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PL Sunday preview: Liverpool, Man Utd chasing top-four finishes

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Are Manchester United really in the top-four race? Will Liverpool sprint or stumble to the finish line? Are Burnley and Crystal Palace safe from relegation?

Questions to ponder ahead of Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures…

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Burnley vs. Manchester United — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

After eight sterling months (17 PL goals, 28 in all competitions), now begins the post-Zlatan Ibrahimovic era at Man United after the Swedish superstar suffered a “significant” knee injury (as did defender Marcos Rojo) during United’s Europa League triumph over Anderlecht on Thursday. 22 games unbeaten (12 wins, 10 draws) in league play, and United have not only kept pace with Liverpool and Manchester City in the race for a top-four finish, but closed the gap to six and four points, with two and one games in hand, respectively.

With Ibrahimovic out for the remainder of the season — and perhaps the rest of the calendar year — Marcus Rashford has already stepped up and assumed the role of line-leading, goal-scoring striker in his absence. Last weekend, Rashford started in place of a healthy Ibrahimovic and scored what turned out to be the winning goal against PL leaders Chelsea. The 19-year-old followed that up with the 107th-minute winner against Anderlecht to reach double-digit goals, including three in his last four games, for the first time in his career.

With the Manchester derby not far on the horizon (Thursday), a United win would move the Red Devils to within a single point of fourth-place Man City, with the two sides finally level on games played.

INJURIES: Burnley — QUESTIONABLE: Sam Vokes (hamstring), Johann Gudmundsson (knee) | Man United — OUT: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee), Marcos Rojo (knee), Juan Mata (groin), Chris Smalling (knee), Phil Jones (toe)

[ MORE: Chelsea beat Tottenham to reach FA Cup final ]

Liverpool vs. Crystal Palace — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Unbeaten in their last seven PL games (five wins, two draws), Liverpool’s disastrous start to 2017 (zero wins in their first five games after New Years Day) has long faded from the rearview mirror. With signature victories over Arsenal and Everton, plus a convincing win over Tottenham Hotspur separating the above streaks, Jurgen Klopp‘s first full season at Anfield sits 450 minutes from achieving a goal thought improbable or impossible by many back in August: Champions League qualification.

Klopp, for one, is wary of coming up against Christian Benteke, not long a former Liverpool striker, in red-hot form (three goals and an assist in his last four games — two wins and a draw for Crystal Palace).

“He is obviously another player with confidence, in a good run and all that stuff,” Klopp said. “Like it is always when you play against Zlatan, other strikers, these kinds of strikers — tall, good with their back to the goal — you have to avoid the crosses and you have to avoid the passes. That’s how it works.

“If we let them cross 50 balls it’s pretty likely he will have a few dangerous headers. That’s not his only strength, of course, but that’s a real strength.”

INJURIES: Liverpool — OUT: Sadio Mane (knee), Adam Lallana (thigh), Jordan Henderson (foot), Danny Ings (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Joel Matip (knock), Daniel Sturridge (hip), Ragnar Klavan (knee) | Crystal Palace — OUT: Scott Dann (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Loic Remy (calf), James Tomkins (calf)

Ayoze Perez hat trick leads Newcastle past Southampton (video)

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  • Newcastle now 10 points clear of 18th
  • Perez scores both Magpies goals
  • Southampton five points ahead of drop zone

Ayoze Perez a hat trick as Newcastle United held off Southampton’s second half charge in a 3-1 win at St. James’ Park on Saturday.

Mario Lemina scored a beauty for Saints in a game of high quality goals.

Newcastle goes 12th with 41 points, while Saints remain 16th with 36.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Newcastle wanted a penalty when an early shot from Ayoze Perez was blocked by Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg‘s arm.

Miguel Almiron took a Salomon Rondon flick and hit a wayward cross that Angus Gunn slapped wide of the goal.

The dam burst near the half-hour mark, when Perez scored both of his goals.

The first came with a fine, physical dribble right which the Spaniard punctuated with a hard shot across his body and inside the far post.

Then it was 2-0 within four minutes, Perez sliding onto the end of a Rondon cross to slap the ball inside the goal.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Saints deserved a goal and nearly had one through Maya Yoshida before Lemina answered the bell.

Off the bench, the ex-Juve midfielder scored from 21 yards after Stuart Armstrong and Nathan Redmond combined to set the table.

But Matt Ritchie‘s diving header was redirected by Perez for an 87th minute insurance goal and the completion of a fine hat trick.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Pellegrini ready for VAR after West Ham draw Leicester City

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West Ham United manager Manuel Pellegrini knows his side played well enough for three points in its 2-2 draw with Leicester City, but also is well aware that the Irons should’ve had three goals before the Foxes’ nabbed their second equalizer of Saturday’s match at the London Stadium.

[ RECAP: West Ham 2-2 Leicester ]

Lucas Perez’s would-be brace wouldn’t stand when the linesman’s flag was raised for what should’ve been an insurance goal for the hosts, who were very good on the day.

But Leicester would score through Harvey Barnes in stoppage time to eke out a point in London.

“I think we deserved more than a draw,” Pellegrini said.

“We should have been leading 3-1 but it was a mistake of the linesman. Yes, I’ve seen the goal again and he was one meter onside. There is nothing you can do about that. Next season when we have VAR it can be more fair.”

Still two switched-off moments cost the Irons a win nearly as much as the linesman’s flag.

“We generally played well but you cannot concede two goals.”

Fulham win second-straight, beat Bournemouth (video)

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  • Mitrovic’s penalty kick the winner
  • Second-straight win for Fulham
  • 3 defeats in 4 for Bournemouth 

Already-relegated Fulham beat Bournemouth 1-0 at a sunny Vitality Stadium on Saturday, as Aleksandar Mitrovic scored the only goal of the game to secure Fulham’s first away win of the season.

Mitrovic’s penalty kick came in the second half, as an even game saw the Cottagers edge it and caretaker boss Scott Parker has done his chances of getting the full-time job no harm at all with back-to-back PL wins against Everton and Bournemouth.

With the three points Fulham remain in 19th and are on 23 points, while Bournemouth sit in 12th on 41 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Callum Wilson raced in on goal early on but lifted his effort over the bar, and Bournemouth did all the pressing as Fulham struggled to get out of their own half and Josh King then fired over when it looked easier to score.

At the other end Nathan Ake cleared a header from a corner off the line, then Mitrovic flashed a shot over the bar but was offside.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Ryan Fraser forced Sergio Rico into a smart stop across his goal after a trademark surging run forward, as Bournemouth turned the screw. Bournemouth were forced into an early change as Junior Stanislas (who only replaced Adam Smith in the team just before kick off) went off with a knee injury and youngster Jack Simpson replaced him.

Mitrovic was then denied by a great last-ditch tackle by Steve Cook as Fulham improved, and from the resulting corner Denis Odoi‘s flicked header was saved well by Artur Boruc.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

At the start of the second half Fulham went ahead, as Simpson clattered into Mitrovic to give away a clear penalty kick. Mitrovic stepped up and sent Boruc the wrong way to end his drought of nine games without a goal and put Fulham 1-0 up.

Ryan Sessegnon weaved his way into the box and forced Boruc into a save at his near post as the visitors dominated the play in the second half.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Fraser flashed a shot just wide and Bournemouth threw everything at Fulham late on, with Rico denying Wilson and then Maxime Le Marchand coming up with a huge block.

David Brooks‘ cross hit the top of the crossbar and then Lys Mousset sent a late header straight at Rico, and that was as close as Bournemouth came to an equalizer as boos rang out from the home fans at the final whistle.

Barnes saves Leicester point at West Ham (video)

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  • Antonio gives Irons halftime lead
  • Vardy answers
  • Perez, Barnes trade late goals

Harvey Barnes used stoppage time to score his first Premier League goal as Leicester City twice came back in a 2-2 draw with West Ham United at the London Stadium on Saturday.

Michail Antonio and Lucas Perez scored for West Ham, while Jamie Vardy had Leicester’s other goal.

Leicester moves to 48 points, one back of seventh place Watford, while Manuel Pellegrini‘s Irons have 43 and sit 11th.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

West Ham were better money for an early goal, and Ricardo Pereira got to Michail Antonio just ahead of Marko Arnautovic‘s splendid 26th minute cross to deny the Irons an opener.

Robert Snodgrass stole a pass and fed Felipe Anderson for a shot which looked headed for the far post but smashed Antonio in the chest from close range.

Antonio got a deserved goal of full intent when he collected a Mark Noble crosss and turned a header beyond the reach of Kasper Schmeichel.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Vardy scored for Leicester out of nearly nothing, with Vardy cutting in front of Fabian Balbuena to knife a Ben Chilwell cross inside the near post.

Balbuena made some amends with a fine block of a James Maddison chance cued up by Harvey Barnes.

Substitute Pedro Obiang cranked a shot off the post that clattered onto the path of Perez for the goal.

Barnes then struck in the second of five minutes stoppage, rolling across and under Lukasz Fabianski following a Youri Tielemans through ball.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]