Top PL storylines for opening weekend

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The opening weekend of the 2019-20 Premier League season is here, and there are so many storylines swirling around.

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Here are a few you need to focus on over the next few days.

Let’s go.


Christian Pulisic‘s debut

  • Man United v. Chelsea, Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN

The USMNT star is set to start for Chelsea at Man United on Sunday, and Christian Pulisic has had a very impressive preseason for the Blues. After starring for the U.S. at the Gold Cup this summer, he cut short his summer break to head straight on Chelsea’s preseason tour of Japan. He scored twice against Red Bull Salzburg and his pace and trickery has impressed Frank Lampard. There’s a window of opportunity for Pulisic at the start of the season as Willian returned late from international duty with Brazil this summer, so the Pennsylvanian native has to hit the ground running. The American superstar, 20, is about to announce himself to the world. He will get plenty of chances to shine for Chelsea this season but adapting quickly to life in the PL is key. He is the first bonafide U.S. superstar in the PL and his potential is limitless. Pulisic has plenty of expectations on his shoulders.


Stars may be eased in

  • Liverpool v. Norwich, Friday, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN
  • West Ham v. Man City, Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Both Liverpool and Man City have been missing stars for most of preseason and we are likely to see Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola manage the minutes of their key men early in the season. Salah, Mane, Firmino and Alisson all returned late to preseason, and Liverpool’s front three may have a slightly different look, with Mane potentially coming off the bench on Friday. Man City will have to decide whether to risk the likes of Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho against West Ham, and there is probably no need to risk them. Liverpool and Man City should get off to flying starts to the new season and having their stars fresh for the festive period and final months of the campaign is more important than the first few weeks of August.


First-look at new signings

  • Newcastle v. Arsenal, Sunday, 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN
  • Tottenham v. Aston Villa, Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC

The likes of Harry Maguire, Giovani Lo Celso, David Luiz, Nicolas Pepe and Alex Iwobi will all get the chance to play for their new teams this weekend and it will be very exciting to see how they fare. Record amounts of money were spent this summer and plenty of new faces have arrived in the PL. Get ready for snap judgments from fans on new players within the first 15 minutes of the first game of the season. That’s just how things work. For players, how you start a campaign usually sets the tone for what’s to come.


Promoted teams have taken different paths

  • Bournemouth v. Sheffield United, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Norwich have spent hardly anything. Sheffield United have spent a little. Aston Villa have spent a lot. All three newly-promoted teams have approached life back in the PL differently and Villa’s 12 new signings seems to have strengthened their squad considerably. Norwich have kept the bulk of their squad together as they rely on Pukki to score the goals. Sheffield United’s marauding center backs will cause quite a stir in the PL this season, as Chris Wilder has brought in plenty of lower-league talents. All in all, you never know how the new boys teams will settle and how much momentum they will have from promotion over the summer. Getting off to a fast start is crucial for all three teams.

Early audition for top six hopefuls

  • Leicester v. Wolves, Sunday, 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Both Wolves and Leicester fancy their chances of breaking up the top six monopoly this season, and they square off on Sunday at the King Power Stadium. Wolves travelled to Armenia on Thursday as they continue their Europa League qualifying campaign, and juggling Europe and the PL will impact Nuno Espirito Santo‘s rather small squad. As for Leicester, they’ve lost Harry Maguire but Brendan Rodgers has added real quality in Tielemans and Praet in midfield and Perez up top. Leicester and Wolves, along with Everton and West Ham, are primed to push the top six all the way this season. A Midlands derby will be a good indicator as to which team is better prepared to crack the top six, or go even higher, this season.

Josef Martinez scores 2 more in win, including sensational solo work

AP Photo/John Minchillo
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Josef Martinez scored his 25th and 26th goals of the MLS season, and if he challenges his MLS record of 31, he may also stare down soccer royalty.

The Venezuelan striker scored two more on Wednesday in a 2-0 defeat of FC Cincinnati in Ohio to give him goals in 15-straight league contests.

He now has 76 goals in 80 MLS games, which is good.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

On the season, he’s six goals shy of matching the Major League Soccer record he set with last season’s 31 regular season goals.

According to MLSSoccer.com, he’s six games shy of tying Lionel Messi’s world record for consecutive league matches with a goal.

Even that’s a little tricky: Messi scored in 21-straight games in which he was eligible for selection, but 19-straight before missing two matches for injury. In that remarkable run of 21, he also had a run of six-straight braces.

It’s not really worth it to attempt to compare the two streaks: If Martinez gets to 21 (or even 19), it’s amazing stuff and worth celebrating on a worldwide level. Everyone has a bad game every now and again, but Martinez still finds the score sheet in ’em.

Look at the magician’s tricks he used for this one, including a back heel first touch and two freeze-frame cut moves. That’s not even mentioning the finish.

USWNT announces final matches of World Cup-winning year

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CHICAGO (AP) The Women’s World Cup champion U.S. team will wrap up 2019 with matches against Sweden and Costa Rica.

U.S. Soccer announced Wednesday that the U.S. will face Sweden in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 7 and Costa Rica in Jacksonville, Florida, on Nov. 10.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

The team is wrapping up its World Cup victory tour next month with matches against South Korea on Oct. 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and on Oct. 6 in Chicago.

Coach Jill Ellis is stepping down following the match in Chicago after leading the team to a pair of consecutive World Cup titles.

The United States is 15-1-2 this year and currently riding a 14-game winning streak.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Report: Mane to get big raise, Liverpool contract through 2025

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Liverpool’s Senegalese sensation looks set to stay at Anfield deep into his 30s.

Sadio Mane is in talks with the Reds hierarchy over a new deal that will run through 2024-25, and pay him more than $15 million per season.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

Mane, 27, currently has a deal through 2023, but surely wouldn’t mind a raise. And Liverpool will be happy to tie him down on Merseyside a bit longer.

He’s scored six times in seven matches this season, also grabbing an assist. That’s on a better pace than his 26 goals and five assists over 50 appearances in 2018/19.

Mane has 70 Premier League goals at the moment. Do you tip him to eclipse 100 while still at Anfield? 125?

Europa League preview: Man Utd, Wolves, Arsenal begin group stage

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The Europa League begins its group stage on Thursday, with the three Premier League combatants taking on clubs from Kazakhstan, Portugal and Germany.

Manchester United’s kids are gonna get some playing time when Astana visits Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Teenager Mason Greenwood and 21-year-old Axel Tuanzebe will start, and Sergio Romero will be between the sticks.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

And the Manchester Evening News notes that Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes could also start at Old Trafford, meaning the veterans in the fray will be quite important.

Enter Fred, the forgotten $68 million man from Shaktar Donetsk. The 23 minutes he played last week versus Leicester City account for his lone time on the pitch this season.

Here’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer:

“I’m sure we’ll see more and more of Fred. We spoke about it earlier, he’s had some great games in midfield with Scott against PSG and Arsenal, for example, and we’re just waiting for that to flourish.”

Fred had an odd record under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last season, barely in the squad when the team started hot but trusted against PSG and Barcelona in the Champions League.

Speaking of little-used midfielders, Arsenal boss Unai Emery is getting a little grief for leaving Mesut Ozil behind for the Gunners’ trip to Germany for a big match with Eintracht Frankfurt.

Ozil made his first start of the season in Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Watford at the weekend, playing 71 minutes and departing with the club up 2-1.

So why not even bring him abroad? Rest.

“Because we are going to play another match on Sunday,” Emery said, via The London Evening Standard. “My decision is because he played and also I’m thinking tomorrow the focus and the first 11 and after that I decided who are the players who can be the best for tomorrow and also the players not and that is Sokratis and Mesut.”

Sokrastis Papastathopoulos is also out, having played a big role in the embarrassing performance at Watford.

There have been tough times for Wolves as well, who sit in the relegation zone after five matches of the Premier League season.

They’ve been quite good in Europa League, though, dispatching a pair of minnows before winning both legs against Serie A side Torino.

Why the inconsistency? It’s not fixture congestion, according to Ruben Neves:

“I don’t think fatigue has anything to do with it, Neves said, via The Birmingham Mail. “We’re all top players, we’re used to it, we’re used to playing a lot of games in quick succession. I don’t think the Europa League has (anything) to do with our position in the Premier League. Obviously, we haven’t had the start that we’ve wanted, but it’s been a beautiful journey into the Europa League. This is a historic moment for Wolves and we’re going to do our best in this competition.”

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men are in Portugal to meet Braga, one of three tricky opponents in Besiktas and Slovan Bratislava.

Full slate

12:55 p.m. ET
CFR Cluj v. Lazio
LASK v. Rosenborg
Getafe v. Trabzonspor
PSV Eindhoven v. Sporting Lisbon
Basel v. Krasnodar
APOEL Nicosia v. Dudelange
Copenhagen v. Lugano
Standard Liege v. Vitoria SC
Qarabag v. Sevilla
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Arsenal
Rennes v. Celtic
Dynamo Kiev v. Malmo

3 p.m. ET
Wolfsburg v. Oleksandriya
Espanyol v. Ferencvaros
Rangers v. Feyenoord
Porto v. Young Boys
Slovan Bratislava v. Besiktas
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Wolfsberg
Partizan v. AZ Alkmaar
AS Roma v. Istanbul Basaksehir
Gent v. Saint-Etienne
Manchester United v. Astana
Wolves v. Braga
Ludogorets Razgrad v. CSKA Moscow