are still struggling to grasp what he’s asking them to do. I respect his stubbornness but he really needs to figure out a way to grind out wins against high-pressing teams. I also think Ronald Koeman has a lot more on his plate than he thought at Everton. Big things were expected and if they finish in the bottom half, the fans will become restless.

Nick: Pochettino and Koeman, with the obvious acknowledgment that should Mourinho not find his footing in the Top Four he’ll have failed at two-steps with two sets of superstars. That said, to say he still has things to prove in football feels a bit of an overreach for me (though I’m willing to be wrong!).

Kyle: Has to be Pep. He has been openly defiant to those who question his tactics and selection, and he has yet to prove it will work in the Premier League.

Matt: I think it’s definitely Mourinho. He’s the “Special One” and the manager that was supposed to come in and immediately fix United’s problems. A lot of this has to do with the fact that he’s coaching at United, but that comes with the territory.

If you could be one Premier League manager, who would you be? Who is in the best position almost at the halfway point?

Joe: Jose Mourinho. I think United is gathering steam and pretty soon Jose will be the one laughing at his haters.

Nick: Eddie Howe. He plays attractive football and would be among the top candidates for any job should it open. Plus, the Cherries are still “small” enough that losses are viewed with a bit of a shrug while big wins are lauded.

Kyle: Arsene Wenger. He has great job security and a great squad.

Matt: It has to be Antonio Conte. He’s already shown not only that he can find success in a new surrounding at Stamford Bridge but also that he can do so after finding troubling times. The switch to the 3-4-3 showed that the Italian can adapt when things aren’t going the way of Chelsea and that’s very important in a league that is full of surprises.

Same question, but which player would you want to be right now in the Premier League?

Joe: Diego Costa. Next question…

Nick: Zlatan. Because.

Kyle: It must be fun to be Eden Hazard!

Matt: Probably anyone on Chelsea, but Diego Costa in particular. Almost everything he touches goes in the net and with the backline he has behind him the Spaniard doesn’t have to worry a lot about conceding.

Which team needs to spend the most in the Premier League in January?

Joe: Swansea needs to invest in two new central defenders, a striker and a holding midfielder. Aside from that, Manchester United also need to add another striker to support Zlatan.

Nick: I’m going to leave the big boys alone for this one. Everton needs injections of pace with Yannick Bolasie out and Barkley struggling. But the true answer would be the bottom three, as Sunderland, Swans, and Hull simply are competing at a talent disadvantage right now.

Kyle: Who needs the most? Swansea. Who can realistically spend the most? Manchester City needs a few key expensive pieces.

Matt: Man United. There are always big expectations at Old Trafford and they surely haven’t been met yet in Jose Mourinho’s first season.

Out of the big boys, what does Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool need in the transfer window?

Joe: Man City need a big-time center back (maybe two). Chelsea need a striker who can step in for Costa and is okay with being a back up. Maybe a veteran forward? Liverpool need a new center back and maybe a goalkeeper.

Nick: Man City could use a center back with experience. Chelsea is fine, honestly. The Reds need some help at fullback.

Kyle: City needs a true defensive midfielder. Liverpool needs a defender. Chelsea needs to keep doing what it’s doing, but they could use a central defender for the future.

Matt: Other than Liverpool, I think both Man City and Chelsea are really set outside of adding a few small pieces for depth. If Liverpool can strengthen the backline a bit then they will surely be one of the teams to beat.

Do Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham need to strengthen too?

Joe: Arsenal should be okay. Tottenham have locked up players to new deals and a wide-man could be the only way they’d strengthen. For United, a new striker, holding midfielder and center back should be top of the shopping list.

Nick: I’d like some title-winning experience for Arsenal, while Spurs just need to get healthy. Manchester United needs support at center back with Eric Bailly skipping town for the Africa Cup of Nations, and most of the names they add aren’t names any club would turn down!

Kyle: United badly needs a defender or 4. Tottenham needs a creative force.

Matt: Yes. I’d say Arsenal and Spurs are more ready-made but United can certainly add some pieces to help spark the attack. Outside of Ibrahimovic, they have looked really stagnant at times in creating chances.

Based on current form and almost being at the halfway point, are you changing your mind about your preseason top four picks?

Joe: I had Man City-Man United-Chelsea-Arsenal as the top four preseason. I think I would bring in Liverpool for Man United and swap Chelsea and Man City. Tottenham finishing in the top four and above Arsenal could happen, but we all know how that usually works…

Nick: I went United-City-Spurs-Chelsea. I’d like to change the order, as I thought it would take Chelsea longer to adjust to Conte. I’d also favor being allowed to move Liverpool or Arsenal in for Spurs. If you asked me now. I’d say Chelsea-City-United-Arsenal. Have you SEEN Arsenal’s schedule for the next six weeks?

Matt: Other than maybe swapping Arsenal in place of Spurs I’m pretty confident with my picks so far.

What about your preseason relegation picks, any changes there?

Joe: I picked Burnley, West Brom and Hull to go down. West Brom won’t go down, while Burnley is slowly slipping back and Middlesbrough will struggle for goals. I think Burnley, Boro and Bournemouth will go down.

Nick: I said Watford-WBA-Hull. Now I’ll say Sunderland-Boro-Hull (assuming Swans buy defenders. Maybe 12 of them).

Matt: I was so wrong about West Brom but Hull and Burnley look like decent picks at the moment.

Finally, what is your crazy prediction for the second half of the Premier League season? 

Joe: Bournemouth to get relegated is a pretty crazy pick. So that’s mine.

Nick: Buoyed by a 15-goal finish from Andy Carroll — and after holding onto Dimitri Payet — West Ham runs to a Europa League place.

Kyle: I don’t really have a crazy pick, but I do think Leicester City will finish in the top half and Chelsea will run away with the title.

Matt: Leicester gets its act together and finishes top six. They’re 13 points behind sixth spot at the moment but with the team that Claudio Ranieri has in place it isn’t too far-fetched to believe that they can mount a comeback. I mean, they are the champions.

Tottenham ousts Chelsea from League Cup in penalties

Tottenham - Chelsea
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Tottenham – Chelsea: It took penalties to separate Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea during Tuesday’s League Cup fourth round match in North London, and the first player to miss sealed the result for second-choice Spurs.

Chelsea’s Mason Mount missed the 10th attempt of penalties to send Frank Lampard’s Blues out of the competition.

Erik Lamela’s second-half goal forced the spot kicks after Timo Werner’s first Chelsea goal had given the Blues an early lead at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]

Edouard Mendy stopped Erik Lamela and Sergio Reguilon on either side of halftime, but Reguilon and Lamela teamed up to level the score in the 83rd minute.

Spurs did not have Heung-min Son due to a hamstring injury and rested several stars to start but called upon Harry Kane, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, and Lucas Moura off the bench. Chelsea was still without Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech.


Three things we learned

1. New boys Mendy, Werner impress: There will be better teams including better Spurs teams, butEdouard Mendy was not bothered by the task at hand on Tuesday as he made his first Chelsea appearance following a long-forming $28 million move from Rennes. He made two strong saves when called upon and was confident with the ball at his feet, only causing distress with a failure to cleanly corral a 69th-minute corner kick. There wasn’t much he could do when Emerson’s mistake allowed Lamela an equalizer and penalties are penalties.

It took 11 shots for Werner to get his first proper goal in a Chelsea shirt but the opening tally of his Blues career was certainly a memorable one. Werner smashed a 19-yard shot through traffic to open the scoring in North London and it’s difficult to find fault in any part of it. Coming against a London rival is a bonus.

2. Spurs’ new signing shows Mourinho’s intent: It was clear when Spurs signed Matt Doherty and Sergio Reguilon that Jose Mourinho wanted more from his fullbacks and the latter was very good on debut. Serge Aurier was on the right flank of Mourinho’s 3-5-2 and spotted Reguilon for a first-half chance denied by Mendy before Reguilon’s cross led to the equalizer. This “second-choice” lineup came right out of Mourinho’s wheelhouse and delivered a fairly vintage performance. Chelsea had more of the ball but Spurs more of the shots.

3. Tempers flare between old pals (Mou still has it): Frank Lampard is turning out to be a manager who loves a touchline argument and perhaps that’s something he learned from his old boss. Lampard famously traded barbs with Jurgen Klopp last season and Mourinho was happy to take his old midfielder up on the offer on Tuesday. You can imagine it might take a lot for Lampard to be surprised by Mou but also that the latter knows which pushed buttons can activate the Englishman (A report online claimed that Lampard might’ve irked Mourinho by becoming more vocal after Chelsea took the lead). The pair did shake hands before penalties but Spurs and Chelsea were growing a nice rivalry before the North Londoners dropped off a bit last year. We’re ready for it to regain its feistiness.

Man of the Match

Werner is always running and could’ve had two or three with a bit of luck or more sharpness. He edges a bunch of players who were not with their clubs in the summer: Mendy, Reguilon, and Ndombele (Wait? What’s that you say? Ndombele has been with Tottenham for some time?).


Tottenham – Chelsea recap

Werner got hold of a seeing-eye Cesar Azpilicueta cross in the 19th minute to open the scoring, lashing home from outside the 18.

Gedson Fernandes wanted a penalty when Kurt Zouma won a tight challenge in the heart of Chelsea’s 18, but none came for the Spurs man.

Then Jose Mourinho became a psychic, as Eric Dier left with injury a day after the boss said he expected more injuries to come to Spurs due to fixture congestion.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

A silky Erik Lamela turn forced Mendy into the first big save of his Chelsea career as it stayed 1-0 to the visitors in the 35th.

Mendy then made a strong stop when Serge Aurier’s cross through the box was laced by Reguilon in the 50th.

A big tackle from N’Golo Kante allowed Mason Mount to cue up Werner, but the German’s 73rd-minute low drive was smothered by Lloris.

Mourinho comically zipped down the tunnel to check on Eric Dier after the center back ran off the pitch and into the locker room only to return.

Dier was soon busy again, blocking Mount’s bid to set up Werner alone in the 18.

Spurs sub Harry Kane nearly made it 1-1 in the 81st but missed the frame.

But it was Lamela who spent the day as Chelsea’s threat and he was in the catbird seat when Emerson bungled Reguilon’s back-post cross.


Upcomimng League Cup fourth round kickoff times and odds (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Newport County (+560) v Newcastle (-230)  | Draw (+340)— 12:30 pm ET Weds
Burnley (+625) v Manchester City (-275) | Draw (+375) — 2 pm ET Weds
Brighton (+300) v Manchester United (-120) | Draw (+250)— 2:45 pm ET Weds
Everton (-145) v West Ham (+350) | Draw (+280)— 2:45 pm ET Weds
Brentford (+135) v Fulham (+185) | Draw (+225)— 12:30 pm ET Thursday
Aston Villa (-150) v Stoke City (+360) | Draw (+275)— 2 pm ET Thursday
Liverpool (-105) v Arsenal (+230) | Draw (+270)— 2:45 pm ET Thursday

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links

WATCH: Timo Werner’s first Chelsea goal is a terrific one

Timo Werner first Chelsea goal
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Timo Werner’s 11th shot as a Chelsea player finally yielded his first goal.

The German hit a 19-yard effort past Hugo Lloris to open Tuesday’s League Cup fourth-round match at Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday.

Jose Mourinho branded Tottenham’s 18-yard box “a special box” this weekend and Werner will certainly agree after crafting this memory.

[ LIVE: Follow League Cup scores ]

Werner picked up a Cesar Azpicilueta cross that found its way through a sea of players to meet him centrally outside the 18 and powered home for 1-0 in the 19th minute.

The 24-year-old has 95 goals in his time with RB Leipzig, 14 with Stuttgart, and has 12 for the German national team.

This is likely the first of a great many for Chelsea. His first assist came in Chelsea’s Premier League opener against Brighton.

UEFA Champions League qualifying: How to watch, start times, odds

Champions League qualifying
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American defender Henry Wingo and manager Jesse Marsch face big weeks as the second legs of the UEFA Champions League qualifying playoffs take center stage Tuesday and Wednesday.

Wingo’s Molde drew Ferencvaros 3-3 in the first leg but those three away goals loom large as the American and his Norwegian club head to Hungary.

[ MORE: Champions League qualifying scores ]

Meanwhile, Marsch saw his Red Bull Salzburg come back from an early deficit in Israel to take a 2-1 advantage over Maccabi Tel-Aviv back to Austria.

Salzburg are very heavy favorites to win and advance to the Champions League group stage for another year.

Marsch has also been linked with an impending transfer for USMNT teen Brenden Aaronson, one of at least eight Americans to watch as the European transfer window reaches its conclusion next month.


How to watch the UEFA Champions League qualifying playoff round

Kickoff: 3 pm ET Tuesday and Wednesday
Stream: CBS All-Access (subscription required)


UEFA Champions League playoff round matches

All 12 legs will kickoff at 3 pm ET between Tuesday and Sept. 30.

First legs (Roundup)

Maccabi Tel-Aviv 1-2 Red Bull Salzburg
Slavia Prague 0-0 Midtjylland
Krasnodar 2-1 PAOK
Gent 1-2 Dynamo Kiev
Molde 3-3 Ferencvaros
Olympiakos 2-0 Omonia

Tuesday

Ferencvaros v Molde
Dynamo Kiev v Gent
Omonia v Olympiakos

Wednesday

Midtjylland v Slavia Prague
PAOK v Krasnodar
Red Bull Salzburg v Maccabi Tel-Aviv


UCL second leg odds (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Ferencvaros (+108) v Molde (+215) | Draw (+230)
Dynamo Kiev (-118) v Gent (+280) | Draw (+235)
Omonia (+325) v Olympiakos (-130) | Draw (+235)
Midtjylland (+170) v Slavia Prague (+155) | Draw (+195)
PAOK (+105) v Krasnodar (+220) | Draw (+235)
Red Bull Salzburg (-834) v Maccabi Tel-Aviv (+1300) | Draw (+600)

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links

League Cup: How to watch, start times, odds, predictions

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The League Cup’s fourth round features two interesting tactical duels in that the tournament gives us rematches of a pair of Premier League matches from the weekend, right down to the locations.

Brighton will hope Manchester United’s Wednesday trip to the Amex Stadium isn’t as lucky as the Red Devils’ 3-2 triumph over the Seagulls, while Arsenal heads back to Anfield on Thursday with designs on a measure of revenge for Monday’s 3-1 loss in league play.

[ LIVE: Follow League Cup scores ]

While Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester United are built a bit deeper — easy, Red Devils fans — due to squad necessity for European competition, Graham Potter’s Seagulls don’t have it as simple as chopping and changing (though Brighton has looked plenty good with its depth so far in this tournament.

How will the tactician plot his overthrow of United? And will Mikel Arteta do anything different with Arsenal to help thwart the high line Liverpool used to limit Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on Monday (if the Gabonese star even plays)?

[ MORE: JPW’s 3 things from Liverpool-Arsenal ]

Elsewhere, Jose Mourinho thinks that schedule congestion is going to cost Spurs on Tuesday against Chelsea as well as in the treatment room.

The Portuguese boss says he will not be able to give the League Cup the respect he’d like because of Thursday’s Europa League visit from Maccabi Haifa is a match the club needs to make the UEL group stage.

Mourinho lost Heung-min Son to injury in Sunday’s controversial draw against Newcastle and he’s worried about what’s next.

“I think Sonny was just the first [injury],” Mourinho said, via Football.London. “More will come. So he was the first, but more will come.”

Edouard Mendy and Ben Chilwell could make their first Chelsea starts in the match, which comes too soon for Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech.

Three lower league remain and will be playing their fourth League Cup matches of the month compared to the PL’s three outings. Those who win this week will have a lot longer to wait for the quarterfinals, which won’t be held until December.


League Cup fourth round kickoff times and odds (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Tottenham (+420) v Chelsea (-180) | Draw (+360) — 2:45 pm ET Tuesday
Newport County (+560) v Newcastle (-230)  | Draw (+340)— 12:30 pm ET Weds
Burnley (+625) v Manchester City (-275) | Draw (+375) — 2 pm ET Weds
Brighton (+300) v Manchester United (-120) | Draw (+250)— 2:45 pm ET Weds
Everton (-145) v West Ham (+350) | Draw (+280)— 2:45 pm ET Weds
Brentford (+135) v Fulham (+185) | Draw (+225)— 12:30 pm ET Thursday
Aston Villa (-150) v Stoke City (+360) | Draw (+275)— 2 pm ET Thursday
Liverpool (-105) v Arsenal (+230) | Draw (+270)— 2:45 pm ET Thursday

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


League Cup fourth round predictions

Tottenham Hotspur 1-2 Chelsea
Newport County 1-3 Newcastle United
Burnley 0-3 Manchester City
Brighton 2-1 Manchester United
Everton 2-2 (EFC wins in penalties) West Ham United
Brentford 1-1 (Brentford wins in penalties) Fulham
Aston Villa 2-0 Stoke City
Liverpool 2-1 Arsenal


How to watch League Cup fourth round streams and start time

Kickoff: Tuesday through Thursday
Online: Select games on ESPN+
Updates: Follow League Cup scores via NBCSports.com