Nuno Espirito Santo

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PL Sunday Preview: Wolves, Man United in action; Liverpool host Man City

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures features the likes of Wolves, Aston Villa, Manchester United and Brighton all in action. It is also headlined by the biggest match of the season yet: Liverpool vs Manchester City.

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Wolves vs. Aston Villa — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Just weeks removed from a EFL Cup bout between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Aston Villa that saw the latter come out victorious 2-1, both West Midland sides will meet again.

This time, however, the scenario will be distinct. Both sides won’t meet at Villa Park; instead,  Stadium will be the stadium of choice. Second-choice sides will not be front and center. It’s a league match, both teams will lineup with the best they have to offer and, as a result the intensity, will be vastly fiercer.

That’s if Wolves have the legs for that scenario to be a reality in the first place.

With Europa League added to an already daunting schedule, Nuno Espirito Santo and company have played eight matches since the start of October, averaging more than one per week. Villa, who’ve lost back to back league matches, are mindful of that and hope it will benefit them when all is said and done.

“They’re very tough to beat, they’ve got great organization and structure,” Villa manager Dean Smith ahead of Sunday’s derby. “They’ve got players who can score goals having gone to Manchester City and won, gone to Arsenal and equalized to come away with a point…so they’ll feel they’re in a run of form.”

“People look from the outside and think ‘is the amount of games they’re playing going to catch up with them?,'” he added. “We’re hopeful that is does on Sunday.”

INJURIES: Wolves — OUT: Gibbs-White (back), Boly (leg)| Aston Villa — OUT: Keenan Davis (hamstring)

Manchester United vs. Brighton and Hove Albion — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCS and NBCSports.com

Brighton and Hove Albion have never won at Old Trafford.

Graham Potter and his group of players want to make history and change that against a historically-poor Manchester United.

“It would be great to get a result this weekend at one of the best places in world football,” Potter said. “Their quality is undoubted and we respect that – but we want to go there and be ourselves and take on the challenge in a positive way.”

Brighton are in positive form, sitting eighth on the table and two points clear of United, who haven’t had a start to the season as dreadful as 2019’s – 13 points in 11 matches – since 1986 under Ron Atkinson. In their last four bouts, Brighton have earned victories in three, defeating Tottenham, Everton and Norwich City.

It’s all very different for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the Red Devils.

Despite a convincing 3-0 win over a paltry Partizan midweek, the pressure at Old Trafford keeps looming over the injury-riddled team, who lost their previous league match against Bournemouth 1-0. Time and time again, the questions have been asked, but the answers have yet to surface.

Even then, Solskjaer feels their latest Europa League victory has left them with a blueprint.

“This is a little bit of a template on how we want to play, definitely,” the Norwegian manager stated following his team’s win on Thursday. “No disrespect to Partizan, but they gave us spaces. Of course after we scored the first goal, they went forward.”

“These boys are learning,” he added. “Tonight will give them loads of pointers of how to play. Even though the opposition is not the same as in the Premier League, it was still good principles.”

Nowhere was the word “consistency” mentioned, however. If they want to right the ship, they’ll need to learn it.

INJURIES: Manchester United — OUT: Dalot (hip), Matic (knock), Luke Shaw (thigh), Tuanzebe (hip), Eric Bailly (knee), Fosu-Mensah (knee), Pogba (ankle); SUSPENDED: Ashley Young (one match) | Brighton — OUT: Bernardo (knee), Izquierdo (knee), Webster (ankle)

Liverpool vs. Manchester City — 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBCS and NBCSports.com

It’s the match everyone had circled on their calendars: Jurgen Klopp‘s unbeaten Liverpool against Pep Guardiola‘s Manchester City in front of a sold-out Anfield.

It’s the type of spectacle that requires no added hype, even though Klopp did just that heading into the season’s biggest match yet.

“From a sport’s point of view this rivalry is getting bigger and bigger,” the German manager said in front of an eager press conference room this weekend. “Thank god there is a rivalry because it means we are a pretty good team as well.”

“If you are not brave against Man City you don’t have the chance of even a point,” he added. “Everyone has to be in top shape in the stadium on Sunday, even the guy selling the hotdogs. Everyone has to be there from the warm-up and invest all our emotions.”

With City in position to jump to second and be only three points from Liverpool with a win, the match promises to have it all. And Guardiola main message is urging his players to leave it all on the field when they take on the league’s favorites.

“I just want my team to fight to the end,” the 48-year-old said. “Liverpool are a team that lost one game last season, none this season, so you cannot believe that they will lose many, but the season is long.”

“They do everything well,” he added. “You see the team, what is the weak point? They are a real complete team and we need this kind of rival.”

That said, City is stuffed with injuries – namely, Ederson and David Silva, who were both unable to recover and get fit for Sunday’s clash. Claudio Bravo, who saw a red card midweek in Champions League play, will be between the sticks for the defending champions.

What many think will prove to be problematic for the visitors, is the opposite of loss of quality for Guardiola. The Spaniard is convinced that the Chilean goalkeeper has the ability and is of the pedigree to play in matches of such stature.

“He is an exceptional goalkeeper,” Guardiola said. “He is an international goalkeeper. I have no doubts.

“Why shouldn’t I be confident about my players? I see him every day in training. We won’t lose because of Claudio.

“The red card the other day was because we lost the ball,” he added. Respect the guy. He is a top keeper.”

Surely, Liverpool, led by Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, will look to exploit any deficiencies City puts forward. For now, those deficiencies are unknown.

What is public knowledge, however, is that very few matches – if any – this season will be as big as Sunday’s.

INJURIES: Liverpool  OUT: Joel Matip (knee), Xherdan Shaqiri (calf), Nathaniel Clyne (knee) | Manchester City  OUT: Ederson (knock), Rodri (hamstring), David Silva (thigh), Zinchenko (knee), Leroy Sané (knee), Laporte (knee)

Europa League preview: Man Utd, Wolves eye qualification

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Manchester United midfielder Fred wants to get Europa League knockout round qualification done and dusted on the double.

United hosts Partizan Belgrade at 3 p.m. ET Thursday, and a win would boost them six points clear of their visitors with two matches to play.

Fred said he’s hopeful not just for the place in the next round, but to help more of the squad get playing time.#UEL

“It will also provide more opportunities for players to get a run of games, which is very important as we have a lot of games coming up and will need the entire squad, so to have already achieved qualification is important,” said Fred. “With this run of games coming up, we’ll be gradually putting the pieces together over these fixtures.”

[ MORE: Atalanta 1-1 Man City | Red Star 0-4 Spurs ]

The Red Devils will bid to achieve that goal without Victor Lindelof, who was an unused sub for the 1-0 win in Serbia.

Meanwhile, Wolves are home to face Slovan Bratislava in a Group K which is anything but straightforward.

The Premier League side is a point back of Braga’s seven, and sits two clear of Thursday’s visitors. Besiktas, stunningly, is without a point through three matches.

Nuno Espirito Santo said the advantage is not enough, and Wolves cannot expect to be safe for the knockout rounds.

“We are always confident, we cannot expect things to happen, we have to make them happen,” he said. “We have to play the game, we are ready to compete and Slovan are a very tough team. Competing well is more important (than thinking about qualifying).”

Arsenal failed in its early bid to earn a place in the Europa League knockout rounds, but an Eintracht Frankfurt defeat of Standard Liege in Belgium could send both the Gunners and Eintracht there.

Other notable UEL Thursday fixtures

Lazio v. Celtic — 12:55 p.m. ET

Rangers v. Porto — 3 p.m. ET

Wolfsburg v. Gent — 3 p.m. ET

Borussia Monchengladbach v. Roma — 3 p.m. ET

Braga v. Besiktas — 3 p.m. ET

Mexico’s Jimenez delivers Wolves point at Arsenal

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Raul Jimenez’s 76th minute goal gave Wolves a deserved point from a 1-1 draw with Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Wolves out shot their hosts 25-10 in collecting a 13th point of the year. That sits them 11th, four points behind fifth place Arsenal.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang bagged Arsenal’s goal in the first half.


Three things we learned

1. Emery gets it wrong: The Arsenal boss would be right to feel pressure as another visitor dominated play against his side. A start for Mesut Ozil meant a place on the bench for Nicolas Pepe, and the in-form Ivorian never entered the fray against a Wolves side which can be beaten by creativity. Instead, Emery put in youngsters Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka, and the kids didn’t have it in them. Moreover, we can understand why Emery didn’t start Granit Xhaka after his tumultuous week — and maybe the player preferred not to face the home crowd — but his steel was missed against Joao Moutinho‘s stylish midfield.

2. Wolves grab point in 9th of 11 league matches: Look, there’s no question Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men have been troubled by the schedule congestion provided by the Europa League and, until this week, the League Cup, but full credit to them for finding a way to get points more often than not. Late equalizers against Newcastle, Crystal Palace, and now Arsenal mean the side has only fallen to Everton (3-2) and Chelsea (5-2) in Premier League play despite playing 20 matches all over Europe since Aug. 8.

3. El Tri’s best striker delivers the goods again: Raul Jimenez led the way with Wolves’ equalizer and this monster stat line: 8 shots, 6 aerials won, and 4 tackles. That’s from your center forward, Wolves fans. He’s a problem in the club, folks.

Man of the Match: Jimenez was an absolute beast for the visitors.


Wolves came out of the gates with vigor, and Arsenal had trouble keeping the ball out of its end and keeping hold of it altogether.

The Gunners went ahead through their two strikers, Lacazette doing plenty of work to set up Aubameyang for a goal that doesn’t rank high on his difficulty scale.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

But Wolves did not relent against a side which probably missed Xhaka (see above).

Amazingly, it was still Arsenal 1-0 for much of the second half despite massive disadvantages in possession and shots, but Jimenez’s relentless effort allowed Wolves to level the line.

Nuno demands ‘immediate reaction’ from struggling Wolves

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Replicating the lofty heights of last season has proven a tough task for Wolverhampton Wanderers through the first month and a half of the 2019-20 campaign, both in the Premier League and in Europe.

[ MORE: Top Premier League storylines: Week 6 ]

After finishing seventh in their first season back in the PL, Wolves began their first-ever Europa League adventure this summer, largely breezing through the qualification rounds to reach the group stage. That part went swimmingly. Thursday’s group play opener didn’t go so well, as Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side fell to Portuguese side Braga at home, 1-0.

Wolves began the PL with three straight draws, conceding just two goals in total. Since then, they have lost two in a row and conceded eight goals.

[ MORE: Man City’s David Silva in “likely” Inter Miami move ]

Again, we’re not even two months into the season, but Santo knows the next few games are going to be hugely important for his side. Not only does he need to keep his players’ heads from dropping during these trying times, but they also need to begin stringing together results, both in the PL and in Europe. Wolves need to bounce back, and immediately — quotes from the BBC:

“This is important. We face the reality and the reality says we not performing well so we have to analyze 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.”

“We are all disappointed.”

Up next for Santo’s side is a potentially tricky trip south London to face Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, where the Eagles have already drawn top-six hopefuls Everton and beaten newly promoted Aston Villa.

Europa League preview: Torino peeved at ref crew v. Wolves

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Serie A side Torino is here for the mind games, and claims Wolves will have an unfair advantage due to the referee appointments for Thursday’s Europa League playoff round first leg.

[ MORE: UCL qualifying wrap ]

Wolves will head to the Olimpico di Torino for the first leg, and Torino is reportedly “bewildered” that UEFA has appointed Portuguese referees for the match because Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo and seven of his first team players hail from Portugal.

The head referee, Artur Soares Dias, has worked numerous high-profile games deep into the Europa League, Champions League, and EURO qualifying.

Nuno doesn’t care.

“We represent the colours of Wolverhampton, it’s an English team,” he said. “Our native language is English, everybody speaks English to each other. There is no issue.”

Torino has also cruised through the qualifying rounds and has not had the benefit of being tested by league play. Serie A begins this weekend.

Kickoff is at 3 p.m. Thursday, with the second leg at the Molineux set for Aug. 29 at 2:45 p.m. ET. The winner qualifies for the UEL group stage.

Also in action this Thursday are a few North Americans. Among them: Romain Gall is coming off a league goal for Malmo, and may start at home to Israeli Premier League side Bnei Yehuda.

Timothy Chandler remains a part of Eintracht Frankfurt’s crew and will be in France to meet Strasbourg, while Brooklyn-born Canadian striker Jonathan David is with Gent against Rijeka.

The rest of the post may deliver entertainment based on the schedule. The UEL main stage provides some unusual names from the European landscape, so it’s even wilder prior to that.

Thursday’s Europa League playoff round first legs

Astana v. BATE Borisov — 10 a.m. ET
Avan Academy v. Dudelange — 11 a.m. ET
FK Suduva v. Ferencvaros — 1 p.m. ET
Malmo v. Bnei Yehuda — 1 p.m. ET
Feyenoord v. Hapoel Beer-Sheva — 1:30 p.m. ET
Ludogorets v. Maribor — 1:30 p.m. ET
Copenhagen v. Riga — 1:45 p.m. ET
AEK Athens v. Trabzonspor — 2 p.m. ET
Legia Warsaw v. Rangers — 2 p.m. ET
FCSB v. Vitoria — 2:30 p.m. ET
Gent v. Rijeka — 2:30 p.m. ET
PSV Eindhoven v. Apollon Limassol — 2:30 p.m. ET
Strasbourg v. Eintracht Frankfurt — 2:30 p.m. ET
AZ Alkmaar v. Antwerp — 2:30 p.m. ET
Celtic v. AIK — 2:45 p.m. ET
Linfield v. Qarabag — 2:45 p.m. ET
Braga v. Spartak Moscow — 2:45 p.m. ET
Espanyol v. Zorya — 3 p.m. ET
Torino v. Wolves — 3 p.m. ET
Partizan v. Molde — 3 p.m. ET
Slovan Bratislava v. PAOK — 3 p.m. ET