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Top Premier League storylines — Week 21

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The Premier League’s festive fixtures continue to test squad depth, and one in particular is in danger of losing its surefire Top Four footing.

[ MORE: JPW’s PL picks | PL streaming schedule ]

That’s the lead of our top storylines this weekend in England.


Will Mourinho get Man Utd back in the win column?
Manchester United vs. Southampton — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC [ STREAM ]

[ PL PREVIEW: Man Utd vs. Saints ]

Back-to-back draws have Jose Mourinho’s men 15 points back of Man City, but the manager will be more concerned about his status just one point ahead of Chelsea and six clear of fifth place Spurs. The good news is that Saints defense looked awful in getting buried by Spurs, and Mauricio Pellegrino has some big questions to ask of his men — and himself — at Old Trafford.


Is Liverpool going to continue its charge up the table?
Liverpool vs. Leicester City — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

Unbeaten in 15, the hosts are looking for the first season sweep in this series since 2001-02, but history says it won’t be easy: The last two seasons have seen both sides take a win from each other in Premier League play. The Reds and Foxes have allowed 53 goals between them this season, so there’s a good chance of offense on Saturday at Anfield.

[ PL PREVIEW: Liverpool vs. Leicester City ]

 (Mike Egerton/PA via AP)

 

Was sloppy midweek a sign for City?
Crystal Palace vs. Manchester City — 7 a.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

Manchester City produced a lot of chances but only converted one at Newcastle United, its first 1-0 match in the Premier League since late September. City is a win away from tying Pep Guardiola‘s Bayern Munich record for consecutive wins (19), and have yet to lose this season. Palace will be facing a City back line still looking for health, so is there some danger at Selhurst Park?


Will the Baggies make it four calendar months without a win?
West Bromwich Albion vs. Arsenal — 11:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

Alan Pardew‘s West Brom has not won since it was Tony Pulis‘ West Brom, and that means September, October, November, and now perhaps December will pass without a league win if the Baggies cannot manage an upset against Arsene Wenger‘s bunch. Arsenal hasn’t lost in five matches, but boasts just two wins from that bunch. Ripe for an upset, or a breakout performance?


Here’s the new boss, and the old boss
Newcastle United vs. Brighton and Hove Albion — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold [ STREAM ]

Chris Hughton‘s done a fine job at several Premier League stops, and the ex-Newcastle manager looks for a season sweep of his old charges when he matches wits with Rafa Benitez at St. James’ Park. More importantly, a win would boost the Seagulls six points clear of the Magpies and multiple results clear of the drop zone.

Southgate, England players sound off on racist abuse

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England took care of business in Monday’s 6-0 thrashing of Bulgaria, but the Three Lions had to endure some horrendous racist abuse from the crowd during the game.

The match was paused on two occasions I’m the first half by the match officials after racist chanting could be heard from a section of supporters, and a large group of Bulgarian fans were ejected towards the end of the half. However, racist abuse continued during the match from small pockets of fans in the stadium.

[READ: England v. Bulgaria delayed after racist abuse from stands]

“I have to say that the officials were on to everything very quickly,” England manager Gareth Southgate told ITV after the match. “We reported everything immediately when we heard things, we had constant communication with the fourth official and the referee. I was in contact with the players, all the way through the first half in particular, and then again at halftime.

”We know it’s an unacceptable situation, and I think we’ve managed to make two statements. By winning the game, but also we’re raised the awareness of everybody to the situation. The game was stopped twice, I know for some people that won’t be enough, but we as a group were on board with that process.”

Raheem Sterling, who scored a brace in the win, also sounded off on social media, as did former England and Arsenal star Ian Wright.

Ultimately, UEFA and the match officials followed the protocol, but the sad part about this is that England and the officials had a plan for racist abuse, and it was predictable that it would happen.

In a statement after the game, the FA confirmed they would be asking UEFA to investigate what happened. However, any punishment is too little, too late for the players who endured the abuse.

Kane, Sterling star as England rout Bulgaria

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On a night where racist abuse from the stands in Bulgaria marred the overall spectacle, England’s players produced an incredible result and spectacle for the visiting fans, with all things considered.

Harry Kane scored once and assisted on three others as England rolled over Bulgaria, winning 6-0 on Monday evening in the Vasil Levski Stadium in Sofia, Bulgaria. Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley both scored a brace for the Three Lions and Marcus Rashford’s thunderbolt from a tight angle gave England the opening goal it needed.

The blowout result was the perfect response after England had suffered its first loss in qualifying for a decade, losing on Friday, 2-1 at the Czech Republic. The six goals England put past Bulgaria was also the fourth time out of six games that England had scored at least five goals in a match. The only other time, aside from the defeat, was a 4-0 win last month at Wembley Stadium over Bulgaria.

This story will be updated.

 

Racist abuse delays England v. Bulgaria qualifier

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England raced out to an impressive 4-0 lead at Bulgaria by halftime, but the wonderful attacking display was marred by horrendous incidents from the crowd.

The match in the Vasil Levski Stadium in Sofia, Bulgaria was stopped on two occasions with announcements being made to ask sections of the crowd to stop their abusive language. This comes with the stadium already serving a partial stadium closure due to racist chanting from the crowd in previous qualifiers.

Below is UEFA’s protocol on how to intervene in these situations, and what transpired from lead writer Joe Prince-Wright.

Tottenham re-signs goalkeeper Vorm

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With Hugo Lloris set to miss at least another two months of action with a broken elbow, Tottenham has turned to a familiar face to provide some cover between the pipes.

Tottenham announced Monday it had re-signed goalkeeper Michel Vorm to a contract through the end of the 2019-2020 Premier League season. Vorm spent five seasons with Tottenham after signing from Swansea City in 2014. However, after playing second-fiddle to Lloris and later serving as the third backup behind current Tottenham No. 2, Paulo Gazzaniga for the past couple of seasons, Vorm was released at the end of last season.

Its certainly a boost for Tottenham that a player with a long history at the club and plenty of experience was available to help in this situation. Similar to Liverpool picking up Adrian after Alisson Becker’s injury, Tottenham know what it’s getting in Vorm and may play him a few times if Gazzaniga needs a night off in the next few months.

According to Vorm, he had been home in his native Netherlands and was watching the game when he saw Lloris get injured.

“Obviously I saw straight away that he had a bad injury and at the time I thought about how bad it was, Vorm told Tottenham’s website. “After the game I spoke with Jan (Vertonghen), he told me what was going on and I spoke also with Toni (Jimenez, our goalkeeping coach) and, yes, during the week I got the phone call to ask if I was open to come back and help out. I’ve kept in contact with a lot of the players and also with Toni. We were speaking quite regularly and on Thursday he called me, we had the conversation and from there on, it went very quickly.”

In his five seasons with Tottenham, Vorm made a total of 47 appearances in all competitions. He saw plenty of time in the League Cup, FA Cup, UEFA Europa League and Champions League during his stay at White Hart Lane.