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Koscielny nearing return for Arsenal

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Unai Emery‘s backline could receive a massive boost this weekend.

Arsenal provided a fitness update for defender Laurent Koscielny, who is nearing a comeback from a devastating Achilles injury last May. The club said that Koscielny played 85 minutes for Arsenal’s reserve side in a 2-1 defeat to Portsmouth, following a 45-minute showing a week earlier against Derby.

While Koscielny has been ruled out of tonight’s Arsenal match against Manchester United, the Gunners website said he would be reassessed before Saturday’s game against Huddersfield.

[READ: Former Man United, Chelsea CEO leading Newcastle takeover talks]

Koscielny’s earlier-than-anticipated return comes at an important time for the Gunners. Unai Emery’s side has broken back into the top four, but defensively the squad still has some struggles. Shkodran Mustafi was subbed off at halftime in Arsenal’s 4-2 derby day win over Tottenham, while Rob Holding was whistled for a foul in the box on Heung-Min Son.

Bringing Koscielny in can provide extra depth to a fatigued backline, as well as put more pressure on the starters so far this season to play better, otherwise they’ll be watching the match from the bench.

La Liga: Atleti pull level with Barcelona; Real two points back

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ SERIE A: Cristiano Ronaldo scores winner in his first Turin derby ]

Real Valladolid 2-3 Atletico Madrid

Despite a largely indifferent run of form from superstar Antoine Griezmann (just four goals in the first 15 games) to start the season, Atleti managed to hang around in the title race thanks to their league-best 12 goals conceded. Griezmann was always likely to experience something of a World Cup hangover before eventually breaking out and resuming regular service as one of La Liga’s most prolific goalscorers.

Saturday might have been Griezmann’s re-emergence, as the 2018 World Cup winner bagged a brace, including the game-winning goal in the 80th minute, to help Atleti to a 3-2 victory over Real Valladolid.

Nikola Kalinic put the visitors 1-0 ahead before halftime and Griezmann converted from the penalty spot to make it 2-0 as soon as the second half began, but a goal conceded followed by an own goal capped off a dreadful six-minute spell for Diego Simeone’s side. Griezmann was there to save the day, though, popping up at the right place at the right time when Valladolid failed to clear a corner kick and gave Los Rojiblancos three clear-cut chance from inside 10 yards.

Real Madrid 1-0 Rayo Vallecano

Real Madrid scored their game-winning goal nearly 70 minutes earlier than their capital rivals, but their victory wasn’t anymore comfortable as Santiago Solari’s side held on for dear life — and were out-shot 11-9 — by Rayo Vallecano.

Karim Benzema bagged the game’s only goal in the 13th minute before he was forced off with an ankle injury in the 77th minute. Madrid were without Gareth Bale due to an ankle injury of his own. Los Blancos will now depart for the United Arab Emirates where they’ll face Japanese side Kashima Antlers in the semifinals of the Club World Cup on Wednesday.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Getafe 1-0 Real Sociedad
Eibar 1-1 Valencia

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Sevilla v. Girona — 6 a.m. ET
Espanyol v. Real Betis — 10:15 a.m. ET
Huesca v. Villarreal — 12:30 p.m. ET
Levante v. Barcelona — 2:45 p.m. ET

Serie A: Ronaldo scores winner in his first Turin derby

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ PL PREVIEW: Liverpool v. Man United at Anfield; Chelsea, Arsenal in action ]

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Cristiano Ronaldo marked his Turin derby debut by scoring the game’s only goal, from the penalty spot, to extend Juventus’ winning streak to seven league games and open up an 11-point lead in the scudetto race.

Torino held strong for more than an hour, despite being forced to sub off starting goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu in the 20th minute. It was Sirigu’s replacement, Salvador Ichazo, who gave away the penalty when he brought down Mario Mandzukic in the 70th minute. Ichazo nearly made the save to preserve the scoreless draw for the home side, but Ronaldo’s powerful strike got past the Uruguayan to take his season tally to 11 goals (to go with five assists) in 16 appearance in league play.

Inter Milan 1-0 Udinese

Inter ended a seven-game winless skid (all competitions) with a narrow home victory over Udinese. Luciano Spaletti’s side left it even later than Juve, waiting until the 76th minute before Mauro Icardi converted from the penalty spot.

Despite the prolonged period of poor results, Inter have a six-point lead on fourth-place AC Milan, who have yet to play this weekend, but have tumbled to 14 points back of the runaway leaders.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

SPAL v. Chievo — 6:30 a.m. ET
Fiorentina v. Empoli — 9 a.m. ET
Frosinone v. Sassuolo — 9 a.m. ET
Sampdoria v. Parma — 9 a.m. ET
Cagliari v. Napoli — 12 p.m. ET
Roma v. Genoa — 2:30 p.m. ET

The 2 Robbies: Gabriel Jesus puts Man City back on top of PL

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Robbie Earle braves it alone without Robbie Mustoe for this one, but is joined by members of NBC’s Premier League crew — Jen Calhoun, Mike Wolosz and Jorge Bustamante — to discuss Manchester City’s win over Everton (0:45), Tottenham’s last-gasp victory against Burnley (12:00) and hear from a true Bournemouth fan after their defeat to Wolves (19:15). Plus a look ahead to Liverpool v. Manchester United — can Jose Mourinho pull off one more special upset? (31:10)

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

PL Sunday preview: Liverpool v. Man United at Anfield

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Premier League fixtures don’t get any bigger — or more heated — than Liverpool versus Manchester United, longtime rivals who’ll renew pleasantries at Anfield on Sunday…

[ MORE: Spurs grab stoppage-time win vs. Burnley | Man City go top again ]

Southampton v. Arsenal — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold [ STREAM ]

Heading into Sunday’s meeting at St. Mary’s Stadium, Southampton haven’t won in 14 games (all competitions — after 90 minutes), while Arsenal haven’t lost in just as many games, in the PL alone (unbeaten in 22 games in all competitions). Predictably, Saints find themselves stuck in the relegation zone, with the halfway point of the season looming ever so large, and a new manager hoping to make his mark and a major impact on a club quickly spiraling out of control. Ralph Hasenhuttl made his debut as Southampton manager last weekend, but suffered a 1-0 defeat to fellow relegation battlers Cardiff City.

As for Arsenal, the unbeaten run has earned new manager Unai Emery a long leash with Gunners fans, but his side enters the week in fifth place, behind Chelsea on goal differential. Sunday could see the return of defender and captain Laurent Koscielny in league play after the 33-year-old Frenchman made his first appearance in seven months during Thursday’s Europa League victory over Qarabag.

INJURIES: Southampton — QUESTIONABLE: Ryan Bertrand (back), Danny Ings (hamstring), Shane Long (ankle), Cedirc Soares (calf) | Arsenal — OUT: Sokratis Papastathopoulos (suspension), Danny Welbeck (ankle), Shkodran Mustafi (suspension), Rob Holding (knee)

Brighton & Hove Albion v. Chelsea — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

Chelsea’s recent form has been a rollercoaster of results, alternating losses and wins in their last four league games. They did, however, put together perhaps the best performance of any side in the PL all season last time out, handing Manchester City their first defeat in a 2-0 conquering at Stamford Bridge. Maurizio Sarri‘s side came back down to earth on Thursday, though, as the Blues struggled to secure a 2-2 draw away to Hungarian side MOL Vidi FC in the Europa League, and the club’s fans were accused of spewing anti-Semitic chants and slurs just days after the very public incident involving four Chelsea fans and Man City star Raheem Sterling.

Brighton won’t be a pushover at Falmer Stadium, where the Seagulls have compiled and impressive 4W-2D-1L record this season. Chris Hughton‘s side has managed to knock off a handful of mid-table sides at home thus far, but a scalp the size of Chelsea would be easily the most impressive outing to date. Brighton dropped both league meetings with the Blues last season, losing 4-0 at home and 2-0 away.

INJURIES: Brighton — OUT: Shane Duffy (suspension) | Chelsea — OUT: Mateo Kovacic (thigh)

Liverpool v. Manchester United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

For all that Jurgen Klopp has achieved since taking the Liverpool job in October 2015 — and he has done a great deal of good to re-establish the club, both domestically and on the continent — the second-most notable failure of Klopp’s tenure, behind only “winning a trophy,” remains his 0W-3D-2L record against Man United in league play. While the Reds have surpassed the Red Devils and long left them behind in the PL’s hierarchy, a victory over the bitter rivals from Manchester has remained elusive, including a 0W-2D-1L record at Anfield, site of Sunday’s showdown, with a grand total of one goal scored in the three games.

The tables have clearly turned from the days of United dominating the PL and winning 13 of 21 league titles from 1992 to 2013, period in which Liverpool managed a trio of second-place finishes — coming second to United once, and besting them twice. A win on Sunday would not only see Klopp knock off his bogey team for the first time, but would lift Liverpool back ahead of Man City in the title race; a win for United, meanwhile, would help them to hold off newly promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers for sixth place.

United, all but the forgotten side of the top-six, have endured hard times at both ends of the field this season — their 28 goals scored are the fewest of the PL’s elite, while their 26 goals conceded are the most of the six sides expected to compete for four UEFA Champions League places; Liverpool, in the same number of games, have conceded just six times, including just once during their current five-game winning streak.

INJURIES: Liverpool — OUT: Joel Matip (shoulder), Joe Gomez (ankle), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Trent Alexander-Arnold (knock) | Man United — OUT: Alexis Sanchez (hamstring), Victor Lindelof (groin); QUESTIONABLE: Anthony Martial (hamstring), Scott McTominay (undisclosed), Luke Shaw (undisclosed)