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Top Premier League storylines: Week 8

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Week 8 of the 2019-20 Premier League season is upon us, quickly before the second-to-last international break of the calendar year.

[ EUROPA LEAGUE: Man United held to 0-0, Wolves win | Arsenal run rampant ]

Beyond the obvious and evergreen — which one of Liverpool and Manchester City will slip up next? — here’s what to keep an eye on this weekend…


If Leicester can beat Liverpool, they’re really real 

  • Liverpool v. Leicester City, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

There’s no doubt about which side has been the PL’s surprise performer through seven weeks: it’s third-place Leicester. Thus far, the Foxes’ biggest victory came against a struggling Tottenham Hotspur. A victory over unbeaten and perfect Liverpool, at Anfield? Now, that would be a massive statement and a real signal of intent. Throw in the fact that Brendan Rodgers is set to return to Anfield for the first time since departing as Liverpool manager in 2015, and this is easily the most intriguing game of the weekend.


Does it get worse (again) for Man United?

  • Newcastle United v. Manchester United, Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

Three wins from 10 games (all competitions), including just two in the PL, to start the season: it’s just not good enough for Man United, is it? Teams that United have failed to beat already: Wolves, Southampton and West Ham, among others. Add Newcastle to the list? Any other time, it would be unthinkable to consider it, but these aren’t Sir Alex Ferguson‘s Red Devils, so why not? Newcastle, however, sit 19th and have even fewer wins in the PL (one). Something has to give, probably.


Pulisic to play?

  • Southampton v. Chelsea, Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Christian Pulisic has made exactly one appearance for Chelsea — a 90-minute shift in the Blues’ 7-1 victory over League Two side Grimsby Town in the League Cup — since the start of September. Since making three starts and on substitute appearance in Chelsea’s first four PL games of the season, hardly a sniff of first-team action for the 21-year-old American. He wasn’t even in the team to face Lille in the Champions League on Wednesday. At best, there’s a small disconnect between Pulisic and manager Frank Lampard. At worst, Lampard doesn’t rate him whatsoever and won’t be giving him any opportunities anytime soon. Sunday’s clash with Southampton — Chelsea’s fifth game in 14 days — is as good of a chance as any for Pulisic to play, even if it’s only down to squad rotation.


Newly promoted and already up against it

  • Norwich City v. Aston Villa, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Norwich and Villa were promoted to the PL together, now they appear set to battle relegation together — perhaps against one another. We’re only seven games into the season, but they have just three wins between them and enter the weekend 17th and 18th in the PL table, respectively.

VIDEO: Giroud delivers for Chelsea v. Spurs

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Olivier Giroud delivered a stunning finish to put Chelsea ahead against Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge.

Giroud, starting for the first time since November, used all of his experience to run the Spurs defense ragged and provide a threatening focal point for the Chelsea attack.

The Frenchman, 33, jumped off the bench and had a goal disallowed by VAR in the 2-0 defeat against Man United on Monday but even after a VAR check for offside against Spurs, this time his goal stood.

Click play on the video above to watch the clinical finish.

It was a good job Giroud didn’t leave Chelsea in the January transfer window (as a move to Spurs seemed highly likely) after all.

Watch Live: Chelsea v. Tottenham

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Chelsea host Tottenham Hotspur in a massive London derby on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at Stamford Bridge.

With Frank Lampard‘s slumping Chelsea in fourth and just one point ahead of Jose Mourinho’s fifth-place Tottenham, this is a massive game in the battle for Champions League qualification.

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Injuries are piling up for both sides but Chelsea’s lack of clinical finishing has hurt them for several months as they’ve won just four of their last 14 Premier League games. Mourinho knows this is a good time for him to take his team to Stamford Bridge, even with his own injury crisis to deal with.

Not only does the Mourinho storyline carry significant weight ahead of Saturday’s showdown at the Bridge, so too does the two sides’ increasingly tight battle for a top-four finish. As recently as Jan. 17, Chelsea enjoyed a nine-point lead on Tottenham, but the Blues’ current run of just one win from their last six PL games has seen that advantage shrink to a single point with the very real possibility of flipping two points in the opposite direction once the full-time whistle blows.

On the other hand, Spurs would already be miles clear if not for dropping a combined seven points from three games against the current 12th-, 19th- and 20th-place sides in recent weeks.

In team news Chelsea are without N’Golo Kante, Christian Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odoi who are all out injured. Olivier Giroud starts up front with Tammy Abraham only fit enough for the bench, while Chelsea have three center backs and Ross Barkley and Mason Mount come into the starting lineup.

Tottenham must do without Heung-Min Son for potentially the rest of the season after he suffered a broken arm. Mourinho must turn to other attacking options with Harry Kane also out until April. Dele Alli has been left on the bench as Spurs go with what also looks like a back five.


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Hodgson vows to sign new Crystal Palace contract

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Roy Hodgson has revealed that he has been offered a contract extension to remain at Crystal Palace beyond the 2020-21 Premier League season, and also hinted that he is highly likely to accept it.

[ MORE: Mourinho: Top-four without Kane, Son would be “something incredible” ]

Following a period of turmoil and instability which saw them drop dangerously close to the relegation zone prior to his arrival in 2017, Hodgson has steadied the ship and guided the Eagles to 11th- and 12th-place finishes in his first two seasons and has them sitting just a point out of 12th with a dozen games to go this season. At no point in his tenure has Palace flirted with relegation, and that’s apparently enough to earn a new deal to remain in charge — quotes from Sky Sports:

“The club have presented me with a contract and although the chairman has been away this week I’ve had a cursory glance through it. It all looks fine to me so I am pretty certain that at some point soon we’ll sit down and get it signed.

“If I am going to stay, it will be because I believe funds will be made available because we’ve had the intention to improve the squad and the team for a while now.

“We all realize you can’t make improvements to the actual team without spending some money. But I would never make those type of demands, because you can’t make any guarantees in the transfer market.

“All you can do is have good intention and if I signed for another year, I would sign because I believed the intentions are true and that something will happen going into the next season.”

As for the transfer situation, that’s something that’ll need to be sorted out in very short order if Palace plan to maintain their current place in the PL’s hierarchy, otherwise they’ll learn a harsh — and quick — lesson about standing still while everyone else is moving forward.

Mourinho: Top-four without Kane, Son would be ‘something incredible’

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Jose Mourinho fancies himself either as a realist or a master of mind games — you be the judge, based on your own level of love or hate for the Portuguese manager — as Tottenham Hotspur embark upon their final dozen games of the 2019-20 Premier League season.

[ MORE: Premier League Preview: Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur ]

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s trip to Stamford Bridge where he’ll take on his former club Chelsea (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com), Mourinho attempted to put into perspective the level of heroics that will be required for Tottenham to finish in the top-four.

Perhaps he has a point, given the long-term injuries to Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, forwards who account for 20 of Spurs’ 43 PL goals this season and who will also miss the majority, if not all, of the rest of the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“Tottenham without Harry or Sonny, without one of them, doesn’t win a match since 2014. That means a lot. That means that Sonny and Harry score the majority of goals that Tottenham scores. This season was so, so negatively special that we are going to be without them both at the same time for a lot of matches.

“If we manage to finish top four it’s something incredible. Incredible achievement for the boys. So we have to give everything we have.”

As for their chances of doing, so? Well, let’s just say Mourinho is more than happy to pile the pressure onto others and divert it away from his own team, as he has routinely done throughout his career — quotes from Sky Sports:

“At this moment, Tottenham, Manchester United, Arsenal, Sheffield United, Wolverhampton, Everton — we are the underdogs.

“We have ambitions to be there but we are one, two, three points behind Chelsea, so they have an advantage to all of us. That’s obvious. It’s not a big advantage but it is an advantage.

“Chelsea, in this moment, are favorites for the fourth position, considering Leicester has nine points more at this stage of the season.”

Over the course of their next nine PL games, Spurs will face all six sides currently within five points of fourth place. They will almost certainly be without both Kane and Son for the vast majority of those critical six-pointers.