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PL Sunday preview: Two London derbies, plus the Merseyside

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Sunday is Derby Day in the Premier League, as a pair of sides from each of west London, north London and Merseyside will square off back-to-back-to-back, beginning at 7 a.m. ET.

[ MORE: Man City find groove in win | Man United come back for draw ]

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

Chelsea’s unbeaten start to the PL season — and with it, most realistic title hopes, perhaps — came to an end last weekend, as Tottenham Hotspur thrashed Maurizio Sarri’s side and handed the Italian his first defeat. Chelsea actually sit fourth in the table, despite their lone defeat — compared to Tottenham’s three — ahead of Sunday’s visit from west London rivals Fulham. Sarri will face his compatriot, newly appointed Fulham boss Claudio Ranieri, some 20 years after their first face-to-face meeting, in Florence.

“Friend is a big word, but I like him very much,” Sarri said this week. “I visited him in Florence 20 years ago. I think he doesn’t remember this meeting but it was very important for me. He visited us around 40 days ago to see our training. He spoke to me and Gianfranco (Zola).”

Since taking over at Craven Cottage, all Ranieri has done is inspire the Cottagers to one victory — their second of the season and first since August — in his one game in charge. While the three points were a welcome change after nine games without a win (and six straight defeats), the defense remains as leaky as ever, which will almost certainly be a major stumbling block against Player of the Year candidate Eden Hazard (7 goals, 4 assists in 12 appearances).

INJURIES: Chelsea — OUT: None | Fulham — OUT: Kevin McDonald (hamstring), André-Frank Zambo Anguissa (knock)


Arsenal vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 9:05 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The season-long narratives surrounding Arsenal and Spurs couldn’t be any more different heading into Sunday’s north London derby, yet it’s Spurs — the disappointing nomads of the PL — who sit third in the table, while Arsenal — the reinvigorated giant under new manager Unai Emery — sit fifth, albeit just three points behind their bitter rivals.

Spurs have picked up their points in far less entertaining fashion — a great departure from the last two seasons under Mauricio Pochettino, when they played some of the most attractive attacking soccer in the world — and relied heavily upon makeshift defensive and midfield units, as the likes of Jan Vertonghen, Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose, Eric Dier and Mousa Dembele have all taken turns missing a handful of games each through injuries following a heavy workload at the 2018 World Cup. With Vertonghen only recently back in the fold, it’s Davinson Sanchez who’s set to miss the next month. Throw in the fact that Spurs signed not a single player in the summer transfer window, and it would be hard to argue against this being Pochettino’s best managerial job to date.

Arsenal, on the other hand, are scoring goals with great regularity (28 in 13 games), but it’s the narrow decline in goals conceded (16 in 13 games, 1.3 per game, compared to 1.5 per game last season) that has painted a different picture to what many had grown accustom to from the Gunners in recent years.

“Each match for me is very special,” Emery said this week. “The derby is perhaps more special because my responsibility is bigger because of every supporter. Also we need three points in the league because we want to be closer to the other teams, like Tottenham, and we have this challenge.”

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Nacho Monreal (thigh), Danny Welbeck (ankle), Laurent Koscielny (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Alexandre Lacazette (groin) | Tottenham — OUT: Davinson Sanchez (hamstring), Mousa Dembele (ankle), Kieran Trippier (groin), Danny Rose (groin)


Liverpool vs. Everton — 11:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The day’s final derby will feature a second-place Liverpool side — now five points behind Manchester City after Saturday — in desperate need of not only a win, but a performance that inspires confidence they’re up to the challenge of staying with Man City for 25 more games. With a must-win game against Napoli set for the final day of the Champions League group stage, the 2018-19 season is filling up with do-or-die fixtures far earlier than Jurgen Klopp would have liked. Goals and points have been hard to come by for Anfield visitors this season, as the Red have conceded just one goal and dropped only a pair of points, against Man City, in six league games.

Everton, on the other hand, have flown somewhat under the radar as all the headline go to City and Liverpool on another title race; Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal leapfrogging each other every week; and Manchester United hugely underperforming. Under new manager Marco Silva, the Toffees entire Sunday’s showdown in sixth place and having lost just one of their last seven league games. Alas, it’s been nearly 20 years (Sept. 27, 1999) since Everton were last victorious at Anfield.

INJURIES: Liverpool — OUT: Jordan Henderson (suspension), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee) | Everton — OUT: James McCarthy (fitness)

Vela leaves door open for Barcelona move

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LAFC striker Carlos Vela has been the surprise subject of new rumors of a January move to Barcelona, and when asked about the prospect of such a departure from the United States, the 29-year-old wasn’t about to rule out the La Liga giants.

ESPN Deportes first reported the move, and while they say such a deal is “unlikely,” it’s not a complete uncertainty. They did report, however, that Barcelona has yet to make a permanent bid and that a loan deal has not yet been floated.

When ESPN contacted Vela for comment on the subject, he shed responsibility, suggesting he’s not even in control of his immediate future. “They are issues for the clubs and agents,” Vela said to ESPN. “I’m relaxed, working on the preseason and the most important thing is to be happy in the place you are. In the future we’ll see what happens.”

While Vela said he is “happy” at LAFC, he also made it sound like the wheels are in motion to explore his options. “Whatever I may decide or happens I’ll be happy because I’m loving being in Los Angeles with my team enjoying the day-to-day and I don’t have anything to lose in any case.”

Vela came up as a youth player in the Chivas Guadalajara setup, and moved to Arsenal in 2006. He made 64 appearances for the Gunners but spent a significant time out on loan at clubs like West Brom and Osasuna. He made a permanent switch to Real Sociedad in 2012 and spent six seasons there before joining LAFC in the club’s inaugural season in Major League Soccer. He scored 14 goals in 28 MLS appearances, which has apparently caught the eye of Barcelona.

Vela’s session at MLS Media Day was cancelled Sunday after he failed to show.

Dembele hurts leg in Barcelona victory

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Ousmane Dembele injured his left leg during the second half of Barcelona’s 3-1 win over Leganes in the Spanish league on Sunday.

The 21-year-old France forward slipped while trying to dribble past an opponent, causing him to fall back on his own leg.

After being attended to by team doctors he limped off and was substituted.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde says it seemed his player had “slightly twisted” his ankle, but more tests are planned on Monday.

Dembele scored Barcelona’s opening goal, taking his tally to 13 goals in all competitions this season as he excels as a strike partner to Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

Longtime Mourinho assistant Faria earns first managerial job

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Rui Faria, best known for his 17 years as a Jose Mourinho assistant, has earned his first managerial job, taking charge of Qatari side Al Duhail.

The 43-year-old Faria has followed Mourinho since 2001 at Uniao Leiria, where he linked up with the fellow Portuguese coach and followed him to Porto, Chelsea, Inter, Real Madrid, Chelsea again, and then Manchester United. The two parted ways last year, with Faria leaving Manchester United last May.

Without a job since leaving Old Trafford and Mourinho recently fired at Manchester United last month, Faria has chosen to finally venture out on his own.

Faria has been linked with a number of jobs in Europe over the years, with teams always looking for a coach with the experience and pedigree Faria has built despite not ever holding a head coaching job. In the past, he has been linked with clubs like Arsenal and Aston Villa. Mourinho said amid links to Arsenal last summer that “if my friend one day has the possibility of a big job, I would help him to pack and carry the bags and to wish him luck.”

Al Duhail won the Qatari Stars League champions last season under manager Nabil Maaloul, who left his post at Tunisia to take charge of the team last July. The two parties went their separate ways 15 days ago. The Doha club claimed Faria chose this job over “great European offers.”

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Higuain nearing Chelsea move, City looking for Fernandinho cover

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Gonzalo Higuain has been linked with a move to Chelsea almost all winter, and all signs point to a move away from the San Siro any day now. The 31-year-old striker was left out of the AC Milan squad to take on Genoa on Monday, the most recent sign of his imminent departure.

In his pre-match press conference, Milan manager Gennaro Gattuso spoke about the likely move, saying angrily, “I spoke in my office with Higuain and it is right to leave him out. We are still waiting on the move and there’s nothing completed but I want to see people who are mentally ready and available and if I don’t get that, I’ll go into battle with those who are more prepared.”

Chelsea has had trouble finding a productive striker of late, with Alvaro Morata benched for poor performance. With Olivier Giroud injured and inconsistent, Maurizio Sarri has utilized Eden Hazard as a false nine, and the result has been just five goals over the last six matches across all competitions.


Manchester City is reportedly looking to find a player to back up defensive midfielder Fernandinho, and the name mentioned is Schalke’s Sebastian Rudy.

The 28-year-old German arrived at Schalke from Bayern Munich this past summer, but has logged just 644 league minutes. While Rudy likely wouldn’t find the starting lineup more often at the Etihad, Pep Guardiola is known for his effective player rotation at Man City, and the club could tempt him with a title race.

Fernandinho has been one of the world’s best defensive midfielders over the past few years, but with the Brazilian on the sideline for two matches earlier this season, Manchester City dropped both games and slipped behind Liverpool in the title race. Center-back John Stones was utilized in the defensive midfield role in Fernandinho’s absence, but Crystal Palace and Leicester City scored a combined five goals.

According to multiple reports in England, a short-term loan would be effective in giving Fernandinho cover for the rest of the season as City looks to catch up with Liverpool and hold of Tottenham, Chelsea, and Arenal.


Arsenal fans were put on alert with Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti in attendance at the Emirates for Arsenal’s win over Chelsea. The French defender is currently injured, and with Barcelona playing on Sunday, Umtiti was able to make his way to England and watch his countrymates Laurent Koscielny and Alexandre Lacazette.

It would be highly unlikely for Umtiti to move this winter, as he is vitally important to the Barcelona squad and is out injured for another few weeks due to a long-term knee problem. It’s plausible Arsenal could make a play over the summer, but given how Barcelona’s defense has sagged in his absence, it’s unlikely the La Liga leaders would be willing to let him go. Umtiti’s contract with Barcelona runs through the summer of 2023, so he is under clear club control for the time being.


Rumblings in England have suggested that Tottenham defender and American international Cameron Carter-Vickers could leave Spurs this winter after the club has decided the 21-year-old will not break into the first team. According to a report by TeamTalk.com, Wigan Athletic could be in play for a permanent move for Carter-Vickers, who is currently on loan at Swansea City, but has struggled for playing time with the Championship club.

The American was also linked with Ipswich Town earlier this January, although that was mentioned as another loan. Either way, it sounds increasingly likely that Spurs could recall Carter-Vickers and look for a new club to deploy him at this winter.