James McCarthy

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

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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)

Transfer rumor roundup: Militao to Real, Man Utd; Higuain-Morata swap

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We begin Thursday’s run through the rumor mill with a player reported to be one of the final transfer requests of Jose Mourinho at Manchester United.

The Red Devils are whispered to still have interest in Eder Militao under interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but Real Madrid is hot on the heels of the Porto center back.

[ PL PREVIEW: Wolves vs. Liverpool ]

The once-capped Brazilian arrived from Sao Paolo in August, and is just 20 years old. He also plays right back and defensive mid. He scored against Schalke in the UEFA Champions League as Porto won its group, and is well-rated in league play.

Meanwhile, Chelsea is looking to the attack, with Maurizio Sarri still seeking a reunion with former Napoli pal Gonzalo Higuain.

Sarri is said to be hoping to lure Juventus into a swap deal for Alvaro Morata, as Juve still owns the rights to Higuain. The striker is on loan to AC Milan, but Chelsea could reportedly buy out the deal and send Morata the other way as a makeweight.

According to Football Italia, this would put Morata with Milan. The Spaniard scored 27 goals over 95 appearances in two seasons at Juve.

Elsewhere…

— L’Equipe says Liverpool has been talking with Adrien Rabiot‘s representatives as the touchy Paris Saint-Germain midfielder is frozen out in Ligue 1 for his refusal to sign a new deal.

— Finally, Fulham is kicking the tires on Irish midfielder James McCarthy, who has been with Everton since moving from Wigan Athletic in 2013. He’s been out for nearly a year after suffering a broken leg, but is back in training.

PL Sunday preview: Two London derbies, plus the Merseyside

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Sunday is Derby Day in the Premier League, as a pair of sides from each of west London, north London and Merseyside will square off back-to-back-to-back, beginning at 7 a.m. ET.

[ MORE: Man City find groove in win | Man United come back for draw ]

Chelsea vs. Fulham — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Chelsea’s unbeaten start to the PL season — and with it, most realistic title hopes, perhaps — came to an end last weekend, as Tottenham Hotspur thrashed Maurizio Sarri’s side and handed the Italian his first defeat. Chelsea actually sit fourth in the table, despite their lone defeat — compared to Tottenham’s three — ahead of Sunday’s visit from west London rivals Fulham. Sarri will face his compatriot, newly appointed Fulham boss Claudio Ranieri, some 20 years after their first face-to-face meeting, in Florence.

“Friend is a big word, but I like him very much,” Sarri said this week. “I visited him in Florence 20 years ago. I think he doesn’t remember this meeting but it was very important for me. He visited us around 40 days ago to see our training. He spoke to me and Gianfranco (Zola).”

Since taking over at Craven Cottage, all Ranieri has done is inspire the Cottagers to one victory — their second of the season and first since August — in his one game in charge. While the three points were a welcome change after nine games without a win (and six straight defeats), the defense remains as leaky as ever, which will almost certainly be a major stumbling block against Player of the Year candidate Eden Hazard (7 goals, 4 assists in 12 appearances).

INJURIES: Chelsea — OUT: None | Fulham — OUT: Kevin McDonald (hamstring), André-Frank Zambo Anguissa (knock)


Arsenal vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 9:05 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The season-long narratives surrounding Arsenal and Spurs couldn’t be any more different heading into Sunday’s north London derby, yet it’s Spurs — the disappointing nomads of the PL — who sit third in the table, while Arsenal — the reinvigorated giant under new manager Unai Emery — sit fifth, albeit just three points behind their bitter rivals.

Spurs have picked up their points in far less entertaining fashion — a great departure from the last two seasons under Mauricio Pochettino, when they played some of the most attractive attacking soccer in the world — and relied heavily upon makeshift defensive and midfield units, as the likes of Jan Vertonghen, Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose, Eric Dier and Mousa Dembele have all taken turns missing a handful of games each through injuries following a heavy workload at the 2018 World Cup. With Vertonghen only recently back in the fold, it’s Davinson Sanchez who’s set to miss the next month. Throw in the fact that Spurs signed not a single player in the summer transfer window, and it would be hard to argue against this being Pochettino’s best managerial job to date.

Arsenal, on the other hand, are scoring goals with great regularity (28 in 13 games), but it’s the narrow decline in goals conceded (16 in 13 games, 1.3 per game, compared to 1.5 per game last season) that has painted a different picture to what many had grown accustom to from the Gunners in recent years.

“Each match for me is very special,” Emery said this week. “The derby is perhaps more special because my responsibility is bigger because of every supporter. Also we need three points in the league because we want to be closer to the other teams, like Tottenham, and we have this challenge.”

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Nacho Monreal (thigh), Danny Welbeck (ankle), Laurent Koscielny (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Alexandre Lacazette (groin) | Tottenham — OUT: Davinson Sanchez (hamstring), Mousa Dembele (ankle), Kieran Trippier (groin), Danny Rose (groin)


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

The day’s final derby will feature a second-place Liverpool side — now five points behind Manchester City after Saturday — in desperate need of not only a win, but a performance that inspires confidence they’re up to the challenge of staying with Man City for 25 more games. With a must-win game against Napoli set for the final day of the Champions League group stage, the 2018-19 season is filling up with do-or-die fixtures far earlier than Jurgen Klopp would have liked. Goals and points have been hard to come by for Anfield visitors this season, as the Red have conceded just one goal and dropped only a pair of points, against Man City, in six league games.

Everton, on the other hand, have flown somewhat under the radar as all the headline go to City and Liverpool on another title race; Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal leapfrogging each other every week; and Manchester United hugely underperforming. Under new manager Marco Silva, the Toffees entire Sunday’s showdown in sixth place and having lost just one of their last seven league games. Alas, it’s been nearly 20 years (Sept. 27, 1999) since Everton were last victorious at Anfield.

INJURIES: Liverpool — OUT: Jordan Henderson (suspension), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee) | Everton — OUT: James McCarthy (fitness)

PL Sunday preview: Streaking Everton host slumping Palace

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With only one game on the Premier League docket for Sunday, it’s a battle of mid-table teams who began the season with plans of finishing safely inside the top half of the table.

[ MORE: What did we learn in the Premier League, Week 9? ]

On one side, there’s 11th-place Everton who have won back-to-back PL games for the first time this season. On the other side, there’s 14th-place Crystal Palace who enter Sunday’s trip to Goodison Park on the back of two straight league defeats.

The Toffees spent big in the summer transfer window, but a bit of patience was required before the return on their investment was realized. Following a comprehensive demolition of Fulham three weeks ago, and a late win away to Leicester City last week, first-year Everton manager Marco Silva is increasingly pleased with the progression his side is making.

“We are looking more like a team – more compact, more solid in some moments, and staying focused during the game. It is up to us to continue in this way, getting better every time, because we have different problems on Sunday with a different opponent, too. We have to be able to find solutions to score and win the match.”

[ WATCH: Messi scores, assists, injuries arm in first 16 minutes ]

The worst part about Palace’s recent slide is the opponents who have resigned them to defeat: Bournemouth and Wolverhampton Wanderers, a pair of sides likely to finish in the bottom half come the end of the season. Even worse, Palace’s do-everything superstar Wilfried Zaha faces a late fitness test in order to be available for selection after injuring his groin while on international duty for Ivory Coast this week. Palace are winless (0W-4D-3L) in their last seven games against Everton.

INJURIES: Everton — QUESTIONABLE: Idrissa Gueye (ankle); RETURNING: Yerry Mina (foot), Andre Gomes (hamstring), James McCarthy (leg) | Crystal Palace — OUT: Christian Benteke (knee), Scott Dann (knee); DOUBTFUL: Wilfried Zaha (groin); QUESTIONABLE: Connor Wickham (calf)

PL Sunday preview: Chelsea look to extend perfect start; Arsenal vs. Everton

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Life in the Europa League spells a harsh reality for Chelsea and Arsenal this season: Thursday night games followed by the quick turnaround to Premier League action on Sunday.

[ MORE: What did we learn in the Premier League, Week 6? ]

West Ham United vs. Chelsea — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Following wins by Liverpool and Manchester City on Saturday, Chelsea enter Sunday’s clash on the other side London, where they’ll take on a West Ham side that only last week picked up its first points of the season, third in the PL table. The Blues are, however — along with the Reds — one of two remaining unbeaten teams in the PL. Maurizio Sarri has stabilized Chelsea following a summer of tumult and turnover, thanks in large part to a series of dazzling performances by Eden Hazard — one of the figures at the center of the controversy this summer — as the Belgian has racked up five goals and a pair of assists in just over 300 minutes. His hat trick last weekend helped the Blues to a perfect 5-for-5 start to the season.

West Ham, on the other hand, finally have something to show for their efforts after appointing Manuel Pellegrini as manager and spending more than $100 million on transfers in the summer. All it took was one win to climb out of the bottom-three. Andriy Yarmolenko bagged a brace in the win over Everton, leaving Pellegrini more than pleased after showing faith in the Ukrainian during his first few weeks in the PL.

“I said at the start that Andriy needs a few weeks to get used to playing in the Premier League,” Pellegrini said this week. “He has a lot of quality, we know that, but in this league you can’t just play with quality.

“He demonstrated against Everton that it was the correct moment. He did it very well. After this performance, we must demand him to give more, because he’s able to be a top player for us.

INJURIES: West Ham — OUT: Manuel Lanzini (knee), Winston Reid (knee), Andy Carroll (ankle); QUESTIONABLE: Marko Arnautovic (knee) | Chelsea — QUESTIONABLE: Pedro (shoulder)

Arsenal vs. Everton — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Another side enjoying a purple patch of results of late is Arsenal, winners of three straight after defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea to start the season. Unai Emery has worked out a decent enough formula, though the Gunners are yet to keep a clean sheet this season (their 9 goals conceded puts them in the bottom-half of the league in the goals-allowed column). Even star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang acknowledged his side’s defensive struggles following Thursday’s 4-2 victory over Vorskla Poltava in the Europa League.

“I think we played well in the first half and at the beginning of the second as well and we scored four goals, but we need to improve and fight to not concede goals like we did in the last few minutes.”

Everton’s season has also been marked by a drastic difference between the first two games and the three which followed thereafter, only in reverse of Arsenal’s turnaround. After impressing in their first two games, the Toffees have collected just two points from the last three games. Their struggles have been, in part, down to the absence of Richarlison, who scored three goals in the first two games of the season before earning a red card and a three-game ban for head-butting Adam Smith during the 2-2 draw with Bournemouth. Injuries throughout the team proved costly against West Ham last weekend, and not much has improved on that front. Defensive pillars Michael Keane and Phil Jagielka remain out, while Seamus Coleman and Yerry Mina will undergo late fitness tests ahead of Sunday’s kickoff.

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Sead Kolasinac (knee), Laurent Koscielny (achilles), Carl Jenkinson (ankle), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Henrikh Mkhitaryan (ankle), Lucas Torreira (knee)| Everton — OUT: Phil Jagielka (knee), Michael Keane (head), Andre Gomes (hamstring), James McCarthy (leg); QUESTIONABLE: Yerry Mina (foot) Seamus Coleman (foot)