ProSoccerTalk’s Premier League Narratives: Matchweek 31 (Part One)

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As the great Roger Bennett and Michael Davies love to remind the footie-loving public, narratives are what make the Premier League so exhilarating. There are league narratives, club narratives, owner narratives, player narratives and even supporter narratives. Sometimes, the narratives run so deep that you find yourself lost in a bliss of a narrative trapped inside a narrative trapped inside another narrative.

Yes, the Premier League is that delicious. And this column promises to help you drink it down like a room-temp Boddingtons on a Sunday morning. Enjoy the storylines and have a good laugh over my predictions for following matches:  Sunderland v. Manchester United, Arsenal v. Reading, Manchester City v. Newcastle and Southampton v. Chelsea.

SUNDERLAND v. MANCHESTER UNITED (Stadium of Light, Sat 8:45am ET)

Steven Fletcher’s injury means Sunderland – who are winless in their last seven matches and sit 15th in the table, just four points from the drop zone – will look to former Swansea City striker Danny Graham to ease Wearside’s relegation fears. But don’t expect Manchester United to care. With his squad 15 points clear of 2nd placed Manchester City, Sir Alex Ferguson is poised to claim his 12th league title. And in the Glaswegian’s eyes the sooner it comes, the better. But with the second leg of the FA Cup quarter-final at Chelsea set to go forward on Monday don’t be surprised if United takes the pitch at the Stadium of Light with a less-heralded side than normal.

The 48 hour turn-around is totally ridiculous. Dare I say it? I think Sunderland get a result here. BOOM.

ARSENAL v. READING (Emirates Stadium, Sat 11:00am ET)

Both Arsenal and Reading will be hard-pressed to secure three points when two sides meet, albeit for very different reasons. The Gunners remain hell-bent on closing the four point gap separating them from 4th placed Spurs and a spot in the Champions League. Meanwhile, with seven points separating them from safety, Reading has its back against the relegation wall and will hope newly appointed manager Nigel Adkins will the immediate impact needed to preserve his side’s dream of staying in the top flight.

Arsenal is depleted but it’s an absolute must win and they have the talent to get the job done.

MANCHESTER CITY v. NEWCASTLE UNITED (Etihad Stadium, Sat 11:00am ET)

With Roberto Mancini conceding the title race and Yaya Toure’s future at the club in question, Newcastle United may be arriving at the Etihad at just the right moment. In 13th place and six points from the drop the Magpies need all the points they can get. But with an injury ravaged squad and a trip to Benfica for next Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final, Alan Pardew’s side will need to dig deep if they’re to get a result.

I’m going with the obvious choice: City takes it. Look for Kun Aguero (pictured) to return and to enjoy himself.

SOUTHAMPTON v. CHELSEA (St. Mary’s Stadium, Sat 11:00am ET)

Southampton hope their up-tempo attack and high line of pressure will disturb Chelsea just as it did Liverpool in Matchweek 30. Mauricio Pochetino’s squad has shown some real quality since the Argentinian’s appointment in January but they’ll need to be mistake-free against a Rafa Benitez side that’s playing it’s best football of the season. The Blues mental strength will be tested at St. Mary’s as it looks to secure three points while staying fresh for Monday’s FA Cup replay against United.

Am I taking the piss? Possibly. But I still say Chelsea suffers the same fate as United. Saints get a result.

Herrera: Ibrahimovic competitive drive insatiable in everything

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Ander Herrera is dishing the goods on his Manchester United teammates while on Spain duty this week, and was asked about Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The Swede is a fierce competitor on and off the pitch, which Herrera jokes is an ever-present challenge to personal patience.

[ MORE: Deulofeu laments early Messi talk ]

It almost seems like there’s a bit of envy that Ibrahimovic can charge into public comments the way Herrera goes into tackles.

From Marca:

“[Ibrahimovic] is a genius, he’s very intense because he wants to win everything, even football-tennis,” Herrera said to Radio MARCA.

“He assumes this role of doing or saying what he likes in front of the media because he does not care, he can say that he’ll score 30 goals or is the best because he can afford to.”

There’s certainly something to stature when it comes to saying what you feel (though on the other hand, being egotistical is rarely controversial. It’s not like Ibrahimovic is often railing on controversial soccer or social issues).

We’re sure there are plenty of players across all sports, casual and professional, who don’t understand hyper-competitive teammates, but we love a guy who doesn’t turn it down when it comes to on-the-field activities. Hopefully Ibrahimovic is the Jaromir Jagr of soccer.

Gerard Deulofeu calls early Messi comparisons “detrimental”

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Players often like to brush off speculation or criticism in the moment by claiming they don’t read stories written about themselves, but we all know better.

Former Everton winger Gerard Deulofeu confirmed that sentiment by citing specific comparisons he remembers as a youth with Barcelona, citing stories that compared him to Lionel Messi. Now 23 years old, Deulofeu reflects on those early comparisons and wishes the media wasn’t so quick to jump to conclusions about his career.

“In the end, [the comparisons] were more detrimental than beneficial,” he told weekly magazine Forza Milan. “Normally I don’t read newspapers, but that headline I remember well. It created too much expectation among Barcelona fans. There’s only one Messi.”

With expectations high, Deulofeu made just six senior team appearances without a goal or assist before loan spells at Sevilla and Everton saw him out of the club permanently. His time at Goodison Park was up and down as well, with his ability to dazzle a crowd punctuated by long spells of invisibility, failing to earn himself a consistent starting role.

Deulofeu is now on loan from Everton at AC Milan, looking to revitalize his career. He has started every league game since arriving, and has picked up a goal and three assists in 11 matches. There is speculation he could end up in Milan on a permanent basis this summer, but he’s not focused on that right now.

“My future? It’ll be seen to,” Deulofeu said. “My sights are in the present, from experience I know it’s best to leave the past behind and focus on the present. We’ll see what happens in the future. For now, I just want to enjoy the good time that I‘m having at Milan.”

Barcelona plan Cruyff tribute at club’s training center

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) One year after his death, Barcelona says it will name the future stadium at its training center after Dutch great Johan Cruyff.

The new stadium at Barcelona’s training center just outside the Catalan city will be called “Johan Cruyff Stadium” in honor of the club’s former player and coach.

Barcelona says in a statement that “the most emblematic building in the facility where future Barca players are coached is to be named after somebody who played such a central role in fostering youth talent at the club.”

Barcelona also says it will commission a “commemorative sculpture” of Cruyff, who died of lung cancer on March 24 last year at age 68. The statue will be placed at Barcelona’s main Camp Nou stadium.

Cruyff is largely credited with launching Barcelona’s era of trophy success, both as a player and a coach.

As a player, Cruyff joined Barcelona midseason in 1973 and led the middle-of-the-table team to its first national title in a decade.

He later returned as a coach and guided Barcelona to four consecutive Spanish leagues from 1991-94 and the club’s first European Cup in 1992.

“I think the tributes are very warming,” said Cruyff’s son, Jordi Cruyff. “It sort of changes the sadness that we might feel as family to lose a father, a husband and a grandfather. It changes to a certain kind of pride to understand that he left something behind.”

MLS Snapshot: Defense optional — Crew SC outlast Timbers, 3-2

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The game in 100 words (or less): As far as teams who get out in the open field and score the lion’s share of their goals on the counter-attacking, there aren’t many MLS teams better than Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers. The two sides met Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium, site of their MLS Cup 2015 clash, and lived up to their reputations. Of the five goals scored, two were notched on flat-out counters and two more came to pass through quick transitional movements. Portland (9 points) dropped their first points of the season, falling 3-2 to goals scored by Justin Meram, Ola Kamara and Niko Hansen, while Crew SC have back-to-back wins and find themselves level on points (7) with the New York Red Bulls with each side having played four games.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS (afternoon) roundup ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

4′ — Asprilla opens the scoring early on — 2017 Crew SC defending, same as 2016 Crew SC defending.

11′ — Meram fires home the rebound for 1-1 — One of Portland’s biggest weaknesses last season was their set-piece defending. Looks like not much has changed.

19′ — Higuain feeds Kamara for a 2-1 lead — The question mark that Portland will eventually have to answer is this: How much, if at all, have they improved defensively in the open field? Based on this Crew SC counter-attack, the answer might be “not much.”

45+3′ — Adi recovers to make it 2-2 — Everything Adi does these days (even the bad things, like this first touch) ends up being good.

84′ — Hansen cleans up at the back post for 3-2 — Jake Gleeson made a spectacular reaction save to deny Kamara his second goal of the game, but the rookie, making his MLS debut, was in the right place at the right time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Asprilla (4′), Meram (11′), Kamara (19′), Adi (45+3′), Hansen (84′)