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PL Sunday preview: Aston Villa host Spurs; Newcastle travel to Arsenal

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures promise to have a wide-range of action, as a pair of top-six sides host a pair of bottom dwellers.

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Aston Villa vs. Tottenham  — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

There’s a strong sense at Tottenham that Spurs can finish top four in Jose Mourinho’s first go around, especially on a two-game winning streak heading into Sunday.

Spurs trail the surprise of the season Sheffield United by two points, meaning that a win at Villa Park can propel the London club back into the European mix. Having won their last five away trips in Aston with a combined score of 14-1, there is little evidence to question why Spurs would be unable to leave Birmingham with three points.

“We had a good week,” Mourinho said. “Three very good training sessions. Of course I told you if we didn’t play against Southampton [in an FA Cup replay] I would give the players some time but we would be back early.

“Because of the Southampton game we had less time for training but we had three very good days. We went through different aspects of our game to improve.”

Following a week with only practice activity, Villa take on, perhaps, the most important stretch of games since the second half of their disastrous 2015-2016 Premier League season – their last before the drop to the Championship.

According to manager Dean Smith, his staff and players are up for the battle that is avoiding relegation. Villa are only one spot to the right of the red, dotted line, making every game from here on out crucial for the Midlands club.

“As everybody knows, we had a big turnaround [of players] in the summer and they’re starting to gel,” he said. “For the first time we’ve had a mini break and we’ve seen a positive side to it. It gave everybody a chance to have some time away from the place, and to clear their heads.”

INJURIES: Aston Villa — OUT: Davis (thigh), McGinn (ankle), Heaton (knee), Wesley (knee), Steer (foot) | Tottenham — OUT: Kane (thigh), Sissoko (knee)

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

With five draws in seven matches, a week-long camp in Dubai, Arsenal and Mikel Arteta are returning to the Emirates with the obligation to win.

Arsenal are projected, for the first time in 25 years, to finish outside of the top six. Of course, a lot of that falls on ex-manager Unai Emerey, but Arteta, 37, has yet to demonstrate the edge many believes he has on other up-and-coming teachers of the game.

The Spaniard will need time – lots of it and financial backing – but the fact that Arsenal are level with Newcastle with 31 points after 25 bouts doesn’t help Sunday’s scenario. Three points, and a well-executed defensive plan against the Magpies, however, may put out many long-burning fires for all thhose involved with Arsenal.

“I think we have to generate some defensive stability, but not by defending deep,” Arteta said. “I don’t like that. It’s by defending high and pressing the opponent as much as possible. But the process – together as many times as possible in the most efficient way – has to be done properly from here.

As expected, Steve Bruce and company are delighted to be in the position that they’re in, considering that a few weeks into the season it felt that St. James’ Park’s walls were collapsing.

“We’ve got 13 games to go and have got ourselves in a decent position,” he said. “It gives us the platform to have a decent season. I think we’ve done okay. We’ve had huge problems over six weeks and fair play to the squad for showing that resilience.”

INJURIES: Arsenal — Marí (match fitness), Soares (knee), Tierney (shoulder), Chambers (knee) | Newcastle  OUT: Shelvey (thigh), Manquillo (thigh), Carroll (groin), Krafth (ankle), Dummett (thigh), Willems (knee), Colback (knee)

January transfer window grades

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With the January transfer window now shut, it is time to reflect on which Premier League clubs did the best business as we dish out some grades.

Who doesn’t love to rank which team did the best business? Exactly. Here it goes.

[ TRANSFER TRACKER: Full list of January PL deals


Arsenal: B+
Sensible if not unspectacular signings as Cedric Soares and Pablo Mari arrived on loan. Arsenal needed additions in defense and they’ve done that but the caliber of signings are perhaps a little lower than what many were expecting. Mikel Arteta has had a big impact early on and knew the Gunners defense needed shoring up. Cedric and Mari should have the desired impact. Keeping hold of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was linked with a move to Barcelona, was also a big plus for the Gunners.

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Aston Villa: B
They made five new signings in January and they were forced to do so after injuries to Tom Heaton, Wesley and John McGinn. Danny Drinkwater and Pepe Reina arrived on loan and bring experience, while Mbwana Samatta is a wild-card signing who may take a little time to settle and Louie Barry is one for the future. Borja Baston arrived on deadline day as they got the deal over the line. A busy and solid January for Dean Smith.


Bournemouth: D-
No new arrivals at Bournemouth and perhaps most importantly, no departures. Josh King, Ryan Fraser, Callum Wilson and Nathan Ake were all wanted but they have stuck around to help Eddie Howe‘s men battle against relegation. Given that is the case, it was surprising that Bournemouth haven’t added reinforcements, especially in defense as they are struggling with injuries. They have plenty of options up top but they’ve struggled to score goals and the Cherries may rue not doing business when the final day of the season rolls around.


Brighton & Hove Albion: D
Graham Potter‘s side have played well all season but have just lacked cutting edge so it is a surprise they haven’t shuffled their strikers around. Aaron Mooy’s loan deal was made permanent and Tariq Lamptey is a very promising player who has arrived from Chelsea but they probably need a couple more players to help drag themselves out of a relegation battle.


Burnley: C
A quiet window for Burnley but that is how Sean Dyche likes it. They brought in Josh Brownhill from Bristol City who will add poise to their midfield, while they brought back Nakhi Well from a loan spell at QPR then sold him to Bristol City. Shrewd business, as usual, from Burnley.


Chelsea: D-
No new signings for Frank Lampard who still hasn’t signed a single player as Blues boss. Lampard looked disappointed when he spoke on deadline day as the transfer ban had been lifted after appeal but Chelsea didn’t make the most of that opportunity. Olivier Giroud didn’t leave after all and Lampard couldn’t bring in Edinson Cavani or Dries Mertens late on to bolster their attack. A poor window for a young Chelsea side who needed a few additions to cement their spot in the top four.

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Crystal Palace: D
Not a great window for Roy Hodgson‘s side after injuries hit them hard over the winter months. Cenk Tosun will score a few goals but his loan move from Everton isn’t really the answer and although Hodgson spoke about Palace spending big and wanting to be backed in the window, nothing was spent. Wilfried Zaha is still around, so that’s the main positive.


Everton: C
The Toffees didn’t do any major business which was a little surprising but new boss Carlo Ancelotti is still getting to know his players and they are far enough away from the relegation scrap to stick with what they have. Youngster Jarrad Branthwaite arrived from Carlisle United. That was it. Richarlison was linked with a big move to Barcelona but that was never really going to happen. Quiet window.


Leicester City: C-
The Foxes swooped to sign Ryan Bennett on loan from Wolves on deadline day and they didn’t really need to do anything in January. Brendan Rodgers has a strong squad with plenty of options and they are in third place in the table for a reason. Many believed they needed extra cover for Jamie Vardy but Kelechi Iheanacho and Ayoze Perez have stepped up.


Liverpool: C
Takumi Minamino came in early on a bargain deal and in truth, how on earth do you strengthen this team? Jurgen Klopp kept hold of some of his squad players as Xherdan Shaqiri was linked with a move away but right now this Liverpool squad is so strong and everybody wants to stay. An easy window.


Man City: C
Getting Aymeric Laporte back to full fitness was like a new signing and Man City and Pep Guardiola rarely do business in January and they didn’t do anything. That said, a new center back has to be the main aim in the summer.


Man United: C+
Bruno Fernandes finally arrived for up to $88 million which is great news for the next few years but why did it take so long? United could have really used him in the last few weeks. Anyway, it is done. A loan deal for Odion Ighalo was struck on deadline day as a short-term option with Marcus Rashford out injured, as they were linked with signing Islam Slimani, Josh King and many others but Ighalo was the man to get a dream move to Old Trafford.

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Newcastle United: B+
You know what, that was a really good window for the Magpies. They had injuries and addressed them with Danny Rose coming in on loan at left back and Nabil Bentaleb will add extra quality in midfield. Valentino Lazaro will add some depth to the wide areas too and the only thing missing was a striker as they missed out on Olivier Giroud.


Norwich City: F
It is clear the Canaries think they are going to get relegated. They do not spend big in the transfer market and they have picked up Lukas Rupp and Ondrej Duda who will bolster their options in midfield and attack. If Norwich were serious about staying up they would have spent $50-60 million in this window but that isn’t their model and the yo-yo club have had enough of saddling themselves with debt when relegation arrives.


Sheffield United: B+
Signing Sander Berge for a club-record fee was a huge surprise and the Norwegian midfielder is one of the brightest young central midfielders in Europe. Chris Wilder made a few other shrewd signings in Jack Rodwell, Jack Robinson plus young Greek defender Panagiotis Retsos and young Dutch striker Zivkovic also arrived. For a newly-promoted team who are pushing for European qualification, this was a great window.


Southampton: C
Their recent form suggests the squad is good enough to be midtable in the Premier League so they didn’t need any additions but after losing Cedric and Yoshida on loan ahead of their contracts expiring (both were good deals as they received loan fees for players they would lose in the summer for nothing) they only brought in Kyle Walker-Peters on loan from Spurs. Ralph Hasenhuttl will be eyeing a big clear out in the summer as Saints have a huge number of players out on loan.


Tottenham Hotspur: B
Jose Mourinho will be fairly pleased with their business but admitted it would have been better had they signed a striker. With Harry Kane injured they pushed hard to sign Edinson Cavani, Willian Jose, Olivier Giroud and others, but couldn’t get them over the line. Exciting winger Steven Bergwijn arrived and Christian Eriksen finally signed for Inter Milan for $20 million in a great piece of business for a player who was out of contract this summer. Gedson Fernandes is on loan with a view to buy permanently and Mourinho has done some decent business.

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Watford: D-
Pretty poor window for the Hornets and that was probably because they were playing so well at the start of it, then Nigel Pearson‘s side suffered a few disappointing results late in January. They could probably have done with adding another defender and they tried hard to sign Ben Gibson on loan. Wide player Ignacio Pussetto did arrive and he looks like he will have a big impact.


West Ham United: C
David Moyes did some business late on and boy did the Hammers need that. Jarrod Bowen and Tomas Soucek arrived in the final days of the window and Darren Randolph provides cover in the goalkeeping department. West Ham needed to do more business but couldn’t get deals over the line for Gedson Fernandes and a few others. Bowen should help deliver the goals they need to get themselves out of trouble.


Wolverhampton Wanderers: C+
Some savvy buys from Wolves as they continue to purchase real quality with their links to Jorge Mendes. Daniel Podence is a great signing and will be an immediate starter while youngsters Leonardo Campana and Luke Matheson arrived and will be ones for the future.

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Aston Villa grab vital point at Brighton

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Injury-hit Aston Villa grabbed a big point at Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday.

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Leandro Trossard gave Brighton a first half lead but Jack Grealish popped up with a second half equalizer to share the points in a fiery encounter at the Amex.

With the draw both teams remained embroiled in a relegation battle as Brighton have 25 points and sit three points ahead of Villa who occupy 18th, the final relegation spot.


3 things we learned

1. Grealish delivers, again: Riddled by injuries, Villa needed their captain to stand tall. He did. Again. Even in recent heavy defeats Grealish has tried to drive Villa on and he has now scored in their tight win at Burnley and grabbed them a point at Brighton. Against relegation rivals, Grealish has delivered for Villa and at 24 years old he conrinues to mature.

2. Brighton let another lead slip: The Seagulls have won just won of their last eight league games and they keep letting leads slip in tight games. Graham Potter‘s side have plenty of the ball and dominate games but just can’t score the second goal to finish teams off. They have only scored more than one goal once in their last seven games and for all of their fine attacking play, Brighton are three points off the bottom because they can’t finish teams off.

3. Relegation battle coming up: Both teams showed why they will be in a relegation battle all season long. Brighton can’t score or finish teams off, while Villa are too reliant on Grealish and have no real attacking options as they rode their luck at Brighton. Potter and Dean Smith are two progressive, young, English coaches but they will be pushed to their limits to keep their teams up this season. They may also have to put their principles of free-flowing, attacking football to one side if they’re going to be managing PL clubs next season.

Man of the Match: Jack Grealish – Villa’s main man popped up with the goal which grabbed them a point and he was everywhere. Villa had no central striker once again as they wait to bring someone in during the January window with Wesley out for the season, and Grealish made so many runs forward during the game to try and take the pressure off his team.


Jack Grealish smashed an effort just wide as Villa looked dangerous on the counter without a recognized striker.

The Seagulls then came close to the taking the lead as Bernardo‘s cross found Aaron Mooy and his volley was cleared, eventually, as an almighty scramble ensued.

Aaron Connolly then knocked a low cross just wide as he seemed to be surprised that the ball found him in the six yard box.

Brighton took the lead as Neal Maupay ran towards goal and teed up Trossard who fired home across goal and into the far corner.

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Mohamed Trezeguet was denied by Mat Ryan in a rare Villa attack as Brighton were dominating, with young American Indiana Vassilev coming on for his Premier League debut.

Moments later Grealish made it 1-1 as a poor mistake from Brighton saw Douglas Luiz play a long ball over the top and Villa’s skipper slammed home to send the away end wild.

Late on Villa debutant Pepe Reina made a wonderful stop to deny Maupay preserve a point as tempers flared towards and after the final whistle as both sets of players were involved in a huge melee.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Ashley Young to Inter

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Manchester United is offloading captain Ashley Young, with multiple reports in both England and Italy claiming the 34-year-old is set for a medical at Inter Milan on Friday.

According to The Telegraph, the deal is worth $1.7 million, netting Manchester United a small sum of money before Young’s contract was set to expire this summer. Italian publication Gazzetta dello Sport is also reporting the move. It was reported a few days ago that Young was nearing a deal with Inter through the summer of 2021.

Young has made 12 Premier League appearances for Manchester United this season, but it was unlikely the club would offer him a contract this summer, and he has been slowly phased out of the squad as Luke Shaw began to earn the lion’s share of time at left-back.

He will have plenty of familiar faces at Inter, with Former Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku and on-loan playmaker Alexis Sanchez both currently playing at the San Siro. It is unclear where Young fits in at the Italian side, with Antonio Conte favoring a three-CB system and Young’s skill set more defensive-minded, not exactly suited for a wing-back role.


According to The Guardian’s Nick Ames, Arsenal is paying special attention towards Paris Saint-Germain full-back Layvin Kurzawa, hoping to secure a deal this winter.

The 27-year-old has made 11 Ligue 1 appearances for PSG this season, sharing time with Juan Bernat at left-back. Kurzawa’s contract at PSG expires this summer and he has made just 90 appearances since joining from Monaco in 2015.

Kurzawa would be of special interest to Arsenal given the massive amount of injuries suffered by the Gunners along the back line this season. Kieran Tierney remains sidelined with a dislocated shoulder, with surgery keeping him out through March, while Calum Chambers begins ACL rehab, and both Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac work their way back from thigh injuries.

The Guardian report says the clubs have made contact but a deal is still “some way off.”


Tottenham is desperate to find a short-term replacement for injured talisman Harry Kane, which is proving more difficult than believed as the team looks to convince a player to join knowing they are only needed for a few months.

However, with Gedson Fernandes having already signe don, asking a player to agree to a switch is not the only problem they have reportedly faced. 28-year-old Porto striker Ze Luis is a target for the club according to a number of reports, including the Evening Standard. Unfortunately, it appears work permit issues are at the heart of the holdup.

Portuguese publication Record reports that Ze Luis does not possess a European passport, and as a Cape Verde international, it would seem unlikely that he would be set to earn a British work permit. Cape Verde was ranked 75th in world by the latest FIFA release, and the Premier League usually only considers players from top 50 countries.

After joining this past summer from Spartak Moscow, Ze Luis has scored seven Liga NOS goals in 12 appearances for Porto this season, earning the majority of minutes to this point before sitting the last two games in favor of Brazilian striker Tiquinho Soares.


According to The Guardian reporters Ed Aarons and Paul Doyle, Aston Villa is “close” to a deal for Genk striker Mbwana Samatta in a deal worth $11.1 million.

The deal was likely spurred on by an injury to Villa striker Wesley who suffered a knee injury that is set to keep him out the rest of the season.

Mbwana, a 27-year-old Tanzania international, has seven goals in 20 Jupiler Pro League games this season – although he has just two since the start of September – plus three more in Champions League play. He was the top scorer in the league last season, with 20 goals in 28 appearances, including a streak where he scored 10 goals in nine games through the winter.

He will also need a work permit to complete the switch, which could be an issue given Tanzania is ranked 134th in the world by FIFA, but he has 51 international caps and could be eligible for a special exemption. His status as top scorer last season, earning him the Soulier d’Ébène award as the best African player in Belgium, could be enough to trigger that exemption.

Transfer rumor roundup: Kabasele to Arsenal, Man Utd; Spurs, Newcastle eye Cyprien

Premier League transfer rumors
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Oh, the rumors are picking up around England…

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Newcastle United is looking into perhaps the perfect cure for what ails them, but faces competition from Spurs.

The Magpies have incredible depth at the back and have made good investment across the top, but have been lacking a star midfielder to drive the attack since Yohan Cabaye or Georginio Wijnaldum.

Enter Wylan Cyprien, the $30 million rated Nice playmaker.

Cyprien, 24, has seven goals and three assists for Nice this season. Ranked 10th in Ligue 1 for goals and shots, he’s also a terrific passer and quality on set pieces.

Why Nice would sell him in season is the question, and it seems likely Patrick Vieira would revolt if his top playmaker left with the club in competition for the Champions League places.


The Magpies are the least likely of a host of teams reportedly chasing Watford defender Christian Kabasele.

The 28-year-old Belgian center back is very much wanted by the Vicarage Road set, but will enter the final year of his contract next summer.

If Watford cannot lock him down, he’ll have no shortage of suitors. Le 10 Sport links Newcastle, Manchester United, Arsenal, and West Ham wil his services.

Kabasele has appeared 88 times for the Hornets since arriving from Genk, pitching in five goals. It’s odd to see him linked with Newcastle, as he’s more needed at the other reported members of the trio.


Aston Villa is not messing around when it comes to January transfer targets.

The Villans have already added Pepe Reina, and are reportedly seeking another pair of Serie A stars.

Jose Callejon and Fernando Llorente will be familiar to most who watch the European game.

The former, 32, has a goal and eight assists for the Neapolitans this season as part of a glittering career. The latter arrived from Spurs this summer and has four goals on the season.

Villa definitely needs a center forward with Wesley Moraes out for the season, but Llorente has scored more than six goals in a season since his 15-goal campaign for Swansea City in 2016/17.