Liverpool's Aspas controls the ball against Thailand's national team Sokhum during a friendly soccer match in Bangkok

Preview: Liverpool vs. Stoke City

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  • Stoke City haven’t won at Anfield since 1959.
  • Of the 10 PL meetings between the two clubs, Liverpool have only managed two wins.
  • Liverpool’s last Opening Day win at home was 2001

As the Premier League season kicks off, Liverpool will host Stoke City, as both clubs eye improvement on last year.

Both clubs experienced disappointing campaigns last season relative to what the clubs are looking to achieve, and the new campaign is an opportunity to erase those failures.

Liverpool, while not a severe disappointment with their seventh place finish last year, still missed out on European competition, and ended up below bitter rivals Everton in the table, which always stings.

Stoke City finished 13th in the league, and while it isn’t a tragic result for a club like Stoke, pretty much everyone 12th and lower were involved in the bitter relegation battle that sucked in almost the entire bottom half of the table.  Stoke have never finished in the top half of the table, and the aim is the same as always this year – change that factoid.

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Everyone except the Daily Mail knows by now that world-class striker Luis Suarez won’t feature in the match due to his 10-game suspension for biting Branislav Ivanovic last season.  He does, however, remain on the books for Liverpool and hasn’t left despite a very public campaign to force his sale.

Thanks to Suarez’s ban, new signing Iago Aspas (pictured, left) will be unveiled, and it will be a chance for Liverpool fans to see what the possibility of being without Suarez for the long-term would be like. It’s a scary thought for fans to swallow, but there’s a real possibility that the man who scored 23 league goals for the Reds last year has played his last match at Anfield.

Aspas, coming over from La Liga side Celta de Vigo, is a proven goalscorer to replace Suarez up front, although he is perfectly capable of moving out to the wings when necessary.  His numbers reflect this versatility.  Two seasons ago with Celta, he scored 23 goals in 34 matches as the club earned promotion from the Spanish second division. Last year in La Liga, he scored 12 goals but also grabbed six assists.  Daniel Sturridge will also be availble to compliment the strike force.

Stoke have a new figurehead to be unveiled Saturday as well – new manager Mark Hughes.  The Welshman has had a bumpy ride in the Premier League, most recently his miserable failure at Queens Park Rangers that built the foundation for their relegation campaign last year. Hughes has what is presumably his last shot at proving his managerial abilities here at Stoke, and thus he has to make it count.

Hughes has made very few changes to the squad of last year, with one major addition being the swoop for young defender Mark Muniesa on a free transfer from Barcelona.  Two Americans could all appear for Hughes’ side against Liverpool, with Geoff Cameron and Maruice Edu available for selection, while Brek Shea works on returning from knee ligament damage.

Can Liverpool break their 12-year Opening Day duck? Will Mark Hughes get his first win with the Potters? You can find out by tuning in live on Saturday at 7:45am ET on NBC to watch Liverpool host Stoke City. And you can watch that game all the Premier League games live via NBC Sports Live Extra.

What they’re saying

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers on Suarez saga: “Nothing can sabotage what we are trying to do here,” Rodgers said. “There’s too much good work gone on here for it to be overtaken by anything else.”

Mark Hughes on his public image: “Maybe I’m getting it wrong but I just think there’s a real sense that people want me to do well. I’d like to think people would see the bigger picture but I can understand why they don’t, because probably after QPR I think a lot of people had made their mind up that I was the root of all evil and I was the reason why the club went down last season.”

Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel: “It doesn’t matter who we play against because the beginning of the season is always tough. Every team is full of energy and desire and they want to fight. We know that with Stoke it’s going to be a hard and difficult game for us. But we need a good start to the season and we will do all our best to make sure that happens and we get the three points.”

Prediction

Lots of people are saying this one could end in a horrifically boring 0-0 draw.  According to BBC Sport, Stoke were involved in seven of the 10 matches last season with the lowest ball-in-play time.  Liverpool are heavily distracted by Luis Suarez, and their back line is banged up as well.  Skrtel is only fit enough to make the bench, and Daniel Agger is expected to play despite his own injury troubles.  This could allow Stoke’s massive striker Peter Crouch to exploit their back line and shoot his visiting side to victory in a 1-0 upset.

Sydney FC return to winning ways in A-League

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 24:  Goalkeeper Danny Vukovic of Sydney FC makes a save as Bruno Fornaroli of City competes for the ball during the round 21 A-League match between Melbourne City and Sydney FC at AAMI Park on February 24, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
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SYDNEY (AP) Bobo scored twice as Sydney FC rebounded from its first loss in the A-League to beat Melbourne City 3-1 and continue atop the table.

[ MORE: Schmeichel speaks about Ranieri sacking, state of Leicester ]

Sydney’s ambitious attempt to become the first team to end the regular season unbeaten came unstuck last week when it was beaten by Western Sydney Wanderers in a fractious local derby, repercussions of which continued through the week. Wanderers were fined $20,000 by Football Federation Australia after its fans unfurled an obscene banner targeting Sydney coach Graham Arnold.

[ MORE: Chelsea, Everton extend unbeaten run in Saturday’s PL play ]

Sydney raised itself above that controversy on Friday with a comprehensive win over Melbourne City which briefly took it 11 points clear in first place.

Melbourne Victory restored the gap to eight points when it beat defending champion Adelaide United 2-1, and Perth leapfrogged Melbourne City into third place when it dumped the Wanderers 2-0.

Bobo opened Sydney’s scoring with a penalty, but City canceled that out only a minute later.

Sydney went in front again after the break, and Bobo sealed the win, set up by a superb through ball by Milos Ninkovic which highlighted their developing combination.

Midfielder Brandon O’Neil said Sydney was determined to leave behind the contention of their derby loss.

“When it all came out, the FFA and Western Sydney had to deal with it and it did,” O’Neil said. “It brought us together and we spoke about a few things, and nothing changed for us. We want to be premier (champions).”

Melbourne Victory’s win over Adelaide kept it in touch with Sydney with seven regular season rounds remaining.

Wellington kept its faint playoff hopes alive, staying in seventh place with a 2-1 win over Brisbane.

Whitecaps acquire U.S. defender Brek Shea in deal with Orlando City

Toronto FC v Orlando City SC
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With almost a week to go until the Major League Soccer season kicks off, the Vancouver Whitecaps and Orlando City may have pulled off one of the biggest trades of offseason.

[ MORE: MLS negotiating to bring Chicharito to U.S. in 2018 ]

The clubs announced on Saturday that the Whitecaps have acquired U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder/defender Brek Shea in exchange for forward Giles Barnes, who is headed to Orlando City.

“We are excited to welcome Brek to our club and city,” said Whitecaps FC manager Carl Robinson. “Brek is a tall, physical, skilled player and will bring a different dimension to our attack. Brek will join the group in coming days and we anticipate he will be available for selection as early as this Thursday’s Champions League match against New York.”

Shea, 26, began his career in MLS with FC Dallas before heading to England for a brief stint with Stoke City. The U.S. defender made his way back to MLS ahead of Orlando City’s inaugural season in 2015 and started 39 matches in that span.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Meanwhile, Barnes has scored 33 goals since joining MLS in 2012. The 28-year-old forward played with the Houston Dynamo before spending last season with the Whitecaps.

Report: MLS negotiating to bring Chicharito to U.S. in 2018

Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Bayer Leverkusen & Mexico
AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
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Major League Soccer has attracted some of the world’s biggest stars over recent years and now one of the Mexican national team’s top talents could be heading stateside very soon.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to ESPN FC, MLS is currently in negotiations with Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen in an attempt to lure Mexican striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez to the U.S. in the summer of 2018.

Expansion side Los Angeles FC has been heavily linked with Hernandez, with the club making its entrance into MLS in 2018. Additionally, the Los Angeles Galaxy have also been said to have strong ties with Chicharito.

Hernandez, 28, is currently under contract until next summer, and MLS is reportedly seeking a move in 2018 to avoid paying a transfer fee for the El Tri forward.

ESPN FC is also reporting that Chicharito could make around $9 million annually if he does in fact join MLS.

In 2015, Orlando City and the Chicago Fire were both linked with acquiring Hernandez but the Leverkusen forward was insistent upon the fact that he play Champions League football.

PL Sunday: Spurs look to regain second against Stoke

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Although there’s only one match on Sunday’s Premier League docket, the fixture bears great weight for both clubs.

[ MORE: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Tottenham vs. Stoke City — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Spurs have the chance to move back into second place at White Hart Lane as Mauricio Pochettino‘s side are firmly in a battle to finish runners’ up to Chelsea this season. Tottenham currently sit 13 points out of the top spot, however, five clubs are within four points of another in the battle for second. Danny Rose and Erik Lamela remain sidelined due to injuries but Spurs will remain the favorites in the fixture after having won their previous two league meetings.

Stoke enters Sunday having gone unbeaten in five of its last six PL matches and the Potters can enter the top 10 with a victory. Mark Hughes‘ side could be given a big lift with the potential return of Xherdan Shaqiri while Saido Berahino could be in line to earn his first start since joining Stoke. Both players could present massive upside for the Potters, who have struggled to find goals as of late. In their last four matches, Stoke have managed just three finishes, one of which came from an own goal.