Premier League Storylines: Matchweek 27

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Matchweek 27 is almost here in the Premier League and it is time to focus on the top storylines ahead of the action.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Below we take a deeper look and preview the big battles.


Lampard v. Mourinho in huge top 4 battle at Stamford Bridge [ STREAM ]

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

Talk about pivotal. So many storylines are swirling ahead of this one as Frank Lampard‘s Chelsea have won just four of their last 14 Premier League and are somehow still in fourth, but they are now just one point ahead of Jose Mourinho’s Spurs who at one stage were 11 points off the top four. This rivalry is always intense and both sets of players know what is expected. It may not be pretty but this London derby will be hugely important in deciding how the final months of the season pans out for both. Heung-min Son has joined Harry Kane on the injury list so Spurs will look to Steven Bergwijn and Lucas Moura for an attacking threat, while Frank Lampard is without Christian Pulisic (still) and N’Golo Kante with Tammy Abraham a doubt. The key man here could be Olivier Giroud who looks primed to play a big role either from the start or off the bench and his clinical finishing may be the difference. Expect plenty of antics from Mourinho on the sidelines as he returns to the Bridge, a place where he hasn’t won as an opposing manager since 2010 and no longer gets a warm welcome from the Chelsea faithful.


Chance for Guardiola’s boys to seal second [ STREAM ]

  • Leicester City v. Man City, Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC)

Man City have had themselves one of the toughest weeks in recent history as last Friday they were handed a two-season ban from European competitions by UEFA. Since then the fans have had their say with plenty of anti-UEFA banners and chants during their midweek home win against West Ham, while CEO Soriano has called the allegations ‘false’ and Pep Guardiola has said he will stay next season no matter what. They want all of the focus to now be on the pitch and they certainly look much better defensive with Aymeric Laporte back fit. He will have to stop Jamie Vardy and the Foxes and this should be a tight, tense game. Brendan Rodgers and Leicester sit in third and are four points back from City and if they have any hope of finishing in the second place, they need to at least not lose at the King Power Stadium. With a trip to Real Madrid coming up in the Champions League last 16 first leg next week, maybe Guardiola will rest a few starters for the trip to Leicester?


Surging Gunners, Toffees getting bounce from new managers [ STREAM ]

  • Arsenal v. Everton, Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is a former captain of Arsenal and Everton so this will always be a special game for him and as for Everton’s new man in charge, Carlo Ancelotti was linked with the Arsenal job again and again in recent seasons. Both coaches could have easily ended up in charge of their opponents this Sunday but both won’t care about that as the teams they are managing now are flying. Everton have lost just once in their last 11 games and have dragged themselves from a relegation battle to in the battle for European qualification. Arsenal sit one place and two points behind them as defensive improvement have been key to both teams turning things around. They’ve spent big money to add exciting attacking talents but their recent success is more about adding structure. This will be a tight game. That said, the Gunners are unbeaten in their last 23 league games against the Toffees, winning 19 times, and for whatever reason they just love playing against Everton in the Premier League.


Two steps forward for Man United? [ STREAM ]

  • Man United v. Watford, Sunday (Watch live, 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

They rode their luck with VAR calls going their way in a big win at Chelsea on Monday but all of a sudden Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s Man United are just three points off the top four. Will it be a case of one step forward and one step back like it has been all season long for them? Man United have beaten Chelsea (twice), Man City, Tottenham and Leicester City but they have lost against the likes of Bournemouth, Watford and West Ham to bring the back down to earth with a bang each and every time they looked like serious top four contenders once again. Anthony Martial is in fine form with goals in back-to-back games and the January additions of Bruno Fernandes and Odion Ighalo give them fresh options and extra creativity and power in the final third. Fernandes will be key against Watford as they will sit back, get 10 men behind the ball and try to hit the Red Devils on the counter. United need to develop a Plan B against teams who love to sit back against them and the Portuguese playmaker was brought in to help them break down stubborn opponents. United don’t need any help beating the big boys. It’s the strugglers they’ve struggled against this season but this is a chance for them to take two giant steps forward as defensively Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Eric Bailly, Luke Shaw and Brandon Williams look like a settled back five.

Burning question: What is the best formation?

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This week at ProSoccerTalk we will be asking some burning questions we have when it comes to the beautiful game and the first one focuses on something we all love to debate: formations.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Each day we will release a burning question, as now seems like a good time to take stock of where the game is at and take a look at what we love and what we’d like to change as we await its return following the suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Next question: What is the best formation to use?


Most coaches will tell you when asked that formations do not matter. We all know they do.

3-4-3? 4-4-2? 4-5-1? 4-3-3? 3-5-2? 4-1-4-1? 4-3-2-1? 4-2-2-2?

Which formation do you think is the best? Does a formation depend mostly on the players you have at your disposal or your preferred style of play? Most likely it is a combination of both but coaches often have a preferred formation and stick with it no matter what. Their philosophy and ideas mean everything to them.

I’m torn between 3-4-3 and 4-3-3 but I’d probably just about go for 4-3-3 because it is so well balanced. In an attacking team like Man City or Liverpool it works really well because essentially it gives you four defenders back at all times with one deeper central midfielder, two center backs and one full back sitting back.

When teams are under pressure the 4-3-3 then turns into more of a 4-5-1 formation with one central striker saying high and the two wingers tracking back and providing cover. Speaking about cover, 3-4-3 allows one center back to push forward and always have two center backs in defense, while full backs are able to push forward which is particularly important in the modern game. My main problem with 3-4-3 is that often you don’t need three center backs if teams sit back.

4-4-1-1 is solid and flexible as the player in the No. 10 position essentially becomes a striker but there just seems to be more danger from wide players when teams are set up in a 4-3-3 system because their first thought is to attack and they have the added cover of a central midfielder tucked in halfway behind them.

Simply put, I love 4-3-3. You may love something totally different, so let us know in the comments section below which formation is your favorite.

Chelsea’s Willian eager to stay in Premier League

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Chelsea and Brazil star Willian has revealed he is eager to stay in the Premier League, even if that’s not with Chelsea.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Willian, 31, has revealed that contract talks have stopped for now during the suspension for the coronavirus pandemic, and his future is uncertain as his current deal at Chelsea expires this summer.

The likes of Tottenham and Arsenal have been linked with a move for Willian, who almost joined Spurs in 2013 but instead joined Chelsea in a last-second change of heart.

Willian told ESPN Brazil  that he wants to stay in the Premier League and he feels he is now at his peak.

“My wish is to stay in the Premier League, but I’m not ruling out playing in other leagues,” Willian said. “I’m going to play until the end of the season and then see what happens. I’m very used to life in England. I’m not thinking about going back to Corinthians at the moment. My aim is to stay in Europe. I feel that I’m at my peak at the moment. Players improve throughout their careers and I think I’m currently at my peak.”

It is not secret that Mourinho and Willian get on very well, which will intrigue Tottenham’s fans…

“I got on very well with Mourinho, learnt a lot under him and we’ve remained friends,” Willian said. “We still message each other a lot, but I don’t see him often. I haven’t managed to meet up with him since he came back to London.”

His form for Chelsea has been a little erratic this season but Frank Lampard has spoken fondly about Willian time and time again and it is quite clear Chelsea would like to extend his stay at Stamford Bridge for at least another season.

With so many young wingers around (Callum Hudson-Odoi, Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount to name a few), Willian can help ease them into the first team but there’s no doubting plenty of Premier League clubs will be eager to snap him up on a free transfer this summer, or whenever the transfer window reopens.

Tottenham would seem like a particularly good fit for Willian. He would link up with Jose Mourinho, the manage who bought him to Chelsea, and his experience would be vital at Spurs as they aim to finally secure some silverware. Tottenham need to prioritize buying new defenders but if Willian is available for free, you can’t turn that deal down, even if he turned Spurs and Daniel Levy down in 2013…

Arsenal would make sense too but you’d have to say Tottenham are the frontrunners given the connection between Willian and Mourinho. Of course, he could stay at Chelsea, but with Pedro also out of contract it does feel like a changing of the guard as Lampard will put his faith totally in new signing Hakim Ziyech, Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi next season.

With $2.7 billion reserves, FIFA has ‘duty’ to aid virus-hit soccer

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FIFA says it has a “duty” to use its vast financial reserves to assist a football industry ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic wiping out games and creating unexpected economic hardship in the world’s biggest sport.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The spread of COVID-19 has impacted the wealthiest clubs, with Barcelona and Juventus players taking wage cuts; those in smaller countries, with Slovakian champion Zilina entering bankruptcy; and national football federations, with Uruguay furloughing hundreds of staff.

Having amassed reserves it last reported at $2.745 billion, FIFA has the resources to give much-needed financial help to the game at many levels. Now the organization has provided more details around the need agreed two weeks ago by FIFA President Gianni Infantino and his vice presidents to explore a “support fund” for the sport.

“FIFA is in a strong financial situation and it’s our duty to do the utmost to help them in their hour of need,” world football’s governing body said in a statement to The Associated Press on Tuesday.

“FIFA is working on possibilities to provide assistance to the football community around the world after making a comprehensive assessment of the financial impact this pandemic will have on football.”

FIFA is exploring the mechanism to provide the financial lifeline to the football industry with the six regional confederations and member associations to ensure there is an announcement “in the near future.”

“The football community around the world is experiencing, to a greater or lesser extent, serious financial problems on account of the coronavirus outbreak,” FIFA said. “This threatens to disrupt and impair the ability of FIFA’s member associations and other football organizations such as leagues and clubs to develop, finance and run football activities at all levels of the game, including professional, non-professional, youth and grassroots.

“It is foreseen that in many parts of the world a considerable number of persons involved in football including both men and women players will be left in extremely difficult economic conditions.”

FIFA already operates a “Forward” development program to redistribute its wealth to member associations. In the 2015-18 cycle, investment dedicated to the scheme was $1.079 billion, of which $832 million had been approved and committed to member associations, confederations or regions, according to the last published financial results.

Premier League TV schedule: April 4-5

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We have 16 hours of Premier League programming coming your way this weekend and here is your TV schedule for April 4-5

This Saturday and Sunday we will have eight hours of programming coming your way each morning from 6 a.m. ET to 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN on your TV.

With the current 2019-20 Premier League season suspended until April 30 due to the coronavirus pandemic, we have a lot of programming treats planned for you in the coming weeks and will keep up fully updated with a TV schedule posted every single week.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ]

Remember, during the season you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today, Sky Sports News, NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Below is your full Premier League TV schedule and stream links for Saturday and Sunday as we have classic matches, Goal of the Season, Behind the Badge, a focus on Liverpool v. Man City and much more coming up.


FULL TV SCHEDULE FOR NBCSN

Saturday, April 4
6-6:30 a.m. ET: Soccerbox – Matt Le Tissier [STREAM]
6:30-7 a.m. ET: Soccerbox – John Barnes [STREAM]
7-7:30 a.m. ET: Soccerbox – Sol Campbell [STREAM]
7:30-8 a.m. ET: Soccerbox – Ryan Giggs [STREAM]
8-9 a.m. ET: PL Goals of the Season: 2001-02 [STREAM]
9-10 a.m. ET: PL Goals of the Season: 2002-03 [STREAM]
10-10:30 a.m. ET: Classic Match: Liverpool v. Tottenham, Feb. 2015 [STREAM]
10:30-11 a.m. ET: Classic Match: Chelsea v. Man United, Feb. 2012 [STREAM]
11-11:30 a.m. ET: Classic Match: Tottenham v. Chelsea, Jan.  2015 [STREAM]
11:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. ET: Classic Match: Man United v. Arsenal, Aug., 2011 [STREAM]
12-12:30 p.m. ET. ET: Behind the Badge – Watford, Episode 1 [STREAM]
12:30-  p.m. ET. ET: Behind the Badge – Watford, Episode 2 [STREAM]
1-1:30 p.m. ET. ET: Behind the Badge – Watford, Episode 3 [STREAM]
1:30-2 p.m. ET. ET: Behind the Badge – Watford, Episode 4 [STREAM]

Sunday, April 5
6-7 a.m. ET: PL season in review 1998-99 [STREAM]
7-8 a.m. ET: PL season in review 1999-00 [STREAM]
8-10 a.m. ET: Match of the Week, Man City v. QPR, May 2012 [STREAM]
10 a.m. – 12 p.m. ET: Match of the Week, Everton v. Liverpool, Nov. 2013 [STREAM]
12 p.m. – 2 p.m. ET: Match of the Week, Chelsea v. Arsenal, Oct. 2014 [STREAM]