Premier League storylines: Matchweek 15

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Midweek Premier League action is coming up on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

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December is here and that means one thing: PL games by the boatload. Oh yeah, family and presents and food and stuff too… but mostly, Premier League.

Here’s a look at the top storylines heading into the next three days of PL action with two games on Tuesday and Thursday and six on Wednesday.

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Mourinho returns to Man United with Tottenham

  • Man United v. Tottenham, Wednesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Jose Mourinho returns to Old Trafford as he aims to make it four wins out of four as Tottenham’s manager. If you read that sentence to someone this time last year they likely would have fallen off their chair. A lot has changed in the last 12 months since Mourinho was fired by United, but mostly for him. United are still sluggishly pushing for a top four finish and look no closer to achieving that this season than they did last season. In fact, after 14 games last season Mourinho’s United had 22 points on the board. This season they have 18, despite heavy investment in Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Dan James.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side have coughed up leads against Aston Villa and Sheffield United in their last two games and now sit eight points off the top four, while Spurs are two points ahead of them. Harry Kane against Harry Maguire should be an epic battle and Mourinho knows this United team better than most and will no doubt have a very specific gameplan to edge his team further ahead in the race for a top four finish. Mourinho has received a pretty positive reception on his recent returns to Old Trafford as a TV pundit, but that will quickly evaporate if he’s sliding down the touchline on his knees in celebration on Wednesday. Spurs have momentum but both teams are conceding plenty of goals. This should be box office and if Mourinho wins, ex-Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino will surely move closer to taking Solskjaer’s job. The wild managerial merry-go-round continues.


Arsenal, Everton in freefall

  • Arsenal v. Brighton, Thursday (Watch live, 3:15 p.m. ET on NBCSN)
  • Liverpool v. Everton, Wednesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com)

Unai Emery has gone and Marco Silva is hanging on by a thread. All is not well at Arsenal or Everton. Both clubs have spent a lot of cash over the past few years but not in the right areas. Arsenal continue to buy talented attackers and neglect their defense, while Everton focus on wingers and midfielders instead of buying the top striker they needed to replace Romelu Lukaku. Aside from issues on the pitch, there a plenty off it for both clubs. Arsenal don’t seem to have a plan for the future as majority shareholder Stan Kroenke has his son Josh talking about the Arsenal DNA and how Freddie Ljungberg is the right man for now. Things didn’t look any different under Ljungberg on Sunday at Norwich as Arsenal were good going forward but a shambles at the back.

There is no clear plan for the future at Arsenal and the same can be said for Everton. Majority owner Farhad Moshiri is sticking with Silva, for now, but with different opinions behind-the-scenes and a team woefully underachieving, it’s a case of who can Everton attract to do any better than Silva currently is? A jolt in the right direction for Arsenal and Everton, who face Brighton and Liverpool respectively in midweek, is badly needed but it is the long-time plan which needs more attention. That has been badly neglected in recent months and both are paying for short-sighted splurges in transfer window rather than transformative philosophical changes. Everton will do well to get anything at Anfield, and although they’ve been unlucky in recent weeks, a heavy defeat to their rivals would be the end for Silva. As for Arsenal, a heavy win is the least Ljungberg will want as he aims to stake his claim to take the Gunners over for the rest of this season at the very least.


Can Leicester, Man City stay in touch with Liverpool

  • Leicester City v. Watford, Wednesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com)
  • Burnley v. Man City, Tuesday (Watch live, 3:15 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Liverpool are looking lonely atop the Premier League table. Leicester City are doing their best to stay in touch with them, and their dramatic 2-1 win against Everton on Sunday proved they have momentum, and perhaps fate, on their side in their unlikely title bid. Of course, Man City are still the favorites to hunt Liverpool down, just as they did last season, but Pep Guardiola‘s battered and patched up defense head to Burnley knowing that they really can’t afford to drop any more points… this season. An 11 point lead over Man City is an incredible achievement at this stage of the season but anybody who has watched Liverpool regularly will admit they’ve been far from their best this season. They’re grinding out win after win but unless their form improves, eventually they will slip up. Leicester host struggling Watford and Man City head to Burnley knowing they have to win to put the pressure on Liverpool. It is that simple.

Relegation six-pointer at St Mary’s

Southampton breathed a huge sigh of relief after their late comeback win at home against Watford on Saturday but Ralph Hasenhuttl knows they are still in deep trouble. Saints’ first half display was one of their worst of the season as the pressure of not having a home win since April weighed heavy on the shoulders of his players. There was a negative vibe among the home fans at St Mary’s as they booed their players throughout, but the arrival of Sofiane Boufal off the bench in the second half swung the game in their favor. Hasenhuttl has called on his players to be brave and he must be brave with his team selection too.

Neither Saints or Norwich can defend but both teams have shown they can score plenty of goals and in a key relegation scrap, it’s all about which club can hold their nerve in front of goal on Wednesday. Saints are under pressure but face Norwich, Newcastle, Aston Villa and West Ham in their next four and they know they need momentum at this key point of the season. As for Norwich, there is no pressure on them. Everybody knows they have the smallest budget in the PL but they continue to punch above their weight and should have beat Arsenal on Sunday. Southampton and Norwich will be in a relegation battle all season and this game is crucial in deciding which team finishes above or below the dreaded dotted line.

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?