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Premier League Preview: Aston Villa v. Liverpool

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  • Liverpool lead title race by 6 points
  • Villa sit 15th in PL table, on 11 points
  • LFC won 6-0 last trip to Villa Park, in 2016

Liverpool’s 100-percent Premier League record may have ended two weeks ago with a 1-1 draw away to rivals Manchester United, but the Reds continue to pace the PL title race ahead of Saturday’s trip to Villa Park to take on Aston Villa (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold).

In theory, facing a recently promoted side like Villa should be the most straightforward challenge in a week that saw Liverpool take on, and beat, both north London sides — first, Tottenham Hotspur in PL action on Sunday, followed by Arsenal in a 5-5 thriller in the EFL Cup on Wednesday. It’s been a taxing period for Jurgen Klopp‘s men, though, as they came back from 1-0 down to Tottenham inside the game’s first minute and erased a pair of two-goal deficits to the Gunners before triumphing in a penalty shootout. Coincidentally, Liverpool and Villa were then drawn against one another in the quarterfinals of the EFL Cup, tentatively scheduled to be played in mid-December. Before that was a trip to Belgium in the Champions League and another fight-back from a goal down against Man United.

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The likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Virgil Van Dijk were all spared from further action midweek, their first period of inaction in over a month, including the recent international break. Klopp is plenty wary about the demands of the modern game. The EFL Cup presents the ideal opportunity to rest first-team stars, but he needs them to return at the peak of their abilities once it’s back to PL action if Liverpool are to hold of Manchester City and win their first English league title since 1990.

Villa won’t be a pushover, however, as Dean Smith‘s side has won three of its last four games in all competitions, including back-to-back games against fellow relegation battlers in PL action and an EFL Cup round of 16 triumph over Wolverhampton Wanderers. The lone blemish came in last weekend’s 3-0 defeat away to Man City, a game they kept scoreless for the entire first half before Raheem Sterling opened the floodgates in the first minute of the second half.

Injuries/suspensions

Aston Villa: OUT – Jota (hernia); QUESTIONABLE: Jack Grealish (calf)

Liverpool: OUT – Joel Matip (knee), Xherdan Shaqiri (calf), Naby Keita (groin), Nathaniel Clyne (knee)


Projected lineups

Aston Villa: Heaton – Guilbert, Engels, Mings, Targett – Nakamba – Trezeguet, McGinn, Luiz, Grealish – Wesley

Liverpool: Alisson – Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson – Fabinho, Henderson, Wijnaldum – Salah, Firmino, Mane


What they’re saying

Bjorn Engels, on bragging rights: “My girlfriend is from Liverpool. Her whole family is. And they are all Reds, too. We have been joking about things in the build-up. I think Aston Villa is the only team who can beat Liverpool and they won’t be too upset. If we win, I think there will be no problem. They love Liverpool. Of course, when you are born with a team, that is who you support. But I think they will be happy for me if we get a good result.”

Klopp, on Georginio Wijnaldum’s importance: “Gini speaks on the pitch for the way he plays. It’s just so obvious his importance. And it is in both directions — in attack and defence, small spaces, big spaces, it is hard challenges, fine football, pretty much all of that. Is he the perfect midfielder? Yes, from the skill set, 100 percent. He has all that you need.”


Prediction

Liverpool haven’t been at their very best in recent weeks, but they’ve managed to pick up positive results against some tough sides. Having the luxury of resting the big names this week should do them a world of good and bring about a swift response, at Villa’s expense. Aston Villa 0-3 Liverpool.

Christian Pulisic named USMNT Player of the Year

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Who else could it be? Christian Pulisic has been named the USMNT player of the year for 2019.

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The Chelsea star, 21, excelled for club and country over the past 12 months and after taking a few months to settle into life in England, he’s now taking the Premier League by storm on a weekly basis.

Pulisic has now won this award for a second time after first winning it in 2017 and he becomes the youngest player in U.S. men’s national team history to win the award twice.

His achievements over the last 12 months are numerous, as he dragged a struggling USMNT to the 2019 Gold Cup final and also became the youngest player to reach double figures in goals for the USMNT.

MLS veteran Sacha Kljestan signs with hometown LA Galaxy

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Carson, Calif. (AP) Veteran midfielder Sacha Kljestan has signed with the LA Galaxy as a free agent.

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The 34-year-old U.S. national team contributor officially returned to his native Southern California on Wednesday.

Kljestan has scored 49 goals over 10 MLS seasons in a career that began as the fifth overall pick by defunct Chivas USA, the Galaxy’s former stadium partners. After a successful five-year stint with Belgium’s Anderlecht, he spent the past five seasons with New York Red Bulls and Orlando City.

The Huntington Beach native also has made 51 appearances for the U.S. team, playing in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Kljestan will provide veteran leadership for a Galaxy roster in transition after the departures of its top two goal-scorers: Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Uriel Antuna.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Liverpool in talks to activate Minamino’s release clause

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On the face of it, this move makes perfect sense for everyone concerned. Especially Liverpool, who get a bargain.

Multiple reports state that the Premier League leaders are in advanced talks to sign Japanese winger Takumi Minamino from RB Salzburg.

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Minamino, 24, has a release clause of just $9.5 million and it has been reported that he will move to Liverpool in January with talks going well over a five-year contract.

RB Salzburg sporting director Christoph Freund confirmed talks are ongoing about the transfer, with Bayern Munich and Marseille also said to be interested in signing the tricky winger.

“I can confirm that there are talks with Liverpool at the moment. It is an honor [for us] to see the caliber of clubs who are interested in our players.”

Minamino’s goals, pace and trickery pushed Salzburg to within one game of reaching the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds and he impressed against Liverpool in both games in the UCL group stage as he scored at Anfield and gave their defense plenty of problems in the return game. His skillset would perfectly suit the way Liverpool play with his direct running, pace and nose for goal seemingly perfect for Jurgen Klopp‘s side.

With Klopp and his RB Salzburg counterpart Jesse Marsch hugging on the sidelines after Liverpool’s win in Austria on Tuesday, plus Klopp’s kind words on the job the American coach is doing at Salzburg, it’s safe to say there’s a strong connection between the two teams and their styles of play are very similar.

That’s an even better reason for Minamino to head to Liverpool as the Japanese star would slot in seamlessly and he would become the third former RB Salzburg player at the Reds alongside Naby Keita and Sadio Mane.

From the style of play of both player and the club, to the small transfer fee, this works out very well for everyone involved. Even Salzburg will be happy to become known as a feeder club to Liverpool and Europe’s other big boys as that will help them with their future recruitment.

Raul Jimenez’s future at Wolves uncertain

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Raul Jimenez has been talking about playing for one of Spain’s big boys.

That sound you can hear is Wolves fans everywhere sobbing.

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The Mexican striker was quoted by Spanish outlet Marca saying that he would one day like to return to Spain and play for one of the La Liga giants.

“I would never rule out returning to Spain. I have good memories, and I would like to go back at some point,” Jimenez said. “I want to try out LaLiga once more, as I didn’t get to play much the previous time. Returning is not off the agenda. I have played at the Nou Camp and the Bernabeu.”

Jimenez, 28, previously played for Atletico Madrid before moving to Benfica who loaned him to Wolves in the summer of 2018, and he has since made the switch to the West Midlands permanent for $40 million.

However, his manager Nuno Espirito Santo has moved to calm down fears the El Tri star will move at the end of this season.

“What he is doing is amazing – every day of his life is dedicated to Wolves so we are delighted with it,” Santo said. “Being ambitious and dreaming is something all of us have. But our present is very good with Raul here.”

The powerful Mexican striker has been superb over the past two seasons and has proved to be a phenomenal target man in the Premier League. He’s scored 32 goals in 71 appearances in all competitions for Wolves, leading them to an FA Cup semifinal appearance and seventh-place PL finish last season and his goals this campaign (15 in 27 appearances in total) have catapulted them into the top six and the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League. Aside from his goals Jimenez’s hold-up play has been vital to Wolves’ success.

It is worth pointing out that Jimenez revealed he is very happy at Wolves but the fact he is so ambitious and fancies moving on to either Real Madrid and Barcelona is a good thing for the club. This means Jimenez is striving to improve and do all he can to take his game to the next level.

Yes, Wolves will be desperate to keep hold of the Mexican star who is a fans favorite at Molineux. But if he continues to score goals and one of Spain’s big boys, or a title-chasing team in the PL, were to come calling, can they stand in his way?