Premier League Preview: Sunderland

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Each day from now until the beginning of the Premier League season, we will preview two teams from England’s top flight. You can view them all here at PST Preview central. Don’t forget, the 2013-14 PL season begins on August 17th, and for the first-time ever you can watch every game live on NBC Sports. 

Last season Sunderland managed to stave off relegation from the Premier League, just. They finished 17th in 2012-13 and since returning to England’s top flight in 2007-08, the Black Cats have finished in the top 10 once. Sunderland’s fierce rivals are Newcastle United with the Tyne-Wear derby (played since 1898) one of Europe’s most famous and passionate derbies. Just 12 miles separate the two teams and it’s simple in England’s North East: you’re either a Mackem (Sunderland) or a Geordie (Newcastle). Sunderland’s have won six First Division titles—in 1892, 1893, 1895, 1902, 1913, and 1936—and the FA Cup twice, in 1937 and 1973. They play at the Stadium of Light, which has a capacity of 49,000.

Transfers In: Cabral (Basle), Modibo Diakite (Lazio), Valentin Roberge (Maritimo) , David Moberg Karlsson (IFK Goteborg), Vito Mannone (Arsenal), Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), El Hadji Ba (Le Havre), Emanuele Giaccherini (Juventus)

Transfers Out: Titus Bramble, Matthew Kilgallon (Blackburn Rovers), Ryan Noble, Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Ahmed Elmohamady (Hull City), Danny Graham (Hull City), Alfred N’Diaye (Eskisehirspor)

Key Player: This is a player US soccer fans know all about: Jozy Altidore (pictured). After his $13 million move from AZ Alkmaar, big things are expected of Altidore in the Premier League. The chance to spearhead Sunderland’s attack will be tough but Altidore wants to prove his critics wrong as he gives England’s top flight another crack. After previous PL disappointment at Hull City, Altidore has settled into European soccer and will have plenty of support from the likes of Stephane Sessegnon and Steven Fletcher.

source: Getty Images
Can USMNT striker Altidore deliver the goals Sunderland need?

The 23-year-old USMNT striker is Sunderland’s biggest summer signing and if he can keep his hot streak going, the Mackems can make the top 10. But it’s a huge step up from the Eredivisie to the Premier League. Can he succeed? Sunderland need him to.

Manager: Paolo Di Canio. Just a mention of his name and images of a possessed Italian gentleman in a sharply-cut suit marauding down the touchline are conjured up. But he’s about much more than his wild sideline gestures. Di Canio was an incredibly gifted player who played for Lazio, AC Milan, Napoli, Celtic and West Ham amongst others. He wears his heart on his sleeve and after managerial success in the lower-leagues with Swindon Town, Di Canio’s man-management style is his biggest plus. The 45-year-old Italian has made huge changes, bringing in 10 new faces and completely changing the soccer philosophy. Di Canio must deliver.

Outlook: Bringing in so many new players is a massive risk, but Di Canio is up for the challenge. This season could go either way as Sunderland may get off to a flying stat or be languishing by Christmas and waving goodbye to Di Canio. So I’m going to sit firmly on the fence and go for a mid-table finish. There will be plenty of growing pains, but this new squad is exciting. Expect the unexpected from the Black Cats.

MORE: Read all the Premier League previews for each team here

Rapids hire Patel as director; Highest ranking female exec in MLS

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The Colorado Rapids have hired Ena Patel as their new director of player personnel. She becomes Major League Soccer highest ranking female executive, according to the Denver Post.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to the Rapids, she’ll report to club GM Padraig Smith and “oversee player contracts, salary budget, regulatory compliance, and soccer operations protocols.”

The move comes about a month-and-a-half after Sporting KC hired Megan Cameron as an assistant director of player personnel, the first woman hired to an MLS team’s technical staff.

Patel’s resume is outlandishly strong, though this is her first foray into the sports world. Here are some words from Smith, from ColoradoRapids.com:

“Ena’s hiring is the final piece of the puzzle for us on the front office side,” Smith, the Rapids executive vice president and general manager, said in a statement released by the club. “Bringing in a sharp, legal mind who can oversee our contractual processes and complex league mechanisms is a really important part of ensuring that we’re fielding the best possible team. We can’t wait for her to get started.”

Guardiola happy to reach final, knows Man City to be judged by hardware

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Bristol City made its interesting late with a pair of goals, but Manchester City’s League Cup destiny was never in jeopardy in a 3-2 second leg win at Ashton Gate Stadium on Tuesday.

[ RECAP: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

That sent the club into the Feb. 25 final with a 5-3 aggregate win, and it’s very difficult not to leap to the story line that is Pep Guardiola‘s chance at a first significant title in his reign at Man City.

The closest City came to hardware last season was being bounced by Arsenal in the FA Cup semifinal. This time, City is the favorite to win at least three of its four entered competitions: the Premier League, the League Cup, and the FA Cup.

But to hear Pep say it, for now the club is just happy to have earned one final berth. From the BBC:

“We are so happy to be there, to reach this final. We played an amazing game until 2-0 and then we lost control, these type of games never end until the end. This is a lesson for next weekend in Cardiff in the FA Cup and especially for the Champions League.

“It’s not for me, it’s for Manchester City, a club who are trying to reach another level. … I know that we will be judged by trophies we win but we are so happy. Nobody can take away what we have done, but Chelsea or Arsenal are strong teams.”

Guardiola was serious about not overlooking the Robins, as he rolled out a very similar lineup to the full-strength bunch that beat Newcastle United 3-1 at the weekend. That may have cost City late, but it had already built a 4-1 aggregate lead with two superior away goals.

Yes, Guardiola is a man who measures himself by the way his club plays but also by winning in that attractive fashion. Expect a determined club to stride into Wembley late next month.

Chelsea and Arsenal square off Wednesday at the Emirates Stadium for the right to match up with Man City, who won the tournament in 2014 and 2016. Even year dominance?

Man City into League Cup final (video)

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  • City outshoots Bristol 28-5
  • Sane, Aguero put MCFC up 2-0
  • Pack, Kent pulls two back for Bristol
  • De Bruyne answers in stoppage
  • City wins 5-3 on aggregate

A pair of late goals put a scare into Man City, but the Premier League leaders scored just before and right after halftime to insure its first leg lead en route to a 3-2 win over Bristol City at Ashton Gate Stadium on Tuesday.

City wins 5-3 on aggregate in the League Cup semifinal, with Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane, and Kevin De Bruyne scoring in the second leg.

Pep Guardiola moves to within 90 minutes of his first significant title as Man City boss, and will face either Chelsea or Arsenal on Feb. 25 at Wembley Stadium.

Marlon Pack and Aden Flint scored for Bristol City.

[ MORE: Full stats, box score ]

Sane scored in the 43rd minute and Sergio Aguero struck less than four minutes after the teams returned from the halftime break.

An errant John Stones clearance helped Bristol to the scoreboard in the 64th minute, with Pack scoring the goal.

Flint then nodded home in stoppage time to give the Robins hope for a miracle win, but new contract hero De Bruyne scored within a minute to burn those hopes to the ground.

Bristol would be in the Football League Championship playoffs if the season ended now, sitting in fifth place.

Midfielder Lassana Diarra joins PSG on short-term deal

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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain has made its first signing of the winter transfer window by hiring midfielder Lassana Diarra on a short-term deal until June 2019.

The 32-year-old holding midfielder will once again try to revive his career in the French league after a successful stint at PSG’s bitter rival, Marseille, that ended last year.

The much-traveled Diarra, who was born in Paris, then played for a few months with United Arab Emirates club Al Jazira.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Diarra, a former Chelsea, Arsenal and Real Madrid player, won English and Spanish league titles in 2006 and 2012. He has 34 caps for France and featured at the European Championship in 2008.

His strong performances with Marseille earned him a recall from France, but he eventually pulled out of Didier Deschamps’ squad for Euro 2016 because of a left knee injury.

“I am very happy to have signed for my hometown club,” Diarra said. “Paris Saint-Germain represents a lot to me and, with the international dimension the club has taken in recent seasons, it is every player’s dream to play here. I am lucky enough to make this dream come true.”

Diarra joined on a free transfer and his signing won’t affect PSG’s bank accounts, which are under UEFA’s scrutiny.

PSG is under pressure to sell players to balance the books after splashing out 402 million euros ($473 million) on forwards Neymar and Kylian Mbappe last year. That led to Qatari-owned PSG being placed under investigation by UEFA for potential breaches of Financial Fair Play rules.