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PL Preview: Fulham vs. Watford

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  • Fulham has conceded at least 2 goals in its last 9 PL games
  • Watford has lost 8 straight PL matches in London
  • Fulham will become the 15th English team to reach 500 PL games

One team still sorting out the kinks, one team is off to a blistering start.

Fulham hopes to shore things up as the Whites host fourth-placed Watford at Craven Cottage Saturday at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com. The hosts have been porous defensively, with 12 goals allowed through the first five matches of the season, the most in the Premier League.

[ WATCH LIVE: Fulham vs. Watford live on NBCSports.com ]

Still, manager Slavisa Jokanovic has rebuffed calls to set the tactics up more defensively, instead calling on his team to be “more brave” as the season rolls on, pushing forward with the “offense is the best defense” mindset. Jokanovic, who coached Watford to promotion in 2015 but left before Premier League play after failing to agree to a new deal, has been praised for his steadfastness in his tactical style but also criticized for the early results.

Watford took time to find true stability in the Premier League without Jokanovic, finishing one place above relegation last season, but under Javi Gracia the Hornets have sprung to life over the past few weeks. Gracia is the one with stability now, having named the exact same starting lineup for every Premier League game so far, and Watford could become only the fifth English club ever to name the same starting lineup for the first six games of a Premier League season. Gerard Deulofeu and Tom Cleverley are both long-term absentees, while Nathaniel Chalobah is the only real question mark as he recovers from a serious knee injury, and he is likely to return to the squad, Gracia said.

The Fulham squad, on the other hand, is a mess. Captain Tom Cairney is out with an ankle injury, a massive miss for a team that focuses on possession and build-up. American defender Tim Ream is also out with a knee problem, back in training finally but still yet to debut this season after winning the club’s Player of the Season award last year. Without Ream, Jokanovic has struggled to find his best defensive partnership, with Denis Odoi plus new signings Calum Chambers, Maxim Le Marchand, and Alfie Mawson all showing weaknesses. The Whites are also without winger Neeskens Kebano who suffered an ankle injury in a Cup match against Exeter City in late August.

What they’re saying

Fulham manager Jokanovic on his team’s attacking mentality: “People are asking if we can be a little more pragmatic but, for me, being pragmatic is being brave. The brave choice for me is the best way to win the game. I think we are still not brave enough. Why would we be scared, why are we not braver and trusting in ourselves?”

Watford manager Gracia on bouncing back from first loss: “They do not need good results to know the performances have been good and, in this moment, the players are confident they will be able to keep their performance levels up. We will try to keep our style of play, maintain our mentality and be aggressive.”

Prediction

Watford started the season with a bang, but have not kept a clean sheet since the second match of the year. That could pose problems facing a team that loves to push forward, and there should be goals in this match. It will likely end in a 2-2 draw.

PL Preview: Liverpool vs. Southampton

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  • Southampton has not scored a PL goal vs. Liverpool since 2016, a run of 4 games
  • Liverpool has never won its first 7 matches in a season in club history
  • Southampton has not won vs. any of last season’s PL top 6 teams in 24 games

Liverpool finally showed a weakness. Liverpool was finally human.

Until they weren’t.

When the Reds toppled Paris Saint-Germain in the 91st minute on Tuesday, it struck fear into the hearts of the rest of Europe. Can anyone actually stop this whirring machine? Sure, you might score some goals against Liverpool, but can you score enough?

[ WATCH LIVE: Liverpool vs. Southampton on NBCSports.com ]

Southampton visits Anfield hoping to avoid becoming Liverpool’s next victim Saturday morning at 10:00 a.m. ET live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com. The Saints have been a mixed bag so far this season, but coughing up a 2-0 lead at home to Brighton last weekend was a less than ideal way to send the team off to Anfield. Not only that, but they’ll have to match the Reds without top scorer Danny Ings, who is ineligible to play against his parent club.

That thrusts strike partner Shane Long into a solo role, or forces Mark Hughes to bring on the misfiring Manolo Gabbiadini to pair with Long, although the Italian is struggling with a hamstring injury himself and will require a late fitness test to make the squad. Either way, it appears a daunting task for the visitors to Merseyside.

For the Reds, Roberto Firmino is fully healthy, having recovered completely from his eye injury suffered last weekend against Tottenham. Adam LallanaDivock Origi, and Dominic Solanke are all out injured but otherwise the squad is nearly complete. Only Dejan Lovren remains on the sidelines, but even the Croatian is nearing a return from his pelvic injury.

What they’re saying

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp on playing at home: “Are we ready to create the best atmosphere of all games? That would be cool. We need to show Southampton how difficult it is to come to Anfield.”

Southampton manager Mark Hughes on playing Liverpool: “It’s a game that is going to test us because the team we are facing looks on top of their form in terms of individuals and the collective functioning really well.”

Prediction

Southampton has looked promising this season in spurts, but this isn’t the game where they put it all together. Liverpool is a nearly unstoppable force at home, and there’s no reason that should change. The only concerning bit of information for Liverpool heading into this match is last season’s record following Champions League games, when they won just once while losing once and drawing four, but this year has proven Liverpool has a new gear. The Reds will win 3-1, with things shaky for some time down the stretch until a late insurance goal puts the game away.

Could Joe Hart return to the England squad?

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Gareth Southgate is planning a trip to Turf Moor this Saturday, and that could mean big things for 31-year-old goalkeeper Joe Hart.

The former Manchester City starter and longtime England #1 has fallen out of the setup after a dip in form that led to not only his fall down the England depth chart, but also his exit from the Etihad. After losing his starting spot at City in 2016, a loan move to Italian club Torino was the beginning of the end for Hart’s international job.

Or was it?

Jordan Pickford, who was one of the best goalkeepers at the World Cup this summer, is firmly entrenched in the starting spot. However, there are murky waters surrounding the backup job, and that’s where Hart could find himself back in the mix.

England boss Gareth Southgate has insisted publicly that the position is open for the taking. Southampton goalkeeper Alex McCarthy is expected to be the man Southgate calls upon during the October international break, but that’s nowhere near set in stone. Burnely’s Nick Pope, who served as backup at the World Cup without seeing game action, is out injured for a significant amount of time with a dislocated shoulder. Jack Butland‘s stock has dropped after Stoke City was relegated, and now the Potters toil in the bottom third of the Championship standings. Fulham shot-stopper Marcus Bettinelli was called up in early September, but he did not feature, and the 26-year-old hardly even has the confidence of his own club manager.

So, could Hart earn himself a spot in the rotation? With Pope injured, the 31-year-old has stepped in at Burnley and performed at a decent level despite just a single point for the club through the first five Premier League matches. With few concrete options, it’s possible a familiar face could be back in the England squad.

Pochettino reminds Spurs fans to ‘keep the balance’

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Despite the team’s recent struggles, Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino is not going to get carried away. Not when they win, and not when they lose.

Spurs have dropped three straight matches – all by a single goal – since defeating Manchester United 3-0 at Old Trafford on August 27. They coughed up a 1-0 lead at Watford, fell 2-1 at home against on-fire Liverpool, and gacked away a late 1-0 advantage over Inter in the Champions League in Italy.

Still, Pochettino is proceeding with business as usual, not wanting to react too harshly.

“I am so relaxed, I am so calm, because I know football,” Pochettino said in his pre-match press conference ahead of Spurs’ visit to Brighton on Saturday. “I know in the same time when you win you get a lot of praise that sometimes you don’t deserve. When you lose you need to keep the balance and accept the criticism and accept that people are going to think differently and of course try to find the reason why we lose. That is how I understand football and how I accept the situation is going to happen. That is why the balance is the most important. When you win you need to keep the balance and when you lose you need to accept the criticism and, of course, keep the balance too.”

With the recent struggles, Tottenham has fallen to sixth in the Premier League table behind both Bournemouth and Watford.

Certainly not aiding the cause is the recent travel schedule, with Spurs in the middle of a stretch where they play five of seven matches away from home across all competitions. After traveling to Brighton, they host Watford in League Cup action before visiting Huddersfield Town in Premier League play.

PL Preview: Brighton vs. Tottenham

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  • Spurs midfielders Dele Alli and Moussa Sissoko (both hamstring) have returned to training. Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris is continuing his rehabilitation following a thigh injury.
  • Florin Andone (groin) and Jose Izquierdo (knee) are both training and could by available for Brighton on Saturday. Pascal Gross (ankle) remains on the sidelines.
  • After an unbeaten run of nine Premier League away fixtures (W6 D3), Spurs have lost two of their last four on the road in the top-flight.
  • Seagulls striker Glenn Murray has scored four goals in his five PL matches this season, including three in two at the Amex Stadium.

Both Tottenham and Brighton and Hove Albion look to turn around some recent poor form when the pair meet at the Amex on Saturday afternoon (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

Tottenham in particular are coming off a poor week, falling 2-1 at home to Liverpool last weekend before coughing up a 1-0 lead in the final ten minutes to Inter to fall in the UEFA Champions League. Harry Kane has failed to score in three straight games (five including international appearances) and Dele Alli is coming back from a hamstring injury.

Brighton meanwhile is winless in its last three, but the comeback to force a 2-2 draw with Southampton at St. Mary’s may give the Seagulls a much-needed boost early in the season. Perhaps Brighton and Hove can find the form that led them to beat Man United, 3-2 in August.

What they’re saying

Tottenham coach Mauricio Pochettino on overcoming a difficult week: “It’s not a period to be happy because the last few results are negative but always in football you need to bounce back and to be strong. To show that we’re strong is to work hard and stay calm, knowing that the most important thing now is to try to win the next game. It’s important to be strong and to believe more than ever in our way. Nothing changes, because sometimes periods like this happen in football.”

Brighton and Hove Albion manager Chris Houghton on his side’s start to the season: “We’re playing in a division that’s a very tough one for us. The Manchester United performance was probably as good a performance during my time here, but it’s very difficult to always hit those levels, which we showed in the last couple of games. If you’re summing up what this league can be like, then there isn’t a bigger example of that than Southampton away. I thought we were very poor in the first half and very good in the second. It’s about trying to be as consistent as we can, but we’re playing against very good teams.”

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Prediction

With a quick turnaround, Tottenham will be looking to hit the ground running and get back that winning feeling. Harry Kane breaks out of his little drought and Tottenham wins going away. Tottenham 2-1 Brighton and Hove Albion