PL Sunday preview: Liverpool v. Man United at Anfield

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Premier League fixtures don’t get any bigger — or more heated — than Liverpool versus Manchester United, longtime rivals who’ll renew pleasantries at Anfield on Sunday…

[ MORE: Spurs grab stoppage-time win vs. Burnley | Man City go top again ]

Southampton v. Arsenal — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold [ STREAM ]

Heading into Sunday’s meeting at St. Mary’s Stadium, Southampton haven’t won in 14 games (all competitions — after 90 minutes), while Arsenal haven’t lost in just as many games, in the PL alone (unbeaten in 22 games in all competitions). Predictably, Saints find themselves stuck in the relegation zone, with the halfway point of the season looming ever so large, and a new manager hoping to make his mark and a major impact on a club quickly spiraling out of control. Ralph Hasenhuttl made his debut as Southampton manager last weekend, but suffered a 1-0 defeat to fellow relegation battlers Cardiff City.

As for Arsenal, the unbeaten run has earned new manager Unai Emery a long leash with Gunners fans, but his side enters the week in fifth place, behind Chelsea on goal differential. Sunday could see the return of defender and captain Laurent Koscielny in league play after the 33-year-old Frenchman made his first appearance in seven months during Thursday’s Europa League victory over Qarabag.

INJURIES: Southampton — QUESTIONABLE: Ryan Bertrand (back), Danny Ings (hamstring), Shane Long (ankle), Cedirc Soares (calf) | Arsenal — OUT: Sokratis Papastathopoulos (suspension), Danny Welbeck (ankle), Shkodran Mustafi (suspension), Rob Holding (knee)

Brighton & Hove Albion v. Chelsea — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

Chelsea’s recent form has been a rollercoaster of results, alternating losses and wins in their last four league games. They did, however, put together perhaps the best performance of any side in the PL all season last time out, handing Manchester City their first defeat in a 2-0 conquering at Stamford Bridge. Maurizio Sarri‘s side came back down to earth on Thursday, though, as the Blues struggled to secure a 2-2 draw away to Hungarian side MOL Vidi FC in the Europa League, and the club’s fans were accused of spewing anti-Semitic chants and slurs just days after the very public incident involving four Chelsea fans and Man City star Raheem Sterling.

Brighton won’t be a pushover at Falmer Stadium, where the Seagulls have compiled and impressive 4W-2D-1L record this season. Chris Hughton‘s side has managed to knock off a handful of mid-table sides at home thus far, but a scalp the size of Chelsea would be easily the most impressive outing to date. Brighton dropped both league meetings with the Blues last season, losing 4-0 at home and 2-0 away.

INJURIES: Brighton — OUT: Shane Duffy (suspension) | Chelsea — OUT: Mateo Kovacic (thigh)

Liverpool v. Manchester United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

For all that Jurgen Klopp has achieved since taking the Liverpool job in October 2015 — and he has done a great deal of good to re-establish the club, both domestically and on the continent — the second-most notable failure of Klopp’s tenure, behind only “winning a trophy,” remains his 0W-3D-2L record against Man United in league play. While the Reds have surpassed the Red Devils and long left them behind in the PL’s hierarchy, a victory over the bitter rivals from Manchester has remained elusive, including a 0W-2D-1L record at Anfield, site of Sunday’s showdown, with a grand total of one goal scored in the three games.

The tables have clearly turned from the days of United dominating the PL and winning 13 of 21 league titles from 1992 to 2013, period in which Liverpool managed a trio of second-place finishes — coming second to United once, and besting them twice. A win on Sunday would not only see Klopp knock off his bogey team for the first time, but would lift Liverpool back ahead of Man City in the title race; a win for United, meanwhile, would help them to hold off newly promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers for sixth place.

United, all but the forgotten side of the top-six, have endured hard times at both ends of the field this season — their 28 goals scored are the fewest of the PL’s elite, while their 26 goals conceded are the most of the six sides expected to compete for four UEFA Champions League places; Liverpool, in the same number of games, have conceded just six times, including just once during their current five-game winning streak.

INJURIES: Liverpool — OUT: Joel Matip (shoulder), Joe Gomez (ankle), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Trent Alexander-Arnold (knock) | Man United — OUT: Alexis Sanchez (hamstring), Victor Lindelof (groin); QUESTIONABLE: Anthony Martial (hamstring), Scott McTominay (undisclosed), Luke Shaw (undisclosed)

Hojbjerg the great, young Dane ready to lead Saints’ revival

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SOUTHAMPTON — Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is a born fighter. When he speaks, he speaks with purpose and you listen. When he walks out onto the pitch for Southampton he gives everything he has to the cause.

In the current situation Saints are in, they need Hojbjerg leading their charge out of the relegation zone under new manager Ralph Hasenhuttl in the tough weeks and months to come.

At the age of 23, Hojbjerg seems like the perfect man to lead Hasenhuttl’s high-pressing style from midfield with the Danish international becoming a firm fans favorite in Southampton as they called for him to become their new captain.

It is hard to not want Hojbjerg to do well, as he spoke eloquently to Pro Soccer Talk about doing all he can to succeed and trying to help his teammates around him improve at the same time.

Without a win since Sept. 1, and with just one PL victory from 16 games so far this season, Hojbjerg and Southampton welcome high-flying Arsenal to St Mary’s this Sunday (Watch live, 8:30 a.m. ET online via NBC Sports Gold).

Big changes have occurred at the top of the club in recent weeks with Les Reed, the long-time leader of their football operations fired, and Mark Hughes replaced by Hasenhuttl.

Many believe that Southampton is a club on the edge of the abyss, one that has no clear plan or direction to get themselves out of a second-straight relegation scrap after four years of top eight finishes, playing in Europe and going far in cups fuelled by buying low and selling high.

Their fiery Danish midfielder, who speaks Danish, French, German and English among other languages, thinks otherwise.

“It is always easy to point at one thing when things are not going as you’d like to, or expect to or as you thought so. I have to disagree,” Hojbjerg said. “I also have to be honest and say I don’t know exactly what the problem is. Because I think there are small parts that play a role and in the end it gives a result on the pitch. We, as players, we are the ones who go out on the pitch and we have to win the games. That is what I’m focusing on. That is what I’m trying to do to create a positive situation. I do not know what happens behind the doors of the directors, or staff members, or coaches. I can tell you that from the players perspective, we are giving everything on the training pitch and every Saturday and Sunday in the stadium. Because we know that is the main focus and that is the main achievement. That is football. That is on the pitch. That is getting results.”

Hasenhuttl has been tasked with changing Southampton’s fortunes around on the pitch, as the former RB Leipzig and Ingolstadt coach has run his players into the ground during his first full week at the club. Hojbjerg played against Hasenhuttl’s Ingolstadt during his time in Germany and described them as “nasty to play against” as well as being “tough and well organized.”

Gruelling longer training sessions, cancelling days off and painting new lines onto the training pitches at their Staplewood base are just a few of the ways he is trying to force Saints to become better organized as well as implement his famous high-press.

Hojbjerg has worn the captains armband for Southampton in recent weeks, and it is expected that will continue. With his straight-talking off the pitch and grit on it, he seems to have already a huge impact on those around him in his new role. This season, no other regular PL captain is under the age of 25.

The man who became the youngest-ever player for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga in 2013 said being named Saints’ skipper was the “proudest moment” of his career so far and something he could only dream about when growing up in Copenhagen.

But what does it mean to be a leader?

“If you talk in the changing room then people will stop listening then,” Hojbjerg said. “Talking has to be done on the pitch. Talking has to be done when it is tough. Talking has to be done when the moment is tight and you have to show your personality, stand true and you have to be a leader. I always say there are eleven leaders on the pitch because we all need to support each other. We all need to take responsibility for the position we are in. Whatever it is, I think I always try to give it my best and 100 percent. I know what I stand for. I know what the club stands for and what the values are. I just try to be me.”

“I cannot swear but it is really big… yeah, to be captain in the Premier League, if you would have asked me when I was 10, 15, 17, I would have taken it any day of the week. I am not saying it because I am a Southampton player and I have to show I am a club man and I am dedicated. I am saying it from my heart. It is the proudest moment of my career to be recognized as a captain at Southampton Football Club in the Premier League, at my age. But again it is not something I think of when I go on the pitch. It is something you feel in your stomach. You are a little bit excited but once the football game starts I play exactly the same.”

In just over two years at Southampton, Hojbjerg has played for four permanent managers. Claude Puel, Mauricio Pellegrino, Hughes and now Hasenhuttl. He has tasted the high and lows of the game. From playing in the Europa League, major cup finals and semifinals and finishing in the top eight to just surviving relegation last season, the Dane has grown up on and off the pitch.

Despite his topsy-turvy start to life in England, Hojbjerg believes his decision to leave Bayern for Southampton was still the correct one.

“It is funny because you always expect when you come with that coach, or that teammate, you don’t expect that to change,” Hojbjerg said. “You come to the club with an idea of the coach, idea of your teammates and you don’t think ‘oh, but the coach is going to leave in six months or next week, or whatever.’ That was not the mindset that I came in with. But I came in with a mindset that now I am a part of Southampton Football Club. I am not a part of this coach, or this player or this sporting director. I am a part of Southampton Football Club. That was one of the big reasons that I came here. What I have felt for a long time is that even though the club, in a very short time, became a ‘big small club’ if you know what I mean, there were good traditions, good people, good experienced people who knew the club from inside for a long time. So there are values you can rely on, you could depend on and see yourself in. That was a big positive.”

Life off the pitch is settling down for Hojbjerg in England.

He lives in Winchester, a picturesque English cathedral city 15 minutes outside of Southampton with his partner and his young daughter, Rosa, and enjoys hitting up the grocery store at least once a week. When there he stocks his cart with vegetables and anything healthy he can get. He jokes when asked if he cooks: “I try to cook, but I’m not good at it. There is a thing called ketchup. It is quite useful.”

Having a child in his first few years in England has brought a whole new dimension to Hojbjerg, a young man who had to deal with tragedy at the age of 18 when his father passed away after a battle with stomach cancer.

The tough times he has been through on a personal level in the past few years have no doubt led Hojbjerg to thinking about the bigger picture more than most.

“When you get older your values and intentions become stronger, of who you are and what you want to do,” Hojbjerg said. “As you get older, you get more experienced, as you have family and have a kid, things just point in one direction to really what you want to achieve in life and in your career. I am very ambitious but I am also very realistic. I know what I want, I know what I can’t do. I will never stop until I’m finished… I think I am in a good moment, playing wise, but it is difficult to perform 100 percent when, to be fair, we are struggling in the league. I am giving my best, I am trying my best and I know I can get better but I also know I am in a very good way.”

This season the busy central midfielder has added goals and a cutting edge to his game, with a sensational strike against Brighton the highlight (also his first in the PL), plus he scored in Saints’ only win of the campaign away at Crystal Palace.

Hojbjerg also struck the post at Wembley in a recent defeat to Tottenham Hotspur and in his last four PL games he has had 14 shots at goal, one of the highest totals of any player in the league. Not bad for someone who primarily plays in front of the back four. It is clear he is doing anything he can to help drag his team out of the bottom three.

Always up for the challenge, Hojbjerg is ready to take on whoever and whatever stands in Southampton’s way this season as a great, young Dane could be the difference between them staying up or going down.

“I have a home with love, and a family. That is the most important thing. When I come here, to the training ground, I am energized and ready to go again every single day and take on whoever stands in front of me!” Hojbjerg said, holding his arms out and smiling. “That is how it is. I am ready for whoever stands in front of me.”

Premier League Club Power Rankings: Week 16

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There’s a new chief of SC Power Ranking City United FC.

Man City’s falling from the ranks of the unbeaten came at the hands of Chelsea, and Liverpool sure had itself a weekend to boot.

[ ARCHIVE: Premier League club power rankings ]

So how does the Top Five look now?

20. Southampton  *New season low* — New manager Ralph Hasenhuttl loses his first test, this one to Neil Warnock‘s buzzing Bluebirds. Arsenal at home won’t be easier, even if some of the Gunners play Europa League on Thursday.
Last week: 17
Season high: 13
Season low: 20

19. Fulham — Claudio Ranieri‘s men were battered by Manchester United, and surging West Ham is next.
Last week: 17
Season high: 11
Season low: 20

18. Burnley — A win is a win, even the Clarets had just 37 percent possession at home to Brighton and Hove Albion.
Last week: 20
Season high: 13
Season low: 20

17. Crystal Palace *New season low* — Dreadful, but cannot be placed lower than a Burnley side it beats mere weeks ago.
Last week: 16
Season high: 6
Season low: 16

16. Huddersfield Town *New season high* — A squad ready for a breakout performance, will the Terriers get it against Newcastle?
Last week: 18
Season high: 16
Season low: 20

(Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

15. Cardiff City — Neil Warnock has us thinking the Bluebirds just could pull off this whole safety thing.
Last week: 15
Season high: 15
Season low: 20

14. Newcastle United — Stung by referee Mike Dean’s calls, right or wrong, the Magpies will want to take care of rising Huddersfield Town on Saturday.
Last week: 14
Season high: 13
Season low: 19

13. Watford — Staying level with ex-boss Marco Silva and star sale Richarlison was nice.
Last week: 13
Season high: 4
Season low: 14

12. Bournemouth — Another top-end test failed, and the Cherries have lost five of six.
Last week: 10
Season high: 6
Season low: 12

11. Brighton and Hove Albion — Lost to Burnley. That’s not what we expected from this improving squad.
Last week: 9
Season high: 9
Season low: 19

10. Wolves — Back-to-back wins over Chelsea and Newcastle — even with the Magpies down to 10 men — help Nuno Espirito Santo get back into the Top Ten.
Last week: 12
Season high: 5
Season low: 13

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

9. Leicester City — The Spurs loss is another failed test, but few challengers have met the Foxes’ season head-on.
Last week: 8
Season high: 7
Season low: 13

8. West Ham United *New season high* — Manuel Pellegrini‘s men had the opportunity to make a run like this, but they’ve really taken advantage of it. There are 15 more points available before the Hammers meet a Top Six challenger (Arsenal).
Last week: 11
Season high: 9
Season low: 20

7. Everton — The 2-2 draw with Watford showed moxie. Marco Silva won’t have appreciated the draw against the club that hired, celebrated, and then tortured him, but he’ll have another chance.
Last week: 6
Season high: 5
Season low: 13

6. Manchester United — The battering of Fulham was much-needed, if short-lived. The Liverpool test on Sunday could be a colossal moment for their festive season.
Last week: 7
Season high: 4
Season low: 14

5. Arsenal — The 1-0 win over Huddersfield Town was not ideal, even if the Terriers have been much improved in recent weeks.
Last week: 3
Season high: 2
Season low: 9

4. Chelsea — The win over Man City could snap the Blues out of their funk, but there’s reason to believe there’s always another funk looming for mercurial Eden Hazard and Co.
Last week: 5
Season high: 1
Season low: 5

3. Spurs — That’s two-straight wins after the North London Derby debacle, and the victory at Leicester City is an impressive step back in the right direction.
Last week: 4
Season high: 2
Season low: 8

2. Man City — Yeesh, that wasn’t fun, was it? A 2-0 loss to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge may’ve been without Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero, but it was a loss. That hasn’t happened to Liverpool.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 2

1. Liverpool — They defied Omar Little by coming at the king and missing, only to outlast Man City in the race to stay perfect. Now there’s a Sunday ramble versus Manchester United.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 4

Southampton hand Cardiff victory

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  • Paterson scores after Vestergaard howler
  • Hasenhuttl loses on Saints debut
  • Saints have just one win from 16 
  • All 4 of Cardiff’s wins this season have come at home

Cardiff City beat Southampton 1-0 at a rainy Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday, as Callum Paterson scored but he was given a huge helping hand by Jannik Vestergaard.

Cardiff dominated the first half and Southampton the second, and although it looked like it would be a draw Vestergaard’s slip as the last man allowed Paterson to score and lift the Bluebirds further away from the drop zone.

With the win Cardiff move up to 14th place on 14 points, while Southampton remain in the bottom three and have just nine points this season.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Cardiff started well and Harry Arter popped up in the box but Alex McCarthy saved his effort calmly.

The Bluebirds continued to cause Saints problems, with Jan Bednarek coming to the rescue after Nathaniel Mendez-Laing surged forward following a mistake from Matt Targett.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Saints worked there way into the game but Cardiff continued to look the most likely and McCarthy again saved Saints. Jacob Murphy looked set to poke home but McCarthy clawed the ball back at the vital moment.

Southampton’s best chance of the first half came and went as a corner looped into the air and found Mario Lemina but he volleyed over the bar. Mendez-Laing then smashed just over the bar before the half.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ] 

After the break Saints dragged themselves back into the game as they had the majority of the play with Nathan Redmond dangerous.

Saints were then livid they did not win a penalty kick as Armstrong went down in the box under a challenge from Victor Camarasa but Jon Moss waved the PK calls away.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Matt Targett then whipped a free kick over the bar but the opening goal of the game came at the other end.

As he went to play the ball back to McCarthy, Vestergaard tripped over his own feet as last man and gave the ball straight to Paterson who scored to send the home fans wild.

Sean Morrison headed a glorious chance wide late on as Cardiff could have wrapped up all three points, but Warnock’s men did hold on for a fourth home victory of the season to spark wild celebrations at the final whistle.

Top Premier League storylines for Week 16

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The Premier League begins its third round of games in eight days when Liverpool visits Bournemouth early Saturday.

[ LISTEN: Rebecca Lowe’s new podcast ]

Here’s what we’ll be watching the closest in England and Wales this weekend.


Sorry form could sound death knell for Chelsea’s title hopes
Chelsea vs. Manchester City, 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC STREAM ]

The visitors are undefeated, reigning champions, and will be considered favorites when they enter Stamford Bridge to meet a Chelsea side which has won just four of the last 12 points available to it.

Maurizio Sarri‘s men will have to do better against Man City than they did in 2017-18 under Antonio Conte, when the Blues lost a pair of 1-0 contests. A loss Saturday would sink Chelsea 13 points back of City.

Gunners go for 21 against game Terriers
Arsenal vs. Huddersfield Town, 10 a.m. ET Saturday on CNBC STREAM ]

Arsenal toppled Spurs before drawing Manchester United, but would do well to consider Huddersfield Town as ornery as the big boys. The desperate Terriers have found some goals in recent weeks, but need results more than hope now. It seems unlikely to come at the Emirates, but that’s why they play the games.

Hasenhuttl takes charge of Saints for big six-pointer
Cardiff City vs. Southampton, 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold STREAM ]

Saints have been in the frying pan for some time, but will feel in the center of the fire should they manage to lose to improving Cardiff City on Saturday in Wales. It’s the first match on the bench for new Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl, who has an impressive record in Germany.

Tottenham heads to Leicester to face tough-to-topple Foxes
Leicester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur, 2:45 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN STREAM ]

Unbeaten in six league matches despite the tragic story of their owners’ death and a trip to Thailand to mourn him, Leicester now gets a visit from a Tottenham Hotspur side who’s rebounded from a North London Derby loss to paste Southampton at midweek. Will the Foxes be able to continue their run up the table against a very good Spurs side?

Klopp, Howe match attack-happy wits at the Vitality Stadium
Bournemouth vs. Liverpool, 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN STREAM ]

The Cherries have proved tough-to-beat at home with a 4W-2D-2L record so far but also unable to take down the big boys. Bournemouth is now 0-4 against Top Four contenders despite its seventh-place start to the season. Enter a Liverpool side just as willing to entertain and the chance to hop into first place for at least a few hours, and this has all the ingredients for a fine start to the season.