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PL Sunday preview: Can Man United, Liverpool keep pace?

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Highly unlikely to overcome 14- and 21-point deficits in the title race, respectively, Manchester United and Liverpool — along with the rest of the Premier League’s top-six — are merely in a race for second. West Bromwich Albion and Bournemouth — their opponents on Sunday, respectively — fear relegation.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Man City untouchable; Chelsea, Arsenal win narrowly ]

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

Try telling Jose Mourinho, the only man in the PL still refusing to concede the title to Manchester City, that the title race is over. The performances have often been ugly and ground out until the final whistle — especially in the absence of Paul Pogba, who’ll once again be unavailable through suspension — but Mourinho’s men have won five of their last six (the only defeat coming last weekend, to Man City) as they head into Sunday’s annual trip to the Hawthorns, where they’ll face 19th-place West Brom. The Baggies haven’t won in their last 15 PL outings (eight draws), a woeful run which dates back to the second week of the 2017-18 season.

While United have been nearly impenetrable defensively (11 goals conceded in 17 games), a pair of costly errors — each committed by star striker Romelu Lukaku — cost the Red Devils dearly against City, as did their recurring inability (against the PL’s top teams) to control the game through possession and create scoring chances with consistency. The same struggles reared their ugly heads in a 1-0 victory over Bournemouth on Wednesday.

As poor as the results have been over the course of four months, West Brom can hang their hat on a decent defensive record — just 22 goals conceded in 17 games, which puts them squarely in the middle of the table. If Alan Pardew‘s side sets out to defend for 90 minutes, the Baggies might just get something out of Sunday’s clash. Pardew was quite pleased by the improvements he saw during Wednesday’s 0-0 draw with Liverpool, and he’s hoping for a repeat performance against United.

“We kept them very quiet and created on transition better moments, in the limited number that we had, than we did at Swansea,” he said. “That’s an improvement, but still an area to work on. We had some really strong performances — and if you get four or five ‘eights’ in your team that normally constitutes points.”

INJURIES: West Brom — OUT: Nacer Chadli (hip), Matt Phillips (hamstring), Craig Dawson (knee), James Morrison (achilles); RETURNING: Gareth Barry (thigh)| Man United — OUT: Paul Pogba (suspension), Eric Bailly (ankle), Marouane Fellaini (knee), Michael Carrick (heart)


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

Every time Liverpool take a step or two forward, they take a step or two right back to where they began. Case in point: back-to-back wins over Stoke City and Brighton & Hove Albion, by a combined score of 8-1, which briefly vaulted them ahead of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur in the race for the top-four; followed by back-to-back draws against bottom-half sides Everton and West Brom.

With that side, Jurgen Klopp‘s side is unbeaten in its last eight league games and boasts one of the league’s most potent attacking records (34 goals scored in 17 games — third-most behind the two Manchester clubs).

Cherries boss Eddie Howe was encouraged by his side’s performances in that narrow loss to United, and the 40-year-old can sense that better days are on the near horizon.

“We’re disappointed because we’ve been beaten, but I’m really pleased with the performance,” he said. “I thought we were very good today and were very disciplined out of possession. We were also very good with the ball and created numerous chances. We really did establish ourselves in the game very early and there were some really good individual performances today. The team functioned very well.”

INJURIES: Bournemouth — OUT: Tyrone Mings (back), Brad Smith (hip), Adam Federici (knee) | Liverpool — OUT: Alberto Moreno (ankle), Adam Lallana (fitness), Joel Matip (thigh), Nathaniel Clyne (back), Emre Can (suspensions); QUESTIONABLE: Daniel Sturridge (hamstring)

Premier League Club Power Rankings: Week 5

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We’re a full month into the 2018-19 Premier League season, which means we can begin — yes, only just now — to make more definitive statements about where everyone is headed for the season.

Not much change at the top of the power rankings this week, but plenty of movement in the middle and bottom thirds…

[ MORE: UCL preview: Real, Ronaldo debut apart; Man City, United, too ]

20. Burnley — Bottom of the table after four straight losses, Sean Dyche worked an unthinkable miracle last season but he might not survive another month of results like the one just completed.
Last week: 16
Season high: 15
Season low: 20

19. Cardiff City — Nailed-on favorites to be relegated before the season started, the Bluebirds haven’t shown anything to suggest they’ve got a trick up their sleeves. Their stay in the PL will, however, be lucrative, if brief.
Last week: 19
Season high: 19
Season low: 20

18. Huddersfield Town — Teams wishing to avoid relegation must beat other sides in the relegation battle — Cardiff, for example. The Terriers couldn’t do it a couple weeks ago, followed by five more points dropped against Everton and Crystal Palace.
Last week: 18
Season high: 18
Season low: 20

17. Newcastle United — Three straight losses is better than four, but not by much. The Magpies get something of a free pass for facing Chelsea, Man City and Arsenal in consecutive games. The fact they lost each game by one goal (all 2-1)? Encouraging.
Last week: 17
Season high: 13
Season low: 18

16. West Ham United — The four teams below them in these rankings — and the real-life table — have been so bad that all the Hammers needed was one win to move from last place (with zero points) to outside the relegation zone.
Last week: 20
Season high: 16
Season low: 20

15. Fulham — Lost 3-0 to Man City this weekend. They’re supposed to lose 3-0 to Man City.
Last week: 14
Season high: 11
Season low: 17

14. Southampton — Only six goals conceded in five games is a top-six defensive record that could keep Saints up on its own. Only six goals scored, however, is firmly in the bottom half — dull and painful to watch, at best; a half-dozen defensive mistakes from relegation, at worst.
Last week: 13
Season high: 13
Season low: 17

13. Leicester City — Hammered by Bournemouth at the weekend, the Foxes undid any goodwill they might have accumulated in a narrow defeat to Liverpool pre-international break. Plus side: games against the Reds and Man United out of the way.
Last week: 10
Season high: 8
Season low: 13

12. Brighton and Hove Albion — Back-to-back draws, against Fulham and Southampton, in games Chris Hughton would have targeted as winnable fixtures.
Last week: 11
Season high: 9
Season low: 19

11. Crystal Palace — Snapped a three-game losing skid by beating Huddersfield, now the Eagles need to avoid being the lesser side against which Newcastle breaks out of its early-season slumber.
Last week: 15
Season high: 6
Season low: 13

10. Everton — Sure, half the team was out due to injuries or suspension, but losing 3-1 to the last remaining team without a point remains an unavoidably bad look.
Last week: 6
Season high: 5
Season low: 11

9. Wolves — After spending wildly in the summer, Wolves took just two points from their first two games in the PL. Back-to-back wins, against West Ham and Burnley, have shown they’re perhaps a cut above the relegation battle.
Last week: 8
Season high: 8
Season low: 13

8. Spurs — Back-to-back defeats, against Watford and Liverpool, and Mauricio Pochettino‘s side is outside the top-four (and -five) just like that. Harry Kane isn’t scoring (just two goals this season — zero in the defeats), and no one else has stepped up to fill the void.
Last week: 5
Season high: 3
Season low: 8

7. Manchester United — Wins over Burnley and Watford are nice, but let us know when they’re ready to handle a giant like Brighton.
Last week: 9
Season high: 4
Season low: 14

6. Bournemouth — Pop quiz: Who’s the fifth-place side in the PL table right now, ahead of both Spurs and Arsenal? ‘Tis the Cherries.
Last week: 12
Season high: 7
Season low: 12

5. Watford — No longer perfect, no longer unbeaten. The hard work begins now, with a winnable trip to Fulham. The fall from fourth — where the Hornets currently reside — could be quick.
Last week: 4
Season high: 4
Season low: 7

4. Arsenal — The only non-top-two team with three straight wins. The problem is, of course, the season-opening losses to Man City and Chelsea have them sitting seventh nonetheless.
Last week: 7
Season high: 4
Season low: 9

3. Chelsea — Pop quiz no. 2: Who’s the current PL leaders? ‘Tis the Blues, so why aren’t they no. 1 (or 2) on this list? Does Arsenal count as a signature win in their second week under a new manager? Probably not, so we are in a holding pattern until they take on Liverpool in 10 days.
Last week: 3
Season high: 3
Season low: 4

2. Man City — It still feels blasphemous to not have them no. 1, but Pep Guardiola knows it’s not necessary to blow the doors off everyone in August and September in order to win the title; that it’s more important to pace yourself for the whole of 10 months, if you want to win the Champions League.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 2

1. Liverpool — Speaking of signature wins, going away to Spurs and completely controlling and dominating the game was a surefire signal of intent from Jurgen Klopp‘s men. What they did against Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday doesn’t necessarily count for these rankings, but it shows they’ve got staying power.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 2

Juve’s Douglas Costa banned 4 games for spitting

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus winger Douglas Costa has been banned for four Serie A matches after a spitting incident on Sunday.

[ MORE: UCL roundup: USMNT’s Pulisic, McKennie shine ]

The Brazil international was sent off near the end of Juventus’ 2-1 win over Sassuolo after he spat at midfielder Federico Di Francesco. Costa had also raised an elbow at the same player and attempted a head-butt.

The Italian soccer federation announced his ban Tuesday, with the winger set to miss matches against Frosinone, Bologna, Napoli and Udinese.

[ MORE: UCL preview: Real, Ronaldo debut apart; Man City, United, too ]

Costa has already apologized for the incident on social media — via Google Translate:

“I would like to apologize to all of Juventus fans for this misleading reaction in today’s game. I also apologize to my teammates, who are always with me in good times and bad. I was ugly, I am aware and I apologize to everyone for it. I make it clear that this isolated attitude does not match what I have always shown in my career.”

Zlatan gets Thor treatment for game day giveaway (video)

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There’s something about Zlatan Ibrahimovic saying, “This is the new Greek god. This is Zlatan,” that leads you to believe it’s not the first time he’s had this thought.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 3-2 PSG ]

Ibrahimovic is the subject of a classic Costacos Brothers poster to be given away at the LA Galaxy’s Sept. 29 match against Vancouver.

If you’re not familiar with the Costacos Brothers, well, your bedroom growing up really missed out.

From “Kelly’s Heroes” to “Czechmate,” the Costacos were trusted with plenty of creative license in a bygone era.

Bygone for everyone besides Zlatan. Bit jealous we can’t get our hands on one.

Pulisic “a bit lucky” on 20th birthday match-winning goal

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BRUGES, Belgium (AP) Christian Pulisic celebrated his 20th birthday by scoring on his return from injury to give Borussia Dortmund a late 1-0 win at Club Brugge in the Champions League on Tuesday.

“It was great to come back after injury to and to be back with the team,” said Pulisic, who also made his 100th appearance for the club.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

The American, who hadn’t played since Aug. 26 due to muscular problems, came on with around 20 minutes remaining and scored in the 85th when Matej Mitrovic’s attempted clearance rebounded off his shin and looped in over Brugge goalkeeper Karlo Letica.

“It was a bit lucky but I’ll take it on my birthday,” said Pulisic, who had missed two Bundesliga games for Dortmund and the U.S. friendlies against Brazil and Mexico.

“I just saw the ball getting played through. I think the defender tried clearing it but I was in the right spot at the right time,” Pulisic said. “I think we deserved the goal at the time.”

Pulisic, who also netted against Benfica in March last year, is only the third American to score multiple Champions League goals after Fabian Johnson – who had two for Borussia Moenchengladbach – and DaMarcus Beasley, who scored six in stints at PSV Eindhoven and Rangers.

“I’m just going to enjoy the rest of the night with the team,” Pulisic said of his birthday celebrations.

Mario Goetze made a rare start for Dortmund but was unable to provide much of a spark against the spirited hosts. Leticia saved his effort in the first half. It was Dortmund’s only shot on target apart from Pulisic’s goal.

“It was a lucky win, a dirty win,” Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc said.

The win means Dortmund has already bettered its Champions League campaign from last season, when it earned just two points in six group games.

Brugge was back in the Champions League group stage after a one-year absence and created the better chances.

In the other Group A game, Atletico Madrid beat Monaco 2-1.

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