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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.

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)
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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)
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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