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PL Sunday preview: Chelsea, Man Utd, Arsenal, Wolves all open season

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There will be no shortage of headlines Sunday as Chelsea travel to Old Trafford to commence their era under Frank Lampard and American superstar Christian Pulisic. The mouth-watering bout will be only one of three matchups, however.

A new-look Arsenal – without Mezut Ozil and Sead Kolasinac – will start to write its own story, with Steve Bruce‘s Newcastle as the first chapter’s antagonist. Meanwhile, Leicester City will look to take advantage of a well-traveled Wolverhampton Wanderers, who have been busy qualifying for Europa League ahead of the Premier League’s start.

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Arsenal v. Newcastle — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

With a slew of new signings – including record signing Nicolas Pepe – and an instructional, yet painful year behind them, Unai Emery‘ second time around is expected to offer bigger and better things for Arsenal. A trip to St. James Park is first on the menu for the Gunners. Injuries and fitness setbacks in mind, Arsenal will look to hit the ground running with their undeniable high-power attack, while fielding a once familiar foe in the backline – David Luiz.

Newcastle, on the other hand, will start from zero under Steve Bruce. There isn’t a healthy amount of optimism behind the Magpies, but new seasons always call for a new set of hopes. At home, Newcastle biggest wish will be to smash paradigms from the get-go.

Wolves v. Leicester City — 9:00 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

Wolves are taking advantage of their head start: the Europa League. Thus far, in two rounds of qualification play, Wolves have outscored opponents 10-1, something that will surely benefit Nuno Espírito Santo’s side when they travel to King Power Stadium. Raul Jimenez, Diogo Jota and Ruben Neves all look in midseason form already, too. There’s no better scenario for the West Midlands’ side to prove their legitimacy than a season-opening victory against the Foxes.

But the same goes for Leicester, who will look to make a statement against one of the two sides that edged them to that same European position. The Foxes will certainly miss Harry McGuire, but Brendan Rogers’ men have enough pieces to make up for the lost quality.

Chelsea v. Manchester United — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

There’s arguably no better way to wrap up the first weekend of a new campaign: Chelsea v. Manchester United at the Theatre of Dreams.

On Chelsea’s end, the storylines fit the expectations. Club legend Frank Lampard kickstarts his coaching era with the Blues, while American sensation Christian Pulisic makes his Premier League debut – following a $73 million move from Borussia Dortmund to London last January. No Eden Hazard this time around for this new-era Chelsea, who will look to challenge the likes of Man City, Liverpool and Tottenham for the league title in the months to come.

Having added the likes of Maguire – the most expensive defender in history – Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and Daniel James, the Red Devils are hoping for a better season under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who they finished sixth with last year. With Romelu Lukaku long gone in Italy at Inter Milan and no immediate replacement coming inline, all eyes are on 21-year-old Marcus Rashford. Will he and his teammates show up against Chelsea? Or will Lampard – this time as a coach – walkaway from Old Trafford with a grin on his face?

The stage is set..

Arsenal want season completed ‘to maintain integrity’ of PL

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Arsenal remain in support of finishing the 2019-20 season in order to “to maintain the integrity” of the competition, despite Friday’s unanimous vote that the Premier League cannot resume at the start of May as previously hoped due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

[ MORE: UEFA threatens Belgian league with European expulsion ]

The Gunners, who currently sit ninth in the PL table with 10 games left to play (one more than the majority of clubs around them), were five points back of fifth-place Manchester United for qualification to next season’s UEFA Champions League thanks to Manchester City’s two-year European ban.

In a statement released on Friday, Arsenal reiterated their stance that the current season should be played to completion rather than called to completion at things stand or abandoned altogether.

We are in full support of the objective for all remaining domestic league and cup matches from the 2019-20 season to be played, in order to maintain the integrity of each competition.

We also fully agree with the principle that any return to action will only be with the full backing of government and when medical guidance allows.

The restart date is under constant review as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic develops and we continue to work together with all stakeholders through this very challenging time

Premier League rivalries: The Merseyside derby

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While the Merseyside derby has been dominated by one side of late, that has not detracted from the spectacle of the most historic matchup in English top flight history.

Uninterrupted in top flight play since 1962/63, the two sides are situated less than a mile apart, with the proximity feeding an already intense matchup.

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Despite the incredibly close geographic proximity, the derby is sometimes known as the “Friendly Derby” as there are often families with split allegiances. Still, the matchup has the most red cards in Premier League history with 21, including 17 of those in the especially heated timeframe between 1997 and 2008.

Unfortunately for Everton, the rivalry has become one-sided over the past decade, with the Toffees failing to win since October of 2010. Liverpool has won 11 of the 21 games, with the other 10 ending in a draw. That has somewhat deescalated the vicious nature of the matchup, especially since Liverpool has gone on to become one of the most formidable sides in Europe over the past few years while Everton continues to challenge for a top-half place in the league.

Still, the 228 all-time matches between the clubs continues to fuel one of the great matchups in the English domestic landscape, and sooner or later this rivalry will regain its venom to bring the bite back to this matchup.

Bayern Munich signs coach Flick as permanent boss

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Bayern Munich has locked down interim head coach Hansi Flick as permanent boss, signing the 55-year-old on through the summer of 2023, the club announced on Friday.

Flick took over on an interim basis for Niko Kovac when the Croatian was let go in early November with the club fourth in the Bundesliga table. He impressed during his time as interim manager, leading the club back to the top of the table thanks in large part to a current 11-match league unbeaten run that features 10 wins and a draw.

That streak includes a 0-0 draw with then-second placed RB Leipzig that kept Bayern atop the table, plus a dominant 5-0 win over then-fifth placed Schalke. Successive 2-1 defeats to Borussia Monchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen are the only real blemishes on his record in charge so far, coming way back in late November and early December.

“I’m looking forward to taking on the upcoming tasks along with my staff and the team,” Flick said in the official team release. “The talks with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Oliver Kahn and Hasan Salihamidžić were very good and in a spirit of good faith. We’ve determined the direction for the upcoming years. I’m sure we can achieve a lot together.”

Flick has also kept the club’s pristine Champions League record alive this season, with wins over Red Star Belgrade, Tottenham, and Chelsea by a combined 12-1 scoreline. The 3-0 first-leg win over Chelsea in the Round of 16 has the club primed to reach the quarterfinal round should the competition eventually resume.

Speaking to Flick’s adaptability, he also kept the club rolling in the recent absence of in-form striker Robert Lewandowski, working 6-0 and 2-0 wins over Hoffenheim and Augsburg without his lead frontman who began a long absence with a broken tibia.

“Bayern are very satisfied with Hansi Flick’s work,” said Bayern’s chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in the release. “The team has had a very good development under him, plays attractive football which is reflected in results. We are the only club still competing in all three competitions.”

Sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic added, “Hansi and I know in which direction we want to develop the team. We believe that Hansi is also the right head coach for the current time.”

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Montiel to Palace or West Ham, Coutinho to depart Barcelona

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River Plate is one of many clubs that could use this coming transfer window to earn a payday after taking losses in the coronavirus shutdown, and that could come at the benefit of one Premier League club.

West Ham is apparently one of a few teams after Argentine international Gonzalo Montiel who could fetch River Plate somewhere in the vicinity of $24 million. The right-back is a River Plate youth product who established himself as a regular for the club at just 20 years old and has spent the last three seasons earning significant minutes. Now 23, Montiel is a strong passer who can create for teammates with long-range deliveries.

Argentine publication Ole mentions that Spanish side Valencia has shown interest of late, but also states that West Ham made contact in January but was turned down by River Plate and the Hammers could be suitors again once the next window arrives. Montiel was also linked with Crystal Palace by Goal back in late March, while Argentine newspaper El Intransigente linked the player with Southampton. Palace and Saints both make sense as they are both looking to replace big-name departures of late, with Crystal Palace still yet to truly replace Aaron Wan-Bissaka while Southampton has not seen much from those brought in to take over for Cedric Soares.

Barcelona is reportedly ready to lower its asking price on Philippe Coutinho, with a bid of $86 million potentially workable for the Catalan club, according to a report by the Evening Standard.

Coutinho was extremely poor in his season-and-a-half at Barcelona, and while the Brazilian playmaker had upped his game on loan at Bayern Munich before the coronavirus shutdown, the purchase price on his loan deal is a whopping $130 million, which Bayern Munich is not willing to pay.

Barcelona is desperately in need of funds to support its summer business, with Lautaro Martinez and Neymar both heavily linked with the La Liga giants. It’s highly unlikely that both will be possible to acquire given both the team’s business of late and the coronavirus shutdown causing financial strain on clubs all over the world, and a significant sale may even be needed to get one of them over the line. Coutinho provides such a possibility, but with Barcelona not exactly in a position of strength given Coutinho’s lack of recent star power and the club’s need to sell, dropping the asking price is a highly likely eventuality.

The Evening Standard report mentions that Barcelona believes the Premier League is the “most likely possibility” for a Coutinho suitor given the league’s memories of his incredible spell at Liverpool just a few years ago.

Speaking of the Premier League, Manchester United was reportedly close to securing a marquee striker last summer before eventually sticking with Marcus Rashford up front. Speaking to Italian print publication Tuttosport on Wednesday, Romelu Lukaku’s agent Federico Pastorello said that the Belgian big man almost went to Juventus on a swap deal before Manchester United backed out of the transfer negotiations due to Dybala’s high wage demand. Eventually, Lukaku departed for Inter Milan where he settled in quickly and has contributed to a furious title challenge that just lost steam before the coronavirus shutdown.

Pastorello simply responded “It’s true” when asked if Dybala had been a focal point of Manchester United negotiations, but hedged his answer with, “Romelu, however, had always hoped to go to Inter because he was impressed by the affection of the Inter fans.”