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.

Europa League preview: Arsenal in Serbia, Everton desperate vs. Lyon

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The twelve groups of the UEFA Europa League bring forth soccer on Thursday, with a bevy of matches dotting the continent.

[ MORE: Full Europa schedule ]

Here are the top five matches to keep an eye on.

Everton vs. Lyon — 3:05 p.m. ET

If you would’ve told Ronald Koeman his Toffees would walk into this match with just one point but sit only another behind Lyon, he’d probably tell you to take a hike. But Lyon drew 1-1 at Apollon Limassol and 1-1 at home to Atalanta, opening the door for Everton to finish the day in Group E’s top two slots.

Nabil Fekir and Real Madrid loanee Mariano Diaz have seven goals each for Lyon, while ex-Premier Leaguers Memphis Depay and Bertrand Traore are also key components of the French outfit’s attack.

Red Star Belgrade vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET

Arsenal in Europa has been pretty thrilling, with 3-1 and 4-2 wins under Arsene Wenger‘s belt ahead of the first of two with the 1991 European Cup winners. It’s a nice challenge for Canadian national team backstop Milan Borjan, who should be the man to try to thwart the Gunners in Serbia.

Hoffenheim vs. Istanbul Basaksehir — 3:05 p.m. ET

The favorites to win the group are dead last in the group as they welcome the perceived group underdogs from Turkey. The Super Lig runners-up have some familiar names on the roster with Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy, Eljero Elia, Mevlut Erdinc, Gokhan Inler, Aurelien Chedjou, and Emre Belozoglu.

AC Milan vs. AEK Athens — 3:05 p.m. ET

Milan has been burying goals in Europa play, with five at Austria Wien and three in a home win over Rijeka. Enter Athens, which has scooped up four points in group play and will look for a win to put them ahead of the group-leading Rossoneri.

Nice vs. Lazio — 1 p.m. ET

The only group with a pair of 2-0 teams. Mario Balotelli is plenty familiar with his Roman opposition from his time in Serie A.

Probe finds racial discrimination by England women’s coach

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LONDON (AP) Former England women’s team coach Mark Sampson racially discriminated against two of his players, a fresh Football Association investigation has concluded after initially dismissing allegations of wrongdoing and prompting a damaging public row with striker Eni Aluko.

Sampson was cleared of discrimination by earlier FA investigations but was fired last month because of an unrelated case of inappropriate conduct toward players in a previous job.

[ MORE: Champions League at halfway mark ]

Only now has a barrister considered new evidence about Sampson’s conduct toward England internationals Aluko and Drew Spence, with the details being released ahead of a parliamentary hearing.

“I have concluded that on two separate occasions, MS (Sampson) has made ill-judged attempts at humor, which, as a matter of law, were discriminatory on grounds of race,” barrister Katharine Newton wrote in the report.

One racially discriminatory comment by Sampson in 2014 toward Aluko requested her family members from Nigeria didn’t come to a game because of Ebola.

“MS (Sampson) did treat EA (Aluko) less favorably than he would have treated a player who was not of African descent,” Newton wrote. “MS had therefore subjected EA to less favorable treatment because of her ethnicity.”

During a team meeting in 2015, Sampson also asked Spence if she had been to prison, and then suggested she had been arrested four times. Newton concluded that the comment was made “because of her ethnicity.”

[ MORE: Hamid leaving DC United ]

FA chief executive Martin Glenn apologized to Aluko and Spence before the hearing. But Aluko told legislators that Glenn’s earlier conduct toward her was “bordering on blackmail” after he threatened to withhold payments from an 80,000 pound ($105,000) financial settlement unless she published a statement saying the FA “was not institutionally racist.”

With Aluko sitting behind him, Glenn later told the hearing that the player had not been blackmailed.

Instead Glenn said that an August tweet by Aluko – “at least we now know the FA’s stance on derogatory racial remarks by an England manager. Ignore, deny, endorse” – was a “clear breach of the agreement.”

Aluko, who was part of the team that finished third at the 2015 World Cup, has not played for England since making her 102nd appearance in April 2016.

There was a more apologetic tone from Glenn in his written statement on Wednesday, saying that Sampson’s conduct was “not acceptable” and he “would like to sincerely apologize” to Aluko and Spence.

“Our ambition has always been to find the truth and take swift and appropriate action if needed,” Glenn said. “It was our decision to have the original, second and final investigation to ensure that due diligence was taken. It is regrettable that Eniola did not participate in the first external investigation as this would have enabled Katharine Newton to conduct and complete her investigation sooner.”

Report: Hamid leaving DC United to “push himself” elsewhere

Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images
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Bill Hamid is taking his talents elsewhere.

The 26-year-old has been with DC United since 2007, making an even 200 appearances across all competitions.

[ MORE: Champions League at halfway mark ]

Hamid is thrice capped by the United States and widely considering to be one of the best shot-stoppers in the league, but the Washington Post’s Steven Goff says Hamid wants to showcase himself on a new stage.

“I want to push myself and see how far I can go because I know I have the work ethic and the hunger to take myself very far in this game. I know I can make it to the next level.”

Hamid is likely to wind up in Europe, and Goff said Danish club Midtjylland is the favorite. He’s also been scouted by Eintracht Frankfurt.

With a new United States men’s national team coach set to be appointed and Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, and Nick Rimando all on the back end of their time with the USMNT, Hamid has to look at himself as competing with Ethan Horvath and any number of young prospects.

Horvath is 22 and starting for Club Brugge. If their season continues on its pace, he’ll have a Belgian title and a Norwegian title under his belt.

U-20 players Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha Berlin), Brady Scott (Koln), and Justin Vom Steeg (Fortuna Dusseldorf) are in German systems, while U-17 World Cup starters CJ dos Santos is at Benfica.

Age when making European debut and club
Tim Howard, 24, Manchester United
Brad Friedel, 23, Newcastle United
Brad Guzan, 23, Aston Villa
Kasey Keller, 23, Millwall
Tony Meola, 21, Brighton and Hove Albion
Ethan Horvath, 19, Molde

Surprises, disappointments halfway through Champions League group stage

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Clubs have met each of their group mates once, giving us an imperfect but workable sample size for the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League group stage.

Five groups have a side boasting a 3-0 record, while four clubs have yet to seize a single point.

[ CHAMPS LEAGUE: Tuesday | Weds. ]

Some of the strugglers, like 0-1-2 Maribor and 0-1-2 APOEL, are not surprises. And it’s no shock to see Manchester United at perfect 3-0 given its draw.

Others? Well, that’s not the case.

Status down 

While Manchester United is a perfect 3-0 in Group A, raise your hand if you figured Benfica would have just one goal and zero points through three matches. Benfica’s also played two of its three home ties, making the knockout rounds a dream.

Atletico Madrid has found the UEFA Champions League Final in two of the last four seasons, but finds itself with work to do moving forward. Atleti’s Wednesday draw at Qarabag leaves it three points behind Roma and five back of leaders Chelsea. Diego Simeone’s men still host Roma and Qarabag, so points are out there.

Serie A play has been gorgeous for Napoli, who has failed to bring that momentum to Group F. It’s worth noting that a missed penalty by red-hot Dries Mertens could’ve earned the Neapolitans a point at Man City on Tuesday, but as it stands Napoli is three points back of Shakhtar and could be six back before the Ukrainians visit on Nov. 21.

It turns out you can’t sell everyone and expect the youth to come through shining. Monaco is at the bottom of a very winnable group, having lost at home to Porto and Besiktas. Still just three points behind RB Leipzig, they’ll need to win at Monaco and/or Besiktas to have any hope of the knockout rounds.

Borussia Dortmund got a rough deal from officials when it visited Wembley Stadium, but losses to Spurs and Real Madrid can happen in a group stage. Tuesday’s draw at APOEL Nicosia, however, is close to a backbreaker.

(Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images).

Status up

Spurs draw at Real Madrid may have been aided by a huge performance from Hugo Lloris, but goalkeepers — as you know — are actual components of a team. This is in fact a group of death, but the North Londoners are holding a scythe. If Mauricio Pochettino can lead a home win over Real Madrid at a raucous Wembley on All Saints Day, well, look out!

Cenk Tosun has gone from sleepy transfer target to the tip of many gossipers’ tongues, as Besiktas is a perfect 3-0 including wins at Monaco and Porto. Anderson Talisca and… wait for it… Ryan Babel (!!) have also starred for the Turkish powers who will almost certainly see the knockout rounds.

[ MORE: JPW sits down with Ederson ]

Pep Guardiola‘s done this Champions League dance, you know, and Manchester City has weathered all storms. That includes conceded two penalties — one was saved by Ederson — as a down performance versus Napoli still ended with a home win. If City can win at the Stadio San Paolo on Nov. 1, Pep can sleepwalk into the final two matches (though that’s not his style).

Roma has a classy draw at Chelsea and has gathered five points including four away from home. Mimic that mark and i Lupi will be a challenge in the knockout rounds.

Neymar was best pals with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez last season at Barcelona, but having a less-than-perfect relationship with Edinson Cavani hasn’t hurt a thing in Paris. Paris Saint-Germain is for real, scoring 12 times and yet to concede in wins over Bayern Munich, Celtic, and Anderlecht.

Grey area

Liverpool leads its group and advancing is really the only goal, but there’s something off-putting about the home draw against Sevilla. The 1-1 draw at Spartak Moscow looks better now that the Russians hammered Sevilla 5-1, but a return visit from Maribor next should help the Reds buttress their stock.

Be careful how finely you analyze a club as accomplished as two-time reigning champs Real Madrid, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s men don’t look so hot. Still well-positioned to move on, keep a close eye on how they look at Wembley in a few weeks.

Holding pattern

Chelsea‘s 3-3 draw versus Roma today was its first real stumble of the UCL, but there shouldn’t be too many alarm bells considering their injury problems and Roma’s desperation. Consider their status even, especially given their clever win at Atletico Madrid.

Jose Mourinho is doing a fine job with Manchester United, but it’s really hard to praise the club too much for doing what’s expected in a glorified Europa League group. Clearly Sir Alex Ferguson was involved in the icing some of the draw balls again…