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PL Sunday preview: Litmus test time for Spurs, Man United

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures will see a pair of top-four hopefuls do battle head-to-head, as Tottenham Hotspur host Manchester United at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: What we learned in the Premier League, Week 22 ]

Everton v. Bournemouth — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

With just one win in their last eight PL outings, Everton will be hoping that their narrow victory over League Two side Lincoln City in the FA Cup last weekend will help to right the ship once back in league play. Marco Silva‘s fingers crossed it does the trick after slipping to 11th in the league table.

“Winning matches is the best way to win confidence and to start playing at our best level,” he said this week. “The best way to show (our quality) is by the results and the wins. We achieved the main thing against Lincoln and we have to work strongly again to achieve a good result in the next match.”

INJURIES: Everton — OUT: None | Bournemouth — OUT: Lewis Cook (knee), Simon Francis (knee), Adam Smith (knee), Dan Gosling (knee), Dominic Solanke (hamstring)


Tottenham Hotspur v. Man United — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Sunday’s showdown at Wembley will serve as a litmus test for both Tottenham and Man United, as well as their respective managers. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will put his unblemished record as United boss on the line against Mauricio Pochettino, who might just replace him at Old Trafford in the summer.

With all due respect to the likes of Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town, third-place Spurs will pose a challenge Solskjaer’s side has not yet seen since Jose Mourinho was fired following a humbling defeat to Liverpool last month. United didn’t fare so well the first time these sides met this season, as the Red Devils suffered a thoroughly embarrassing 3-0 defeat that home in August. While Solskjaer has restored the attacking intent at United, he will be without a number of key defensive figures on Sunday, with Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, Eric Bailly, Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian all reportedly unavailable or left out of the squad.

Along the same lines, Spurs are enjoying their best run of results all season, despite experiencing a rash of injuries — particularly to the midfield, where Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko have, somehow, become an irreplaceable duo. Finally, Eric Dier (appendectomy) is expected to return, as is defender Jan Vertonghen (thigh), thus affording Pochettino a majority of first-choice midfield and defensive options. Son Heung-min, who has amassed seven goals and five assists in his last seven games (all competitions), will play on Sunday before departing to join up with South Korea at the Asian Cup. It was agreed between the two side that Son remain with his club until after the game against United, missing the first two group games in the process.

INJURIES: Tottenham —  OUT: Mousa Dembele (ankle), Victor Wanyama (knee) | Man United — OUT: Eric Bailly (suspension), Chris Smalling (foot), Marcos Rojo (undisclosed)

Mourinho hits out at ‘injury prone’ Man United; praises Liverpool

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LIVERPOOL — Jose Mourinho insisted he was happy with the effort of his players in their 3-1 defeat at bitter rivals Liverpool on Sunday, but it didn’t take Manchester United’s manager long to start having a dig at his players “physicality”.

Once again.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Mourinho spoke to reporters after the humiliating defeat at Anfield, as the scoreline didn’t tell the story of just how dominant Liverpool were.

United lost Chris Smalling in the warm up and played an injured Eric Bailly, struggling Victor Lindelof and Ashley Young as the likes of Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia were missing amid a string of injuries.

When asked about the style of his team Portuguese coach once again referred to “mad dogs” he had in his previous teams, and once again suggested this United squad do not possess the grit and ability to play through injury that he needs.

“First of all we have lots of problems related with physicality,” Mourinho said. “We have lots of players that I could consider injury prone. Some of our players are always injured. It is not just with me, it is before me. If you look to the stats with Mr. Van Gaal and David [Moyes], in that period we have players that are permanently injured. When you are permanently injured physicality is very hard to get.”

He then went on to describe the qualities his team has, and seemed to go around in circles before lauding Liverpool’s physical, high intensity players.

“Then you have qualities which a player either does or he doesn’t have. You cannot improve, make them have, I give you an example: Robertson, Mane, Salah, Wijnaldum, Keita, Fabinho. They are physical players, on top of that they are good players technically, I also have lots of good players, technically, but we don’t have many players with that intensity, with that physicality,” Mourinho said. “So when the game has high levels of intensity it is difficult for us. First 20 minutes was difficult for us. Then when we had the ball, the tension and intensity went down it was easier for us to be in the game and to bring the game into our side, to play the way we can. Those are our qualities.”

Not content with lauding Liverpool’s intensity and having a pop at the lack of physicality of United’s squad, Mourinho then went on a trip down memory lane, rattling off how great his teams at Porto, Real Madrid and Inter Milan were in different playing systems.

“You look to say some times that it is the managers choice. You can compare my Porto team with Liverpool. The qualities of the players are there,” Mourinho said. “It was my best team in defensive transition. We lose the ball, we bite like mad dogs and recover the ball after two seconds. In Real Madrid I had my best team in direct counter attack because I had young Di Maria, young Ronaldo, young Higuain and young Benzema. We killed everybody in offensive transition. In Inter I had my best team in a defensive low block, Materazzi, Samuel, Lucio, Cordoba in a low block you can be there five hours and you don’t concede a goal. Players make teams play in a certain way.”

Right now, whatever players Mourinho has at his disposal aren’t getting it done as they’re 11 points off the top four and have now lost away at Man City and Liverpool, as well as Brighton and West Ham.

“I believe we are going to make many more points in the second part of the season than we did in the first part,” Mourinho said. “I know we lost some of the other matches, but we played away at Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City, probably the three best teams apart from Tottenham. We played with them away.”

The excuses keep on rolling out of Mourinho’s mouth and with United’s banged up squad, and with star players being left on the bench such as Paul Pogba, the Red Devils look like they have no clear plan and are destined to finish outside of the top four.

One word can sum up United’s season so far under Mourinho: regression.

It is tough to see how he is going to turn this tide around and last beyond the end of the 2018-19 campaign.

Report: Valencia wants to leave Man United

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You know things are bad at Manchester United when Antonio Valencia could leave the club in the middle of the season.

According to a bombshell report in The Times of London, Valencia is considering his future and could depart in January for greener pastures. The 33-year-old hasn’t played a Premier League match in three months despite being named club captain over the summer, as Mourinho has often went with Ashley Young or Matteo Darmian in league games. Valencia did play in Man United’s 2-1 defeat to Valencia CF.

The Ecuadorian veteran has sacrificed a lot in his career for Man United. Since joining in 2009 from Wigan, Valencia accepted moving back from an attacking right winger to playing right midfield and eventually right back or right wing back. And yet, despite the sacrifice and work defensively, Mourinho hasn’t trusted him this season.

Valencia leaving says a lot about the current situation at Man United, where even club favorites feel they are not respected enough. Should Valencia leave, it would be a great mid-season pickup for any Premier League side.

Man United sleepwalk in Valencia loss

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  • Soler beats Romero for opener
  • Jones scores ghastly own goal
  • Rashford pulls one back

Manchester United wasted a chance to win its Champions League group by falling 2-1 to Valencia at the Mestalla Stadium on Wednesday.

Marcus Rashford‘s 87th minute goal was all United could muster in the loss.

Young Boys stunned Juventus in Switzerland to open the door for Jose Mourinho’s men, but a Carlos Soler low drive and a Phil Jones own goal were United’s undoing.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Antonio Valencia was extremely fortunate not to be sent off for a horrible studs-up tackle on Toni Lato that left the defender requiring medical attention for a gash.

Valencia, the club, scored through Soler’s low drive through traffic, which beat Sergio Romero.

The Spanish side missed two chances to make it 2-0, with Michy Batshuayi mis-hitting a terrific Cristiano Piccini cross and Geoffrey Kondogbia stymied by Marouane Fellaini‘s marking.

Pogba missed a straight-forward chance to level the score when Fellaini pounded a header into his path, but the French star hit the ball wide of the gaping frame from inside the six.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Michy Batshuayi ran alongside Phil Jones, and the English defender slid to push a perfect shot… past his own goalkeeper, David De Gea.

Injury update: Ings, Vardy doubts, Mendy, Silva out, United’s stars return

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Ahead of the Premier League’s return on Saturday, there are plenty of injury updates around the league.

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With the international break always causing a headache for PL managers as their stars give their all for their nations and have to travel thousands of miles around the globe, the past 24 hours has been about assessing which players are fit and ready for the weekend.

Here’s a look at some of the key players who could be missing and who may be back for their teams after a rest over the past 10 days or so.


Manchester United
Jose Mourinho has revealed that both Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba are fit to play against Crystal Palace, with the duo not linking up with France over the international break due to injuries. Romelu Lukaku is fit “with a risk” and the likes of Antonio Valencia, Marcus Rashford and Marouane Fellaini are all available to play.


Manchester City
Pep Guardiola has confirmed that Bernardo Silva will miss City’s trip to West Ham this weekend after picking up a knock on international duty, while Benjamin Mendy had successful knee surgery but will be out for the next 12 weeks.


Tottenham Hotspur
Mousa Dembele is in Qatar having treatment on an ankle injury, while Kieran Trippier, Davinson Sanchez and Danny Rose remain out. Rose has returned to training and could be back soon, while Sanchez is unlikely to be back until January 2019 with a hamstring injury. The good news: Jan Vertonghen has recovered from his hamstring injury and could play against Chelsea this Saturday.


Leicester City
Jamie Vardy has a groin injury and is a doubt for Leicester who travel to Brighton, as Claude Puel also has to deal with Harry Maguire remaining out and James Madisson struggling with a knee injury. The English trio have been key for the Foxes this season, so this is no doubt a blow.


Everton
A big boost for Marco Silva as midfielders Gylfi Sigurdsson and Andre Gomes are both available to play against Cardiff City on Saturday. The duo have been a key part of Everton’s recent good form with Gomes linking things together in midfield and Sigurdsson creating chances and scoring goals.


Southampton
Saints’ top scorer Danny Ings is a huge doubt for their massive trip to fellow strugglers Fulham. Ings has scored over half of Southampton’s goals this season, but Mark Hughes revealed Ings is still struggling with a hamstring injury which forced him off in the first half against Watford before the break. 


Fulham
Talking about Fulham, new manager Claudio Ranieri revealed he will be without Frank Anguissa and Kevin McDonald for his first game in charge, against Southampton at Craven Cottage.


Crystal Palace
Roy Hodgson has confirmed Wilfried Zaha is fit after missing the game against Tottenham before the break. Palace will need Zaha’s power and pace on the break against his former club, as a tough trip to Old Trafford awaits the out of form Eagles.