PL Sunday preview: Liverpool v. Man United at Anfield

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Premier League fixtures don’t get any bigger — or more heated — than Liverpool versus Manchester United, longtime rivals who’ll renew pleasantries at Anfield on Sunday…

[ MORE: Spurs grab stoppage-time win vs. Burnley | Man City go top again ]

Southampton v. Arsenal — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold [ STREAM ]

Heading into Sunday’s meeting at St. Mary’s Stadium, Southampton haven’t won in 14 games (all competitions — after 90 minutes), while Arsenal haven’t lost in just as many games, in the PL alone (unbeaten in 22 games in all competitions). Predictably, Saints find themselves stuck in the relegation zone, with the halfway point of the season looming ever so large, and a new manager hoping to make his mark and a major impact on a club quickly spiraling out of control. Ralph Hasenhuttl made his debut as Southampton manager last weekend, but suffered a 1-0 defeat to fellow relegation battlers Cardiff City.

As for Arsenal, the unbeaten run has earned new manager Unai Emery a long leash with Gunners fans, but his side enters the week in fifth place, behind Chelsea on goal differential. Sunday could see the return of defender and captain Laurent Koscielny in league play after the 33-year-old Frenchman made his first appearance in seven months during Thursday’s Europa League victory over Qarabag.

INJURIES: Southampton — QUESTIONABLE: Ryan Bertrand (back), Danny Ings (hamstring), Shane Long (ankle), Cedirc Soares (calf) | Arsenal — OUT: Sokratis Papastathopoulos (suspension), Danny Welbeck (ankle), Shkodran Mustafi (suspension), Rob Holding (knee)

Brighton & Hove Albion v. Chelsea — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

Chelsea’s recent form has been a rollercoaster of results, alternating losses and wins in their last four league games. They did, however, put together perhaps the best performance of any side in the PL all season last time out, handing Manchester City their first defeat in a 2-0 conquering at Stamford Bridge. Maurizio Sarri‘s side came back down to earth on Thursday, though, as the Blues struggled to secure a 2-2 draw away to Hungarian side MOL Vidi FC in the Europa League, and the club’s fans were accused of spewing anti-Semitic chants and slurs just days after the very public incident involving four Chelsea fans and Man City star Raheem Sterling.

Brighton won’t be a pushover at Falmer Stadium, where the Seagulls have compiled and impressive 4W-2D-1L record this season. Chris Hughton‘s side has managed to knock off a handful of mid-table sides at home thus far, but a scalp the size of Chelsea would be easily the most impressive outing to date. Brighton dropped both league meetings with the Blues last season, losing 4-0 at home and 2-0 away.

INJURIES: Brighton — OUT: Shane Duffy (suspension) | Chelsea — OUT: Mateo Kovacic (thigh)

Liverpool v. Manchester United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

For all that Jurgen Klopp has achieved since taking the Liverpool job in October 2015 — and he has done a great deal of good to re-establish the club, both domestically and on the continent — the second-most notable failure of Klopp’s tenure, behind only “winning a trophy,” remains his 0W-3D-2L record against Man United in league play. While the Reds have surpassed the Red Devils and long left them behind in the PL’s hierarchy, a victory over the bitter rivals from Manchester has remained elusive, including a 0W-2D-1L record at Anfield, site of Sunday’s showdown, with a grand total of one goal scored in the three games.

The tables have clearly turned from the days of United dominating the PL and winning 13 of 21 league titles from 1992 to 2013, period in which Liverpool managed a trio of second-place finishes — coming second to United once, and besting them twice. A win on Sunday would not only see Klopp knock off his bogey team for the first time, but would lift Liverpool back ahead of Man City in the title race; a win for United, meanwhile, would help them to hold off newly promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers for sixth place.

United, all but the forgotten side of the top-six, have endured hard times at both ends of the field this season — their 28 goals scored are the fewest of the PL’s elite, while their 26 goals conceded are the most of the six sides expected to compete for four UEFA Champions League places; Liverpool, in the same number of games, have conceded just six times, including just once during their current five-game winning streak.

INJURIES: Liverpool — OUT: Joel Matip (shoulder), Joe Gomez (ankle), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Trent Alexander-Arnold (knock) | Man United — OUT: Alexis Sanchez (hamstring), Victor Lindelof (groin); QUESTIONABLE: Anthony Martial (hamstring), Scott McTominay (undisclosed), Luke Shaw (undisclosed)

How will Liverpool, Man United line up?

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Bitter rivals Liverpool and Manchester United lock horns on Sunday at Anfield (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) but both have plenty of injuries to contend with.

[ MORE: Mourinho: “Job done” in UCL ]

United and Jose Mourinho could have up to nine regulars missing as Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw and Chris Smalling struggle with knocks, while Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool are sweating on the fitness of Trent Alexander-Arnold after losing center backs Joe Gomez and Joel Matip over the last week.

Both Liverpool and United play in the UEFA Champions League in midweek, with the Reds battling to a hard-fought win against Napoli at home and a much-changed United losing 2-1 at Valencia.

It is likely that Klopp could bring in the likes of Fabinho, Daniel Sturridge and Xherdan Shaqiri for this game but given the fact that Liverpool are top of the table, and the magnitude of this game against their fierce rivals, he will likely stick with his best possible XI.

Here’s a look at a possible starting lineup for both teams on Sunday, as Liverpool aim to remain top of the table and United will try to play the role of spoilers.


LIVERPOOL

—– Alisson —–

— Alexander-Arnold — Lovren — Van Dijk — Robertson —

—- Wijnaldum —- Henderson —- Milner —-

—- Salah —- Firmino —- Mane —-


MANCHESTER UNITED

—– De Gea —–

— Valencia — Bailly — Smalling — Young —

—- Matic —- Herrera —-

—- Lingard —- Mata —- Rashford —-

—– Lukaku —–


Huddersfield’s Mooy, Liverpool’s Matip out injured

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A huge blow has arrived for Huddersfield Town, as Aaron Mooy has been ruled out until February with a serious knee injury.

The Terriers have announced that Mooy “suffered a tear to the Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) in his right knee” in the 1-0 defeat at Arsenal on Saturday.

Mooy, 28, will miss the 2019 Asian Cup for Australia and Huddersfield’s top goalscorer this season will miss at least their next eight Premier League games. That run includes massive clashes with fellow PL strugglers Newcastle, Southampton, Fulham, Burnley and Cardiff, as Mooy would have lively been the difference for Huddersfield in those game.s

“I’m gutted to be missing an important time for club and country,” Mooy said. “We’ve got a lot of fixtures over the Christmas period at Huddersfield Town, but I back the team to continue our good performances and get the results that we’re targeting. I’m also sad that this injury will rule me out of the Asian Cup. I’d like to wish the Socceroos all the best as they head to the UAE; I’ll be supporting them from afar. The hard work on my recovery has already started and I’m looking forward to being back out on the pitch.”

What does this mean for Huddersfield?

With a pivotal run of games coming up for David Wagner‘s side, Mooy’s absence at the heart of their midfield will be felt. Danny Williams has just returned to full fitness so he should play alongside Jonathan Hogg (struggling with a knock) and Phillip Billing in Mooy’s absence. Wagner also has issues with Terrence Kongolo and right back Tommy Smith, as the latter will be out until January with a hamstring strain.

At this time of the season injuries are starting to mount up for every single Premier League, and Liverpool know all about that.

Jurgen Klopp‘s men will now be without center back Joel Matip until the end of January as he fractured his collarbone in the crucial win against Napoli at Anfield as Liverpool secured their spot in the UEFA Champions League last 16 on Tuesday.

The towering defender, 27, played throughout the game but landed awkwardly when winning a header late on. He went to hospital after the game and it quickly became clear that the issue was a lot more serious then previously thought. Matip will now undergo surgery to repair the damage.

Matip joins Joe Gomez on the sidelines, as the latter fractured a bone in his left leg last week and will be out until February.

With Trent Alexander-Arnold also going off injured during the victory against Napoli, plus Dejan Lovren struggling with injuries all season, the only fully-fit center back Klopp currently has is Virgil Van Dijk. Fabinho could play there at a push, but Klopp is now relying on Lovren to regain his fitness quickly to step in with both Matip and Gomez out.

Gomez signs new long-term contract at Liverpool

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Joe Gomez has a little bit of extra motivation as he rehabilitates from a long-term leg injury.

Liverpool announced Monday morning it had signed the 21-year-old defender to a new long-term contract, though terms of the deal were not disclosed.

[READ: Lukaku blames extra muscle added for club woes]

“Signing this new deal means the world to me, Gomez told Liverpool’s website. “I’ve been at the club a few years now and have had the pleasure to play for Liverpool and experience what that means, so I am delighted to get the chance to extend my contract here.

“I love the club, I love playing and learning here, and I am happy for that to continue.”

Gomez joined Liverpool as an 18-year-old graduate of Charlton’s academy and quickly began to turn heads, despite a rough run of injuries. Gomez missed nearly a year with a torn ACL and has had other minor setbacks. But playing alongside Virgil Van Dijk appears to have brought out the best in the young Englishman.

With Gomez injured, Liverpool has turned to Joel Matip alongside Van Dijk in central defense. The good news is Gomez is expected to come back sooner than expected sometime in 2019.

Five things we learned from midweek PL

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Before we start with the specifics, we learned that the midweek games were crazy in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live

For the first matchday since 2010 all 20 teams scored, as there were upsets, goals galore, huge mistakes and plenty of talking points.

Lets dig in on five specific things we learned from what occurred over the past 48 hours.


1. Gutsy Liverpool prove the strength of their squad
Trailing at Burnley in the second half, this was a huge test of Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool. They passed with flying colors. Klopp left Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino out of his starting lineup and it looked like they could pay the price. But Salah and Firmino came on in the second half after James Milner pulled Liverpool level and the rest is history. Alisson made a fine save late on to keep the score at 2-1 and Xherdan Shaqiri finished plucky Burnley off. Klopp hit out at Burnley’s rough tactics after the game as Joe Gomez suffered a lower leg fracture in the first half, and it was a gruelling test to win at Burnley even if the Clarets are nowhere near the team they were last season. Shaqiri, Divock Origi, Daniel Sturridge, Joel Matip, Alberto Moreno, Naby Keita and others stepped up to help Liverpool get the job done as they sit two points behind leaders Manchester City heading into the busy festive period. Liverpool’s squad this season is so much stronger than last year and they have considerable, and game-changing, options on the bench each game.


2. Man United’s defensive issues likely to cost them top four spot
Jose Mourinho wanted two new center backs in the summer and he didn’t get them. At every opportunity Manchester United’s manager is reminding Ed Woodward what a monumental mistake he made for not releasing the funds for United to buy new defenders. Then again, Mourinho did want Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof to join United… Before the game against Arsenal he said he had no center backs fit. He played three of them in Bailly, Smalling and Rojo on Wednesday. Individuals aside, the 2-2 draw with Arsenal underlined the good and the bad about United. The good: they have a wealth of attacking options who are actually scoring goals and creating opponents problems. The bad: they can’t defend for toffee. That is very unlike a Mourinho team. David De Gea‘s blunder and an own goal from Marcos Rojo gifted Arsenal two goals at Old Trafford and Mourinho lambasted the defensive play of his side. If they’re going to reach the top four this season at all (not just by Mourinho’s previous prediction of early January) they will have to shore things up defensively. As bad as United have been this season, and leaving the Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku situation to one side, they are only eight points off the top four. But they do have the sixth-worst defensive record and also have a negative goal difference. That says it all.


3. Chelsea’s title charge may already be over
The way Chelsea folded at newly-promoted Wolves on Wednesday suggests they are nowhere near ready for a title push. Maurizio Sarri said he is “very worried” after watching his side surrender a 1-0 lead as they were pushed over and roughed up by a hungry, out-of-form, Wolves to lose 2-1. Chelsea’s tremendous early-season form relied heavily on Eden Hazard and the Belgian has been off the boil in recent weeks. He hasn’t scored since early October and unlike Liverpool, those who Sarri brought into the team at Wolves struggled. Alvaro Morata had another off day, Cesc Fabregas was overpowered and Andreas Christensen was hardly rock solid. 10 points behind Man City who they face on Saturday at Stamford Bridge, it is fair to say Chelsea’s title bid is pretty much over before it ever began.


4. Hasenhuettl has plenty of defensive work to do too
Southampton’s new manager Ralph Hasenhuettl met the media on Thursday and he has quite the way with words. He also knows the one area where he needs to improve the team immediately: defense. It is often cliche to say a manager ‘needs to sort the defense out’ when he first comes in midseason, but this is so very true in this case. Saints lost 3-1 at Tottenham and trailed 3-0 early in the second half before Spurs stopped playing. Hasenhuettl has a bloated squad at Saints and the likes of Yoshida, Stephens, Vestergaard, Bednarek and Hoedt have all been used this season without finding a successful combination. Sorting out their backline is the main issue for Hasenhuettl early on as Saints have let in seven goals in their last three games in the PL, although they have scored five in that period. Going forward they have weapons to hurt their opponents but building a solid foundation is key. Then, and only then, will Hasenhuettl be able to promote his 4-2-2-2 formation which relies on high-pressing and relentless running. Southampton will be hoping Hasenhuettl has the same impact as the last manager they brought in midseason, Mauricio Pochettino back in January 2013.


5. Fulham improving slowly under Claudio Ranieri
Even though they coughed up a late goal at home against Leicester, the signs are good for Fulham under Claudio Ranieri. Fulham led the Foxes 1-0 and although they will be disappointed to not open up with two wins from Ranieri’s first three games in charge, there are encouraging signs that the players are grasping his ideas. Fulham’s defense has conceded just three times over the past two games and after the 2-0 defeat at Chelsea at the weekend, Ranieri revealed he was more pleased with how his team played there than he was in the 3-2 home win against Southampton on his debut. They look solid in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Chambers and Seri shoring things up in front of the back four. Ranieri is getting this Fulham side back to basics and the pace of Kamara and Sessegnon on the break works well with Mitrovic’s hold-up play. Working Andre Schurrle back into the team will also help, but shoring up Fulham’s defense is key to Ranieri’s philosophy.