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PL Sunday Preview: Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal, Man United in action

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures will have it all, as Arsenal and Crystal Palace battle for the fifth spot; Wolverhampton Wanderers look to continue their positive run against Newcastle; Manchester United look to snap a four-game winless streak as they take on a struggling Norwich City; and Liverpool look to continue their unbeaten season as they host Tottenham.

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Newcastle vs. Wolves — 10:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

With Andy Carroll injured and weeks removed from their victory over Manchester United, the blues that has permeated thoughtout Newcastle United under Steve Bruce is back full force.

There’s a plethora of questions surrounding Bruce’s employment status, owner Mike Ashley and record signing Miguel Almiron, but, from the looks of it, the Magpies have very few answers to offer. At St, James’ Park against Wolves, who have cleaned up their act – eight points in their last four league matches – since starting the season poorly, Newcastle have the chance to answer the long list of questions.

Bruce, confident of his side true abilities, recognizes that Sunday’s match will be a tough task.

“Wolves have got good players who play in a certain system and do it very well,” the 58-year-old manager said ahead of the match. “They’re a threat – they’re a good side. We’re at home against a very decent Wolves side but we’re capable – we know that – and we’ll have to be at our best to win.”

Wolves, on the other hand, are in the best shape they’ve been all season. Second place in their Europa League group and unbeaten in their last four Premier League bouts, Nuno Espirito Santo is galvanizing his players, specifically Raul Jimenez who has scored or assisted in his last three competitive matches.

With Newcastle as their next stop, there’s a good chance Wolves’ (and Jimenez’s) fine run can continue.

INJURIES: Newcastle — OUT: Andy Carroll (groin), Fabian Schär (knee), Florian Lejeune (knee, Nov); SUSPENDED: Isaac Hayden| Wolves — OUT: None

Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace — 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

On paper, there is no tighter contest this matchweek than Arsenal versus Crystal Palace.

Only a point separates the Gunners – fifth on the table – from Palace, who are putting together a surprising season under Roy Hodgson – especially taking in consideration the unproductiveness from Wilfried Zaha.

Even though Nicolas Pepe, whose arrival at the Emirates broke the club’s record, stepped up for Arsenal midweek in Europa League play, it’s Mesut Özil’s omission from the squad that has everyone glued on the North London club. Will he return to take on a competitive Palace? Probably not, but that won’t improve the Eagles’ chances, who accept that they are facing one of the fiercest attacking teams led by Andre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

“Arsenal have had a very good start to the season,” Hodgson confessed. “Their attack is very, very dangerous. We realise we are going to face a team with enormous firepower and a team that run a lot and team that are very good with the ball.”

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Reiss Nelson (knee) | Crystal Palace — OUT: Connor Wickham (knock), Mamadou Sakho (knee)

Norwich City vs. Manchester United — 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Manchester United are far from being 100 percent, but with the returns of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Anthony Martial this week, the Red Devils can make a much-needed statement of intent as they travel to Carrow Road.

Obviously, the prime objective for Ole Gunnar Solskjær and company is now to get the club out of the lamentable position they are in – 15th on the table after 9 bouts. But the reality is that they have to build their way there by overwriting ongoing deficits. In their last 19 competitive matches, United have scored more than one goal in a single match only once.

Taking on the Canaries’ leaky backline enhances United’s chances of putting an end to their poor run, but if Norwich has shown Solskjær anything it’s their identity at home.

“When I watched Norwich’s first game against Liverpool, I saw a team with a lot of courage,” the Norwegian said. “It’s given them some great results as they beat Newcastle and Manchester City with a clear philosophy on how they want to play.”

“I hope we’re going to stop them because it’s always going to be difficult down at Carrow Road but we’re ready for it now,” he added. “We’ve got some players back.”

With the likes of Paul Pogba, Luke Shaw, and Eric Bailly still absent, United are far from full power, but it’s likely they won’t need it to comfortably cruise past Norwich on Sunday, anyways.

INJURIES: Norwich City — OUT: Mario Vrancic (illness), Ralf Fährmann (match fitness), Grant Hanley (groin), Christoph Zimmermann (ankle), Timm Klose (knee) | Manchester United — OUT: Luke Shaw (groin), Paul Pogba (ankle), Eric Bailly (knee), Axel Tuanzebe (hip), Diogo Dalot (groin)

Liverpool vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com

It’s the 2019 Champions League final rematch, but one of last year’s finalist is only a shadow of its former self.

Tottenham may have showed positive moments in their 5-0 win over Red Star Belgrade in Champions League group stage play, however there are serious reparations Mauricio Pochettino needs to get done before his side comes close to the team they were less than a year ago. Their last away league match resulted in a 3-0 loss to Brighton and Hove Albion.

A trip to Anfield to take on a Liverpool that is on cruise control can result as troublesome for Harry Kane and Co., regardless if Jurgen Klopp doesn’t buy that Spurs are having a Champions League final hangover.

“I can say nothing about their situation,” the German said prior to the match. “How can I compare with our situation? It’s not possible to judge from outside. Reporters always ask for your opinion on other clubs and players but you have to be in a situation to understand it.”

“What I can say is what I saw on Tuesday night and that was a very good Tottenham team playing well,” he added.

No matter what Tottenham shows up on Saturday in Liverpool, one can expect for Liverpool – mostly healthy and unbeaten this season after nine matches – to complicate the 90 minutes for the visitors.

INJURIES: Liverpool  OUT: Xherdan Shaqiri (calf), Nathaniel Clyne (knee) | Tottenham  OUT: Ryan Sessegnon (hamstring), Hugo Lloris (elbow)

USWNT star Kelley O’Hara on NWSL restart, launching podcast

Kelley O'Hara
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When USWNT star Kelley O’Hara launched her own podcast, she didn’t mess around with the star power of her guests.

Launched in July, the “Just Women’s Sports” podcast has hosted three incredible guests including the first post-pregnancy interview with USWNT teammate Alex Morgan as well as talks with Olympic star Chloe Kim and WNBA hero Candace Parker.

A Stanford connection with fellow alum Haley Rosen put the two-time World Cup winner on the path to hosting the show, and O’Hara admits that she was driven by the chance to lift the lid on athletes’ true feelings beyond the shield that comes up while talking to reporters.

[ MORE: Champions League favorites ranked ]

“Even as an athlete I know that I have a little of my guard up when I’m talking to a reporter because sometimes they’ll take it and use it for their own narrative or agenda,” she said in a conversation with ProSoccerTalk. “There’s an ability to be vulnerable and be safe because you’re talking to someone who has a general idea of what it feels like to be an athlete. Nothing about it is trying to catch them.”

Part of that comes with O’Hara realizing she has a massive stage on account of her accomplishments. The USWNT is one of the most-watched teams in the world, on-and-off the pitch.

While she felt more like someone achieving a life goal when she first became a pro, the simultaneous life under a microscope and on a platform has inspired her to take advantage of her role model status.

“You come to realize that with the success that we have had, individually and with the national team, you do influence people,” O’Hara said. “You have an impact. You have this ability to be a role model and do good things in the world. That’s one of the reasons that I wanted to do this podcast; I have the ability to lend my platform to other athletes and give people a voice and a space.”

O’Hara was speaking as the National Women’s Soccer League put a bow on its return to the pitch with the NWSL Challenge Cup.

O’Hara’s Utah Royals fell to eventual champions Houston Dash in the quarterfinals, but the completion of the tournament in itself was a bright spot to a dark summer.

“I’m really proud about what the NWSL was able to create there,” O’Hara said. “There was a lot of uncertainty around the Challenge Cup because of COVID, but the fact that the NWSL was able to create an environment to get back on the field has been fantastic. Obviously you have Orlando that wasn’t able to come but since every team has arrived, not one player has tested positive so the NWSL deserves a lot of credit for designing this whole set-up.”

PST asked the 32-year-old how much credit should go to the players, considering how many other leagues have been thwarted by the negligence of athletes or staffers around COVID-19.

“When the NWSL was proposing everything, they told us it was built on trust. If players weren’t going to be responsible, it wasn’t going to work. It’s great that we all want to be competing, I feel we’re very lucky to be able to compete, but that’s contributed to people following the rules. You didn’t want to be the one person who ruins it.”

Learn more about the Just Women’s Sports crew, which includes Olympic heroes Kerri Walsh-Jennings, Hilary Knight, and Maggie Steffens as well as former WNBA No. 1 overall pick Nneka Ogwumike, at their official web site.

Champions League favorites ranked from eight to one

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Eight teams remain in the UEFA Champions League’s rapid-fire return, with one-legged ties promising high drama in Portugal.

The quarterfinals begin Wednesday, the bracket distinctly split into one deadly half and another with upset potential.

Because of this set-up, there’s a massive challenge in divining the true favorites to win the Aug. 23 in Lisbon.

[ MORE: JPW’s European predictions ]

If you were assembling a bottom-up power rankings in terms of the talent and toughness assembled by the eight remaining clubs, it might look something like this:

Longshots: Atalanta, Lyon
Puncher’s chance: Atletico Madrid, RB Leipzig
History-weighted powers: Man City, Paris Saint-Germain
Favorites: Barcelona, Bayern Munich

Here’s the rub: Three of the four biggest favorites will have to get through each other to get to the final, including the two top dogs. Barcelona and Bayern Munich will scrap Friday, and Man City’s slight advantage in facing Lyon is mitigated by one day’s less rest for a Bayern-Barca winner.

[ MORE: Man Utd – Copenhagen preview ]

Man City is the bookies’ favorites to win the whole thing. Do we see it that way? Spoiler alert: Nope.

And, by the way, despite changes to both outfits this is a Lyon that took four of six points from City in the 2018-19 UCL group stage. We don’t see an upset at that stage but it’s a way to note that anything is, indeed, possible.


8. Lyon

Seventh-place in Ligue 1 this season, Rudi Garcia’s men already have the beating of Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus on their resume. Moussa Dembele, Houssem Aouar, and Memphis Depay are all exciting attacking talents, but the bracket’s demands to take down Man City, then either Bayern and Barcelona just to get to the final sinks them to eighth.

7. RB Leipzig

Julian Nagelsmann is building a reputation as a man who can outwit anyone in a one-off — see two draws with Bayern in Bundesliga play this season — so it’s fitting that he’ll go tete-a-tete with Simeone in the next round. The absence of Timo Werner, who’s off to Chelsea, is a huge problem given the occasion(s). Asking three wins seems a lot, though there will be plenty of Americans pulling for Tyler Adams’ team.

Bayern Munich v. RB Leipzig recap and video highlights
09 February 2020, Bavaria, Munich: American midfielder Tyler Adams duels with Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski. (Photo by Matthias Balk/picture alliance via Getty Images)

6. Atalanta

The Bergamo-based side will have the support of many neutrals. For one thing, Atalanta is on a historic run for their club before taking into account their city’s status as one of the early epicenters of the coronavirus. For another, they are super fun. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men scored 98 goals in Serie A, 19 more than next-best Lazio, and lost the second-fewest games in Italy. They’ve lost once since January 25, a final day defeat to Inter Milan. Five players have scored double-digit goals in all comps this season.

5. Atletico Madrid

Ask Liverpool: Diego Simeone and Jan Oblak in knockout round football is reason to doubt anyone. Still, there’s an argument to be made that Atleti has punched well above its weight this season, even relative to El Cholo’s standards.

4. Barcelona

Lionel Messi means the club should be even higher on this list, and Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez are plenty battle-hardened in this spot. But Barca has made a mess of their last few ventures into the latter rounds of this tournament, and those ghosts combined with having to beat Bayern and perhaps Man City in consecutive weeks is brutal with several u’s.

Messi new contract
SEVILLA, SPAIN – JUNE 19: He’s good (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)

3. Paris Saint-Germain

There’s a good argument to be made that PSG might hold the top spot on this list. Thomas Tuchel’s men are better rested and have a more straight-forward path to Lisbon, plus the Ligue 1 champs have played and won two Cup finals in the past three weeks. There are two reasons we’re keeping them below Man City and Bayern. One is the UCL-challenged history that has us as well as surely them seeing ghosts, and the other is the uncertain status of Kylian Mbappe. He’s in the squad, but at what percent?

2. Manchester City

The reason to consider putting City above Bayern is the men in charge. Hansi Flick has done oh-so-well at Bayern but is certainly not Pep Guardiola in terms of big-game acumen or reputation. But City’s defense has proven suspect, with John Stones falling off a cliff and Nicolas Otamendi not at the levels of previous seasons. Relying on Fernandinho, Aymeric Laporte, and Eric Garcia to shut down three top attacks in two weeks is a big ask, and left back is also a huge concern with the talented wingers set to test City.

1. Bayern Munich

No weaknesses aside from potentially having to beat Barcelona and Man City inside of six days. Boasting one of the only double-double men in Europe’s top leagues in Serge Gnabry, a played who doesn’t get mentioned as often as history-chasing Robert Lewandowski and history-making Thomas Muller. A midfield duo of Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich which is just plain stupid. Speed and composure to spare with Manuel Neuer at the back. The German keeper may no longer be the undoubted 1 or 2 in the world, but he’s still a monster.

Leipzig’s Nagelsmann: Real Madrid can call if I’m available

Nagelsmann to Real Madrid
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Julian Nagelsmann turned down Real Madrid two years ago, but don’t sleep on him becoming the boss of La Liga’s champions in the future.

Offered the job before Zinedine Zidane returned to Madrid, Nagelsmann says it was too big of a jump for him from Hoffenheim to Real.

[ MORE: Man Utd – Copenhagen preview ]

But again, as he makes plain below, tomorrow’s another day (and just a couple of days away from Real’s ouster from the Champions League).

From Marca:

“We had calls, but I was the one who decided in the end. I didn’t think it was the right step to go to Real Madrid. I was one of the candidates and that was important for me. I had a good chat with Jose Angel Sanchez and we agreed that it wasn’t yet the right move. We agreed that we could speak again in the future if Real Madrid were to need a coach and if I were available.”

Instead, he opted for RB Leipzig, where he’s certainly continued his collecting of bona fides. Now there could be little doubt that he’s ready for, well, whatever.

That said, Zidane’s as safe as he wants to be considering Real’s constant state of unsteadiness. Real took back La Liga this season and was missing suspended Ballon d’Or (in any other year) candidate Sergio Ramos for its second leg at Man City.

[ MORE: JPW’s European predictions ]

And Nagelsmann is a candidate for any opening in the world given what he’s done at the age of 33.

A couple other things: Beating Atletico Madrid in a knockout round match after Real fell to City will get more Real tongues wagging at the prospect of Nagelsmann, however unlikely the timing. And if Nagelsmann leaves, might Leipzig promote American boss Jesse Marsch from Red Bull Salzburg? And will Marsch still be in Austria?

Transfer news: Liverpool linked with left back, Guendouzi to PSG

Tsimikas to Liverpool
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Look out, world: There is a lot of transfer gossip this Sunday morning.

[ MORE: Man Utd – Copenhagen preview ]

For one thing, the Matteo Guendouzi exit strategy from Arsenal is a bit wild, as another one of Unai Emery’s former clubs is joining the current Villarreal boss in pursuing the French midfielder.

Also in the news is a PL-to-PL transfer involving two interesting managers, plus Liverpool moving onto a new target to cover Andy Robertson.


White to Leeds

How much is Ben White worth to Brighton?

The 23-year-old center back has reportedly turned down two new contracts from the Seagulls, who in turn have rejected transfer bids of $24 million and $28 million from Leeds United.

White starred for Leeds in their promotion push last season, making 49 appearances with a goal and two assists.

He’s yet to make his Premier League bow for Brighton, his lone senior outings coming in the 2016-17 League Cup versus lower league oppositon.

That said, the Seagulls have been stacked at center back for some time and remain quite deep at the position.

Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy have been key pieces for some time and at 28 are in their prime for their positions, with Dan Burn also 28 and Adam Webster 25. The club also just signed Joel Veltman from Ajax.

White led Leeds in interceptions per game (2.5) and was second on the team in clearances with 2.7.

White to Leeds
HULL, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 29: Ben White of Brighton is wanted back by loan club Leeds (Photo by James Gill – Danehouse/Getty Images)

Tsimikas to Liverpool

Liverpool’s quest to find cover for Andy Robertson has moved to Greece, where Olympiacos left back Kostas Tsimikas is under consideration for the Premier League champions.

The BBC says that Jurgen Klopp and his Anfield set have moved on from Norwich City youngster Jamal Lewis following a bailed $13 million bid.

Tsimikas, 24, is thrice-capped by Greece and has 86 appearances for Olympiacos with 12 assists.

He played 384 minutes over four appearances versus PL sides in the Europa League, helping Olympiacos beat Arsenal before falling to Wolves last week.


Guendouzi to PSG

The list of clubs lining up for Arsenal youngster Matteo Guendouzi is growing, and that will be music to the ears of Mikel Arteta.

The 21-year-old is in Arteta’s doghouse but the list of suitors will help drive his transfer price tag close to what it should be for a player of his success at his age.

Football.London says Guendouzi is drawing interest from Paris Saint-Germain, joining a list of big clubs including Juventus, Barcelona, and Villarreal.

That last stop may make the most sense given the chance to reunite with Unai Emery, but money is going to drive this one as Arteta looks to the transfer market to renew Arsenal’s top four finishing skills and make a run through the Europa League.