Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

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

Leave a comment

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)

Top PL storylines for Week 21

Getty Images
Leave a comment

We are officially halfway through the Premier League season (plus one), and the title race is not only shaping up, it’s rounding into form. Liverpool leads the way with a healthy margin, but should Manchester City or Tottenham get hot, one slip (sorry, Steven Gerrard) could see it all fall to pieces.

With the festive period in full swing, teams look to navigate the fixture congestion as best they can. It’s not easy, as players can get injured if they don’t receive enough rest to recuperate their bodies from difficult matches. So, as the managers play merry-go-round with their squads, let’s look at what some of the top storylines are headed into the midweek matches that begin the new year.

Manchester City meets Liverpool with high expectations
Manchester City v. Liverpool, 3:00 p.m. ET, Thursday on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

The last time these two teams met in early October, the world exploded with anticipation, and were treated to a 0-0 dud. Back then, it was understandable given both sides would rather earn a point against a solid opponent than lose a match early in the season and hand a title rival all three points. Now, Manchester City cannot afford to fall further behind in the race, and needs points in a direct head-to-head with the Reds given Liverpool is unlikely to open the door with too many dropped points the rest of the way.

It promises to be an explosive matchup with it all on the line. Last year, this match produced a 4-3 thriller that Liverpool won game of the year in our 2018 year in review. Can the teams give fans what they crave and set the winner up for a great 2019, or will another draw keep the status quo?

Can Tottenham rebound again?
Cardiff City v. Tottenham, 12:30 p.m. ET, Tuesday on NBCSN STREAM ]

Spurs has lost just five times this season. After three of the previous four, Spurs rattled off at least three straight wins (somehow, they have not drawn a single match this season – an insane realization). So, after disappointingly falling 3-1 to Wolves last time out, can they turn things around against Cardiff City on short rest?

Mauricio Pochettino‘s squad is reeling from a few key injuries, especially to the midfield, where Victor Wanyama, Mousa Dembele, Eric Dier and Erik Lamela will all be missing, plus Jan Vertonghen is out as well. Despite the injury struggles, Spurs had conceded just two goals over five wins prior to the Wolves loss. Against Cardiff, Spurs can potentially get it rolling again and gain some momentum with a key match against Manchester United around the corner.

Will reeling Arsenal save its Top 4 hopes, or will Fulham save its season?
Arsenal v. Fulham, 10:00 a.m. ET, Tuesday on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

Fulham has begun to put things together under Claudio Ranieri, on a three-match unbeaten run and even earning a pair of clean sheets over that span, but the Whites’ squad still has plenty of deficiencies. That could be exactly what the doctor ordered for an Arenal side with just one win and four points over its last four matches.

The Gunners sit five points back of the Champions League places, and with Manchester United lurking right behind them, any more unexpected slips could be the end of their top four hope this season. Against a Fulham squad knocking on the door of safety but losing its most steady defender in Alfie Mawson to a knee injury, Arsenal needs to turn on the jets or be left in the dust in Unai Emery‘s first season.

Chelsea looks to keep pace near the top against do-or-die Saints
Chelsea v. Southampton, 3:00 p.m. ET, Wednesday on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

Southampton is in dire trouble, but Chelsea has its own lives to worry about – Champions League lives. Chelsea sits in fourth place, five points above Arsenal and two back of Tottenham as the Blues look to continue its improvement under Maurizio Sarri. Still, there’s a more dire feeling about the second half of the season for Chelsea with Eden Hazard potentially moving on this summer. The Blues clobbered Southampton last time around, and would love another big win to start 2019 off right. Southampton, meanwhile, has lost two in a row and needs to build on the pair of wins from earlier in December.

Top 5 Premier League games of 2018

Getty Images
1 Comment

As we continue our Best Of series on the final day of 2018, we look back on what was a wild ride in the English top flight. Between Manchester City’s dominance, Liverpool’s rise, Manchester United’s roller coaster ride, Tottenham’s slow evolution, and the rest of the league’s parity, we were gifted with some fabulous and entertaining results. Here are the ones that gave us the most enjoyment in what was a fantastic pool to choose from.

5) Manchester City 2-3 Manchester United

In just a few days, one of these teams would secure one of the most dominant Premier League title runs in the history of the league. One of these teams would sack its manager before the calendar year was out. And yet, that is not how this game unfolded.

[ MORE: Best of 2018 series ]

Needing a win to secure the Premier League title – a win they would get a few days later – City opened the game 2-0 in front by the half-hour mark. Vincent Kompany scored a thumping header – his first league goal since the final day of the previous season – and Ilkay Gundogan doubled the lead in the 30th minute on a fabulous spin. From there, City would completely lose its shooting boots, allowing their rivals to come back into the game. Gundogan hit the bar minutes after his goal, and Paul Pogba scored after the break to bring United within one. Pogba would find another moments later with a perfect header, and that would lead to Chris Smalling‘s winner in the 69th minute. David De Gea had to make a stunning save on Sergio Aguero’s header, and again on Raheem Sterling who had a tap-in but barely made contact. This Manchester derby was the stuff of legends, although the losers in this battle ultimately won the war.

4) Liverpool 2-2 Tottenham

Liverpool gave us goals upon goals upon goals in the 2017/18 season – and are continuing to do so in this campaign – so they rightly appear multiple times on this list. For this wonderful game from last season, three goals were scored in the final 10 minutes of regulation plus stoppage time as the teams split the points. Mohamed Salah scored just three minutes into the match thanks to a terrible mistake by Eric Dier, and 1-0 was the score all the way through until the final 10 minutes when game elevated to bonkers status.

In the 80th minute, Victory Wanyama scored an absolute missile into the top corner after Karius punched an earlier effort, a goal worthy to be the trigger to the wild portion of this game. With three minutes to go in regulation, Karius sliced down Harry Kane in the penalty area, but the ensuing spot-kick by Kane was right down the middle and Karius stood firm to keep it out. In the first minute of stoppage time, Salah grabbed his second weaving through traffic to send Jurgen Klopp flying down the sidelines, but with the absolute last kick of the game, Virgil Van Dijk hacked at Erik Lamela‘s leg and Kane could atone from the penalty spot, scoring to level the match.

3) Arsenal 4-2 Tottenham

What would this list be without a pulsating North London derby? With the chance to jump Spurs in the table, Arsenal won a back-and-forth game that saw the winning goal scored with 15 minutes remaining. While the Gunners jumped out to a 1-0 lead, Spurs went 2-1 up before halftime on a Harry Kane penalty after Rob Holding fouled Heung-Min Son in the area. After halftime, it was all Gunners as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leveled the score and Alexandre Lacazette came off the bench to put the hosts up for good. Lucas Torreira bagged his first Arsenal goal with 13 minutes remaining for the icing on the cake.

The game wasn’t without the usual vitriol, as Eric Dier equalized at 1-1 before celebrating in front of Arsenal fans, causing a small melee that saw Gunners substitutes get involved, as well as Spurs head coach Mauricio Pochettino who came running in to help break things up. Pochettino after the match blamed recent European play for Spurs’ second-half meltdown, and while Arsenal temporarily had control of the table for a short time, Spurs would eventually jump back ahead of them and remain in front by Christmas.

2) Manchester City 2-3 Crystal Palace

It’s absolutely incredible that Manchester City has proven so dominant of late, and yet they appear on this list three times – all losses. When you’re at the top, there’s a target on your back, and that has proven the case with City this season. Crystal Palace became the second team to take down the defending champions this campaign, and did so in come-from-behind fashion.

Ilkay Gundoguan put Man City ahead just before the half-hour mark, but the visitors at the Etihad would score the next three, including THAT goal from Andros Townsend, a strike that will be tough to beat for Goal of the Season. After the match, Roy Hodgson said Townsend had “one of those bonanza days,” and he couldn’t have picked a better stage to perform at such a level.

1) Liverpool 4-3 Manchester City

Last season’s match of the year has yet to be beaten, a thrilling January match between two heavyweights that set the stage for the coming calendar year. It was the first loss of the entire league season for Man City, coming in Liverpool’s first game without Philippe Coutinho (remember him?). It provided the blueprint for beating Manchester City, as Pep Guardiola lost just five Premier League matches the entire 2018 calendar year, and three of them appear on this list.

With the teams even at 1-1 at the break thanks to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Leroy Sane, the Reds pounced on either side of the hour mark. Roberto Firmino bagged the first, and Sadio Mane scored the goal of the game with a blast into the top corner on a break. Ederson made a rare mistake to gift Liverpool a fourth, which proved to be decisive as City scored two goals in the final six minutes to give the Reds a scare. It was a scintillating match, and one that we’ll remember as the best of the year.

Premier League preview: Tottenham v. Wolves

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tottenham Hotspur looks to continue its hot streak as Spurs host Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday at 10:00 a.m. ET live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

Spurs have rattled off five straight since a rivalry loss to Arsenal to Arsenal in early December, and they have found themselves in second place, above Manchester City with one match remaining in 2018. Tottenham has set a club record for most points at the halfway stage of a Premier League season with 45, and their sights are now set on a title race.

[ WATCH LIVE: Spurs v. Wolves live on NBCSports.com ]

They will be sweating a late fitness test from Dele Alli, who is hoping to shake off a hamstring injury to play in the Wolves match. Should he miss out, he would join a growing injury list for Spurs, including Mousa Dembele, Eric Dier, Jan Vertonghen and Victor Wanyama. Serge Aurier is also a question mark, having just returned to training from an injury.

For Wolves, who have gained just a single point in their last two matches after a three-game winning streak, Diogo Jota will again miss out due to a hamstring injury. The mini two-game winless skid has coincided with Jota’s injury, with the midfielder proving instrumental over the three-match win streak.

What they’re saying

Pochettino on playing through fixture congestion: “We’re in good momentum and it’s so important to keep that momentum. You cannot stop. We always try to give our best and then do everything to try to recover all the energy to be ready to compete again.”

Wolves manager Nuno on Spurs: “We will go there to compete. They are in a very good moment, 11 goals in two matches in a very busy moment of the season. They are doing very well, it shows the quality of the squad, of the management and we look at Tottenham knowing it’s going to be hard game. We have to fear all the teams in the Premier League. We have to respect and know the opponent has all the qualities.”

Prediction

This will be an entertaining match between two well-coached teams that play an enjoyable style. Yet, Spurs is in great form, and the absence of Diogo Jota neutralizes Wolves’ squad just enough to leave them vulnerable. The home side wins 2-0.

PL Preview: Spurs, now dreaming of top-two, visit Everton

Leave a comment

While Sunday’s slate of Premier League action offers up just a solitary fixture, it’s a game with plenty on the line in terms of European qualification and — dare I say it? — a late entrant into the title race…

[ MORE: What did we learn in the Premier League, Week 18? ]

Everton v. Tottenham Hotspur — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

The extenuating circumstances making life as difficult as possible for Mauricio Pochettino‘s Tottenham side have been well documented by now — signing no players this summer, the still ongoing stadium saga, the miles-long list of injuries, and now the constant talk of Pochettino leaving for Manchester United. Yet, Spurs find themselves third in the PL table — two points clear of Chelsea and Arsenal — with a game in hand for 24 hours and a chance to move to within two points of second-place Manchester City, if they can manage a win away to Everton on Sunday; the gap between themselves and leaders Liverpool would once again be six points.

While the style and quality of soccer played has suffered — understandably, given the key players so frequently unavailable — this fall and winter has seen Spurs realize a certain level of fighting spirit and togetherness in the face of adversity that has not recently, if ever, been associated with the club. In Pochettino-like terms, the project has — against all odds — advanced to the next level. Even the Spurs fans — a notoriously pessimistic bunch always forecasting the club’s best player being sold to Real Madrid or a late-season collapse set to hit once all the luck runs out — are buying into the idea of Spurs having real staying power as one of the PL’s elite sides.

Everton, on the other side of Sunday’s battle at Goodison Park, have enjoyed an equally uncharacteristically optimistic period since Marco Silva debuted as manager in August. Though results have gone a bit sideways in recent weeks (winless in their last four league games), the Toffees sit 11th in the table and would climb all the way up to seventh with three points against Spurs. It’s games like Sunday – against one of the PL’s top-six sides — which have vexed Everton, though, as they’ve managed just a single point from five games against the big boys this season (a 0-0 draw with Chelsea last month).

INJURIES: Everton — OUT: James McCarthy (fitness) | Tottenham — OUT: Jan Vertonghen (thigh), Davinson Sanchez (hamstring), Eric Dier (appendectomy), Mousa Dembele (ankle), Victor Wanyama (knee), Serge Aurier (groin)