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PL Sunday preview: Man City get on without KDB; Brighton-Man Utd

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Manchester City’s Premier League title defense continues on Sunday, while last season’s second-place finishers and the grumpy, forgotten neighbors, Manchester United, are also in action amid the constant rumors over the future of Jose Mourinho.

[ MORE: Chelsea top Arsenal in thriller | Three things we learned ]

Man City vs. Huddersfield Town — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

City’s title defense began in fantastic fashion last week — a 2-0 victory away to Arsenal setting the tone as Pep Guardiola‘s side follows up its historically dominant season with more of the same — but it wasn’t without consequence, as Kevin De Bruyne suffered a knee injury that’ll keep him sidelined for as long as three months. The Belgian playmaker was instrumental during City’s romp to the title last season — arguably their best and/or most important player — which will up the degree of difficulty between now and November, but only slightly. The likes of David Silva and/or Bernardo Silva will be leaned upon more heavily to create chances from central areas — the former will be available on Sunday after missing the season opener following the birth of his prematurely born son — which should be more than enough to bridge the gap for as long as De Bruyne is away.

As for Huddersfield, only the Terriers and Arsenal can empathize with one another over identically brutal starts to the season: each will have faced City and Chelsea in their opening two fixtures, and will likely have a combined zero points to show for their efforts (Arsenal lost, 3-2, away to the Blues on Saturday; Huddersfield received a 3-0 hiding at home a week ago). The gulf in class between the two sides is far from lost on Huddersfield boss David Wagner, though he stubbornly backs his players against anyone.

“Everyone can see that we went for young, talented players under the age of 24 or free transfers where we didn’t have to pay a fee for them,” he said this week. “We have tried to strengthen our offensive line with speed and you can see from their ages that we have signed a lot of potential talent. … We have players who have shown their quality, not necessarily in the Premier League, but in good divisions such as France. We want to give them the platform to show what they are capable of here with us.”

INJURIES: Man City — OUT: Kevin De Bruyne (knee), Danilo (ankle) | Huddersfield — OUT: Mathias Jorgensen (knock), Danny Williams (ankle), Jonathan Hogg (hip)

Burnley vs. Watford — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Burnley finished last season in a place which Watford aspired to reach following a blistering start to the 2015-16 campaign — their first back in the PL — before falling back to the pack and finishing 13th, 17th and 14th. 2018-19 started brightly for the Hornets, as they topped Brighton & Hove Albion — without allowing a single shot on target — on the opening day of the season. The Clarets, meanwhile, are enjoying their first taste of European competition (they advanced a round further in Europa League qualification on Thursday), but it will undoubtedly leave Sean Dyche‘s men with heavy legs by the time the second half rolls around at Turf Moor on Sunday.

INJURIES: Burnley — OUT: Matej Vydra (fitness), Nick Pope (shoulder), Robbie Brady (hamstring), Steven Defour (calf) | Watford — OUT: Gerard Deulofeu (knock), Stefano Okaka (thigh), Tom Cleverley (achilles), Younes Kaboul (foot)

Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Man United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

There’s no club filled with more drama this season — yes, already — than Man United, with the vast majority of thanks going to the man in charge, Mourinho. After spending the final days of the summer transfer window complaining about a lack of signings, Mourinho’s men went out and beat Leicester City on the opening day of the season, but then Paul Pogba, who starred in the win just hours earlier, made some eyebrow-raising comments which seemed to be aimed at his manager. Mourinho has since denied a rift exists between the two of them, but it’s an all too familiar story involving Mourinho and his star players, nonetheless. The Red Devils will likely be shorthanded once again, as a number of players work their way back from injuries and star forward Romelu Lukaku (reportedly) starts a second straight game on the bench.

Brighton, on the other hand, are devoid of drama, but also devoid of points following the season’s opening game. Still searching for their first shot on goal, it’s the other end of the field where the Seagulls will be without their star man and captain, Bruno, who will miss a second straight game due to a hamstring injury.

“Bruno is a very important player, and when he’s not playing, that’s not good for us,” fellow defender Bernardo said this week. “We need to improve, because if we play like that in our next matches, it won’t be an easy season. I have the impression that we didn’t give our best performance, but I’m sure we have the quality and mentality to correct things and have a good season. … With time and more games together, we will get better chemistry and play better matches.”

INJURIES: Brighton — OUT: Bruno Saltor (hamstring), Jason Steele (thigh) | Man United — OUT: Diogo Dalot (knee), Marcos Rojo (undisclosed), Sergio Romero (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Jesse Lingard (fitness), Phil Jones (fitness)

Predicting the 2020-21 Premier League standings

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The 20 teams for the 2020-21 Premier League season are now set and we are releasing a prediction for the standings.

That’s right.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

With Fulham only sealing their spot in the Premier League on Tuesday via the playoffs, usually we would say this is very early to be releasing this standings prediction. But with the 2020-21 season kicking off in 40 days from now due to all of the schedule changes, it doesn’t seem too outlandish to have a crack at this.

Of course, transfers in and out will heat up between now and Sept. 12 when the new season kicks off and the transfer window open until Oct. 5, a lot can change with all 20 teams.

That said, Leeds United, West Brom and Fulham will all add something slightly different to the Premier League as the newly-promoted teams and it will be intriguing to see if teams who finished the 2019-20 season in red-hot form can carry that into the start of next season given the short break over the summer.

Champions Liverpool and Manchester City will be the favorites to win the Premier League title, while Man United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham will battle it out for the remaining two Champions League spots as they are rebuilding and nowhere near being title contenders, although Man United are closer than the other three.

[ PHOTOS: Ranking the Premier League kits for 2020-21 ]

At the bottom, it’s tough to see how the three newly-promoted teams can prosper given the short turnaround between the 2019-20 season and the 2020-21 campaign but Leeds seem the most prepared to solidify their spot in the Premier League.

In the fight for Europe, Wolves, Leicester and Everton look like the best bets of challenging the established top six but watch out for Southampton. Other surprise packages could be Brighton and West Ham, while you worry for Burnley and Crystal Palace given a lack of squad depth, plus Sheffield United and Newcastle United limped to the finishing line in 2019-20.

All in all, a lot will change in the coming weeks before the 2020-21 season kicks off, so we will do another one of these predictions post before the season starts.

For now, here’s my 2020-21 Premier League standings prediction and how I think the table will look when the final whistle blows on May 16, 2021.

Prediction for the 2020-21 Premier League standings

1. Manchester City
2. Liverpool
3. Manchester United
4. Chelsea
5. Arsenal
6. Tottenham
7. Leicester City
8. Wolves
9. Everton
10. Southampton
11. West Ham
12. Brighton
13. Burnley
14. Sheffield United
15. Leeds United
16. Aston Villa
17. Newcastle United
18. Crystal Palace
19. Fulham
20. West Brom

Do Man United need to sign Jadon Sancho?

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Jadon Sancho to Manchester United is set to be the transfer saga of the summer/fall and the big question is this: do Man United really need Sancho?

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Sancho, 20, is no doubt one of the top young players on the planet. So, in theory, every club needs Sancho.

Dortmund want $140 million for him and want a deal soon, while Man United are playing it cool despite talks of them already agreeing personal terms with Sancho and a breakthrough in negotiations being made with Dortmund.

Our partners at Sky Sports in the UK have the latest update, as they say Man United are determined not to be bullied over a deal for Sancho and will not agree to a Aug. 10 deadline.

It is believed United want to spend a lot less than $140 million for Sancho, especially given the current financial situation. I keep thinking ‘is their money better spent elsewhere on their squad?’ Perhaps on a center half or a holding midfielder?

The answer is somewhere between yes and no.

In their current front four they have a wonderful mixture of pace, trickery and creativity. Marcus Rashford flying off the left. Anthony Martial holding the ball up and running in-behind up top. Bruno Fernandes pulling all the strings just behind. Then there’s Mason Greenwood on the right, the prodigious talent who has burst onto the scene at the age of 18.

Greenwood’s emergence is the main reason we can question this deal for Sancho.

There’s no doubt Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants to sign the former Man City academy star but Sancho is more of a luxury signing for Man United at this point. Nobody expected Greenwood to burst onto the scene the way he has this season and not allowing him to be a regular starter next season and beyond would be a harsh, and damaging move for Solskjaer.

Rashford and Martial are guaranteed starters at this point and the only other way Sancho would fit into this team is if Martial dropped to the bench and Rashford played centrally with Greenwood and Sancho on the wings.

Rashford, Martial and Greenwood are similar players and combine well but we saw how United’s attack stuttered a little against teams who defended deep and Sancho’s trickery would give them something slightly different.

Aside from United’s current front four they have Odion Ighalo (on loan until January 2021), Jesse Lingard, Daniel James and Juan Mata. That’s quite a drop off in terms of quality but those are also players who are happy enough to play 15-20 games a season and play supporting roles. Sancho is not and if he arrives he will obviously start most games.

Jadon Sancho to Manchester United will rumble on but he’s a luxury signing. Man United will be fine without him but better with him, even though it could cause a few headaches for Solskjaer.

Scott Parker’s first season as a manager ends in Fulham promotion

Fulham promotion
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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Fulham are headed back to the Premier League after just one season in the EFL Championship, and that means Scott Parker has worked something of a minor miracle in west London.

[ MORE: Promoted! Fulham back in PL after 1 season in Championship ]

Parker took on a hefty challenge when he accepted his first senior managerial job last year. Fulham were a virtual lock to be relegated from the Premier League when he was named interim boss in February, and their place in the second division had long since been confirmed by the time he was named Claudio Ranieri’s permanent successor in May. The squad was expensive, bloated and full of players who had no intention of sticking around after relegation.

Given the club’s wealth of resources relative to the rest of the Championship, promotion at the first time of asking was more an expectation than a hope at Craven Cottage. Fast-forward 15 months, and the 39-year-old has quickly proven himself the right man for the job after doing just that — taking Fulham back to the PL by way of Tuesday’s Championship promotion playoff final.

Promotion may have been sealed on Tuesday, but Parker believes it was earned over a long period of transition and self-reflection by the players, beginning when he first took the job — quotes from the BBC:

“We’ve done what we’ve done tonight, but there’s still improvement, and that’s what makes me so proud and happy.

“For all of the good players and everything you see, what makes me so happy is I see a group of players who only a year ago were struggling psychologically, didn’t have a mindset or mentality.

“I’ve driven this team every single day and what makes me proud is I stood on the touchline tonight and seen a team that represents what I’ve been saying over the last 12 months.”

Now comes the the truly difficult challenge for Parker: after winning Fulham promotion he must assemble a squad of players not only good enough to stay in the PL, but also one full of individuals who want to be at his club and not simply any club that just so happens to be in England’s top division.

Promoted! Fulham back in PL after 1 season in Championship

Championship promotion playoff final
Photo credit: @FulhamFC
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Fulham are headed back to the Premier League after claiming west London derby delight at the expense of local rivals Brentford in Tuesday’s Championship promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Ranking the new Premier League kits for 2020-21 ]

It was an incredibly cagey affair — as the Championship promotion playoff final tends to be — that saw the two sides combine for just 17 shots (four on target) through 90 minutes of regular time. In the end, it was the most unlikely of restarts halfway through extra time that sent the Cottagers on their way.

Brentford were nearly the architects of their own downfall early in the first half. FirstIt was a poor back pass from Henrik Dalsgaard that left David Raya in worlds of trouble in the 10th minute, though Fulham were unable to find a proper chance amid the chaos inside Brentford’s box.

Fulham were perhaps fortunate not to go a man down in the 29th minute, when Harrison Reed slid through Christian Norgaard and put studs into the Dane’s ankle. Reed came over top of the ball in a 50-50 challenge and, despite first making contact with the ball, came in with borderline excessive force and in a reckless fashion. Nonetheless, only a yellow card for the on-loan Southampton youngster.

[ MORE: Christian Pulisic issues injury update ]

The start of the second half looked like more of the same from the first half: Fulham with an early chance and Brentford scrambling to stay level. Neeskens Kebano curled a free kick around the wall in the 48th minute, likely beating Raya if it was on frame, but only managed to rippled the outside netting.

Championship Golden Boot runner-up (25 goals) Ollie Watkins had the final scoring chance of regular time in the 70th minute as he fired from the edge of Fulham’s penalty area, but Marek Rodak was able to comfortably palm the ball over the crossbar. Still, the first threatening signs of life from the Bees.

[ MORE: Man United, Dortmund in talks over $140 million Sancho transfer ]

The decisive moment finally arrived in the 105th minute, and it came from absolutely nothing — less than nothing, one might credibly argue. Joe Bryan was tasked with restarting play following a foul roughly 50 yards from goal. Rather than lofting the ball high and to the back post, as Raya so clearly expected him to do, Bryan wrapped his left foot around the ball and whipped it toward the near post — as “near” as it can be from 50-plus yards. Raya was painfully slow to recognize the shot and tried to scramble across the face of goal, but never had a chance of getting anywhere near the ball.

Bryan doubled Fulham’s lead in the 117th minute. It was fast and fluid one-two atop Brentford’s penalty area and the left back tucked it away to seal promotion back to the top flight, and it turned out to be hugely necessary after Dalsgaard poked home a late consolation goal for the Bees with virtually the last kick of the game.

Fulham spent the 2018-19 season in the Premier League but finished with just 26 points in 19th place and were relegated back to the Championship after one season. Only time will tell if they’re able to stay in the top division this time, or if they’re a full-time yo-yo club.