PL Sunday preview: Liverpool in chase mode; Arsenal v. Man Utd

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By the time Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures is complete, nearly all 20 clubs will have played 30 games in the 2018-19 season, signaling the official start of the run-in.

[ MORE: What did we learn on a wild PL Saturday? (video) ]

From the title, to the top-four, to the relegation battle, there’s still so much left to play for…

Liverpool v. Burnley — 8 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

From runaway PL title leaders and favorites, to staring a four-point deficit — with a game in hand, albeit — square in the face, the last two months have been anything but ideal for Liverpool. It’s not as if Jurgen Klopp‘s side has cratered and even lost a single game, so much as Manchester City have regained their brilliant, historic form of last season (three points dropped from their last 11 games) and managed to capitalize on the Reds drawing four of their last six. When 17th-place Burnley visit Anfield on Sunday, Klopp and Co., will have their hands full against increasingly desperate opponents who now sit just two points and one place clear of the relegation zone. There can be no looking ahead to Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League clash with Bayern Munich (0-0 after the Reds’ home leg).

As for the Clarets, Sean Dyche‘s side was the very definition of up-and-down since mid-January: three draws, followed by two wins, followed by two losses most recently. Prior to starting their potentially season-saving run just before the start of 2019, Burnley sat 19th in the PL table. After winning three straight to start the new year and eventually extending their run to eight games unbeaten (five wins), they had risen as high as 14th. Back-to-back defeats to fellow relegation battlers Newcastle United and Crystal Palace have since dropped them back into perilous danger as they head northwest to take on one of the Europe’s most prolific, irresistible sides on Sunday.

INJURIES: Liverpool —  OUT: Joe Gomez (ankle), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Dejan Lovren (hamstring) | Burnley — OUT: Aaron Lennon (knee), Steven Defour (calf), Jonathan Walters (achilles)


Chelsea v. Wolverhampton Wanderers — 10:05 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Maurizio Sarri‘s debut season in the PL has been one he, and many Chelsea fans alike, would like to forget. And yet, it’s the sixth-place Blues — of the three teams currently jockeying for fourth place — who control their own destiny, due to having a game in hand and trailing the Champions League places by just two points. Sunday’s opponent, sixth-place Wolves, will be anything but a pushover, which they demonstrated the first time these sides met this season: Wolves 2-1 Chelsea, in December.

Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota inspired Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side to the comeback victory at Molineux Stadium, and the prolific duo (17 goals and nine assists between them this PL campaign) will be desperate to complete the unlikely double over such a giant in their first top-flight season in eight years. Against all odds, it’s Wolves who have lost just once in their last seven league games (four wins), and the Blues who have lost three of their last six (three wins) and suffered a frustrating slide down the table. With a six-point advantage over 11th-place Everton, and Sunday’s game in hand, Wolves are merely a handful of results away from mathematically securing a top-half finish with plenty of the season still to run.

INJURIES: Chelsea —  OUT: None | Wolves — OUT: Ryan Bennett (suspension)


Arsenal v. Manchester United — 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com

The leading contestants for a top-four finish are set to face off in a titanic clash at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday, with the added bonus of making a real push to catch and surpass a Tottenham Hotspur side suddenly spiraling out of control. Man United moved to within three points of Tottenham with their comeback victory over Southampton last weekend, only for those very Saints to do the Red Devils a massive favor on the back end: handing Spurs their third loss in four games.

Three points won’t come easy on Sunday, however, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side was pushed to its limits in the Champions League on Wednesday, only securing their passage to the quarterfinals in the 93rd minute against Paris Saint-Germain. Further complicating matters, United find themselves in the midst of something of an injury crisis (see below). On the bright side, Paul Pogba will be fit and fresh after missing Wednesday’s game due to suspension. On the brightest of bright sides, United remain unbeaten in 12 league games (10 wins) since Solskjaer took over for Jose Mourinho in mid-December.

Arsenal, on the other hand, will be considerably fatigued themselves after losing to Rennes in the Europa League on Thursday, and playing nearly 50 minutes with just 10 men. With dwindling hope of lifting the final trophy still in play for the Gunners, Unai Emery‘s main objective has become exceedingly clear: get the club back into the Champions League for the first time in three years. Three points would not only send Arsenal two points clear of United for fourth, but would also trim the gap between themselves and Spurs to just a single point with eight games left to play.

INJURIES: Arsenal —  OUT: Lucas Torreira (suspension), Hector Bellerin (knee), Danny Welbeck (ankle), Rob Holding (knee) | Man United — OUT: Alexis Sanchez (knee), Jesse Lingard (hamstring), Juan Mata (hamstring), Antonio Valencia (calf); QUESTIONABLE: Anthony Martial (groin), Nemanja Matic (leg), Ander Herrera (hamstring), Phil Jones (illness), Matteo Darmian (undisclosed)

Red-hot Martinez extends record as Atlanta edge Orlando (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less):  Josef Martinez remains unstoppable, scoring in a record 12 consecutive games. Throughout that span, the Venezuelan has recorded 17 goals, with one of those giving Atlanta United the 1-0 victory against rival Orlando City on Friday night. The talk of the league remain Carlos Vela – deservingly so – but Martinez continues to put together another superlative season. The Five Stripes, who have won five straight league games, continue on a positive trend, too. Worried after a slow start to the season under Frank De Boer, the defending MLS Cup champions regain the top position in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, Orlando – winless in their last two – will look to bounce back quickly as they remain tied with seventh place Montreal.

Three moments that mattered

10′ — Tesho misses a clear one-on-one early on  — Tesho had everything going for him, but then he failed to finish.

60′ — Martinez continues to score  — Aside from Vela, no one has been more reliable than the Venezuelan when it comes to scoring goals.

88′ — Villalba nearly makes it two for Atlanta — The Five Stripes were this close of ending things early against their rivals.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Miles Robinson

Goalscorers: Martinez (60′)

Everton’s Silva: ‘It is concerning about the goals we didn’t score’

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Like in the two games leading into Friday night, Everton have done their part in creating clear-cut chances.

They haven’t done their part in finishing, however. A major point of concern for manager Marco Silva following his side’s 2-0 loss against Aston Villa. From the BBC:

“It is really difficult to see how we can lose this game when we create so many chances to score. It is a tough place to play football.”

The Toffees have now outshot all three opponents they’ve faced this season (34-21), but have only a goal to speak for their attacking dominance. Against Villa, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Theo Walcott squandered ideal chances in the first and second halves, respectively. In the minutes following his Everton debut, Alex Iwobi was the closest to converting for the visitors, hitting the post in the closing minutes of the match.

Silva, as critical as ever before, acknowledges that despite his team succeeding when it comes to creating chances, they desperately need to move the ball past the white line.

“The most difficult thing is to create and when you do you have to put the ball in the net,” the 42-year-old added. “It is concerning about the goals we didn’t score and of course we should score more. Against Palace we created lots of chances to score and didn’t and again today.”

With a challenging bout against Wolves at Goodison Park next on the schedule, the Portuguese will certainly look to tinker his attack to improve the team’s poor conversion rate. Despite falling to score 10 yards in, Iwobi contributed positively for Everton at Villa Park. Moise Kean, still adjusting to the rigors of the league, can be another prudent option to consider.

Luckily, Everton have time – and a match against Lincoln City midweek – to weigh their options. Silva, as he clearly explained at Villa Park, would want the goals to come in sooner rather than later.

Villa’s Wesley hopes to ‘continue like this’ after scoring first goal

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Anwar El Ghazi was the x-factor Friday night, giving every Aston Villa supporter in attendance at Villa Park the excuse to roar at the top of their lungs following his composed finish in the dying seconds of stoppage time.

But about an hour earlier, Villa’s $28-million striker, Wesley, gave the same supporters a reason to believe that they had a chance against Everton, and, most importantly, that Villa made the right decision in securing his signature just months ago.

[ MORE: Recap | Highlights ]

With a timely run and a well-paced strike, the Brazilian opened his Premier League and Aston Villa account. Something manager Dean Smith knew was bound to happen. From the BBC:

“Wesley is not rewarding me but this performance was very good tonight. I believe in him, I have watched him for a while at Club Bruges, playing in the Champions League so I know the calibre of player we were bringing in. You can’t judge someone after two games.”

Prior to Friday, Wesley was less effective than expected in the claret and blue, recording only two shots on target in his first 164 minutes in the league. Smith was swarmed with questions about the striker’s ineffectiveness as the pressure continued to pile on.

Against Everton, however, with the Villa struggling to keep possession and most playing through frenetic counter attacks, the 22-year-old made the most out of the small number of chances he saw. 21 minutes in, he scored. A couple of minutes later – if it wasn’t for a superb last-second tackle from Everton’s Yerry Mina – the Brazilian would have had a brace.

When he wasn’t aiming for goal, the striker was effectively displacing Everton’s back four with his clever runs and brawny hold-up play. One could tell that the Brazilian was playing the game to his strengths, in peace.

“I am very happy tonight, what a performance from the team,” Wesley said after the match. “We worked hard, played very well and we hope to continue like this week by week then we will see what happens.

“The manager knows me, he sees me everyday working hard and the supporters know me too. I keep calm, I know my qualities and today you saw that I can do.

“I hope to continue like this, the last two games were very difficult but now I have to help my team with goals.”

Time will tell if Wesley will continue on the same path, but after a slow start, its quite crystal clear that everyone at Aston Villa is behind the Brazilian striker.

Late El Ghazi goal seals Aston Villa victory over Everton

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With three points under their belt and Villa Park rocking like never before, it now feels like Aston Villa are finally back in the Premier League.

Pinned back the majority of the second half, trying to conserve a 1-0 lead, Anwar El Ghazi‘s last-gasp goal sealed the deal for Villa, edging Everton 2-0 on Friday.

Wesley‘s cathartic welcome to the Premier League 21 minutes in gave Dean Smith‘s side the room to breathe, despite being behind the ball the majority of the match.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]


Four things we learned

1. Certainly not the case last time they featured in the Premier League, Villa now have the luxury of boasting game-changing choices off the bench like El Ghazi, who can come in and finish things off.

2. Three matches in, and the Toffees’ glaring void is a clinical finisher up top. They’ll need to find a solution, sooner rather than later.

3.  In the 30-minute cameo, Alex Iwobi displayed that he can turn out to be a difference-maker for Everton this season, if utilized properly.

4. On a good night, there aren’t many stadiums that roar louder than Villa Park.

Man of the Match


Jota, positive for 77 minutes on the right side of the midfield, combined time and time again with Villa right back Frederic Guilbert for the greater good of creating energetic counters. The Spaniard’s first assist of the season came in similar fashion, when Wesley finished off his precise through ball.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Everton, like in the first half, imposed themselves on the home side, dominating control of the ball. A lack of fishing and creativity in the final third, however, complicated things for Marco Silva‘s side. As the clocked ticked, the ingenuity was nowhere to be found.

Shortly after coming on, Iwobi put forward the clearest chance Everton had experienced all night. The substitute’s shot, though, struck post, denying any chances of a brilliant debut by the former Arsenal man.

Villa continued to sit back with its four-man backline and Douglas Luiz right above as the No. 6, while remaining attentive on when to spring forward and take advantage of an unbalanced Everton.

El Ghazi surprised many, riffling a shot from 25 yards out. Pickford, vigilant as ever before, calmly blocked it out of danger.

Right before stoppage time, the Toffees were a couple of feet from walking away from Villa Park with a vital point. Theo Wolcott, however, failed to keep his strike leveled, skying the ball well over the bar.

Just minutes later, substitute El-Ghazi showed those watching how to finish, leading Villa to their first Premier League win since 2016.