PL Sunday preview: Liverpool in chase mode; Arsenal v. Man Utd

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By the time Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures is complete, nearly all 20 clubs will have played 30 games in the 2018-19 season, signaling the official start of the run-in.

[ MORE: What did we learn on a wild PL Saturday? (video) ]

From the title, to the top-four, to the relegation battle, there’s still so much left to play for…

Liverpool v. Burnley — 8 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

From runaway PL title leaders and favorites, to staring a four-point deficit — with a game in hand, albeit — square in the face, the last two months have been anything but ideal for Liverpool. It’s not as if Jurgen Klopp‘s side has cratered and even lost a single game, so much as Manchester City have regained their brilliant, historic form of last season (three points dropped from their last 11 games) and managed to capitalize on the Reds drawing four of their last six. When 17th-place Burnley visit Anfield on Sunday, Klopp and Co., will have their hands full against increasingly desperate opponents who now sit just two points and one place clear of the relegation zone. There can be no looking ahead to Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League clash with Bayern Munich (0-0 after the Reds’ home leg).

As for the Clarets, Sean Dyche‘s side was the very definition of up-and-down since mid-January: three draws, followed by two wins, followed by two losses most recently. Prior to starting their potentially season-saving run just before the start of 2019, Burnley sat 19th in the PL table. After winning three straight to start the new year and eventually extending their run to eight games unbeaten (five wins), they had risen as high as 14th. Back-to-back defeats to fellow relegation battlers Newcastle United and Crystal Palace have since dropped them back into perilous danger as they head northwest to take on one of the Europe’s most prolific, irresistible sides on Sunday.

INJURIES: Liverpool —  OUT: Joe Gomez (ankle), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Dejan Lovren (hamstring) | Burnley — OUT: Aaron Lennon (knee), Steven Defour (calf), Jonathan Walters (achilles)


Chelsea v. Wolverhampton Wanderers — 10:05 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Maurizio Sarri‘s debut season in the PL has been one he, and many Chelsea fans alike, would like to forget. And yet, it’s the sixth-place Blues — of the three teams currently jockeying for fourth place — who control their own destiny, due to having a game in hand and trailing the Champions League places by just two points. Sunday’s opponent, sixth-place Wolves, will be anything but a pushover, which they demonstrated the first time these sides met this season: Wolves 2-1 Chelsea, in December.

Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota inspired Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side to the comeback victory at Molineux Stadium, and the prolific duo (17 goals and nine assists between them this PL campaign) will be desperate to complete the unlikely double over such a giant in their first top-flight season in eight years. Against all odds, it’s Wolves who have lost just once in their last seven league games (four wins), and the Blues who have lost three of their last six (three wins) and suffered a frustrating slide down the table. With a six-point advantage over 11th-place Everton, and Sunday’s game in hand, Wolves are merely a handful of results away from mathematically securing a top-half finish with plenty of the season still to run.

INJURIES: Chelsea —  OUT: None | Wolves — OUT: Ryan Bennett (suspension)


Arsenal v. Manchester United — 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com

The leading contestants for a top-four finish are set to face off in a titanic clash at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday, with the added bonus of making a real push to catch and surpass a Tottenham Hotspur side suddenly spiraling out of control. Man United moved to within three points of Tottenham with their comeback victory over Southampton last weekend, only for those very Saints to do the Red Devils a massive favor on the back end: handing Spurs their third loss in four games.

Three points won’t come easy on Sunday, however, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side was pushed to its limits in the Champions League on Wednesday, only securing their passage to the quarterfinals in the 93rd minute against Paris Saint-Germain. Further complicating matters, United find themselves in the midst of something of an injury crisis (see below). On the bright side, Paul Pogba will be fit and fresh after missing Wednesday’s game due to suspension. On the brightest of bright sides, United remain unbeaten in 12 league games (10 wins) since Solskjaer took over for Jose Mourinho in mid-December.

Arsenal, on the other hand, will be considerably fatigued themselves after losing to Rennes in the Europa League on Thursday, and playing nearly 50 minutes with just 10 men. With dwindling hope of lifting the final trophy still in play for the Gunners, Unai Emery‘s main objective has become exceedingly clear: get the club back into the Champions League for the first time in three years. Three points would not only send Arsenal two points clear of United for fourth, but would also trim the gap between themselves and Spurs to just a single point with eight games left to play.

INJURIES: Arsenal —  OUT: Lucas Torreira (suspension), Hector Bellerin (knee), Danny Welbeck (ankle), Rob Holding (knee) | Man United — OUT: Alexis Sanchez (knee), Jesse Lingard (hamstring), Juan Mata (hamstring), Antonio Valencia (calf); QUESTIONABLE: Anthony Martial (groin), Nemanja Matic (leg), Ander Herrera (hamstring), Phil Jones (illness), Matteo Darmian (undisclosed)

PL Sunday preview: Merseyside, west London derbies on tap

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A big weekend of Premier League derbies wraps up on Sunday, when Merseyside and west London showdowns take center stage with plenty of title and top-four implications.

[ MORE: Man City win, lose KDB | Man United come back, beat Southampton ]

Watford v. Leicester City — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Brendan Rodgers is set to make his return to the PL when he debuts as Leicester manager on Sunday. Rodgers, who was appointed the Foxes’ new boss earlier this week, was in attendance for his new side’s 2-1 victory over Brighton & Hove Albion on Tuesday — a result that snapped the six-game winless skid (five losses) that ultimately cost Claude Puel his job. It was Leicester’s first victory since New Year’s Day. Rodgers was hugely successful at Celtic — two league titles, two Scottish Cups and three League Cups in two-plus seasons — his first stop after being fired by Liverpool in October 2015.

Up first is a trip to eighth-place Watford, a side that went to Anfield and suffered a 5-0 hammering at the hands of Liverpool on Wednesday, just five days after hanging five goals of their own on Cardiff City. The Hornets, under first-year boss Javi Gracia, haven’t lost back-to-back games since the first week of December, a streak which included a 2-1 defeat to Leicester in these sides’ first meeting of 2018-19.

INJURIES: Watford —  OUT: None | Leicester — OUT: Marc Albrighton (hamstring), Daniel Amartey (ankle)


Fulham v. Chelsea — 9:05 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Fulham’s first season back in the PL will almost certainly end with the west London club making an immediate return to the Championship, but that fact hardly suffices to explain the Cottagers’ struggles this season: following Claudio Ranieri‘s dismissal and the appointment of Scott Parker as interim manager, Fulham have now employed the same number of managers as they have won games (4). The deficit they must overcome to pull off the greatest escape the PL has ever seen? 10 points with 10 games left to play, beginning with a visit from nearby Chelsea on Sunday.

Speaking of managers coming under fire of late, Maurizio Sarri‘s situation at Chelsea is hardly any better these days. Not only have the fans turned on him, but the Blues have lost three of their last five league games while also falling flat in the League Cup final. That league form has seen them tumble to sixth in the PL table, now five points back of fourth-place Manchester United, though Chelsea now have a pair of games in hand. Sarri says Kepa Arrizabalaga will reclaim his place as first-choice goalkeeper in one of the next two games after refusing to be subbed off in that final defeat, giving way to Willy Caballero to keep the clean sheet in a 2-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday.

INJURIES: Fulham —  OUT: Alfie Mawson (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Andre Schurrle (illness) | Chelsea — OUT: Danny Drinkwater (undisclosed)


Everton v. Liverpool — 11:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Sure, Liverpool would be delighted to complete their second double over Everton in three seasons’ time, but the Reds will have their sights set much higher than Merseyside dominance on Sunday. Now two points back of Manchester City in the PL title race, Jurgen Klopp‘s side needs all three points from one of its toughest games each season to keep pace with the defending champions and remain on pace to lift England’s top-flight trophy at Anfield for the first time since 1990 (pre-PL era). Having only beaten the Toffees in the season’s first meeting via one of the stranger goals you’ll ever see, the trip to Goodison should prove more difficult than Everton’s ninth-place standing might indicate.

Everton have a bit more confidence now than they would have had this, the 233rd edition of the derby, been played earlier this week. After losing three straight, by a combined score of 6-1, Marco Silva‘s side bounced back with a 3-0 thrashing of Cardiff on Tuesday — a result that might have just bought the first-year Portuguese manager a bit of time. Of particular worry for Everton: star forward Richarlison, who paced the side with 10 goals until Gylfi Sigurdsson‘s brace against Cardiff pulled him one ahead, went without a goal for the entire month of February and has scored just one PL goal since Boxing Day.

INJURIES: Everton —  QUESTIONABLE: Leighton Baines (ribs) | Liverpool — OUT: Dejan Lovren (hamstring), Joe Gomez (ankle), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Roberto Firmino (ankle)

PL Preview: Man United v. Liverpool

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  • Man United has won 7 of last 9 home games against Liverpool
  • 2 teams have a combined 3 PL losses since start of October
  • Liverpool has conceded 8 goals in PL away games this season

Liverpool has to pass a stiff test to reclaim the top spot in the Premier League as the Reds travel to Old Trafford to take on in-form Manchester United at 9:05 a.m. ET live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

The Reds were passed by Manchester City on goal differential at the top of the Premier League table, but any form of result would bring them back into the lead. Still, having held a three-point advantage before City’s obliteration of Chelsea, anything less than a win will feel like dropped points for the visitors despite the challenge.

Manchester United comes into the match having won eight of its last nine Premier League matches, with a 2-2 draw against Burnley the only blemish on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s record. Manchester United’s last loss came at the hand of this Liverpool side, a 3-1 result that ended Jose Mourinho’s tenure as Red Devils manager. They could receive a surprise boost as both Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial are in contention to earn a place despite recent injuries.

For Liverpool, they will see Virgil Van Dijk return to the defensive lineup after his suspension against Bayern Munich in midweek Champions League play, but he will be without his usual defensive partner in Dejan Lovren who continues to work his way back from a hamstring injury. While Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has returned to Liverpool training, but still has work to do to return to the pitch after missing almost a full year with a knee injury.

What they’re saying

Solskjaer on playing rivals Liverpool: “I’m focusing on us and what we have to do to get to where we want to be. It’s a three-horse race for the title and fourth, that’s my focus. I played a few of these [against Liverpool] myself and know the magnitude of it for the fans and everyone who works here. It’s our job to be focusing and channelling all that energy into performance mode when we start the game on Sunday.”

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp on interim MUFC boss Solskjaer: “There is no doubt that he will be the manager next year as well, that’s clear. Can you imagine one situation when they say ‘We are bringing in another manager?’ Then a new manager will lose one game and that’s not possible. He deserves [the job] 100% – he did everything that you have to do to be successful with them.”

Video preview

Prediction

Liverpool will be up for this match, but the competition is stiff. Both teams will be smart about picking their spots, and it should be an entertaining match. A 1-1 draw seems like the best guess in a massively important match that could go in either direction, with the result promising to help shape the top four for the remainder of the season.

Fans who want to try their hand at predicting PL games can down the NBC Sports Predictor app, with a chance to win up to $50,000 each week. Download it on iOS or Google Play.

Champions League preview: Bayern visit Anfield; Lyon v. Barcelona

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Liverpool and Bayern Munich are set to battle for 180 minutes beginning on Tuesday, when last season’s UEFA Champions League finalists host the reigning Bundesliga champions at Anfield, and Reds boss Jurgen Klopp is as anxious as anyone to watch the drama unfold.

[ FA CUP: Paul Pogba scores, assists as Man Utd bounce Chelsea (video) ]

“It’s another one of those games I’m really happy to be involved in, and if I wasn’t involved, I would try and buy tickets,” Liverpool’s German manager said this week. “It’s a tough one against a really strong, experienced team, but we are strong as well. Only more stress [facing Bayern], because all the people wanted 600 extra interviews with German news.”

Liverpool will be fully prepared and well drilled after having no game during the most recent FA Cup weekend. By the time the referee’s whistle blows for kickoff at 3 p.m. ET, 10 days will have passed since the Reds thrashed Bournemouth in PL play.

Liverpool will definitely be without the trio of Virgil Van Dijk (suspension), Joe Gomez (leg) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), while Roberto Firmino (illness), Dejan Lovren (hamstring) and Xherdan Shaqiri (abdominal strain) are questionable to varying degrees. Central midfielder Fabinho could be forced into central defense as a result. On the other side, Niko Kovac’s side will be without the services of Thomas Mueller (suspended), Jerome Boateng (illness), Corentin Tolisso (knee ligaments) and Arjen Robben (thigh). Kingsley Coman (ankle) is expected to be available for selection after picking up an injury over the weekend.

[ FA CUP DRAW: Man City, Man United avoid derby showdown ]

Elsewhere in Europe, runaway La Liga leaders Barcelona will visit Ligue 1’s third-place side, Lyon. Though Lionel Messi and Co., head into Tuesday’s first leg as heavy favorites to reach the quarterfinals, Ernesto Valverde’s side has won just one of its last four games (all competitions).

They have, however, been nearly infallible in Europe competition this season, as they waltzed to the top spot in Group B, finishing a full six points clear of Tottenham Hotspur and Inter Milan. Even Messi has seen his form dip ever so slightly in recent weeks, as the Argentine magician has scored just once in his last three appearances (two starts). Those relative struggles comes on the heels of a nine-game goal streak which saw the 31-year-old score a dozen times. He has been his usually brilliant self this season, and will cause Lyon all kinds of problems from the outset.

Lyon will be without star attacker Nabil Fekir (suspension), which could prove a further crippling blow to their chances.

Lovren, Firmino huge doubts for Liverpool v. Bayern Munich

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Liverpool could be seriously shorthanded for their massive UEFA Champions League last 16 first leg against Bayern Munich at Anfield on Tuesday.

[ MORE: PL or UCL priority for LFC? ]

Dejan Lovren and Roberto Firmino did not take part in Liverpool’s final training session before their game against Bayern to give Jurgen Klopp more selection worries.

It has been reported that Firmino has a virus, while Lovren has been struggling with a hamstring problem and was always going to be a last-minute decision for the clash against the German giants.

Fabinho now looks certain to start alongside Joel Matip in central defense for Liverpool on Tuesday, as Virgil Van Dijk is suspended and Joe Gomez is injured.

As for up top, the likes of Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge could be placed in Firmino’s spot but it is likely Xherdan Shaqiri (if he is fully fit) will come into the team and Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane will switch to a central position in the front three.

Either way, not ideal for Liverpool as they have a huge week with this game against Bayern followed by a massive Premier League game at bitter rivals Manchester United on Sunday.

In terms of Bayern’s injury news, Kingsley Coman has recovered from a knock in Friday’s win at Augsburg but Jerome Boateng is out through illness. Arjen Robben is recovering from injury and did not travel with the squad, while Franck Ribery will arrive in Liverpool separate from the team after becoming a father late on Sunday.