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PL Sunday preview: Man City, Spurs visit relegation favorites

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Title/top-four contenders v. relegation favorites — that’s the name of the game on Sunday, when a pair of Premier League giants visit the bottom two teams in the league table…

[ MORE: What we learned in the Premier League, Week 23 ]

Huddersfield v. Man City — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The good news for 20th-place Huddersfield Town: the Terriers’ eight-game losing streak came to an end last weekend. The (still) bad news: a 0-0 draw against one of the other two teams currently occupying a relegation spot, Cardiff City, didn’t very little to chip away at what is now a 10-point gap between themselves and safety. Steady worse news, depending on how you look at it: manager David Wagner stepped down on Monday, leaving the club with interim boss Mark Hudson in charge. The (far) worse news: second-place, and resurgent, Manchester City are set to visit John Smith’s Stadium on Sunday.

Liverpool ground out a 4-3 victory over Crystal Palace on Saturday to stretch the Reds’ lead back to seven points in the title race. Put simply, Sunday’s fixture is a must-win scenario for Pep Guardiola‘s side, no matter the opponent, but doubly — or, triply — so against a side like Huddersfield. After losing three out of four PL games in mid-December, the defending champions have regained a bit of form in their last three games, winning all three — including a season-saving victory over Liverpool — and conceding just two goals in the process. Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are back amongst the goals, having between them scored five of the eight during the current run.

INJURIES: Huddersfield —  OUT: Aaron Mooy (knee), Danny Williams (knee) | Man City — OUT: Benjamin Mendy (knee), Claudio Bravo (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Vincent Kompany (undisclosed)


Fulham v. Tottenham Hotspur — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Tottenham’s latest spell without star striker Harry Kane (ankle) begins on Sunday, with a trip to Craven Cottage to take on relegation-threatened Fulham. Mauricio Pochettino‘s side will also be without Kane’s most logical replacement, Son Heung-min, as he is with the South Korea squad at the Asian Cup. Kane was lost for up to two months in last weekend’s narrow defeat to Manchester United, a result which saw Spurs fall five points back of City and their respective leads on Chelsea (one point) and Arsenal and Man United (then seven, but since reduced to four) eroded as well. Either Fernando Llorente will start up top, or Pochettino will opt for a striker-less formation and rely upon the fluidity and attacking versatility of Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela.

As for Fulham, the Cottagers wish their greatest concern was as simple as losing a forward or two. Instead, Claudio Ranieri‘s side sits 19th after 22 games, now seven points (and another 17 goals in the goal-differential column) adrift of safety following Newcastle United’s emphatic victory over fellow relegation battlers Cardiff on Saturday. With just one win in their last nine league games (two in their last 19; three all season), the west London club’s return to the PL appears to be a one-season wonder before an immediate drop back down to the Championship. Having conceded 49 goals in 22 games, Fulham are on pace to give up 87 goals. The last side to concede more 80 goals in a season was — you guessed it — Fulham (85), the last time they were relegated in 2013-14.

INJURIES: Fulham —  OUT: Alfie Mawson (knee), Aboubakar Kamara (disciplinary) | Tottenham — OUT: Harry Kane (ankle), Lucas Moura (knee), Moussa Sissoko (groin), Victor Wanyama (knee)

Premier League Preview: Man City v. Wolves

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  • Another must-win for Man City’s title hopes
  • Man City 2nd in PL table; Wolves sit 11th
  • Wolves held City to a 1-1 draw in August

Manchester City did the really hard part of reinserting themselves into the Premier League title race — beating leaders Liverpool to cut the Reds’ lead to just four points — but now comes the next challenge for Pep Guardiola‘s side: maintaining that same level of performance in every single game for the next five months so as to, at a minimum, match Liverpool stride for stride, just to remain within four points.

When 11th-place Wolverhampton Wanderers visit the Etihad Stadium on Monday, Man City will already be playing from behind after Liverpool secured a hard-fought victory over Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Since their top-of-the-table showdown with Liverpool, City have put together two of the most lopsided results you’re bound to see all season — albeit against vastly inferior Cup competition. A 7-0 victory over Rotherham United (Championship) in the FA Cup, followed by a 9-0 demolition of League One side Burton Albion in the first leg of the League Cup semifinals, has the defending champions overflowing with confidence once again, and at just the right time.

On the other side, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side is riding the roller coaster that is a newly promoted club’s first season back in the PL. Wolves have won back-to-back games in four times this season, while also enduring a six-game winless skid that featured five defeats.

What they’re saying

Man City midfielder Bernardo Silva: “(The) win (over Liverpool) was super important, particularly because it was against the leaders and we must show that we are chasing after the title. Our team has great experience. Each one of us has won and lost games and we know how to react to defeats. That’s why, when we’re at the very top, we don’t think we’re the best in the world and when we’re very low, we don’t see that we are the worst. … We are certainly going to give our best in order to keep the higher level.”

Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo: “It’s not about who you face, it’s about what you want to put on the pitch, your idea, the way you want to develop. It’s how you want to grow and how you want to do things on the pitch, that’s the philosophy we try. It’s about the approach. … I know the reality of the game, the reality of football. … They are a very good team, one of the best in the world, so there’s no doubt on Monday they’re going to be as good as they always are.”

Prediction

City didn’t put in that kind of effort and performance against Liverpool just to throw it all away and had the title over their next time out in league play. Don’t be surprised when they look like the City of 2017-18 the next few weeks or months, and that’s a frightening proposition for Wolves.

PL Sunday preview: Litmus test time for Spurs, Man United

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures will see a pair of top-four hopefuls do battle head-to-head, as Tottenham Hotspur host Manchester United at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: What we learned in the Premier League, Week 22 ]

Everton v. Bournemouth — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

With just one win in their last eight PL outings, Everton will be hoping that their narrow victory over League Two side Lincoln City in the FA Cup last weekend will help to right the ship once back in league play. Marco Silva‘s fingers crossed it does the trick after slipping to 11th in the league table.

“Winning matches is the best way to win confidence and to start playing at our best level,” he said this week. “The best way to show (our quality) is by the results and the wins. We achieved the main thing against Lincoln and we have to work strongly again to achieve a good result in the next match.”

INJURIES: Everton — OUT: None | Bournemouth — OUT: Lewis Cook (knee), Simon Francis (knee), Adam Smith (knee), Dan Gosling (knee), Dominic Solanke (hamstring)


Tottenham Hotspur v. Man United — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Sunday’s showdown at Wembley will serve as a litmus test for both Tottenham and Man United, as well as their respective managers. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will put his unblemished record as United boss on the line against Mauricio Pochettino, who might just replace him at Old Trafford in the summer.

With all due respect to the likes of Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town, third-place Spurs will pose a challenge Solskjaer’s side has not yet seen since Jose Mourinho was fired following a humbling defeat to Liverpool last month. United didn’t fare so well the first time these sides met this season, as the Red Devils suffered a thoroughly embarrassing 3-0 defeat that home in August. While Solskjaer has restored the attacking intent at United, he will be without a number of key defensive figures on Sunday, with Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, Eric Bailly, Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian all reportedly unavailable or left out of the squad.

Along the same lines, Spurs are enjoying their best run of results all season, despite experiencing a rash of injuries — particularly to the midfield, where Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko have, somehow, become an irreplaceable duo. Finally, Eric Dier (appendectomy) is expected to return, as is defender Jan Vertonghen (thigh), thus affording Pochettino a majority of first-choice midfield and defensive options. Son Heung-min, who has amassed seven goals and five assists in his last seven games (all competitions), will play on Sunday before departing to join up with South Korea at the Asian Cup. It was agreed between the two side that Son remain with his club until after the game against United, missing the first two group games in the process.

INJURIES: Tottenham —  OUT: Mousa Dembele (ankle), Victor Wanyama (knee) | Man United — OUT: Eric Bailly (suspension), Chris Smalling (foot), Marcos Rojo (undisclosed)

PL preview: More good times for Man Utd? Chelsea host Saints

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While the entire soccer world awaits the big one on Thursday — you know, Manchester City hosting Liverpool in top-of-the-table clash that could either signal the Premier League title race being back on or all but finished — Wednesday’s six-game schedule should hold us over for 24 hours…

[ MORE: Spurs sail to win at Cardiff City | Arsenal hammer Fulham ]

Chelsea v. Southampton — 2:45 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Heading into Wednesday’s showdown with Southampton at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea appear largely locked into a battle, with Arsenal, for fourth place. The Blues, however, could simply refuse to let the Gunners — who trail by two points after having already played on Tuesday — get too close to them and position themselves for a coup slightly higher in the PL table. A win would move Maurizio Sarri‘s side to within a point of third-place Manchester City and just two back of second-place Tottenham Hotspur. Sarri’s side is currently dealing something of a short-term injury crisis and could be handcuffed in making his team selection.

“In the last two days we were a bit unlucky. Yesterday in 10 minutes we had three injuries: (Cesc) Fabregas, (Ruben) Loftus-Cheek and (Danny) Drinkwater,” Sarri said this week. “Now today Giroud, and we were already without Pedro and (Callum) Hudson-Odoi, so now we are in trouble because in January we have to play every three days.”

Southampton, meanwhile, remain very much in the relegation scrap at the bottom of the table. Finally out of the bottom-three, Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s side can now turn its focus to creating a bit of a cushion between themselves and 18th place. Back-to-back wins two weeks ago were Saints’ ticket out of the relegation zone, but back-to-back defeats in the interim have seen them slip back to an equal points tally with 18th-place Burnley.

INJURIES: Chelsea — QUESTIONABLE: Olivier Giroud (ankle), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (back), Pedro (hamstring), Cesc Fabregas (neck) | Southampton — OUT: Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (suspension), Ryan Bertrand (back), Michael Obafemi (undisclosed)


Newcastle United v. Man United — 3 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Just two places — but a full eight points — below Chelsea in the table, you’ll find a suddenly resurgent Manchester United under interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Since Jose Mourinho was sent packing, the Red Devils have won three straight games with the flair and goal-scoring prowess once associated with arguably the greatest club in English soccer history. No one has been more resurgent than Paul Pogba, whose four goals and three assists are the biggest reason Man United have outscored those three opponents by a margin of 12-3. Should the good times continue so loosely the rest of the season — especially when the quality of competition rises considerably — it would be hard to imagine Solskjaer not being a serious contender for the job on a permanent basis.

Newcastle United, on the other hand, know who’ll be their manager for as long as he’s willing to stick around and deal with the, shall we say, extenuating circumstances which make the job of keeping the Magpies in the PL far more difficult than it should be. Entering round no. 21 this week, Newcastle sit 15th in the table, just three points clear of the relegation zone. With a manager of Rafa Benitez‘s pedigree, and even a middling transfer and wage budget, Newcastle would comfortably be mid-table and two-thirds of their way to safety already. If not for the contributions of Salomon Rondon — five of Newcastle’s 15 goals this season — they would likely be two-thirds of their way to relegation, and Benitez two-thirds of his way back to sunny Spain, already.

INJURIES: Newcastle — OUT: Florian Lejeune (fitness), Sung-Yueng Ki (international duty) | Man United — OUT: Chris Smalling (foot), Marcos Rojo (undisclosed); RETURNING: Alexis Sanchez (hamsrting)


Wednesday’s remaining PL schedule

West Ham vs. Brighton — 2:45 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold
Wolves vs. Crystal Palace — 2:45 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold
Bournemouth vs. Watford — 2:45 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold
Huddersfield vs. Burnley 2:45 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

PL Sunday preview: Man City, Chelsea, Man Utd all in action

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Sunday sees four final fixtures, featuring top-four hopefuls Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United, to round out the 2018 calendar year in the Premier League…

[ MORE: Liverpool go nine points clear with dismantling of Arsenal ] 

Crystal Palace v. Chelsea — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

With one giant slaying already to their name in the last week, Crystal Palace now turn their attention to Sunday’s visit from Chelsea. Following their unlikely upset of Manchester City a week ago, the Eagles suffered an abrupt come-down in the form of a 0-0 draw with Cardiff City on Wednesday. Despite taking 32 shots, just five were on target and not a single one found the back of the net — an all too familiar tale for a side with just 17 goals scored this season (third-fewest in the PL).

Chelsea themselves were on the wrong side of a giant slaying of significantly lesser proportions last weekend when Leicester City turned the Blues over. It’s been relatively tough sledding for Chelsea of late, as they’ve lost three of their last seven league games after going unbeaten in the season’s first dozen.

INJURIES: Crystal Palace — OUT: Christian Benteke (knee), Martin Kelly (groin) | Chelsea — OUT: None


Southampton v. Man City — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The math is simple for Man City these days: nothing short of a victory — followed by another victory, and another victory, and lots more victories — will do, if they are to stay in the title race with current leaders Liverpool. Heading into Sunday’s trip to St. Mary’s Stadium, the defending champions trail the runaway Reds by 10 points. With defeats in three of their last four games, Pep Guardiola‘s side is reeling and needs not only a victory, but a resounding response and performance, to re-establish themselves and set the table for a chase-down in the second half of the campaign.

Southampton, on the other hand, have largely enjoyed the busy festive period thus far as they won back-to-back games last week and climbed out of the relegation zone, where they remain with a game in hand.

INJURIES: Southampton — OUT: None | Man City — OUT: Benjamin Mendy (knee), Fernandinho (thigh), Fabian Delph (suspension), Claudio Bravo (achilles)


Burnley vs. West Ham — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Speaking of the relegation zone, that’s where Burnley begin their second half of the 2018-19 season — in 19th place following Fulham’s victory on Saturday. With just one victory in their last 12 games — and just two draws during that period — it’s been a dire three months for Sean Dyche‘s relegation-threatened side.

Unfortunately for the Clarets, West Ham head into Turf Moor riding a wave of optimism and point — five wins in their last six games have seen them climb all the way to 11th place in the table. Another win on Sunday would see them go seventh. Felipe Anderson has been the danger man of late and has begun to repay a hefty chunk of the $48 million spent to bring him to the London Stadium this summer with seven goals in his last eight games.

INJURIES: Burnley — OUT: Aaron Lennon (knee), Stephen Ward (knee), Steven Defour (knee),  | West Ham — OUT: Marko Arnautovic (hamstring), Manuel Lanzini (knee), Winston Reid (knee), Andriy Yarmolenko (achilles), Jack Wilshere (ankle), Ryan Fredericks (ankle)


Man United vs. Bournemouth — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

As for clubs enjoying better days following a poor start to the season, no one has done a sharper U-turn than Man United. Since firing Jose Mourinho and installing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as interim manager nearly two weeks ago, the Red Devils have won both games they’ve played, victories over Cardiff and Huddersfield Town, by a combined score of 8-2. Paul Pogba, more than anyone else, is enjoying his new lease on life and turning in the type of performances expected of a former world-record signing.

As for Bournemouth, the Cherries’ season has largely moved in reverse of United’s, as their strong start has been undone by recent struggles (seven losses in their last nine games). Losing captain Simon Francis to a torn ACL — just weeks after midfielder Lewis Cook to the same injury — has left Bournemouth thin at the back and on the leadership front. Manager Eddie Howe has made no attempts at downplaying the loss.

“He’s been our leader on the pitch and a role model and a big miss in the dressing room. As a team it’s a big loss and a big gap to fill. He didn’t deserve that, but it’s happened and now we’ll do our best to support him through this process.”

INJURIES: Man United — QUESTIONABLE: Alexis Sanchez (hamstring), Chris Smalling (foot) | Bournemouth — OUT: Lewis Cook (knee), Simon Francis (knee), Adam Smith (knee), Dan Gosling (knee)