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Letters from London: Friday’s Calm Before the Storm

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LONDON – Yesterday we speculated the Robin van Persie transfer may wake London from its post-Olympics slumber. No luck. On the day before the Premier League starts, the capital remains relatively dormant. Perhaps there are a few more soccer shirts walking London’s streets than were seen mid-week, but the chatter’s still at a whisper. Keep your ears open and you’ll hear a random thought on the Gunners or Hammers, but even after the pubs opened up early evening, it was difficult to see any excitement for tomorrow’s openers.

England’s sports scene has been quiet since Sunday, when it closed the Summer Olympics. Since, they’ve been on vacation, an elite athlete relaxing after a draining championship campaign, with today the last day of that sojourn.

It’s as if fans are in their last hours of Greek vacation. They’ve checked all the touristy activities off their to-do lists, and with their last moments, they’re laying out on a Mediterranean beach, mentally preparing for their return to normal life. For now, though, they’re not talking about it. There are still a few more hours of sun.

London’s sun may have been part of the reason Premier League buzz spent another day in the shadows. A beautiful day saw people in parks, packing cafés at lunch, enjoying the refreshingly mild weather. Located on the River Thames, London’s summers are normally humid, a quality that tried to emerge during the week. But Friday cooperated, stayed cool, and gave Londoners little reason to head indoors (in pubs) and begin transition into their soccer season.

Now, with time having run out, that transition’s going to be abrupt. Fans in London will wake up Saturday morning to their their last hours of summer break. By mid-day, the mechanics of the season will begin. Fans of Arsenal, Fulham, Queens Park Rangers and West Ham United (all hosting 3:30 p.m. kickoffs in London) will jump on buses and the underground to raid the north, west, and east of the city. A few will head out early to get a couple of pints before going to the park. Afterward, they’ll regress to the pub, to celebrate or commiserate, keeping half an eye on the day’s last match in Newcastle.

By then, the curious transition between Olympics and Premier League will be forgotten, which is a shame. The process hints at facet of sport that’s often ignored, particularly by those of us who mistakenly believe it’s at the center of our worlds. For Londoners – the casual fans, the obsessed, the ones who consume everything as well as those who only like their soccer- sports obsession had a breaking point. After two weeks of being shown almost every sport humanity has have ever conceived, the city said “you know, we’re going to take some time for ourselves.” They had reached their limit. The part of their souls that absorbs sport was full. Fans needed a little time in the sun, away from it all.

Not even the Premier League’s buildup could tempt them back. Robin van Persie to Manchester United? Alex Song out and Nuri Sahin in? Luka Modric finally going to Real Madrid? Tell us about it on Saturday. Until then, we don’t need sport. Not the Premier League. Not England-South Africa test cricket. Nothing.

It’s a state with which sports fans in the States can empathize. We consider ourselves sports mad, but when the National Football League, National Basketball Association, or Major League Baseball has a work stoppage, we miraculously survive, despite talk radio caller panic and Sportscenter features heightening the impact of the absences. Turns out when our favorite teams aren’t around, we have other things to do – things we often like. It’s enough to make you wonder if we’re missing more glorious Fridays in the sun.

Sports, no matter how passionate we are about them, occupy only one compartment of our lives. That compartment is larger in some people than others, but it never has to define us. There will always be a point where the rest of life looks like a nice respite from the games. There will always be something that puts our fandom into perspective.

Premier League preview: Hull City vs. Chelsea

HULL, ENGLAND - MARCH 22:  Eden Hazard of Chelsea (10) celebrates with Nemanja Matic (21) as he scores their first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Hull City and Chelsea at KC Stadium on March 22, 2015 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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  • Hull has only won four matches vs. Chelsea (4-10-30)
  • Tigers have allowed nine goals in previous two PL matches
  • Chelsea looking to rebound following Arsenal blowout
  • Costa remains tied for league lead with five goals

Both Hull City and Chelsea come into the weekend on a poor run of form, giving both clubs plenty of incentive to push for a result.

The Tigers play host to Chelsea at the KC Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE 

Following a pair of impressive victories to open the Premier League season, Hull has come back down to earth as of late, losing three of its last five matches in all competitions. With nine goals allowed in its last two PL matches (losses to Liverpool and Arsenal), Chelsea enters the fray with another dangerous attack that the Tigers will have to be wary of.

Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea have ironically enough seen their form dip at the hands of the Reds and Gunners, respectively, as well. Last Saturday’s 3-0 defeat at the Emirates Stadium wasn’t ideal for a Blues side that expects to be amongst the top four at season’s end.

Meanwhile, Diego Costa will have to continue to find the back of the net for Chelsea on a regular basis, after netting five times in the club’s first six league matches. The Spaniard has accounted for half of the squad’s offensive output, making the 27-year-old vital up front along with the likes of Eden Hazard and Willian.

INJURIES: Hull — OUT: Alex Bruce (achilles), Allan McGregor (back), Moses Odubajo (knee), Michael Dawson (knee), Brian Lenihan (knee surgery) | Chelsea — OUT: John Terry (ankle), Kurt Zouma (fitness)

What they’re saying

Hull City manager Mike Phelan: “What needs to be resolved is the terms of the deal. It keeps changing. One minute I think I’ve got something and the club are happy with it and the next minute it changes. So it’s just a case of thinking about all these new changes that are on the table and making a decision.”

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte: “It’s important not to forget the past, because the past is very clear. We finished 10th last season and that means there were problems. We don’t have a magic wand to change the situation in a few months. We must work hard together and we are doing this. We must understand that only through hard work can we close the gap.”

Prediction

The Blues have struggled to play complete matches for much of the season, and this road fixture won’t make things easy for Conte and co. That said, Chelsea will surely be motivated to come out and give a strong performance following last week’s debacle against Arsenal. Hull 1-3 Chelsea

Watch: Lukaku gives Everton halftime lead after brilliant free kick

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Everton is finding its stride under Ronald Koeman, and goals like this one surely make it easy for the Dutchman to manage the club.

[ Watch Live: Everton taking on Crystal Palace on USA Network ]

With the match scoreless with a half hour gone, Phil Jagielka drew a questionable free kick outside the Crystal Palace penalty area.

From there, Romelu Lukaku did what he does best: score. Watch the video above as the Belgian striker curls his lovely set piece into the near post, giving goalkeeper Steve Mandanda no chance at making the save.

 

 

Premier League preview: Swansea City vs. Liverpool

SWANSEA, WALES - MAY 01:  Jefferson Montero of Swansea City is challenged by Nathaniel Clyne of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at The Liberty Stadium on May 1, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
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  • Swansea victorious 3-1 in May 2015
  • Francesco Guidolin‘s job status unknown
  • Reds have managed 16 goals in six PL matches this season

With their manager’s managerial position up in the air, Swansea City will host Liverpool on Saturday at the Liberty Stadium (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Swansea have picked up just four points in its opening six matches this season, leaving Francesco Guidolin and his side fighting to keep the Italian manager in charge. With Liverpool’s attack clicking to start the season and Swansea’s front group struggling, the Eagles will have to remain compact defensively to absorb the pressure.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE 

The Reds come into the weekend with the opportunity to move up to second place in the Premier League. Jurgen Klopp‘s side is firing on all cylinders in the attack, which has played a key role in Liverpool’s six-match unbeaten run in all competitions.

Liverpool’s depth at attack has surely become among the most dangerous groups in the PL, having scored 71 league goals since Klopp took off his role with the club in October 2015. Meanwhile, Daniel Sturridge has revitalized himself thus far in 2016, netting four goals and adding two assists for the Reds.

INJURIES: Swansea — OUT: Nathan Dyer (ankle) | Liverpool — OUT: Divock Origi (foot), Sheyi Ojo (back), Mamadou Sakho (fitness), Joe Gomez (achilles)

What they’re saying

Swansea City boss Francesco Guidolin: “It could happen. Maybe. But if we win on Saturday for the period of the international break you don’t speak any more about my position. But my position is not important, Swansea’s [league] position is important, and we must get a result.”

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp“We will be prepared for this game. We know about the quality of Swansea. We lost there last year after coming back from Villarreal. We had to make a lot of changes at Swansea last season. In that moment it was too much for us. Now we have no excuses. We have time to recover, time to prepare and time to analyse.”

Prediction: Liverpool simply comes into Saturday’s fixture as the hotter side. Unbeaten in its last six matches, Jurgen Klopp and co. only trail Manchester City this campaign for most finishes to this point (16). While Swansea’s slow start to the 2016/17 season hasn’t done them any favors, Liverpool’s current form certainly doesn’t make the challenge any easier.     Swansea 0-3 Liverpool

Watch Live: Everton vs. Crystal Palace (Lineups, Stream)

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 17:  Romelu Lukaku of Everton celebrates scoring his sides third goal during the Premier League match between Everton and Middlesbrough at Goodison Park on September 17, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Everton host Crystal Palace on Friday under the (3 p.m. ET live on USA and online via NBC Sports.com) with plenty of intriguing battles all over the pitch.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Ronald Koeman‘s Everton lost for the first time this season against Bournemouth last week, so he’ll be expecting a response from his Toffees. As for Alan Pardew, well, life is pretty good right now. Palace have won three-straight Premier League games and have a very good recent record at Everton, winning on two of their previous three visits.

Yannick Bolasie swapped Palace for Everton this summer and he could be key, as he has been in the past, to deciding this encounter.

In team news Everton’s star striker Romelu Lukaku is fit to start the game.

Palace start with Benteke up top an

Lineups

Everton: Stekelenburg, Oviedo, Williams, Jagielka, Coleman, Gueye, Barry, Cleverley, Barkley, Bolasie, Lukaku

Crystal Palace: Mandanda; Ward, Delaney, Tomkins, Kelly; Puncheon, Ledley, McArthur; Townsend, Bentered, Zaha