PL Sunday preview: Liverpool in chase mode; Arsenal v. Man Utd

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By the time Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures is complete, nearly all 20 clubs will have played 30 games in the 2018-19 season, signaling the official start of the run-in.

[ MORE: What did we learn on a wild PL Saturday? (video) ]

From the title, to the top-four, to the relegation battle, there’s still so much left to play for…

Liverpool v. Burnley — 8 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

From runaway PL title leaders and favorites, to staring a four-point deficit — with a game in hand, albeit — square in the face, the last two months have been anything but ideal for Liverpool. It’s not as if Jurgen Klopp‘s side has cratered and even lost a single game, so much as Manchester City have regained their brilliant, historic form of last season (three points dropped from their last 11 games) and managed to capitalize on the Reds drawing four of their last six. When 17th-place Burnley visit Anfield on Sunday, Klopp and Co., will have their hands full against increasingly desperate opponents who now sit just two points and one place clear of the relegation zone. There can be no looking ahead to Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League clash with Bayern Munich (0-0 after the Reds’ home leg).

As for the Clarets, Sean Dyche‘s side was the very definition of up-and-down since mid-January: three draws, followed by two wins, followed by two losses most recently. Prior to starting their potentially season-saving run just before the start of 2019, Burnley sat 19th in the PL table. After winning three straight to start the new year and eventually extending their run to eight games unbeaten (five wins), they had risen as high as 14th. Back-to-back defeats to fellow relegation battlers Newcastle United and Crystal Palace have since dropped them back into perilous danger as they head northwest to take on one of the Europe’s most prolific, irresistible sides on Sunday.

INJURIES: Liverpool —  OUT: Joe Gomez (ankle), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Dejan Lovren (hamstring) | Burnley — OUT: Aaron Lennon (knee), Steven Defour (calf), Jonathan Walters (achilles)


Chelsea v. Wolverhampton Wanderers — 10:05 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Maurizio Sarri‘s debut season in the PL has been one he, and many Chelsea fans alike, would like to forget. And yet, it’s the sixth-place Blues — of the three teams currently jockeying for fourth place — who control their own destiny, due to having a game in hand and trailing the Champions League places by just two points. Sunday’s opponent, sixth-place Wolves, will be anything but a pushover, which they demonstrated the first time these sides met this season: Wolves 2-1 Chelsea, in December.

Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota inspired Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side to the comeback victory at Molineux Stadium, and the prolific duo (17 goals and nine assists between them this PL campaign) will be desperate to complete the unlikely double over such a giant in their first top-flight season in eight years. Against all odds, it’s Wolves who have lost just once in their last seven league games (four wins), and the Blues who have lost three of their last six (three wins) and suffered a frustrating slide down the table. With a six-point advantage over 11th-place Everton, and Sunday’s game in hand, Wolves are merely a handful of results away from mathematically securing a top-half finish with plenty of the season still to run.

INJURIES: Chelsea —  OUT: None | Wolves — OUT: Ryan Bennett (suspension)


Arsenal v. Manchester United — 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com

The leading contestants for a top-four finish are set to face off in a titanic clash at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday, with the added bonus of making a real push to catch and surpass a Tottenham Hotspur side suddenly spiraling out of control. Man United moved to within three points of Tottenham with their comeback victory over Southampton last weekend, only for those very Saints to do the Red Devils a massive favor on the back end: handing Spurs their third loss in four games.

Three points won’t come easy on Sunday, however, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side was pushed to its limits in the Champions League on Wednesday, only securing their passage to the quarterfinals in the 93rd minute against Paris Saint-Germain. Further complicating matters, United find themselves in the midst of something of an injury crisis (see below). On the bright side, Paul Pogba will be fit and fresh after missing Wednesday’s game due to suspension. On the brightest of bright sides, United remain unbeaten in 12 league games (10 wins) since Solskjaer took over for Jose Mourinho in mid-December.

Arsenal, on the other hand, will be considerably fatigued themselves after losing to Rennes in the Europa League on Thursday, and playing nearly 50 minutes with just 10 men. With dwindling hope of lifting the final trophy still in play for the Gunners, Unai Emery‘s main objective has become exceedingly clear: get the club back into the Champions League for the first time in three years. Three points would not only send Arsenal two points clear of United for fourth, but would also trim the gap between themselves and Spurs to just a single point with eight games left to play.

INJURIES: Arsenal —  OUT: Lucas Torreira (suspension), Hector Bellerin (knee), Danny Welbeck (ankle), Rob Holding (knee) | Man United — OUT: Alexis Sanchez (knee), Jesse Lingard (hamstring), Juan Mata (hamstring), Antonio Valencia (calf); QUESTIONABLE: Anthony Martial (groin), Nemanja Matic (leg), Ander Herrera (hamstring), Phil Jones (illness), Matteo Darmian (undisclosed)

Premier League Preview: Southampton v. Tottenham

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Tottenham Hotspur, finally on the mend and nearing a full complement of first-team players, now find themselves without manager Mauricio Pochettino for Saturday’s clash with his former club, Southampton (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com), as well as the March 31 trip to Anfield, following his post-game vitriol aimed at referee Mike Dean.

Harry Kane recently returned from six weeks out; Eric Dier is back from both an appendectomy and tonsillitis in quick succession; Victor Wanyama came back from nearly six months out himself; and Dele Alli is set to return on Saturday. The return of first-team figures couldn’t come at a better time for Tottenham, who are winless in their last three Premier League games (two losses), have seen their 10-point lead on all three of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United cut to just three, and must remain fresh ahead of the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Southampton, on the other hand, are fighting for their PL lives. 17th in the table, just two points and one spot clear of the relegation zone, Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s side finds itself in the midst of a treacherous run of fixtures: Arsenal and Man United in the rearview mirror; Spurs and Liverpool still to come shortly.

Last weekend’s game at Old Trafford was particularly hard on Saints, as they were great value for a point — if not all three — until the Red Devils broke their hearts very late on.

“It’s really hard. The guys are very, very disappointed after the game and I that they put everything on the pitch that was possible today and showed a fantastic performance,” Hasenhuttl said this week. “Mainly the first half, but also in the second half we showed that we were very, very focused on our match plan and we wanted to get something here. We were not far away from it and also after the 2-1 we did not stop attacking them and creating for us.”

Injuries

Southampton OUT: Mario Lemina (abdomen), Danny Ings (hamstring), Michael Obafemi (hamstring) | Spurs — OUT: Kieran Trippier (leg); QUESTIONABLE: Harry Winks (hip); RETURNING: Dele Alli (hamstring)

What they’re saying

Hasenhuttl, on the defeat at United: “(James Ward-Prowse) scored a fantastic free-kick, it was a gorgeous goal and it’s a pity that Lukaku decided the game for them. “To be proud is one thing but when you wake up tomorrow and you feel that you lost, nobody asks how you lost. It’s like every manager doesn’t like to lose and we had a big chance but it was not enough.”

Pochettino, on leaving Southampton: “A lot of people were disappointed when I left the club and they are not going to forgive, but I still love them. In one year and a half I spent there, it was a great experience. For different circumstances that are difficult to understand, I left the club.”I cried a lot when I left, my family too. It was one of the most important periods in my life. I hope we beat them Saturday, but I wish all the best to them.”

Prediction

Spurs showed a ruthless, a different level of know-how, in surviving and winning in a completely different manner this week away to Borussia Dortmund. Confidence will be sky-high, and Harry Kane looks back to very nearly his best. The mountain will be tough — too tough — for Saints to climb.

Fans who want to try their hand at predicting PL games can down the NBC Sports Predictor app, with a chance to win up to $50,000 each week. Download it on iOS or Google Play.

Premier League Preview: Crystal Palace v. Brighton

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  • Palace (33 points), 13th, 8 points clear of relegation
  • Brighton (30 points), 15th, 5 points clear
  • Brighton 3-1 Palace, in December

Brighton & Hove Albion are likely no more than five points from having done enough to avoid relegation from the Premier League this season, and the Seagulls have an eminently winnable FA Cup quarterfinal matchup with Championship side Millwall next weekend. By every realistic measure, 2018-19 will go down as a successful second season back in England’s top flight. Chris Hughton‘s side could just about take care of those required points when they visit Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com), and complete the league double over the Eagles in the process.

After knocking off Huddersfield Town at home last weekend, Brighton are in search of back-to-back wins for the first time since Dec. 1 and 4, a stretch of 13 games without so much as a sniff of consistency (two wins in 13, including eight losses).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Palace, on the other hand, have lost just one of their last six while winning three during that same stretch. Roy Hodgson has done a decent enough job to guide his boyhood in his first full season in charge, and the Eagles will feel they’ve already done enough to stay up with a victory on Saturday.

Michy Batshuayi has proven an inspired loan signing for Palace after scoring a goal in two of his last three games — both of which were victories — at the end of the January transfer window. Speaking of inspiration, winger Wilfried Zaha has bagged four goals in four games — 2W-1D-1L — since Batshuayi’s arrival. The two of them are clearly enjoying playing together.

“I told him, ‘Bro, once you get that first goal, they start coming from nowhere,'” Zaha said of Batshuayi. “I’m happy to see him on the scoresheet.”

Injuries

Crystal Palace OUT: Mamadou Sakho (knee), Pape Souare (shoulder) | Brighton — OUT: Pascal Gross (hamstring)

What they’re saying

Palace manager Roy Hodgson, on retirement: “They are not thoughts that I wish to entertain. I have no wish to entertain them. I don’t feel the need in any way to entertain them.I live in the present, basically. I try to make certain my life is as good as it can be at any given moment in time, doing what I’ve got to be doing and living my life the right way. In moments like this, where fortunately that is very much the case, I just try to profit from it without trying to get the crystal ball out and think what will it be like in March 2020.”

Brighton forward Glenn Murray, on stockpiling points: “We realized the magnitude of (facing Huddersfield), and we understand that. (In recent games) things were going against us slightly, and it was just about keeping our cool, going back to basics and (stop) conceding goals. There’s still plenty to do, we’re not home and hosed yet.”

Prediction

While Palace have been in good form of late, they’ve done most of their damage away from home (just one win in their last six at Selhurst Park). On the other side, Brighton haven’t won away from home in six tries. Each happy to take a point toward their season total, this one has draw written all over it.

Fans who want to try their hand at predicting PL games can down the NBC Sports Predictor app, with a chance to win up to $50,000 each week. Download it on iOS or Google Play.

Premier League Preview: West Ham United v. Newcastle United

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What has already been a banner, season-defining week for Newcastle United could get even better on Saturday when the Magpies visit West Ham United at the London Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). Having already won twice in four days’ time — victories over Huddersfield Town and Burnley — Rafa Benitez‘s side now sits six points and five places clear of the Premier League’s relegation zone.

The challenge, now, is to translate their dominance at St. James’ Park to an away venue, something which has proven plenty difficult this season: just two of Newcastle’s eight wins have come away from the friendly confines of the northeast of England. Furthermore, they have taken just two points from their last five away games.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

West Ham, on the other hand, have been a mixed bag at home: 6W-3D-5L. Even better of late, they’re 2W-2D-0L in their last four home games. Manuel Pellegrini‘s side sits 10th the PL table, but has won just two if its last nine league games.

West Ham lost 1-0 to Manchester City, but Pellegrini was clearly prioritizing Saturday’s showdown as the more winnable of this week’s fixtures, as he left Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Mark Noble and Robert Snodgrass on the bench for all 90 minutes. With an 11-point gap between themselves and the relegation zone, 10th-place West Ham comfortably sit mid-table with little hope of climbing higher in the final standings, but plenty of room to fall should the season’s final 10 games go sideways.

Injuries

West Ham OUT: Andriy Yarmolenko (achilles), Jack Wilshere (ankle), Aaron Cresswell (toe), Carlos Sanchez (knee), Fabian Balbuena (knee), Winston Reid (knee) | Newcastle — OUT: Jonjo Shelvey (fitness), Ciaran Clark (knock)

What they’re saying

Manuel Pellegrini, on Newcastle’s progression: “I think that in both cases, in December and now, Newcastle were in a good moment. When we went to Newcastle and beat them there, they had come from a run of three games in a row winning. Now, I think they are a more consistent team, a difficult team to score against because they don’t concede too many chances. They have also won their last two games at home, so they are having a good moment.”

Rafa Benitez, on the season’s target: “My message to the players, and everyone, is that we still have a lot of work to do. We have to stay calm and have to approach every game with the same idea we had from day one. The next game is the most important and if we can get to 38 or 40 points, we can enjoy it a bit more if possible. We can see the future that we have along with the other teams around us. However, that means nothing because three or four weeks ago, we were thinking it would be very difficult. Now, we are starting to talk about finishing tenth. We have to stay calm and have to go there to try and get three points.”

Prediction

The difference in each side’s form while home and away is stark. West Ham will be the fresher of two sides after resting the aforementioned key figures, while Newcastle are due for a come-down. Saturday should be one of the three or four times each season when West Ham are unplayable and romp to victory, only to come crashing back down to Earth the following week.

Fans who want to try their hand at predicting PL games can down the NBC Sports Predictor app, with a chance to win up to $50,000 each week. Download it on iOS or Google Play.

Premier League Preview: Manchester United v. Southampton

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  • Man United unbeaten in 11 PL games under OGS
  • United (55 points), 5th in PL
  • Southampton (27 points), 17th
  • Saints 2-2 United, in December

It was nothing but smooth sailing for Manchester United — at least, in the Premier League — beginning when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over as interim manager in mid-December, and they’ve continued to roll along with relative ease despite an ongoing injury crisis ravaging the first-team squad. Solskjaer will once again be without a number of key figures for Saturday’s clash with Southampton at Old Trafford (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

After drawing PL leaders Liverpool last weekend, Man United were without injured stars Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford (all one the bench) from the start of Wednesday’s 3-1 victory over Crystal Palace. Such are the spoils of having one of the deepest — and most expensively assembled — squads in the world, when a $97-million player like Romelu Lukaku can return to the lineup after a difficult season and bag a brace — his first goals since Jan. 5.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

On the other side, Southampton have a bit of confidence for the first time in quite some time. Wednesday’s 2-0 victory over fellow relegation battlers Fulham snapped a four-game winless skid and pulled Saints two points clear of the relegation zone and 18th-place Cardiff City. The challenge, however, of facing fifth-place United, who trail Arsenal by just one point in their bid to re-enter the top-four after a disastrous start to the season, should prove infinitely more difficult.

Injuries

Man United OUT: Jesse Lingard (hamstring), Ander Herrera (hamstring), Juan Mata (hamstring), Nemanja Matic (leg), Antonio Valencia (calf); QUESTIONABLE: Anthony Martial (groin) | Southampton — OUT: Mario Lemina (abdomen), Michael Obafemi (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: Danny Ings (hamstring)

What they’re saying

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, on selection options: “Rashford is fully fit now. I’ll probably start him. I don’t think there will be many changes. It’s the last session today, but we’re not going to take any risks, so maybe Anthony [Martial], but it might just be even a few more days before he’s ready, so probably the squad will look similar to what it did on Wednesday. Maybe one-third of them will be Academy kids — maybe even more — so that’s a good point to take out of it.”

Ralph Hasenhuttl, on the task of Old Trafford: “It’s a tough match, sure, but we go there with more confidence from our side. We had an important win against Fulham, and that helps us a lot, but the pressure is still on, so we will try to do everything to get points there. I know there are easier places to win than Old Trafford, especially at the moment, as the team is now completely different to two or three months ago. It’s now a team that is unbeaten in a long time and the new manager hasn’t lost a game until now, but, for us, it’s important to focus on our strengths and our qualities.”

Prediction

There’s simply too much on the line for United, who simply have too much talent and depth for Southampton on a three-game week. If the Red Devils score early, it could quickly get out of hand and wind up 4-0.

Fans who want to try their hand at predicting PL games can down the NBC Sports Predictor app, with a chance to win up to $50,000 each week. Download it on iOS or Google Play.