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PL Preview: Leicester City v. Liverpool

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Among the Boxing Day fixture list, one game stands above all the rest. Leicester City v. Liverpool, live Thursday at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

While it doesn’t present the potentially enormous stakes it could have had the Foxes downed Manchester City last weekend, it still looms largest among the festive fixtures and could still be one of the final true tests for the Reds as they march towards not just a Premier League crown but also a potentially unbeaten league campaign. With a ten point lead and a game in hand, Liverpool could give itself a nearly insurmountable advantage atop the table should they emerge victorious, but defeat will procure doubt among the supporters with half the season still to go.

Leicester City will consider themselves very much in the title race despite the mountain to climb, given their narrow defeat at Anfield in the last meeting, a game that required a James Milner penalty in the dying seconds to secure victory for the Reds. The Foxes will be buoyed by the home crowd, unbeaten at King Power Stadium this year while conceding just five goals and keeping four clean sheets.

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The Reds have a tougher task than anticipated given the litany of injuries across the squad. Alongside long-term absentees Joel Matip, Fabinho, Dejan Lovren, and Nathaniel Clyne, they are also missing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who picked up an ankle problem at the Club World Cup. Jurgen Klopp was forced to move Jordan Henderson into the defensive unit during the semifinal in Qatar last week, and any other potential issues in the squad through the festive period could force a similar emergency shift for the Reds.

Leicester City is in much better shape health-wise, but will be monitoring the status of Harvey Barnes who also finds himself saddled with an ankle injury after the Man City loss, while Matty James is still out for a while longer as he builds up his fitness from a long-term Achilles injury.

Brendan Rodgers has prior history with Jurgen Klopp, beating the German handily while managing Liverpool in a pre-season game against Borussia Dortmund in 2014.

Injuries/suspensions

Leicester City: OUT – Matty James (Achilles). QUESTIONABLE – Harvey Barnes (ankle).

Liverpool: OUT – Dejan Lovren (hamstring), Fabinho (hamstring), Joel Matip (knee), Nathaniel Clyne (ACL), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (ankle). QUESTIONABLE


Projected lineups

Leicester City: Schmeichel; Chilwell, Evans, Soyuncu, Pereira; Ndidi, Tielemans, Maddison; Barnes, Vardy, Perez.

Liverpool: Alisson; Robertson, Gomez, van Dijk, Alexander-Arnold; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Keita; Mane, Firmino, Salah.


What they’re saying

Leicester City boss Rodgers on long-term Liverpool domination: “I think that’s pretty difficult now in this modern time. But it doesn’t take away that they’re a fantastic team. And now they have that feeling of winning which gives that hunger to win even more. For us, they and Manchester City are a great benchmark for a lot of the teams at this level. We always have to fight and improve and get as close as we possibly can to that level.”

Liverpool manager Klopp on Jamie Vardy“He is a massive threat obviously. He’s an exceptional striker what can you say? Since I’m in England he’s one of the top three. He’s always scoring, he’s difficult to defend, always on your shoulder running at your back playing the offside line. Really, really dangerous. The only thing you can do in football is try and avoid as many passes as you can to him and that’s what we’ll try. Leicester is not only Jamie Vardy. Brendan has done an excellent job there.”


Key stats

  • Leicester City is winless in its last five PL meetings against Liverpool, losing four and drawing one (last win: Feb 2017)
  • Neither side has kept a clean sheet in any of the last 7 PL meetings against one another
  • Liverpool has won its last 4 Boxing Day fixtures by a combined 11-0 score
  • Jamie Vardy has scored 29 goals in 2019, the most in the league – he has scored in each of his last three home games against Liverpool (5 goals)
  • Liverpool is unbeaten in its last 34 Premier League fixtures, and are the only PL side to have scored in every game so far this season

Prediction

The Reds are banged up, but in all other respects are the better side. Leicester City showed weaknesses against Manchester City, and they are ones Jurgen Klopp could exploit. Still, Jamie Vardy is on an undeniable tear, and his presence alone gives the Foxes a chance. An exciting 2-2 draw should give both sides a coveted point and keep Liverpool as clear favorites to win the league.

Premier League Preview: Man City v. Leicester City

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Raise your hand if you thought Saturday’s meeting between Manchester City and Leicester City (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and NBCSports.com) would turn out to be a head-to-head battle for the right to finish second, miles behind Liverpool, in the Premier League title race. If your hand is in the air, please put it down now because you’re lying and everyone knows it.

The two-time defending champions have struggled badly — by their own otherworldly standards, at least — and have already lost as many games (four) this season as they did all of last campaign. Two years ago, when they broke virtually every PL record, they lost just twice. The main culprit, beyond their own unrealistic standard and expectations, has been injuries to an already-thin defensive unit. When Vincent Kompany left in the summer, no replacement was signed; Aymeric Laporte suffered a serious knee injury in August and hasn’t played since; now, John Stones is also out. As such, Man City are currently on pace to concede 38 goals this season — an astounding defensive record for just about any other PL side, until you see they conceded just 23 and 27 in each of their title-winning campaigns.

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When one side falls down the pecking order, the door opens for another to capitalize and climb a few rungs higher. That’s exactly what Brendan Rodgers‘ Foxes have done this season, largely through their nearly impenetrable backline which is led by 23-year-old Caglar Soyuncu. The Turkish international joined Leicester in the summer of 2018 and played just six games in his first season at the King Power Stadium, before emerging as one of the best center backs in the world this campaign. Then, there’s Jamie Vardy, who has 16 goals through 17 games and looks set to smash his career-best output of 24 goals in the Foxes’ title-winning 2015-16 season.

Last time out, Leicester suffered a rare setback in the form of a 1-1 draw with Norwich City. It was the first time they had dropped points in the PL since losing to Liverpool in early October — a run of eight straight wins followed and saw them surge past the likes of City and Chelsea in the table.

Injuries/suspensions

Man City: OUT – John Stones (hamstring), Aymeric Laporte (knee), Leroy Sane (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Sergio Aguero (thigh), David Silva (leg)

Leicester: OUT – Matty James (achilles)


Projected lineups

Man City: Ederson — Walker, Otamendi, Fernandinho, Mendy — Rodrigo, Gundogan — Mahrez, De Bruyne, Sterling — Jesus

Leicester: Schmeichel — Pereria, Evans, Soyuncu, Chilwell — Praet, Ndidi, Tielemans, Maddison, Gray — Vardy


What they’re saying

Pep Guardiola, on Leicester’s strong start: “Last year after the game, it was my feeling that this season they would be fighting for the top-four and it’s happened. They did really well last season when [Rodgers] took over the team. They have been so consistent this season and they are a fantastic team. They have a lot of quality up front and through the middle. At the back they are solid and they play so good on the counter-attack. They control all departments in the game.”

Rodgers, on the PL title race: “At the beginning, of the season nobody really expected us to be in the position that we’re in. However, for us, we have a belief in our work and how we work. The players have been absolutely first class throughout the season and this is another opportunity for us. We’re not even at the halfway point. There is still so much football to play. … It is still so early. You have just got to approach each game, be really focused and looked to bring the best quality game that you can.”


Prediction

The only sides to beat Leicester this season are Liverpool and Manchester United, a class of opponent which obviously includes Man City. The ease with which the Foxes can sit back and watch an opponent dominate possession, which City will undoubtedly do, and play for the counter-attack makes them an incredibly dangerous opposition for Guardiola and Co. Man City 2-2 Leicester.

PL Sunday preview: Leicester, Newcastle, Sheffield Utd, Wolves in action

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There will be no shortage of action and subplots during Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures, as Aston Villa host in-form Leicester City; Newcastle look to continue their winning ways against an improving Southampton side; Norwich City look for a way out of the relegation zone as they take on Sheffield United; and Wolverhampton Wanderers aim to continue their spectacular, unbeaten run against Brighton.

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Aston Villa vs. Leicester City — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

December is upon us, and the team putting some form of pressure on top-of-the-table Liverpool is second-best Leicester City. Who would have thought?

In similar fashion to what the masses thought of the Foxes prior to the start of the 2015/16 season, the answer is that not many were sold on the notion that Brendan Rodgers and his team were going to be a flat-out success this season, especially after dealing out Harry Maguire to Manchester United.

Whether the onlookers believed or didn’t believe is a conversation that surely doesn’t bother the majority associated with the once-Premier League champions. The Foxes are on a seven-game winning streak and Rodgers was rewarded for his accomplishments thus far, signing a new contract on Friday that keeps him at the helm until 2025.

Aston Villa’s Dean Smith recognized that his opponents on Sunday are in stellar shape but also cautioned that playing his team at Villa Park will not be a walk in the park, despite only being a point above the red line.

“They are on a fantastic run of form but there aren’t many teams who will come away from Villa Park and think they’ve had an easy game,” Dean Smith said.

It’s not the blockbuster game that will freeze the soccer community, but from the sounds of it, Leicester’s visit to Birmingham will be an authentic battle between two teams that are on the opposite sides of the spectrum.

INJURIES: Aston Villa — OUT: Keinan Davis (hamstring), Jed Steer (achilles)| Leicester City — OUT: Matty James (calf) 

Newcastle vs. Southampton — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Southampton haven’t won three consecutive league matches since May of 2016.

That can change on Sunday at St. James Park, mostly if Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s gamble of starting the same lineup for a third straight game over the span of eight days pays off. But just as it can pay off, it can certainly backfire at the hands of a slowly-but-surely improving Newcastle side.

“It’s a huge month for us,” Steve Bruce said about his Magpies ahead of the match. “It’s season defining, I think it is for every team because there are so many games.

“I have always said that a few results along the way helps everybody, so we’ve given ourselves a nice platform going into the busy Christmas period.

“The spirit among the players, and their attitude and the way they are playing has delighted me.”

That said, as expected, Hasenhuttl likes his side’s chances after demonstrating to him that they’re more than willing to follow order and fight for the crest at all costs.

“In the last three games… the team [has been] playing much more committed,” he said. “When we play like this we create chances, we don’t give the opponents chances, we are defending higher and then keep the opponent far away from our goal and this is more our style we want to play.”

INJURIES: Newcastle — OUT: Lascelles (Knee), Ritchie (ankle) | Southampton — OUT: Armstrong (calf)

Norwich City vs. Sheffield United — 9:00 a.m ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Just a couple of months ago, Daniel Farke and his players were touching the clouds.

A 3-2 win against the defending champions Manchester City was the root cause of that state of hysteria that is now nowhere to be found. With one win in their last 10 matches, the Canaries have been grounded and more. In fact, Farke’s rhetoric on his team and their future in the league says it all.

“We are a newly-promoted side who have not spent any money, so in each and every second at this level we must be at our best,” he said leading up to Sunday’s match. “We told everyone before the season this would be a difficult challenge.”

Promoted with them last season, Sheffield United, too, didn’t let lavish spendings over the summer do the talking. But even then, Chris Wilder‘s men have done a lot with a little, putting together formidable, team-oriented performances. The Blades have surprised many with their 19 points after 15 matches.

Sunday presents itself as a game in which Sheffield has the upper hand, but Wilder knows Norwich far too well. In fact, it’s a team they were constantly chasing in England’s second division this time last year.

“They were the outstanding team in the Championship last season,” he said. “I was delighted to get as close as we did to them.”

INJURIES: Norwich City — OUT: Hanley (groin), Drmic (hamstring), Timm Klose (knee) | Sheffield United — OUT: None

Brighton Hove and Albion vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers  — 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBCSN

Very few teams in the league have overcome adversity this season like Wolves.

A team that surprised many last season, started the season off in a way that was unlike anything Nuno Espirito Santo had put forward before: a sluggish, disjointed brand of play. Wolves have been participating in European competition for the first time since 1980, however, and have 28 games under their belts this season.

Riding a 10-game unbeaten streak (the best active streak in the league), Espirito Santo decided to give his players a rare Thursday off from all training ahead of Sunday’s showdown against a hungry Brighton.

“I hope [the players] enjoyed their day off [on Thursday],” the Portuguese manager said. “It was well deserved and they needed it. It was important they understand it’s a day to rest, recover, stay at home and be with family and join us today to be ready for Sunday.”

Coming off an emphatic win at the Emirates, Brighton are aware of the tough task that will be defeating a red-hot Wolves. But as Graham Potter says and just experienced against Arsenal, anything and everything goes in the Premier League.

“Anything is possible in this league, that’s the way you have to think or else it becomes boring,” Potter said. “We have to keep working towards what we’re trying to achieve and maintain the spirit around the group.”

INJURIES: Brighton  OUT: Izquierdo (knee) | Wolves  OUT: Boly (leg), Gibbs-White (back), Shabani (knee)

PL Sunday preview: Arsenal’s post-Emery era; Man Utd host Villa

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures features four games, including (but not limited to) the first game of the post-Unai Emery era at Arsenal, Manchester United with a chance to climb into fifth place, and what could be the final game of Marco Silva‘s tenure at Everton.

[ MORE: Mourinho praises “phenomenal” Dele Alli, Spurs supporters ]

Arsenal v. Norwich City — 9 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Unai Emery was fired by Arsenal on Friday, making way for the Freddie Ljungberg (interim) era to begin on Sunday. With no obvious candidate standing out from all the others, Ljungberg, a long-time favorite as a Gunners player, could be given the chance to impress and have the “interim” tag removed, a la Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a year ago. After taking just three points from their last five PL games, Arsenal have fallen to ninth place, eight points behind fourth-place Chelsea, and could finish the weekend as low as 10th place. On the other hand, a win over 19th-place Norwich would see them climb up to fifth, a point ahead of north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur. Norwich’s Teemu Pukki, who took the PL by storm with five goals in his first three games, hasn’t found the back of the net since Sept. 14, a run of eight straight goal-less games for the Fininish forward.

INJURIES: Arsenal —  OUT: Dani Ceballos (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: Hector Bellerin (hamstring), David Luiz (ribs), Shkodran Mustafi (foot) | Norwich  — OUT: Alexander Tettey (personal), Grant Hanley (groin), Timm Klose (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Jamal Lewis (knee), Josip Drmic (hamstring)


Wolves v. Sheffield United — 9 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Through 13 games of their debut season in the PL, Sheffield United are threatening to “do a Wolves,” in so much that the newly promoted side currently sits seventh — where Wolves finished last season — following a red-hot start. Following a poor start of their own (zero wins from their first six games), Wolves have rebounded nicely (unbeaten in their last eight, including four wins) and climbed all the way up to sixth (each side sat a place higher coming into the weekend).

INJURIES: Wolves —  OUT: Willy Boly (ankle), Ryan Bennett (groin), Romain Saiss (suspension), Morgan Gibbs-White (back) | Sheffield United  — OUT: None


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

Nearly four months into the season, Man United are still without back-to-back PL victories. In fact, they’ve not repeated the same result — win, loss or draw — in consecutive league games all season. The Red Devils ave been, if anything, consistently inconsistent. After drawing Sheffield United 3-3 last time out, the best Solskjaer’s side can do on Sunday is get halfway there ahead of Tottenham’s blockbuster visit, and Jose Mourinho’s return, on Wednesday. United’s injury list remains extensive — and expensive — as Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly remain out, with Nemanja Matic perhaps set to return on Sunday. As for Villa, Dean Smith‘s side snapped a three-game losing skid last time out by thoroughly besting Newcastle United at Villa Park to put four points between themselves and the relegation zone. Following Southampton’s victory on Saturday, that gap is already down to two points.

INJURIES: Man United —  OUT: Paul Pogba (ankle), Eric Bailly (knee), Marcos Rojo (undisclosed), Diogo Dalot (groin); QUESTIONABLE: Nemanja Matic (groin), Scott McTominay (ankle) | Aston Villa  — OUT: Jed Steer (calf), Jota (hernia); QUESTIONABLE: Bjorn Engels (hip)


Leicester City v. Everton — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Every defeat in the coming days could prove to be the final day of Silva’s employment as Everton manager, with the Toffees entering Sunday’s trip to the King Power Stadium in 17th place. It’s not just the number of losses for Everton (seven) on the season thus far, but the sides to which they’ve lost (Villa, Bournemouth, Sheffield United, Burnley, Brighton & Hove Albion and Norwich, to name most of them) that stands out as most embarrassing for a club that thought it would be competing for the top-six this season. Leicester, meanwhile, have happily and swiftly taken their place as the side most likely to break up the monotony of the same clubs finishing atop the table every season. The Foxes entered the weekend in second place (they have since fallen to second), eight points back of Liverpool (now 11), on the back of five straight league victories. Jamie Vardy‘s 12 goals have garnered most of the headlines, but the play-making duo of James Maddison and Youri Tielemans have been arguably more enjoyable to watch

INJURIES: Leicester —  OUT: Matty James (achilles) | Everton  — OUT: Andre Gomes (ankle), Theo Walcott (knock), Jean-Philippe Gbamin (thigh), Morgan Schneiderlin (knock), Fabian Delph (hamstring), Cuco Martina (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Bernard (knee)

PL Sunday Preview: Palace host Leicester; Tottenham travel to Everton

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With eight Premier League fixtures on Saturday, two more remain in Matchweek 11.

Crystal Palace v. Leicester City  — 9 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Leicester City has plenty of things going for itself: a super reliable Jamie Vardy, an impenetrable backline, and a recent 9-0 win against Southampton, to name a few. In other words, what was supposed to be a year filled with trials and tribulations following Harry Maguire‘s record departure and Brendan Rodger’s first, full season at the helm, has been a close replica of the Foxes’ historic 2015-2016 season. Whether it will have a similar Cinderella ending is a different discussion, but there are certainly parallels.

How will this surprising Leicester hold up at Selhurst Park, though? If Rodgers has ever struggled at a venue, it’s Palace’s.

“As long as there’s green grass and posts, it doesn’t matter where the game is,” Rodgers said prior to Sunday’s game. “We go there to win. They [Palace] have got an outstanding manager who I’ve got a huge amount of respect for. The team is coached extremely well and they have some outstanding players.”

Palace, who’ve climbed as high as fifth in the table this season, are in the midst of a challenging stretch of games. A loss to Manchester City and a recent draw to Arsenal have slowed down the Eagles, who have top-three sides Chelsea and Liverpool lined up following Sunday’s bout. That wasn’t the topic of discussion in at Selhurst, however. Roy Hodgson, who is three seasons into his tenure, confirmed that there are contract extension talks being held with Palace.

“I just read today or heard today that Donald Trump, who is a little bit older than I am [by one year], is planning to stay on as President of the United States for the next five years,” Hodgson said. “With respect, this is an important job I have here but not as important as being the leader of the free world.”

“I must say I don’t wake up every morning thinking how old I am,” he said. “I don’t feel 72, no-one is going make me feel 72 or make me feel like I am too old. The day may come when I feel that way and it certainly hasn’t happened yet.”

INJURIES: Crystal Palace —  OUT: Mamadou Sakho (match fitness), Connor Wickham (match fitness); QUESTIONABLE: Vicente Guaita (groin) | Leicester City — OUT: Matty James (calf)


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

Surely, the season has more turns to give, but as it stands, Tottenham and Everton are far from meeting expectations. Only two points separate the two sides, who stand 13th and 17th in the table, respectively.

Tottenham are winless in their last three and have only picked up one win in their last five games. Their latest showing, a 2-1 defeat to Liverpool, showcased glimpses of the formidable Spurs that made headlines last season. With Everton a lopsided loss away from hitting rock-bottom, Mauricio Pochettino and company have a slim psychological edge, if anything.

Maybe they’re unaware of their mental superiority, but the Argentine manager made sure to shine some light on the topic.

“We need to be positive, feeling that positivity makes us believe we can beat any team,” Pochettino said. “At the moment we struggle a little bit in our confidence.”

“The most important is how we are going to finish, it’s not nice to see you in the middle of the table but that is a reality we need to accept,” he added. “If you don’t accept the reality you are going to struggle. In our mind we know very well that we need time, to be strong, be solid and start to win because that is going to be the best thing for us.”

As for Everton, the team’s situation has distanced itself from the messages of hopeful. Only two points out of relegation, there’s a deep sense of urgency and panic at Goodison Park. It’s a now-or-never aura that surrounds the team, specifically boss Marco Silva.

“We have not achieved the results we want [this season] and taken what we deserve,” Silva confessed heading into Sunday’s bout. “The last game is clear of that but football is about results.”

“We need to change it as you can’t have two faces – one when you play at home and one completely different away,” he added.

Game on.

INJURIES: Everton —  OUT: Jean-Philippe Gbamin (thigh), Bernard (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Yerry Mina (knee) | Spurs  — OUT: Erik Lamela (thigh), Hugo Lloris (elbow); QUESTIONABLE: Jan Vertonghen (hamstring)