How January will affect the Premier League’s Top Four race

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It will be 2020 the next time a ball in kicked in Premier League action, making the tales at both ends of the table feel more serious.

We’ll save the relegation talk for another day. For one thing, wild point swings and droughts in the bottom half of the table are a lot more common than the top.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

The table enters January in a weird place. Everton and Arsenal face double-digit distances from the Top Four and aren’t even making this post. That’s not to say the Gunners nor Toffees aren’t capable, but we can revisit their statuses if they get to a new level.

First off, look at Liverpool: That 13-point lead with a match of hand is striking. Good night. Congrats. Barring a red wedding more grisly than Game of Thrones, we’ve got new Premier League overlords.

[ MORE: Premier League midseason grades ]

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Liverpool 19 18 1 0 47 14 33 10-0-0 8-1-0 55
 Leicester City 20 13 3 4 43 19 24 7-2-1 6-1-3 42
 Manchester City 20 13 2 5 54 23 31 7-1-2 6-1-3 41
 Chelsea 20 11 2 7 35 28 7 4-2-4 7-0-3 35
 Manchester United 20 8 7 5 32 23 9 5-4-1 3-3-4 31
 Tottenham Hotspur 20 8 6 6 36 29 7 6-2-2 2-4-4 30
 Wolves 20 7 9 4 29 25 4 4-4-2 3-5-2 30
 Sheffield United 20 7 8 5 23 19 4 4-2-4 3-6-1 29

Leicester City: There are legitimate reasons to suspect the Foxes could lose their seemingly significant foothold in the Top Four. For one thing, they are the luckiest team in the league not named Liverpool or Newcastle according to the xG table.

As silly as this sounds, though, January is Leicester’s last legitimate obstacle. The Foxes have at least seven games in January thanks to a pair of League Cup semifinal dates and an FA Cup quarterfinal (eight if they beat Wigan as expected).

Brendan Rodgers showed us that his men can handle poor teams with a B team when they beat West Ham on Saturday. The other teams on January’s docket: Newcastle, Wigan (FA Cup), Aston Villa x2 (League Cup), Southampton, Burnley, West Ham.

They need to stack enough points to make February’s three-match stretch versus Chelsea, Wolves, and Man City navigable. It’s going to be a battle for fourth, but the lack of European action helps them in a big way.

Man City: The two-time reigning champs will also face a busy month, but they’re used to that. Up ahead are Everton, Port Vale (FA Cup), Manchester United x2 (League Cup), Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, and Sheffield United. If Aymeric Laporte returns and there are no major injuries, City should finish second. Even focusing on the Champions League, they’ll finish Top Four with ease barring some sort of injury plague (which they’ve already handled to some extent).

Chelsea: The Blues’ four league matches are Brighton away, Burnley home, Newcastle away, and Arsenal home. An FA Cup date with Nottingham Forest shouldn’t be a huge issue, either, though the Reds are doing alright in the Championship. Chelsea is likely to spend big this January after a summer without additions, and the Blues feel like a safe bet to deliver third.

Man Utd: This is a rough month for the Red Devils, beginning with a visit to Arsenal on Wednesday. The cup draws weren’t kind to them, with Wolves in the FA Cup and two Manchester Derbies in the League Cup. There’s also a visit to Liverpool between Norwich City and Burnley league dates. Tough one. The League Cup derbies and January transfer action will tell us a lot about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s bunch.

Spurs: Three bottom-half opponents and a visit from Liverpool make for a promising month, as Jose Mourinho can collect a statement win and a place in fourth. It’s away to Boro in the FA Cup, so there’s likely a sixth game depending on how Mourinho wants to play it. Spurs will be right in the thick of it come February.

Wolves: Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men are used to schedule congestion, so they may feel bored by just five January matches. Watford away, Newcastle home, Saints away, and Liverpool at home will make for a promising slate to go with a visit from Manchester United in the FA Cup. At some point it feels like Wolves will run out of gas due to their insane UEL run, but they’ll be alive for the Top Four entering February.

Sheffield United: Chris Wilder‘s men have surpassed all expectations this season, but January may be a bridge too far. The Blades have trips to Liverpool and Arsenal to go with visits from West Ham and Man City. The FA Cup tie versus Fylde will be less of an issue. It’s difficult to bet against the Blades on current form, but logic says they’ll fall off a bit.

Watch Live: Liverpool v. West Ham

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Liverpool v West Ham takes center stage at Anfield on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Reds aim to reclaim their 22-point lead at the top of the Premier League table.

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Jurgen Klopp‘s side remain unbeaten this season and with five more wins needed to guarantee the Premier League title, the finishing line is in sight. They are aiming for an 18th consecutive Premier League win which would equal Man City’s record for the most victories on the trot in top-flight history.

As for David Moyes and the Hammers, they are scrapping for their lives at the other end of the table and their daunting run of fixtures makes them one of the favorites for relegation.

Last season the Hammers did draw at home against Liverpool in the PL which was a key factor in the Reds not winning the title last time out but West Ham look extremely far from the team they were last season.

Liverpool v West Ham is first against 18th and all signs point to a big win for the home side as their unbeaten season continues with 25 victories from 26 games so far.

In team news Liverpool are without captain Jordan Henderson who has suffered a hamstring injury and will be out for the next three weeks.

Naby Keita comes in for Henderson in midfield as the rest of the Liverpool team is what you expect.

West Ham are without the injured Ryan Fredericks who suffered a shoulder injury in the 2-0 defeat at Man City on Wednesday.

Teenager Jeremy Ngakia comes in to replace Fredericks, while Felipe Anderson also comes into the lineup.

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Kids under 12 banned from heading in UK

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LONDON (AP) Children up to the age of 12 will be banned from heading a soccer ball in practice sessions in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland as authorities look to address the potential long-term impact on health of head injuries.

[ MORE: US Soccer bans heading ]

The governing bodies of the three regions announced the new heading guidelines on Monday, months after a Scottish study found former professional players there were less likely to die of common causes such as heart disease and cancer compared with the general population but more likely to die with dementia.

The guidelines say there will be a “graduated approach” to heading in practice for kids from 12-15, while the heading will be restricted to one practice session per week for kids 16 and 17.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

There will be no change in terms of heading in matches, taking into consideration the extremely limited number of headers which actually occur in youth matches.

The Scottish study did not state that heading a ball was the cause of the increased prevalence of neurodegenerative conditions among soccer players, but the decision to update the guidelines was taken to “mitigate against any potential risks”, the English Football Association said in a statement.

“This guidance is a responsible development to our grassroots coaching,” FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said, “without impacting the enjoyment that children of all ages take from playing the game.”

The associations said the guidance had been produced in parallel with the UEFA medical committee, which is seeking to produce Europe-wide guidance later this year.

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

Champions League score predictions: Round of 16

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The 2019-20 UEFA Champions League is finally back as the Round of 16 kicks off this week and two of the four Premier League clubs are in action.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Man City and Chelsea face Real Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively and both know they face tough tasks to advance to the Champions League quarterfinals as they do battle with two European heavyweights.

Glory in the Champions League is now the main focus for Pep Guardiola and Man City following their two-season European ban from UEFA which they are appealing. Frank Lampard‘s young Chelsea side host the Bundesliga leaders and hugely experienced Bayern, with the German giants the favorites to advance.

[ MORE: Which Premier League team(s) will reach last eight? ]

The Premier League sides are up against it but both teams are extremely capable of scoring goals for fun but it is at the other end of the pitch where they struggle as both Real Madrid and Bayern Munich will be hoping their star attackers shine on the big stage once again.

In the other two last 16 clashes this week Napoli host Barcelona as Lionel Messi warmed up very nicely with four goals against Eibar, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus head to Lyon for the first leg as the Italian giants are expected to advance with ease.

Both Messi and Ronaldo badly want another Champions League title to their name but Lyon and Napoli are more than capable of picking up big first leg wins at home.

Below we predict the scores for the UCL round of 16 games taking place over the next two days. Feel free to make your own predictions in the comments section below, too.


Tuesday
Napoli 1-1 Barcelona
Chelsea 1-2 Bayern Munich

Wednesday
Lyon 1-3 Juventus
Real Madrid 2-3 Man City

Details for Premier League Mornings Live Fan Fest in Philadelphia

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The NBC Sports and Premier League fan fest is heading to Philadelphia in April and here are all of the details you need to know.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Our crew will be broadcasting live for the latest Premier League Mornings Live fan fest on April 4-5, 2020 and the venue is Dilworth Park, located outside of Philadelphia’s City Hall in Center City.

This is the third and final fan fest of the 2019-20 season after October’s event in Austin, Texas, and December’s event in Miami Beach, Florida.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Over two days in Philly there will be nine Premier League games shown across five different windows, with Manchester City v. Liverpool on Sunday, April 5 at 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and Telemundo the main event.

As always, there will be lots going on as the Premier League Trophy will be present plus club mascots and special guests and you can join us for free.

All you have to do is sign up here.

The NBC Sports studio team of Rebecca Lowe, Robbie Earle, Kyle Martino and Robbie Mustoe are heading to the City of Brotherly Love and here are more details about what we have planned:

  • NBC Sports and the Premier League have also teamed up to bring the ePremier League USA Finals, a free-to-play esports tournament operated by Gfinity and FACEIT, to the Philadelphia Fan Fest. Registration for the tournament, which will see competitors battle it out online to reach the Philadelphia finals in April, begins today and can be accessed by clicking here. Online qualification matches on Xbox and PlayStation consoles begin March 4 and the finalists will be flown to Philadelphia for the ePremier League USA Finals at the Fan Fest on April 4-5.
  • The Premier League has an ongoing commitment to bringing unique experiences to its fans and working with NBC Sports on Premier League Mornings Live continues that direct outreach to passionate fans in different cities across the United States. Premier League Chief Executive, Richard Masters, said: “It seems only fitting that we round off our Premier League Mornings Live events for the 2019/20 season by bringing soccer fans together in the city famed for brotherly love, Philadelphia. The event at Dilworth Park will be another exciting chance for NBC Sports and us to bring Premier League action direct to supporters in the US and will be the first time at a Mornings Live Fan Festival where we have hosted an esports final. We hope that this and the other great free activities available to fans will encourage them to come down and get involved.”
  • Soccer fans from across the country can interact with the event by sharing their #MyPLMorning on social media, from wherever they are watching. Select viewer photos will be featured on air throughout the weekend.