Top Premier League storylines for Week 8

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A top of the table clash awaits soccer fans across the globe as we build up to the match at Anfield. Week eight of the Premier League season is gearing up to be one of the most interesting weeks of the season.

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Will Liverpool or Manchester City keep its unbeaten record intact?
Liverpool vs. Manchester City — 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN STREAM ]

This has the potential to be the game of the season.

There’s stars on both sides of the field. Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino up top. Heck, there’s James Milner and Virgil Van Dijk, who probably don’t get enough credit for how good they are. Meanwhile, the Blue side of Manchester has just as much to counter back with, if not more. Sergio Aguero, Riyad Mahrez, Leroy Sane and Fernandinho are just a few players expected to have a big impact this weekend.

Sunday’s match is the first true high-level test for these two teams early on in this season, one that can have a ripple effect for the rest of the season depending on the result. For all of Man City’s exploits, it hasn’t won at Anfield since 2003. Liverpool holds a home record against Man City since then of 12 wins and five draws.

Will Jose Mourinho survive another weekend?
Manchester United vs. Newcastle — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC STREAM ]

It’s been a rough two weeks for Manchester United, with every passing day Jose Mourinho’s fate seeming closer to being sealed.

A scoreless draw this week with Valencia in the UEFA Champions League followed an uninspiring 3-1 defeat at West Ham, with chaos seemingly reigning supreme in the Man United dressing room. Paul Pogba remains in the first team in spire of Mourinho’s comments but Alexis Sanchez has been inexplicably poor, left out of the gameday squad at times and a shell of his former self when he was with Arsenal and Barcelona.

Now, as rumors of Mourinho’s potential departure grow, the intensity ramps up with struggling Newcastle coming to town. For Mourinho, a win will at least appease his bosses and fans for another week, even as he seems to be on the edge. This could also be close to the end of the road for Rafa Benitez. The former Liverpool and Real Madrid boss seems fed up with the situation at Newcastle, where he’s effectively been forced to coach with one (or both) hands behind his back.

Can Arsenal continue its strong form in a London derby?

Fulham vs. Arsenal — 7:00 a.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN STREAM ]

It’s gone a bit under the radar, but Arsenal is looking like the Arsenal of yore.

Unai Emery‘s side has now won eight games on the bounce in all competitions, including an unbeaten September, with 16 goals scored and just four goals conceded. Arsenal hasn’t played any massive games, but the Gunners have taken care of business in places where in the past, they may have faltered. Road wins in Baku, Azerbaijan, Newcastle and Cardiff has this team flying back up the table after two defeats to open the season.

One player to keep an eye on moving forward is Alex Iwobi. The England-born Nigerian international winger has been in fine form recently, and could have a big impact against a struggling Fulham squad.

After looking so solid defensively through most of the Championship season in 2017-2018, Fulham has failed to make the grade so far in the Premier League. Getting a win over a London rival could be a big boost moving forward for the Cottagers.

Pochettino hopeful Kane can “give us a hand” in UCL final

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Harry Kane returned to training this week as Tottenham continues preparations for the UEFA Champions League final.

The England and Tottenham captain has been out with yet another ankle injury since April 9. Initially feared he would be out for the rest of the season, Kane now looks set to play in the final match of the season, and his manager Mauricio Pochettino is hopeful he can make an impact.

“He’s training and has entered the final stage of his recovery, Pochettino told a conference in Bilbao, via video link, per AS. “We’re hoping he’ll be able to give us a hand – either from the start, from the bench or if not, then by giving us moral support in the dressing room. But we are optimistic that he’ll be able to help us on the pitch.”

Pochettino completed a magnificent feat guiding Tottenham to the Champions League final, but he may have one of the most difficult decisions he has to make in his managerial career ahead.

Should Kane be available to start, Pochettino has to decide whether he should break from the lineup that came back from a 3-0 deficit to Ajax, and potentially put Lucas Moura on the bench. If Tottenham loses, Pochettino is probably darned if he does, darned if he doesn’t with Kane.

Either Kane wasn’t fit enough to play and make a big impact, or he clearly was and he didn’t have enough time in the match.

Regardless, Pochettino will hope to have a full squad available, with Kane able to make a difference should be needed.

 

Former Arsenal, Brazil midfielder Baptista announces retirement

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Julio Baptista’s time at Arsenal only lasted 12 months, but it was a memorable stint.

The Brazilian, who played the 2006-07 season for the Gunners, announced his retirement on Thursday at the age of 37. The former Brazil international only managed 10 goals with Arsenal, but they came in bunches.

Baptista memorably scored four goals against Liverpool in the League Cup quarterfinal, as Arsenal finished with a 6-3 win. Baptista even missed a penalty kick that game.

Baptista cemented his legacy later in the season with a brace in the FA Cup against rival Tottenham.

Baptista, clearly an immensely talented player, suffered from being a good, but not great player. He seemed to have no perfect position other than the No. 10, and most teams he played for had better players in that position. It forces him to play along the wings, deeper in midfield or as a striker during the prime of his career.

In the end, injuries beset his career, especially a short spell at Orlando City in MLS.

 

U-20 World Cup Rewind: Italy tops Mexico, host Poland falls on Day 1 (video)

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Italy opened the FIFA Under-20 World Cup with a bang, knocking off fellow Group B favorite Mexico, 2-1, in Gdynia, Poland.

It only took Italy three minutes to get on the board, as Davide Frattesi found a pocket of space in front of the El Tri backline and dribbled in on goal. The Sassuolo midfielder then decided to fire on goal from distance, hitting a rocket into the corner to give Italy a 1-0 lead.

Later in the first half Gianluca Scamacca also took a rip from outside the box, but his strike sailed just wide.

A defensive error on a corner kick gave Diego Lainez and Mexico life. In the 37th minute, AC Milan product Alessandro Plizzari committed a howler, coming out to punch away the curled corner kick. Plizzari missed the ball and it went right to the head of Roberto De La Rosa, who calmly made it 1-1.

El Tri however suffered a blow late in the match as Italy took back the lead. In the 67th minute, Luca Ranieri collected the ball on the edge of the six yard box and from a tight angle, he scored past Mexico goalkeeper Carlos Higuera.

For Mexico, it’s a rough way to start the World Cup, having to go against a perennial power in Italy and playing on European soil. Not all is lost for Mexico, but it has to rebound with a win in its next game against Japan.

Elsewhere, Colombia defeated host Poland, 2-0, Japan tied Ecuador 1-1, and Senegal beat Tahiti, 3-0.

Saudis, Bahrain, UAE join to bid for FIFA’s U-20 World Cup

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GENEVA (AP) Middle East neighbors Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are jointly bidding to host the Under-20 World Cup in 2021.

FIFA says the Gulf plan is among five to express interest in bidding, including Brazil.

Indonesia, Peru and a Myanmar-Thailand joint bid are the others.

FIFA announced the contenders Thursday, one day after dropping a proposal for Qatar to share hosting duties for the 2022 World Cup with regional neighbors.

The 2021 U20 contenders must submit a formal bid by Aug. 30. FIFA’s ruling Council will pick the winner, likely in October.

The 2019 edition kicks off Thursday in Poland.