PL Sunday preview: Unexpected battlers at the top, bottom

Leave a comment

Sunday’s slate of fixtures features a pair of relegation battlers as well as a pair of top-six chasers, only very few of the above happen to be who you thought they’d be at the start of the season…

[ PL ROUNDUP: Man City, Spurs win while everyone else drops points ]

Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Everton — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Of the four sides set for action on Sunday, only Brighton have started the season as many predicted: in 16th after seven games, just two points clear of the relegation zone. Of the other three, Newcastle United would have been the next most likely to be faced with a relegation battle, but alas it’s Everton who head into Falmer Stadium 17th in the PL table, one spot and four goals worse off than the newly promoted Seagulls.

After spending $200 million in the summer, the Toffees were supposed to be the ones bidding to break up the top-six hierarchy — not Newcastle, as is actually the case.

“I accept that everyone is entitled to his opinion and as a coach I don’t run away from criticism,” Everton boss Ronald Koeman said this week. “We know within Everton that we currently play under our level and that the results should be better. The moment I made the move from Southampton to a club with such ambitions, I knew I could be in a difficult situation if investments were not accompanied by results. I’m pretty calm with it.”

As for Brighton, things are slowly but surely turning around. Having scored just five goals through seven games, four of the five have come in their last two home games — 3-1 and 1-0 victories over West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle, respectively. Brighton boss Chris Hughton, for one, isn’t panicking.

“We could have had slightly more than seven points but we’re a new team coming into this division and we’ve already played Arsenal and Man City,” he said this week. “There’s not a sense of satisfaction at this moment because when you have competitive players, you don’t like losing. But there’s more positives to come from the game than negatives.”

INJURIES: Brighton — OUT: Tomer Hemed (suspension), Steve Sidewell (back), Beram Kayal (leg), Sam Baldock (calf); QUESTIONABLE: Davy Propper (thigh) | Everton — OUT: Ross Barkley (hamstring), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), Yannick Bolasie (knee); RETURNING: James McCarthy (knee)

[ MORE: De Bruyne’s brilliance lauded | Klopp no fan of Mourinho’s style ]

Southampton vs. Newcastle United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

A win at St. Mary’s Stadium on Sunday could see Newcastle climb as high as fifth in the league table, depending on the margin of victory (a run-of-the-mill five-goal win would do the trick). Rafa Benitez‘s side is undoubtedly one of the biggest stories of the still-young season, having lost their first two games following a tumultuous summer of transfer dealings, only to rebound with three straight wins and points from four of the following five games.

As for their opponents, back-to-back losses to Manchester United and Stoke City leave Southampton chasing three points just to climb back into the top half of the table. While Newcastle will have been disappointed for the recent international break to arrive when it did (their 1-1 draw with Liverpool two weeks ago put everyone on notice), it couldn’t have come at a better time for Saints. These kind of early-season struggles are to be expected, though, according to midfielder James Ward-Prowse.

“This season we have a new manager, a new style of play and a few new signings as well, which have had a positive impact on the team,” he said this week. “It’s a building process still for us all, but it’s a positive one in the making. After this two weeks, it’s a great chance for us to hit the ground running and take the league by storm now.”

INJURIES: Southampton — PROBABLE: Shane Long (hip) | Newcastle — OUT: Paul Dummett (hamstring); PROBABLE: Jonjo Shelvey (finger), Matthew Ritchie (thigh), Christian Atsu (knee)

LASK Linz loses Austrian league lead for team training

LASK docked points
Photo by Franz Kirchmayr/SEPA.Media /Getty Images
1 Comment

LINZ, Austria — Austrian league leader LASK Linz has been deducted six points for conducting team training sessions in violation of pandemic restrictions, a decision that could have a big impact on the title race.

The points deduction means LASK slipped from first place to second, three points behind defending champion Salzburg. There are 10 rounds left to play in the Austrian Bundesliga, which is due to resume on June 2.

The Austrian soccer league said Thursday its also fined the club 75,000 euros ($83,000) for breaking “the basic idea of fair play.”

[ MORE: German Bundesliga Week 29 predictions, preview ]

LASK said it will appeal the verdict.

The proceedings against LASK were started on May 14, when videos were shown to the league of the team training together instead of in small groups as permitted.

The club later acknowledged it held four team training sessions. Both LASK coach Valérien Ismaël and vice-president Jürgen Werner apologized during a press conference.

LASK has 14 days to lodge its appeal.

Bundesliga Week 29 predictions, preview, schedule

Bundesliga Week 29 predictions
Photo by Cathrin Mueller/Bongarts/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Bundesliga title is all but Bayern Munich’s following a midweek which saw the Bavarians beat Borussia Dortmund and all other chasers drop points, but the fight for Champions League places remains fierce.

[ MORE: Key issues ahead of Premier League restart ]

Dortmund now must turn its attention from a title fight that isn’t quite over to holding and building upon its four-point advantage on fifth.

RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach sit third and fourth, the latter ahead of Bayer Leverkusen on just two goals of differential.

[ BUNDESLIGA: Week 28 takeaways, Team of the Week ]

So, yes, there will be plenty of drama moving forward. And we’ll start this week’s preview and predictions with a Friday match-up of two teams who took a step out of the catbird seat at midweek and will hope to firm up European plans with a win in Freiburg.

Friday

Freiburg v. Bayer Leverkusen: The scrappy hosts tossed away a 2-goal lead in drawing Eintracht, while Bayer saw its red-hot form cooled off with an exclamation point in a 4-1 loss to Wolfsburg. Freiburg’s now four points out of sixth and Bayer’s outside the top four on goal difference. That said, Kai Havertz’s Bayer has weapons for days and the creativity to get through the compact, physical Freiburg formation. Will the trip down south hamper them? 2-0 Bayer.

Kai Havertz
Kai Havertz (Photo by Jörg Schüler/Getty Images)

Saturday

Hertha Berlin v. Augsburg: Bruno Labbadia has Hertha playing as well as it has since the brief bump the club saw under Jurgen Klinsmann in December. The draw against RB Leipzig is enough to think that they’ll be able to keep it up against a game but undermanned Augsburg. 2-1 Hertha.

Mainz v. Hoffenheim: Led by Christoph Baumgartner’s Player of the Week performance, Hoffenheim finally looked itself at midweek. Mainz has a chance to move clear of the bottom three with a win, as the trio below them all face traditional powers. It’s not a long trip for the visitors, who should really come away with a win. Mainz’s defending is poor. Hoffenheim 2-0 is more an indicator of not being able to rely on the visitors’ consistency.

Schalke v. Werder Bremen: If you’d only watched the Bundesliga since the restart, you’d think these sides would be flipped in the table. Bremen has ground out results and has hope of avoiding its first relegation in 40 years, while ninth-place Schalke has looked like, frankly, one of the worst teams in the league. Winless in 10 with just three goals — two from USMNT mid Weston McKennie — there’s no guarantee David Wagner’s men show up with any vigor and that’s a problem. Bremen still isn’t a potent attack, though, so this one has 0-0 written all over it. We’ll aim for positivity and desperation: a 1-1 draw.

Wolfsburg v. Eintracht Frankfurt: Eintracht would love a match against a bottom-half side given its four-match winless streak, which has included only top eight sides. Enter sixth-place Wolfsburg, who looked dynamite in blowing out in-form Bayer. It’s been difficult to break down the defense of Wolfsburg, who hasn’t lost since the calendar turned to February. That doesn’t change Saturday, as Wolfsburg wins 1-0.

Bayern Munich v. Fortuna Dusseldorf: Sixteenth-place Fortuna kicks off a four-match run against top four contenders with the need for a surprise or two along the way to the two winnable fixtures at the end of the season. Bayern has pretty much quit losing under Hansi Flick, and its 15-match losing streak isn’t going to end here. Robert Lewandowski didn’t score in a league match for just the sixth time this season in Tuesday’s Der Klassiker win. Figure that changes at home. Bayern 3-1.

Bundesliga team of the week
Robert Lewandowski (Photo by Federico Gambarini/Pool via Getty Images)

Sunday

Borussia Monchengladbach v. Union Berlin: Union heads across the country to meet a Gladbach side who’s disappointed in consecutive matches. It would be surprising if that extended into a third match, especially with second place a realistic goal and so many talented attackers including Marcus Thuram and Alassane Plea. Given a terrible performance versus Bremen, they wake up. Gladbach 2-0.

Paderborn v. Borussia Dortmund: Paderborn has been playing well for a last-place side, and Dortmund might be reeling a bit after performing well enough to get a result from Bayern but losing on a Joshua Kimmich wondergoal and wondering what would’ve been if VAR reviewed an apparent Jerome Boateng handball in the box. Still, there’s too much talent here even at a desperate host. In a non-coronavirus world the home crowd changes our opinion a little on the score line. Dortmund 4-0.

Monday

Koln v. RB Leipzig: Alright, so anything could happen here, really. Leipzig is unbeaten in nine since a Feb. 1 draw with Gladbach, but only three wins have kept them from embracing their place in the title fight. Now out of the picture, they meet a Koln who was the worst team in the league for four months, then the hottest for three, and is now winless in four. In the end, the Dayot Upamecano-led Leipzig back line is too strong and will be enough. Leipzig 3-0.

LISTEN: NBC’s crew discusses the Premier League’s June 17 return

Leave a comment

Rebecca Lowe, Arlo White, Lee Dixon, Robbie Earle, Graeme Le Saux, Kyle Martino, and Robbie Mustoe react to the announcement that the Premier League has agreed to a provisional restart date of June 17.

The state of play for England’s top-flight is live as Liverpool closes in on its first domestic title of the PL era and the European and relegation pictures are anything but settled.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on NBC via Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow them on Twitter @The2RobbiesNBC here.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ] 

Transfer news: Tagliafico to Chelsea; Osimhen to Arsenal

Getty Images
Leave a comment

In the latest transfer news Chelsea have been linked with a move for Nicolas Tagliafico, while Arsenal are said to be keen on Victor Osimhen.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Starting in west London, Chelsea are said to be interested in Ajax left back Nicolas Tagliafico as the Argentine defender will be available this summer.

According to The Telegraph, Tagliafico, 27, will be available to buy for $28 million and he’s been linked with Arsenal in the Premier League and plenty of top clubs in Europe. Per the report, Tagliafico would be a much cheaper option than Leicester City’s Ben Chilwell.

Tagliafico is a solid, reliable defender who is calm on the ball and versatile. That is exactly what Frank Lampard wants at left back as his two current options Marcos Alonso and Emerson have been inconsistent with Alonso better going forward and Emerson slightly better defensively. Chelsea need to improve defensively and be it in a 3-4-3 formation or a 4-3-3 system, Tagliafico will slot in well.

At $28 million, Tagliafico would be a very shrewd signing and he’s been influential in the Ajax side which has impressed in Europe over the last two seasons, including in their run to the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League semifinals. With Ajax winger Hakim Ziyech already joining Ajax from Chelsea, the Blues could do a lot worse than picking up Tagliafico to solve their left back problem.

Osimhen
Getty Images

Switching from west London to north London, Arsenal have been linked with plenty of attacking players in recent weeks, even though it appears Mikel Arteta will be strapped for cash in the upcoming transfer windows.

A report from La Replubblica says that Arsenal are battling with Napoli for 21-year-old Lille forward Victor Osimhen.

Osimhen has flourished at Lille over the past few years and Arsenal are looking to sign young, hungry, pacy forwards and the Nigerian international fits the bill.

Nicolas Pepe joined Arsenal from Lille last summer in a club-record deal of close to $88 million and per the report, Arsenal already owe Lille plenty of monthly payments on the deal for Pepe so maybe Osimhen’s transfer fee could be built into that payment plan?

Still, his price tag of over $60 million seems way too high for an Arsenal side who are looking at swap and loan deals galore, plus have agreed to a long-term wage cut with players and staff.

Is up front an area they are looking to strengthen? With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang maybe leaving, plus Alexandre Lacazette also said to be keen on a move, that leaves Arteta with youngsters Eddie Nketiah and Gabriel Martinelli who have both impressed. Osimhen scored 20 goals in all competitions last season and 18 this season and Lille are said to be willing to sell on some of their best young stars as they did not qualify for the UEFA Champions League next season due to the Ligue 1 season being canceled in France and a points-per-game model used to determine the final table.

Osimhen could be available but could Arsenal afford him? Surely only if Auba and Laca both leave.