PL Sunday preview: Manchester derby; Chelsea, Liverpool go for 12

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You could say that Sunday is a big day of Premier League fixtures, but you’d be massively under-selling a six-and-a-half-hour period that see four games played, featuring five of the PL’s “big six” sides.

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Liverpool vs. Fulham — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

In the day’s first game, Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool will seek to become the first side in the PL to reach a dozen games without a defeat. Doing so with a victory at Anfield would (temporarily) vault them ahead of Chelsea and Manchester City for top spot in the title race. A swift response will be required after a shocking defeat away to Red Star Belgrade in the Champions League on Tuesday. It’s not the first time the Reds have lost away on the continent this season: after losing to Napoli last month, Liverpool returned to domestic play and secured a scoreless home draw with Man City.

While Tuesday’s hiccup might seem a disaster in Liverpool’s world, last-place Fulham would beg to differ. The Cottagers haven’t won since Aug. 26, game no. 3 of the season, and have managed just two points from the eight games they’ve played since. On the bright, they sit just three points adrift of 17th place and can drag themselves clear of the relegation zone with a few decent results. Slavisa Jokanovic‘s side has had plenty of problems on both ends of the field — they’ve scored just four goals in their last seven games, simultaneously conceding 20 of the 29 they’ve given up on the season.

INJURIES: Liverpool — OUT: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee) | Fulham — OUT: None


Chelsea vs. Everton — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Very few foresaw a title challenge from Chelsea in Maurizio Sarri‘s first season in England, but the Blues sit second in the table (ahead of Liverpool on goal differential) nearly one-third of the way through the season, also yet to lose (in any competition) in 2018-19. Eden Hazard appears fully recovered from his back injury, which severely limited his minutes late last month, after playing 62 minutes in Thursday’s Europa League win away to BATE Borisov. The Belgian superstar is joint-top of the Golden Boot race with seven goals (plus four assists — tied-fourth most) and has been the best player in the PL, by a substantial margin. In comparison to City and Liverpool’s stingy number of goals conceded — four and five, respectively — Chelsea’s eight seems uninspiring, yet remains next-best by a good distance.

It’s been nearly five years (Dec. 4, 2013, against Manchester United) since Everton last won away to one of the PL’s “big six” sides. Sunday’s trip to Stamford Bridge is merely the Toffees’ next opportunity to break their 30-game skid (0W-9D-21L), but it’s hardly a golden one. It’s been nearly as many tries, 23, since Everton last won away to the Blues (Nov. 26, 1994). Everton’s newly crowned talisman, Richarlison, has been made available for selection after being an injury doubt all week. Marco Silva won’s be so lucky in defense, though, as first-choice center back Kurt Zouma, on loan from Chelsea, is ineligible to play against his parent club.

INJURIES: Chelsea — OUT: None | Everton — OUT: None


Man City vs. Man United — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The third and final — though first in the table — unbeaten side, Man City, will host a Man United side which has (somewhat predictably) fallen on hard times in Jose Mourinho’s third season at the club. Despite winning three of their last four league games, the Red Devils enter Sunday’s Manchester derby seven points (and four places) behind fourth-place Tottenham Hotspur. However, Tuesday’s Champions League triumph away to Juventus will have United feeling full of confidence when they visit the Etihad Stadium. Mourinho has been strangely quiet this week — with regards to City, not Juve — offering few, if any, words about City’s financial fair play predicament or his side’s chances. Perhaps the red half of Manchester has begun to accept the city for its newfound blueness.

As for City, what’s to dislike about a side that has dropped just two points in its last 11 games (all competitions) and has shown no signs whatsoever of dropping off from last season’s record-setting performance? Sure, Kevin De Bruyne is set to miss a couple months due to a knee injury, for the second time this season, but he’s appeared in just three league games thus far (started none — 82 total minutes), yet City have won 29 of a possible 33 points. There’s also a small matter of avenging the home loss of last season, which prevented Pep Guardiola‘s side clinching the title against its most bitter rivals.

INJURIES: Man City — OUT: Kevin De Bruyne (knee), Claudio Bravo (achilles), Eliaquim Mangala (knee) | Man United — OUT: Antonio Valencia (undisclosed)


Arsenal vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Since suffering defeat in each of their first two games this season, Arsenal have fancied themselves as one of the unbeatens, winning 13 and drawing three of their 16 games since. The somewhat troubling part of those impressive numbers, though, is the fact that the three draws have all come in the Gunners’ last four games (two in the PL, one in the Europa League). On the plus side, one of those league draws came against Liverpool last weekend, signaling the Gunners might just be credible peers to title contenders once again.

Their opponents on Sunday, Wolves, have struggled in recent weeks after a strong start to the season. Three straight losses have dropped Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side to 11th in the table, and an inability to score from open play has been a key culprit. Wolves scored twice in last weekend’s 3-2 loss to Tottenham, but each tally came from the penalty spot, after being held scoreless by Watford and Brighton & Hove Albion — not exactly defensive world-beaters. Still, to be seven points and seven spots clear of the relegation zone right now, in the club’s first season back in the PL since 2012, has been a dream start everyone involved with the club would have taken back in August.

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Stephan Lichtsteiner (hamstring), Laurent Koscielny (achilles), Danny Welbeck (ankle) | Wolves — OUT: None

La Liga Roundup: Messi, Barcelona stunned by inspired Granada (video)

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Granada’s shocking 2-0 win over Barcelona and subsequent rise to the top of the table headlines Saturday’s La Liga action.

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Granada 2-0 Barcelona

Not even Lionel Messi, who made his season debut on Saturday, was able to save Barcelona against a red-hot Granada.

Granada, who are off to their best start in their 88 years of existence, had a perfect night in front of their supporters, convincingly getting past a Barcelona that dominated possession, but lacked the offensive ingenuity needed to score.

Barcelona’s defense wasn’t noteworthily robust, either.

Two minutes in, the newly promoted side scored through a headed goal from Ramon Azeez, following a defensive turnover from Junior Firpo.

Unable to record a shot on target in the first half and looking to wakeup a dormant attack, Barcelona brought on wonderkid Ansu Fati and Lionel Messi at halftime. Despite the duo connecting on several occasion and generating a shot on target, it wasn’t enough to get past Rui Silva.

In the 66th minute, following video review, substitute Alvaro Badillo converted from the spot, handing Granada their third win of the season.

Atop of La Liga, Granada set their sights on Real Valladolid, while Barcelona, who are off to their worst league start in 25 years, host Villarreal at Camp Nou.

Atletico Madrid  0-0 Celta Vigo

For a second consecutive week, Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid dropped points, drawing with Celta Vigo 0-0 at Wanda Metropolitano.

Tied with league leaders Granada and Sevilla with 10 points, the alarm bells are far from going off in Madrid. However, as Saturday’s performance showed, los Colchoneros are having trouble finishing chances this season, despite fielding an attack with the likes of Joao Felix, Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata.

In five games, Atletico have managed to score only five goals, six fewer than leaders Granada. Against Celta, Atletico registered 20 shots, five on target, but were unable to crack a stellar Ruben Blanco, who registered five saves.

Leveled with Granada and Sevilla, Atletico Madrid look to get back into winning ways as they take on RCD Mallorca. Elsewhere, Celta Vigo, who have won win after five games, host Espanyol next.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Villarreal 2-0 Real Valladolid

Levante 0-0 Eibar

Almeyda, Wondolowski sent off in Quakes’ fall against Atlanta (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less): Melodrama took center stage in Atlanta United’s 3-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes, as Matias Almeyda, Chris Wondolowski and Cristian Espinoza were all sent off on Saturday. Josef Martinez, six games away from tying Lionel Messi’s world record for most consecutive goals, left the field in 79th minute following an injury, ending his MLS-record run at 15 games. Playing with 10 players from the 34th minute onwards, the Quakes held on to the draw up until the 90th minute. Unmarked inside the box, Emerson Hyndman rocketed the ball past Daniel Vega, who recorded nine saves throughout the night. In stoppage time, Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez was rewarded for his stellar performance with a goal of his own. With a game at hand, Eastern Conference leaders, NYCFC, are three points ahead Frank De Boer‘s side. The Quakes, on the other hand, have internal fires to put out as they have lost six of their last eight, and are only a point above the red line with three games to play.

Three moments that mattered

27′ — Great run by Espinoza, greater ball by Vega  — Daniel Vega and Cristian Espinoza were players that San Jose were desperately missing last season. This sequence says it all.

 

90′ — Emerson Hyndman wins it for the Five Stripes   — Hyndman, with no one near him, seals three points for the home side.

 

90′ + 2 — Martinez takes advantage of broken San Jose  — Martinez’s goal was only salt in San Jose’s fresh wound.

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Man of the match: Gonzalo “Pity”  Martinez

Goalscorers: Meram (4′), Guzan (27′ – OG), Hyndman (90′), Martinez (90′ + 2)

FIFA sees no obstacles for women to attend games in Iran

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ZURICH — Soccer’s governing body FIFA says an inspection visit to Iran has shown “no noteworthy operational obstacles” to lifting the country’s 40-year ban and letting women attend a World Cup qualifying game next month.

After meeting government and soccer officials in Tehran this week, FIFA says it will work with Iran’s soccer body to also open domestic league games to female fans.

FIFA wants Iran to end its ban on women entering stadiums which breaches international soccer statutes prohibiting discrimination.

Global attention on the ban followed the death this month of a 29-year-old activist, Sahar Khodayari, who set herself on fire outside a courthouse. She had been detained for dressing as a man to enter a soccer stadium in Tehran and faced six months in prison.

Ahead of Iran hosting Cambodia at the 78,000-capacity Azadi Stadium on Oct. 10, FIFA says the visit on Thursday focused on “international relations, security and ticketing matters.”

Iranian officials were told of FIFA’s “firm and clear position that women need to be allowed to enter football matches freely” with tickets sold to as many who wanted to attend.

FOLLOW LIVE: Atlanta v. Quakes, Galaxy v. Impact on a busy MLS Saturday

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Eight games in seven hours, now that’s a jam-packed MLS Saturday.

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Things kickoff with Matias Almeyda’s San Jose Earthquakes visiting red-hot Josef Martinez’s Atlanta United, and comes to a close in Los Angeles, where league leaders LAFC host Toronto FC and LA Galaxy, who look to continue moving up in the Western Conference standings, host Montreal Impact.

In between, the New England Revolution look to remain in the Eastern Conference playoff picture as they welcome Kyle Beckerman and Real Salt Lake, while the Chicago Fire hope to jump level with the Revs in the standings as they take on FC Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium.

Saturday’s full MLS schedule

Atlanta United v. San Jose Earthquakes — 3:30 p.m. ET

Vancouver Whitecaps v. Columbus Crew — 5 p.m. ET

New England Revolution v. Real Salt Lake — 7:30 p.m. ET

FC Cincinnati v. Chicago Fire — 7:30 p.m. ET

Sporting Kansas City v. Colorado Rapids — 8:30 p.m. ET

Houston Dynamo v. Orlando City — 8:30 p.m. ET

LAFC v. Toronto FC — 10:30 p.m. ET

LA Galaxy v. Montreal Impact — 10:30 p.m. ET