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PL Preview: Tottenham vs. Cardiff City

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Winless in the league through the season’s first seven matches, Cardiff City will look to take advantage of a banged up Tottenham Hotspur as they meet at Wembley Stadium on Saturday at 10:00 a.m. live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

[ WATCH LIVE: Tottenham vs. Cardiff live on NBCSports.com ]

Tottenham will be without defender Jan Vertonghen who has picked up a hamstring problem and could miss as much as six weeks. Along with the Belgian defender, Spurs will miss Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Mousa Dembele who are all sidelined with various injuries. Spurs will especially miss the creativity of Eriksen, who has been out since suffering what Pochettino called an “abdomen problem” he picked up after the 2-1 victory over Brighton in late September.

Spurs have been all over the place with results of late, but they’ve done enough to put themselves into fourth place in the Premier League table. They fell to Barcelona in midweek Champions League play, carved up by Lionel Messi and company. However, they’ve been perfect through Premier League play aside from a two-game losing skid back in early September.

For Cardiff City, manager Neil Warnock is fearing the sack if the Premier League new boys can’t pick up points, and fast. With just two points through the first seven matches, Cardiff sits in 19th, level on points with Huddersfield Town and Newcastle. They are without midfielder Aron Gunnarsson this weekend who is on his way back from a knee injury, while Junior Hoilett is reportedly fit and ready to go.

What they’re saying

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino on playing a weaker team: “The most difficult game is the game that everyone believes, outside of the team, that you must win. For us it’s so important to be motivated at the same level. If not we’re going to struggle.”

Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock on the possibility of being fired: “If we don’t get results, no doubt it will become someone else’s problem. Every manager is under pressure. You do find every big agent is pushing managers’ names. I have heard two or three be mentioned already for my job, but that’s not just me, every manager gets that.”

Prediction

This Tottenham team is banged up, but right now Cardiff City is just not scoring enough to be trusted against such a disciplined team like Tottenham. An early goal will put Cardiff out of its comfort zone, and it will be elementary from there in a 2-0 Spurs win.

PL Sunday preview: Man Utd, Spurs, Arsenal hit the road

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures is chock-full of top-six sides in action, as Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur all look to advance their respective bids to topple this season’s favorites, Manchester City and Liverpool.

[ MORE: What did we learn from PL Saturday, Week 4? ]

Cardiff City vs. Arsenal — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The pressure has eased — even if only ever so slightly — on Unai Emery after picking up his first victory as Arsenal manager last weekend. What the Spaniard could now use is a healthy haul of points from the Gunners’ next seven games, all of which come against non-top-six sides. Up first is a trip to the south of Wales to take on 16th-place Cardiff, a side still seeking its first win (and goal) this season. Emery and midfielder Mesut Ozil have reportedly fallen out with one another, but the manager maintains the story is little more than tabloid fodder.

“Throughout my career I have respect for the media, for newspaper, radio, TV. But there are a lot of people in the media and at not every moment is the information real. It isn’t true, the news. … In this situation with Mesut Ozil, it is clear: he is OK, he has the commitment we want, he is a very important player for us and we want to help him to give us the best performance in each match and each moment.”

As for the Bluebirds, Neil Warnock‘s side is the last remaining team without a goal to their name this season. On the bright side, the two points they have to their name means they’ve kept a pair of clean sheets — in back-to-back games, no less — against Newcastle United and Huddersfield Town.

INJURIES: Cardiff — OUT: Junior Hoilett (groin), Aron Gunnarsson (knee) | Arsenal — OUT: Sead Kolasinac (knee), Laurent Koscielny (achilles), Carl Jenkinson (ankle), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (knee)

Burnley vs. Manchester United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

It might be early in the 2018-19 season, but it’s not too early for Jose Mourinho to find himself facing the possibility of being fired should Man United lose away to Burnley a week after losing 3-0 to Tottenham Hotspur. It’s not just Monday’s result, but the overwhelming sense of discontent around Old Trafford that has begun to make Mourinho’s position feel as if it’s untenable. He and his players are saying all of the right things, publicly, ahead of Sunday’s trip to Turf Moor, but it’s not as if anyone has any other choice at the moment.

Luke Shaw, for instance, feels the players must stick together and keep their heads down to right the ship.

“You see a lot of things in the media that go on about what our dressing room is like, but we have a really good spirit, a really good group of lads who want to work and achieve big things here. We have a group of hard workers and amazing talents, everywhere you look on the field. We have got to start taking our chances and I am sure we will start winning games. We have got to pick ourselves back up, keep working hard and we need to pick up points after two losses. We need to win and win in a good way.”

Burnley, on the other hand, are dealing with adversity of their own after failing to qualify for the group stage of the Europa League this week. Now, Sean Dyche‘s men seek their first win of the season, and their first point since opening day. Back-to-back defeats to Watford (3-1) and Fulham (4-2) have dropped the Clarets to 19th place in the league table.

INJURIES: Burnley — OUT: Johann Gudmundsson (hamstring), Steven Defour (calf), Robbie Brady (hastring) | Man United — OUT: Marcos Rojo (undisclosed), Diogo Dalot (fitness), Sergio Romero (fitness)

Watford vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 11 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

At the other end of the table, Sunday also provides an unlikely meeting of unbeaten sides when Watford host Tottenham at Vicarage Road. The Hornets have feasted on bottom-half sides in their first three games, while Spurs landed the first blow of the season amongst the “other” top-six sides vying for Champions League qualification.

While much of the talk about Mauricio Pochettino‘s side has focused on the fact that not a single player was signed this summer — the first such occurrence for a PL club since the summer transfer window began — Monday’s demolition of the Red Devils served as a coming-out party for Brazilian attacker Lucas Moura, a $___-million acquisition who had virtually no impact last season after signing in January. As a well-known former manager in north London might say, getting Moura up to speed with a full preseason behind him has been kind of like a new signing.

Pochettino’s counterpart on Sunday, Javi Gracia, has pushed all of the right buttons thus far, and he’s had to do so when it comes to picking his lineup and substitutes. With such a healthy, deep squad, Gracia might feel this is Watford’s best chance to knock off Spurs for the first time in the PL era. In 12 league meetings spanning two and a half decades, they have just three points to show for their efforts, and haven’t beaten the north London side in league play since 1987.

INJURIES: Watford — OUT: Tom Cleverley (achilles), Younes Kaboul (foot) | Tottenham — OUT: Hugo Lloris (thigh), Heung-Min Son (international duty), Moussa Sissoko (hamstring)

Season Preview: Newcomers Cardiff fly under radar

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Cardiff City at a glance:

Premier League titles: Zero

FA Cups: 1 (1927), Runners up: twice (1925, 2008)

League Cups: 0 (best finish: finalists in 2012)

FA Community Shield:  (1927)

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The Bluebirds haven’t spent in the manner of which their promotion counterparts Wolverhampton and Fulham have this summer, and maybe that is for the best.

Cardiff enters its first top-flight season since 2013/14, when the club exited immediately with a last-place finish in the PL.

Neil Warnock and his side will aim to complete a longer stay this time around, and with a squad that features many of last season’s key contributors from their Championship performance as runners up, Cardiff may be able to fly under the radar and make some noise in the process.

That said, Cardiff may have to be more active in the January transfer window if things don’t start off smoothly at Cardiff City Stadium.


Cardiff will contend because… Warnock’s ability to get his players to buy in to his style has already shone through since he took over the club prior to rising to the top flight.

Cardiff will end up fighting relegation because…. the club has always struggled in its bouts in the PL. Last time out, the Bluebirds finished dead last in the PL back in 2013/14, after having won the Championship the year prior to earn promotion.

Best possible XI:

Smithies

Peltier — Cunningham — Morrison — Bamba

Ralls — Reid — Gunnarsson — Mendez-Laing

Zohore — Hoilett

Transfers In: Greg Cunningham (Preston North End), Josh Murphy (Norwich City), Bobby Reid (Bristol City), Alex Smithies (Queens Park Rangers)

Transfers Out: Ogo Obi, Rhys Abbruzzee, Frédéric Gounongbe, Greg Halford, Matthew Kennedy (St Johnstone), Ben Wilson (Bradford City), Connor Young

Ranking their offseason: C

Smithies provides the club with an underrated goalkeeper to step in at the Cardiff City Stadium, and the Bluebirds stocked up in a few other key positions as well. Murphy and Cunningham provide the squad with depth on the left side of the pitch, particularly, the former, who shone through with Norwich City as a winger.

Star player: Junior Hoilett enters his third season with Cardiff as the club’s go-to goalscorer, and for the Canada international it will be an opportunity for redemption in the PL. Hoilett’s last go around in the top flight wasn’t everything he had anticipated while he was playing with Queens Park Rangers, so 2018 presents a new challenge for the 28-year-old.

Coach’s Corner: Neil Warnock has been around the block in just about every imaginable situation for a manager in England, so if anyone can keep the Bluebirds up it’ll be the Sheffield native. With Cardiff, Warnock has done his best managerial job in his tenured career, winning over 50.6 percent of his matches in charge, which includes guiding the club up to the PL.

PST Predicts: It’ll be a struggle for sure, as is the case for any club entering its first season in the PL, but Cardiff was wise with some of its underrated moves. We’ll have a real gauge of how good this team is after the first month-plus of the season, which includes a three-game stretch against Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City.

Race for Premier League promotion beginning to heat up

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The race for promotion to the Premier League has taken a wild and unexpected turn.

Wolverhampton Wanderers have all but secured the title with a nine point lead and five matches remaining. However, directly below them is where things have suddenly become hairy.

Cardiff City seemed to have second place done and dusted, with a return to the Premier League for the first time since 2013 almost ensured as they sat on a seven-match winning streak and without a loss since New Year’s Day, holding a seven-point lead plus a game in hand as March wound down. Now, just a week later, things could potentially be falling apart as the race heats up.

Following a draw to 9th placed Sheffield United, Cardiff hosted leaders Wolves on Friday in a top-of-the-table meeting, and chaos ensued. Wolves held nearly 2/3 of the possession and went ahead 1-0 past the hour mark as Ruben Neves bagged a beautiful free-kick goal, looping his close-range effort over the wall and tucking it inside the left post.

As the game wound down, Cardiff began to push forward as they looked for a late equalizer. They earned a penalty as stoppage time began, and Gary Madine stepped up to take it hoping for his 11th goal of the year. Instead, former Norwich City goalkeeper John Ruddy dove to his left and acrobatically kept the effort out, preserving the lead as a big celebration ensued. But the fireworks weren’t over.

Six minutes later, as Cardiff continued to press forward in desperation, Wolves’ Ivan Cavaleiro chopped down Aron Gunnarsson on the edge of the box, and the linesman flagged for a foul. That brought a second stoppage-time penalty opportunity for Cardiff still trailing by a goal. This time, former QPR winger Junior Hoilett stepped up to the spot, but his effort clanged the underside of the bar and came back out, and Cardiff could not capitalize on the ensuing scrum.

The loss means Cardiff has wasted its game in hand, suddenly dropping five points in the last two matches, sitting now five points above Fulham in third. The Whites are in spectacular form, unbeaten in a club-record 18 straight matches and leading the Championship form table. Fulham still has memories of playoff failure from last season, and would love to secure automatic promotion with a late-season charge, playing stunningly beautiful possession-based soccer under Slavisa Jokanovic.

Meanwhile, Cardiff next faces fourth-placed Aston Villa, who also remains in contention for promotion just two points back of Fulham. The pressure seems to be getting to Cardiff manager Neil Warnock, who refused to shake the hand of Wolves manager Nuno after the loss on Friday, instead firing some flowery language in his direction for his post-match celebration while applauding the home fans. He chastised Nuno after the game, telling Sky Sports in his post-match interview “in the British game you need to have manners and a bit of class.”

The remaining playoff places are currently occupied by Derby County and Middlesbrough who sit 15 and 17 points back of Cardiff City in 2nd, but that battle is raging as well. Just off the pace sits Bristol City, Millwall, and Sheffield United all at 62 points, just one behind Middlesbrough’s final playoff spot. Preston is another two back of that on 60 points, while Brentford is two behind them at 58.

Championship Focus: Halfway through, who’s coming up?

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Just as the second half of the 2017-18 Premier League season began on Tuesday, so did the Championship’s decisive half of football, with one former PL side threatening to run away with the title and the rest of the top half separated by just 13 points.

Sounds somewhat familiar, doesn’t it?

[ MORE: Boxing Day blues for Man Utd; joy for Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs ]

Wolverhampton Wanderers, who were mostly recently a PL side before being relegated in 2012, are unbeaten in their last 10 league games (eight wins) and eight points clear of their nearest title challengers, though Nuno Espirito Santo’s side did drop points for the second time in four games on Boxing Day. The Championship’s most prolific scoring side is spearheaded by 23-year-old Brazilian forward Leo Bonatini (12 goals) and 21-year-old Portuguese wonderkid Diogo Jota (10). If Wolves somehow don’t end up promoted this season, a bump in league is still likely for the prolific duo. Tuesday’s 2-2 draw away to 16th-place Millwall left the door slightly ajar for newly-established second-place Bristol City to trim the gap into single digits.

Everyone will first recall Bristol’s famous victory over Manchester United in the League Cup last week, of course, but that triumph at is hardly an outlier in what has been a fantastically consistent season for Lee Johnson’s Robins. With just one defeat from their last 11 league games (eight wins), Bristol have shot up the table following a draw-filled start to the season which seemed likely to preclude them from the promotion discussion. 24-year-old English forward Bobby Reid leads the way with 11 goals this season, with no one else bagging more than a half-dozen for an effectively balanced side.

Cardiff City had shown themselves to be worthy adversaries of Wolves, until back-to-back defeats in the last week saw them tumble from second to third in the table. First, it was a 2-0 defeat away to 23rd-place Bolton, followed by a 4-2 humbling at home against Fulham on Tuesday. 27-year-old Canadian winger Junior Hoilett is still kicking around the Championship and leads the Bluebirds with six goals.

Leeds United are the hottest team in the league (this side of Bristol), as Thomas Christiansen’s men are unbeaten in their last six (five wins) and are now just three points back of fourth-place Derby. A pair of sides relegated in recent seasons, Middlesbrough (2017) and Aston Villa (2016), currently sit just outside the playoff (top-six) places.

[ MORE: Man City take on Newcastle seeking 18th straight win ]

After 24 of 46 rounds played…

Place Team Points GD
1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 55 +26
2 Bristol City 47 +15
3 Cardiff City 47 +13
4 Derby 45 +17
5 Leeds United 42 +10
6 Sheffield United 41 +10
7 Middlesbrough 38 +9
8 Aston Villa 38 +8
9 Preston North End 37 +4
10 Ipswich Town 36 +4
11 Fulham 35 +2
12 Brentford 34 +5