Brede Hangeland

Preview: Fulham vs. Arsenal

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  • Arsène Wenger is under pressure after no progress in the transfer market
  • A 3-0 midweek win at Fenerbahçe all but assured Arsenal’s spot in Champions League group stage
  • Fulham has lost its last four league matches at Craven Cottage

Talk about two teams that started the season off on different notes. Fulham and Arsenal come into their match on Saturday (7:45 a.m. ET, NBCSN) after vastly different results in their first fixtures and sharply contrasting buzz among fans and media.

Fulham defeated Sunderland 1-0 away from home, while 10-man Arsenal crumbled to Aston Villa, 3-1 at the Emirates Stadium after Laurent Koscielny picked up two yellow cards, despite going up a goal in the first six minutes. Manager Arsène Wenger has come under a lot of scrutiny for failing to make any big summer signings, with many pointing to the result as proof of necessary change.

The home side will likely need another good defensive performance to come up with a similar result against the Gunners as it got against Sunderland. Center back Brede Hangeland (pictured) led the line for the Whites, clearing 11 balls and making three interceptions to lead all defenders in both categories.

This fixture last season was a low-scoring affair, as Arsenal big man Per Mertesacker scored the only goal of the game to lead Arsenal to a 1-0 win. With Arsenal’s attack looking largely tame against Villa — although three different players scored in midweek against Fenerbahçe in the Champions League — scoring goals at Craven Cottage has become an interesting challenge in recent visits for the North Londoners.

Fulham will be without goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg and left back Kieran Richardson, injured in the opening-day win, making its task of defending more difficult.

What they’re saying

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on his transfer policy: “I would just like to reiterate to you that in the last 16 years, we have been very successful with transfers. If you look at the players we have, they are top quality, and you should never forget that. It is not always to think what is outside is better than what you have. What is important as well is to rate what you have, and our fans have to understand that as well. It’s hard, but I can understand the impatience.”

Fulham forward Darren Bent on his loan signing: “I’m not just hungry to play football again. I’m absolutely starving. I’m ready to get going. Hopefully for the next game, I’ll get a piece of the action. I’ve missed on a couple of major competitions with England, but I just hope this is my year. I need to get back to playing regularly, scoring goals for Fulham, and that’s my priority. That’s what I do best.”

Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey on the difficult start to the season: “It wasn’t the ideal start to the Premier League, but we bounced back [against Fenerbahçe]. … I’m feeling really confident at the moment. I’ve overcome my injury now, I feel, and after a couple of difficult seasons, I’m very happy, and hopefully, it will continue.”

Prediction

Even with all the turmoil at Arsenal, the team seems a bit too strong for Fulham. Forward Olivier Giroud provided the only goal against Villa last week, and he added another against Fenerbahçe, making him Arsenal’s go-to attacking player at the moment. With the right service, he should be able to bag another against Fulham and lead his team to victory.

Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 06:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Copa del Rey Round of 16 first leg match between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol at Camp Nou on January 6, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi has won every individual award imaginable, but now he can add another trophy to his shelf.

For the first time in his career, Messi was named La Liga’s Player of the Month for January.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings, Vol. VIII ]

It’s hard to believe, but somehow the Barcelona superstar had never won this honor before. Despite winning a record five Ballon D’or trophies as the best player in the world, this trophy had eluded Messi since its inception in 2013.

Messi scored six goals in six January matches as Barcelona sit atop the La Liga table, currently holding a three-point lead over Atletico Madrid.

Despite their dominance in La Liga, this is only the second time a Barcelona player has won this monthly award, as Neymar took home the honor in November of 2015.

USWNT-Mexico preview: Energized Yanks look to keep rolling toward Rio

FRISCO, TX - FEBRUARY 10:  Team USA poses for a photo before play against Costa Rica during 2016 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying at Toyota Stadium on February 10, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The United States women’s national team looks to keep rolling through CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying with a match with Mexico on Saturday.

Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, is again the scene after the Yanks battered Costa Rica 5-0 on Wednesday.

[ MUST WATCH: Christen Press’ dazzling first touch, spin, goal ]

A win over Mexico would move the USWNT into the all-important semifinal, where a win would gain them entry into this Summer’s Olympic Games.

Mexico staged a blowout of its own on Wednesday, cruising past Puerto Rico 6-0 thanks in large part to a hat trick from Maribel Dominguez.

[ VIDEO: Alex Morgan caps off a 12-second, six-pass goal ]

Mexico has only beaten the USWNT twice in history, and only the 2010 Gold Cup semifinal is considered official.

In recent history, the USWNT beat up Mexico 5-1 last year, and thrice in 2014 by a combined score of 15-0. Expect very little to change with an energized, impressive U.S. side on Saturday.

[ SATURDAY: Watch USWNT vs Mexico live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks: Big boys to turn up

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Week 26 of the Premier League season is here. This will be a lot of fun with massive games at both ends of the table.

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live online ]

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out.

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.

BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Arsenal 3-2 Leicester City – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Norwich City 0-2 West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA) –  [STREAM]

Man City 3-1 Tottenham Hotspur – (Sunday 11:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Sunderland 0-2 Manchester United – (Saturday, 7:45 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Everton 2-1 West Brom  – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Swansea 1-1 Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM] 

Crystal Palace 2-1 Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM]

Chelsea 3-2 Newcastle – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Bournemouth 2-1 Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM]

Aston Villa 2-1 Liverpool – (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Ranieri on Leicester City’s dream season: “Nobody wake us up please!”

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Leicester City at the Etihad Stadium on February 6, 2016 in Manchester, England.
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There’s plenty to like about Leicester City’s run to the top of the Premier League, but perhaps nothing is more enjoyable that its manager’s musings.

Claudio Ranieri, the Tinkerman himself, has provided some of the best quips of the season.

[ MORE: Top 5 storylines to look for in PL ]

From “I want to be the crazy man in the Premier League” to “It’s like nobody wants to win the league“, the 64-year-old Italian has offered plenty of beauties.

Make way for some more gems, from LCFC.com:

“I think we work so hard to achieve this level. We want to stay at this level. It’s no pressure for us. The pressure was at the beginning to start well, to carry on and maintain the standard of our performance.
“Now we are safe and we want to fight with respect with all our opponents. Face to face, we play with our strength and they play with theirs. If we win, fantastic. If we lose, next match.
“I think the pressure is on the other teams. We have pressure for our little gap. We continue to dream with our fans and we want to continue to dream. Nobody wake us up please!”
We love this man. To go from a short-lived run in Euro qualifying with Greece to this remarkable roll with Leicester has to be a bit dream-like. We get it. And we love that he’s going with it.