Top 5 Premier League storylines in Week 1

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The Premier League is back on Friday, and it has surely been a busy summer around England’s top flight.

Most of the league’s big boys went out and spent to refuel for the 2017/18 campaign, while newcomers Brighton, Newcastle and Huddersfield look to leave a lasting positive impression on the PL in their first season.

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PST takes a look at the top 5 storylines around the opening weekend of PL action.

Champions look to Morata as Costa’s future still floating around

Chelsea vs. Burnley — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN

If one thing is certain from the PL offseason it’s that Antonio Conte‘s handling of Diego Costa was completely misjudged. With the Spanish striker still on the Blues roster, despite his clear willingness to head back to Spain, Chelsea looks to another Spaniard to fill the void left by Costa.

Alvaro Morata is a different type of striker, one that relies more on his pace and technical abilities than Costa. Only time will tell, though, how the 24-year-old acclimates himself to England’s top flight after playing for the La Liga and UEFA Champions League winners at Real Madrid a season ago.

Morata bagged 20 goals in all competitions last season for Los Blancos, despite often playing second fiddle in the starting XI to Karim Benzema. There’s no question Morata is a reliable scorer, but without playmaker Eden Hazard on the pitch this weekend against Burnley it may make things a big more challenging for the new forward.

Arsenal must cope with injuries

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — Friday, 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN

The Gunners coped with the loss of several of their top players in last weekend’s FA Community Shield win over Chelsea, but Arsene Wenger and Co. will again be at a disadvantage on Friday when Arsenal faces Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium.

[ MORE: Liverpool insists Coutinho isn’t for sale at any price ]

Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey are just some of the high-profile names that are expected to miss Friday’s clash against the Foxes, while Per Mertesacker will also be missing from the team’s back line.

Wenger will have to get creative with his tactics against a Leicester squad that boasts plenty of attacking firepower, including Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez.

The good news for the Gunners, though, is Alexandre Lacazette will make his PL debut up front, with the club hoping he can bring his Ligue 1 scoring form to England.

Will Spurs perform up to par after quiet summer?

Newcastle United vs. Tottenham Hotspur — Sunday, 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Mauricio Pochettino‘s side was invisible over the summer when it came to hitting the transfer market, and his choice of leaving his squad be was not met well by pundits.

With Chelsea, Man United, Man United and the rest of the league’s elite all making significant moves, it raised the question as to why Spurs wouldn’t add more depth to its roster.

Although Spurs are likely expected to beat Newcastle given Harry Kane, Dele Alli and the rest of the Tottenham attacking contingent, we’ll get a better look at how the back line adjusts itself without Kyle Walker. And moving forward, the club may have to perform without Danny Rose as well after his recent claims of wanting a wage increase.

New boys earn first chance to impress

Crystal Palace vs. Huddersfield Town — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold
Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Manchester City — Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC 

For Brighton and Newcastle, they probably didn’t get the opening weekend matches that they would have liked, but if they can pull off an upset then that feeling will surely go away.

Huddersfield, on the other hand, has a much more manageable fixture against Crystal Palace to open its PL account.

[ MORE: Ranking the top 10 PL players at each position ]

New-look Hammers head to Old Trafford

Manchester United vs. West Ham — Sunday, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Outside of the top seven from last season’s PL finishers, it’s an easy argument to make that West Ham has had the best summer of the rest of England’s top flighters. The club managed to bring back Mexico striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, while also acquiring Stoke attacker Marko Arnautovic and others.

The Hammers finished 11th in 2016/17, and while it was often the team’s back line that was the club’s biggest concern last season, West Ham now boasts a much more formidable attack heading into this campaign after scoring 47 goals in 38 matches last year.

Meanwhile, Hernandez will have the opportunity to play against another one of his former clubs on Sunday, with the Hammers taking on Manchester United — where the El Tri finisher played over five seasons.

Smalling considering full-time Roma switch: “Long may it continue”

Chris Smalling
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Manchester United loanee Chris Smalling is talking up life in Rome amidst a possible Serie A Team of the Season campaign.

Smalling had a disappointing 2018/19 season at Old Trafford, so it’s not a surprise that Solskjaer thought he could do better than the 30-year-old.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Instead, Smalling’s numbers are close to that of record-signing Harry Maguire in a Serie A league with slightly more scoring. Smalling ranks in Italy’s top ten for interceptions (2.2), clearances (4.5) and blocks (1.2).

Roma boss Paulo Fonseca wants the player to stay, as i Lupi are fifth in Serie A and Smalling when has played nearly every minute when healthy. Smalling told our friends Sky Sports that he has “an interesting decision to make.”

“Some of the other players said if you really hit the ground running, the love that you can have in this city is unbelievable. That’s really what I’ve felt and so have my family. Long may it continue.”

His age makes it tricky, but the advanced stats show that Smalling has been a very effective Premier League center back for four of his last six seasons.

Smalling may want to leave if Solskjaer isn’t prepared to hand him regular football, which would be a given in Rome. Now what’s the price tag?

According to WhoScored’s player comparison tool:

Chris Smalling
whoscored.com

Watch Live: Liverpool v. West Ham

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Liverpool v West Ham takes center stage at Anfield on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Reds aim to reclaim their 22-point lead at the top of the Premier League table.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

Jurgen Klopp‘s side remain unbeaten this season and with five more wins needed to guarantee the Premier League title, the finishing line is in sight. They are aiming for an 18th consecutive Premier League win which would equal Man City’s record for the most victories on the trot in top-flight history.

As for David Moyes and the Hammers, they are scrapping for their lives at the other end of the table and their daunting run of fixtures makes them one of the favorites for relegation.

Last season the Hammers did draw at home against Liverpool in the PL which was a key factor in the Reds not winning the title last time out but West Ham look extremely far from the team they were last season.

Liverpool v West Ham is first against 18th and all signs point to a big win for the home side as their unbeaten season continues with 25 victories from 26 games so far.

In team news Liverpool are without captain Jordan Henderson who has suffered a hamstring injury and will be out for the next three weeks.

Naby Keita comes in for Henderson in midfield as the rest of the Liverpool team is what you expect.

West Ham are without the injured Ryan Fredericks who suffered a shoulder injury in the 2-0 defeat at Man City on Wednesday.

Teenager Jeremy Ngakia comes in to replace Fredericks, while Felipe Anderson also comes into the lineup.

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Kids under 12 banned from heading in UK

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LONDON (AP) Children up to the age of 12 will be banned from heading a soccer ball in practice sessions in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland as authorities look to address the potential long-term impact on health of head injuries.

[ MORE: US Soccer bans heading ]

The governing bodies of the three regions announced the new heading guidelines on Monday, months after a Scottish study found former professional players there were less likely to die of common causes such as heart disease and cancer compared with the general population but more likely to die with dementia.

The guidelines say there will be a “graduated approach” to heading in practice for kids from 12-15, while the heading will be restricted to one practice session per week for kids 16 and 17.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

There will be no change in terms of heading in matches, taking into consideration the extremely limited number of headers which actually occur in youth matches.

The Scottish study did not state that heading a ball was the cause of the increased prevalence of neurodegenerative conditions among soccer players, but the decision to update the guidelines was taken to “mitigate against any potential risks”, the English Football Association said in a statement.

“This guidance is a responsible development to our grassroots coaching,” FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said, “without impacting the enjoyment that children of all ages take from playing the game.”

The associations said the guidance had been produced in parallel with the UEFA medical committee, which is seeking to produce Europe-wide guidance later this year.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Champions League score predictions: Round of 16

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The 2019-20 UEFA Champions League is finally back as the Round of 16 kicks off this week and two of the four Premier League clubs are in action.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Man City and Chelsea face Real Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively and both know they face tough tasks to advance to the Champions League quarterfinals as they do battle with two European heavyweights.

Glory in the Champions League is now the main focus for Pep Guardiola and Man City following their two-season European ban from UEFA which they are appealing. Frank Lampard‘s young Chelsea side host the Bundesliga leaders and hugely experienced Bayern, with the German giants the favorites to advance.

[ MORE: Which Premier League team(s) will reach last eight? ]

The Premier League sides are up against it but both teams are extremely capable of scoring goals for fun but it is at the other end of the pitch where they struggle as both Real Madrid and Bayern Munich will be hoping their star attackers shine on the big stage once again.

In the other two last 16 clashes this week Napoli host Barcelona as Lionel Messi warmed up very nicely with four goals against Eibar, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus head to Lyon for the first leg as the Italian giants are expected to advance with ease.

Both Messi and Ronaldo badly want another Champions League title to their name but Lyon and Napoli are more than capable of picking up big first leg wins at home.

Below we predict the scores for the UCL round of 16 games taking place over the next two days. Feel free to make your own predictions in the comments section below, too.


Tuesday
Napoli 1-1 Barcelona
Chelsea 1-2 Bayern Munich

Wednesday
Lyon 1-3 Juventus
Real Madrid 2-3 Man City