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.

 

Dempsey, Sounders steal a point on wild night in Portland

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The game in 100 words (or less): An entire game can change in the blink of an eye. For the Seattle Sounders, that blink came in the 44th minute of Sunday’s 2-2 draw with the Portland Timbers. Up 1-0 by way of Joevin Jones’ opener in the 27th minute, the defending MLS Cup champs were poised to head into halftime with a one-goal advantage and every belief imaginable that they’d been the better team for the entire first half. Blink. Brad Evans wrapped his legs around Darlington Nagbe, giving away a penalty and earning himself a red card, just like that, in the blink of an eye. Fanendo Adi stepped up to convert from the spot, but it still was to be a hard-fought 1-1 scoreline from Seattle’s perspective. Then, Dairon Asprilla got loose, completely unmarked atop the six-yard box, on a corner kick, and it was 2-1 after four minutes of first-half stoppage time. 45 more minutes pass, and the Timbers… blink. Clint Dempsey, 34 years old but fresh off the bench 40 minutes earlier, out-leaps everyone in the box and heads past Jake Gleeson to steal a point for Seattle.

[ MORE: San Jose fire Kinnear after 2.5 seasons ]

Three Four moments that mattered

27′ — Jones gets two chances, puts the second away — It’s a classic case of “I dropped my controller” from Alvas Powell, who just stops as Jones cuts across the penalty area. There’s no reason Jones should get a second look on this one.

44′ — Evans brings down Nagbe in the box, sees red — Goodbye, lead. Goodbye 11 versus 11. Things would unravel very quickly for Seattle.

45+4′ — Asprilla rises above to make it 2-1 — Seattle’s marking of Asprilla was nonexistent, and the Colombian showed off some serious hops to get his head to David Guzman’s corner kick.

90+4′ — Dempsey heads home deep in stoppage time — A costly turnover by Asprilla, a hit-it-and-pray cross by Roman Torres, and Dempsey snatches a point at the death.

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Man of the match: Cristian Roldan

Goalscorers: Jones (27′), Adi (45′ – PK), Asprilla (45+4′), Dempsey (90+4′)

Russia has reasons for optimism despite Confed Cup exit

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MOSCOW (AP) When the anger subsides after another group stage exit and another goalkeeping blunder, Russian fans might find they can be proud of their team at the Confederations Cup.

Russia failed to reach the knockout rounds of a fourth major tournament in a row, but there’s no shame in losing by one goal to European champion Portugal and North American champion Mexico.

“We will move on,” coach Stanislav Cherchesov said after Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Mexico. “We have won (the fans’) hearts and minds to a certain extent in this month that we have been together … I think that we have given some reasons to feel optimistic about us.”

If Russia’s fans agreed with Cherchesov that Russia had done well to limit Portugal to a single Cristiano Ronaldo goal, there was frustration that Russia hadn’t done better against a poor Mexican side.

Russia wasted chances to exploit Mexico’s ragged defending and add to Alexander Samedov’s opener, while goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev performed an inexplicable lunge which allowed Hirving Lozano to head in the winner. Akinfeev was lucky not to be red-carded, too, after his foot caught Lozano in the chest.

Akinfeev was the immediate scapegoat for Russia’s exit, with fans and newspapers calling for his removal.

The most-capped player in the squad – the Mexico game was his 101st international appearance – Akinfeev’s bulletproof consistency in the Russian Premier League has kept him the undisputed national-team No. 1 for years.

When the world is watching, though, he gets flustered and makes mistakes.

Against South Korea at the 2014 World Cup, an innocuous long shot slipped from his grasp and went in, paving the way for another early Russian exit from the tournament. There have been more than a few blunders in the 43 games since Akinfeev last kept a clean sheet for CSKA in the Champions League, too.

But it’s hard to see who could replace him. The naturalized Brazilian reserve keeper Guilheme is agile but injury prone, while Vladimir Gabulov is a solid but unspectacular veteran. Zenit St. Petersburg’s Yuri Lodygin challenged Akinfeev for a while, but was brought low by his own tendency for embarrassing errors.

On the positive side for Russia, defender Georgy Dzhikiya was solid in all three group games after having only made his debut on June 5, and Cherchesov’s three-man back line was mostly reliable.

Less successful was Cherchesov’s attempt to bolster the midfield by starting Roman Shishkin – usually a defender – in a defensive midfield role against Portugal and Mexico, while 33-year-old ex-Chelsea winger Yuri Zhirkov did his World Cup hopes no favors with a red card Saturday.

Russia’s run of injuries before the tournament weakened the midfield in particular, with Alan Dzagoev and the promising Roman Zobnin both missing out. Forward Artyom Dzyuba’s absence left Cherchesov relying heavily on Fyodor Smolov, who showed touches of class but missed a good chance against Portugal.

Perhaps the biggest damage from Russia’s Confederations Cup exit will be to Russian pride.

Officials have often bragged that the home advantage for next year’s World Cup could drive Russia to new heights, perhaps a repeat of South Korea’s charge to the semifinals in 2002. Those expectations are now being reviewed.

Just one World Cup host in history – South Africa in 2010 – has failed to get out of the group stage. Avoiding a repeat may be the most Russia can hope for.

FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers host Sounders in PNW showdown

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They don’t get much bigger, or more heated, than this one in MLS — it’s Portland versus Seattle, the Timbers versus the Sounders, tonight at Providence Park (10 p.m. ET).

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers vs. Sounders ]

To keep up-to-the-second informed on proceedings in Portland this evening, hit the above link, or click right here.

Seattle won the first meeting between these sides, 1-0 back on May 27, on their home turf at CenturyLink Field. Cristian Roldan, who’ll depart for U.S. national team camp following Sunday’s game, scored the only goal that afternoon in Seattle, a 4th-minute header from three yards out.

Mustafi: Arsenal players powerless, hope “brilliant” Sanchez will stay

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Shkodran Mustafi admits that he, along with his Arsenal teammates, feels helpless with over the ongoing transfer saga of Alexis Sanchez.

[ MORE: Sunday’s transfer rumor roundup | Saturday | Friday ]

The Chilean superstar is linked with a move away from Arsenal this summer, as the Gunners fell out of the Premier League’s top-four and the 28-year-old’s contract is set to expire next summer. Perhaps most importantly, Sanchez hasn’t so much as publicly stated a desire to remain at the club, which, from the outside, appears to have left his future in even greater doubt.

Mustafi admits he hasn’t a clue how things will shake out in the coming weeks, but he’s quick with a pleading sales pitch for Sanchez to stay — quotes from Goal.com:

“I have no idea. Obviously the other players cannot make that decision, he has to make that decision.

“I’m not too much involved. I hope he stays because he is a really brilliant football player but there’s nothing in my hands that I can do.”

[ MORE: De Boer set to be named new Crystal Palace boss ]

Arsenal would likely have to double (if not more) Sanchez’s current $180,000 weekly wages in order to convince him to forego a season in the UEFA Champions League and commit his long-term future to a club presently trending in the wrong direction.