Manchester City v Chelsea - Premier League

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.

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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