Muhamed Besic

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PL Sunday preview: North London derby; clarity for the top-four?

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There’s Super Sunday, and then there’s this Sunday, when six of the top seven sides in the Premier League will be in action…

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Manchester United vs. Swansea City — 7 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

Injury crisis — noun: see, also: United, Manchester

With five games to go in the PL season, and a top-four place very much within reach — as well as the Europa League trophy — Jose Mourinho is without a half-dozen players whom would have been considered automatic first-choice starters at the season’s start (see below). Fortunately for him, he’s got players like Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan beyond anxious for additional playing time.

Following a 0-0 draw with Manchester City on Thursday, Man United have climbed to within two points of third-place Liverpool (with a game in hand), and control their own destiny as far as finishing in the top-four goes. Following three straight defeats to Swansea in 2014 and 2015, order has somewhat been restored with the Red Devils winning the last two meetings between the sides. As badly as United need three points to qualify for the UEFA Champions League, the Swans need them more in their bid to stave off relegation from the PL (they currently sit three points back of 17th-place Hull City, with a better goal differential).

INJURIES: Man United — OUT: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee), Paul Pogba (leg), Marcos Rojo (knee), Juan Mata (groin), Marouane Fellaini (suspension), Chris Smalling (knee), Phil Jones (toe) | Swansea — OUT: Angel Rangel (foot), Nathan Dyer (achilles), Wayne Routledge (hernia)

Everton vs. Chelsea — 9:05 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

Sunday’s trip to Goodison Park, where they are winless in their last two visits (PL and FA Cup), looks to be Chelsea’s toughest remaining fixture as Antonio Conte‘s side seeks to lift the club’s fifth PL trophy (sixth in all eras). After a pair of losses in four games’ time saw their lead cut from 10 points to four, the Blues reasserted themselves as the team to beat with an FA Cup semifinal victory over Tottenham Hotspur, their last remaining challenger, and a convincing 4-2 victory over Southampton in league play on Tuesday.

INJURIES: Everton — OUT: Seamus Coleman (leg), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), James McCarthy (hamstring), Yannick Bolasie (knee), Muhamed Besic (fitness) | Chelsea — OUT: None

[ MORE: Sunderland officially relegated to Championship ]

Middlesbrough vs. Manchester City — 9:05 a.m. ET, on NBCSports.com

Following that 0-0 draw in the Manchester derby, Man City remain fourth in the league table, a single point back of Liverpool (with a game in hand). Given the mathematics involved, their margin for error is greater than any of the three sides fighting for the final top Champions League places. With that said, a loss away to 19th-place Boro would be horrendous, season-defining result — one that would take their destiny out of their own hands and see them rely on results elsewhere to finish top-four in Pep Guardiola‘s first season.

INJURIES: Boro — OUT: Victor Valdes (ribs); QUESTIONABLE: Grant Leadbitter (hamstring) | Man City — OUT: John Stones (knock), Ilkay Gundogan (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Sergio Aguero (back), David Silva (ankle), Gabriel Jesus (fitness)

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Arsenal — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

It was confirmed on Friday that Sunday’s North London derby would be the very last meeting between Tottenham and Arsenal ever played at White Hart Lane, as the 118-year-old stadium will be demolished this summer as construction on Spurs’ brand new, 61,000-seat stadium continues. As fate would have it, not only can Spurs round out the White Hart Lane era with another famous derby when at the Lane, but Sunday also offers Mauricio Pochettino‘s side the chance to do something the club has failed to do in each of the last 22 seasons: clinch a finish above Arsenal in the league table.

Everything is in Spurs’ favor, too, as they’ve won eight straight league games for just the third time in club history (the first time in the PL era), by a combined score of 23-4. Following back-to-back 4-0 wins, over Watford and Bournemouth, their title hopes were kept alive by a brilliant, late strike from Christian Eriksen on Wednesday at Selhurst Park. At the same time, Arsenal were fortunate to top Leicester City courtesy of a comical own goal scored by Robert Huth. If any of those things — stadium nostalgia, form, or current standing in the league (Spurs sit second, 14 points clear of the Gunners — mattered, we’d hand Spurs the three points now. But, this is still Spurs we’re talking about, and why would we ever skip out on the North London derby?

INJURIES: Tottenham — OUT: Erik Lamela (hip), Harry Winks (ankle), Michel Vorm (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Danny Rose (knee)| Arsenal — OUT: Santi Cazorla (achilles), Shkodran Mustafi (thigh); QUESTIONABLE: Laurent Koscielny (knee)

PL Sunday preview: Sunderland-Man United; surging Foxes visit Everton

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Dreams of a top-four finish are quickly slipping away from Manchester United, just as Premier League status has (finally) done for Sunderland; Everton reside in no man’s land, between the top-six miles clear of eighth place, while Leicester City have finally shaken their PL title hangover.

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Sunderland vs. Manchester United — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The objective was clear: Jose Mourinho was expected to return Man United to the PL’s top-four in his first season at Old Trafford. Reality is equally clear, and harsh: with two games in hand, and a seven-point deficit to fourth-place Manchester City to overcome, the Red Devils need their points three at a time from here on out; no side in the PL has drawn more games this season (12 — tied with Middlesbrough). While Mourinho’s men are unbeaten in their last 20 league games, dating all the way back Oct. 29, they’ve won just half of those games, dropping a season-killing 20 points in the process.

Sunderland, on the other hand, have finally run out of lives. After escaping near certain relegation (doing so in stunning fashion each time) in each of the last four seasons, David Moyes will almost certainly (we think) take the Black Cats down to the Championship this summer. 10 points currently stand between last-place Sunderland and Hull City in 17th; even a win on Sunday wouldn’t move them off the bottom of the table. Sunderland have just one win in their last 13 PL games played. One potential silver lining: they did beat United at home last season.

INJURIES: Sunderland — OUT: Jan Kirchoff (knee), Paddy McNair (knee), Duncan Watmore (knee) | Man United — OUT: Juan Mata (groin), Chris Smalling (knee), Phil Jones (toe); QUESTIONABLE: Wayne Rooney (ankle), Ashley Young (knock)

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Spurs apply pressure, Chelsea unfazed ]

Everton vs. Leicester City — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

From relegation-threatened defending champions, to totally clear of the drop zone and safely enjoying mid-table obscurity, all in six weeks’ time — the 2016-17 season has been an emotional roller coaster for Leicester. Harkening back to last season’s title-winning fairytale is Jamie Vardy‘s timely return to form, as the reigning Player of the Season has bagged five goals in his last five PL games to match his tally from his first 22 league appearances this season. After 25 games, the point at which Claudio Ranieri was fired, the Foxes sat 18th in the league table. Five straight wins have seen Craig Shakespeare’s side rise all the way up to 11th with a chance to climb into the top half on Sunday.

As for Everton, a derby defeat at the hands of Liverpool, followed by a 1-1 draw with Manchester United three days later, brought to a screeching halt all momentum created by a stretch of just one loss in 12 games (eight wins) from Boxing Day to St. Patrick’s Day. Romelu Lukaku (21 goals) remains top of the Golden Boot race, two clear of Harry Kane, though the big Belgian failed to find the back of the net in each of the last week’s disappointing results. Prior to last weekend, the 23-year-old had scored nine goals in five PL games.

INJURIES: Everton — OUT: Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), James McCarthy (hamstring), Yannick Bolasie (knee), Muhamed Besic (knee); RETURNING: Morgan Schneiderlin (calf) | Leicester — OUT: Wes Morgan (back); QUESTIONABLE: Nampalys Mendy (ankle)

PL Sunday preview: Spurs host Everton; Man City visit Sunderland

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Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City need wins to strengthen their respective positions in the top-four race, while Everton are looking to keep their hopes of such a finish a live, and Sunderland are… well, just hoping to get off the bottom of the table.

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Tottenham Hotspur vs. Everton — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Six games — that’s all that stands between Tottenham and an unbeaten season of home fixtures in the Premier League, a most delightful send-off in 118-year-old White Hart Lane’s final season. The last time Spurs lost a league game to Everton, it was December 2012, at Goodison Park (eight PL games unbeaten — three wins, five draws). Harry Kane bagged a hat trick — his third in nine games across all competitions — in Spurs’ demolition of Stoke City, and is now level with Alexis Sanchez (17 goals) in his bid for a second straight PL Golden Boot; Everton’s Romelu Lukaku completes a three-way tie atop the goalscoring charts.

Spurs would go six points clear of fifth-place Arsenal with a victory on Sunday, setting themselves up with a surely insurmountable advantage (as if we haven’t heard that before) heading into the season’s final 11 games. Everton, meanwhile, would move to just three points back of the Gunners with a win, and just two points back of Manchester United for sixth (having played one more game than each).

INJURIES: Tottenham — OUT: Danny Rose (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Harry Kane (knock), Toby Aldeweireld (groin), Jan Vertonghen (hamstring) | Everton — OUT: Yannick Bolasie (knee), Muhamed Besic (knee)

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — As the kids would say, it was “lit” ]

Sunderland vs. Man City — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

There existed a brief period — five whole days, as it may have been — where Sunderland looked to be on their way to yet another late-season miracle, staving off relegation from the PL in the process. A draw against Tottenham, followed by a 4-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace, and David Moyes‘ side look to be surging. But, back-to-back losses, to Southampton and Everton, by a combined score of 6-0, and the Black Cats are once again bottom of the league with high-flying Man City (three straight wins, by a combined score of 8-1) visiting the Stadium of Light on Sunday.

If the 2016-17 season turns out to be Sergio Aguero’s final one at the Etihad Stadium, he looks determined to go out in style. The Argentine superstar has scored twice and assisted once in each of City’s last two games (all competitions). “I have three months to give my best and, as I always said, in June it will be seen,” Aguero said, when asked about recent praise from his club and manager. “One thing is that the club officially says it and another thing is to tell me. My intention is to stay.”

INJURIES: Sunderland — OUT: Jack Rodwell (hamstring), Jan Kirchoff (knee), Victor Anichebe (knee), Paddy McNair (knee), Lee Cattermole (hip) | Man City — OUT: Gabriel Jesus (ankle), Vincent Kompany (knock), Ilkay Gundogan (knee)

Premier League preview: Everton vs. Middlesbrough

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  • Everton one of four remaining unbeaten sides
  • Middlesbrough won points in three of four games
  • Everton — 3rd, on 10 points; Boro — 9th, on 5 points

A pair of surprise performers in early days of the 2016-17 Premier League season, Everton and Middlesbrough, will meet at Goodison Park on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with a chance to further solidify their respective places as top-half teams.

In the case of Everton, the Ronald Koeman era could hardly have gotten off to a better start. After arriving from Southampton in the summer, Koeman’s Toffees have dropped just two points on the season, in an opening-day draw with Tottenham Hotspur. Week by week, the results have been better and better, too, culminating in the 3-0 thrashing of Sunderland on Monday, in which Romelu Lukaku opened his account for the season by scoring a hat trick in 11 second-half minutes. Perhaps most impressive for Everton, though, is their joint-best defensive record — two goals conceded in four games, the same as Tottenham.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE 

For Boro, it’s all about bouncing back from the season’s first defeat, at home against Crystal Palace last weekend, and chipping away at the 40-point target that will have been set forward by Aitor Karanka before the season. Cristhian Stuani, who scored a brace in Boro’s victory over Sunderland three weeks ago, and Jordan Rhodes are each a late fitness concern for Karanka.

INJURIES: Everton OUT: James McCarty (groin), Muhamed Besic (knee surgery), Tyias Browning (knee) | Middlesbrough OUT: Fabio (knee), Grant Leadbitter (groin); QUESTIONABLE: Cristhian Stuani (groin), Jordan Rhodes (knee)

What they’re saying

Koeman, on Everton’s strong start: “The start is good but I have the experience of knowing it is difficult to keep the momentum because every game is a fight. It’s not about the name of the opponent – you can win or lose against everybody. The Premier League is unpredictable. You need to prepare yourself to be at your best level and we’d like to continue our good start but it’s not so easy.”

Adam Clayton, on fighting for PL status: “I think barring Saturday we’ve acquitted ourselves very well. I don’t think we should have lost the game, I think we deserved at least a point. But the result was disappointing. Teams have the quality to put in a goal against you at any time. Concentration over 95 minutes is imperative, you’ve got to stay on top of it as a collective, if one switches off it could lead to a goal.”

Prediction

Everton were woeful at home last season (6W-5D-8L), and despite the four points they’ve won from two games on Merseyside this season, they’ve still been better away from home. Boro have conceded multiple goals just once on the season, and just one goal in two games away from home. They can slow Everton’s stride a bit and snatch an unlikely point. Everton 1-1 Boro.

Premier League preseason: Everton, Burnley win; Spurs fall to Juventus

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Four Premier League teams were in action on Tuesday, with two picking up wins and not a clean sheet in the joint.

[ MORE: Sounders, Schmid part ways ]

MK Dons 1-3 Everton

Ronald Koeman‘s men got goals from Gerard Deulofeu, Ross Barkley and Muhamed Besic, but wasn’t entirely pleased with every facet of their game.

From EvertonFC.com:

“The team, the players, we need to press better. The pitch in some stages of the game was too long. If you press up front, it means the midfielders they need to push up as well and it’s the same for the defenders.”

Bolton 1-2 Burnley

Andre Gray will likely be a well-known Premier League entity when his career is done, and the way he’s playing it could be by the time this season is complete. The Burnley man scored for the fifth time in four preseason games, and Josh Ginnelly also scored for the Clarets.

Barnsley 2-2 Hull City

Adama Diomande and Jarrod Bowen scored as the Tigers stayed unbeaten in preseason play.

Spurs 1-2 Juventus — RECAP