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Top Premier League Storylines for Week 4

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The Premier League has one last shout before the first international break of the season. There are four teams remaining who have yet to drop a point…Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, and…Watford? Arsenal is in ninth, Manchester United in 13th. The early-season table is fun!

[ MORE: Premier League club power rankings ]

So, with a short break on the horizon, who will take control at the top of the table and who will slip? Who will rise from early-season doldrums, and who will head into the hiatus needing a lift? There’s plenty to break down, so here’s a good place to start.

Two teams with perfect starts clash
Watford vs. Tottenham — 11:00 a.m. ET Sunday on NBC Sports Gold [ STREAM ]

The ol’ Something Has To Give match. Tottenham has put to bed talks of its fruitless transfer window with a perfect 3-0-0 start, while Watford has surprised everyone without a slip to this point. Both sides can’t get three points from this match, so someone has to slip.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]

Last season, Watford did something similar, with just one loss to the eventual champions through its first eight league matches. Eventually they fell and fell and fell, finishing 14th, just eight points above the drop. Still, that big start helped them stay up, and this year could be the same.

It will be interesting to see how Mauricio Pochettino plays this one. Spurs won big last week against Manchester United, but they were shaky defensively in the first half. It’s possible he switches to a back-three with Davinson Sanchez, Toby Alderweireld, and Jan Vertonghen plus a pair of wing-backs in Kieran Trippier and either Danny Rose (who struggled last week) or Ben Davies.

Will Liverpool continue to take no prisoners?
Leicester City vs. Liverpool — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

The Reds are blitzing the Premier League early on, and have taken a two-point lead over other Premier League title favorite Manchester City. Jurgen Klopp has the team firing on all cylinders and playing exactly as he instructs them to. Evidence to that fact is the team’s leading scorers in Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, who have combined for five of the team’s seven league goals thus far. In addition, they have remained the only Premier League side to have not conceded a single goal in league play.

Leicester City, meanwhile, has had a roller coaster start to the 2018/19 campaign. They have two wins in three Premier League matches, but have also seen two players sent off. If the Foxes suffer another red card on Saturday, they will surely be ripped to shreds by the visiting Reds.

Manchester City looks to bounce back against spunky Newcastle
Manchester City vs. Newcastle — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC [ STREAM ]

Last week, Pep Guardiola and Manchester City dropped its first Premier League points since February with a disappointing draw against newly-promoted Wolves. Kevin De Bruyne isn’t walking back into that locker room for months, and the attack sputtered against a well-organized team that peppered off 11 shots despite having just 29% possession.

Now, they return home to host a Newcastle side that has come up just short against a pair of title contenders in Tottenham and Chelsea. First, they fell to Spurs 2-1 on opening day despite matching the visitors shot-for-shot. Then, they slipped to the Blues at home on an unlucky DeAndre Yedlin own-goal. Under Rafa Benitez, this is a team that can provide any top team a challenge on the right day. City will need to come up with answers to questions posed last weekend, especially if captain Jamaal Lascelles is set to return for the Magpies from injury.

How will Manchester United respond?
Burnley vs. Manchester United — 11:00 a.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

Last weekend, after the final whistle doomed Manchester United to an embarrassing 3-0 defeat at home, Jose Mourinho looked like a man whose time is up. Yet here he is, set to take charge for another weekend with Manchester United sitting in 13th in the Premier League table. Does Mourinho deserve to still be at the helm, or has he earned the pink slip?

None of that matters for now, because he remains as the Red Devils’ boss, and he put in the work midweek as Burnley looked to progress in the Europa League.

Burnley had its fair share of upsets last season, including earning a point at Old Trafford last season thanks to a 2-2 draw on Boxing Day. This season, the Europa League has clearly sapped the team of some energy, as evident by the 4-2 result last weekend at Craven Cottage in a game that Fulham could well have scored three more, and Burnley missed chances of its own. So does Mourinho earn more time in charge, or do things truly come crashing down at Turf Moor?

Season restart preview: Brighton and Hove Albion

Brighton season restart
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Brighton is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Seagulls when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: If there’s a team whose results don’t show the way they’ve played, it’s Brighton. Graham Potter’s Seagulls have the sixth-best possession percentage in the league, are a tidy seventh in passing, and are mid-table in tackles per game, interceptions per game, and shots per game.

[ MORE: Ranking every Brighton player in 2019-20 ]

The expected goals stats show even less reward for good work, with Brighton scoring 8.35 goals less than expected in open play and 4.38 less from corner kicks.

Despite all these good things, Brighton is two points clear of the drop zone with nine matches to play and has a terribly challenging schedule especially at the Amex Stadium.


Tactical analysis: Graham Potter has put the Seagulls in myriad formations this season, though he’s been utilizing at least four at the back since the calendar turned to 2020. He’s ready to attack but pragmatic given the club’s hopes of staving off the teams below it in the fight for PL survival.

[ MORE: The 2 Robbies assess Brighton’s chances ]


Possible XI (4-2-3-1) 

—– Ryan —–

— Montoya — Webster — Dunk — Burn —

—– Propper —– Mooy —–

— Trossard — Gross — Alzate —

—– Maupay—–

Glenn Murray and Alireza Jahanbakhsh are excellent weapons to have on the bench, and Brighton’s also got a very good center back in reserve in the form of Shame Duffy and an underrated center mid in Dale Stephens who will see playing time, too. On paper, this team is too good to go down.


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Arsenal, Man City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Newcastle
Away: Leicester, Norwich, Southampton, Burnley

Predicted finish: They’ll do enough to get by, though that home fixture list is simply brutal. Safe before the final weekend.

Social media wrap: All 20 Premier League clubs, many players stand against racism

Premier League social media
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The protests in the United States have inspired anti-racism statements from around the world, including all gestures from all 20 Premier League clubs and many players and managers.

There have been ongoing protests and horrible violence in the U.S. since the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes even after he stopped moving and pleaded for air in Minnesota.

Newcastle United’s American defender DeAndre Yedlin issued an emotional thread (below) as one of a great deal of players to express hopes for change and solidarity, while Schalke’s Weston McKennie explained his wearing a black armband reading “Justice For George” in the Bundesliga this weekend.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

From Ancelotti to Zaha, Antonio to Yedlin, Arsenal to Wolves, we’ve collected many of their sentiments below in what we hope serves as universal disdain for racial prejudice.

Some players like Leicester City’s Wes Morgan and even entire clubs (Arsenal) changed their online identity photos to reflect these troubled times.

All PL clubs issued messages of solidarity, many using the Black Lives Matter hashtag and making no bones about where they stand.

And we’ll start with a longtime PL club currently in the Championship, who blasted a season ticket holder’s rejection of their unifying Tweet.

Here are some other clubs and players worldwide to have noticed what’s happening in the United States.

 

Season restart preview: Bournemouth

Bournemouth season restart
Photo by Robin Jones - AFC Bournemouth/AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Bournemouth when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Tough sledding for the Cherries, who face zero of their fellow bottom-six sides (though 13th place Newcastle and 14th place Saints both visit the Vitality Stadium).

There’s been an element of bad luck to Bournemouth’s woes, with its expected goals stats showing Ryan Fraser, Joshua King, and Callum Wilson have deserved better end product and that the Cherries’ 14 goals from open play should be closer to 22. The defense has been bad and xG says it could’ve been worse, too. Injuries had hit Bournemouth’s defense corps in a big way, too. How much better will they be after the break?

[ MORE: Ranking every Cherries player in 2019-20 ]


Tactical analysis: Eddie Howe utilized a 4-4-2 with two defensive midfielders for much of the early season, but has gone between a lone striker with a packed-in midfielder and a 4-3-3 when he thinks an opponent is exploitable.

Howe started a 4-4-2 against almost all of the Cherries’ remaining opponents, choosing a 5-4-1 against Wolves and Man City. There’s no guarantee he’ll continue that, especially when some matches may dictate a draw or limited goal differential damage over wins.


Possible XI (4-3-3) 

—– Ramsdale —–

— Smith — S. Cook — Ake — Rico —

—– Lerma —– Billing — L. Cook —

— Fraser —– C. Wilson —– King —–

Howe prefers to attack when at all possible, but the points will be at a premium against some very challenging opponents. It’s a safe bet that he’ll ask a lot from his forwards while trying to deploy his three relentless midfielders together whenever possible. The question here is whether Aaron Ramsdale returns quickly from his COVID-19 positive test, or if it’ll be Artur Boruc or someone else between the sticks.


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Crystal Palace, Newcastle, Spurs, Leicester City, Southampton
Away: Wolves, Manchester United, Man City, Everton

Predicted finish: The Cherries stay up, just, as King and Callum Wilson deliver the goods in front of a determined and improved midfield.

Premier League clubs will reportedly be allowed preseason friendlies

Premier League return
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Premier League clubs will be allowed to play preseason matches ahead of the 2019-20’s restart season later this month.

There will be strict protocols due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, and the matches will likely be officiated by club coaching staffs (We have so many Jose Mourinho as ref quips to make here, but let’s keep going anyway).

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Sky Sports says clubs will be limited to opponents within 90 minutes of their venue, and that players will have to drive themselves to the stadiums and go directly to the field in uniform.

With the League One and League Two seasons still hanging in the balance, it’s likely PL sides will be limited to each other and Championship sides. Presumably clubs will not want to meet others still on their fixture list.

We assume some players will get dressed in their vehicles outside the ground, but allow yourself some levity in these challenging times and imagine a fully kitted-up Virgil van Dijk driving the roads from Liverpool to Wigan Athletic.