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PL Preview: Manchester Derby, Wolves-Arsenal

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All Premier League clubs will have played 35 matches this season following the conclusion of two beautiful Wednesday outings in England.

[ MORE: Watford draws Saints ]


Manchester United v. Manchester City — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer poked the bear, and got a response.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s Manchester Derby at Old Trafford, Solskjaer claimed Man City “will snap at your ankles and heels and kick you” upon giving up the ball to opponents ready to counterattack.

City boss Pep Guardiola was not pleased with the comments. From The Manchester Evening News:

“I don’t like it. I don’t like it. No. My team is not built to think and create for that, not at all,” he said, later adding, “Maybe tomorrow in the press conference after the game you can ask him again about that.”

Solskjaer is hoping he won’t spend a second successive post-match ruminating over a grievous loss, as he did following a 4-0 beatdown from Everton on Sunday.

And if responding to its UEFA Champions League exit with a Saturday win over Tottenham Hotspur was satisfying for Guardiola, imagine how revved up he’ll be to reclaim hold on the Premier League crown while completing a season sweep of its local rivals for the first time since 2013-14.

City beat United 3-1 at the Etihad Stadium earlier this season, and is looking to avoid its first league loss at Old Trafford in four tries.

Wolves v. Arsenal — 2:45 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold [ STREAM ]

Unai Emery‘s Arsenal heads to the Molineux Stadium hoping its away support is better than the perceived harsh treatment handed to his Gunners in a 3-2 home loss to Crystal Palace on Sunday.

“I say to our supporters, ‘Help our players.’ Because I want every player to have big confidence,” Emery said. “I know there are reactions, and the first reaction is strong. First, when we win they are telling us we are the best, we have a record, we have a possibility to be third in the table – that is good.”

Arsenal would move into the Top Four with a win, but Nuno Espirito Santo‘s Wolves are fighting for a place in Europe themselves. That’s true on two fronts, though it must be said they could have sewn up seventh place with better play in recent weeks.

Wolves have claimed just five of their last 15 available points, including a draw with Brighton and losses to Burnley and Southampton. Even one more win would have them seventh heading into Tuesday.

“There’s no reference to the table, the reference is to grow, to improve game by game,” said Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo. “Every game is a chance to improve. We have a fantastic opportunity to become a better team, trying new things, but at the same time trying to make players grow on the idea that we want regarding the future. This is what we focus on until the end, there’s no thinking about the summer or next season, it’s a game by game process.”

Top Premier League storylines: Week 35

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A pretty unique situation at the Etihad Stadium headlines another stop on the road to the Premier League title.


And we go again
Man City v. Tottenham Hotspur — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com STREAM ]

As hard as it is to fathom Man City getting off the mat quickly following their Champions League exit at the hands of Spurs, it’s even more difficult to imagine the visitors traveling back to London and returning to Manchester with the same fire shown in Wednesday’s thriller.

Not only that, but how can the hosts ignore reminders of what happened against the visitors three days prior with the very same opponents staring them down, even if City is business-like? Frankly, no result would surprise us (unless someone hangs 10 goals or something truly absurd happens at the Etihad (again)).

Liverpool’s title train pulls into Wales to meet hopeful Bluebirds
Cardiff City v. Liverpool — 11 a.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com STREAM ]

Cardiff City has new life in the race for Premier League survival, though Neil Warnock‘s men will hardly be expecting a point or three from Liverpool’s Anfield visit. That said, the Reds are coming back from Portugal and have been using Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah an awful lot. Here is where guys like Xherdan Shaqiri will, theoretically, need to step up.

Weary Everton seeks revenge against relatively rested Reds
Everton v. Manchester United — 8:30 a.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com STREAM ]

You wouldn’t be stunned if Manchester United fans are having second thoughts about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as Red Devils full-time boss, though they’d be over the same things — that defense — that worried Jose Mourinho. Richarlison and Gylfi Sigurdsson will try to seize on that, and United’s midweek action versus Barcelona, at Goodison Park.

Stumbling Wolves hope to take advantage of sluggish Brighton
Wolves v. Brighton and Hove Albion — 10 a.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com STREAM ]

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men have slipped back into their early season mold of having fine performances in big games but not fully arriving for the little guys. Brighton, now just two points clear of the drop zone, will hope that it can do as visitors what hosts Southampton and Burnley did to Wolves.

Magpies, Saints battle for assured safety at St. James’ Park
Newcastle United v. Southampton — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC and online via NBCSports.com STREAM ]

The stakes here are pretty straight-forward: Win, and forget about relegation (Saints would still be mathematically alive for the drop with all three points, but it would be an extreme scenario involving fellow drop candidates running off wins over big sides).

Premier League Club Power Rankings: Week 33

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Who has the momentum heading into the final five (or six) matches of the Premier League season?

Let’s revisit our power rankings for a proper evaluation (as proper as power rankings can be, of course).

[ PL PREVIEW: Leicester v. Newcastle ]

It’s been a while since we last ranked ’em up and down, so look out for swings.

20. Huddersfield Town — Four points since the start of December.
Last week: 20
Season high: 16
Season low: 20

19. Fulham — Three points in 2019.
Last week: 19
Season high: 11
Season low: 20

18. Cardiff City — Wins away to Burnley and Brighton and absolutely necessary if the Bluebirds are to put legitimate pressure on anyone currently outside the relegation picture.
Last week: 17
Season high: 13
Season low: 20

17. Brighton and Hove Albion — A huge few days ahead for Chris Hughton‘s Seagulls, with Bournemouth and Cardiff City on the dial. A pair of losses would have them firmly in the mix to go down.
Last week: 14
Season high: 9
Season low: 19

16. Bournemouth **New season low**The Cherries have now lost consecutive matches on six separate occasions this season.
Last week: 13
Season high: 6
Season low: 14

15. Southampton — Five points above the drop and improving with a strong Wolves visiting this weekend.
Last week: 16
Season high: 13
Season low: 20

14. Newcastle United — The Crystal Palace loss stings, as safety could’ve felt assured even with a point.
Last week: 11
Season high: 11
Season low: 19

13. Burnley — Sean Dyche has done it again.
Last week: 18
Season high: 13
Season low: 20

12. Crystal Palace — Same as above, but substitute Roy Hodgson‘s name.
Last week: 15
Season high: 6
Season low: 17

11. West Ham United — Manuel Pellegrini is fine to feel aggrieved with the club’s injuries during his first spell in charge, but we bet he’d accept another season like it if Felipe Anderson stays in London.
Last week: 9
Season high: 6
Season low: 20

10. Watford — Will the remarkable FA Cup comeback drive Watford toward a 7th place finish?
Last week: 7
Season high: 4
Season low: 14

9. Leicester City — Brendan Rodgers can’t be blamed for an easy start to life as Foxes boss, something probably planned in the timing of Claude Puel‘s firing anyway, but the tests are coming very soon. Now in seventh, can he guide them through a gauntlet?
Last week: 10
Season high: 7
Season low: 13

8. Everton — Marco Silva‘s men very much delivering on investment and promise and just may deliver a Europa League spot.
Last week: 12
Season high: 5
Season low: 15

7. Manchester United — Moral victories won’t be feeling too positive across a fierce run-in.
Last week: 4
Season high: 3
Season low: 14

6. Wolves — The Burnley loss and FA Cup exit sting, but Nuno Espirito Santo has Manchester United’s number.
Last week: 8
Season high: 5
Season low: 13

5. Arsenal — League speed bumps (away to Watford, home to Palace) surround tough UEL fixtures versus Napoli.
Last week: 3
Season high: 2
Season low: 9

4. Tottenham Hotspur — Things are again looking up for Spurs in both leagues — Premier and Champions — as their new building bays for more wins and some silverware.
Last week: 6
Season high: 2
Season low: 8

3. Chelsea — How long will success-driving Eden Hazard stay? And could the Blues handle life without him, given their mercurial seasons with him?
Last week: 5
Season high: 1
Season low: 7

2. Liverpool — The schedule looks better than Man City’s but their rivals remain in the driver’s seat.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 4

  1. Man City — This week’s visit to Palace is the easiest fixture for the next few weeks, and it isn’t easy!
    Last week: 1
    Season high: 1
    Season low: 3

Top Premier League midweek storylines

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Five matches, three days, three match days.

Wild stuff; Yes, only in the Premier League can you get Chelsea’s Matchday 27 game on the same day Spurs play its Matchday 31, and Man City starts Matchday 33.

[ MORE: Arsenal tops Newcastle ]

The Premier League provides plenty of entertainment at midweek thanks to rescheduled matches from cup play, and each will put its own spin on the chase for places in the UEFA Champions League and Europa League.

Will Fulham join Huddersfield Town in the Championship?
Watford v. Fulham, 2:45 p.m. ET Tuesday on NBC Sports Gold, online via NBCSports.com

The second of three relegation spots could be sealed if the visitors cannot claim all three points (though even one would be close to enough given Fulham’s dreadful minus-43 goal differential). And its hosts won’t be sleepwalking, as Watford knows it can lay a solid claim to 7th should it win and Wolves not manage full points against Manchester United.

Red Devils, Wolves chase season goals
Wolves v. Manchester United, 2:45 p.m. ET Tuesday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com

It’s fifth versus seventh, though 17 points separate the Red Devils from host Wolves. Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men have wasted several chances to put a stranglehold on 7th, and may well be looking up at Watford by the close of business Tuesday. As for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United, they’ll want to reclaim third place before Spurs and Chelsea play 22 hours later.

Spurs FINALLY open their new stadium with a London Derby
Tottenham Hotspur v. Crystal Palace, 2:45 p.m. ET Wednesday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com

First the U-18s got their chance under Mauricio Pochettino‘s watchful eye, then the alums led by Robbie Keane and Jurgen Klinsmann. Now Spurs first teamers get their first 90 minutes on the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium turf with a visit from a Crystal Palace team which likes to entertain.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Can Man City clinch the goal differential tiebreaker on Wednesday?
Manchester City v. Cardiff City, 2:45 p.m. ET Wednesday on NBC Sports Gold, online via NBCSports.com

After getting hosed by a lack of VAR at the weekend, Neil Warnock‘s Cardiff City gets the reward of a visit to the Etihad Stadium. Warnock has hinted that he could go youth heavy, and Pep Guardiola will be licking his lips at the thought of using the club’s match-in-hand on Liverpool to expand City’s 7-goal advantage in differential should the title chase come down to tiebreakers. A win puts City back atop the PL table with six matches each to play.

Chelsea hopes for season sweep of Brighton, Top Four jump
Chelsea v. Brighton and Hove Albion, 2:45 p.m. ET Wednesday on NBC Sports Gold, online via NBCSports.com

Brighton beat Chelsea 2-1 in the sides’ first meeting… back in the 1933 FA Cup. A 1-1 draw followed in the 1967 versions of the same tournament, and it’s since been all Chelsea. Desperate Brighton will hope it’s overdue for a second win when it meets the Blues for the 12th time and makes up its match-in-hand on 18th place Cardiff City.

Who’s in the running for Premier League Player of the Year?

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The Premier League Player of the Year is missing its easy winner this go-round.

There’s no Mohamed Salah running away with the scoring record, no Eden Hazard or N'Golo Kante as the clear best player on the champion.

[ MORE: Key games left in the PL season ]

So let’s take a look at where the race stands heading into the final international break of the season.

The contenders

Virgil Van Dijk, Liverpool: Like N’Golo Kante before him, there’s a massive underdog status to a non-striker winning the Premier League’s Player of the Year (and you might want to argue that Kante deserved a Ballon d’Or finalist position). Flub against Fulham aside, few Premier League defenders have made their case in the past as well as Van Dijk has this season. Due to his status on a team who has a lot of the ball, it’s difficult to find super gaudy defensive numbers to make his case. Still, when taking into account Premier League center backs to play more than half their teams’ matches this season, no one on advanced stats site WhoScored is close to VVD. He also doesn’t have a “times dribbled past” per-match average on the site.

Eden Hazard, Chelsea: For years, Chelsea has gone as Eden Hazard. The Belgian is unquestionably one of the most talented players in the world, and is effervescent in attack. Sure, Chelsea’s also suffered through periods of head-scratching results and effort — nothing new at Stamford Bridge and he’s one of the only players to be a part of the downfalls of Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte, and presumably Maurizio Sarri — but his 13 goals and 11 assists make him the only player to reach double figures in both categories this season. And imagine how high that assist total could be with Alvaro Morata or Gonzalo Higuain finishing at an average or above-average clip.

Raheem Sterling, Man City: At Liverpool a few years ago, it would’ve been accurate to call Sterling, “the kid with the abysmal second touch.” But the Englishman has become better and better by the season, and he’s actually the most economical star in the running for the PL’s Golden Boot; His 2.1 shots per game is less than Sergio Aguero (3.7), Mohamed Salah (3.4), Harry Kane (3.6), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (2.6), Hazard (2.6), and Sadio Mane (2.4). Only Hazard and Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser have more assists.

Mohamed Salah, Liverpool: His average second-half of the season is going to make it difficult for him to repeat as PL Player of the Year, especially considering he has just one goal with no assists in eight matches since Jan. 30 (and four of those were 0-0 or 1-1 draws). Yet it’d be wrong to discount his 17 goals and six assists through 24 matches, and a strong finish could make him a Golden Boot, Premier League, and Champions League winner. That’s not crazy.

Sergio Aguero, Manchester City: Eighteen goals and six assists make him one of four players to combine for 24 goals of production this season, and the 30-year-old may be get sympathetic votes given his surprising lack of honors during a torrential tenure in the Premier League. His three hat tricks should live in the memory of some voters, too, especially since two came against Arsenal and Chelsea. He’s there when you need him, that’s for sure.

Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur: Right in the Golden Boot race despite missing four matches with torn ankle ligaments, Kane has 17 goals and four assists for Spurs this season. Not that the League Cup should come into play in a PL season vote, but Spurs’ star could well be holding silverware in voters’ minds if he hadn’t been hurt before the second leg against Chelsea. Three matches against Pep Guardiola and Man City in the next few weeks will either help or hurt his argument (again, only one of those comes in league play).

FINALLY, “THE WILD CARD” — He’s not going to win this award, and probably won’t be on any short lists besides this post, but spare a though for Raul Jimenez of Wolves. The Mexican striker has been a part of 18 league markers for Nuno Espirito Santo (12 goals, six assists) during his first ever Premier League season.

He’s scored against Chelsea twice, Spurs twice, and assisted versus Manchester United, and Arsenal. Wolves are 10W-4D-2L when he gets a goal or an assist, and 2W-3D-9L when he doesn’t produce magic.

And let’s be honest: Is one of the key players above leading their team to a title as impressive as what Jimenez has done keeping his newly-promoted side in the race for a Europa League place (even given what Wolves spent around him)?

Honestly, he’s in my Top Three with Sterling and Van Dijk. Hazard is probably fourth, with Kane, Aguero, and Salah a bit behind.