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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)

Leicester City’s Rodgers: ‘Good news’ on Vardy injury

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Brendan Rodgers says there’s good news when it comes to the injury suffered by Jamie Vardy in Leicester City’s 4-1 blowout of West Ham United on Wednesday.

Vardy hurt his glute in the win, temporarily returning to the match after treatment from the trainer but ultimately subbing off before halftime.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

“It wasn’t his hamstring, so that’s good news for us,” Rodgers said, via The Leicester Mercury.

“He just felt a twinge in his glute, so we just have to wait and see on that in the next day or so. Thankfully his hamstring is okay and he just felt some pain in his glute, so we will have to assess that over the next few days.”

Vardy has a Premier League-best 17 goals, one more than Man City’s Sergio Aguero.

He was replaced by Kelechi Iheanacho, who assisted one of Ayoze Perez’s two goals on the day. Perez’s seven goals are second on Leicester, while James Maddison‘s six are third.

Iheanacho has six goals and three assists in 485 minutes and there’s reason to believe he can feast off Leicester’s playmaking if Vardy needs a match or two to heal.

Whether he can fill Vardy’s shoes in the long-term is a big question, especially as Leicester aims to return for the Champions League.

Transfer rumor roundup: Willian Jose to Spurs, Bournemouth after Croatian CB

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London could get itself another Willian.

Willian Jose, 28, was left out of Real Sociedad’s squad at his request on Wednesday, with the club Tweeting that he’d prefer not to play until his situation is resolved.

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Jose Mourinho said he would not comment on another team’s players, but Willian Jose could help Spurs bridge the gap to Harry Kane‘s return.

Willian Jose has been a double-digit scorer for Real Sociedad in La Liga for the previous three seasons, and is well on his way to another 10-goal campaign. He’s got eight goals in 20 matches this season.

Bournemouth needs defensive help, and is reportedly rivaling Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers for Portuguese giant Toni Borevkovic.

The 22-year-old Croatian has one goal in just over 3000 minutes with the side since arriving from domestic side NK Rudes.

He’s averaging 1.3 interceptions, .9 tackles, and 3.3 clearances per game in league play.

Rio Ave sits seventh in Portugal’s top flight and is managed by former Premier League boss Carlos Carvalhal.

Dropped points in Top Four race point to wild February

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Regardless of whether Wolves end Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League season on Thursday, there will be five teams within seven points of fourth place heading into Matchweek 25.

Chelsea has 40, a comfortable-enough six-point lead on Manchester United, Spurs, and Wolves (who meet Liverpool at 3 p.m. ET Thursday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). Sheffield United has 33 points.

February, specifically the next three matchweeks, will see the teams inside that group learn a lot more about their fates, and give Chelsea and Sheffield United big opportunities to cement their places in the Top Four and Seven, respectively.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

In the case of the latter, it’s because the Blades are the only team in the bunch who don’t face a Top Four six-pointer; Chris Wilder‘s men will meet Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, and Brighton, while the others will be beating up each other.

Chelsea’s path is fraught, but a big opportunity. The Blues travel to Leicester City before hosting both Manchester United and Spurs. Nine points there would effectively Top Four-proof Frank Lampard‘s side.

By the way, how’s this for a hot take? If any of Chelsea, Man Utd, or Spurs find their center forward or playmaker help in the window, they’ll have a leg up on their Top Four rivals. And, really, is that extra few million pounds worth the spoils of the Champions League? Yup.

Bruno Fernandes is not (yet) with United, and the Red Devils face Wolves and Chelsea in their next two matches. Spurs have City and Chelsea. Tumult is probable!

A draw with Newcastle and loss at Watford dampened Wolves’ hopes of riding into fourth. Beginning with Thursday’s visit from Liverpool, however, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men face three of the Top Seven and then a visit from Norwich City. It’s not over.

And don’t entirely rule out Leicester City from dropping into the fray; The Foxes host Chelsea and Man City, and visit Wolves.

One more nod, however improbable: Arsenal sits 10 points back of fourth but meets Burnley, Newcastle, and Everton over those three match weeks. A perfect run could have the Gunners thinking big (Man City is after that, alas).

Matchday 25
Leicester City v. Chelsea
Crystal Palace v. Sheffield United
Manchester United v. Wolves
Spurs v. Man City

Matchday 25
Sheffield United v. Bournemouth
Wolves v. Leicester City
Chelsea v. Manchester United
Aston Villa v. Tottenham Hotspur

Matchday 27
Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur
Leicester City v. Man City
Wolves v. Norwich City
Sheffield United v. Brighton
Manchester United v. Watford

Spurs play Wolves the next week, too!

Mourinho: Spurs don’t have attacking depth, but do have ‘family’

Mourinho on Spurs win
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In this “whole new Jose Mourinho” world, the key word is family.

Mourinho said it six times in his post-match presser after Tottenham Hotspur scrapped to a 2-1 defeat of Norwich City on Wednesday in London.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Spurs had an early lead disappear when Ryan Sessegnon gave away a penalty to Max Aarons, and Teemu Pukki converted it for a 70th-minute deadlock.

Heung-Min Son scored nine minutes later. It was a win that is good for the whole family.

From Football.London:

“It was fantastic what happened after the 1-1, which happens in a difficult moment for us where I look to the bench and I don’t have attacking players to change the game the team is a little bit fatigued, especially Lucas, Son and of course Lamela. I took him off because he was in trouble and he is a player who is coming from very important and long injury, so very difficult.

“How can we change the game? With the family spirit, the family character and desire.”

Mourinho also praised Giovani Lo Celso‘s work on the wing for attack-short Spurs as “a good experience for the family,” and Paulo Gazzaniga‘s support for returned goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as “a good member of the family and he is such a special friend of Hugo.”

I mean, I’m getting the warm and fuzzies.

Clearly, Mourinho is stressing unity and there’s a bit of bunker mentality involved, as the manager mentioned some dicey calls not going their way against Watford, Liverpool, and now Norwich.