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.

Manchester United: Solskjaer hopeful of new Paul Pogba contract

Paul Pogba contract
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Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is singing a new tune, hopeful that star midfielder Paul Pogba will stick around Old Trafford for the long term.

Reports say that United has an option to extend Pogba’s contract by an extra year beyond its 2021 expiry, but Solskjaer is thinking bigger. He has been praising Pogba plenty since the World Cup winner returned to the lineup.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

It’s a bit surprising given Pogba and his super agent’s constant time in the rumor mill, with Real Madrid often linked with the Frenchman. And that agent, Mino Raiola, has not been so nice when it comes to judging Solskjaer.

But Solskjaer is reportedly hopeful that Pogba can join Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, and others in building a new power.

“I can’t comment on discussions between player and the club but. of course, we want to keep the best players around the club,” Solskjaer said. “We want to build a squad for the future and Scott and Nemanja are a similar position but at different stages in their careers. One at the start, one really experienced one.”

Pogba leads United in key passes per game with 2.3, though his minutes have been severely limited by injuries this season. He had 13 goals and nine assists last season, and turned 27 in March.

The way United’s performed in recent weeks it would not be a surprise if keeping its main talents while adding another stalwart center back and wing would propel it into a more serious table discussion.

Do you buy the idea that Pogba could be with United well into the future?

Suarez goal gives Barcelona win, relegates neighbors Espanyol

Espanyol relegated
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Seventh-place one season ago, La Liga mainstays Espanyol are being relegated from Spain’s top flight.

The final decision came at the hands of their Catalan neighbors Barcelona, who got a second-half goal from Luis Suarez to relegate Espanyol.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Espanyol are 11 points back of 17th place and can only capture nine more points this season following the 1-0 loss in a match where both teams had a player sent off.

Suarez’s goal was a nice one after Antoine Griezmann’s back heel pass to Lionel Messi saw the Argentine’s shot deflect onto the path of the Uruguayan finisher.

Espanyol had been in the top flight since 1994 and has only spent four single seasons outside La Liga since 1929. Leganes and Mallorca may join them soon.

Barcelona moves a point back of Real Madrid. Real has four matches left to Barca’s three and holds the tiebreaker.

Klopp reacts to Liverpool wins, says Henderson injury ‘not nothing’

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Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion was a bit more what we’re used to from the Premier League champions.

But that wasn’t the focus of the post-match despite a highlight-reel show from Mohamed Salah, as Reds boss Jurgen Klopp sounded an ominous note when asked about Jordan Henderson leaving the match with injury.

“I don’t know exactly but it was something with the knee I think. We know it’s not nothing.”

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Henderson’s not exactly a player to hit the deck unless he’s feeling pain, and Klopp removed him for James Milner with 10 minutes to play.

That’s about the only bad news from the win, as Liverpool became the first team this season to breach the 90-point mark and saw Salah’s brace move him within three goals of the Golden Boot lead.

Salah would only say, “Let’s take it game-by-game,” but it’s clearly on his mind.

Trent Alexander-Arnold says the Egyptian is hungry to get a share of a third-straight Golden Boot.

From the BBC:

“He has his targets, he’s around the Golden Boot and it’s something he wants to retain,” Alexander-Arnold said. “He’s a world class player who scores so many goals for us and we try to get him on the board as much as possible.”

As for the match, Brighton almost as missed some big chances as Liverpool before the game was out of reach. Klopp admits that it was a challenge.

“We started really well,” Klopp said. “We had to adapt a little bit as we knew what they wanted to do but it was a little bit hard to defend. We left one or two players in a position where if we won the ball we had players in the counter-attack position. We got the first two goals with super balls but we could have scored more. I said to the boys at half-time they could have been 2-2 too. It was a nice game to watch.”

The Reds finish with Burnley, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Newcastle United.

Liverpool march continues with 3-1 win at Brighton

Brighton - Liverpool recap
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Mohamed Salah had two goals and an assist in the first eight minutes of Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium on Wednesday.

Salah is now three goals behind league leader Jamie Vardy, and Liverpool’s 92 points are 23 more than Man City. Jordan Henderson also scored for the Reds.

BRIGHTON – LIVERPOOL FULL MATCH REPLAY

Leandro Trossard scored for Brighton, whose 36 points are nine clear of the bottom three with four matches to play (The 18th and 19th place sides do have a match each in hand).

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Liverpool’s 30 wins through 34 outings is a Premier League record and Jurgen Klopp’s men are chasing several PL records. The Reds finish with Burnley, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Newcastle United.


Three things we learned

1. Salah somehow under the radar: Look, the Egyptian star’s 32-goal league season was an outlier. Not a lot of guys consistently hit 25, let alone the 30 mark in the Premier League. But Salah has rather quietly put together another amazing season with 19 goals and nine assists in PL play plus another four and three in cup competitions. Salah is one assist of joining the a small group of players to get double digit league goals and assists in a top five European league this season.

While it’s become sexy to praise Sadio Mane as the Reds’ top winger, Salah has been just as good. He could’ve had another goal in the 53rd but Mat Ryan made a fine intervention at close range. If Salah is under the radar, it’s because Liverpool has spread the wealth this season and had so many heroes in close matches. But boy, oh boy, is he their best weapon.

2. Lamptey shows glimpses, then youth: The sample size is very small, but 19-year-old Chelsea outcast Tariq Lamptey has played well at right back in most of his outings for Brighton since the return from the coronavirus pause. Lamptey was at blame for Liverpool’s third goal in both the chance conceded and actual finish from Salah, but the $4 million January buy looked well worth the price tag in a terrific first half at the Amex.

3. Seagulls still missing final ball: Brighton produced four big chances in the game to Liverpool’s two, but only put one in the back of the net (SofaScore). That’s sadly been par for the course this season, as Brighton’s style has been worthy of a top half place. Brighton entered the day with seven fewer goals than its expected goals total. Only Everton, Watford, and Norwich have been less fortunate.

Man of the Match:

Salah.


Brighton – Liverpool recap

Salah had a goal and an assist within 500 seconds of kickoff.

The Egyptian took a feed from Naby Keita to score off a Davy Propper giveaway and then set up Henderson’s second to have the Seagulls’ heads spinning early.

Brighton found a chance in the 19th but Neco Williams recovered with a slide to block Leandro Trossard from slotting a point-blank goal.

The Seagulls pulled within one just before halftime when in-form youngster Tariq Lamptey swept a cross into the mix for Trossard to punch home.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Salah could’ve had it 3-1 at one end but Brighton’s Dan Burn asked the Egyptian to hold his drink with a butchered wide-open shot at the back post in the 60th minute.

Jurgen Klopp didn’t like the close score, and brought on Fabinho, Andy Robertson, and Sadio Mane in the second half. One of the players he removed, Naby Keita, had a strong hour before departing the contest.

Henderson almost produced a third Liverpool goal after a rare Lamptey error spring a chance that took a wicked turn off Dale Stephens.

The Reds made it 3-1 off the ensuing corner, Salah’s clinical header in front of Lamptey. Henderson limped off for Liverpool late in the contest.

Ryan denied Salah a hat trick in stoppage time and the Egyptian headed over the bar at the final whistle. He could’ve had five.