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PL Sunday preview: Litmus test time for Spurs, Man United

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures will see a pair of top-four hopefuls do battle head-to-head, as Tottenham Hotspur host Manchester United at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: What we learned in the Premier League, Week 22 ]

Everton v. Bournemouth — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

With just one win in their last eight PL outings, Everton will be hoping that their narrow victory over League Two side Lincoln City in the FA Cup last weekend will help to right the ship once back in league play. Marco Silva‘s fingers crossed it does the trick after slipping to 11th in the league table.

“Winning matches is the best way to win confidence and to start playing at our best level,” he said this week. “The best way to show (our quality) is by the results and the wins. We achieved the main thing against Lincoln and we have to work strongly again to achieve a good result in the next match.”

INJURIES: Everton — OUT: None | Bournemouth — OUT: Lewis Cook (knee), Simon Francis (knee), Adam Smith (knee), Dan Gosling (knee), Dominic Solanke (hamstring)


Tottenham Hotspur v. Man United — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Sunday’s showdown at Wembley will serve as a litmus test for both Tottenham and Man United, as well as their respective managers. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will put his unblemished record as United boss on the line against Mauricio Pochettino, who might just replace him at Old Trafford in the summer.

With all due respect to the likes of Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town, third-place Spurs will pose a challenge Solskjaer’s side has not yet seen since Jose Mourinho was fired following a humbling defeat to Liverpool last month. United didn’t fare so well the first time these sides met this season, as the Red Devils suffered a thoroughly embarrassing 3-0 defeat that home in August. While Solskjaer has restored the attacking intent at United, he will be without a number of key defensive figures on Sunday, with Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, Eric Bailly, Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian all reportedly unavailable or left out of the squad.

Along the same lines, Spurs are enjoying their best run of results all season, despite experiencing a rash of injuries — particularly to the midfield, where Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko have, somehow, become an irreplaceable duo. Finally, Eric Dier (appendectomy) is expected to return, as is defender Jan Vertonghen (thigh), thus affording Pochettino a majority of first-choice midfield and defensive options. Son Heung-min, who has amassed seven goals and five assists in his last seven games (all competitions), will play on Sunday before departing to join up with South Korea at the Asian Cup. It was agreed between the two side that Son remain with his club until after the game against United, missing the first two group games in the process.

INJURIES: Tottenham —  OUT: Mousa Dembele (ankle), Victor Wanyama (knee) | Man United — OUT: Eric Bailly (suspension), Chris Smalling (foot), Marcos Rojo (undisclosed)

Transfer needs for Premier League clubs

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The transfer window is open and, so far, there hasn’t been that much business done by the 20 Premier League clubs.

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As we creep towards the deadline at 6 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, you just know so many deals will be done between now and then. But what are the key areas where each Premier League club should strengthen in, if they can, this month?

With that in mind, below is a look at the key transfer needs for each PL team in January.


Arsenal
Key transfer needs: Center back, CAM – Unai Emery has had so many injuries in this area, but aside from that fact, the quality needed to sustain a top four charge just isn’t there. Replacing Aaron Ramsey, long-term, would also be savvy and the arrival of Denis Suarez from Barcelona seems likely. The Spanish central midfielder play for Emery while he was on loan at Sevilla and he can add that extra bit of quality to supply the likes of Aubameyrang and Lacazette.


Bournemouth
Key transfer needs: None – They’ve done their business nice and early with Nathaniel Clyne and Dominic Solanke arriving from Liverpool. With Jermain Defoe moving to Rangers, buying Solanke was a big risk at $24.1 million. He has bags of potential and Eddie Howe will think he can develop that talent a la David Brooks, Ryan Fraser and Callum Wilson. Clyne is only on loan, but you can see a permanent deal happening this summer.


Brighton & Hove Albion
Key transfer need: Central midfield – Some extra depth in central midfield is all that is needed, as Chris Hughton has a strong squad and the quality of his starting XI doesn’t drop significantly when a regular is replaced. Having some extra nous in central midfield would be a good move.


Burnley
Key transfer needs: Winger, attacking midfielder – Injuries to key players in attack have hampered Burnley for most of this season, and with their defense sorted out in recent weeks and Tom Heaton back in goal, they are shored up at the back. They could do with adding more creativity in the final third as the likes of Steven Defour just hasn’t recovered from his horrible injury.


Cardiff City
Key transfer needs: Striker, winger, right back – Neil Warnock is already miffed after missing out on signing Clyne, but the Bluebirds have long been linked with Emiliano Sala and Youseff Msakni. However, both attackers are said to not be keen on a move to the Welsh capital despite Cardiff currently sitting just outside of the relegation zone. Work to do for Cardiff to seal some signings, but they do not have a big budget and will have to wait for the last minute. Will it be too late by then?


Chelsea

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Key transfer needs: Striker, central midfield – With Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud misfiring, Maurizio Sarri needs a new striker. Gonzalo Higuain has been linked with a move to Stamford Bridge, but it could be tough to sort out considering he is currently on loan from Juventus to AC Milan. With Cesc Fabregas on his way out, Sarri also wants a new central midfielder. Chelsea have been linked with a $55 million move for Cagliari midfielder Nicolo Barella, which would be another huge outlay after they bought Christian Pulisic for $73 million before loaning him back to Dortmund until the summer.


Crystal Palace
Key transfer needs: Striker, striker, striker… – Roy Hodgson needs one thing to turn this team into a midtable side: a striker. Michy Batshuayi has been mentioned on several occasions, and given the poor form of Alexander Sorloth (who could be heading to Germany) and the untimely injury to Christian Benteke, relying on the less than prolific Andros Townsend, Wilfried Zaha and Jordan Ayew for their goals has been far from ideal. Palace are set elsewhere, but need a targetman.


Everton
Key transfer needs: Striker, center back – The Toffees need a new center forward too, as Cenk Tosun‘s move just hasn’t worked out and Dominic Calvert-Lewin may not cut the mustard at the top level. Richarlison has had to play through the middle a lot this season and he is clearly better coming off the left. As for defense, Kurt Zouma, Michael Keane and Yerry Mina have had rollercoaster campaigns and getting them extra cover, especially in a 3-4-3 formation, is vital.


Fulham

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Key transfer needs: Center back, full backs – Claudio Ranieri has improved this Fulham defense significantly but this may be all he can do with his group of players. Gary Cahill has been linked with a loan move from Chelsea, while full back Timothy Fosu-Mensah has been told he can head back to parent club Manchester United. That suggests a new right back is on the way, and Ranieri could do with strengthening both full back positions and adding two new center backs. Going forward they look more than adequate, but there’s no real balance in this team.


Huddersfield Town
Key transfer needs: Everywhere – It is quite simple, Huddersfield need to spend big in the transfer window or they are going to get relegated. After eight-straight defeats they are eight points from safety and scoring goals has been a huge problem all season. Jason Puncheon has arrived from Crystal Palace on loan and he is of course an experienced pro, but top quality in midfield and attack is needed. Losing Aaron Mooy and Danny Williams for a key part of the season was a blow, and the Terriers know they will have to act fast this month to give themselves a chance of staying up.


Leicester City
Key transfer needs: Striker, central midfield – With Vicente Iborra sold to Villarreal, there is a hole in central midfield for Claude Puel to plug. Up top the likes of Shinji Okazaki and Kelechi Iheanacho continue to deliver lackluster displays and Jamie Vardy really needs some support. Bringing in a strong center forward who can link up with Vardy would be ideal.


Liverpool

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Key transfer needs: Attacking midfielder, left back – Nabil Fekir has been linked with a move to Liverpool, again, as the Frenchman’s move to Anfield collapsed at the last minute this summer. In some of their big games they’ve lacked a calming presence in midfield, and Naby Keita just hasn’t settled down. Liverpool need a No.10 type who can slow the tempo down a little when they want to. Adam Lallana can be that man if he stays fit, but a new playmaker would give them a big push towards the title. Alberto Moreno is a decent back up option at left back to Andrew Robertson, but he is set to leave in the summer so adding a new left back would be ideal.


Manchester City
Key transfer needs: Left back, defensive midfielder – Benjamin Mendy‘s injury problems mean that left back is the main area needed to strengthen in. Pep Guardiola‘s plan to play Fabian Delph there worked last season, but not so much this season, while Oleksandr Zinchenko hasn’t settled in that role. Aymeric Laporte has plugged the gap for now, but a long-term left back to challenge Mendy is badly needed. A long-term replacement for Fernandinho is needed too, as the Brazilian is badly missed when he’s been out injured.


Manchester United
Key transfer needs: Center back, left back – Defensively United need some serious help, as their stable of center backs just isn’t good enough and are injured far too often. Luke Shaw is their only real option at left back, with Matteo Darmian, Marcos Rojo and Ashley Young able to play there out of position in a pinch.


Newcastle United
Key transfer needs: Striker, central midfielder, winger – Now, it is very unlikely Rafael Benitez will be given money to spend in January, but he does need to strengthen in a few areas. Defensively they are solid enough and are all set there. But going forward he is woefully short of quality options. Extra quality off the wing, a No. 10 and a striker to partner Salomon Rondon is needed. Miguel Almiron from Atlanta United has been linked with a move to St James’ Park but the Magpies are baulking at the $35 million transfer fee.


Southampton

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Key transfer needs: Winger, striker, center back – Saints have a lot of center backs, but Ralph Hasenhuttl has pretty much hinted that Wesley Hoedt is available to leave and that will open a spot up for them to strengthen in. Bednarek, Yoshida and Vestergaard have played okay at times, but RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano has been linked with a move to St Mary’s. Up top there will be an almighty shake up as Manolo Gabbiadini is leaving, Shane Long is on his way out and with Danny Ings‘ injuries flaring up, Hasenhuttl needs reinforcements. His style of play is all about pace, so adding extra pace out wide and up top is the main aim this month. Saints have to sell before they buy, so that will be challenging. Roger Guedes, Yussuf Poulsen and Odio Ighalo have been a few names linked with Saints.


Tottenham Hotspur
Key transfer needs: Central midfield, striker – Although Mauricio Pochettino has admitted he will not be looking to buy anyone in January due to the lack of funds available with the new stadium move almost complete, Spurs are likely to promote youngsters into their squad. But if they are going to be serious about mounting a title bid or going far in the Champions League, more help for Harry Kane (Fernando Llorente is fine for FA Cup games) is needed. Oliver Skipp has stepped in admirably in midfield, and given the fact that Mousa Dembele seems destined to leave, they could have some money to spend on a new midfielder.


Watford
Key transfer need: Center back – It is one of the areas which Watford have ignored for some time, but they always seem to get by. The likes of Cathcart and Kabasele could be upgraded quite easily, and Watford should aim to add extra quality in central defense as they’ve thrown away plenty of points this season. Going forward and in midfield they are littered with options for Javi Gracia. Sort out their defense ahead of the brilliant Ben Foster and they will push hard for European qualification.


West Ham United
Key transfer needs: Nowhere – The Hammers are pretty set and spent a lot of money in the summer. They have a plethora of options up top, in defense and especially in midfield. Consiering Jack Wilshere has hardly kicked a ball this season, Andriy Yarmolenko is out of the rest of the season and Manuel Lanzini is on his way back after a lengthy injury, they have plenty of quality in reserve too. Maybe some extra cover defensively could help, but apart from that Manuel Pellegrini has a very strong squad to choose from.


Wolverhampton Wanderers

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Key transfer need: Striker – Linked with a move for Tammy Abraham, who has spent the first half of the season on loan at Aston Villa, Wolves need help for Raul Jimenez. The Mexican striker has been far from prolific, but he creates so many chances yet doesn’t have a lot of support in games. Nuno Espirito Santo is well stocked elsewhere, but adding a new center back to work into their three-man defense would do wonders for that rotation.

Three things we learned: Liverpool v. Man United

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LIVERPOOL — Liverpool returned to the top of the Premier League table with a resounding, humiliating drubbing of Manchester United on Sunday.

The 3-1 scoreline didn’t do justice to the gulf which now exists between the two teams. Sadio Mane‘s first half goal set Liverpool on their way, while Jesse Lingard equalized after a mistake from Alisson. But two deflected strikes from Xherdan Shaqiri won it for Liverpool in the second half, as Jurgen Klopp‘s side were deserved winners and remain the only unbeaten team left in the Premier League.

As for Jose Mourinho and United, they sit in sixth place and are now 11 points off the top four as so many of their problems were ruthlessly exposed.

Here’s what we learned from a tense encounter between two bitter rivals, as Liverpool’s fans have the bragging rights and will enjoy a sensational festive period.


LIVERPOOL’S FRONT THREE FINALLY BREAK UNITED DOWN

Ahead of this clash Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane had all failed to score or grab an assist for the Reds against Manchester United in 855 minutes in the Premier League. Mane changed that early on and both Firmino and Salah looked sharp throughout. United’s five-man defense sat deep and try to stop their runs over the top but Mane timed his perfectly to put Liverpool ahead. Mane then set up Shaqiri to score Liverpool’s second with a surging run down the left, and a lovely flick from Firmino set up Shaqiri to score his second and Liverpool’s third. United’s defense was makeshift with Chris Smalling going down in the warm-up and the likes of Matteo Darmian and Diogo Dalot chucked in at the deep end, but Liverpool’s famous front three finally fired on all cylinders against their bitter rivals.


MOURINHO IS NO LONGER KLOPP’S KRYPTONITE

Jurgen Klopp had failed to beat Jose Mourinho since he took charge of Manchester United, but at the fifth time of asking he recorded his first win against Mourinho’s United. Three of those matches have been draws, most of which United have played for, and last March United beat Liverpool 2-1 at Old Trafford in a proper smash and grab. But Klopp wasn’t to be denied on Sunday as the progress his team has made over the past 12 months is clear for all to see. Aside from Alisson’s howler they didn’t look like conceding, as Liverpool have now let in just seven goals in 17 games so far this season. As for United, Mourinho’s strength has become their biggest weakness as the Red Devils have now conceded more goals in their opening 17 games of the season than they did in the whole of last season. This defeat was only his third in 17 away games at Liverpool in his career, and it was perhaps the most damaging of all.


SHAQIRI, Fabinho PROVE STRENGTH OF LIVERPOOL’S SQUAD

Last year Liverpool would have drawn this game on Sunday, just like they did at home against Manchester United in their previous two PL encounters, but Shaqiri scored twice after coming off the bench to underline the new strength of this Liverpool squad. Shaqiri made a huge difference, with his pace and power and two deflected efforts leading Liverpool to victory. But it was all over the pitch where Liverpool showed they have built a better, and deeper, team than Man United. Nathaniel Clyne came in for his first start since last May with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez out and excelled. Fabinho was superb in place of Jordan Henderson and Dejan Lovren held his own with Joel Matip and Gomez out. Now 19 points ahead of United, Liverpool’s strength in depth is clear for all to see and along with Man City they’re the genuine title contenders.

As for United, they were riddled with defensive injuries and it showed. United’s problems were compounded by having the likes of Paul Pogba as an unused substitute as Mourinho’s squad have reportedly turned against him and the players who do want to play just simply aren’t good enough.

Report: Valencia wants to leave Man United

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You know things are bad at Manchester United when Antonio Valencia could leave the club in the middle of the season.

According to a bombshell report in The Times of London, Valencia is considering his future and could depart in January for greener pastures. The 33-year-old hasn’t played a Premier League match in three months despite being named club captain over the summer, as Mourinho has often went with Ashley Young or Matteo Darmian in league games. Valencia did play in Man United’s 2-1 defeat to Valencia CF.

The Ecuadorian veteran has sacrificed a lot in his career for Man United. Since joining in 2009 from Wigan, Valencia accepted moving back from an attacking right winger to playing right midfield and eventually right back or right wing back. And yet, despite the sacrifice and work defensively, Mourinho hasn’t trusted him this season.

Valencia leaving says a lot about the current situation at Man United, where even club favorites feel they are not respected enough. Should Valencia leave, it would be a great mid-season pickup for any Premier League side.

Moody Mourinho cranks up pressure on Man United

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Jose Mourinho has been talking ahead of Manchester United’s pivotal UEFA Champions League clash against Young Boys on Tuesday at Old Trafford and he wasn’t particularly happy.

‘What’s new?’ I hear you cry…

[ MORE: UCL predictions, Week 5

Before focusing on the clash against their Swiss opponents, Mourinho was asked in his press conference about the disappointing 0-0 draw at home against Crystal Palace on Saturday as his team are now seven points off the top four in the Premier League.

Following the draw against Palace he criticized the hunger of his players and he has stood by those comments.

“When you see amazing things that the players did that demands that spirit, ambition and pride you believe they have it,” Mourinho said. “But then sometimes you have matches where the profile is a little bit different and obviously you are frustrated. For me it was a pleasure, even against Manchester City where we didn’t recover from the 2-0. Even in that match, you score the first goal and fight for the second and you leave the stadium in a situation where everybody feels that anything could happen. Okay, you lose, but you go with that spirit until the end. When you compare against Crystal Palace it is frustrating.”

“What I want is a team to start strong, not waiting,” Mourinho added. “People think that ‘Jose told them to start slow, Jose told them to play nice and easy to wait and see what happens or to be losing for them to react.’ It is exactly the opposite. I want them to start strong and have a go almost immediately.”

But United’s slow starts have continued to hamper them this season as they are well off the pace in the PL. And although they’re on the verge of reaching the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League, it is largely thanks to an improbable away win at Juventus where they rode their luck big time.

With United able to qualify for the knockout rounds tomorrow if they beat Young Boys and Juventus don’t lose to Valencia, Mourinho wants his players to go all-out for victory and treat the game as a knockout match.

“It is not a crucial match because if we don’t win tomorrow, we still don’t depend on other results. We just depend on ourselves. It is not a crucial game. But I want to play from minute one like it is the last chance we have to qualify,” Mourinho said.  I want to play this game as a knockout game, that we have to win tomorrow. The team that I will play tomorrow, I want to put out a team where they can cope well with that happiness with a decisive game. Let’s play this game like a game we have to win.”

Mourinho confirmed that Victor Lindelof will be out for a few weeks, as the Swedish defender needs a scan on a muscle injury and could be out until after the festive period. Matteo Darmian is also missing, but it will be intriguing to look at the lineup Mourinho selects as he suggested there was a lack of physicality in central midfield against Palace. Could the likes of Fred or Marouane Fellaini return?

The combative Portuguese coach also confirmed that United should have no problem when it comes to getting to this home game. They’ve been late for both of their UCL clashes against Valencia and Juventus at Old Trafford this season (due to bad traffic in Manchester) and were fined by UEFA.

“We decide to change hotel. We are not coming from the city center. We are staying at a hotel a few metres away. Information is that things will be much better than last time. If it is not better I walk,” Mourinho added.

As he plans to crank up the pressure on his players to secure a victory against Young Boys, Mourinho was asked if his players prefer to play away rather than at home due to the expectations of United’s 75,000-plus supporters at Old Trafford.

“If you feel pressure, stay at home,” Mourinho said. “If you feel pressure to play matches at home where the people come to support, come on? I never felt pressure to play at home.”