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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?

Ex-Arsenal man Gnabry: “London’s still red” after Bayern beats Chelsea

Serge Gnabry
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Ex-Arsenal man Serge Gnabry still has love for the club.

Gnabry tweeted that “London is still red” after he scored twice for Bayern Munich in a 3-0 beating of Chelsea on Tuesday in the first leg of a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

This after scoring four times against Spurs in a previous Champions League group stage match and Tweeting that “North London is Red.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

So what’s with the London form?

“I’ve got a lot of friends here,” Gnabry said after the game. “A lot of them were in the stands tonight, and it seems they give me a lot of good power.”

Gnabry only scored once during his time in England with Arsenal and West Brom but is a bona fide star in the Bundesliga.

With a three-goal advantage over Chelsea heading to Munich for a second leg, however, he’s not got his head in the clouds.

“Three goals ahead gives us a little bit of confidence, but we need to be prepared for the second leg. We can’t take it not seriously enough. … We’ve seen it last year with Liverpool beating Barcelona, so we have to be careful. We have to go into the second leg with all of our focus.”

Gnabry now has 51 goals and 29 assists in four seasons since returning to Germany from Arsenal. Not terrible production for a player the Gunners offloaded to Werder Bremen for under $6 million in 2016.

What color will London be when Chelsea buys him next year? We kid, we kid…

Champions League preview: Real Madrid renews rivalry with Pep; Lyon hosts Juve

UEFA Champions League preview
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The final two ties of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 begin Wednesday when Manchester City and Juventus head to Spain and France.

The focus for many will be on the former, as City continues to weather UEFA drama while its manager prepares for his fiercest foe as a player and manager.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Pep Guardiola has managed against Real Madrid 17 times and boasts a 9-4-4 record between Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

The Catalan wizard has lost his last three versus Real, two with Bayern and once in his final El Clasico as Barca boss.

Even as Guardiola stresses preparation and plan, he knows there will be bounces and that both teams will have to cope with them.

“We have to be strong, have quality and need to have luck,” he said, via The Manchester Evening News. “At this stage, it’s important but we cannot control that. We can control what we can control and we will see. This competition, last season, against Liverpool, there are decisions. You have to overcome. You need incredible concentration in our game and game plan plus try to be a little lucky.”

Real Madrid living legend Sergio Ramos has earned the ire of Guardiola on plenty of occasions, one of the few things Liverpool and City fans have in common.

Ramos wouldn’t get drawn into rivalry talk, sying the stage somewhat negates the opponent.

“I have a lot of respect for him,” Ramos said via the club’s web site. “I think he’s a fantastic coach, with loads of experience, and his numbers speak for themselves. We’re motivated by the Champions League, regardless of the players or coaches who may have been rivals in the past. We’re up for the Champions League and our next task is to beat City. From a personal point of view, I’m just focused on making the next round.”

[ MORE: Key battles for Real-Man City ]

Wednesday’s other match sees a club long linked with Guardiola, as Juventus will play the role of heavy favorites against Lyon.

Maurizio Sarri‘s side is to bidding to win what’s eluded all Juve bosses since Marcello Lippi beat Ajax in 1996. If they succeed, it will be by going down a different path than it’s traveled in recent years.

Here’s Leonardo Bonucci, via Football-Italia:

“What the coach asks of us now is basically the opposite of what the previous coach did,” Bonucci mused. “It was usually individual against individual, now it’s more about organized team movements. Obviously, you need to train consistently to get that down and playing every three days makes it difficult. But we started this journey well aware of the positives it could bring and the difficulties of getting there.”

Lyon has been maddeningly inconsistent this season, sitting seventh in the Ligue 1 table, but has the tools to surprise if Juve doesn’t bring its best. That starts in France on Wednesday.

Lampard: Chelsea first leg loss ‘quite sobering,’ ‘harsh lesson’

Frank Lampard
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Chelsea manager Frank Lampard isn’t sugarcoating his side’s 3-0 first-leg loss to Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 on Tuesday.

“Sometimes you have to be brutally honest about it,” he said in televised remarks after the loss. “It’s quite sobering.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Lampard admitted that Bayern was firing on all cylinders at Stamford Bridge, and proffered tepid support for the idea of an unlikely comeback in Germany next month.

“The level of team they showed that they are, hence why they challenge in the Bundesliga and the Champions League,” he said, via Football.London. “I’m disappointed we couldn’t do better against them. It’s a reality check. Don’t look at anyone else apart from yourself.”

“We should never say the door is closed because our fans would never accept that. I’m more concerned with the bigger picture here. There’s a lot to be done.”

Sure is.

Chelsea leads fifth-place Manchester United by three points in the top four race and has a four-point edge on sixth-place Spurs in the scenario that fifth is enough for Champions League football.

That’s important because the UCL path back to the tournament looks like a massive ask. And Lampard said the players need to use Tuesday’s blowout loss at home “as a positive effect” moving forward.

But he also put it pretty plainly during his post-match comments.

“It was a harsh lesson,” Lampard said. “This is Champions League football.”

Griezmann gives Barcelona first leg draw with Napoli (video)

Napoli v. Barcelona recap and video highlights
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Antoine Griezmann scored in the second half to earn Barcelona a 1-1 draw with Napoli in a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg at the San Paulo Stadium on Tuesday.

Dries Mertens scored a beautiful opener for Napoli, who heads to the Camp Nou for a March 18 second leg.

Arturo Vidal was sent off in the 89th minute for a second yellow card, and Sergio Busquets picked up a yellow which will cost him the second leg.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Gennaro Gattuso’s plan was to limit Barcelona’s shots, and it worked well in the first half.

Mertens got his goal on one of only five shots in the half, the only two on target coming via Napoli.

How a tale can turn on a moment, though, as Nelson Semedo set up Griezmann’s second-half marker to give Barca a useful away goal.

Barca was much better in the second half but could not find a second away goal.

Here’s the goal of the day, and it belongs to Mertens.