ProSoccerTalk’s Premier League Narratives (Matchweek 32)

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What a week in the Premier League!

The narratives have been flying high like Adrian Mutu on a Wednesday night in Florence – Nigel Adkins seeks revenge, Andy Carroll is no longer in Liverpool’s plans (again), Gareth Bale nearly snaps off his ankle, Chris Samba is an overpaid lump, Yaya Toure loves money, Paulo Di Canio is a fascist, Paulo Di Canio is not a fascist, and Paulo Di Canio may or may not be a little bit confused over the definition of fascism but nevertheless won’t be mixing politics with football.

Whew. Right then.

Here are the detailed narratives for Matchweek 32 in the English Premier League. Enjoy the matches!

READING v. SOUTHAMPTON (Madejski Stadium, Sat 7:45am ET)
Live TV: ESPN2; ESPN3; ESPND
Odds: Reading 9/4; Southampton 6/5; Draw 5/2

Reading manager Nigel Adkins faces his former club hoping to stop the bleeding at seven straight loses but don’t expect Mauricio Pochetino’s side to show any sympathy. The Saints are looking to shed their “giant-killer” reputation after recent victories over Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea has coincided with painful losses to Norwich QPR and Wigan.

Reading is down and out, now Southampton will kill them off. Saints cruise here.

NORWICH CITY v. SWANSEA CITY (Carrow Road, Sat 10:00am ET)
Live TV: Fox Soccer 2Go
Odds: Norwich 8/5; Swansea 7/4; Draw 23/10

Both clubs have struggled of late but it’s Swansea who comfortably sit 9th in the table on 40 points. Norwich aren’t so lucky – despite being 14th in the table and tied on points with 12th place Southampton, Chris Houghton’s side are only four points clear of the drop meaning this match will be a must-win if late season drama is to be avoided.

I’ve got little hope for this fixture. Feels like a drab 0-0 or 1-1 draw.

STOKE CITY v. ASTON VILLA (Britannia Stadium, Sat 10:00am ET)
Live TV: Fox Soccer 2Go
Odds: Stoke 21/20; Villa 11/4; Draw 47/20

Losing four of their last five and having only taken five points since December has some folks at the Britannia convinced that Tony Pulis has taken the club as far as he can in his five years as a Premier League boss. On Saturday his Potters face an up-start Villa side that’s playing a confident brand of football despite it’s seat in the relegation zone.

Stoke are never easy at home but Paul Lambert has his squad clicking. Look for Villa to get a result.

WEST BROMWICH ALBION v. ARSENAL (The Hawthorns, Sat 10:00am ET)
Live TV: Fox Soccer
Odds: West Brom 3/1; Arsenal 10/11; Draw 13/5

The door is closing fast on West Brom’s shot at a place in the Europa League and a win against Arsenal would be a major boost to the Baggies’ hopes. But it won’t come easy for Steve Clark’s men as the 5th place Gunners have their eye on a spot in Europe’s biggest tournament. Three points and a Chelsea loss would see Arsenal leapfrog the Blues into 4th place but with Jack Wilshire and Theo Walcott both doubtful, Arsene Wenger’s side has its work cut out for it.

Since Munich this has been a different Arsenal side. The Gunners take this in a classy performance.

LIVERPOOL v. WEST HAM UNITED (Anfield, Sun 8:30am ET)
Live TV: Fox Soccer Plus
Odds: Liverpool 20/63; West Ham 8/1; Draw 9/2

Aside from the blip at Southampton a fortnight ago Liverpool have been cruising of late, winning four of their last five. The 7th place Reds face a Jekyll-and-Hyde West Ham team that was brilliant in last week’s 3-1 demolition of West Brom, courtesy of an Andy Carroll brace. But the Geordie won’t be available against his parent club leaving Marouane Chamakh or Carlton Cole the likely candidates to deputize.

The Hammers are gonna get hammered. Mark it down.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR v. EVERTON (White Hart Lane, Sun 9:05am ET)
Live TV: Fox Soccer; ESPN (UK)
Odds: Spurs 5/6; Everton 13/4; Draw 27/10

Sixth place Everton square off with 3rd place Tottenham in a match of epic proportions. David Moyes’ side will once again be without the suspended Marouane Fellaini and Steven Pienaar while Kevin Mirallas is doubtful with a thigh injury. Spurs have their own personnel issues with Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon, William Gallas, Sandro, Jermain Defoe and Younes Kaboul all out injured. An Everton win combined with an Arsenal loss would send the Toffees into 5th place while Spurs will need a result to fend off 4th place Chelsea, who sit just two points back.

Spurs were run ragged in Thursday’s Europa League contest with FC Basel. Expect Everton to get a result.

CHELSEA v. SUNDERLAND (Stamford Bridge, Sun 10:00am ET)
Live TV: Fox Soccer 2Go
Odds: Chelsea 5/17; Sunderland 9/1; Draw 9/2

Fresh off their 3-1 Europa League victory over Rubin Kazan 4th place Chelsea faces a Sunderland squad that sits just one point above the drop zone. Rafa Benitez’ men will be hungry for the three points that could see them overtake Tottenham for 3rd place but with Paulo Di Canio at the helm for the Black Cats don’t expect this to be the same old Sunderland.

It might not be pretty but the Blues will get the job done.

NEWCASTLE UNITED v. FULHAM (St James’ Park, Sun 10:00am ET)
Live TV: Fox Soccer 2Go
Odds: Newcastle 1/1; Fulham 11/4; Draw 5/2

Newcastle’s double duty of playing in the Europa League and the Premiership has taken its toll with Alan Pardew’s men losing four of their last six and slipping all the way to 15th in the table. With merely 33 points to their name the Magpies could be in for a rude awakening if Wigan, Sunderland and/or Villa pull off wins this weekend. Fulham, on the other hand, continue their comfortable stroll that has seen the Cottagers go unbeaten in their last five matches.

Newcastle have the motive but they are beaten and battered. Fulham gets a result here.

QUEENS PARK RANGERS v. WIGAN ATHLETIC (Loftus Road, Sun 10:00am ET)
Live TV: Fox Soccer; Sky Sports 1
Odds: QPR 13/10; Wigan 21/10; Draw 47/20

With seven matches to play and seven points from safety it’s do-or-die for Harry Redknapp’s side. The Rangers dropped points last Monday at Fulham after some shambolic defending and will need to tighten things up if they hope to squeeze any points out of a high-flying Wigan side that’s won three of its last four matches.

QPR will have one last push this season and it begins this Saturday. Double down on the R’s to take this one.

MANCHESTER UNITED v. MANCHESTER CITY (Old Trafford, Mon 3:00pm ET)
Live TV: ESPN; Sky Sports 1
Odds: United 6/5; City 47/20; Draw 12/5

It goes without saying that the Manchester Derby is the crown jewel of Matchweek 32 but the hype around this fixture is a bit subdued given United’s league dominance. The Citizens, boosted by Yaya Toure signing a new four year deal at the club, are looking to exact revenge for last December’s 3-2 defeat and prove that United’s 15 point lead isn’t indicative of the difference between the two sides.

City feel like they have a lot to prove here – and rightfully so. Roberto’s men take the three points.

EFL Cup Weds preview: East Lancashire Derby highlights slate

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Eighteen teams booked spots Tuesday in the League Cup’s third round, with Watford the lone Premier League side to take a fall.

Six more try their luck on Wednesday, the last day of tournament play before the big boys join up.

[ MORE: EFL Cup Tues. wrap ]

A sleepy big affair is the East Lancashire Derby between Burnley and now League One side Blackburn Rovers, a rivalry which has been staged in three leagues or competitions since the turn of the century. This makes it four, joining the Premier League (2009-10), FA Cup (2004-05) and Championship (six times since 2012-13).

Burnley has three wins and three draws since its last loss to Blackburn, which came via David Dunn penalty at Turf Moor in a Premier League match on March 28, 2010.

Make no mistake, Clarets goalkeeper Tom Heaton thinks it’ll be a fantastic affair (from burnleyfootballclub.com):

“And for the players. Make no mistake, we were all delighted when the draw came in,” said Heaton. “It’s a fantastic match we are all looking forward to. It’s a fantastic night as players, fans and for the club.

“We’ll be going there geared up to win the game and give it everything we’ve got. The new lads coming in will certainly get an eye opener for the atmosphere and how good it is. They’re brilliant games to play in, I’ve enjoyed every minute of them.”

If you’re surprised by the rivalry, you have company in Blackburn boss Tony Mowbray. From Rovers.co.uk:

“I have to say living in the north east of England, Suffolk and Scotland most of my life I never would have grasped that Blackburn and Burnley and the geography of how close they were to be honest,” he said.

“It is not something that has hit me in the face before of a huge rivalry and yet I can feel it from the people around the building who have lived here all their lives how important this game is to them. … We’ll give it our very best shot and leave no stone unturned in trying to get a result.”

Elsewhere…

Southampton, fresh off adding $19 million Dutch center back Wesley Hoedt, will host Wolverhampton Wanderers at St. Mary’s, one of four 2:45 p.m. ET kickoffs.

Also kicking off at that time is Newcastle United and Nottingham Forest at St. James Park, with USMNT fullback Eric Lichaj likely to feature for the visitors, as well as Rotherham United’s visit to Huddersfield Town and Cheltenham Town’s trip to West Ham United.

A quarter-hour later, the final two second round matches kickoff when Burnley hosts Blackburn Rovers and Rochdale heads to Stoke City.

Southampton lands $19 million Dutch CB Hoedt

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Southampton’s added another defender who checks all the boxes, and used its press release to cement its status on the future of want-away center back Virgil Van Dijk.

Saints added Lazio center back Wesley Hoedt on Tuesday, with the reported fee in the neighborhood of $19 million for the 4-times capped Dutch international.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Gooch scores for Sunderland ]

The 6-foot-2 defender is 23 years old, and played 23 matches for i Biancocelesti last season.

Here’s Saints vice chairman Les Reed:

“Finding a naturally left-footed player is even more difficult. We have been tracking central defenders on our target list for the past 12 months and Wesley has always been at the top of that list, so it was important to act when the opportunity came.”

As our own Joe Prince-Wright pointed out, Saints aren’t exactly rolling out the red carpet for Van Dijk’s departure.

Saints also have Maya Yoshida — who won a penalty for Saints this weekend — Jack Stephens, Maya Yoshida, Jan Bednarek and Florin Gardos in their corps.

Will Van Dijk stay? Betting sites have him at 5:6 odds to stay at Southampton, but somehow 1:1 to join Liverpool and 7:1 to head to Chelsea (Man City gets 24:1 odds).

At this point, we’d love to see Van Dijk stay and buck the summer’s (actually much longer than that) gossip as Saints fight for a Top Six place.

UCL preview: Three keys to Liverpool-Hoffenheim

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A pair of away goals are under Liverpool’s wing as the Reds prepare for Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League playoff round second leg versus Hoffenheim at Anfield.

That’s great, but it’s Mark Uth’s late concession goal for Hoffenheim that will have Liverpool supporters wary ahead of the return match.

Three keys to the match for Liverpool? Well, let’s start with an easy one.

1) Avoid these score lines: The 2-1 score line works for the Reds, of course, who will only fail to reach the group stage of the UEFA Champions League through some unlikely scenarios:

  • A two-goals or worse loss at Anfield
  • A 2-1 loss plus failing in penalty kicks
  • A one-goal loss while conceding three or more times

2) Don’t allow gaps in the midfield: Kerem Demirbay was being a little cheeky when he said, “We play better football than Liverpool,” and the sides have one major similarity: If you give them room, they can kill you.

Demirbay is a great example of this. The Confederations Cup winner can rip teams apart in the middle of the pitch, and giving him room allows him to choose between unleashing a cannon from distance and spotting Serge Gnabry, Andrej Kramaric, Sandro Wagner, or even Uth for chances on goal. Heck, even Adam Szalai on the bench is a very good option.

Gnabry and Kramaric played less than a half hour each in Hoffenheim’s 1-0 Bundesliga win over the weekend, while Wagner didn’t play at all. Game on.

3) Embrace the occasion: Jurgen Klopp branded Wednesday’s match and the presumed entry into the UCL group stage “the next step” in the club’s evolution under his watch.

This is Liverpool’s second UCL campaign of this decade, and the first UCL night at Anfield since a 1-1 draw against Basel on Dec. 9, 2014.

That night, Brendan Rodgers trotted out this XI: Mignolet, Johnson, Lovren, Skrtel, Enrique, Gerrard (who scored), Henderson, Lucas, Allen, Sterling, Lambert. His subs used? Coutinho, Moreno, Markovic (the last name earned a red card).

In previous home group games against Real Madrid and Ludogorets Razgrad, the Reds managed two more goals. Gerrard had another and Mario Balotelli the other.

So, and this is hopefully a bit overblown but certainly a concern: A whopping six Liverpool players have played in a home UCL match for Liverpool and no one on the Reds roster has scored a goal at Anfield in the competition.

EFL Cup wrap: USMNT’s Gooch shines; Watford upset

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Six Premier League teams dodged upsets upon entering the League Cup, stylized as the EFL Cup for a second season, but a seventh was not as fortunate.

[ MORE: 426 world clubs, ranked weekly ]


Watford 2-3 Bristol City

Etienne Capoue scored just after halftime to give the Hornets a leg up, but goals from Freddie Hinds and Bobby Reid eight minutes apart gave the Robins a lead that Niclas Eliasson buttressed in stoppage time. Adrian Mariappa pulled one back, but it wasn’t enough for Marco Silva‘s men.

Crystal Palace 2-1 Ipswich Town

The unbeaten Tractor Boys were as much of a problem as advertised, but James McArthur scored in the 76th and 84th minutes to give the Eagles a spot in the next round. Man City loanee Bersant Celina nabbed Ipswich Town’s lone goal.

MK Dons 1-4 Swansea City

Leroy Fer gave Swans a pair of leads at 1-0 and 2-1 before Tammy Abraham and Jordan Ayew scored late to salt away the win at Stadium MK.

Sheffield United 1-4 Leicester City

The popular score line saw Islam Slimani bag a brace in between goals from Demarai Gray and Ahmed Musa.

Carlisle United 1-2 Sunderland

USMNT youngster Lynden Gooch scored an 80th minute winner after assisting on Donald Love‘s opener, as the Black Cats scored a road win.

It’s the 21-year-old Gooch’s first senior goal for the Black Cats in his 19th appearance. It’s also his first assist and should give food for thought to boss Simon Grayson, who has been using him off the bench. Gooch played 362 Premier League minutes last season.

Tuesday’s other results
Aston Villa 4-1 Wigan Athletic
Leeds United 5-1 Newport County
Middlesbrough 3-0 Scunthorpe United
Norwich City 4-1 Charlton Athletic
QPR 1-4 Brentford
Fulham 0-1 Bristol Rovers
Cardiff City 1-2 Burton Albion
Doncaster 2-0 Hull City
Brighton and Hove Albion 1-0 Barnet
Accrington Stanley 1-3 West Brom
Birmingham City 1-2 Bournemouth
Reading 3-1 (aet) Millwall
Bolton 3-2 Sheffield Wednesday
Grimsby Town 0-1 Derby County (1st round match*)

*Derby will face Barnsley in a 2nd round match