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.

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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

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.