GAMES TO WATCH
Chelsea (28 points) vs. Tottenham (24 points), Saturday, 12:30 p.m., NBC Sports Live
Injuries of note: Tottenham are dealing with a litany of injuries to many key players entering Saturday’s match. The backline is severely lacking, with Toby Alderweireld and Ben Davis out with injury and fullback Danny Rose joining them on suspension. Erik Lamela also remains out after picking up an injury over the international break last week. For Chelsea, John Terry and Obi Mikel remain unvailable with both dealing with muscular issues. Some good news, however, as Willian will be available after sitting out Chelsea’s last match against Middlesbrough.
Key to the game: Immoveable object, meet unstoppable force. In a battle between the current leaders, blazingly hot in six straight wins without conceding, and an unbeaten Spurs side, the match could rely on which side takes better advantage of their oppositions backline injuries. Each side is capable of pressing agressively and winning the ball in dangerous positions, it’ll be up to a few replacement defenders to try and stall any opportunities that arrive. Whichever team can better seize those opportunities will likely emerge victorious.
Player to watch: It’s a toss-up between Harry Kane and Diego Costa. Kane recently rejoined Tottenham after a prolonged absence and did so in style, scoring two late goals to snatch victory last weekend from the jaws of defeat. Costa has been the best scorer in the league to this point and has been torture for defenses, not good news for an injury-riddled Tottenham backline. In a match where stars usually dominate, these two have the potential to impact the game in a large way.
Quote: “Now it’s important to think about the present. For us, it’s very important to think this game tomorrow will be very tough against a strong opponent who last season fought until the end to win the title.” said Chelsea manager Antonio Conte. “Tottenham have a great manager, a lot of talented players, very young, and I think they have improved their squad compared to last season. For this reason, we have to pay attention tomorrow. It will be a tricky game and I am pushing my players to be focused.”
Arsenal (25 points) vs. Bournemouth (15 points), Sunday, 9:15 a.m., NBC Sports Live, Telemundo
Injuries of note: Bournemouth has some good news and bad news. The good news comes in the form of Jordon Ibe, who will return from an illness that kept him out of last weekend’s match, as well as Adam Smith, who returns from suspension. The bad news is the uncertain status of Artur Boruc and Andrew Surman, both of whom will be gametime decisions as they recover from injury. For Arsenal, both Santi Carzola and Hector Bellerin remain out with injury. Lucas returned to training this week, but Arsene Wenger ruled him out for this weekend, and cited next week’s match against Southampton as a possible return date.
Key to the game: With the absence of Santi Cazorla, Arsenal have drawn four of their last seven maches. Wenger has tried different variations in the midfield to reawaken the teams build up play from the deep midfield to more attacking areas, but none have panned out as expected to this point. Whomever Wenger slots into the midfield, be it Aaron Ramsey, Mohamed Elneny, or Granit Xhaka, they’ll need to consistently get the ball to Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud and company to allow Arsenal to press their advantage over a weaker Cherries team.
Player to watch: Alexis Sanchez has been in phenomenal form for both club and country lately, performing well with Chile before returning to the Arsenal fold. The club has had a bad streak recently of dropped points, albeit in fairly tough matches against Manchester United and Tottenham, Alexis will be the key to finding holes in the Cherries’ backline and scoring hopefully more than one for an Arsenal team that has struggled to find the back of the net lately.
Quote: “I believe we have to find our game back. We didn’t lose but if you do not create, that will not last.” said Wenger. “It’s important that we find our simplicity, speed and pacy combinations back. We missed that fluency, and that security in our decision-making that made us dangerous in the final third a little bit. That is what is at stake for us.”
Burnley (14 points) vs. Manchester City (27 points), Saturday, 7:30 a.m., NBCSN
Injuries of note: The past week has been kind to Burnley, who picked up no further injury knocks and enter the match largely healthy. Manchester City unfortunately will be dealing with several significant injury concerns. Oft-injured defender Vincent Kompany is again out of the team, this time for 4-6 weeks with a knee injury, continuing his woes. Star striker Sergio Aguero and defender Pablo Zabaleta are both doubtful for Saturday’s match, with Aguero specifically dealing with a foot injury picked up in midweek Champions League play.
Key to the game: Who steps up in Aguero’s absence? Manchester City struggled against Borussia Monchengladbach in their midweek UCL match, securing a draw but without looking threatening for large swaths of the match. It didn’t help when Aguero picked up a knock and largely limped through the remainder of the match, leading to his potential absence this weekend. It’ll be up to City’s other attacking pieces, Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, and others, to pick up the slack and hopefully seize victory after falling to the Clarets in their last match together (March 2015).
Player to watch: Kevin de Bruyne has been in peak form lately, totaling a team leading seven assists so far this season and generally proving difficult for oppositions to deal with. He’ll need to be great again with Aguero likely out and will be the focal point of an attack that doesn’t usually have such troubles scoring goals. Burnley will know of Aguero’s injury concerns, even if he plays, and will almost certainly pack their box, leaving de Bruyne to find holes and pick passes to open opportunities for his teammates and himself.
Quote: “We cannot forget they beat Liverpool. They lost in the 93rd-minute against Arsenal. They draw in Old Trafford. What they do, they do really well, I am really impressed about their quality, their spirit.” said City manager Pep Guardiola. “Of course they lost the last game 4-0 to West Brom. I can imagine what happened when a team loses 4-0. Their attention and focus is higher than before. I prefer teams when they win a lot of games. They didn’t win. In this moment, they are ready and prepared.”
Liverpool (27 points) vs. Sunderland (8 points), Saturday, 10:00 a.m., NBCSN
Injuries of note: Adam Lallana is Liverpool’s only key absentee after picking up a groin injury. Philippe Coutinho recovered from a hamstring issue against Southampton and should be fine for the match versus Sunderland. The Black Cats have a few headaches as Fabio Borini and Lee Catermole are both out. Papy Djilobodji is suspended as well. However, Jan Kirchoff and Sebastian Larsson could return for this game.
Key to the game: Sunderland have picked up draws in their last two visits to Anfield. The previous meeting resulted in Liverpool blowing a two-goal lead so it’s vital that they close down any potential counterattacks. Even though the Reds have been exceptional at home, they cannot grow complacent if they have the advantage again.
Player to watch: Jermain Defoe has scored in Sunderland’s last three games and has also recorded two assists. Defoe was also on the scoresheet in the last meeting at Anfield. If the visitors want to continue their strong run of form recently, the Englishman will be key to their chances.
Quote: “We have not the biggest injury issues until now,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. “We had a few, of course, but sometimes the next game came too quick, so we needed to make a change or we wanted to make a change. Maybe what it shows is that we only think about the next game and not about the last too much. When the analysis is done, the last game is over and it’s not important anymore.”
Manchester United (19 points) vs. West Ham (11 points), Sunday, 11:30 a.m., NBCSN
Injuries of note: Manchester United defenders Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling are both out, so Phil Jones will likely partner Marcos Rojo in the heart of the defense. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is back from suspension and is in line to start. West Ham will welcome back Mark Noble, but Winston Reid is suspended. The likes of Gokhan Tore and Arthur Masuaku are still injured.
Key to the game: The attacking prowess Man United displayed against Feyenoord was something to behold. United spread the ball to the flanks and attacked with pace, which opened up space for Wayne Rooney and co. Henrikh Mkhitaryan was key to this, so if he starts, his play out wide will be crucial to breaking down West Ham’s defense.
Player to watch: Juan Mata has arguably been United’s best player over the last month. He’s been their top playmaker and scored a crucial goal against Arsenal in the team’s last Premier League match.
Quote: “[Mkhitaryan] just needs now to replicate this kind of performance in the Premier League,” said Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. “This performance gives him the right to believe that he can play the next match again and he needs to replicate this kind of performance in the Premier League with more physicality and more aggression. He needs a little bit more of that but the quality – we know why we bought him, we know we were buying a player with a high level of technical quality.”
Leicester City (12 points) vs. Middlesbrough (11 points), Saturday, 10 a.m., NBC Sports Live
Swansea City (6 points) vs. Crystal Palace (11 points), Saturday, 10 a.m., NBC Sports Live
Hull City (10 points) vs. West Brom (16 points), Saturday, 10 a.m., NBC Sports Live
Watford (18 points) vs. Stoke City (13 points), Sunday, 7:00 a.m., NBC Sports Live
Southampton (14 points) vs. Everton (19 points), Sunday, 11:30 p.m., NBC Sports Live