PL Sunday preview: Liverpool v. Man United at Anfield

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Premier League fixtures don’t get any bigger — or more heated — than Liverpool versus Manchester United, longtime rivals who’ll renew pleasantries at Anfield on Sunday…

[ MORE: Spurs grab stoppage-time win vs. Burnley | Man City go top again ]

Southampton v. Arsenal — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold [ STREAM ]

Heading into Sunday’s meeting at St. Mary’s Stadium, Southampton haven’t won in 14 games (all competitions — after 90 minutes), while Arsenal haven’t lost in just as many games, in the PL alone (unbeaten in 22 games in all competitions). Predictably, Saints find themselves stuck in the relegation zone, with the halfway point of the season looming ever so large, and a new manager hoping to make his mark and a major impact on a club quickly spiraling out of control. Ralph Hasenhuttl made his debut as Southampton manager last weekend, but suffered a 1-0 defeat to fellow relegation battlers Cardiff City.

As for Arsenal, the unbeaten run has earned new manager Unai Emery a long leash with Gunners fans, but his side enters the week in fifth place, behind Chelsea on goal differential. Sunday could see the return of defender and captain Laurent Koscielny in league play after the 33-year-old Frenchman made his first appearance in seven months during Thursday’s Europa League victory over Qarabag.

INJURIES: Southampton — QUESTIONABLE: Ryan Bertrand (back), Danny Ings (hamstring), Shane Long (ankle), Cedirc Soares (calf) | Arsenal — OUT: Sokratis Papastathopoulos (suspension), Danny Welbeck (ankle), Shkodran Mustafi (suspension), Rob Holding (knee)

Brighton & Hove Albion v. Chelsea — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

Chelsea’s recent form has been a rollercoaster of results, alternating losses and wins in their last four league games. They did, however, put together perhaps the best performance of any side in the PL all season last time out, handing Manchester City their first defeat in a 2-0 conquering at Stamford Bridge. Maurizio Sarri‘s side came back down to earth on Thursday, though, as the Blues struggled to secure a 2-2 draw away to Hungarian side MOL Vidi FC in the Europa League, and the club’s fans were accused of spewing anti-Semitic chants and slurs just days after the very public incident involving four Chelsea fans and Man City star Raheem Sterling.

Brighton won’t be a pushover at Falmer Stadium, where the Seagulls have compiled and impressive 4W-2D-1L record this season. Chris Hughton‘s side has managed to knock off a handful of mid-table sides at home thus far, but a scalp the size of Chelsea would be easily the most impressive outing to date. Brighton dropped both league meetings with the Blues last season, losing 4-0 at home and 2-0 away.

INJURIES: Brighton — OUT: Shane Duffy (suspension) | Chelsea — OUT: Mateo Kovacic (thigh)

Liverpool v. Manchester United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

For all that Jurgen Klopp has achieved since taking the Liverpool job in October 2015 — and he has done a great deal of good to re-establish the club, both domestically and on the continent — the second-most notable failure of Klopp’s tenure, behind only “winning a trophy,” remains his 0W-3D-2L record against Man United in league play. While the Reds have surpassed the Red Devils and long left them behind in the PL’s hierarchy, a victory over the bitter rivals from Manchester has remained elusive, including a 0W-2D-1L record at Anfield, site of Sunday’s showdown, with a grand total of one goal scored in the three games.

The tables have clearly turned from the days of United dominating the PL and winning 13 of 21 league titles from 1992 to 2013, period in which Liverpool managed a trio of second-place finishes — coming second to United once, and besting them twice. A win on Sunday would not only see Klopp knock off his bogey team for the first time, but would lift Liverpool back ahead of Man City in the title race; a win for United, meanwhile, would help them to hold off newly promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers for sixth place.

United, all but the forgotten side of the top-six, have endured hard times at both ends of the field this season — their 28 goals scored are the fewest of the PL’s elite, while their 26 goals conceded are the most of the six sides expected to compete for four UEFA Champions League places; Liverpool, in the same number of games, have conceded just six times, including just once during their current five-game winning streak.

INJURIES: Liverpool — OUT: Joel Matip (shoulder), Joe Gomez (ankle), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Trent Alexander-Arnold (knock) | Man United — OUT: Alexis Sanchez (hamstring), Victor Lindelof (groin); QUESTIONABLE: Anthony Martial (hamstring), Scott McTominay (undisclosed), Luke Shaw (undisclosed)

Mourinho: Draw was ‘fair’ but ‘we were more dominant’

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With each passing week and result, Manchester United looks less like one of the Premier League’s title contenders top-four clubs “big-six” sides, and more like an expensive yacht floating down a river without an operating engine or any control over which direction the vessel meanders to next.

[ MORE: Man United come back to draw 19th-place Southampton ]

This is, of course, a pretty harsh analogy to describe the club’s current state under manager Jose Mourinho. But the overall tone and content of Mourinho’s message following Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Southampton — a result which required the Red Devils to come back from 2-0 down after 20 minutes — seemed to indicate that Mourinho was anything but concerned about recent results and that he wasn’t too terribly bothered by — or aware of — the fact that his side has won just three of its last nine PL games.

What’s worse, they’ve managed to fall a goal (or more) behind in six of those nine games. The fact they’ve lost just two of the nine is largely irrelevant when you remember we’re talking about a club that has spent the way Man United has since Mourinho took over at Old Trafford.

Anyway, here’s Mourinho explaining how a makeshift backline and disjointed possession in midfielder were insurmountable challenges against the team that entered the weekend 19th place in the league table — quotes from the BBC:

“I think the result is quite fair in spite of the fact we were more dominant in the game. They had a better start than us. We were in trouble, organizing a defensive line with only one center back, we tried to protect that weakness with playing three instead of two central defenders.

“It worked quite well, the goals we conceded were a direct free kick and a good shot. But we needed to lose less balls in midfield and if you do that you have more continuity in attack.”

“We lost easy balls in the transition to attacking areas making it more difficult for our attackers against a line of five defenders.

“I’m always confident but always doubtful at the same time because we don’t start well many times. Today we had a reason for the fragility. Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic were out of position, and Phil Jones had to step up, and in my opinion he played really well.”

“When the players don’t understand simplicity is genius, it is difficult to have that continuity.

“Choices, when they have the ball, what we needed to improve was to play one-touch, two-touch, make it simple, make it arrive fast for the attacking players. By losing too many balls in midfield we broke the dynamic that usually leads to goals.”

Perhaps the best way for a manager to avoid being fired is to remain as quiet and calm as possible, so as to avoid drawing attention to the fact your team is wildly underperforming and you’re getting completely indifferent performances out of most of the biggest names in the squad.

Watch Live: Southampton vs. Manchester United

(AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
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Nemanja Matic gets a rare start at center back when Manchester United visits Southampton on Saturday at St. Mary’s (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Scott McTominay also will feature for United, who played at midweek in the Champions League.

Saints start Michael Obafemi up top and also use 19-year-old Yan Valery.

LINEUPS

Southampton: McCarthy, Cedric, Yoshida, Vestergaard, Stephens, Armstrong, Lemina, Redmond, Hojbjerg, Valery, Obafemi. Subs: Gunn, Hoedt, Davis, Austin, Romeu, Ward-Prowse, Gabbiadini.

Manchester United: De Gea, Young, Jones, Matic, Shaw, McTominay, Fellaini, Herrera, Pogba, Rashford, Lukaku. Subs: Romero, Dalot, Rojo, Fred, Lingard, Mata, Martial.

Report: Man United prepared to spend big in January

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Should Jose Mourinho still be manager in January, it appears he’ll have quite a big transfer budget to work with.

After a summer in which the club made just one major signing, midfielder Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk, Manchester United are reportedly prepared to spend upwards of $128 million for a new centerback and a new striker during the January transfer window. Mourinho has complained bitterly during the first three months of the season about his lack of talent both in the back and up top. At times he’s turned to Scott McTominay to play centerback and even had a failed experiment with Ander Herrera in a three-man backline.

Meanwhile, both Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku, who was benched last match in Man United’s 2-1 win over Everton, have both failed to score for the Red Devils since September in all competitions.

Of course, a lot of this is Mourinho’s own doing. He signed Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez (last winter), Eric Bailey and Victor Lindelof since taking over at Man United, and none of the foursome have lived up to expectations at Old Trafford, only showing flashes of brilliance. Mourinho deserves some blame for this, failing to develop them as players after signing them and playing up their potential.

It will be interesting to see now only who is possibly available in January, but whether Man United CEO Ed Woodward will approve the deals, with Mourinho sitting on the hot seat all season.

PL Sunday preview: Chelsea, Arsenal chasing title pacers

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One half of the Premier League’s “big six” will be in action, spread across three games, on Sunday.

Chelsea seek to remain in the PL title race; Arsenal seek to extend their winning streak to 12 games; Manchester United seek to reassert themselves and turn their season around.

[ MORE: What did we learn in the Premier League, Week 10? ]

Crystal Palace vs. Arsenal — 9:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

It’s been a while since Arsenal last dropped points — let alone lost a game. You have to go back to the second week of the PL season to find the most recent blemish on Unai Emery‘s otherwise sparkling record. No side in Europe can claim a better ongoing run of results (11 straight wins, by a combined score of 31-9 – all competitions). The Gunners will look to make it a dozen wins in a row on Sunday, when they visit Selhurst Park. The club’s longest-ever winning streak is 14 games — achieved in the fall of 1987. Wins over Palace, Blackpool (League Cup) and Liverpool would see Emery and Co., match the record.

Things couldn’t be going much worse for Palace at the moment. Roy Hodgson‘s Eagles have lost three straight league games (winless in four) and slipped to 15th in the PL table, now just two points clear of the relegation zone, during the slide.

INJURIES: Crystal Palace — OUT: Christian Benteke (knee), Scott Dann (knee) | Arsenal — OUT: Laurent Koscielny (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Sead Kolasinac (hamstring), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (fitness)


Burnley vs. Chelsea — 9:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Chelsea remain one of three unbeaten PL sides (Liverpool and Manchester City) ahead of Sunday’s trip to Turf Moor. Maurizio Sarri‘s side has, however, dropped points in three of their last four games (draws with West Ham United, Liverpool and Man United). That mini-skid has seen the Blues fall five points back of leaders Liverpool (and potentially City, who play on Monday, as well). Eden Hazard has been arguably the PL’s best player through nine games, but the Belgian superstar’s status is unknown due to a lingering back injury suffered during last week’s 2-2 draw with Man United.

Speaking of Belgian centerpieces, midfielder Steven Defour is back and available for the Clarets after nine months out following knee surgery. Likewise, winger Robbie Brady is expected to be available for selection for the first time in 10 months following a knee operation of his own. The two represent a different class of players capable of delivering Burnley back into the PL’s top-half to build upon last season’s seventh-place finish.

INJURIES: Burnley — OUT: Ben Gibson (fitness), Nick Pope (shoulder), Stephen Ward (knee) | Chelsea — QUESTIONABLE: Eden Hazard (back)


Manchester United vs. Everton — 12 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com

Seven points — and five places in the table — currently separate Man United from the top-four, thanks to the Red Devils’ dreadful start to the season (just four wins, and three losses, in the first nine games). European competition hasn’t treated them much better, as they were completely outplayed and beaten by Juventus at Old Trafford this week. Jose Mourinho isn’t expected to have Alexis Sanchez or Jesse Lingard to pick from on Sunday, meaning Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford should start by default. Martial bagged a brace in the draw with Chelsea, while Rashford hasn’t scored a league goal since Sept. 29; it’s been even longer for Lukaku, whose last PL tally came on Sept. 15.

On the other side, Marco Silva has Everton playing some great soccer late: three straight wins, by a combined score of 7-1. Even better, six of the seven goals have been scored by Richarlison, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Bernad, Theo Walcott or Cenk Tosun, the Toffees’ five most important attacking players. With summer signings Andre Gomes and Yerry Mina making the startling lineup and bench for last week’s victory over Palace, Silva has everyone around Goodison Park feeling exceedingly hopeful ahead of Sunday’s trip to Old Trafford.

INJURIES: Man United — OUT: Alexis Sanchez (groin), Marouane Fellaini (groin), Scott McTominay (knee), Jesse Lingard (groin) | Everton — OUT: None