Top Premier League storylines for Week 7

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There’s potential for a major Top Four shakeup and maybe even a change in perception of title contention when the Premier League brings Week 7 to the forefront this weekend.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]


Can Chelsea beat Liverpool again, go top of Premier League?
Chelsea vs. Liverpool — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC STREAM ]

The Premier League season will near its one-fifth point after this weekend, and three teams could sit atop the table following six match days.

Two of those teams meet at Stamford Bridge four days after Chelsea came back to beat Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield in the League Cup.

Jurgen Klopp is winless in four against the Blues after winning two of his first three matches against Chelsea as Liverpool boss. Following wins at Stamford Bridge in his first two league visits, Liverpool fell 1-0 last season.

Both teams kept key players out of the Starting XI on Wednesday, though as the intensity of the match ramped up both managers injected some: N'Golo Kante, Roberto Firmino, Eden Hazard, Mohamed Salah, David Luiz, Jordan Henderson.

Yeah, they cared.

So will Liverpool get right back on track at the Bridge following its first setback of the season, or will it be staring down consecutive losses to the same opponent in under a week?

The Reds passed their first two tests of the season, beating Spurs and PSG. The next was a failure versus the Blues, but revenge would keep the PL season firing forward.

Manuel Pellegrini hopes to get another one over on Man Utd
West Ham United vs. Manchester United — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN STREAM ]

West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini has had his fair share of success against Manchester United dating back to his time as the manager of Manchester City, posting a 3W-1D-2L record against the Red Devils.

A win on Saturday could rank right up there amongst his favorite conquests, and maybe even be a momentous moment in the tenure of Jose Mourinho at United.

Pellegrini’s 0-4 start to life at West Ham was well-documented, but the Irons beat Everton before drawing Chelsea last week with very different tactical deployments. An 8-0 throttling of Macclesfield Town in the League Cup now yields to this match, which could further endear Pellegrini to the West Ham support.

And if he doesn’t win? We bet they’d agree with Pellegrini that a draw is the next best thing.

United is coming off a 10-man loss to Derby County at home in the League Cup and a wealthy of rough headlines involving Mourinho and Paul Pogba. It’s a “rise up” moment for the Red Devils under Mourinho. They’ve done it plenty of times. Will they bail him out again?

Hornets hope to reclaim footing as Arsenal aims to pass them
Arsenal vs. Watford — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on Gold STREAM ] 

The Top Four race could be pretty cluttered after the weekend, and Arsenal’s ability to leapfrog Watford and sits fifth or better is one to watch closely. Javi Gracia‘s Hornets keep scoring, but have just one result from their last three matches in all competitions.

Try a free preview of the NBC Sports Gold pass this weekend.

Can Spurs avoid letdown without Eriksen?
Huddersfield Town vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN STREAM ]

There will be no Christian Eriksen again for Spurs, but Erik Lamela and Dele Alli have been in-form and firing. A visit to the John Smith’s Stadium isn’t a cakewalk, but the Terriers have been struggling and Spurs will be expected to walk over their Bottom Three opponents.

Clarets try to keep building momentum against desperate Bluebirds
Cardiff City vs. Burnley — 11 a.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN STREAM ]

The Bluebirds may not know what to make of Burnley, who struggled in both the Europa League and Premier League before breaking out for a 4-0 win over Bournemouth last week. Burnley rolled out a second-choice squad for the midweek League Cup loss to Burton Albion, but Cardiff will still be viewing this as a chance to pick up its first win of the PL season.

Watch Live: Fulham vs. Watford

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Fulham host Watford at Craven Cottage on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Cottagers and Hornets aiming to get back to winning ways in the Premier League.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

Slavisa Jokanovic‘s men have played some of the best soccer in the PL this season but sloppy defensive errors have cost them dear. As for Watford, Javi Gracia‘s pragmatism saw them win their opening four games of the season before they last narrowly against Manchester United last time out.

In team news Fulham bring Calum Chambers and Timothy Fosu-Mensah into the starting XI, with yet more changes to their back four.

Watford remain unchanged and have now named the same starting lineup for all six PL games this season.


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PL Preview: Fulham vs. Watford

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  • Fulham has conceded at least 2 goals in its last 9 PL games
  • Watford has lost 8 straight PL matches in London
  • Fulham will become the 15th English team to reach 500 PL games

One team still sorting out the kinks, one team is off to a blistering start.

Fulham hopes to shore things up as the Whites host fourth-placed Watford at Craven Cottage Saturday at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com. The hosts have been porous defensively, with 12 goals allowed through the first five matches of the season, the most in the Premier League.

[ WATCH LIVE: Fulham vs. Watford live on NBCSports.com ]

Still, manager Slavisa Jokanovic has rebuffed calls to set the tactics up more defensively, instead calling on his team to be “more brave” as the season rolls on, pushing forward with the “offense is the best defense” mindset. Jokanovic, who coached Watford to promotion in 2015 but left before Premier League play after failing to agree to a new deal, has been praised for his steadfastness in his tactical style but also criticized for the early results.

Watford took time to find true stability in the Premier League without Jokanovic, finishing one place above relegation last season, but under Javi Gracia the Hornets have sprung to life over the past few weeks. Gracia is the one with stability now, having named the exact same starting lineup for every Premier League game so far, and Watford could become only the fifth English club ever to name the same starting lineup for the first six games of a Premier League season. Gerard Deulofeu and Tom Cleverley are both long-term absentees, while Nathaniel Chalobah is the only real question mark as he recovers from a serious knee injury, and he is likely to return to the squad, Gracia said.

The Fulham squad, on the other hand, is a mess. Captain Tom Cairney is out with an ankle injury, a massive miss for a team that focuses on possession and build-up. American defender Tim Ream is also out with a knee problem, back in training finally but still yet to debut this season after winning the club’s Player of the Season award last year. Without Ream, Jokanovic has struggled to find his best defensive partnership, with Denis Odoi plus new signings Calum Chambers, Maxim Le Marchand, and Alfie Mawson all showing weaknesses. The Whites are also without winger Neeskens Kebano who suffered an ankle injury in a Cup match against Exeter City in late August.

What they’re saying

Fulham manager Jokanovic on his team’s attacking mentality: “People are asking if we can be a little more pragmatic but, for me, being pragmatic is being brave. The brave choice for me is the best way to win the game. I think we are still not brave enough. Why would we be scared, why are we not braver and trusting in ourselves?”

Watford manager Gracia on bouncing back from first loss: “They do not need good results to know the performances have been good and, in this moment, the players are confident they will be able to keep their performance levels up. We will try to keep our style of play, maintain our mentality and be aggressive.”

Prediction

Watford started the season with a bang, but have not kept a clean sheet since the second match of the year. That could pose problems facing a team that loves to push forward, and there should be goals in this match. It will likely end in a 2-2 draw.

Premier League preview: Watford vs. Man United

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  • Three teams, including Watford, remain perfect
  • Watford: 3rd place, 12/12 points
  • Man United: 10th place, 6/12 points

One of three remaining Premier League sides with a 100-percent win record looks to make it five wins in five games when Watford host Manchester United on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and NBCSports.com).

Last time out, it was Javi Gracia‘s Hornets who shocked previously unblemished Tottenham Hotspur with a comeback victory at Vicarage Road to join Liverpool and Chelsea among the ranks of early-season perfection. Gracia was justly named PL Manager of the Month for August. It’s been a full team effort for Watford as six different players have contributed at least one goal, but Roberto Pereyra has led the way and proven himself the star of the side with three goals in four games. After arriving from Juventus in the summer of 2016, the Argentine failed to impress during his first two seasons in the PL, but Gracia has gotten the most out of the 27-year-old thus far and will again rely heavily upon Pereyra against what could very well be a defensive-minded Man United side on Saturday.

[ MORE: Top Premier League storylines for Week 5 ]

As for United, it’s been a stressful start to the season for Jose Mourinho and Co. Following back-to-back losses to Brighton & Hove Albion and Tottenham Hotspur, the Red Devils bounced back with a 2-0 victory over Burnley before the international break. Mourinho has come under plenty of scrutiny, but he remains defiant that no one can do the job better than he can, and a handful of his players have spoken out publicly in support of the manager (see below). Luke Shaw is expected to be available for selection after suffering a concussion while playing for England, but the same can’t be said for Marcus Rashford who will be suspended for the next three games after head-butting Phil Bardsley in the game against Burnley.

What they’re saying

Gracia, on keeping the good times rolling: “When you start something you always think you will be good but you do not know if you will be able to achieve four wins in a row. But we are in a good moment — we are enjoying it. We know in the future the competition will put us in our place. … We know it will be a very demanding game. But playing at Vicarage Road we feel strong and think we are able to beat all the other teams, knowing at the same time if we don’t give 100% we can lose.”

Romelu Lukaku, on Mourinho putting his real self on display: “Sometimes footballers, we get soft a little bit. If I listen to players from back in the day and now, a manager cannot say what he wants to a player because you feel attacked. … My relationship with him is cool. He makes me laugh, he makes the players laugh, he’s a real family guy. He fights for his players, but he’s real. When you’re not happy, you don’t need to fake your emotions. … You should respect that he wants to keep his own personality and not shy away from confrontation. Here, he really wants us to improve.”

Prediction

Watford made the most of their set-piece chances against Tottenham, and United have already conceded twice on set pieces this year. It’ll be a much tighter affair than the sum of transfer fees might suggest, and Watford have enough to make it a 1-1 draw.

Top Premier League storylines for Week 5

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The Premier League left us for a week, but like any good parental figure it is returning with presents for all.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]

All that and four more things to watch closely this weekend in England.

Liverpool kicks off grueling run as Spurs try to bounce back
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN STREAM ]

Mauricio Pochettino, Harry Kane, and Spurs have had two weeks to stew on their first loss of the year, a setback at the hands of still-perfect Watford.

Now Spurs are staring down another team with a zero in the loss and draw columns, as high-flying Liverpool visits Wembley Stadium. Dele Alli and Hugo Lloris are set to miss the match for Tottenham.

The Reds come to London knowing that this is their first big test of the season, and that it will kick off a monster run of fixtures which includes visits from Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, Chelsea in the League Cup, and Man City in the Premier League. There’s a visit to Chelsea in league play and a trip to Napoli in the UCL to boot.

Perfect Hornets welcome red-hot Lukaku, Manchester United
Watford vs. Manchester United — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC STREAM ]

If you would’ve offered Javi Gracia a 2W-2L start to the season before facing 4-0 Manchester United in Week Five, he probably would’ve taken it.

Yet his Watford side is the perfect side as it welcomes Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils to Vicarage Road on Saturday.

New boys challenged at homes of unbeaten giants
Chelsea vs. Cardiff City — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on CNBC STREAM ]
Man City vs. Fulham — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN STREAM ]

Neil Warnock leads Cardiff City into Chelsea while Slavisa Jokanovic and Fulham visit the Etihad Stadium, the two newly-promoted sides experiencing very different starts to life in the Premier League.

Fulham spent much more than the Bluebirds, and the Cottagers are playing stylish football with Jean-Michael Seri and prizefighter striker Aleksandar Mitrovic. “Mitro” has the ability to challenge any center back in the league, but can he be a difference maker against a City side determined to get back atop the table.

Chelsea is good money to end the weekend atop the table, even if Liverpool manages a win at Spurs. That’s because the Blues have plenty of experience breaking down parked sides, and Warnock is unlikely to expect anything despite counterpunching Arsenal twice in a 3-2 loss last time out.

New managers Emery, Sarri helm big London rivalry
Everton vs. West Ham United — 11 a.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN STREAM ]

Neither Marco Silva nor West Ham counterpart Manuel Pellegrini expected to be in their respective spots on the table after four weeks of the season.

Silva’s Everton remains unbeaten, but has drawn three of its four matches in head-scratching fashion. Now he’ll entertain an Irons side which could be staring down 0-7 if they cannot find a point at Goodison Park (Chelsea home and Manchester United away are next on the league docket).