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Top Premier League Storylines – Week 29

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The Premier League this weekend sees a number of teams come back from European play – some empty-handed, some with injuries, and some with momentum.

With the stretch run on hand, it’s looking less likely that anyone will catch Chelsea, but the top of the table is still clogged below the Blues, and the relegation race is heating up as teams rise and fall in the maelstrom at the bottom.

Week 29, what do you have in store for us?


Leicester City goes for 3 in a row

West Ham United vs. Leicester City — 11 a.m. EDT Saturday online via NBCSports.com

Craig Shakespeare has completely turned around Leicester City, and the Foxes are on their way back up the table. Still, all three have come at King Power Stadium, and now Leicester hits the road for the first time in the league in nearly a month. Winning away in the Premier League is a completely different animal, and it’s something the Foxes haven’t done in at all in Premier League play this season, and haven’t done in any competition since January in FA Cup play.

They’ll have an excellent chance against a West Ham side that has just a single win since selling Dimitri Payet in the winter, and hasn’t won at home since beating Crystal Palace on January 14th. Can Shakespeare dial up a road win and keep the momentum flying?

Will Liverpool or Manchester City score an important leg up?

Manchester City vs. Liverpool — 12:30 p.m. EDT Sunday on NBCSN or online via NBCSports.com

A massive top four matchup pits two teams looking to score any kind of advantage near the top of the table. The title race seems lost, but the Champions League race is still open and both these teams could look to pull away from the pack slightly. This has draw written all over it, but should one team come out on top, they would be an important three points earned.

Manchester City especially needs to bounce back after they were dumped out of the Champions League in a wild thriller against Monaco. Pep Guardiola was criticized for his team selection in that one, and the players admitted they were unable to carry out his orders, especially in the first half when Monaco overran the City midfield. Now, against a Liverpool side that put its ugly January in the rear-view mirror, City must bounce back itself.

How will Lukaku and Barkley play amid transfer rumors?

Everton vs. Hull City — 8:30 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSN or online via NBCSports.com

Rumors have swirled this week regarding two of Everton’s most visable players, and it will be very interesting to see how they respond in front of the home fans at Goodison Park — and how the home fans respond to them. The biggest rumors have suggested that Romelu Lukaku has refused to sign a new contract with the Toffees, and could leave in the summer if no deal is agreed to by then. The loss of Lukaku would be a gigantic blow to Ronald Koeman and Everton, as the Belgian has been a constant supply of goals up front.

Ross Barkley remains in the same boat, and while nothing as defiant as Lukaku’s refusal has come from Barkley’s situation, there is still no new contract for the 23-year-old Everton youth product, and Koeman admitted he could lose Barkley as well if nothing is agreed to by the summer. As Everton battles for a Europa League place, will they get their superstars’ best?

Middlesbrough plays (Pogba-less?) Manchester United without a manager

Middlesbrough vs. Manchester United — 8:00 p.m. EDT Sunday on NBCSN or online via NBCSports.com

It’s not confirmed yet, but watching Paul Pogba limp off with what appeared to be a hamstring problem against FC Rostov, it’s highly possible that Manchester United will be without big signing Paul Pogba this weekend against a team fighting for its life.

Middlesbrough parted ways with Aitor Karanka earlier Thursday, and Steve Agnew will be in charge when they welcome the Red Devils to Riverside Stadium on Sunday. With both teams facing adversity, which will gain massively important points? Manchester United sits just a point back of Arsenal for 5th position, while Middlesbrough is three points in the hole in the drop. Who will come away with the good stuff?

Premier League Preview: Man City v. Man United

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  • Man City (3rd) trail Liverpool by 11 points
  • Man United (6th) eight points out of 4th
  • Last meeting: Man United 0-2 Man City

For the first time in recent memory, Manchester City and Manchester United each find themselves failing to meet expectations — by their own respective standards, at least — as they prepare to meet at the Etihad Stadium in the 179th Manchester derby on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Man City, the two-time defending Premier League champions, are looking increasingly unlikely to retain their crown for a third straight season but look a surefire bet to finish in the top-four, which is a place for which Man United would bite your hand off as they currently trail leaders Liverpool by more points (22) than they have points of their own (21).

[ STREAM: Every PL match live

The struggles for United have been all about consistency as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side hasn’t won back-to-back games all season. The Red Devils haven’t won two in a row in the PL since March. On the bright side, United turned in one of their complete performances of the season on Wednesday, spoiling Jose Mourinho’s return to Old Trafford and beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-1. Marcus Rashford scored both goals and Solskjaer couldn’t rave enough about his 22-year-old forward after the game. From start to finish, United were the better team and looked in majority control, which isn’t something they’ve been able to say often in 2019.

As for City, they’ve simply been “not good enough” without ever actually being “bad” this season, given Liverpool’s scintillating form (14W-1D-0L thus far). Realistically, City likely need to pick up all 69 remaining points this season, and even then they might still come up short.

Injuries/suspensions

Man City: OUT – Sergio Aguero (thigh), Aymeric Laporte (knee), Leroy Sane (knee), Oleksandr Zinchenko (knee)

Man United: OUT – Anthony Martial (hamstring), Eric Bailly (knee), Marcos Rojo (undisclosed); QUESTIONABLE: Paul Pogba (ankle), Nemanja Matic (groin), Diogo Dalot (groin)


Projected lineups

Man City: Ederson — Walker, Otamendi, Fernandinho, Angeliño — Rodri, De Bruyne, Silva — Bernardo, Jesus, Sterling

Man United: De Gea — Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Young — Fred, McTominay, James, Mata, Lingard — Rashford


What they’re saying

Pep Guardiola, on the derby: “It’s Man United. I respect what they’ve done for English football, European, and world football. United have huge history and their quality is always there but we must try to beat them. We play against a good team, try to follow the performances we’ve put in and try to win the game. You know my opinion on the title race.”

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, on his derby memories: “It took many years before I played a Manchester derby myself. Of course, Man City are a better team now than when I was playing. … Confidence is a strange thing in football; you can get performances and results like Wednesday night and it boosts it so much. And I know our boys will be up for it. 24 hours less recovery time [than City] shouldn’t matter, you go on adrenaline.”


Prediction

The win over Tottenham was impressive, no doubt about it, but City remain a challenge of an entirely different class, no matter what their points total says. If the title is well and truly gone for Guardiola’s side, then retaining superiority in Manchester will have to suffice. City 3-1 United.

Klinsmann gets first point as Hertha Berlin manager

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FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) Jurgen Klinsmann claimed his first point since returning to coaching as his Hertha Berlin team let slip a two-goal lead to draw with Frankfurt 2-2 in the Bundesliga on Friday.

[ MORE: Chelsea transfer ban reduced; can sign players in January ]

Hertha was clinging to a 2-1 lead in the 86th minute when Sebastian Rode hammered the ball in from a corner for Frankfurt to deny the Berlin team the win.

Hertha is in the relegation playoff spot in 16th and winless in its last six league games, while Frankfurt is 10th.

Dodi Lukebakio gave Hertha the lead with a shot through Frederik Ronnow’s legs. That goal was assisted by Marko Grujic, who later made it 2-0 with a header from a free kick.

However, Frankfurt almost immediately replied with a header of its own from Martin Hinteregger, the Austrian defender with five Bundesliga goals.

[ MORE: Brendan Rodgers signs new contract at Leicester ]

Frankfurt’s fans expressed their disapproval of the video assistant referee after it ruled out two goals for the hosts. There was a rare disallowed own goal when Hertha goalkeeper Thomas Kraft palmed a cross into his own net but was found to have been pushed while jumping.

Klinsmann took over Hertha last week on a temporary deal until the end of the season, after Ante Covic was fired with the team under threat of relegation. Klinsmann hadn’t coached since being fired in 2016 by the United States, and last worked at a club in 2009 at Bayern Munich.

Nigel Pearson appointed new Watford manager

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Nigel Pearson has been appointed new manager of Watford and been handed a very straightforward — but tall — task for the remainder of the season: avoid relegation from the Premier League.

[ MORE: Chelsea transfer ban reduced; can sign players in January ]

Pearson takes over from Quique Sanchez Flores — who only took over from Javi Gracia in September — who left his post at Vicarage Road with the Hornets sitting 20th out of 20 teams in the PL table, already seven points adrift from safety. Pearson’s contract runs through the end of the season.

The 56-year-old Pearson, who last managed in the PL with Leicester City in 2015, was most recently in charge of Belgian side OH Leuven before he was fired in February.

[ MORE: Brendan Rodgers signs new contract at Leicester ]

Pearson won’t take charge of Saturday’s game against Crystal Palace (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold). Interim manager Hayden Mullins will see out the week’s preparations and manage the team before handing the reins to Pearson on Sunday.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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Matchweek 16 is here in the Premier League as things are heating up very nicely ahead of the festive season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

While you can download the NBC Sports Predictor app (below) and play the Premier League Pick ‘Em game yourself to predict the scores and win the prizes.

DOWNLOAD NBC SPORTS PREDICTOR

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Tottenham 3-0 Burnley – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Bournemouth 1-3 Liverpool – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM] 

West Ham 3-1 Arsenal – (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Newcastle 1-1 Southampton – (Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

Man City 2-2 Man United – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Watford 1-2 Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM


“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Everton 2-1 Chelsea – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Aston Villa 2-2 Leicester City – (Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Brighton 2-1 Wolves – (Sunday 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Norwich 2-0 Sheffield United – (Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM