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PL Sunday preview: Man Utd and Arsenal chase top five; Chelsea host Liverpool

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures is filled up to the brim of top-six sides in action, as Manchester United and Arsenal look to climb into the top five in the table, while Chelsea looks to send a strong message as they host leaders Liverpool.

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West Ham vs. Manchester United — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Aside from leaders Liverpool, there is no other team in the league experiencing such a positive run as West Ham. The Hammers are unbeaten in their last four bouts – wining twice and drawing twice – as they head into Sunday’s showdown against Manchester United. Equal with five other sides with eight points, Manuel Pellegrini is conscious that it’s the ideal time to make a statement and climb into the top six.

“We have a very strong team in front of us, it will be a strong test against United. It is the only way we can get into the top six, demonstrating you are able to do it,” Pellegrini said heading into Sunday.

As for the Red Devils, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side – who share the podium with West Ham – are looking to extend their current winning form to three games. Ahead of the game, however, the talk surrounding United isn’t Sunday’s game, but Paul Pogba‘s rumored move to Real Madrid this summer. What a better way to get everyone’s mind of theoretical situations and injury worries than with a win.

INJURIES: West Ham — OUT: Michail Antonio (hamstring), Arthur Masuaku (suspended) | Manchester United —OUT: Anthony Martial (thigh), Paul Pogba (back), Luke Shaw (hamstring), Eric Bailly (knee), Timothy Fosu-Mensah (knee)

Crystal Palace vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers — 9 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Not many expected it: Wolves winless throughout the first five games of the season. That, however, is the reality for a team that finished seventh last season. By now, Wolverhampton Wanderers have had plenty of time to pick up on the alarm bells, it’s time for them to respond.

Manager Nuno Espírito Santo, for instance, knows that it’s time for his side to get back into shape before it’s too late.

“This is important,” he said. “We face the reality and the reality says we not performing well so we have to analyse it and find solutions in the team to improve. We must react immediately. We have to take decisions and find solutions for the team because we have to come out of this situation and improve our performance so we can bounce back.”

Crystal Palace, on the other hand, are dealing with adversity of their own after falling to Tottenham Hotspur, 4-0, last week. Playing at Selhurst Park this time around should be a positive, but Palace has only managed to score a goal in three matches in front of their home crowd this season.

INJURIES: Crystal Palace — OUT: None | Wolverhampton Wanderers — OUT: None

Arsenal vs. Aston Villa — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Arsenal have had several things going for them this season: scoring at home, positive first Europa League performance, a healthy and productive Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, among others. One thing they’ve been missing, though, is an effective Nicolas Pepe, especially after shelling record-money for the 24-year-old Ivorian.

“He needs more adaptation,” Emery said in his pre-match press conference. “He is playing good but progressively we know there is going to be more performance in him to help us and I want to do now quickly the last step in the adaptation for us, for example, against Aston Villa.”

With Alexandre Lacazette still out with an ankle injury, Pepe, again, will have the opportunity to showcase his true worth to a packed Emirates Stadium. Arsenal, too, can use his skill to get that much closer to three, vital points.

“When will Aston Villa finally break out of their shell?” is the million-dollar question for the visitors. At times, the newly promoted side has shown the flair that made it so powerful in the Championship last season, only to leave spectators on the edge of their seats, waiting for that final blow. In North London on Sunday, Dean Smith and Co. have the chance to do so with several players back in the mix, but that’s not to say the task will be a walk in the park.

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Alexandre Lacazette (ankle) | Aston Villa — OUT: James Chester (thigh), Jonathan Kodjia (cheek)

Chelsea vs. Liverpool — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Liverpool, like Chelsea, suffered opening losses in European play midweek; however, there is a different, more positive impetus fueling Jurgen Klopp‘s side. The defending Champions League winners’ immaculate record speaks volume to their current situation, one that’s biggest setback has been the aforementioned loss to Napoli and the injury to goalkeeper Allison, while regaining influential player Nabi Keita in trainings.

It begs to ask: with Manchester City already behind and several top-six sides struggling, how will Liverpool not runaway with the league title this season? That type of talk, however, is exactly what Klopp doesn’t want to hear. The season is green – very, ver green – and this season, for one reason or another, is nothing like last year’s.

“Nothing is won already,” Klopp said. “We have seen teams make big steps. There is nobody you think will go down with no points. Watford and Wolves have been at the bottom, struggling, but will end up going back up. The league is much different (to last season). So many things can happen. Five games is nothing, not even created a basis…”

Klopp’s counterpart on Sunday, Frank Lampard, as a result of his own environment, is managing a different dialogue ahead of the clash, like the possibility of fielding Mason Mount, who came off midweek against Valencia in Champions League play.

On the bright side, Chelsea are unbeaten in their last four league bouts, and have a game against Liverpool under their belts this season already – a penalty-shootout loss in the UEFA Super Cup – that should have seasoned them ahead of this season’s part two of the rivalry.

“Times have changed slightly, but it doesn’t change that feeling,” Lampard said on the Chelsea-Liverpool rivalry. “I think the fans feel it, the players feel it, it does involve a lot of passion whenever it’s played. If your levels aren’t there it’s a game that can get away from you quickly so my first thing to say to the players is to make sure they feel this game, recognise what it is, because it always does have an edge.”

INJURIES: Chelsea OUT: Antonio Rüdiger (groin), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (achilles), Callum Hudson-Odoi, Reece James (both fitness) | Liverpool  OUT: Alisson (calf), Nathaniel Clyne (knee)

Rashford penalty enough for Manchester United v. Leicester City

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Injury-battered Manchester United used an early Marcus Rashford penalty to get back in the win column with a 1-0 victory over Leicester City at Old Trafford on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The win boosts United into fourth at this point in the weekend, on eight points, while Leicester drops fifth on the same point total.


Three things we learned

  1. Penalty problems at bay — Rashford gave the Red Devils some relief after they had missed two of three from the spot to start the season.
  2. Defense holds firm — United won’t like how often it was on the back foot at home to Leicester City, but Harry Maguire and Co. were up to the task of dealing with the Foxes’ dangerous attack. Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Maguire were the key pieces, though Paul Pogba was surprisingly a key piece to the defense on the day.
  3. Foxes are gonna be a handful — Brendan Rodgers men reacted well to going down a goal, and the danger provided by James Maddison, Youri Tielemans, and company is going to sustain Leicester City deep into what should be table and cup charges.

Man of the Match: Aaron Wan-Bissaka — The right back was against instrumental in just about every facet of the game plan.


[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Marcus Rashford won and converted a penalty to calm the nerves at Old Trafford, with Caglar Soyuncu the defender at fault.

Soyuncu came close to getting a dangerous shot on goal, and David De Gea made a nice save on Hamza Choudhury in stoppage time.

Daniel James dribbled to the center of the pitch and tried his luck from 25 yards to start the second half, just missing the bar.

Maddison smashed a dangerous free kick wide of the far post in the 56th, while ex-Leicester star Harry Maguire headed into Kasper Schmeichel‘s hands at the other end.

Spurs overwhelm Crystal Palace with 4-star first half

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Heung-Min Son led a four-star first half as Tottenham Hotspur sure looked “re-focused” in their 4-0 demolition of Crystal Palace at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Erik Lamela scored from a Harry Kane assist and Serge Aurier helped produce a Palace own goal to go with a Son brace.

Spurs move onto eight points, good for third place at this point in the weekend, while Palace stays on seven.


3 things we learned

  1. Smooth Son — The beauty of South Korea’s Son is how simply he makes it all look. Yes, he’s got power and industry, but the dribble on his first goal and back post smash on his second were both made to look far easier than the degree of difficulty. What a marvelous, often overlooked star.
  2. Winks the secret weapon — What a job Spurs have done developing Harry Winks, who is the sound holding midfielder the club has craved for some time. He’s calm, and was easily the top performing non-scorer when he left the game for Tanguy Ndombele. When both are part of the same midfield with Christian Eriksen, you’ll see the Spurs you’ve been expecting this season (which is what you saw Saturday as well).
  3. Eagles defense rustyMamadou Sakho looked a bit off his game in his first start of the season, and both Gary Cahill and Patrick Van Aanholt also had poor moments as Spurs ran rampant. Lots of work to do here.

Man of the Match: Heung-min Son


[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Vicente Guaita needed to make a first minute save on Heung-min Son, as Spurs came flying out of the starting gates.

Son was the one to put Spurs ahead in the 10th minute, cooking Mamadou Sakho and Gary Cahill before cutting the ball back across his body to beat Guaita.

Son set up Spurs second goal, as did a Palace defender. The South Korean sent Serge Aurier into the right side of the box, and the Frenchman’s cross deflected off Patrick van Aanholt and past Guaita.

The third was a love letter to our sport. Harry Winks turned a Christian Eriksen layoff into an inch-perfect ball to Aurier on the right, who sent his assist over the Palace defense for a lethal finish from Son.

It was 4-0 before halftime, as Son played Kane down the right and the striker crossed through a sea of Palace defenders for Lamela to pass home.

Wilfried Zaha stung a shot at Hugo Lloris just before halftime, Palace’s only bit of danger.

Watch Live: Man United-Leicester, Wolves-Chelsea headlines 10am ET games

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Five Premier League games take place at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, with plenty of heavyweights in action.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ] 

Manchester United host Leicester City and Chelsea to Wolves in two intriguing clashes as two giants aim to quash any hopes the Midlands clubs have of finishing above them this season.

Tottenham face an equally tricky test at home against away day specialists Crystal Palace, as Mauricio Pochettino has plenty of issues to address. Saints travel to Sheffield United and Brighton host Burnley in the other two games.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for all five games at 10 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


10 a.m. ET: Tottenham v. Crystal Palace – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Brighton v. Burnley – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Man United v. Leicester – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Sheffield United v. Southampton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Wolves v. Chelsea – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

An Englishman in Bordeaux

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Very few have traveled the path from south London to Manchester, then Sunderland and then the Southwest of France. Then again, few people are Josh Maja.

While Jadon Sancho and Keiran Trippier may garner most of the media attention for English players plying their trade off the British Isle, one young Englishman is poised for a breakout year in Ligue 1. Maja, who joined Bordeaux during the January transfer window in 2019, is finally healthy after a knee injury cut short his first season in France, and he’s ready to make a big impact as part of a young squad.

 [ MORE: Ligue 1 score, schedule ]

The 20-year-old striker has an impressive story, overcoming the odds to not just become a professional, but also to make it to the top division in France. Maja began his career playing for St. Andrews Youth Club, its headquarters just steps away from Westminster Abbey.

He also spent time as a youngster with Crystal Palace and then Fulham, but left the club after three-and-a-half years for personal reasons. He then returned to St. Andrews, all the while going for trials across the country, trying to latch on with a team. While training with Manchester City and featuring in a friendly match against Sunderland, his fortunes suddenly changed. Sunderland liked what it saw, brought him to the northeast of England, and gave him a chance.

After working his way up the ranks from the Under-18s through the Under-23s and reserves, it was then-Sunderland manager David Moyes who gave Maja his first team debut in 2016. After working on his game for another season, Maja had a breakout year with Sunderland down in League One at the start of the 2018-2019 season.

Maja scored in Sunderland’s season opener, a 2-1 win over Charlton, and then went on to score 15 league goals in the first five months of the season, scoring with both feet and his head, and making it look easy at times.

Amazingly, Maja wasn’t even supposed to start that first game of the season. Sunderland had just signed experienced forward Charlie Wyke. But an injury to Wyke in the buildup to the game put Maja in, and he didn’t look back.

“I probably say everything was clicking,” Maja said in an interview with Pro Soccer Talk. “(Wyke) got injured in training so I had to start that game, and then I scored in the first game. From there, my confidence just went up. I think just the momentum and the confidence I had going into games was pushing me on to be successful that season.”

Suddenly, there was interest from clubs in the Championship, Premier League, and abroad. For a player who had trained at Manchester City, Fulham, and Crystal Palace, this could have been a big moment for him to make a move to a bigger club. But Maja said he didn’t see it that way.

“I just felt it was a good time for me to go abroad,” Maja said. “I didn’t feel like I was ready to take the step into the Premier League. I think signing for a PL team wouldn’t have been the right decision for my development.

“Obviously for me developing is playing games and I felt as if going abroad was going to enhance my development and get more game time. I think it was the right decision and I hope this season I can push on.”

By late January, it was done. Maja’s agent, Emeka Obasi helped Maja move from Sunderland to Ligue 1’s Bordeaux on an undisclosed fee, with Maja signing a four-and-a-half year contract. Obasi has been influential in seeing some of England’s top young talents move abroad, including Jadon Sancho’s move to Borussia Dortmund, Ademola Lookman’s move to RB Leipzig and Reiss Nelson’s loan to Hoffenheim last season.

“There was interest before the season, I knew there was a little bit there,” Maja said. “When I was scoring goals as the season was going on, the attention from them grew. My agent was the one, just because he’s got a good relationship with a lot of teams, he basically gave me confidence to listen to clubs abroad, and Bordeaux showed the biggest interest. That’s the main reason I took the opportunity to come here.”

After joining Bordeaux, Maja quickly integrated into the young squad and played in seven matches, starting three and scoring one goal. However, a torn meniscus in his left knee shut down the rest of his season for good. Instead of spending the time injured back home in London, Maja said he remained in Bordeaux to rehab, and he was ready to go at the start of the season for coach Paulo Sousa.

Following a preseason with Bordeaux, in which Maja participated in EA Sports League 1 games in Washington D.C., Maja seems primed for a big season in France. He’s come off the bench in each of the first three league matches of the season, scoring in Bordeaux’s 1-1 draw with Montpellier. Bordeaux’s young team looks to improve from a 14th-place finish last season, in which the club only earned 41 points.

“He’s very young like a lot of players on our team, but he has a lot of experience,” Maja’s Bordeaux teammate Aurelien Tchouameni said. “He played a lot of games in League One in England so he’s a very good player, a very good striker. I think he will help the team this season.”

At just 20, there’s still time for Maja to continue to improve, grow, and potentially return to England as a finished product.

“It’s a possibility,” Maja said about playing in the Premier League in the future. “I am focusing on my work in France with Bordeaux, maybe if the timing is right and the right club comes in, I’d love to take that opportunity. Right now I want to be the best I can be here.”