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