Top 5 Premier League storylines: Boxing Day

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Here’s a look at what we should keep an eye out for on Boxing Day in the Premier League.

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December 26 always dishes out some late Christmas gifts, and shocks, around the PL.

This year should be no different…


Liverpool to stay unbeaten? – Liverpool v. Newcastle United, 10 a.m. ET NBCSN [STREAM]

It is 18 and counting for Jurgen Klopp‘s men, who host Newcastle United at Anfield in a fixture which has historically provided plenty of goals and dramatic moments. Klopp and the Liverpool faithful will be hoping it is nothing more than a routine win to keep them four points clear atop the table. With just seven goals conceded so far this season, Virgil Van Dijk in majestic form and squad rotation working out very well, the Reds should be just fine. Newcastle have the potential to cause a shock with Salomon Rondon getting on the end of things, but everything points to Liverpool being unbeaten for the first half of the season.


Man City, Guardiola need a positive response – Leicester City v. Man City, 10 a.m. ET – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

After their shock loss at home to Crystal Palace, Pep Guardiola needs a big response from his stars away at Leicester. Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero have returned form injury in recent weeks, but the loss of David Silva and Fernandinho has arguably been a bigger blow in City’s engine room. Leicester will be buoyed by their win away at Chelsea and they will look to stay tight and use James Maddison and Jamie Vardy on the counter to cause City problems. Ahead of their Jan. 3 game against Liverpool, City need to keep the gap between themselves and Liverpool to at least four points. But Leicester is a tough place to go, especially on Boxing Day and especially with plenty of doubts creeping in about City repeating their title heroics of last season.


Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s Old Trafford return – Man United v. Huddersfield Town, 10 a.m. ET – NBC Sports Gold[STREAM]

A perfect start for Solskjaer at Cardiff saw United score five times in a Premier League game for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge. After that big win, the Norwegian’s return to Old Trafford as United’s manager will have the home fans lauding him even more. He is a club legend and he is trying to help them return to the glory years of the Ferguson era. Alongside him is Mick Phelan, Sir Alex’s former assistant, and they’ve simply taken the shackles off this team. Jose Mourinho asked this group of young, attack-minded players to play in a safety-first manner and they couldn’t do it. Solskjaer may not be the right man to lead United beyond this season when his caretaker role is due to expire, but beating Huddersfield (who have lost five on the trot) and Bournemouth in the next two games will give the Red Devils plenty of momentum heading into the next year. The top four dream is now back on for United.


Chelsea aim to get back on track – Watford v. Chelsea, 2:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN [STREAM]

Antonio Rudiger called Chelsea’s defeat at home to Leicester “stupid” and that was a fair summation. Maurizio Sarri‘s men are the most Jekyll and Hyde team in the Premier League this season. They’ve beaten Man City and Arsenal, pushed Liverpool all the way but lost to Wolves and now Leicester and were humiliated by Tottenham. The mentality issue is something Sarri and his players keep bringing up and that is a pretty easy excuse. The issues run a lot deeper at Chelsea, as this squad is largely the same one which downed tools first under Mourinho and then under Antonio Conte just a season after winning the Premier League title for both. A trip to Watford, who have won two on the spin and sit seventh, will be a real test for Chelsea’s creaking defense. It will be intriguing to see if either Alvaro Morata or Olivier Giroud return to the starting lineup as the false nine with Eden Hazard as the fulcrum faltered against Leicester. More than that, it will be intriguing to see if Chelsea can get themselves up for a clash against a team outside of the top six.


Big home games for basement boys – Fulham v. Wolves, 7:30 a.m. ET – NBCSN [STREAM& Burnley v. Everton, 10 a.m. ET – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Boy, how both Fulham and Burnley need big wins on Boxing Day. Both play at home and both have tricky tests against top 10 teams. Fulham host Wolves, while Burnley welcome Everton to Turf Moor. Being in the bottom three for Christmas has been compounded by big wins for Southampton, Crystal Palace and Newcastle over the past few weeks. The only saving grace for Fulham is that Claudio Ranieri‘s men are just four points from safety despite all of their struggles, while Burnley are two points from safety. Both teams need to focus on sorting out their defensive issues if they’re going to remain in the top-flight and getting big wins on Boxing Day can propel an upturn in the second half of the season.

What did we learn on a pivotal day?

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Saturday encapsulated everything that is great about the Premier League.

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We had shock home defeats for Manchester City and Chelsea to swing the title race in Liverpool’s favor, amazing goals, plus a big win for an unexpected new manager at Manchester United.

Also, there were some huge wins towards the bottom of the table which set things up very nicely for the busy festive season ahead.

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Here’s what we learned from a potentially pivotal Saturday.


This is Liverpool’s title to lose

Somewhere Jurgen Klopp smile is getting wider and wider. This is now clearly Liverpool’s Premier League title to lose. The Reds will be four points clear at the top on Christmas Day and they are the only team who remain unbeaten in the PL. After Manchester City’s shock home defeat to Crystal Palace, Pep Guardiola‘s men are starting to show cracks. If Liverpool can expose those cracks when the two meet on January 3 then they will be seven points clear of Man City with 17 games to go. Of course, City and the deep squad they have can drag a big deficit back but all of the momentum right now is with Liverpool who have conceded just seven goals all season long. Plus, with the trio of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, and Xherdan Shaqiri and others chipping in, they look capable of scoring at least twice in every game they play. With Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal far from genuine title contenders, Liverpool’s fans will already be having dreams of seeing Jordan Henderson lift the Premier League trophy at Anfield in May 2019. The only thing lingering in the back of their minds: eight of the last nine teams to lead the PL on Christmas Day have won the title. The only team who failed to clinch? Liverpool in 2013-14. We are about to see how Liverpool can deal with the pressure of being the frontrunners instead of the hunters.


Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s perfect start at Man United
A 5-1 win away at Cardiff City sounds pretty routine for Manchester United, but given their struggles for most of this season it was a huge step forward for the Red Devils. And it was a perfect start for caretaker boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. A man revered by United’s fans for his goalscoring prowess as a player, he somehow rejuvenated the entire squad who went out and expressed themselves in the Welsh capital. We have hardly seen them play like that under David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho.

Solksjaer hasn’t had long at all to work with this team on the training ground. A maximum of three sessions. But the belief he has already instilled in this squad suggests his caretaker role could become something more permanent. Yes, it is Cardiff City. Yes, it is only one game. But certain managers fit certain clubs at certain times. And after the emotional battering many of United’s stars took at the hands of Mourinho in recent years the shackles are now well and truly off. It is going to be a lot of fun to watch United between now and the end of the season, and a top four finish really isn’t out of the question as they’re now just eight points back of fourth with a favorable schedule coming up. The biggest difference we saw under Solskjaer was the full backs pushing high and the likes of Jesse Lingard (two goals) and Paul Pogba (who had three assists, more than in his last 17 games combined) given the freedom to make runs in-behind. Solskjaer’s reign may end in May, but everyone at United is on his side.


Familiar lack of focus for Chelsea

This has been coming for Chelsea as their players have not heeded recent warnings that Maurizio Sarri has given them. They’ve beaten Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City in all competitions this season, but they’ve now lost to Wolves and Leicester City this month to all but end their title bid. Now 11 points behind Liverpool after their shock 1-0 home defeat to Leicester, Chelsea’s manager and players continue to use the same word to sum up their problems: “Mentality.” Or, more precisely, a lack of the correct mentality. This Chelsea team is showing the same signs it did under Jose Mourinho and then Antonio Conte. One minute they can be exhilarating, the next infuriating. Sarri will no doubt be given extra funds to spend in January and again in the summer to try and strengthen this squad, but if this team has a habit of rolling over easily, how easy is that to eradicate? Chelsea are far from title contenders and Sarri-ball is yet to be instilled in the majority of this squad. As soon as they go behind in games they forget to play how Sarri wants them to and panic. Teams who have a chance of winning the league don’t do that.


Southampton might be back

For the first time since April 2017 Southampton have won back-to-back Premier League games. After just a few weeks in charge, the Ralph Hasenhuttl effect is in full swing. Saints ran Huddersfield ragged on Saturday and were clinical in their 3-1 away win against their relegation rivals. Hasenhuttl talked about how important it was to back up their big win against Arsenal last week with a result at Huddersfield. The way his team pressed and used the pace of Nathan Redmond, Danny Ings and Michael Obafemi (who all scored) was a joy to watch as the players are clearly buying into his tactics and benefitting from his tough training sessions. Saints aren’t out of trouble just yet, but they are showing signs that the old Southampton is back. With five academy products in their squad on Saturday and Obafemi becoming Southampton’s youngest-ever goalscorer in the Premier League, Hasenhuttl is showing glimpses that he can return the club to the successful days of when Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman were in charge. A win against West Ham on Dec. 27 (Watch live 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) would cement the notion that Southampton have finally dug themselves out of a huge rut.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Arsenal interest in Navas; Drinkwater to leave?

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Unai Emery is reportedly in the market for more than just a centerback in January.

According to El Confidencial in Spain, Emery is interested in signing Real Madrid goalkeeper Kaylor Navas. The veteran Costa Rica international starred for Real Madrid in their three UEFA Champions League titles in as many years and yet, he’s found himself second-choice this season behind former Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

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The report states that Real Madrid would let Navas leave for around $16 million, a bargain considering his experience and talent. The report then goes on to say Real Madrid would invest that money in signing Brahim Diaz, a reserve at Manchester City who hasn’t made it into Pep Guardiola‘s first team plans.

The idea of signing Navas for Arsenal is a bit of a head-scratcher. While he’s clearly a talented goalkeeper, it would be surprising for Emery to have moved on from two international-caliber goalkeepers in the span of six months. Petr Cech started the season but after a few errors, Bernd Leno, signed last June from Bayer Leverkusen took over. Leno has had some mistakes in the past few games, but most managers would back their goalkeepers to overcome the errors.

If the reports are true, Emery apparently believes he needs a fresh pair of hands in net.

Here are some more transfer stories around the Premier League:

(more…)

Bookies odds for next Man United manager

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The bookmakers are dishing out odds for who the next permanent Manchester United manager will be, but things are a little complicated.

[ MORE: Mourinho fired by United ]

After firing Jose Mourinho on Tuesday it is believed that United will appoint an interim coach who will steady the ship between now and the end of the season. And then they will appoint a new manager in the summer, with a complete restructuring of the club behind-the-scenes with a technical director appointed to help the manager.

Many believe that United’s number one target is Mauricio Pochettino, but Tottenham’s Argentine boss is unlucky to leave midway through the season and with Spurs on the verge of moving into their fantastic new stadium. Pochettino only signed a new deal in the summer, which ties him to Spurs until 2023.

[ MORE: Pogba deletes social media post

Via Oddschecker, here is a look at the favorites to be named the next manager of United.


Zinedine Zidane: 4/1
Laurent Blanc: 10/1
Michael Carrick: 14/1
Antonio Conte: 16/1
Leonardo Jardim: 16/1
Eddie Howe: 16/1
Jupp Heynckes: 20/1
Guus Hiddink: 20/1
Lucien Favre: 25/1
Mauricio Pochettino: 25/1
Nicky Butt: 25/1
Arsene Wenger: 25/1

Top Premier League storylines for Week 16

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The Premier League begins its third round of games in eight days when Liverpool visits Bournemouth early Saturday.

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Here’s what we’ll be watching the closest in England and Wales this weekend.


Sorry form could sound death knell for Chelsea’s title hopes
Chelsea vs. Manchester City, 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC STREAM ]

The visitors are undefeated, reigning champions, and will be considered favorites when they enter Stamford Bridge to meet a Chelsea side which has won just four of the last 12 points available to it.

Maurizio Sarri‘s men will have to do better against Man City than they did in 2017-18 under Antonio Conte, when the Blues lost a pair of 1-0 contests. A loss Saturday would sink Chelsea 13 points back of City.

Gunners go for 21 against game Terriers
Arsenal vs. Huddersfield Town, 10 a.m. ET Saturday on CNBC STREAM ]

Arsenal toppled Spurs before drawing Manchester United, but would do well to consider Huddersfield Town as ornery as the big boys. The desperate Terriers have found some goals in recent weeks, but need results more than hope now. It seems unlikely to come at the Emirates, but that’s why they play the games.

Hasenhuttl takes charge of Saints for big six-pointer
Cardiff City vs. Southampton, 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold STREAM ]

Saints have been in the frying pan for some time, but will feel in the center of the fire should they manage to lose to improving Cardiff City on Saturday in Wales. It’s the first match on the bench for new Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl, who has an impressive record in Germany.

Tottenham heads to Leicester to face tough-to-topple Foxes
Leicester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur, 2:45 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN STREAM ]

Unbeaten in six league matches despite the tragic story of their owners’ death and a trip to Thailand to mourn him, Leicester now gets a visit from a Tottenham Hotspur side who’s rebounded from a North London Derby loss to paste Southampton at midweek. Will the Foxes be able to continue their run up the table against a very good Spurs side?

Klopp, Howe match attack-happy wits at the Vitality Stadium
Bournemouth vs. Liverpool, 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN STREAM ]

The Cherries have proved tough-to-beat at home with a 4W-2D-2L record so far but also unable to take down the big boys. Bournemouth is now 0-4 against Top Four contenders despite its seventh-place start to the season. Enter a Liverpool side just as willing to entertain and the chance to hop into first place for at least a few hours, and this has all the ingredients for a fine start to the season.