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PL Sunday preview: Sunderland-Man United; surging Foxes visit Everton

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Dreams of a top-four finish are quickly slipping away from Manchester United, just as Premier League status has (finally) done for Sunderland; Everton reside in no man’s land, between the top-six miles clear of eighth place, while Leicester City have finally shaken their PL title hangover.

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Sunderland vs. Manchester United — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The objective was clear: Jose Mourinho was expected to return Man United to the PL’s top-four in his first season at Old Trafford. Reality is equally clear, and harsh: with two games in hand, and a seven-point deficit to fourth-place Manchester City to overcome, the Red Devils need their points three at a time from here on out; no side in the PL has drawn more games this season (12 — tied with Middlesbrough). While Mourinho’s men are unbeaten in their last 20 league games, dating all the way back Oct. 29, they’ve won just half of those games, dropping a season-killing 20 points in the process.

Sunderland, on the other hand, have finally run out of lives. After escaping near certain relegation (doing so in stunning fashion each time) in each of the last four seasons, David Moyes will almost certainly (we think) take the Black Cats down to the Championship this summer. 10 points currently stand between last-place Sunderland and Hull City in 17th; even a win on Sunday wouldn’t move them off the bottom of the table. Sunderland have just one win in their last 13 PL games played. One potential silver lining: they did beat United at home last season.

INJURIES: Sunderland — OUT: Jan Kirchoff (knee), Paddy McNair (knee), Duncan Watmore (knee) | Man United — OUT: Juan Mata (groin), Chris Smalling (knee), Phil Jones (toe); QUESTIONABLE: Wayne Rooney (ankle), Ashley Young (knock)

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Spurs apply pressure, Chelsea unfazed ]

Everton vs. Leicester City — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

From relegation-threatened defending champions, to totally clear of the drop zone and safely enjoying mid-table obscurity, all in six weeks’ time — the 2016-17 season has been an emotional roller coaster for Leicester. Harkening back to last season’s title-winning fairytale is Jamie Vardy‘s timely return to form, as the reigning Player of the Season has bagged five goals in his last five PL games to match his tally from his first 22 league appearances this season. After 25 games, the point at which Claudio Ranieri was fired, the Foxes sat 18th in the league table. Five straight wins have seen Craig Shakespeare’s side rise all the way up to 11th with a chance to climb into the top half on Sunday.

As for Everton, a derby defeat at the hands of Liverpool, followed by a 1-1 draw with Manchester United three days later, brought to a screeching halt all momentum created by a stretch of just one loss in 12 games (eight wins) from Boxing Day to St. Patrick’s Day. Romelu Lukaku (21 goals) remains top of the Golden Boot race, two clear of Harry Kane, though the big Belgian failed to find the back of the net in each of the last week’s disappointing results. Prior to last weekend, the 23-year-old had scored nine goals in five PL games.

INJURIES: Everton — OUT: Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), James McCarthy (hamstring), Yannick Bolasie (knee), Muhamed Besic (knee); RETURNING: Morgan Schneiderlin (calf) | Leicester — OUT: Wes Morgan (back); QUESTIONABLE: Nampalys Mendy (ankle)

Wolves’ red-hot Jota too much for Norwich City

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Diogo Jota scored twice and helped produce the third goal of Wolves 3-0 battering of Norwich City at the Molineux Stadium on Sunday.

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Mexican star Raul Jimenez scored the other goal for Wolves.

Wolves rise eighth with 39 points, five points off fourth and two back of fifth-place Manchester United.

Norwich City remains seven points back of 17th place with a league-worst goal differential sinking to minus-27.


Three things we learned

1. Red-hot JotaWolves’ 23-year-old attacker was coming off a hat trick versus Espanyol in Europa League play, and had two goals by the half-hour mark at the Molineux. That gives him five PL goals amongst his 14 in all competitions as Wolves threaten both the Europa League and, somehow, remain alive in the top four race.

2. Abject Norwich defending: Daniel Farke‘s men have been praised for continuing their forward-thinking, attack-minded football in the Premier League, but maybe they simply didn’t have the protectors to bunker down in front of Tim Krul. That’s a bit unfair, because it’s admirable that Farke wishes to entertain, but there’s no debating the mess that is the Canaries defense this year.

3. Jimenez is Mexico’s best: Club Leon’s coach made headlines this week when he called LAFC’s Carlos Vela the best Mexican player, and perhaps he’s No. 2, but there’s no North American in the world doing what Raul is doing in Europe. Jimenez went over 3,300 season minutes on Sunday, adding another goal to give him 22 with 10 assists. Only Rui Patricio, Conor Coady, and Joao Moutinho have played more than the El Tri star.

Man of the Match: Jota


Norwich City had two promising moments in the first seven minutes, as Max Aarons hit a terrific through ball that died with a Teemu Pukki extra touch. Then Pukki forced Rui Patricio into a save.

Kenny McLean cranked a shot to Patricio off a Puuki pass in the 11th minute.

A Norwich giveaway allowed Diogo Jota to dance into the 18, but he instead dribbled himself out of room and was tackled.

Jota made amends in the 19th minute, lashing home after a terrific team goal.

It might’ve been 2-0 had Alex Tettey not darted between Jota’s 23rd-minute pass to Raul Jimenez.

Jota got his second in the 30th off a corner kick, as Romain Saiss slashed a pass across the six that any of three Wolves would’ve put in for a two-goal lead.

Tim Krul made a great save on a Ruben Neves free kick after Jota was injured drawing the set piece atop the 18.

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Jota smashed the post moments before Jimenez deposited Wolves’ third goal of the game, a 3-0 lead arriving in the 50th minute.

Fernandes runs the show as Manchester United crushes Watford

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Bruno Fernandes scored a goal and helped set up two as Manchester United beat Watford 3-0 at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Anthony Martial recorded United’s second goal with a magical finish off his own rebound after Fernandes sent him through on goal, while Mason Greenwood added a late goal after a 1-2 with the Portuguese.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

United is now fifth with 41 points, three points back of fourth-place Chelsea.

Watford had a goal chalked off by VAR, and remains in the bottom three with 24 points. That’s one point off 17th and two off 16th.


Three things we learned

1. Bruno as advertised: There was no question Fernandes addressed a need for the Old Trafford set, but few would’ve seen the Portuguese revolutionizing the team’s attack so quickly (and also underlining how badly United has missed Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba). It’s not silly to say Fernandes could’ve had four assists on the day. Magnificent stuff from the 25-year-old. No surprise he has Cristiano Ronaldo’s endorsement.

2. Greenwood shows another glimpse: The Mason Greenwood hype train hasn’t been as pronounced as Marcus Rashford’s of years past, and we’re grateful for that. But his shoulder move and sick cut before dribbling 50 yards to combine with Fernandes on the third goal of the game was gorgeous stuff. More hope for the future.

3. This: It’s easy to forget the heights of which somewhat-mercurial Anthony Martial is capable.

Man of the Match: Fernandes had four key passes and was perfect in his take-ons and ground duels. Incredible show.


Poor communication between Harry Maguire and Nemanja Matic sprung Troy Deeney toward goal, but United left back Luke Shaw saved his teammates further blushes with a block.

Abdoulaye Doucoure then ran onto a dummied Gerard Deulofeu pass but found himself closed down by David De Gea.

United should’ve been up through Wan-Bissaka when Foster parried a cross onto his path, but the English back struck the ball tamely into the outside of the goal.

Bruno Fernandes led a terrific 38th-minute move, and Daniel James eventually teed up Fred for a shot that curled wide of the goal.

The January signing danced past Ben Foster and hit the deck when the Watford goalkeeper went to ground. VAR stayed with the call on the field, and Fernandes finished well with a little hop step.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Deeney looked to have made it 1-1 in the 52nd minute, thumping a. ball into the top of the goal when a corner kick was turned off the post by Craig Dawson‘s arm. It was attached to his body, but that does not matter in the attacking box.

Martial instead made it 2-0 off a Fernandes feed, collecting his own rebound before dribbling Watford dizzy and spinning a chip into the goal.

Fernandes spotted Maguire with a seeing-eye cross in the 69th, but the defender’s header was poor.

Greenwood scored his goal in the 75th, carrying the ball 50 yards before working a 1-2 with Fernandes and finishing with aplomb.

Odion Ighalo came close to getting on the board for his new club against his old one, but Adam Masina deflected his shot off the post.

Watch Live: Arsenal v. Everton

Arsenal v. Everton watch live stream link
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Everton and Arsenal both look to stay in the top five discussion when they meet at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday (Watch live at 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Carlo Ancelotti has Everton on 36 points, five back of fifth, while ex-Toffees midfielder Mikel Arteta has the Gunners on 34 points.

[ WATCH: Arsenal v. Everton ]

Andre Gomes returns to Everton’s bench after his gruesome injury earlier this Fall, and Ancelotti makes five changes to his Starting XI. Ex-Arsenal man Alex Iwobi will start for the Toffees.

Nicolas Pepe rejoins Arsenal’s Starting XI after a Thursday match in the Europa League.

LINEUPS

Arsenal

Everton

Fernandes scores first goal, says Ronaldo backed Manchester United move

Bruno Fernandes Ronaldo
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It’s probably not a surprise that a young Portuguese player would fancy Manchester United given the heroics of Cristiano Ronaldo at Old Trafford early his career.

Bruno Fernandes admits that those images danced through his head well before he signed with the Red Devils in January.

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It’s also not a shock that United would turn to their former player for a take on the playmaker before buying him from Sporting Lisbon.

Fernandes says he’s grateful that CR7 endorsed BF18. From Sky Sports:

“I know some people asked Cristiano what he thought of me and what I was like as a player and a person,” Fernandes said. “I know he spoke highly of me and gave me a good reference, so I sent him a message after to thank him for his kind words.”

Fernandes has 19 caps and two goals for Portugal, while Ronaldo has a few more with 164 and 99.

He now has a goal and an assist in four appearances for United. Ronaldo finished with 118 goals and 69 assists in 292 appearances for the Red Devils.

Here’s the finish: