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Four things to look for in midweek Premier League games

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Midweek Premier League matches aren’t high on managers’ wish lists, but they are boons for the fan.

[ VIDEO: Preview all 10 PL midweek matches ]

Outside of your favorite club, here are some things to pay attention to come Tuesday and Wednesday in the top flight.

Chelsea begins nightmare week — Nightmare doesn’t mean the Blues won’t emerge with six points, rather there are far easier opponent pairings.

The Blues host Arsenal on Saturday, and can’t be worried about playing selection games considering that Anfield is the venue for Tuesday’s PL encounter with Liverpool.

The Reds open the day 10 points back of Chelsea, and whatever feelings fans carry regarding making up that margin will be bordering on impossible should the visitors walk away with a win.

Separation day —  A pair of PL matches, both on Tuesday, have home sides hoping to avoid a return to the relegation fray against scrapping visitors.

Bournemouth and Burnley both enter the day with 26 points, 10 points clear of the drop zone.

Bournemouth hosts 18th place Crystal Palace, while Burnley will entertain 15th place Leicester City. Wins will have both breathing easy and maybe counting their safe chickens, but losses thicken the relegation stew.

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10: Ashley Barnes of Burnley (R) is put under pressure from Simon Francis of AFC Bournemouth (L) during the Premier League match between Burnley and AFC Bournemouth at Turf Moor on December 10, 2016 in Burnley, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Ashley Barnes of Burnley is put under pressure from Simon Francis of AFC Bournemouth (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Clement vs. Claude — Swansea City is riding high after its 3-2 defeat of Liverpool pulled it out of the drop zone, and Paul Clement‘s bunch will now host a Southampton side which has been nearly impossible to predict in Premier League play.

Claude Puel‘s Saints are off to Wembley Stadium for the EFL Cup final, and that’s their best route back to Europe. At 11 points clear of relegation, there aren’t too many Championship concerns around St. Mary’s… but a loss at the Liberty Stadium will send Saints supporters scurrying for the fixture list and table.

Is Man City awake? — Pep Guardiola‘s group has dipped down the Premier League table after scooping up just a single point in its last two PL fixtures, a loss at Everton and a draw (that should’ve been a win) versus Tottenham Hotspur.

There’s no time to sleep or rest in the laurels of this week’s blowout of Crystal Palace in the FA Cup; Slaven Bilic has the Hammers looking a lot better and Andy Carroll will be buoyed by the opportunity to rise above City’s back line. Will this be like the 5-0 FA Cup blowout on Jan. 6, or will West Ham show better in this visit from Man City?

Injuries aren’t halting Red Bulls from proving to be MLS’ top club

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It would have been understandable if the New York Red Bulls dropped their heads in agony last month after the club’s disappointing CONCACAF Champions League defeat to eventual tournament winners Chivas de Guadalajara.

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That wasn’t the case though, and for manager Jesse Marsch and Co., the club has been rewarded in the biggest of ways for its perseverance.

Sunday night’s 3-1 win over Atlanta United proved once again in 2018 that this season’s Red Bulls are the class of MLS for a number of reasons.

The team’s 7-3-0 start is its best in modern Red Bulls history, which dates back nine seasons to when Red Bull Arena was first opened in 2010.

Marsch and his group currently ride a four-match win streak, which includes away wins over LA Galaxy, Colorado Rapids and Atlanta, with a 4-0 beatdown of rivals New York City FC bunched in the middle of the road trip.

It’s easy to look at wins and losses to determine which teams are serious MLS Cup contenders and others that will struggle throughout the season, but when diving deeper into this Red Bulls team, there are a lot of special qualities that make them different than previous years.

Heading into 2018, questions surrounded the team following Sacha Kljestan’s departure for Orlando City, as well as the club’s ability to defend with a back line that didn’t appear to have much depth.

The Kljestan question has not only been answered, but turned into Alejandro “Kaku” Gamarra becoming a household MLS name and legitimate MVP and Newcomer of the Year candidate.

The Argentine (possibly turning Paraguayan) leads MLS in assists (9) through the Red Bulls first 10 matches, after Kljestan posted 17 for the club during the 2017 campaign.

Kaku is a spark plug that manages to find himself in the right positions on the field at any given moment, and his work rate perfectly matches what Marsch his instilled in the squad since the moment he first arrived.

Defensively, the Red Bulls have far exceeded expectations, conceding the fourth-fewest goals (12) in MLS, despite a host of injuries.

Jamaica international Kemar Lawrence went down with a scary injury on Sunday, leaving his immediate availability with the club unknown, while Homegrown player Kyle Duncan will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.

That’s not including outside back Connor Lade, who has battled an ankle injury early in the 2018 campaign as well.

While the addition of Kaku has paid dividends in the biggest of ways in the attack though, it was the Red Bulls ability to bring in center back Tim Parker from the Vancouver Whitecaps that has really changed the team’s outlook at the back.

Parker has formed a strong bond with fellow central defensive partner Aaron Long, and the two are easily the best center back pairing in MLS through the opening two-plus months.

The bigger test for the club in the long-term will be if Lawrence does miss significant playing time, though.

That would force Marsch to rely more on Lade, who only returned from injury on Sunday to replace Lawrence, or young outside back Ethan Kutler, unless the Red Bulls manager opts to switch to a three-back system (as he has done in the past).

Nainggolan ends Belgium career after World Cup snub

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As World Cup squads fill out their rosters ahead of next month’s great tournament in Russia, a number of high-profile names won’t feature at the World Cup.

[ MORE: No World Cup for Spanish Chelsea trio ]

Belgium named its 28-man provisional squad on Monday, which includes Premier League stars Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard, however, one notable midfielder was left out of Roberto Martinez’s squad.

Radja Nainggolan won’t be on the plane to Russia next month for the Red Devils, who take on England, Panama and Tunisia in the group stage.

That decision by Martinez has prompted the AS Roma midfielder to end his international career, which Nainggolan revealed in a social media post following the announcement.

Martinez commented on the Roma player’s omission from the roster.

“Radja is a top player,” Martinez said. “The reason is tactical. In the last two years the team has worked in a specific manner. Other players had those roles.

“We know that he has a very important role in his club and we cannot give him that role in our squad.”

Emery set to replace Wenger at Arsenal

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Unai Emery will be the next man up for Arsenal, with the BBC calling it a “unanimous choice” from Arsenal’s search committee.

[ MORE: Nashville hires ex-Liverpool CEO ]

The BBC’s David Ornstein is reporting that Arsenal will appoint the ex-PSG and Sevilla boss as its new manager.

Emery had massive success with Sevilla in tournament and league play, and led PSG on a rollicking run through Ligue 1 but was deemed replaceable thanks to a Neymar-less loss in the UEFA Champions League.

The Basque manager will be the first Arsenal manager not named Arsene Wenger since the Frenchman took over at the Emirates on Oct. 1, 1996.

It feels a natural fit, as Emery has had success with multiple systems at both favorites and relative underdogs.

Emery has also overseen Spartak Moscow, Almeria, and Valencia.

Mikel Arteta and Thierry Henry were also rumored as potential Wenger successors.

Transfer rumors: Willian, Alderweireld to Manchester United

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The transfer rumor mill is picking up steam this Monday, including some persistent whispers regarding two Premier League players with possible futures at Old Trafford.

Both of these make a lot of sense.

[ MORE: Nashville hires ex-Liverpool CEO ]

A day after Nemanja Matic stressed the need for experienced players at United, two good fits hit the rumor mill (again).

Matic’s old Chelsea pal Willian has interest from United if he seeks a way out of London — which seems likely — where he’s said to be ready to go if Antonio Conte remains as manager.

Then there’s Toby Alderweireld, whose been very strong at Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur but reportedly fallen out with current Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino.

During a rut, the Tottenham manager claimed that Alderweireld was held out of Spurs’ lineup due to the form of the players in front of him.

Also from Sky, we’ll leave this quote from PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi on the idea of possibly selling Kylian Mbappe.

Al-Khelaifi told Canal+: “You want me to give you a number? More than €1bn! Yes, I said one billion! And even if you gave me a billion, I wouldn’t sell him.”