Top Premier League storylines: Week 13

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Yes, Jose Mourinho is back in the Premier League and, sure, both Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manuel Pellegrini are in managerial hot seats, but is there any match more intriguing than Man City and Chelsea squaring off with the knowledge that a bad outcome could see them double digits out of first?

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


The Jose Mourinho Era begins against a familiar foe

  • West Ham v. Tottenham Hotspur — Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

Manuel Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho have matched wits many times, which could help the former in his bid to get ready for a rankled Spurs side to kickstart the Premier League weekend.

Mourinho has only matched up with six managers more than Pellegrini in his career, and boasts a 7W-3D-4L record. Can he quickly get Spurs put together for a visit to a desperate Irons side.


Chelsea, Man City put slim title hopes on the line

  • Manchester City v. Chelsea — Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC

Both Pep Guardiola‘s City and Frank Lampard‘s Chelsea have lost to Liverpool, meaning their chances to directly affect the Reds’ title hopes are limited. Matches like this one are the ones that get the Reds salivating, in fact, knowing that only one team can snare three points.

City enters the day nine points back of first and a point behind Chelsea and Leicester City. The Top Four race sure looks clear cut right now — the chasing pack is eight points behind fourth — but failure to win on Saturday will likely leave either side double-digit points back of first.


Knock off the Red Devils? Wilder things have happened

  • Sheffield United v. Manchester United — Sunday, 11:30 p.m. ET, on NBCSN

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder has the newly-promoted side in fifth place on the table, one point better than his celebrated visitors. The Blades will sit no worse than five points back of the Top Four if they can beat Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s Red Devils, adding another big name to a season of results which already includes a defeat of Arsenal and draws against Chelsea and Spurs. United is still without Paul Pogba and now will also miss Scott McTominay. Another upset brewing?


Reds hope to get back to business as usual in title fight

  • Crystal Palace v. Liverpool — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

A week removed from a glitzy show against Man City, Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds now visit a Palace side who is probably getting sick of facing the Premier League’s best. Roy Hodgson‘s table rise has been stunted by a four-match winless run that includes 2-0 losses to Man City, Leicester City, and Chelsea to go with a 2-2 draw against Arsenal.

A Liverpool win will boost it clearer of Man City and/or Chelsea, as the Reds seek a double-digit lead on the field (Second-place Leicester City is away to Brighton and Hove Albion).


Arsenal looks to right wobbly league ship versus slumping Saints

  • Arsenal v. Southampton — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

Unai Emery‘s Gunners may be doing fine in the Europa League, but they’ve taken just two points from 12 since an Oct. 6 defeat of Bourrnemouth at the Emirates Stadium. Saints only win since mid-September in any competition is a 4-0 demolition of rivals Portsmouth. If Arsenal cannot get right here, well…

Atletico Madrid stunned by Cultural Leonessa in Copa del Rey

Atletico Madrid upset in Copa del Rey
Photo by CESAR MANSO/AFP via Getty Images
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A day after UD Ibiza and Barcelona threatened to provide a signature upset in the Copa del Rey, Cultural Leonessa and Atletico Madrid did the darn thing.

Joao Felix set up Angel Correa for an early goal as a strong Atleti took a lead over their third-tier hosts into the final throes of the match.

That’s when Julen Castenada Nuin scored to force extra time, where 20-year-old Sergio Benito sent the Estadio Reino de León into ecstasy with a winner.

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Atleti has made it to 19 finals, winning 10. Diego Simeone’s men go out in the Round of 32 this season.

Several La Liga sides bowed out this round, and two to third-tier sides on Thursday after Badajoz beat Eibar. Also eliminated were Mallorca, Levante, Valladolid, Espanyol, Celta Vigo, and Real Betis.

Love this game:

Klopp: Liverpool “worked their socks off” in late win

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Jurgen Klopp is loving life after Liverpool gutted out another three points in a thrilling if shaky 2-1 win over Wolves at the Molineux on Thursday.

Klopp gave full marks to Nuno Espirito Santo‘s Wolves, who pushed Liverpool to the brink.

The Reds got a series of fine interventions from Alisson Becker after Wolves equalized through Raul Jimenez in the second half.

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That allowed Liverpool’s Brazilian center forward to deliver the match-winning goal.

Klopp didn’t love the performance, but he enjoyed the resolve.

“The genius moment of Bobby Firmino can help us,” Klopp said. “We won the game, incredibly difficult but who cares?”

“We didn’t panic but it was not like we we completely in the mood I wanted us to be in when we went 1-0 up. You saw then a couple of balls we played into their feet it makes no sense. It’s completely normal. It’s the most difficult thing in football. You start with a complex plan but the development of the game has influence on each individual on the pitch. One sees a chance, sees the space, are not exactly in the same mindset.

“So much to improve for us but knowing if we defend really well like we did in the third system we played tonight. Defending in a 4-4-2, offensively in a 4-3-3. Sadio off doesn’t help. Finishing the game in a 4-5-1. … Everybody worked their socks off. I’m so proud of the boys. It’s incredible.”

Cue more questions about Liverpool’s inevitable first Premier League title and a possible unbeaten season.

“It’s over when it’s over, not before. So why should we really think about it? Let’s carry on. It’s difficult enough. We have to find solutions for the different games then we will see.”

Liverpool visits Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup on Saturday, then heads to West Ham United on Wednesday before hosting Saints on Feb. 1. The congested schedule won’t ease up unless the Reds get knocked out of some competitions, and you wouldn’t want to bet on that right now.

Tranmere upends Watford in FA Cup; Hosts Man Utd on Sunday

Tranmere upsets Watford in FA Cup
Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images)
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Paul Mullin scored in extra time to lift League One side Tranmere Rovers over a much-weakened Watford in a FA Cup replay at Prenton Park on Thursday.

Tranmere runs out a 2-1 winner and gets a lucrative home date against struggling Manchester United on Sunday.

The pitch condition still wasn’t great nine days after heavy rains caused a postponement of the tie.

Watford didn’t have many familiar faces on the pitch due to the match being its third match in six days. Jose Holebas, Andre Gray, and Christian Kabasele did start the contest.

Tranmere out-attempted Watford 20-11 and had nearly 60 percent of the ball.

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Kaylen Hinds scored for Watford, his first goal coming in his first match since 2017/18 when the ex-Arsenal academy man was with… Greuther Furth II.

Tranmere took the lead after Manny Monthe swept a ball home after a half-clearance from the box (Can anything be a half-clearance? Self-reporting to the language police).

Manager Nigel Pearson playing a bevy of youth players. The first team will now get nine more days off before a Feb. 1 visit from Everton.

Of course, they would’ve featured Sunday versus Manchester United in the fourth round.

 

Watford leveled the score on a grimy goal in the 18, but Mullin delivered the goods in the 104th minute.

Liverpool overcomes Wolves challenge to win 14th-straight

Wolves v. Liverpool match recap and video highlights
Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images
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If this ends up being an unbeaten Premier League season for Liverpool, this one may be called “The Alisson Game.”

Liverpool’s star goalkeeper kept the Reds quest for legendary status alive long enoiugh for Roberto Firmino to supply the winner in a 2-1 defeat of Wolves at the Molineux on Thursday.

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Jordan Henderson might like the game’s title role, too, scoring a goal and assisting the 84th minute winner.

Raul Jimenez leveled the score after halftime for Wolves, who stay seventh with 34 points.

Liverpool increases its table lead to 16 points with a match-in-hand on the field.


Three things we learned

1. Alisson’s smart goalkeeping keeps dream alive: Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men have gone behind in eight matches this season, claiming a win in three of them. That would’ve been four if Alisson Becker wasn’t between the sticks for Liverpool. The Brazilian was calm at the back despite being put in several predicaments, his positioning exquisite with plenty of high claims and parries.

2. Henderson has himself a day: Liverpool’s favorite Mackem brings plenty of grit to the side, and his crunching Traore at least thrice in the first 21 minutes shows his tactical duty. But don’t let that take away from his nose for goal. Henderson made sure to back up his motivational “business as usual” post-match interview after beating Manchester United by thundering into the mix to head a Trent Alexander-Arnold corner home after just eight minutes at the Molineux. His alert assist after Salah was dispossessed was plenty pretty, too.

3. Traore puts Reds off balance: As stated above, Jurgen Klopp clearly had a plan for handling Traore when he was in the center of the park. The winger, however, was a much bigger ask for Andy Robertson out wide. Traore blazed down the left to deliver an assist after Robertson’s failed challenge on Jimenez, then won a free kick off Robertson minutes later (Alisson saved the danger).

Man of the Match: Traore. Perfect on contested dribbles and nearly so on 50-50 challenges. A proper menace.


Henderson opened the score when he rose at the near post to head Alexander-Arnold’s cross off Rui Patricio’s hand and into the side netting.

Two of the game’s more lethal finishers were stymied in tight in the 17th and 18th minutes, with Virgil Van Dijk defying Raul Jimenez and Wolves smothered a Mohamed Salah drive.

Sadio Mane limped off with an injury, allowing Takumi Minamino to make a Premier League debut, and Van Dijk was slowed by a 50-50 challenge with Adama Traore before halftime.

Salah drove by two Wolves in stioppage time, but is shot deflected into the air and was corraled by Patricio.

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The Egyptian picked up where he left off in the 47th, stripping Traore and forcing a save out of Patricio.

Salah raced back upfield moments later to block a Pedro Neto shot after Wolves led a promising charge.

Wolves made it 1-1 with a bit of lightning down the right, as Traore raced onto a through ball and crossed for Jimenez to head past Alisson Becker.

Traore then won a free kick and a yellow card for a poor sliding challenge on Traore, but Wolves couldn’t deliver a second goal in five minutes.

Liverpool answered, Firmino pumping a shot into the keeper despite a half-emptty net at the hour mark.

Alisson then made a fine save on a Traore drive in the 65th, blocking a Jimenez shot two minutes later.

That’s not to say the Reds weren’t busy, and Rui Patricio made a fine low save on Firmino in the 82nd minute.

Firmino got his goal in a flash, taking a pass frorm an alert Henderson and burying a shot past Patricio.

Diogo Jota blew a point blank chance to make it 2-2 in the second minute of stoppage after Traore and Jimenez set him atop the six.