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Top Premier League storylines – Week 28

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A light weekend for Premier League play doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of intrigue surrounding Matchday 28.

[ MORE: Man Utd draws in Russia ]


Litmus test for Top Six daydreamers

Everton vs. West Brom — 10 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com

There aren’t too many sides in the Premier League that aren’t either:

A) Competing for a European place

-or-

B) Battling the drop

Everton and West Brom are two of these teams, and the former sure would like to join category A by toppling the Baggies on Saturday.

The Toffees sit seventh, six points back of fifth-place Arsenal and four points ahead of West Brom. Tony Pulis‘ Baggies dropped the ball big time in losing to Crystal Palace last week, a loss that would’ve irked him on several levels. Will they make amends at Goodison Park?

Can Liverpool expel demons in double?

Liverpool vs. Burnley — Noon EDT Sunday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com

Burnley stunned the Reds with a 2-0 win at Turf Moor on Aug. 20, the first of many Liverpool stumbled against lower half sides. So here lies a chance for Jurgen Klopp to assert power over a team that beat him while also exorcising Liverpool’s knack for playing down to its opponents. There’s really a third question here, too: Is this Reds side capable of standing up to a more physical, traditional PL style?

Six-pointer at the KCOM Stadium

Hull City vs. Swansea City — 10 a.m. EDT Saturday on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com

The hosts and visitors have looked a lot better since making managerial changes, but only Paul Clement‘s Swans have climbed out of the drop zone. The gap between Hull and Swansea sits at six points, and Swans can put the Tigers in the rearview for good, more or less, with a win on Saturday.

Cherries rotting on the tree

Bournemouth vs. West Ham United — 10 a.m. EDT Saturday on Premier League Extratime and online via NBCSports.com

Bournemouth had 24 points on New Year’s Day, and has managed just three in eight matches since the calendar hit 2017. That happens to coincide with Nathan Ake heading back to Chelsea — and Antonio Conte isn’t using the influential youngster — and the Cherries have not found an answer for Ake’s departure.

Meanwhile it’s been fits and starts for West Ham, which is playing much better since a horrible start to the season. The Irons need to keep winning matches like this, though, if they are going to make the leap to contender.

Transfer rumor roundup: Everton join Zaha chase; Matuidi to Man Utd?

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A roundup of Saturday’s biggest transfer rumors from around the world, including those involving a few Premier League clubs…

[ MORE: PL refs told to defer to VAR more, go to the monitor “sparingly” ]

Wilfried Zaha is one of the most wanted men in England, with Arsenal reportedly hot on his trail all summer. An deal between the Gunners and Crystal Palace is yet  to transpire, though, which has perhaps left the door open for Everton to sneak through and sign the 26-year-old Ivory Coast international.

Arsenal would obviously pay more in wages, but are yet to meet Palace’s valuation of their talisman. If Everton is the club that calls with the requisite figures on offer, it wouldn’t be the worst landing place for Zaha. With Arsenal yet to make a meaningful signing this summer, and the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny already gone or on their way out, the 2019-20 season could see the Gunners take a step back, opening the door for — you guessed it — Everton to break into the top-five… or -four.


Speaking of Ramsey, his arrival at Juventus has perhaps made Blaise Matuidi surplus to requirements, which means he could be available for cut-rate price.

Manchester United seem to be perennially in need of influential central midfielders, especially this summer after the departure of Ander Herrera and the failure of a signing that was Fred last summer. Man United have reportedly been in contact with Juve about the 32-year-old, as have Paris Saint-Germain and Everton.


Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is another midfielder who’s been linked with United, but he’ll likely just as much as, if not more than, the $59-million fee paid for Fred. Milinkovic-Savic seemed a surefire target for the world’s top clubs after a star’s showing at last summer’s World Cup in Russia, but the 24-year-old remained at Lazio and is still yet to move 12 months later.


Patrick Cutrone was one of Europe’s breakout stars of the 2018-19 season, now the 21-year-old AC Milan forward is reportedly high atop Wolverhampton Wanderers’ shopping list this summer. He won’t come cheap — Milan are expected to demand nearly $30 million — but he could offer some serious insurance in the event of an injury to Raul Jimenez.

PL refs told to defer to VAR more, go to the monitor “sparingly”

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Premier League interim chief executive Richard Masters says that referees have ben instructed “to use the referee review area a bit more sparingly” and rely on the numerous video-assistant referees (VAR) at their disposal to make simple calls upon review when video review is instituted in the PL next month.

[ MORE: Lukaku latest: Man United reject $67-million bid from Inter Milan ]

Following the 2019 Women’s World Cup, where far too many trip to the monitor were made by the center referees, the PL is keen on ensuring that “the Premier League or English football [is not] interrupted, or the pace of the game [is not] changed.” It sounds very much like a “less is more” approach  — quotes from the BBC:

“I think fans want to see those clear and obvious mistakes changed and put right. But they don’t want to see the Premier League or English football interrupted, or the pace of the game changed.

“I think the only difference you might see is the referees using the referee review area a bit more sparingly and relying more on the VAR for the more subjective decisions.

“But we are putting something new into the Premier League and if it needs to be refined or improved or tweaked we will look at it when the moment arises.”

In theory, this should work quite well for the PL. Many of the decisions that referees go to the monitor to review themselves could easily be made by the “fifth official.” If it’s obvious to the VAR and he/she can make the call with 100 percent certainty, the center ref should always take their decision in the name of keeping the game flowing. If the VAR isn’t so sure, or it’s a more subjective call that should be made by the person making 99 percent of the game’s calls, go to the monitor. But do so quickly.

Lukaku latest: Man United reject $67-million bid from Inter Milan

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Given two key factors — the date on the calendar and how far apart the two sides appear to be in their respective valuations — it’s looking increasingly likely that Romelu Lukaku will still be a Manchester United player when the upcoming Premier League season starts, despite numerous bids by Inter Milan this summer.

[ MORE: Borussia Dortmund tops Liverpool 3-2 at Notre Dame ]

According to reports out of the UK, Man United have rejected Inter’s latest bid, said to be for $67.5 million. The Red Devils paid $96 million for the big Belgian forward just two summers ago and appear hellbent on recouping most, if not all, of their investment.

Antonio Conte called Lukaku “an important player for us” this week in an attempt to further unsettle the 26-year-old, but that doesn’t appear to have shaken United’s resolve in holding out for the fee they desire.

[ MORE: Wolves top Man City on penalties in PL Asia Trophy final ]

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is growing tired of answering questions about the saga, especially since there has been little to no progress made in recent days and weeks. When pressed on the topic again this week, he said he had “no more updates.”

Wolves top Man City on penalties in PL Asia Trophy final

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The 2019 Premier League Asia Trophy wrapped up on Saturday, as four PL sides took the field in Shanghai, China…

[ MORE: Borussia Dortmund tops Liverpool 3-2 at Notre Dame ]

Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-0 (3-2 PKs) Man City

Wolves turned in a fantastic defensive display against the two-time reigning PL champions, indicating that Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side is very much ready for the start of the season. Man City had plenty of the ball in dangerous areas, but Wolves were quick to close off the passages when City typically dominate.

Wolves captain Conor Coady was part of the stellar defensive performance and he lauded some of the young players who entered the game as second-half substitutes and saw the game out to 0-0.

“To beat City at any point is a great accomplishment for us,” he said after the game. “We rode our luck at times but I thought the young boys were outstanding”

David Silva had perhaps the game’s best scoring chance in the 78th minute, but Rui Patricio made a top-drawer save to deny the Spaniard’s curling effort at the last possible moment.

Silva and Ilkay Gundogan began the penalty shootout with back-to-back efforts saved by Patricio. 20-year-old forward Lukas Nmecha was also denied on City’s fifth and final attempt.

Newcastle United 1-0 West Ham United

Newly appointed head coach Steve Bruce watched as an observer, due to “the terms of his visa,” as his Newcastle side beat Manuel Pellegrini‘s West Ham 1-0 in the third-place playoff.

Yoshinori Muto bagged the game’s only goal in the 34th minute. Jamie Sterry whipped in a cross from the right wing that curled around a pair of defenders at the near post and presented itself to Muto, still with plenty of work to do, for a first-time finish.