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Top Premier League storylines — Week 7

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Following this weekend’s slate of Premier League fixtures, club soccer won’t take another break for five months, thus the meaty portion of the season is so nearly upon us. First, though, one more round of league games followed by that dreaded weekend off.

[ MORE: JPW’s PL predictions | TV, stream schedule for the weekend ]

Here are five of the biggest PL storylines to follow over the next 72 hours…

First of 6 battles among the “Big 3”

If we’re operating under the wide-spread notion that Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea — as they currently sit 1, 2 and 3 in the league table — are the main contenders for this season’s PL title, Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. ET kickoff at Stamford Bridge (Watch live, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) is of massive importance: 3rd vs. 1st.

Man City (21-2 combined score through six games), like Man United, are yet to lose a game in the PL this season, while Chelsea haven’t lost since opening day (10-2 combined score in the ensuing five games). To say Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola‘s sides are in good form would be quite the understatement.

Conte got the better of Guardiola on both occasions last season, knocking off a nine-man City side at the Etihad Stadium in December before doing the double with a 2-1 win at home in April. Each side was victorious in the UEFA Champions League this week, with City brushing Shakhtar Donetsk aside, and Chelsea snatching all three points from their away trip to Atletico Madrid.


Undefeated vs. only defeated

Five wins, one draw — Man United’s start to the season. Zero wins, zero draws, six losses — Crystal Palace’s start to the season. Unfortunately for Frank de Boer Roy Hodgson, up next for the Eagles is a trip to Old Trafford (followed by a visit from Chelsea, so expect things to get worse before they get better). Will Palace score their first goal this season? Tune in to find out.

Further complicating matters for Hodsgon and Co. is the scintillating form of Romelu Lukaku (nine goals in eight games, all competitions) and the young attacking duo of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial (10 goals between them, all competitions, already this season), even with Paul Pogba still unavailable through injury (hamstring). Jose Mourinho’s men did the double over Palace last season, winning 2-1 away in December and cruising to a 2-0 victory at home in May.


Rafa faces his former club

Rafa Benitez served six seasons as manager at Anfield, and while he’d previously faced his former club as manager of Chelsea, Sunday’s 11:30 a.m. ET kickoff (Watch live, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) will be just the second time he’s done so while at Newcastle United. While it’s still early in the season, the Magpies’ current standing in the league table — 9th, and they trail the Reds by just two points — is undoubtedly one of the biggest surprises thus far.

No side currently in the top-16 of the league table has conceded more goal than Liverpool, which is welcome news for a Newcastle side that has struggled a fair bit in the goal-scoring department (six in six games). On the other hand, nothing they’ve seen thus far will have prepared them for the all-out attacking onslaught Liverpool are set to unleash.


Trouble ahead for Huddersfield?

Huddersfield were the single biggest story in the PL through two games — two wins as a newly-promoted side had them level on points for the league lead — though David Wagner‘s side has come back down to earth in its last four games — three draws and a loss, which slots them into 8th place ahead of Saturday’s visit from Tottenham Hotspur (7:30 a.m. ET, Watch live onNBCSN and NBCSports.com).

It’s the first time the Terriers have faced any of the PL’s “big six,” and signals the start of a run of five-of-eight games against those very sides — Man United, Liverpool, Man City and Arsenal all follow in relatively quick succession.


Battles at the bottom

  • Bournemouth vs. Leicester City — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold
  • West Ham United vs. Swansea City —Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

League-table places 15 through 19 currently read as follows: Swansea, Stoke City, Leicester, West Ham and Bournemouth. While it’s too early to call any game a relegation six-pointer, it’s far from too early to preclude yourself from the relegation dogfight which will be cultivated over the following two months.

MLS 3 Things: Resurgent Zardes, Toronto up, New England down

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A busy Saturday in Major League Soccer sees three interesting results bolstering the story lines of the final few months of the season.

[ MORE: Unstoppable Josef | Zlatan, too ]

1) Imagine a world with the reigning champs as your reward for finishing first.

With 14 matches to play, Toronto FC has Jozy Altidore back in the fold and has pulled to within eight points of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot after a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire on Saturday.

Sebastian Giovinco looks like Sebastian Giovinco in scoring another outstanding goal, just his fifth of the season, while Jonathan Osorio also scored in the win.

Before you watch Seba’s goal, picture you’ve won the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Now picture TFC as your semifinal reward.

2) New England is well and truly slumping

Brad Friedel‘s Revs are slipping after losing a third-straight league match, and New England has gained a solitary point since the calendar turned to July following a 2-0 loss at Red Bull Arena.

Fourth through ninth in the East are separated by nine points, and New England is very much in that mix now. Friedel is certainly at the most trying time of his tenure.

Second half goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips and Daniel Royer did the trick for RBNY, who have claimed 15 of the last 18 points available to them (The lone blemish is the Hudson River Derby).

The Red Bulls are now 8-1-1 at home this season, while New England is 1-4-4 away from Foxboro.

3) Gyasi Zardes’ return to form is surprising and wonderful

Columbus has its second win since May 19, and will be feeling much better about itself following a 3-2 comeback win over Orlando City which included a pair of equalizers.

One of those came in the 88th minute, as Gyasi Zardes completed his brace by converting a penalty won by new arrival Patrick Mullins.

The Crew won late via a rare Wil Trapp goal — the USMNT midfielder has just two in 161 matches — but let’s focus on Zardes.

Zardes’ 13th goal of the season continues an amazing turnaround under striker whisperer Gregg Berhalter. It’s Zardes’ second double-digit season, and his first since 2014. He is firmly in frame for another USMNT look, this time as a center forward, but first there’s plenty to like about the big man.

Surging Galaxy ride Ibrahimovic magic to 3-1 win (video)

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a man on fire, and the LA Galaxy are rounding into form.

The Galaxy overcame an early deficit in Chester to clobber the Philadelphia Union 3-1 on Saturday behind a goal and an assist from their world-class striker.

[ MORE: Neymar on diving ]

Romain Alessandrini had two assists, while Michael Ciani and Ola Kamara also scored for LA. CJ Sapong scored for Philly, assisted by Borek Dockal.

Unbeaten-in-seven LA moves into fourth in the West with the win, while Philadelphia remains three points back of sixth in the East.

Ibrahimovic has now scored in six of his last seven matches, and has 12 goals and two assists in 21 matches overall.

Let’s start with the assist, which we must’ve seen two dozen times when the big Swede was with Paris Saint-Germain.

Ibrahimovic takes a difficult pass out of the air with absurd touch, then waits for the right time to send an impeccable through ball into the path of Kamara.

As for the goal, you almost feel for Mark McKenzie.

The Union’s Homegrown defender has to choose between Alessandrini darting into his box and allowing Ibrahimovic a lick of space.

He gives it, understandably, then rushes to close down Ibrahimovic.

It wasn’t fast enough. Boom.

Americans on both sides, Weah scores as PSG fall to Bayern (video)

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Two hopes of the USMNT’s future — one more immediate than the other — squared off in the International Champions Cup on Saturday.

Paris Saint-Germain teenager Timothy Weah, 18, went 90 minutes and scored his side’s only goal in the 3-1 loss in Austria.

[ MORE: Neymar on diving ]

On the other side of the field was 62nd minute substitute Chris Richards, far less known to the American supporter.

Richards is on loan from FC Dallas, where he’s a Homegrown Player. The 18-year-old center back is going to play for Bayern’s U-19 side following a successful trial in April.

Both Bayern and PSG were without key pieces, as Weah went up against a decent Bayern back line of Juan Bernat, Javi Martinez, Josip Stanisic, and Rafinha.

Arjen Robben, Sandro Wagner, and Franck Ribery were the biggest names in Bayern’s XI, while David Alaba, Kingsley Coman, and Serge Gnabry came off the bench.

For PSG, Gianluigi Buffon started as did Adrien Rabiot.

Weah’s goal is below, and here’s what he had to say about it:

“It’s an amazing feeling and getting a well-done job. Me scoring goals, I was really happy to get my first goal for PSG and first goal in this competition. We’re going to Singapore with our head on our shoulders. We’re going to be really humble and keep playing.”

Klopp talks Pulisic, Liverpool’s spending

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Jurgen Klopp admits he’d love to work with Christian Pulisic again, but isn’t going to butt his nose into Borussia Dortmund’s business.

Speaking ahead of Liverpool’s International Champions Cup match against BVB, Klopp was asked about his interest in the American teenager.

[ MORE: Josef Martinez bags 3 more ]

Klopp was quick to point out that Pulisic is under contract to Dortmund and not for sale, as much as he’s aware.

From The Liverpool Echo:

“He had not his best season last year but he was still a decisive player but it’s important in that age group that there’s no rush. He still has 14 or 15 years to play in his career and that’s good and he wants to be the best Pulisic he can be. For this, there is still space for development.

“If – at one point – he will join us, I don’t know. I like him, it’s not that that could be the problem, but we respect contracts still and there’s no market I know about at the moment. We did our business and Dortmund are doing theirs. All good.”

Also all good? Klopp’s evolution on spending after blasting other Premier League clubs for big money buys in the past.

Klopp said he would quit football if transfer fees like Paul Pogba‘s became the norm. Well, they have, and no club has spent as much money as the Reds this summer.

“That’s the problem these days, hey? Whatever b.s. you say, nobody will forget it. On the other side, it’s still kind of true. I couldn’t have imagined since then that the world would change like it has. Two years ago £100million was a crazy number. Since then the world has changed completely.”

He said he’s going to do whatever it takes to make Liverpool successful, and Klopp now has the world’s most expensive goalkeeper and most expensive defender in his squad.