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Premier League Storylines: Matchweek 23

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The January schedule is filling up, and teams are hoping to navigate the crowded fixture lists with injuries piling up through the winter months. With the FA Cup returning next week and managers hoping to limit minutes as much as possible, this weekend’s games will be critical.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The race for the Champions League spots is heating up, and a number of teams can make serious moves this weekend.

Can Spurs gain ground against the tide? [ STREAM ]

  • Watford v. Tottenham Hotspur, Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

Tottenham doesn’t have Harry Kane. We know that. It’s time for Jose Mourinho to put up or shut up. Spurs haven’t scored in either of their last two Premier League games, and now Mourinho has had the time to figure things out. They now travel to Watford who is running on a high, having won each of their last three league games despite some discipline issues. The Hornets haven’t lost since December 4, which feels like an eternity ago.

Will Arsenal continue to improve under Mikel Arteta? [ STREAM ]

  • Arsenal v. Sheffield United, Saturday (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

The Gunners have shown real – but slow – improvement under Mikel Arteta. There are still serious flaws, however, and Sheffield United is a team that can take advantage if given the chance. This is a litmus test match for the Gunners, and a win could get them as many as three places in the table. They were held off the scoresheet against the Blades last time around, and could complete their first double over Arsenal since the 40’s. Oh yea, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is out suspended, a massive loss for the Gunners up front.

Can Aston Villa pull themselves out of the relegation zone, and Brighton into it? [ STREAM ]

  • Brighton Hove & Albion v. Aston Villa, Saturday (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold)

Aston Villa was pummeled by six Man City goals last time out, and the feeling around Villa Park is one of trepidation. Still, the results are there to give fans some hope, and one this weekend would turn things around completely. Three points on the road at Brighton would draw them level with the Seagulls in the table and give them a huge boost in the crowded relegation battle. Jack Grealish has been a motor for Villa this season, but the critical component in a game like this is the defense, a back line that’s given up 43 goals in 22 matches. Will Brighton punish the Villains at the Amex?

Which Chelsea will show up on Tyneside? [ STREAM ]

  • Newcastle United v. Chelsea, Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC)

Chelsea has been extremely Jeckell & Hyde over the past month, with wins over Arsenal and Spurs but losses to Bournemouth and Southampton and a draw with Brighton. All told, it’s been two months since their last back-to-back wins. Newcastle, meanwhile, put together a draw against a scrappy Wolves side before punishing Rochdale in their FA Cup replay. Christian Pulisic is still injured, but the Blues remain one of the strongest attacking threats in the Premier League. A road loss, however, and the five-point gap to Manchester United could thin considerably.

Can Manchester United put in a shift against Liverpool? [ STREAM ]

  • Liverpool v. Manchester United, Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

What a test for Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Defensive problems at key moments have plagued Manchester United this season, and like Chelsea, inconsistencies have proven vital. This game is critical for Solskjaer in the top four race, because a loss risks them falling a significant eight points back of the Champions League places. Still, while the United defense doesn’t instill fear in Premier League opponents, they’ve pulled out solid shifts against good teams this season, like holding both Spurs and Manchester City to a single goal in early December.

Liverpool can afford a few missteps, and Jurgen Klopp has managed his players’ minutes to perfection this campaign. A 14-point lead at the top of the table and a game in hand over Man City means we could see more players rested, and that gives the Red Devils even more hope.

Bonus: Can Pep Guardiola win on his birthday? [ STREAM ]

  • Manchester City v. Crystal Palace, Saturday (Watch live, 10:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold)

No Man City manager has ever won on his birthday. Good luck, Pep!

Everton stays perfect in energetic win over Crystal Palace

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Crystal Palace – Everton: Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison scored as Everton won a battle of unbeatens with Crystal Palace on Saturday at Selhurst Park.

The Toffees claimed a 2-1 win to go 3-0 on the young Premier League season, handing Palace their first loss.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]   

Palace’s goal came from a Cheikhou Kouyate header.


3 things we learned: Crystal Palace – Everton

1. Ancelotti pushing the right buttons, especially with James: Carlo Ancelotti’s first full season guiding the Toffees could hardly be going better, with away wins at Palace and Spurs and a home blowout of 10-man West Brom. Yes, Everton got penalty luck on a similar play that was deemed not an offense when Palace took a shot, but few would argue that the visitors didn’t do enough anyway for a win. James Rodriguez remains on another level when playing under the Italian, which is reason enough to celebrate the relationship.

2. Palace a bit unlucky in losing perfect mark: Roy Hodgson’s men will feel they should’ve had a point when Calvert-Lewin’s half-torso, half-arm block in the 18 was not given to Palace as a chance to level from the spot, especially with Ward’s handball being awarded as a pen. With Guaita getting a piece of Calvert-Lewin’s opening goal and Palace having a strong late run of possession, these were fine margins even if Everton likely deserved no less than the point.

3. Is goalkeeping an issue for Everton? Jordan Pickford is being questioned again, days after a silly giveaway cost Everton a goal. Maybe we’re not talking about the goalkeeper’s inability to get a hand on Kouyate’s hammered header if not for the midweek moment, but the goal was Palace’s only shot on target. Pickford hasn’t been great since the season

Man of the Match:

Seamus Coleman. It’s difficult to choose who was better in attack between Calvert-Lewin and Rodriguez, but the Irish right back was dynamic at both ends in setting up the first goal and making three tackles, an interception, and a blocked shot.


Crystal Palace – Everton recap

The Toffees are playing really good football and the opening goal exemplified their attacking prowess as Seamus Coleman started a move with Abdoulaye Doucoure and James Rodriguez which returned to the Irishman for a pass inside the box that Calvert-Lewin put off Vicente Guaita and into the goal.

Palace found a leveler off a set piece, Andros Townsend’s corner kick finding the leaping Kouyate for a header through the flailing arms of Jordan Pickford.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Joel Ward had two close-range handball penalty shouts reviewed by VAR. The second was just a bit closer to the real deal and VAR awarded Richarlison his chance from the spot. 2-1, 40′.

VAR did not give Palace a chance to level from the spot when Calvert-Lewin blocked a shot inside the box with a combination of his arm and torso, the appendage squeezed close to his side but

‘Not the bad guy’: Koeman hits back on Suarez exit at Barcelona

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman is not worried about the commitment of Lionel Messi to the team despite his ongoing conflicts with the club leadership.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule

Koeman said Saturday that he cared about the efforts of Messi on the field – and not his criticisms of the board for stopping him from leaving Barcelona while pushing out teammate and friend Luis Suarez.

“It is normal that a player is sad when a friend leaves,” Koeman said in a conciliatory tone toward Messi, a day after the star forward went to social media to complain that Barcelona’s board had not given Suarez the exit he “deserved.”

“But the most important thing for me is how Leo has trained. He has been an example for the rest in practice and in the (preseason) matches,” Koeman said a day before his official debut as Barcelona’s coach against Villarreal.

Suarez learned of the club’s decision to get rid of him through a call from Koeman, who was hired after the team lost 8-2 to Bayern Munich to end last season. After probing a transfer with Juventus in Italy, Barcelona ended up sending Suarez to Spanish league rival Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.

Koeman, however, made clear that he did not want to be considered solely responsible for the departure of the 33-year-old Suarez, who left Barcelona as its third all-time leading scorer.

“I must say that I look like the bad guy … That is not true,” Koeman said. “It was a decision of the club. The club, before I had become its coach, took some decisions. This was not my sole decision as coach; it was also the decision of the club. It is an effort to change the team. Younger players will have more opportunities.”

Those younger players include new signings Francisco Trincao and Pedri, and 17-year-old Ansu Fati.

“Ansu is a great talent,” Koeman said about the striker who became Spain’s youngest all-time scorer on his debut earlier this month.

“There are few players who have shown they can play for Barca. He is a player of the future.”

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

West Brom – Chelsea: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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West Brom – Chelsea: The Blues are in desperate need of a strong rebound when they visit The Hawthorns on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 pm ET, on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

WEST BROM – CHELSEA STREAM LIVE

The Baggies, on the other hand, are simply hoping to collect their first point of the season after suffering a 3-0 defeat to Leicester City on the opening day of the 2020-21 season and following that up with a 5-2 beatdown at the hands of Everton last weekend.

As far as favorable matchups go, facing the 20th-place side a week after losing to defending champions Liverpool is quite timely for Chelsea, who is still a week or two away from seeing Christian Pulisic in a match.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of West Brom – Chelsea this Saturday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: West Brom – Chelsea (INJURY REPORT)

Hal Robson-Kanu’s leg is not a problem after a good midweek in the League Cup and he’ll start on the bench.

Christian Pulisic is out for Chelsea but Cesar Azpilicueta is fit to see the bench.


What they’re saying: West Brom – Chelsea

West Brom manager Slaven Bilic, on struggling to sign players: “We don’t have a huge budget, that is why we are trying to be creative and lucky. That’s not easy but we are trying. … We have to do it to maintain a good chance.”

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard, on Thiago Silva: “It is exciting for us because he has had just over a week training with us. It was a perfect 60 minutes for him tonight. He will show the qualities he has. Of course, he will get fitter and better. He also gave us something for me on the night in the dressing room and on the pitch of a leader with authority in terms of his demands on others. He can’t speak the language but at the minute that’s not even a problem because his presence and the way he commands people around him is already showing that to me in training and in our game tonight.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

West Brom (+750) represent one of the biggest underdogs — or, opportunities, depending on how you look at it — of the still-young PL season. There’s not much to be won by betting on Chelsea (-280). Even the draw (+400) is pretty far out there.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Prediction: West Brom – Chelsea

Barring some unforeseen circumstances — for example, a 12th-minute red card — it’s virtually impossible to see West Brom getting anything from this game. They’ve been incredibly poor defensively through two games, and they’re yet to face a side with anything close to the firepower which the Blues possess. West Brom 1-3 Chelsea.


How to watch West Brom – Chelsea stream and start time

Kickoff: 12:30 pm ET Saturday
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Potter, Trossard lament latest bit of Brighton misfortune

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Less than 18 hours after ProSoccerTalk posited that positive Brighton and Hove Albion’s lack of luck must be coming to an end, Graham Potter’s hosts smashed the post five times and had VAR award a penalty after the final whistle had blown.

Sorry, Seagulls supporters.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The match ended when Neal Maupay’s handball was spotted after the Seagulls had leveled the match at 2 deep in stoppage time, Bruno Fernandes scoring the decisive penalty in a 3-2 for the visitors to the Amex Stadium.

United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted his side was lucky on a day they were out-attempted 18-7, while Potter could simply muster, “That’s football” regarding the posts and extremely late VAR drama.

That said, he does wonder how the match got to the eighth-minute in the first place. Hashtag Fergie Time.

Here’s Potter via the Brighton and Hove Independent:

“I’d say we deserved something from the game,” Potter sad. “I would say that’s an understatement.”

Potter said he “didn’t know where the extra time came from,” adding: “I thought we scored with the last kick of the game. … We are bitterly disappointed to concede the way we have, at the time we have.”

Expected goals site Understat says Brighton won the xG battle 2.98-1.58.

Brighton winger Leandro Trossard was responsible for three of the five posts struck by the losing side.

“Unbelievable, the feeling I can’t describe, we were the better team today,” he said. “We deserved at least a point, it’s a shame. There were five minutes added on and we played at least seven. Sometimes it’s just not your day.”

Even for a side as snakebit as the Seagulls, Saturday’s loss is a sick one.