Premier League’s early ‘must sees’ from NBC Sports’ U.S. TV schedule

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The initial Premier League schedule was announced on July 11, but without solid dates and kickoff times, it was difficult to get too excited. You knew which teams had tough starts (Manchester United), which teams had it easier (West Ham), but in a double round robin league format, those quirks only matter so much. You didn’t know which early kickoffs would force you to set your alarm. You didn’t know which late starts would allow you get to the local bar. And you didn’t know which Monday games would leave you closing your web browser lest something spoil the match before you got to your DVR.

Now there are no such ambiguities, which means you not only know when you’ll need your iPhone to wake you up but also which games will be on “big NBC” (10 in the first three months) and live on NBC Sports Network (57).

All of which plays into this: Our dozen “Must See” games of the season’s first three months. Of course, depending on where your allegiances lie, you could see this list as flawed, biased, what have you. Regardless, these match highlights are sure to be near the top of each Premier League Live post-game show:

Saturday, August 17: Swansea City vs. Manchester United (NBC) – The Premier League on NBC debuts with Manchester United’s first Alex Ferguson-less match in 26 years. It will also see a Swansea team that’s added Wilfried Bony and Jonjo Shelvey try to replicate Everton’s success last season, with the Toffees handing United an opening weekend loss.

Monday, August 26: Manchester United vs. Chelsea (NBCSN) – José Mourinho returns to the place where he first made his mark in England, his slide down Old Trafford’s sidelines helping to bring his eventual Champions League-winning Porto team to the Premier League’s attention. In his second match back with Chelsea, Mourinho gets an early chance to flash the Blues’ title credentials.

source: Getty ImagesSunday, September 1: Liverpool vs. Manchester United (NBCSN) – See what I mean about United’s tough start? At Swansea, then home to Chelsea, then to Anfield for the season’s first North West Derby? David Moyes (right) has been on this side of a rivalry with Liverpool before, having just finished a long tenure at Everton, but given the Reds host Stoke and visit Aston Villa in the season’s first two rounds, the new United boss may meet a  particularly hyped Reds team on his return to Liverpool.

Sunday, September 1: Arsenal vs. Tottenham (NBCSN) – Another of the league’s most famous derbies completes this Sunday doubleheader, with the league’s North London rivals positioning themselves for another fight for fourth (and the league’s last Champions League spot). Arsenal could still buy this summer to try to distance themselves from Spurs, but in the second season of André Villas-Boas’s tenure at White Hart Lane, Spurs may be ready, should Arsenal up the ante.

Sunday, September 22: Manchester City vs. Manchester United (NBCSN) – They finished one-two in each of the league two seasons, and with Manchester City adding Manuel Pellegrini as well as Jesus Navas, Fernandinho, Stevan Joevtic and Álvaro Negredo, the Sky Blues may have closed last year’s gap. Regardless, this is becoming the preeminent intracity derby in world soccer, with a Sunday affair at City of Manchester stadium sure to give both new coaches a taste of what’s currently be the league’s most-heated rivalry.

Saturday, September 28: Tottenham vs. Chelsea (NBCSN) – In the last three meetings between these London rivals, the teams have combined for 16 goals. The last two at White Hart Lane have each ended with six goals scored, nine of them by Chelsea, a symptom of the Blues’ dominance over Spurs. We’re now going on three years and seven meetings since Tottenham last upended their rivals, though in that time, only one game’s featured a clean sheet. With Gareth Bale juxtaposed against one of the most talented attacks in the league, we’re unlikely to see that March 2012, 0-0 replicated this September. Tottenham breakthrough or no, expect goals.

Sunday, October 27: Chelsea vs. Manchester City (NBCSN) – These are the two teams aspiring to dethrone Manchester United, but how they perform against each other may prove as crucial to their title hopes as their fortunes against the Red Devils. Of late, however, Chelsea have failed miserably against the Citizens, taking only one point from City over the last two seasons, failure compounded by a loss in last year’s FA Cup semifinals.

source:  Sunday, October 27: Sunderland vs. Newcastle (NBCSN) – The season’s first North East derby also serves as Jozy Alitdore’s (right) highest-profile match of fall. By late October, we’ll have a good idea of how the U.S. international’s settled under Paolo Di Danio, and if that transition proves successful, he’ll lead the Black Cats’ attack when Fabricio Coloccini and the Magpies visit their fiercest rivals.

Sunday, November 3: Cardiff City vs. Swansea City (NBCSN)  – For the first time, two Welsh teams will compete in the Premier League, with Cardiff City’s promotion bringing the South Wales derby to the top flight of English soccer. After a series of close calls in the second division, the newly red-laden Bluebirds finally earned promotion, though with their rivals expected to compete at the edges of the league’s Europa League spots, a Cardiff side that will define success by avoiding relegation is a completely fighting different battle than their rivals.

Sunday, November 10: Manchester United vs. Arsenal (NBCSN) – There’s still something special about this rivalry, one that served as the league’s marquee battle from the late nineties into the early oughts. Every year since the league began play in 1992-93, one of Arsenal or Manchester United have finished in the top two. Today, Arsenal has fallen a step behind, going eight years without a trophy, but for a generation that was brought up on Premier League soccer, United versus Arsenal will always be a must see matchup.

Saturday, November 23: Everton vs. Liverpool (NBCSN) – We have to wait over three months for Liverpool’s rivals to meet, but when they rekindle their derby at Goodison Park, the managers may garner much of the focus. New Everton boss Roberto Martinez will be facing Liverpool for the first time as Toffees’ manager, and although he faced the Reds many occasions while managing now-relegated Wigan Athletic, center stage in this rivalry will be completely different. That the coach on the opposing bench is Brendan Rodgers, a man who also used Swansea City as a springboard, adds another thin layer of intrigue to this Merseyside Derby.

Monday, November 25: West Brom vs. Aston Villa (NBCSN) – No survey of Premier League rivalries would be complete without nothing what’s happening in Birmingham, where West Bromwich Albion is redefining the West Midland’s pecking order. When they were promoted two seasons ago, it had been 32 years since the Baggies had finished about their rivals in the league table. Now they’ve done it two years in a row. After battling relegation, Aston Villa have bigger things to worry about West Brom’s success, but that success does highlight how much things have changed in Birmingham.

 

Frank Yallop resigns as Phoenix Rising coach shortly after Drogba arrival

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The timing is a bit sudden and certainly leaves many questions up in the air, but Phoenix Rising will have to look for a new manager.

[ MORE: Chicharito talks heating up with LA FC ]

On Monday, head coach Frank Yallop resigned from his position with the United Soccer League (USL) club less than one day after former Chelsea legend Didier Drogba joined the organization as a player-owner.

With Phoenix seen as one of several lower-level clubs with ambitions of making the leap to MLS over the coming seasons, Yallop’s departure is surely a shock to many.

According to ESPN FC, Rising lead owner Berke Bakay was quite surprised by Yallop’s decision to step down, as was Drogba.

“Didier was as surprised and disappointed as we were that Frank is unable to continue coaching our Club,” Bakay told ESPN FC. “But, we all respect his decision to put his family first.

“Didier’s focus will remain on improving our team as a player and assisting our MLS expansion team ownership group as a co-owner. Frank will be helping with our international search for a new head coach.”

Rick Schantz, the current Rising assistant coach, will head the team’s managerial duties for the interim while the club completes a full search for a new manager.

Conte praises Hazard’s style, wouldn’t want him to be “more selfish”

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Antonio Conte made two bold decisions on Saturday afternoon as his Chelsea side prepared to take on Tottenham in their FA Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Oriol Romeu shines with Saints as he prepares for Chelsea return ]

The Italian manager has been known for his innovation and risk-taking in the past, but many were critical of the 47-year-old when his team sheet came out ahead of the match.

Conte left key attacking duo Eden Hazard and Diego Costa on the bench, allowing out-of-favor striker Michy Batshuayi and Pedro to get the starting nod.

Although Hazard nor Costa saw the field for the opening hour, the former made his presence known when he was summoned by Conte in the second half.

Often times Hazard has been known as a facilitator, someone that can pick apart defenses with his tremendous foot skills and clever passing. But the Belgian international has also shown his capabilities of scoring on a regular basis as well, which has prompted great interest from other giant clubs around Europe.

When Conte was asked about Hazard and if his attacker should be more selfish, the Italian gave an emphatic “NO” as his response.

“No, no, no, absolutely not,” Conte said. “I don’t think that a player like Messi is a selfish player. The first target for every great champion is to play for the team and to put your talent into the team. If you do this, the team [increases] your talent.

“The best players in the world don’t exist without a team. For me, it’s sad to listen to this, that a player must ‘be more selfish’ to reach the top level. That’s very sad. It’s not my idea of football and I will never understand this. Never, never. In my team, I don’t want selfish players.

“I prefer to lose a game than to have a selfish player. For me, I don’t want this and I can’t accept this. I don’t want my club to buy me a selfish player one day. Never. No.”

Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League

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Two sides have now booked their trips to England’s top flight after Newcastle United rattled off its 27th win of the season.

[ MORE: Oriol Romeu — The perfectly poised destroyer ]

The Magpies earned a decisive 4-1 victory over Preston North End on Monday afternoon at St. James’ Park as the second-place side ensured its finish inside the top two in the English Championship.

Newcastle joins already-promoted club Brighton & Hove Albion, who currently sit atop the Championship on 92 points.

Ayoze Perez paced the hosts with goals on both sides of halftime, while Christian Atsu and Matt Ritchie also converted for Newcastle.

U.S. Men’s National Team defender DeAndre Yedlin was on the bench for the Magpies but didn’t feature in Monday’s match.

The third and final team to be promoted from the Championship will be decided by the league’s annual promotion playoff, which is held at the end of the season and contested by four sides that finish third through sixth position.

As it stands, Reading, Sheffield Wednesday, Huddersfield Town and Fulham occupy the four playoff positions.

Marseille making Olivier Giroud top transfer target this summer

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Marseille did well to bring in one star this season but could the French side have another trick up its sleeve this summer?

Sky Sports is reporting that the Ligue 1 club is preparing to sign Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud over the summer and the sixth-place side is “willing to pay up to £20m (roughly $25 million).

Marseille made a splash this season when the club re-signed Dimitri Payet, who was playing with Premier League side West Ham at the time.

The team does boast several quality attacking options such as Payet and Bafetimbi Gomis, but Giroud could serve as an ideal target man in the Marseille attack.

Prior to joining the Gunners in 2012, Giroud starred for Montpellier and with a potential link-up in the attack with a creator like Payet, it could present a dangerous attacking threat to the rest of Ligue 1.

Giroud, 30, has scored 95 goals in all competitions since arriving in London with Arsenal.