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PL Sunday preview: Man City, Spurs visit relegation favorites

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Title/top-four contenders v. relegation favorites — that’s the name of the game on Sunday, when a pair of Premier League giants visit the bottom two teams in the league table…

[ MORE: What we learned in the Premier League, Week 23 ]

Huddersfield v. Man City — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The good news for 20th-place Huddersfield Town: the Terriers’ eight-game losing streak came to an end last weekend. The (still) bad news: a 0-0 draw against one of the other two teams currently occupying a relegation spot, Cardiff City, didn’t very little to chip away at what is now a 10-point gap between themselves and safety. Steady worse news, depending on how you look at it: manager David Wagner stepped down on Monday, leaving the club with interim boss Mark Hudson in charge. The (far) worse news: second-place, and resurgent, Manchester City are set to visit John Smith’s Stadium on Sunday.

Liverpool ground out a 4-3 victory over Crystal Palace on Saturday to stretch the Reds’ lead back to seven points in the title race. Put simply, Sunday’s fixture is a must-win scenario for Pep Guardiola‘s side, no matter the opponent, but doubly — or, triply — so against a side like Huddersfield. After losing three out of four PL games in mid-December, the defending champions have regained a bit of form in their last three games, winning all three — including a season-saving victory over Liverpool — and conceding just two goals in the process. Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are back amongst the goals, having between them scored five of the eight during the current run.

INJURIES: Huddersfield —  OUT: Aaron Mooy (knee), Danny Williams (knee) | Man City — OUT: Benjamin Mendy (knee), Claudio Bravo (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Vincent Kompany (undisclosed)


Fulham v. Tottenham Hotspur — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Tottenham’s latest spell without star striker Harry Kane (ankle) begins on Sunday, with a trip to Craven Cottage to take on relegation-threatened Fulham. Mauricio Pochettino‘s side will also be without Kane’s most logical replacement, Son Heung-min, as he is with the South Korea squad at the Asian Cup. Kane was lost for up to two months in last weekend’s narrow defeat to Manchester United, a result which saw Spurs fall five points back of City and their respective leads on Chelsea (one point) and Arsenal and Man United (then seven, but since reduced to four) eroded as well. Either Fernando Llorente will start up top, or Pochettino will opt for a striker-less formation and rely upon the fluidity and attacking versatility of Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela.

As for Fulham, the Cottagers wish their greatest concern was as simple as losing a forward or two. Instead, Claudio Ranieri‘s side sits 19th after 22 games, now seven points (and another 17 goals in the goal-differential column) adrift of safety following Newcastle United’s emphatic victory over fellow relegation battlers Cardiff on Saturday. With just one win in their last nine league games (two in their last 19; three all season), the west London club’s return to the PL appears to be a one-season wonder before an immediate drop back down to the Championship. Having conceded 49 goals in 22 games, Fulham are on pace to give up 87 goals. The last side to concede more 80 goals in a season was — you guessed it — Fulham (85), the last time they were relegated in 2013-14.

INJURIES: Fulham —  OUT: Alfie Mawson (knee), Aboubakar Kamara (disciplinary) | Tottenham — OUT: Harry Kane (ankle), Lucas Moura (knee), Moussa Sissoko (groin), Victor Wanyama (knee)

De Ligt not fazed by price tag after move to Juventus

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If you can’t beat them, buy them. That appears to be Juventus’ philosophy as it continues its quest for the Champions League title.

[ MORE: Pochettino might have left if Spurs won Champions League ]

In 2018, Cristiano Ronaldo scored for Real Madrid against Juventus to eliminate the Serie A champion from Europe’s premier club competition. A few months later Juventus signed him.

This year Matthijs de Ligt scored the goal that eliminated Juventus from the Champions League in April as he captained Ajax to the semifinals. On Thursday, Juventus signed the Netherlands defender.

Juventus is an overwhelming favorite to win a record-extending ninth straight Serie A title but it is desperate to end its long wait for European success.

Since Juventus’ last title in 1996, it has finished runner-up five times in the Champions League.

[ MORE: Conte calls Lukaku an “important” part of his plans at Inter ]

“We want to win them all: this is the mentality of Juventus,” said De Ligt at his first news conference as a Juventus player on Friday. “I’m 19, I can still improve and I want to do that. It’s important to work hard every day and to learn, and I hope to become a better player.”

De Ligt became the most expensive defender in Serie A history when he completed an $85-million transfer from Ajax.

But the teen is not fazed at the price tag.

“Of course, when a club buys you for a big amount of money, there’s a lot of pressure, but pressure is normal in football,” De Ligt said. “I think pressure is the most important thing and if you want to be a good player, you have to deal with it.

“It’s not a big deal for me. I’ll just play my game, work hard and show it on the pitch. In the end, everyone will see how I deal with it, but it’s not going to be a problem.”

[ MORE: Report: Barcelona logs bid for Neymar ]

A photo emerged during the week of De Ligt wearing a Juventus shirt as a child and he admitted he grew up idolizing Juventus defender Fabio Cannavaro, who captained Italy to World Cup success in 2006.

“The photo of me in a Juventus shirt was taken when I was about six or seven, at that time Fabio Cannavaro was a defender that I admired,” he said. “I always had a good feeling about Juventus and I’ve always been a fan.”

Another reason De Ligt chose Juventus was because of new coach Maurizio Sarri, who replaced Massimiliano Allegri at the end of the season.

“I spoke to Sarri on the phone before coming, just to get to know each other,” De Ligt said. “He was one of the reasons that I wanted to join here, I’ve heard a lot of good things about him and I like his footballing philosophy and how he prepares his defense.”

Pulisic makes Chelsea debut, but Blues lose in Japan

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While much of the country was still asleep, well before 8 a.m. on the east coast of America, Christian Pulisic made his Chelsea debut in the Blues’ preseason friendly against Japanese champions Kawasaki Frontale in Yokohama, Japan.

[ MORE: Pochettino might have left if Spurs won Champions League ]

Pulisic came on as a 65th-minute sub and didn’t have a huge impact on the game. Chelsea lost the game 1-0 on an 88th-minute header from former wonderkid Leandro Damiao. The Blues have won just one of their three preseason fixtures thus far.

Chelsea weren’t without chances in the game, though, but various combinations of Pulisic, Michy Batshuayi, Pedro and Olivier Giroud proved to lack the finishing touch required on a number of occasions. Despite the result and his side’s poor finishing, manager Frank Lampard insisted he was happy with the overall performance.

David Luiz was named Man of the Match and handed a very peculiar award from shirt sponsor and tire company Yokohama.

Conte calls Lukaku an “important” part of his plans at Inter

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So much for diplomacy. Antonio Conte is downright recruiting Romelu Lukaku to join him at Inter Milan, and he’s doing it through the press for all to hear.

[ MORE: Pochettino might have left if Spurs won Champions League ]

The rumors linking Lukaku with a move away from Manchester United have been swirling all summer, but as of yet the two clubs haven’t been past the “bid(s) made and rejected” portion of proceedings. As such, Conte is prepared to go a step further in courting the 26-year-old Belgian, stating his longstanding admiration and calling him “an important players for us” — quotes from the BBC:

“You know I like this player. In the past, when I was Chelsea’s coach, I tried to bring him to Chelsea.

“As I said before, I like this player and consider him an important player for us to have a good improvement but at the same there is a transfer market.

“We know very well which is our situation at the moment and we will see what happens but for now Lukaku is a United player.”

Man United paid $96 million for Lukaku just two years ago, so it would be unwise to expect them to let him leave for anything short of $80 million, if Inter are lucky.

Pochettino: I might have left if Spurs won Champions League

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Mauricio Pochettino admits that might have left Tottenham Hotspur had the north London club found a way to beat Liverpool in last month’s UEFA Champions League final.

[ MORE: Harry Winks says trophies for Spurs are “round the corner” ]

In Pochettino’s mind, reaching the pinnacle would have caused everyone at the club — from the players, to the rest of the coaching staff, and even himself — to “behave differently.” If/when Pochettino wins his first major trophy as a manager, he won’t be one to rest on his laurels for more than a day or two — quotes from the BBC:

“When you touch the glory, you behave differently, the players behave differently, the challenge becomes different.

“If the result had been different, maybe you can think it is a moment to step out of the club and give it a possibility for a real new chapter with a new coaching staff.

“But, to finish like this? I am not a person who won’t face problems or avoids difficult situations.”

Fortunately for the long-term viability of the club, Pochettino is set to begin his fifth season as Tottenham manager. Still, though, Spurs’ best shot at a trophy remains in the cup competitions, with Manchester City and Liverpool seemingly set to lead the Premier League for the foreseeable future.

One player who might not be around long enough to enjoy any of Spurs’ future successes is Danny Rose. While the entire first team is in Singapore for preseason, Rose is back in London after being granted time “to explore prospective opportunities with other clubs.”

Pochettino says Rose has 10 days to sort out a transfer for himself — with PSG and Schalke both reportedly interested abroad — otherwise “he will be normal with the team” once they return to north London.