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Top Premier League storylines: Week 32


The international break is over (yay!) and the Premier League is back in action as teams gear up for the stretch run of the domestic season. With seven or eight matches left to play in the league campaign, we’re treated to vicious battles up and down the table.

[ MORE: Glenn Murray opens up to PST ]

There’s a wide open fight for the title with Liverpool and Manchester City going punch for punch, while Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea battle for the final Champions League slot. At the bottom of the table, Fulham looks for a miracle escape while Cardiff City, Southampton, and Burnley fight for Premier League survival.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

Liverpool fights to keep top spot
Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET: Liverpool v. Tottenham – NBCSN STREAM ]

Liverpool leads the Premier League at the moment, but just by the hair of their chinny chin chins. The Reds currently hold a slim two point lead, but Manchester City holds a game in hand, leaving Liverpool’s margin for error at essentially nil. They take on a Tottenham side that is no longer battling for the title, but instead battling for their Champions League lives, not with just a one-point lead over fourth-placed Arsenal.

The Reds may even be trailing in the title race when the game kicks off as Manchester City plays Fulham the day before, with a City win pushing them into the lead. Tottenham has lost three of the last four, leaving them vulnerable amidst the top four race, and that will give Mauricio Pochettino and his squad a sense of urgency coming into this match.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer takes charge of Manchester United permanently
Saturday, 11:00 a.m. ET: Manchester United v. Watford – NBCSN STREAM ]

On Thursday, Manchester United officially tabbed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as the permanent manager, a fierce statement of support for the Norwegian to sign him now instead of waiting until the summer to make his position permanent. While there’s plenty of pomp and circumstance surrounding Solskjaer’s start to his Manchester United career, Saturday’s match is a critical juncture in his managerial career. After running an incredible 12 matches unbeaten to start his Premier League tenure, the club has lost two straight matches – a big 2-0 defeat to Arsenal to fall out of fourth in the table, followed by a 2-1 defeat to Wolves in the FA Cup quarterfinals. How Solskjaer bounces back – or doesn’t – amidst his first bout with adversity as Manchester United boss could very well define the rest of his career. The Red Devils’ boss is in relatively new territory, and Saturday’s game will be just as much a statement as his new position.

Relegation six-pointer sees Brighton host Southampton
Saturday, 11:00 a.m. ET: Brighton & Hove Albion v. Southampton – CNBC STREAM ]

Rarely at this point in the season are we treated to such critical relegation battles. 15th placed Brighton matches up with 16th placed Southampton with both sides desperately needing a win. While the Seagulls still have a bit of room for error sitting on 33 points, five above the relegation zone, Southampton is in a much more dire situation. The Saints are on 30 points, level with 17th placed Burnley and just two clear of the drop.

Brighton went seven matches without a win, but have crucially found victory in their last two. Southampton is in good form as well, having won two of their last three, having scored at least two goals in all three of those games as well. This should prove to be a fun one if both teams come out swinging.

Fulham faces daunting task against Manchester City
Saturday, 8:30 a.m. ET: Fulham v. Manchester City – NBCSN STREAM ]

The Whites come out of the international break needing a miracle, with fans hoping the club can conjure up shades of 2008 when they beat Manchester City in April to begin a stretch that is generally known as the Great Escape, with USMNT great Brian McBride at the top of the attack. This weekend’s task proves much more difficult, with Pep Guardiola at the helm of a Citizens side that can go top of the table with a win.

Fulham, meanwhile, has shown no signs of improving at the back, and now Scott Parker is in charge hoping to inject some kind of life into a defensive unit that has conceded a whopping 70 goals in 31 matches. The Whites have lost 10 of their last 11 to bump them into 19th, 13 points back of Premier League survival – insanely, Fulham has conceded at least two goals in every single match over that stretch. Manchester City, meanwhile, has conceded just one goal over its last five league matches and will be motivated to put more pressure on Liverpool.

Season restart preview: Brighton and Hove Albion

Brighton season restart
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Brighton is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Seagulls when it comes to the season restart.

Outlook: If there’s a team whose results don’t show the way they’ve played, it’s Brighton. Graham Potter’s Seagulls have the sixth-best possession percentage in the league, are a tidy seventh in passing, and are mid-table in tackles per game, interceptions per game, and shots per game.

[ MORE: Ranking every Brighton player in 2019-20 ]

The expected goals stats show even less reward for good work, with Brighton scoring 8.35 goals less than expected in open play and 4.38 less from corner kicks.

Despite all these good things, Brighton is two points clear of the drop zone with nine matches to play and has a terribly challenging schedule especially at the Amex Stadium.

Tactical analysis: Graham Potter has put the Seagulls in myriad formations this season, though he’s been utilizing at least four at the back since the calendar turned to 2020. He’s ready to attack but pragmatic given the club’s hopes of staving off the teams below it in the fight for PL survival.

[ MORE: The 2 Robbies assess Brighton’s chances ]

Possible XI (4-2-3-1) 

—– Ryan —–

— Montoya — Webster — Dunk — Burn —

—– Propper —– Mooy —–

— Trossard — Gross — Alzate —

—– Maupay—–

Glenn Murray and Alireza Jahanbakhsh are excellent weapons to have on the bench, and Brighton’s also got a very good center back in reserve in the form of Shame Duffy and an underrated center mid in Dale Stephens who will see playing time, too. On paper, this team is too good to go down.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Arsenal, Man City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Newcastle
Away: Leicester, Norwich, Southampton, Burnley

Predicted finish: They’ll do enough to get by, though that home fixture list is simply brutal. Safe before the final weekend.

Social media wrap: All 20 Premier League clubs, many players stand against racism

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The protests in the United States have inspired anti-racism statements from around the world, including all gestures from all 20 Premier League clubs and many players and managers.

There have been ongoing protests and horrible violence in the U.S. since the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes even after he stopped moving and pleaded for air in Minnesota.

Newcastle United’s American defender DeAndre Yedlin issued an emotional thread (below) as one of a great deal of players to express hopes for change and solidarity, while Schalke’s Weston McKennie explained his wearing a black armband reading “Justice For George” in the Bundesliga this weekend.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

From Ancelotti to Zaha, Antonio to Yedlin, Arsenal to Wolves, we’ve collected many of their sentiments below in what we hope serves as universal disdain for racial prejudice.

Some players like Leicester City’s Wes Morgan and even entire clubs (Arsenal) changed their online identity photos to reflect these troubled times.

All PL clubs issued messages of solidarity, many using the Black Lives Matter hashtag and making no bones about where they stand.

And we’ll start with a longtime PL club currently in the Championship, who blasted a season ticket holder’s rejection of their unifying Tweet.

Here are some other clubs and players worldwide to have noticed what’s happening in the United States.


Season restart preview: Bournemouth

Bournemouth season restart
Photo by Robin Jones - AFC Bournemouth/AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Bournemouth when it comes to the season restart.

Outlook: Tough sledding for the Cherries, who face zero of their fellow bottom-six sides (though 13th place Newcastle and 14th place Saints both visit the Vitality Stadium).

There’s been an element of bad luck to Bournemouth’s woes, with its expected goals stats showing Ryan Fraser, Joshua King, and Callum Wilson have deserved better end product and that the Cherries’ 14 goals from open play should be closer to 22. The defense has been bad and xG says it could’ve been worse, too. Injuries had hit Bournemouth’s defense corps in a big way, too. How much better will they be after the break?

[ MORE: Ranking every Cherries player in 2019-20 ]

Tactical analysis: Eddie Howe utilized a 4-4-2 with two defensive midfielders for much of the early season, but has gone between a lone striker with a packed-in midfielder and a 4-3-3 when he thinks an opponent is exploitable.

Howe started a 4-4-2 against almost all of the Cherries’ remaining opponents, choosing a 5-4-1 against Wolves and Man City. There’s no guarantee he’ll continue that, especially when some matches may dictate a draw or limited goal differential damage over wins.

Possible XI (4-3-3) 

—– Ramsdale —–

— Smith — S. Cook — Ake — Rico —

—– Lerma —– Billing — L. Cook —

— Fraser —– C. Wilson —– King —–

Howe prefers to attack when at all possible, but the points will be at a premium against some very challenging opponents. It’s a safe bet that he’ll ask a lot from his forwards while trying to deploy his three relentless midfielders together whenever possible. The question here is whether Aaron Ramsdale returns quickly from his COVID-19 positive test, or if it’ll be Artur Boruc or someone else between the sticks.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Crystal Palace, Newcastle, Spurs, Leicester City, Southampton
Away: Wolves, Manchester United, Man City, Everton

Predicted finish: The Cherries stay up, just, as King and Callum Wilson deliver the goods in front of a determined and improved midfield.

Premier League clubs will reportedly be allowed preseason friendlies

Premier League return
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Premier League clubs will be allowed to play preseason matches ahead of the 2019-20’s restart season later this month.

There will be strict protocols due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, and the matches will likely be officiated by club coaching staffs (We have so many Jose Mourinho as ref quips to make here, but let’s keep going anyway).

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Sky Sports says clubs will be limited to opponents within 90 minutes of their venue, and that players will have to drive themselves to the stadiums and go directly to the field in uniform.

With the League One and League Two seasons still hanging in the balance, it’s likely PL sides will be limited to each other and Championship sides. Presumably clubs will not want to meet others still on their fixture list.

We assume some players will get dressed in their vehicles outside the ground, but allow yourself some levity in these challenging times and imagine a fully kitted-up Virgil van Dijk driving the roads from Liverpool to Wigan Athletic.