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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)

Premier League Preview: Aston Villa v. West Ham

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  • West Ham 9th in PL heading into Matchweek 5
  • Aston Villa, 18th in the standings, look to climb out of relegation zone

There was an international break in between to blow off some steam, but Aston Villa, sitting in the relegation zone, remain set on better days following a controversial ending to their last league game against Crystal Palace. For a team whose only win of the season has come at home, it couldn’t get much better than hosting West Ham at Villa Park on a Monday night (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Dean Smith and Co. aren’t necessarily playing bad, if anything their attack-oriented brand of play is as captivating as they get. The lack of finishing, in-game concentration and poor officiating (like against Palace), however, have not done Villa well. That said, their 2-0 victory against Everton weeks back is a testament to what they can really do on a positive night. With revenge on their mind, that can be the case against the Irons.

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On the other side, after a detrimental 5-0 loss to Manchester City to start the season, West Ham have found their groove under a revamped attack. Bundesliga import, Sebastien Haller, has scored three goals in the last two games, which resulted in victories for West Ham. Currently ninth in the table with seven points, with a win at Villa Park, Manuel Pellegrini‘s side can creep right behind the defending champions. It’s a complete 180-degree turn for West Ham, and they know they need to take advantage of the situation.

Injuries/suspensions

Man United: OUT – Winston Reid (knee), Michail Antonio (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE – None

Leicester: OUT – Jonathan Kodjia (head); QUESTIONABLE – James Chester (thigh), Matt Targett (thigh); SUSPENDED – Trézéguet (one match)


Projected lineups

Aston Villa: Heaton – Guilbert, Engels, Mings, Taylor – McGinn, Douglas Luiz, Grealish – Jota, Wesley, El-Ghazi

West Ham: Fabianski – Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna, Masuaku – Rice, Noble, Felipe Anderson, Lanzini, Yarmolenko – Haller


What they’re saying

Manuel Pelegrini, on playing Aston Villa: “We need to beat teams like Aston Villa, because last season there were a lot of teams around us that we lost to. Now we will see what happens this season. Villa is a difficult team. Their stadium is very important for them, but we go there as we do in all the other games – to try to win. Villa have had some different results, bought a lot of good players and play an attacking style. I think that they are doing well, they must adapt to the Premier League still, but they have a very good team and a manager in Dean Smith who wants to play in an attacking way.”

Dean Smith, on his player’s urgency to play and perform well: “They’re itching for that next game. There’s a burning desire from them to right the wrongs. I can sense that.The international break has given us an opportunity. For instance, we’ve been able to work a lot on our breakthrough opportunities as all of our forward players have been here.”


Prediction

Both teams don’t need extra motivation heading into Monday. It’s simply a matter of who wants the three points more. Obviously, given their position on the table, Villa could benefit more from a win than West Ham. Couple that with Villa playing in front of their vociferous and passionate crowd, and that might be the secret ingredient for the home side to squeeze out a win against what will be a challenging bout against Pellegrini’s side. Aston Villa, 2-1.

West Ham’s Chicharito arrives in Spain ahead of Sevilla move

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Well now we know that Manuel Pellegrini has a sly side.

Kidding aside, the West Ham boss waved goodbye to one of his strikers, as Mexican star Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez was captured arriving at Sevilla’s San Pablo Airport on Sunday. He is expected to be introduced formally by the club on Monday, just in time before the European transfer window deadline.

Hernandez, 31, was left out of the lineup on Saturday due to injury, Pellegrini said, but was also preparing for a return to La Liga. In 2014, on loan from Manchester United, Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer played an entire season at Real Madrid, scoring nine goals in 33 appearances throughout all competitions.

Chicharito then moved on to the Bundesliga, where he became a wrecking force for Bayer Leverkusen, scoring 39 goals in 76 appearances.

Since then, however, a lack of consistency has plagued the Guadalajara native. In Week 2, against Brighton, Hernandez scored, giving him 17 West Ham goals for his career that started back in 2017.

With Wissam Ben Yedder now at Monaco, and Dutchman Luuk De Jong as the only sign of competition, Chicharito will have his chances under manager Julen Lopetegui to regain the form that once made him an international household name.

If the transfer is completed, Chicharito will become the third Mexican to play for Sevilla, joining the likes of Gerardo Torrado and Miguel Layun.

 

Report: Work permit issues hold up potential Long transfer

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West Ham is looking to sign one of the top defenders in MLS to bolster its squad. Unfortunately for the Premier League club, work permit issues may scupper the transfer.

Sky Sports in England reported that West Ham’s inability to acquire a work permit for Aaron Long may slam the breaks on a potential transfer from the New York Red Bulls. Long reportedly has a $5 million release clause and Sky Sports claims Long also has interest from Marseille, Fiorentina, Rennes and Lyon.

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Long’s career has been a long story of never giving up, and his career growth over the past few seasons has been very impressive. After barely playing for the Seattle Sounders in 2014 and then playing as a holding midfielder for the USL club, Sounders 2 in 2015, Long was moved back to centerback and excelled in 2016 with New York Red Bulls II. He led the side to the USL Cup title and was named defender of the year.

A year later, with the New York Red Bulls first team, he solidified and stepped right into the backline and is now the defending MLS Defender of the Year. His play in 2017 led to getting a couple of caps in 2018 for the U.S. Men’s National Team under coach Dave Sarachan, and he’s moved into a starting role under Gregg Berhalter, starting five of the six USMNT games at the 2019 Gold Cup this summer.

Unfortunately, UK work permit laws mean that Long – with the U.S. now in the top 30 – would have had to play at least 60 percent of all USMNT games over the past two years, and that just hasn’t happened. It’s a common issue over the past decade for USMNT players looking to move to England. Juan Agudelo never qualified for a work permit while at Stoke City in 2014, while Zack Steffen still hasn’t earned a work permit to stay with Manchester City.

It’s also not the first time West Ham has looked to MLS. Sporting Kansas City’s Graham Zusi was once a target of the club, and it signed Doneil Henry for a two-year period, though the then-young Canadian made no appearances.

It’s a huge moment in Aaron Long’s career. At 26-years old, he’s at the prime of his career, though with less wear and tear on the body compared to many others. It would be the perfect time for him, personally, to make the move abroad and see if he can take his career to the next level.

And yet, MLS and the Red Bulls organization has been stingy so far accepting a transfer request, according to reports, and it may not matter anyway if Long isn’t able to get a work permit.

Marseille would be an interesting choice, since the club is owned by former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt. But it’s looking more likely that Long will remain with the Red Bulls in the short term. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the USMNT, it does hurt his potential growth as a player, provided he could break into the Premier League starting lineup.

Carroll, Nasri, Adrian leaving West Ham this summer

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Two of West Ham’s longest-serving players are departing the club this summer.

West Ham announced on Tuesday that strikers Andy Carroll and goalkeeper Adrian San Miguel del Castillo, better known simply as Adrian, are leaving the club as free agents this summer. Joining them in leaving West Ham are Samir Nasri and Toni Martinez.

Carroll and Adrian both arrived at West Ham in 2013.

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“Andy and Adrian have both been great servants to West Ham United throughout their time at the Club and we thank them for their loyalty and commitment to the Claret and Blue cause,” joint-chairmen David Sullivan and David Gold said in a statement. “Both have provided us and our fellow supporters with some unforgettable moments, whether they were sensational scissor kicks and unstoppable headers in Andy’s case, or penalty saves and goals in Adrian’s.

“They can both be assured of warm welcomes whenever they return to London Stadium and we wish them, as well as Samir Nasri and the young players whose contracts are up this summer, the very best for their future careers.”

Together, Carroll and Adrian made 292 first team appearances, with Adrian set as the No. 1 keeper during the 2014/15 and 2015/16 seasons. Carroll, who joined as a man looking to work his way back into the England National Team ahead of the 2014 World Cup, never found the consistency necessary to be a top-level Premier League striker.

Carroll’s highest Premier League goal return rate was nine, and this season he finished with no goals in 12 appearances, including three starts. He finished with 33 goals in six years.

It’s unclear where Carroll, Adrian and Nasri will head next. Nasri, who had served an 18-month ban for using a banned substance, made just six appearances after joining on January 1, 2019. Adrian could head back to Real Betis, though he’d surely be the No. 2. For Carroll and Nasri, they may need to go abroad or drop down a division to look for regular playing time.

With Manuel Pellegrini heading into his second year in charge, it’s a chance for the Chilean to make the team more in his mold, getting rid of some players on the fringes for younger, more talented players.