Jonathan Kodjia

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PL Sunday preview: Man Utd and Arsenal chase top five; Chelsea host Liverpool

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures is filled up to the brim of top-six sides in action, as Manchester United and Arsenal look to climb into the top five in the table, while Chelsea looks to send a strong message as they host leaders Liverpool.

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West Ham vs. Manchester United — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Aside from leaders Liverpool, there is no other team in the league experiencing such a positive run as West Ham. The Hammers are unbeaten in their last four bouts – wining twice and drawing twice – as they head into Sunday’s showdown against Manchester United. Equal with five other sides with eight points, Manuel Pellegrini is conscious that it’s the ideal time to make a statement and climb into the top six.

“We have a very strong team in front of us, it will be a strong test against United. It is the only way we can get into the top six, demonstrating you are able to do it,” Pellegrini said heading into Sunday.

As for the Red Devils, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side – who share the podium with West Ham – are looking to extend their current winning form to three games. Ahead of the game, however, the talk surrounding United isn’t Sunday’s game, but Paul Pogba‘s rumored move to Real Madrid this summer. What a better way to get everyone’s mind of theoretical situations and injury worries than with a win.

INJURIES: West Ham — OUT: Michail Antonio (hamstring), Arthur Masuaku (suspended) | Manchester United —OUT: Anthony Martial (thigh), Paul Pogba (back), Luke Shaw (hamstring), Eric Bailly (knee), Timothy Fosu-Mensah (knee)

Crystal Palace vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers — 9 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Not many expected it: Wolves winless throughout the first five games of the season. That, however, is the reality for a team that finished seventh last season. By now, Wolverhampton Wanderers have had plenty of time to pick up on the alarm bells, it’s time for them to respond.

Manager Nuno Espírito Santo, for instance, knows that it’s time for his side to get back into shape before it’s too late.

“This is important,” he said. “We face the reality and the reality says we not performing well so we have to analyse it and find solutions in the team to improve. We must react immediately. We have to take decisions and find solutions for the team because we have to come out of this situation and improve our performance so we can bounce back.”

Crystal Palace, on the other hand, are dealing with adversity of their own after falling to Tottenham Hotspur, 4-0, last week. Playing at Selhurst Park this time around should be a positive, but Palace has only managed to score a goal in three matches in front of their home crowd this season.

INJURIES: Crystal Palace — OUT: None | Wolverhampton Wanderers — OUT: None

Arsenal vs. Aston Villa — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Arsenal have had several things going for them this season: scoring at home, positive first Europa League performance, a healthy and productive Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, among others. One thing they’ve been missing, though, is an effective Nicolas Pepe, especially after shelling record-money for the 24-year-old Ivorian.

“He needs more adaptation,” Emery said in his pre-match press conference. “He is playing good but progressively we know there is going to be more performance in him to help us and I want to do now quickly the last step in the adaptation for us, for example, against Aston Villa.”

With Alexandre Lacazette still out with an ankle injury, Pepe, again, will have the opportunity to showcase his true worth to a packed Emirates Stadium. Arsenal, too, can use his skill to get that much closer to three, vital points.

“When will Aston Villa finally break out of their shell?” is the million-dollar question for the visitors. At times, the newly promoted side has shown the flair that made it so powerful in the Championship last season, only to leave spectators on the edge of their seats, waiting for that final blow. In North London on Sunday, Dean Smith and Co. have the chance to do so with several players back in the mix, but that’s not to say the task will be a walk in the park.

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Alexandre Lacazette (ankle) | Aston Villa — OUT: James Chester (thigh), Jonathan Kodjia (cheek)

Chelsea vs. Liverpool — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Liverpool, like Chelsea, suffered opening losses in European play midweek; however, there is a different, more positive impetus fueling Jurgen Klopp‘s side. The defending Champions League winners’ immaculate record speaks volume to their current situation, one that’s biggest setback has been the aforementioned loss to Napoli and the injury to goalkeeper Allison, while regaining influential player Nabi Keita in trainings.

It begs to ask: with Manchester City already behind and several top-six sides struggling, how will Liverpool not runaway with the league title this season? That type of talk, however, is exactly what Klopp doesn’t want to hear. The season is green – very, ver green – and this season, for one reason or another, is nothing like last year’s.

“Nothing is won already,” Klopp said. “We have seen teams make big steps. There is nobody you think will go down with no points. Watford and Wolves have been at the bottom, struggling, but will end up going back up. The league is much different (to last season). So many things can happen. Five games is nothing, not even created a basis…”

Klopp’s counterpart on Sunday, Frank Lampard, as a result of his own environment, is managing a different dialogue ahead of the clash, like the possibility of fielding Mason Mount, who came off midweek against Valencia in Champions League play.

On the bright side, Chelsea are unbeaten in their last four league bouts, and have a game against Liverpool under their belts this season already – a penalty-shootout loss in the UEFA Super Cup – that should have seasoned them ahead of this season’s part two of the rivalry.

“Times have changed slightly, but it doesn’t change that feeling,” Lampard said on the Chelsea-Liverpool rivalry. “I think the fans feel it, the players feel it, it does involve a lot of passion whenever it’s played. If your levels aren’t there it’s a game that can get away from you quickly so my first thing to say to the players is to make sure they feel this game, recognise what it is, because it always does have an edge.”

INJURIES: Chelsea OUT: Antonio Rüdiger (groin), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (achilles), Callum Hudson-Odoi, Reece James (both fitness) | Liverpool  OUT: Alisson (calf), Nathaniel Clyne (knee)

Premier League Preview: Aston Villa v. West Ham

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  • West Ham 9th in PL heading into Matchweek 5
  • Aston Villa, 18th in the standings, look to climb out of relegation zone

There was an international break in between to blow off some steam, but Aston Villa, sitting in the relegation zone, remain set on better days following a controversial ending to their last league game against Crystal Palace. For a team whose only win of the season has come at home, it couldn’t get much better than hosting West Ham at Villa Park on a Monday night (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Dean Smith and Co. aren’t necessarily playing bad, if anything their attack-oriented brand of play is as captivating as they get. The lack of finishing, in-game concentration and poor officiating (like against Palace), however, have not done Villa well. That said, their 2-0 victory against Everton weeks back is a testament to what they can really do on a positive night. With revenge on their mind, that can be the case against the Irons.

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On the other side, after a detrimental 5-0 loss to Manchester City to start the season, West Ham have found their groove under a revamped attack. Bundesliga import, Sebastien Haller, has scored three goals in the last two games, which resulted in victories for West Ham. Currently ninth in the table with seven points, with a win at Villa Park, Manuel Pellegrini‘s side can creep right behind the defending champions. It’s a complete 180-degree turn for West Ham, and they know they need to take advantage of the situation.

Injuries/suspensions

Man United: OUT – Winston Reid (knee), Michail Antonio (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE – None

Leicester: OUT – Jonathan Kodjia (head); QUESTIONABLE – James Chester (thigh), Matt Targett (thigh); SUSPENDED – Trézéguet (one match)


Projected lineups

Aston Villa: Heaton – Guilbert, Engels, Mings, Taylor – McGinn, Douglas Luiz, Grealish – Jota, Wesley, El-Ghazi

West Ham: Fabianski – Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna, Masuaku – Rice, Noble, Felipe Anderson, Lanzini, Yarmolenko – Haller


What they’re saying

Manuel Pelegrini, on playing Aston Villa: “We need to beat teams like Aston Villa, because last season there were a lot of teams around us that we lost to. Now we will see what happens this season. Villa is a difficult team. Their stadium is very important for them, but we go there as we do in all the other games – to try to win. Villa have had some different results, bought a lot of good players and play an attacking style. I think that they are doing well, they must adapt to the Premier League still, but they have a very good team and a manager in Dean Smith who wants to play in an attacking way.”

Dean Smith, on his player’s urgency to play and perform well: “They’re itching for that next game. There’s a burning desire from them to right the wrongs. I can sense that.The international break has given us an opportunity. For instance, we’ve been able to work a lot on our breakthrough opportunities as all of our forward players have been here.”


Prediction

Both teams don’t need extra motivation heading into Monday. It’s simply a matter of who wants the three points more. Obviously, given their position on the table, Villa could benefit more from a win than West Ham. Couple that with Villa playing in front of their vociferous and passionate crowd, and that might be the secret ingredient for the home side to squeeze out a win against what will be a challenging bout against Pellegrini’s side. Aston Villa, 2-1.

AFCON Wrap: Zaha wins it for Ivory Coast

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The Wilfried Zaha to Arsenal rumors will continue for another few days, because the Premier League star isn’t done having his say at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.

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Zaha followed a long ball forward and latched onto it just before Mali goalkeeper Djigui Diarra could get off his line, as Zaha finished past Diarra to lead the Ivory Coast to a 1-0 win over Mali, on Monday in Egypt. With the win, the Ivory Coast advances to quarterfinals, where it will face Algeria on Thursday. Algeria beat Guinea, 3-0, on Sunday.

It was a match of numerous missed chances. Mali’s Moussa Marenga and Youssouf Kone had multiple chances they skied over the bar, and in one case, Kone had a shot saved by Ivory Coast’s Sylvain Gbohouo. In the second half, Jonathan Kodjia of Ivory Coast and Adama Traore of Mali traded chances, but few shots were placed on target as both teams looked set to go to penalty kicks. Of the ones that were on target, most were tame efforts, with both team’s defenses nullifying any clear chances in the box.

Ultimately, it was the long ball that Zaha was quickest to on the second phase after an initial header, finishing into an open net and running towards his bench in elation after scoring.

Elsewhere, Tunisia stunned Ghana, winning 5-4 on penalty kicks. Tunisia advances to play Cinderella Madagascar on Thursday in the quarterfinals.

WATCH: Kodjia’s overhead kick sends Ivory Coast to AFCON; Kei Kamara also scores

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Ivory Coast was one of nine teams to qualify for this January’s Africa Cup of Nations thanks to new Aston Villa man’s Jonathan Kodjia acrobatic goal.

The 26-year-old striker reacted quickly to send an overhead kick home and give the Elephants a 1-0 lead over Sierra Leone, though New England Revolution man Kei Kamara answered to make the night a bit more nervy for the hosts.

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You can watch both goals below, and there’s another day of qualifying on tap for Sunday.

Also qualifying Saturday were Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Algeria, Ghana, Egypt, Morocco, and Guinea-Bissau. Notable eliminations include Nigeria, Guinea, South Africa, Cape Verde, and Sierra Leone.