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Top Premier League storylines: Week 32

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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.

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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.

Brighton – Liverpool preview: How to watch, start time, stream, odds, prediction

Brighton - Liverpool preview
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Brighton – Liverpool preview: Liverpool continues its pursuit of history when it visits safer but not secure Brighton and Hove Albion on Wednesday (Watch live at 3:15 pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Reds bounced back from a blowout loss to Man City and beat Aston Villa over the weekend and will now turn its attention to a Brighton team that took them to the wire earlier this season.

STREAM BRIGHTON – LIVERPOOL LIVE

The Seagulls have been quite good for a bottom-half side, very unlucky until a recent surge propelled them nine points clear of the bottom three.


Team news

Liverpool is waiting on the statuses of James Milner and Dejan Lovren for the trip down south.

Brighton won’t have Jose Izquierdo, and Steven Alzate is a doubt.


What they’re saying

Jurgen Klopp on getting ready for challenging Brighton“First and foremost, I want us to be lively, I want us to be active, I want us to be creative and I want us to be really solid, especially in protecting the counter-attacks. Whatever setup Brighton will choose and they used to change a lot for the specific opponent system-wise. So against us when we played here, it was kind of a 4-3-2-1, maybe they play that again. But we have only two days’ time, so we cannot prepare for all the different systems. Most of the things the boys have to learn on the pitch and then use our principles, our patterns. Hopefully it will work out.”

Graham Potter on facing the champs“It would be nice to get a result against them. Whenever you play the best it is an opportunity to test yourself and learn about yourselves. Liverpool have been amazing this season and are thoroughly deserved champions. It’s great for us to have that level of opposition. We have to make sure we retain Premier League status and keep fighting so that means trying to take points off every team between now and the end of the season.”


Odds and ends (Full matchweek odds)

Brighton’s a solid underdog at home (+510), with Liverpool expected to keep up its march on history at -182 favorites.

Liverpool beat Brighton 2-1 with 10 men in a November match in which the Seagulls angered Jurgen Klopp.


Prediction

The Seagulls have an underrated team and they will certainly hang around in this game if they can avoid an early concession. Let’s say they do, and fight valiantly in a second 2-1 loss this season.


How to watch Brighton – Liverpool stream, start time

Kickoff: 3:15 pm ET Wednesday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Arteta eager for Ceballos to stay; laments missed chances, VAR

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Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has revealed he is eager for Dani Ceballos to stay long term and he also lamented their missed chances as they drew 1-1 at home against Leicester City.

Arteta’s side dominated the first half and should have gone in more than 1-0 up as a combination of fine saves from Kasper Schmeichel and poor decision cost the Gunners.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

A red card to Eddie Nketiah and a late Jamie Vardy equalizer, but checked by VAR, cost them what would have been a big win in their battle to get back in the Champions League race.

ProSoccerTalk asked Arteta after the game about Ceballos’ future, as his loan from Real Madrid is due to end in a few weeks’ time when the 2019-20 season is over.

“I am really happy with him. I think it is something the club has to go a little bit further with Real Madrid on that. At the moment he is playing really well, I am really happy with him and he is a player with a big talent and still a lot of things to improve,” Arteta said.

So, Arteta wants Ceballos to stay longer at Arsenal.

Watch this space as the Gunners aim to make a permanent move or loan deal for Ceballos who played a lovely ball to Bukayo Saka on their goal and continues to form a superb, and unlikely, partnership with Granit Xhaka as a holding midfielder instead of being a No. 10.

“He was superb again,” Arteta said of Ceballos. “Him and Granit are creating a really good understanding. They give us a lot of balance and a lot of stability with the ball as well to make the first decision in transition moments. They are evolving a lot together and I think defensively Dani has made a big step forward with the way he is pressing, the amount of interceptions and the tackles he is putting in. He is enjoying it.”

Arteta didn’t enjoy Arsenal’s finishing, though, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s opener wasn’t enough for the win. Bukayo Saka, Alexandre Lacazette and others popped up in dangerous positions but Arsenal just couldn’t find that killer second goal that Arteta craved.

That lack of a killer instinct in the final third is something Arteta and Arsenal will look at.

“It is very difficult to do. The hardest thing to do is to score goals. When you are generating more than enough opportunities, you should go in with a much bigger margin into half time,” Arteta said. “We will make a lot of reviews about situations like that and how important they are in crucial moments to make the right decisions and be clinical and ruthless. But if you don’t do that, you cannot give anything to the opponent and you cannot play this type of game with 10 men.”

VAR, as it always seems to do now, will have the last word, as Arteta couldn’t believed that Nketiah was sent off for his challenge on James Justin and believed that Jamie Vardy should have been sent off in the first half for a similar challenge.

“I am extremely proud of our team, the way we played against this kind of opposition. We should have been three or four-nil up. With the red card you have to know he is a young kid. Leicester should play with 10 men after 42 minutes. For a challenge between the 40th and 45th minute,” Arteta said. “I don’t understand the rules. I never see a referee check any of the images. But I can do nothing now, it is the rules. We lost two points, we lost Eddie and we will see now for how many games. But we go to Spurs now and try to win three points.”

Arsenal remain in the hunt for fifth place — which could still be a Champions League spot depending on whether or not Man City’s European ban is overturned — but they are five points off Man United with four games to go and it will be tough for the Gunners to qualify for the Champions League this season.

That was always going to be the case given their poor start but since Arteta arrived in December things have changed. The fact that they are in with a shout, and disappointed to not be closer to fifth place, shows you how much progress the Gunners have made since the Spaniard arrived.

Arsenal are getting there, step-by-step, but this draw against Leicester feels like a ‘what if’ moment when all is said and done in their 2019-20 season.

Manchester City – Newcastle preview: How to watch, start time, stream, odds, prediction

Manchester City - Newcastle preview
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Manchester City – Newcastle preview: Man City looks to take another step toward sealing second place on the table as plucky Newcastle United visits the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday (Watch live at 1 pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

The nine losses Pep Guardiola’s overseen this season are the most in a single league season over his celebrated career, but City’s still second and the advanced stats say they’re playing the best football in the league.

STREAM MANCHESTER CITY – NEWCASTLE LIVE

It’s a funny game, and the same wisdom can be applied to Steve Bruce’s strong season at Newcastle. The well-traveled and well-liked boss has led the Magpies to a better season that Rafa Benitez did in 2018-19, though it’s pivotal to note that Bruce has been blessed with much better transfer outlay.


Team news

Sergio Aguero remains out for Man City after undergoing knee surgery, while Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker face late fitness tests.

Newcastle star Allan Saint-Maximin was dinged up in a weekend draw with West Ham but could play, while Florian Lejeune, Ciaran Clark, Isaac Hayden, and Sean Longstaff are unlikely to play.


What they’re saying

Man City’s Pep Guardiola on bouncing back from Southampton: “Of course we have confidence in the players and we are the same guys. We’ve done it in previous seasons. The way we played is similar, but we have to win the games. Next season will be next season. We will try to score more goals and avoid conceding chances. The control is there, the way we play is there. We need to try to increase these kind of things.”

Magpies boss Steve Bruce on leading scorer Jonjo Shelvey“It becomes easy, the game of football, like a game of golf, to him. He’s blessed with a natural ability. He can see a pass that other people can’t. He can deliver a pass. He can score a goal. Physically and mentally, he’s bought into everything we’ve tried to put over to him and fair play to him. At the minute, he’s reaping the benefits of how good he looks, and of course he’s playing at the top of his game, which is always good to see because he has been outstanding in the last few games.”


Odds and ends (Full matchweek odds)

DraftKings’ heads will explode if Newcastle gets this one done, +2000 being attached to the Magpies as opposed to Man City’s -835.

Newcastle and Man City have been twice already this season, both at St. James’ Park. The Magpies drew City 2-2 in league play via Jonjo Shelvey’s late goal before losing 2-0 to City in an FA Cup quarterfinal in late June.


Prediction

Gabriel Jesus is due for a goal, presuming he starts again. The 23-year-old has been sitting on 10 PL goals since February 22, and we suspect he finds a way past Martin Dubravka in a 3-0 win.


How to watch Man City – Newcastle United stream, start time

Kickoff: 1 pm ET Wednesday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Serie A: Top 2 both lose as Lazio player bites opponent (video)

Lazio player bites opponent
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Juventus had a chance to effectively put another scudetto race to bed after chasers Lazio lost to relegation-threatened Lecce on Tuesday, a Lazio player biting an opponent to get a late red card to add insult to injury.

But Juve blew a 2-0 second-half lead at AC Milan in remarkable fashion, conceding four times at the San Siro.

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Juve leads Lazio by seven points with seven matches to play for both teams and they meet July 20 in Turin. Inter Milan is third with 64 points and Atalanta fourth with 63, both with a match-in-hand on the top two.


Lecce 2-1 Lazio

The latest manner in which Lazio threw away a chance to dethrone Juventus definitely leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Lazio lost Tuesday for the third time in five post-coronavirus pause outings, seeing a defender sent off for a biting incident in a 2-1 loss to previously-bottom three Lecce.

Patric did not like Giulio Donati’s arms boxing him out of a set piece situation, and clearly latches onto the Lecce man’s left arm.

It was already 2-1 when the red card was shown, Lazio frustrated when Felipe Caicedo’s early goal was countered by goals from Khouma Babacar and Fabio Lucioni.

AC Milan 4-2 Juventus

Milan pulls into fifth in the race for a Europa League place that will leave either Roma, Napoli, or Tuesday’s victors out of Europe.

It was nil-nil at halftime when the game really found its footing.

Adrien Rabiot scored a stunner just after the break and Juan Cuadrado cued up Cristiano Ronaldo for an insurance goal six minutes later.

Ronaldo’s 26th of the season puts him three back of league leader Ciro Immobile of Lazio.

Milan took one back through Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 62nd, and the Swede then set up Franck Kessie for an equalizer before departing in the 67th minute.

Rafael Leao scored right after restart, stunning Juventus. Giacomo Bonaventura, who’d come on for Ibrahimovic, then set up Ante Rebic for the fourth goal of the match.

The Rabiot goal, though…