Grant Hanley

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PL Sunday preview: Arsenal’s post-Emery era; Man Utd host Villa

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures features four games, including (but not limited to) the first game of the post-Unai Emery era at Arsenal, Manchester United with a chance to climb into fifth place, and what could be the final game of Marco Silva‘s tenure at Everton.

[ MORE: Mourinho praises “phenomenal” Dele Alli, Spurs supporters ]

Arsenal v. Norwich City — 9 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Unai Emery was fired by Arsenal on Friday, making way for the Freddie Ljungberg (interim) era to begin on Sunday. With no obvious candidate standing out from all the others, Ljungberg, a long-time favorite as a Gunners player, could be given the chance to impress and have the “interim” tag removed, a la Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a year ago. After taking just three points from their last five PL games, Arsenal have fallen to ninth place, eight points behind fourth-place Chelsea, and could finish the weekend as low as 10th place. On the other hand, a win over 19th-place Norwich would see them climb up to fifth, a point ahead of north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur. Norwich’s Teemu Pukki, who took the PL by storm with five goals in his first three games, hasn’t found the back of the net since Sept. 14, a run of eight straight goal-less games for the Fininish forward.

INJURIES: Arsenal —  OUT: Dani Ceballos (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: Hector Bellerin (hamstring), David Luiz (ribs), Shkodran Mustafi (foot) | Norwich  — OUT: Alexander Tettey (personal), Grant Hanley (groin), Timm Klose (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Jamal Lewis (knee), Josip Drmic (hamstring)


Wolves v. Sheffield United — 9 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Through 13 games of their debut season in the PL, Sheffield United are threatening to “do a Wolves,” in so much that the newly promoted side currently sits seventh — where Wolves finished last season — following a red-hot start. Following a poor start of their own (zero wins from their first six games), Wolves have rebounded nicely (unbeaten in their last eight, including four wins) and climbed all the way up to sixth (each side sat a place higher coming into the weekend).

INJURIES: Wolves —  OUT: Willy Boly (ankle), Ryan Bennett (groin), Romain Saiss (suspension), Morgan Gibbs-White (back) | Sheffield United  — OUT: None


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

Nearly four months into the season, Man United are still without back-to-back PL victories. In fact, they’ve not repeated the same result — win, loss or draw — in consecutive league games all season. The Red Devils ave been, if anything, consistently inconsistent. After drawing Sheffield United 3-3 last time out, the best Solskjaer’s side can do on Sunday is get halfway there ahead of Tottenham’s blockbuster visit, and Jose Mourinho’s return, on Wednesday. United’s injury list remains extensive — and expensive — as Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly remain out, with Nemanja Matic perhaps set to return on Sunday. As for Villa, Dean Smith‘s side snapped a three-game losing skid last time out by thoroughly besting Newcastle United at Villa Park to put four points between themselves and the relegation zone. Following Southampton’s victory on Saturday, that gap is already down to two points.

INJURIES: Man United —  OUT: Paul Pogba (ankle), Eric Bailly (knee), Marcos Rojo (undisclosed), Diogo Dalot (groin); QUESTIONABLE: Nemanja Matic (groin), Scott McTominay (ankle) | Aston Villa  — OUT: Jed Steer (calf), Jota (hernia); QUESTIONABLE: Bjorn Engels (hip)


Leicester City v. Everton — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Every defeat in the coming days could prove to be the final day of Silva’s employment as Everton manager, with the Toffees entering Sunday’s trip to the King Power Stadium in 17th place. It’s not just the number of losses for Everton (seven) on the season thus far, but the sides to which they’ve lost (Villa, Bournemouth, Sheffield United, Burnley, Brighton & Hove Albion and Norwich, to name most of them) that stands out as most embarrassing for a club that thought it would be competing for the top-six this season. Leicester, meanwhile, have happily and swiftly taken their place as the side most likely to break up the monotony of the same clubs finishing atop the table every season. The Foxes entered the weekend in second place (they have since fallen to second), eight points back of Liverpool (now 11), on the back of five straight league victories. Jamie Vardy‘s 12 goals have garnered most of the headlines, but the play-making duo of James Maddison and Youri Tielemans have been arguably more enjoyable to watch

INJURIES: Leicester —  OUT: Matty James (achilles) | Everton  — OUT: Andre Gomes (ankle), Theo Walcott (knock), Jean-Philippe Gbamin (thigh), Morgan Schneiderlin (knock), Fabian Delph (hamstring), Cuco Martina (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Bernard (knee)

Premier League Preview: Norwich City v. Watford

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Two teams more than a result away from safety hope to get a season-changing win at Carrow Road on Friday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET, online at NBCSports.com).

Hosts Norwich City enter the match with seven points, the second worst total in the league to its visitors: basement-dwelling, winless Watford.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

“This will be like a big, big final for both teams,” said Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores.

Watford’s performances have improved dramatically, but the Hornets are six points back of 17th. Norwich has two more points, but their performances have been a far cry from the team that beat Man City and took Chelsea to the limit.


Injuries/suspensions

Norwich City: OUT — Timm Klose, Christoph Zimmermann, Grant Hanley. QUESTIONABLE — Mario Vrancic.

Watford: OUT — Domingos Quina, Danny Welbeck. QUESTIONABLE — Craig Cathcart.


Probable lineups

Norwich City: Krul, Aarons, Tettey, Godfrey, Lewis, Cantwell, McLean, Buendia, Stiepermann, Hernandez, Pukki.

Watford: Foster, Masina, Kabasele, Dawson, Janmaat, Doucoure, Chalobah, Hughes, Pereyra, Deulofeu, Gray.


What they’re saying

Norwich boss Daniel Farke on the mood: “I think it’s important as a coach to face reality, you can’t make jokes and have fun, you’ve got to address the elephant in the room to help them regain confidence. I don’t punish my players, it’s about helping them improve and believe in themselves.”

The Hornets’ Flores on why this match matters: “It is not the end of the season but it is a big final for both of us and the way the game and result can change the future for both teams will be massive.”


Prediction

Troy Deeney comes off the bench to make a difference in his return from injury, and Watford wins 2-1.

PL Sunday Preview: Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal, Man United in action

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures will have it all, as Arsenal and Crystal Palace battle for the fifth spot; Wolverhampton Wanderers look to continue their positive run against Newcastle; Manchester United look to snap a four-game winless streak as they take on a struggling Norwich City; and Liverpool look to continue their unbeaten season as they host Tottenham.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Newcastle vs. Wolves — 10:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

With Andy Carroll injured and weeks removed from their victory over Manchester United, the blues that has permeated thoughtout Newcastle United under Steve Bruce is back full force.

There’s a plethora of questions surrounding Bruce’s employment status, owner Mike Ashley and record signing Miguel Almiron, but, from the looks of it, the Magpies have very few answers to offer. At St, James’ Park against Wolves, who have cleaned up their act – eight points in their last four league matches – since starting the season poorly, Newcastle have the chance to answer the long list of questions.

Bruce, confident of his side true abilities, recognizes that Sunday’s match will be a tough task.

“Wolves have got good players who play in a certain system and do it very well,” the 58-year-old manager said ahead of the match. “They’re a threat – they’re a good side. We’re at home against a very decent Wolves side but we’re capable – we know that – and we’ll have to be at our best to win.”

Wolves, on the other hand, are in the best shape they’ve been all season. Second place in their Europa League group and unbeaten in their last four Premier League bouts, Nuno Espirito Santo is galvanizing his players, specifically Raul Jimenez who has scored or assisted in his last three competitive matches.

With Newcastle as their next stop, there’s a good chance Wolves’ (and Jimenez’s) fine run can continue.

INJURIES: Newcastle — OUT: Andy Carroll (groin), Fabian Schär (knee), Florian Lejeune (knee, Nov); SUSPENDED: Isaac Hayden| Wolves — OUT: None

Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace — 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

On paper, there is no tighter contest this matchweek than Arsenal versus Crystal Palace.

Only a point separates the Gunners – fifth on the table – from Palace, who are putting together a surprising season under Roy Hodgson – especially taking in consideration the unproductiveness from Wilfried Zaha.

Even though Nicolas Pepe, whose arrival at the Emirates broke the club’s record, stepped up for Arsenal midweek in Europa League play, it’s Mesut Özil’s omission from the squad that has everyone glued on the North London club. Will he return to take on a competitive Palace? Probably not, but that won’t improve the Eagles’ chances, who accept that they are facing one of the fiercest attacking teams led by Andre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

“Arsenal have had a very good start to the season,” Hodgson confessed. “Their attack is very, very dangerous. We realise we are going to face a team with enormous firepower and a team that run a lot and team that are very good with the ball.”

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Reiss Nelson (knee) | Crystal Palace — OUT: Connor Wickham (knock), Mamadou Sakho (knee)

Norwich City vs. Manchester United — 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Manchester United are far from being 100 percent, but with the returns of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Anthony Martial this week, the Red Devils can make a much-needed statement of intent as they travel to Carrow Road.

Obviously, the prime objective for Ole Gunnar Solskjær and company is now to get the club out of the lamentable position they are in – 15th on the table after 9 bouts. But the reality is that they have to build their way there by overwriting ongoing deficits. In their last 19 competitive matches, United have scored more than one goal in a single match only once.

Taking on the Canaries’ leaky backline enhances United’s chances of putting an end to their poor run, but if Norwich has shown Solskjær anything it’s their identity at home.

“When I watched Norwich’s first game against Liverpool, I saw a team with a lot of courage,” the Norwegian said. “It’s given them some great results as they beat Newcastle and Manchester City with a clear philosophy on how they want to play.”

“I hope we’re going to stop them because it’s always going to be difficult down at Carrow Road but we’re ready for it now,” he added. “We’ve got some players back.”

With the likes of Paul Pogba, Luke Shaw, and Eric Bailly still absent, United are far from full power, but it’s likely they won’t need it to comfortably cruise past Norwich on Sunday, anyways.

INJURIES: Norwich City — OUT: Mario Vrancic (illness), Ralf Fährmann (match fitness), Grant Hanley (groin), Christoph Zimmermann (ankle), Timm Klose (knee) | Manchester United — OUT: Luke Shaw (groin), Paul Pogba (ankle), Eric Bailly (knee), Axel Tuanzebe (hip), Diogo Dalot (groin)

Liverpool vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com

It’s the 2019 Champions League final rematch, but one of last year’s finalist is only a shadow of its former self.

Tottenham may have showed positive moments in their 5-0 win over Red Star Belgrade in Champions League group stage play, however there are serious reparations Mauricio Pochettino needs to get done before his side comes close to the team they were less than a year ago. Their last away league match resulted in a 3-0 loss to Brighton and Hove Albion.

A trip to Anfield to take on a Liverpool that is on cruise control can result as troublesome for Harry Kane and Co., regardless if Jurgen Klopp doesn’t buy that Spurs are having a Champions League final hangover.

“I can say nothing about their situation,” the German said prior to the match. “How can I compare with our situation? It’s not possible to judge from outside. Reporters always ask for your opinion on other clubs and players but you have to be in a situation to understand it.”

“What I can say is what I saw on Tuesday night and that was a very good Tottenham team playing well,” he added.

No matter what Tottenham shows up on Saturday in Liverpool, one can expect for Liverpool – mostly healthy and unbeaten this season after nine matches – to complicate the 90 minutes for the visitors.

INJURIES: Liverpool  OUT: Xherdan Shaqiri (calf), Nathaniel Clyne (knee) | Tottenham  OUT: Ryan Sessegnon (hamstring), Hugo Lloris (elbow)

Premier League Numbers Nerd: Week 1

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Small sample sizes can make for terrible science, but they’re delightful for stat hounds and simple amusements.

For example, the Premier League’s opening weekend saw a hat trick for Raheem Sterling and braces for Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, and Ashley Barnes.

[ MORE: USSF promotes Stewart, hires USWNT GM ]

Who was the top dog of the week in terms of match rating, though? Man City’s Riyad Mahrez, who was nearly perfect with two assists, 83.3 percent passing despite his placement in low success areas of the pitch, four tackles, two interceptions, and four key passes.

Here are our favorite numbers, notes, and names from Week 1 (Stats via WhoScored):

Two (2) assists is the current top total in the league. It won’t surprise you to see Mahrez and Paul Pogba on that figure, but the third player to do it is… Burnley’s Erik Pieters!

Four (4) players won eight or more aerial duels: League-leader Christian Benteke (9) of Crystal Palace, as well as Newcastle’s Joelinton, Burnley’s Ben Mee, and Brighton’s Shane Duffy.

Under five: Three players in the Premier League played 90 minutes and couldn’t register higher than a 5.0 on WhoScored’s rating system. Kurt Zouma of Chelsea (4.86) could not come close to replicating his stalwart play with Everton last season and conceded a penalty and four goals. West Ham star Issa Diop (4.93) had the sort of statistical day a lot of players do against Man City, and two of his back line teammates joined him in the Bottom Six. And Grant Hanley of Norwich City posted a 4.99, dinged largely by an own goal despite completing 92.3 percent of his passes against Liverpool.

Five (5) –> Villa fans will want this to be six, as Tyrone Mings couldn’t stop Tanguy Ndombele‘s equalizer, but no player in the Premier League blocked as many shots as the former Bournemouth man. And we’re not done with him yet.

(Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Five is also the league-best number of key passes recorded, by Chelsea’s Pedro. Perhaps Frank Lampard‘s feeling about his team’s play in a 4-0 loss to Manchester United will make sense over time.

And five is also the most fouls drawn by anyone in Week 1, with Villa’s Jack Grealish and Palace’s Jordan Ayew needing some time in an ice bath.

Finally, five is the number of players who completed more than 80 passes on Opening Day. Leicester’s Ben Chilwell led the way with 85, followed by Granit Xhaka (Arsenal), Toby Alderweireld (Spurs), Harry Winks (Spurs), and Jonny Evans (Leicester).

Seven (7) interceptions were made by Newcastle’s Fabian Schar, the most in the league. Seven is also the amount of fouls committed by Crystal Palace’s Luka Milivojevic against Everton, three more than anyone else (Yes, he saw yellow).

Eight (8): The amount of shots taken by Harry Kane, double the amount of anyone else in the Premier League.

Eight is also the most successful tackles won by a single player this weekend, done by Liverpool’s Fabinho and Aston Villa’s John McGinn?

Seventeen (17): This would also be more appropriately read as “Seven-(expletive)-teen!” Aston Villa’s Mings cleared danger 17 times against Spurs, almost double the No. 2 man, Palace’s Martin Kelly.

100%: Only one field player in the league played more than a half-hour and completed all of his passes, and that was… Christian Pulisic of Chelsea and these United States of America. He was 12-for-12, but here’s the bad news: That came as part of a statistically miserable 6.09 showing.

New boys Norwich thrashed by Liverpool

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Liverpool’s bid for the 2019-20 Premier League title is off to a flying start, as Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds dismantled newly promoted Norwich City, 4-1 at Anfield in the season-opening fixture at Anfield on Friday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Norwich’s return to the PL began as disastrously as it could have done, gifting the European champions an own goal (courtesy of Grant Hanley) inside the season’s first seven minutes. Things only got worse from there.

Mohamed Salah made it 2-0 just 12 minutes later, and the rout was officially on.

Nine minutes later, Virgil Van Dijk made it 3-0.

14 minutes later, it was 4-0 through Divock Origi.


Three things we learned
1. No change of identity for Liverpool, who will continue to suffocate opponents with defensive pressure and attack relentlessly after they win the ball.
2. Liverpool didn’t make any major first-team signings this summer, and that has them looking like a squad that bonded together long ago.
3. Norwich’s commitment to playing (trying to, at least) progressive, attacking soccer is laudable, but might just see them blitzed on a number of occasions this season.

Man of the Match
Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – A goal and an assist for the 2017-18 Player of the Year, and he — along with his teammates in red — never had to leave second gear.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines for opening weekend | How VAR will work in PL ]


Origi was the architect on the opening goal, as he worked his way down the left side of the penalty area and hit a low cross into the six-yard box. Hanley went for the right-footed clearance but shanked 180 degrees in the wrong direction.

Salah made it three straight seasons of scoring a goal in Liverpool’s PL opener (his fourth straight season, including his final campaign at Roma) and he needed just 19 minutes to do. Roberto Firmino slipped the Egyptian a through ball and Salah stroked it home to double Liverpool’s lead (WATCH HERE).

[ MORE: Premier League TV, streaming schedule | Predicting the PL table ]

Van Dijk headed home from Salah’s corner kick just before the half-hour mark (WATCH HERE), the final nail in the coffin of Norwich’s hopes for a shocking comeback. Origi waltzed toward the penalty spot and headed home Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s brilliant bullet cross three minutes before halftime, for good measure.

The worst news for Liverpool came in the form of a curious injury to goalkeeper Alisson. Upon taking a goal kick, the Brazilian appeared to injure his right leg. The pain appeared to affect him prior to kicking the ball, as he quickly glanced over his shoulder as if something or someone had touched him from behind.

Norwich’s Teemu Pukki led the EFL Championship with 29 goals last season, and the Finnish forward picked up right where he left off with a goal in his PL debut, in the 64th minute. It was the lone bright spot of the day for the Canaries, but perhaps a comforting sign they’ve got a consistent goalscorer in the top flight.