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PL Sunday preview: Man Utd, Spurs, Arsenal hit the road

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures is chock-full of top-six sides in action, as Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur all look to advance their respective bids to topple this season’s favorites, Manchester City and Liverpool.

[ MORE: What did we learn from PL Saturday, Week 4? ]

Cardiff City vs. Arsenal — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The pressure has eased — even if only ever so slightly — on Unai Emery after picking up his first victory as Arsenal manager last weekend. What the Spaniard could now use is a healthy haul of points from the Gunners’ next seven games, all of which come against non-top-six sides. Up first is a trip to the south of Wales to take on 16th-place Cardiff, a side still seeking its first win (and goal) this season. Emery and midfielder Mesut Ozil have reportedly fallen out with one another, but the manager maintains the story is little more than tabloid fodder.

“Throughout my career I have respect for the media, for newspaper, radio, TV. But there are a lot of people in the media and at not every moment is the information real. It isn’t true, the news. … In this situation with Mesut Ozil, it is clear: he is OK, he has the commitment we want, he is a very important player for us and we want to help him to give us the best performance in each match and each moment.”

As for the Bluebirds, Neil Warnock‘s side is the last remaining team without a goal to their name this season. On the bright side, the two points they have to their name means they’ve kept a pair of clean sheets — in back-to-back games, no less — against Newcastle United and Huddersfield Town.

INJURIES: Cardiff — OUT: Junior Hoilett (groin), Aron Gunnarsson (knee) | Arsenal — OUT: Sead Kolasinac (knee), Laurent Koscielny (achilles), Carl Jenkinson (ankle), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (knee)

Burnley vs. Manchester United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

It might be early in the 2018-19 season, but it’s not too early for Jose Mourinho to find himself facing the possibility of being fired should Man United lose away to Burnley a week after losing 3-0 to Tottenham Hotspur. It’s not just Monday’s result, but the overwhelming sense of discontent around Old Trafford that has begun to make Mourinho’s position feel as if it’s untenable. He and his players are saying all of the right things, publicly, ahead of Sunday’s trip to Turf Moor, but it’s not as if anyone has any other choice at the moment.

Luke Shaw, for instance, feels the players must stick together and keep their heads down to right the ship.

“You see a lot of things in the media that go on about what our dressing room is like, but we have a really good spirit, a really good group of lads who want to work and achieve big things here. We have a group of hard workers and amazing talents, everywhere you look on the field. We have got to start taking our chances and I am sure we will start winning games. We have got to pick ourselves back up, keep working hard and we need to pick up points after two losses. We need to win and win in a good way.”

Burnley, on the other hand, are dealing with adversity of their own after failing to qualify for the group stage of the Europa League this week. Now, Sean Dyche‘s men seek their first win of the season, and their first point since opening day. Back-to-back defeats to Watford (3-1) and Fulham (4-2) have dropped the Clarets to 19th place in the league table.

INJURIES: Burnley — OUT: Johann Gudmundsson (hamstring), Steven Defour (calf), Robbie Brady (hastring) | Man United — OUT: Marcos Rojo (undisclosed), Diogo Dalot (fitness), Sergio Romero (fitness)

Watford vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 11 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

At the other end of the table, Sunday also provides an unlikely meeting of unbeaten sides when Watford host Tottenham at Vicarage Road. The Hornets have feasted on bottom-half sides in their first three games, while Spurs landed the first blow of the season amongst the “other” top-six sides vying for Champions League qualification.

While much of the talk about Mauricio Pochettino‘s side has focused on the fact that not a single player was signed this summer — the first such occurrence for a PL club since the summer transfer window began — Monday’s demolition of the Red Devils served as a coming-out party for Brazilian attacker Lucas Moura, a $___-million acquisition who had virtually no impact last season after signing in January. As a well-known former manager in north London might say, getting Moura up to speed with a full preseason behind him has been kind of like a new signing.

Pochettino’s counterpart on Sunday, Javi Gracia, has pushed all of the right buttons thus far, and he’s had to do so when it comes to picking his lineup and substitutes. With such a healthy, deep squad, Gracia might feel this is Watford’s best chance to knock off Spurs for the first time in the PL era. In 12 league meetings spanning two and a half decades, they have just three points to show for their efforts, and haven’t beaten the north London side in league play since 1987.

INJURIES: Watford — OUT: Tom Cleverley (achilles), Younes Kaboul (foot) | Tottenham — OUT: Hugo Lloris (thigh), Heung-Min Son (international duty), Moussa Sissoko (hamstring)

The 2 Robbies podcast: Liverpool, Chelsea through to UCL knockouts

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle on Liverpool’s nervy 2-0 win against Red Bull Salzburg to take first place in Group E of the Champions League (1:55), Chelsea’s 2-1 win over Lille to secure a place in the Round of 16 (13:15) and who is the current favorite to win it all (20:45).

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Plus, what Arsenal’s come-from-behind 3-1 win at West Ham means for both London clubs (29:10) and the Robbies discuss what they’re looking forward to most at the next Live Premier League Mornings Fan Fest in Miami Beach (46:05).

To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow them on Twitter @The2RobbiesNBC here.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

PL Club Power Rankings: Week 16

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The Premier League didn’t issue too many surprises at the bottom of the table this week, but two top-tier sides didn’t behave as such and shook up our rankings.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Chelsea and Man City have dipped low, and Bournemouth’s skid doesn’t have it sinking lower (yet) because of the teams beneath it.

Green: New season-high ranking
Red: New season-low

[ MORE: PL Club Power Rankings archive ]


20. Watford — Liverpool and Manchester United are next, and it’s looking a long way back to safety.
Last week: 20
Season high: 17
Season low: 20
Last match: Drew 0-0 v. Crystal Palace
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Liverpool

19. Norwich City — Outshot, out-passed, our possessed Sheffield United at home and still lost. Bad vibes, man.
Last week: 18
Season high: 10
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Sheffield United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Leicester City

18. West Ham United — Just feels like there’s something lurking below the surface here. Doesn’t smell right given the Irons talent.
Last week: 17
Season high: 5
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 3-1 v. Arsenal
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Southampton

17. Bournemouth — Losing to Liverpool is no shame, but it’s almost officially time to worry.
Last week: 16
Season high: 6
Season low: 17
Last match: Lost 3-0 v. Liverpool
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Chelsea

16. Aston Villa — Tom Heaton is a heck of a goalkeeper but he can’t be expected to save four A-plus danger chances per game.
Last week: 14
Season high: 8
Season low: 16
Last match: Lost 4-1 v. Leicester City
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Sheffield United

15. Southampton — West Ham and Villa back-to-back have to provide four points if Saints revival is to be believed.
Last week: 15
Season high: 13
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Newcastle United
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday v. West Ham United

14. Everton — Duncan Ferguson gives the Toffees board reason enough to be patient with their managerial hire, and then Napoli goes and fires Carlo Ancelotti.
Last week: 19
Season high: 5
Season low: 19
Last match: Won 3-1 v. Chelsea
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Manchester United

13. Burnley — The defending against Spurs — we know, Spurs are good — was enough to drop them far lower than four spots. Abject stuff from a Sean Dyche side.
Last week: 9
Season high: 5
Season low: 15
Last match: Lost 5-0 at Spurs
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Newcastle

12. Arsenal — Freddie Ljungberg started Nicolas Pepe, and Nicholas Pepe was his best player. Stunning stuff, really. Look at the assist below.
Last week: 13
Season high: 4
Season low: 12
Last match: Won 3-1 at West Ham
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Man City

11. Crystal Palace — I want to believe, but am holding out for something more. A derby win versus Brighton would suffice.
Last week: 7
Season high: 5
Season low: 18
Last match: Drew 0-0 at Watford
Up next: 2:45 p.m. ET Monday v. Brighton

10. Newcastle United — Again, Steve Bruce‘s men are getting tremendous Fortune and he’s pushing almost all the right buttons (It takes guts to start Andy Carroll over the struggling record signing Joelinton). This could be a sign of the Geordie Apocalypse.
Last week: 11
Season high: 11
Season low: 20
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Southampton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Burnley

9. Sheffield United — A little wobbly lately, but still a good comeback at Carrow Road.
Last week: 10
Season high: 5
Season low: 17
Last match: Won 2-1 at Norwich City
Up next: 10 a.m ET Saturday v. Aston Villa

8. Brighton and Hove Albion — Doesn’t it say something that a country who starves for young, strong English coaches had one sitting in Sweden for eight years? Graham Potter is legit.
Last week: 12
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Won 2-1 at Arsenal
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Wolves

7. Chelsea — Some of those young guys who’ve played so well, so early, are looking a little ragged. It’s a shame Frank Lampard is still waiting on Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who will really help things take another step.
Last week: 5
Season high: 2
Season low: 12
Last match: Lost 3-1 at Everton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Bournemouth

6. Manchester City — It probably has nothing to do with the system, and a lot to do with not having Aymeric Laporte, Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane… Still, it needs to be better than a home derby loss to a Paul Pogba-less United.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 6
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Manchester United
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday at Arsenal

5. Tottenham Hotspur — We’re gonna need multiple screens on Sunday morning, as Wolves-Spurs and Man Utd-Everton are both must-monitor.
Last week: 8
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 5-0 v. Burnley
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Wolves

4. Manchester United — Ole’s at the wheel, and still doesn’t feel like Lewis Hamilton or anything but we’re not worried about heading off a cliff.
Last week: 6
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 2-1 at Man City
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Everton

3. Wolves — Beat Spurs on Sunday and I’ll go ahead and bet on them as a Top Four finisher, even after the Brighton draw failed to deliver the goods.
Last week: 3
Season high: 3
Season low: 17
Last match: Drew 2-2 at Brighton
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Spurs

2. Leicester City — Wow.
Last week: 2
Season high: 2
Season low: 10
Last match: Won 4-1 at Aston Villa
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Norwich City

1. Liverpool — Wow, only atop the table.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 3-0 at Bournemouth
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday v. Watford

Champions League Weds. preview: Two spots remain

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Only two spots remain in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds, and those will be settled Wednesday afternoon.

In Group C, hosts Shakhtar Donetsk need to beat Atalanta to go through, while the visitors can also go through with a win if Dinamo Zagreb fails to defeat Man City.

[ MORE: Ancelotti reportedly speaking w/ Everton ]

In Group D, Atletico Madrid is through with a win over Lokomotiv Moscow, though Bayer Leverkusen can complete a remarkable comeback from an 0-3 start to the group stage if they beat already-qualified Juve and Atleti loses to their Russian visitors.

You certainly wouldn’t be against Diego Simeone there, though.

“Tomorrow is a great opportunity, every day that you wear the Atletico shirt is,” Simeone said, via Marca. “I believe in my team, in the humility that they have at the moment. The results will come based on what they are demonstrating on the field.”

Premier League sides Man City and Tottenham Hotspur both have their fortunes settled, with City having won Group C and Spurs settled into Group B’s second spot, but they still have plenty to figure out on Tuesday.

Jose Mourinho’s Spurs are going up against a Bayern team that walloped them at home, while City is living an unusual 2W-3D-2L lull in form.

Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League action

12:55 p.m. ET
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Atalanta
Dinamo Zagreb v. Man City

3 p.m. ET
Club Brugge v. Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid v. Lokomotiv Moscow
Bayer Leverkusen v. Juventus
Paris Saint-Germain v. Galatasaray
Olympiacos v. Red Star Belgrade
Bayern Munich v. Tottenham Hotspur

Ancelotti fired by Napoli as Everton, Arsenal lurk

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Carlo Ancelotti won a place in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds, then lost his job.

The Napoli’s boss strained relationship with club president Aurelio De Laurentiis came to a head, with the Neapolitan side advancing in Europe to end a nine-match winless run.

[ MORE: Sporting KC adds Liga MX top scorer ]

That run may’ve included seven draws, but it also saw Napoli dip into seventh on the Serie A table. They are seven points back of sixth and 17 points behind leaders Juventus.

A strained relationship got worse when Ancelotti refused to take the team on a De Laurentiis-ordered “team retreat” following a draw against Salzburg in early November.

Gennaro Gattuso is rumored as Ancelotti’s replacement, and the fired coach himself is being mentioned as an immediate target for Arsenal and Everton.

In fact, the Toffees are in discussions with the Italian legend already, according to Sky Sports. Football Italia claims Arsenal is in on the action, too.

Ancelotti has won the Champions League with AC Milan twice and a third time with Real Madrid. He’s claimed domestic titles in five of Europe’s top leagues, with silverware at Chelsea, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, and Real Madrid.