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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.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

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)

Van Dijk: Liverpool proved ‘everyone is ready’ for decisive December, January

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Liverpool will play as many as 13 more games between now and the end of January — a period which is sure to go a long way toward deciding the fate of their season, including the Premier League title — and superstar defender Virgil Van Dijk insists that Wednesday’s 5-2 thrashing of rivals Everton proved “everyone is ready” to step up and do their part.

[ MORE: Lampard: Pulisic can reach “top level of world football” ]

Manager Jurgen Klopp made five changes to the team that faced Everton, matching the number of goals his side scored. According to Van Dijk, that level of squad rotation was only a preview of what’s the come over the next eight weeks — quotes from the Guardian:

“The players who came into the team don’t play regularly at all. Look at Divock [Origi], [Xherdan] Shaqiri, they did fantastic. We played Adam [Lallana], Milly [James Milner]; everyone is contributing and we need everyone. That is the key message and it is good. The season is very long. This month is very long — January as well — so we need everyone to be ready.

“We have a big squad and everyone is part of what is going on at the moment. Everyone is happy with the situation we are in. And everyone is also feeling responsible as well, ready to play or if you are on the bench. Everyone is part of the success we have and that is the message to everyone and so far, so good.”

Liverpool’s schedule for December and January breaks down as follows: eight games in the PL, one each in the UEFA Champions League, FA Cup and EFL Cup, and up to two in the FIFA Club World Cup. The Reds’ PL fixture against West Ham United was also rescheduled due to their participation in the Club World Cup.

Through 15 games in the PL, Liverpool hold an eight-point lead on second-place Leicester City and an 11-point advantage on third-place and two-time defending champions Manchester City.

Italian newspaper condemned for “Black Friday” headline featuring Lukaku, Smalling

Photo credit: Corriere dello Sport
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Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport has been widely condemned after printing the headline “Black Friday” on top of photos of Inter Milan forward Romelu Lukaku and Roma defender Chris Smalling, former Manchester United teammates set to face one another in Serie A action on Friday.

[ MORE: Lampard: Pulisic can reach “top level of world football” ]

The sub-headline went on to read: “Lukaku and Smalling, former teammates at Manchester United and today idols at Inter and Roma, this is the battle within the battle tomorrow with the scudetto and a Champions League place at stake.”

Both clubs were quick to put out statements condemning the newspaper’s coverage.

[ MORE: Ole gushes over “the best performance Rashford has had under me” ]

Per the Guardian, an excerpt of the article which appeared to attempt to highlight Serie A’s problem with racism, saying, “We are all trying to tackle the issue of racism in Italian football,” before making a racially insensitive statement of its own:

“In the faces of those idiots who boo, tomorrow everyone must instead go ‘oooh’ like children. It will be a Black Friday, but this is not an end-of-season sale.” It went on to describe Lukaku and Smalling as “two giants of color.”

This comes less than a week after Serie A’s 20 clubs put out a joint statement “acknowledging a serious problem with racism” in the Italian game, while providing little or no concrete plan for action to rid the game of the very racism they acknowledged.

Lukaku has scored 10 goals in 14 league games since joining Inter this summer and Smalling has become a mainstay for Roma in recent months, scoring twice and leading the defense to a much improved record of goals conceded and five victories in six games.

Orlando City tabs Pareja as new coach

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Oscar Pareja is returning to Major League Soccer for a third stint.

The former Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas coach will now be plying his trade for Orlando City SC, leading Nani and Dom Dwyer as the fourth full-time coach in six MLS seasons.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

A longtime Dallas player and assistant, Pareja led the Rapids to the playoffs in 2013 before leaving for the head job at his former club.

FCD won the Supporters’ Shield and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup under his watch before he left for Club Tijuana in 2018, where he went 23W-4D-21L.

Here’s Pareja, via OrlandoCitySC.com:

“The future of this Club is extremely bright, with so many opportunities to grow and succeed at all levels of the Club – from the new training facility to the world-class stadium and from the Development Academy all the way to the MLS side. Orlando is an incredible soccer city, with an especially passionate and dedicated fan base. I can’t wait to get started.”

Pareja should be a huge asset in developing the club’s top young talents into professionals, but he’s got a lot of work to do in building a competitive roster. Orlando finished eight points out of the playoffs in a league in which making the playoffs isn’t that difficult of a proposition.

PL preview: Arsenal-Brighton; Blades-Newcastle

Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images
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The Premier League’s midweek fixture list has two more on the docket, with mid-table positioning at play in South Yorkshire and London.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Both host sides can advance into sixth with wins, while the visitors will also be dreaming of the top half of the table.

Arsenal v. Brighton and Hove Albion — 3:15 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Freddie Ljungberg will have his hands full at home, as Graham Potter‘s Seagulls have been anything but a walkover even in a three-match losing skid versus Manchester United, Leicester City, and Liverpool.

Arsenal, meanwhile, saw its winless run reach eight matches in all competitions with a weekend draw at Norwich City. The Gunners only outshot the Canaries by a 16-15 margin, something that will have Potter daydreaming of ways to break down the sloppy Arsenal defense.

Will Ljungberg finally start Nicolas Pepe?

“Nico is someone who is a very, very good player but sometimes when you come from a different league it takes time to adapt; off the pitch and on the pitch. But Nico is someone I plan on talking to. I’m going to have a little chat with him about what I expect and how I want to play.”

Sounds like no, which is good news for Brighton. #FreeNicolasPepe.

Sheffield United v. Newcastle United — 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold

Chris Wilder‘s remarkable Blades haven’t lost since September, and will like their chances against a Newcastle side which likes to cede possession.

The Magpies are coming off a remarkable 2-2 draw against Man City, though don’t expect Steve Bruce to keep things the same. He has hinted he’ll ring in the changes and trust his squad depth, with Florian Lejeune, Emil Krafth, and Yoshinori Muto among those tipped for opportunity.

“We are going to have to,” Bruce said. “When you look at the games it is a ridiculous schedule. We will have to adapt and need a bit of freshness.”

Newcastle can join its hosts on 19 points with a win, but would likely accept a draw to take them three points clear of 18th place Everton.