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Top Premier League storylines for Week 20

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The first half of the 2018-19 Premier League season is officially complete.

When the five 10 a.m. ET fixtures kick off on Saturday, the second half will have begun. Everything is still to play from, from the title, to the top-four, to the impending relegation battle set to unfold over the next five months…

[ MORE: Inter Milan give two-game stadium ban for racist chanting ]

Here are the five storylines we’ll be watching most closely on Saturday and Sunday…

Title-chasing Liverpool’s next hurdle: Arsenal at Anfield
Liverpool v. Arsenal, 12:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, on NBC [ STREAM ]

Following Manchester City’s upset defeat at the hands of Leicester City on Wednesday, it’s official: the PL title is Liverpool’s to lose. Round 20 will see the Reds face one of only three sides to take a point off them this season — Arsenal held Jurgen Klopp‘s side, which is still unbeaten at the halfway marker, to a 1-1 draw in November. Only Man City have come away from Anfield with anything to show for their efforts (a 0-0 draw in October). The seven goals conceded by Liverpool (in 19 games) are equal to the number of goals conceded by Arsenal in their last five games (2W-2D-1L).

Spurs, Man City suddenly jockeying for second
Tottenham v. Wolves, 10 a.m. ET, Saturday, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]
Southampton vs. Man City, 9:15 a.m. ET, Sunday, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

City, meanwhile, have not only fallen out of first place in recent weeks, but also dropped out of second following Wednesday’s defeat, their third in four league games. Now second, six points behind Liverpool, are Tottenham Hotspur, winners of five straight league fixtures and unquestionably the second-hottest team in the PL after winning those five games by a combined score of 18-3 (Liverpool have tallied their five most recent victories, excluding the three to precede them, to the tune of 16-2).

Man United loving life (and results) under Solskjaer
Man United vs. Bournemouth, 11:30 a.m. ET, Sunday, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

As difficult as this will be for some to believe, perhaps Jose Mourinho was the problem at Manchester United. Since he was fired nine days ago, the Red Devils have won both times out, against Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town, by an overwhelming 8-2 margin. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has achieved objective no. 1 — bringing the feel-good factor back to Old Trafford — but he’s yet to face a side currently residing in the top-16 of the league table. Bournemouth, Sunday’s opponent, are 11th; Newcastle United, who United will visit next Wednesday, are 15th; Solskjaer will round out his first five league games when United visit Spurs on Jan. 13.

Resurgent West Ham to continue their climb?
Burnley vs. West Ham, 9:15 a.m. ET, Sunday, on NBC Sports Gold [ STREAM ]

Don’t look now, but West Ham United have won five of their last six games and have climbed their way into ninth place following a worryingly poor start to the season (four straight losses, by a combined score of 10-2). Felipe Anderson, with seven goals (plus an assist) in his last eight league games, is doing his best to justify his $48-million price tag from the summer. A trip to 18th-place Burnley is up next, and Manuel Pellegrini‘s side will expect nothing but three points on Sunday. A victory could take them as high as seventh in the table.

Battle at the very bottom
Fulham vs. Huddersfield, 10 a.m. ET, Sunday, on NBC Sports Gold [ STREAM ]

19th-place Fulham and 20th-place Huddersfield have just four wins and 21 points between them this season. Neither side has won any of their last six games since coincidentally pulling off mid-table upsets on the same weekend in late November. Fulham have won three points from those six games; Huddersfield have taken none. It comes as little surprise, given recent form, that they begin the second half of the season stacked together at the bottom of the table. It’s still early-ish in the campaign — especially given that the gap to 17th place is just four and five points, respectively — but we’ll dub this one the first true relegation six-pointer of the run-in.

FOLLOW LIVE: Southampton v. Derby County

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Southampton and Derby County chase the final spot in the fourth round proper of the 2018-19 FA Cup with a replay at St. Mary’s on Wednesday.

[ FOLLOW: FA Cup scoreboard ]

The clubs drew 2-2 at Pride Park on Jan. 5, with a Nathan Redmond 2-0 lead going to waste for the Premier League visitors.

The victor gets a trip to the Crown Ground to face League One’s Accrington Stanley on Jan. 26.

Full fourth round fixture list

Jan. 25
Arsenal v. Manchester United

Jan. 26
Accrington Stanley v. Derby County or Southampton
Brighton and Hove Albion v. West Bromwich Albion
Bristol City v. Bolton
Doncaster Rovers v. Oldham Athletic
Man City v. Burnley
Middlesbrough v. Newport County
Newcastle United v. Watford
Portsmouth v. Queens Park Rangers
Swansea City v. Gillingham
Shrewsbury Town v. Wolves
Millwall v. Everton
AFC Wimbledon v. West Ham United

Jan. 27
Crystal Palace v. Spurs
Chelsea v. Sheffield Wednesday

Jan. 28
Barnet v. Brentford

Leeds’ Bielsa admits he spied “all the rivals”; How widespread is spying?

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Managerial darling Marcelo Bielsa spoke out Wednesday as fallout continues from a Leeds United scout caught spying on Derby County last week.

Bielsa says he’s spied on every team the club has played in the Championship this season.

[ MORE: Neymar praises Weah ]

How rare is this? And how big of a role has it played in Leeds’ 4-point lead in the race for automatic promotion to the Premier League? From the BBC:

“I observed all the rivals we played against and watched the training sessions of all opponents,” he said. “All the information I need to clarify, I gather it without watching the training session of the opponent, so why did I send someone to watch them? Just because I thought I wasn’t violating the norm. I gathered information that I can obtain in another way.

“We feel guilty if we don’t work enough, it [watching the opponents train] allows us to have less anxiety and in my case I am stupid enough to allow this kind of behavior.”

The 63-year-old Argentine has spent time at Lille, Lazio, Marseille, Athletic Bilbao, and Espanyol in addition to running the national teams of Argentina and Chile.

It does raise the question of how much spying is done in soccer. We know that the NFL’s New England Patriots cheated during a game against the New York Jets and that MLB teams try to steal signals, but sneaking around a training session… is that okay? Should it be?

55-goal Martinez re-ups with Atlanta through 2023

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Josef Martinez has signed a new deal with Atlanta United, with a contract tying him to the club through the 2023 Major League Soccer season.

Martinez, 25, has 55 goals in 61 games for the Five Stripes since arriving from Torino in 2017, a strike rate unlike anything the Venezuelan had been able to do in his career with the Serie A club, Young Boys, or Caracas.

[ MORE: Neymar praises Weah ]

That development has him happy to lock down a new Designated Player deal in Georgia, one that certainly would raise his transfer value. From

“This means a lot to me because of the affection that the fans have shown me, that the fans show all of the players. It’s unique,” Martinez said. “They recognize the effort that you give and they know you did everything to win, and I think that’s why we love playing here. I have to thank everyone. My teammates, the city, my family and friends, because this is a dream I’ve always had. I’ve said before that I don’t want to go anywhere because this is my home. You can expect more work, more intensity, because that’s who I am. I want to win. I want to do everything for my teammates and for the city.”

With neither Newcastle nor Real Betis ready to meet Atlanta’s transfer fee for Miguel Almiron, the Five Stripes are in a bit of a bind with a reported deal for expected DP Pity Martinez despite having the league maximum three DPs in Martinez, Almiron, and Ezequiel Barco. Perhaps the European clubs are trying to force Atlanta’s hand.

Men In Blazers Podcast: De Gea heroics; Liverpool, Man City wins

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Rog and Davo applaud David De Gea‘s goalkeeping heroics in Manchester United’s 1-0 victory over Tottenham. Plus, wins for Liverpool and City in the title race.

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