Top Premier League storylines: Week 10

Leave a comment

Matchweek 10 of the 2019-20 Premier League season sees the games spread across three days

[ STREAM: Every PL match live

Below we take a look at the key storylines to keep an eye on across the PL this weekend.


Liverpool and Spurs meet in repeat of UCL final

  • Liverpool v. Tottenham, Sunday, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC

Since Liverpool’s narrow win against Tottenham in the UEFA Champions League final in Madrid in June these two teams have headed in very different directions. Spurs have been heading in a downward spiral since January, and heading into this clash Liverpool remain unbeaten this season and top of the PL table. But there have been a few cracks appearing for Jurgen Klopp‘s side as they drew with Man United last time out and have got the rub of the green in recent wins against Sheffield United and Leicester. Spurs haven’t had much luck with injuries, on the pitch and the fact that Mauricio Pochettino seems to be battling against a constant stream of negativity.

Much has been made about several stars soon being out of contract, with the futures of Christian Eriksen, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderwiereld and Danny Rose still up in the air. Spurs have shown signs of regaining their confidence and they’ve fared well against Liverpool in recent seasons. Harry Kane will need to be at his best in terms of finishing and creating, while Mohamed Salah being back for Liverpool is a big boost as their fluid front three was back to its best at Genk. These teams are heading in two different directions since the dour, tense final in Madrid four months ago. But we can expect a similarly tight encounter at Anfield this Sunday.


Man City hope to cut the gap to three points

  • Manchester City v. Aston Villa, Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

Liverpool’s main title rivals, once again, are Man City. The reigning champs showed plenty of grit to win 2-0 at Crystal Palace last time out and they have the chance to momentarily cut Liverpool’s lead atop the table to three points. They host Aston Villa on Saturday, an in-form and dangerous attacking team who have found their feet in the top-flight. Jack Grealish, Wesley and John McGinn will look to create danger for City’s makeshift defense, but we’re not sure how Pep Guardiola will line his defense up after yet another injury. Rodri, playing as an emergency center back, hobbled off in the midweek UCL win against Atalanta and Fernandinho and John Stones are likely to be the center back pairing against Villa. That was a shame as Rodri and Fernandinho had looked comfortable against Palace, albeit against a less than ambitious Palace attack, but whenever Stones or Nicolas Otamendi have played this season, City’s defense looks shaky. In truth, their attacking talents of Sterling, Aguero, De Bruyne and the Silva’s are in form and capable of ripping opponents apart. City will look to score early and break Villa’s resistance as they put a little more pressure on Liverpool ahead of their game against Spurs, and before they host Man City at Anfield on Nov. 10.


Arsenal aim to get back on track, but wary of away day specialists

  • Arsenal v. Crystal Palace, Sunday, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Unai Emery and Granit Xhaka have come out in support of Arsenal during the week as pundits (in particular Patrice Evra) have criticized their backbone away from home. The Gunners have won just three of their last 11 Premier League away games and at Sheffield United they were guilty of lacking creativity in attack, being outfought in midfield and showing hesitancy in defense. Not a great combo… The Gunners face a team who love playing away, with Crystal Palace picking up the third-highest number of points on the road since January. Wilfried Zaha is almost back to his best and Roy Hodgson‘s side relish the tag of being the underdog. That is something this Arsenal side first under Arsene Wenger and now under Emery have never seemed capable of grasping. Their star players Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Matteo Guendouzi are trying to hold things together as best as they can, but with criticism of Emery growing, the best way his players can support him is by getting a much-needed hefty win against Palace. Their narrow victories against Newcastle, Burnley and Bournemouth have been far from convincing and it’s time for this Arsenal team to put aside their egos and dig deep. We know they have the talent to be in the top four, but do they have the grit?


Chelsea’s youngsters aim to stay humble

  • Burnley v. Chelsea, Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC

Frank Lampard‘s youngsters are flying high after six wins on the trot in all competitions and their best win to date came away at Ajax on Wednesday. Inspired by Christian Pulisic and Michy Batshuayi who combined for the latter to score the win and put them on course to reach the UCL last 16, this young Blues side is showing plenty of grit. They will need all of that, and then some, if they’re going to extend their winning run at Turf Moor on Saturday. What you see is what you get from the Clarets. They work hard, Sean Dyche has them solid defensively and Chris Wood will bully you and win balls in the air to score or create goalscoring chances. Jorginho has been impressive in breaking up play, with and without N’Golo Kante, and he will need to plenty of the dirty work before helping the Blues launch searing counters for Callum Hudson-Odoi, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham to make the most of. Lampard’s youngsters have taken a while to find their stride but that was inevitable. Now they’re in full flow, they look the most likely to finish third. The season is still early and picking up a win at Burnley would underline this young Chelsea side are growing up fast. Lampard has urged caution and wants the Blues to stay humble.

Would Saul make sense at Man United?

Getty Images
Leave a comment

As Manchester United prepares its roster construction for the future, one player that’s reportedly on the shortlist is Atletico Madrid central midfielder Saul Niguez.

Although originally from Elche, in southeast Spain, Saul has been on the books of Atletico Madrid since 2008 (other than a season on loan with Rayo Vallecano), making his first team debut in 2012 and growing from a scrawny midfielder into an international-calibre box-to-box star for both club and country. Per Diario AS, Man United has been interested in signing Saul before, and now it’s been revived. The report states, “The interest from Manchester is very real, and strong.”

[READ: Arsenal comes back to beat West Ham]

So, what kind of a player is Saul?

As mentioned before, he’s a sturdy, powerful box-to-box midfielder who can win headers defensively and knows how to play well in a Diego “Cholo” Simeone system. At the same time, he’s certainly not afraid to make a late run into the box. Last season he tied a career high with four goals in La Liga and also scored in the UEFA Champions League.

At 25-years old, he’s a hardened veteran player. But is he what Man United needs?

If you look at the current squad at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s disposal, he’s got quite a few No. 8’s, right? There’s Paul Pogba, Andreas Pereira, and Fred. You can argue Scott McTominay has at times played like an 8, as has Jesse Lingard on occasion. One might argue that what Man United really needs is a better No. 6, someone who can be a destroyer and cover a lot of ground, freeing up that side of the game so Pogba could feel more comfortable attacking.

If Man United were to sign Saul in January – or next summer – we could potentially see him line up in a midfield three, though he’d be center right with Pogba to his left. Behind the pair would be McTominay to clean up the messes.

On paper, it’s a decent midfield for sure, but it’s just one step on Man United’s path towards becoming a team that can challenge for the Premier League and Champions League.

Of course, this is all theoretical. Saul carries a $166 million transfer release clause, and for the player he is, considering he doesn’t score many goals and affects the game in little ways, it’s a lot to spend for a guy who isn’t a guarantee to improve his team enough to make it back to the Champions League.

But if Man United was able to negotiate a better transfer fee for Niguez, they could do worse than a talented midfielder from Atletico Madrid. The question then will be – is Saul a system player (only successful under Simeone), or can he find success in the Premier League too?

USWNT’s Rapinoe named SI Sportswoman of the Year

Getty Images
3 Comments

In 2019, Megan Rapinoe won a World Cup title, Golden Ball, Golden Boot, FIFA World Cup MVP, and the Ballon d’Or. Now, she can add her name to another distinguished list.

Sports Illustrated on Monday revealed that Rapinoe had been named SI’s 2019 Sportsperson of the Year. She’s the first individual soccer player from any gender to win the award, and she follows the 1999 U.S. Women’s National Team as the second USWNT-related athlete to garner the award.

[READ: Rapinoe wins 2019 Ballon d’Or]

Other notable winners of this award are Serena Williams, LeBron James, the Golden State Warriors, Michael Jordan, and Muhammad Ali.

“Even in a year with many great candidates, choosing Megan as the Sportsperson of the Year was an easy decision,” Steve Cannella, co-editor-in-chief of Sports Illustrated said in a statement released by the magazine. “She is a force of nature on and off the field, a trailblazing soccer player who also proves every day how large and loud a voice a socially conscious athlete can have in 2019.”

Rapinoe has had about as good of a year as a player can have, and she did it under enormous pressure. She withstood verbal and online taunts from the U.S. president for her noted opposition against his political decisions, as well as dealt with injuries during the tournament. Even if she wasn’t always at her best on the field, she found a way to score key goals at important moments.

Every Women’s World Cup seems to raise the profile of the USWNT and soccer in this country, but beyond her work on the field, Rapinoe’s hair, media savvy and ultimately, her performance won over any critic she could have. What she’s done for soccer in this country is immeasurable, and hopefully there are people that have a desire to keep watching the beautiful game after the World Cup, thanks in some part to Rapinoe.

Rapinoe will grace the cover of Sports Illustrated for the Dec. 16 issue.

Ljungberg on Pepe: He ‘showed his quality’

Leave a comment

Arsene Wenger used to say that players needed around six months once they came to the Premier League to get adjusted to both living in England and getting acclimated to the pace and physicality of the league.

For Nicolas Pepe, it was advice well heeded.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Offensively, Pepe was outstanding as he scored a goal and an assist in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over West Ham. At the same time, Pepe worked hard on the defensive end, making life difficult for West Ham left back Aaron Cresswell and anyone down West Ham’s right flank.

On Monday, Pepe showed that he was worth his $87 million transfer fee, and he only needs a yard of space to create something magical.

“People always ask me about Nico and I try to explain,” Ljungberg after the game. “He comes from the French league, he comes to the Premier League – in my opinion the best league in the world – and it’s a lot faster and a lot harder. He needs to adapt. People put pressure on him but that’s not so easy, and I thought what he did today was he worked really hard offensively and defensively and showed his quality.

“I’m so pleased for him because at the same time he was a big, big buy for the club and then comes pressure with that as well. He will fall asleep with a smile tonight.”

In the 66th minute, Pepe found himself isolated on the wing with just Cresswell to beat. After cutting inside, Pepe curled home a beauty which ended up being the game-winning-goal. It was just his second Premier League goal of the season and his first from open play. Perhaps now after five months of bedding in at Arsenal, Pepe is ready to shine.

There’s no doubt that with Arsenal’s defensive issues, they need their attacking stars to score in bunches from here on out. If Pepe can finish the season with ten goals and ten assists, it will be a wild success, and set him up well for the next season.

Judge rules players not guilty in match-fixing case in Spain

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MADRID — The 36 players on trial in Spain’s most high-profile match-fixing case were cleared of wrongdoing on Monday.

A Spanish judge issued the “not guilty” verdict, saying there was not enough evidence to convict the players and others on trial – including former Mexico coach Javier Aguirre.

More than 40 people were accused of match-fixing involving the Spanish league game between Levante and Zaragoza at the end of the 2010-11 season.

The judge convicted two former Zaragoza officials of fraud – then-president Agapito Iglesias and club director Javier Porquera. They were given a one-year, three-month prison sentence, although they were not likely to face jail time because sentences of less than two years for first-time offenders are often suspended in Spain.

Those accused were facing two years in prison and a six-year soccer ban.

Among the players on trial were Ander Herrera, now with Paris Saint-Germain; former Leicester midfielder Vicente Iborra; former Atletico Madrid captain Gabi Fernandez; River Plate midfielder Leonardo Ponzio; Serbian defender Ivan Obradovic; Lazio forward Felipe Caicedo; Itailan defender Maurizio Lanzaro; and Uruguay striker Cristhian Stuani.

Aguirre was Zaragoza’s coach at the time. He was among those who appeared in court to testify.

The investigation began after Spanish league president Javier Tebas denounced the alleged match-fixing, saying a former player told him a result had been fixed.

Prosecutors said there was evidence 965,000 euros (nearly $1 million) was paid to Zaragoza’s squad and later transferred to Levante’s players to lose the match in the final round of the season. Zaragoza won 2-1 to avoid relegation. Deportivo La Coruna was demoted as a result.

Former Zaragoza officials said the money was paid to motivate players, not fix the result of the game.

Prosecutors said players on both teams were aware of the match-fixing and there was evidence the money was transferred to Levante players after analyzing tax reports and banking transactions at the time.

The judge said in his ruling “there were was no evidence the money was given to Levante players to lose the match.”

A lower court had shelved the case but it was reopened last year after an appeal by prosecutors in Valencia, where Levante is based and where the match was played.

Zaragoza returned to the second division in 2014. Levante is currently in Spain’s top league.