Premier League Preview: Crystal Palace vs. Sunderland

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  • Both sides have scored only a single goal in their first two fixtures
  • Sunderland’s Steven Fletcher could make his 2013-14 debut after recovering from ankle ligament damage
  • Despite both teams playing in the Premier League for numerous seasons, this will be the first meeting of the pair in this competition

Sunderland head to Selhurst Park to take on Crystal Palace on Saturday (12:30 pm ET on NBC, watch online via NBC Sports Live Extra) as two sides struggling to score goals look to secure their first victory of the season.

Palace return home to South London after suffering their second loss in as many games after Stoke City scored twice in the second half to off-set Marouane Chamakh’s 31st minute opener. The Eagles looked as if they might be on their way to three points before two defensive break-downs in a matter of four minutes saw Charlie Adam and Ryan Shawcross beat Julian Speroni to his right post to hand the Potters their first win of the season.

Sunderland earned their first point of the season last week in a 1-1 draw at Southampton. The Black Cats came away from St. Mary’s Stadium feeling lucky after managing to hang on despite the Saints having 17 attempts on goal and dominating possession (66%/34%). Paulo Di Canio’s men found themselves with an early lead when Italian international Emanuele Giaccherini (pictured) found himself unmarked in the box to nod home Seb Larsson’s corner kick. Two minutes from time the Saints’ pressure paid off as Jose Fonte headed in James Ward-Prowse’s shaped set piece to share the spoils.

Saturday’s encounter will be the first time Palace and Sunderland meet in the Premier League. The last time the two sides met in a top-flight encounter was a March 1991 fixture that Sunderland won 2-1. The Black Cats and Eagles have faced off on 10 occasions since, with Sunderland winning five of them.

Sunderland remain a side still very much searching for their identity. Bringing in 11 new players from seven different countries presents stylistic issues as well as communicative ones. Few doubt that Di Canio has recruited solid talent in Giaccherini, Jozy Altidore, Cabral and Valentin Roberge but until the group develops a cohesive understanding of their qualities and adopts a style of play to compliment those traits, points may be hard to come by – even when facing inferior opposition. The return of striker Steven Fletcher, who has been out since last March with ankle ligament damage, could be just the thing to set things straight.

For Holloway, the issue comes down to a lack of talent. It’s something that the Palace boss bemoaned before the season, after the squad’s opening day loss to Spurs and following last week’s defeat at Stoke City. The club’s lack of resources and transfer market power appear to be what’s limiting Palace and with no buzz percolating at the moment, it doesn’t seem to be something that’s going to change before the window closes on September 2nd.

That’s not to say Holloway’s squad is completely absent of talent. Chamakh proved last week that he’s still up for scoring goals, Dwight Gayle is a forward with pace, desire and the ability to change games while the holding midfield combination of Mile Jedinak and Kagisho Dikgacoi has made life quite difficult on opposing players.

See which club might break into the win column this Saturday, at 12:30 am ET live on NBC and online via NBC Sports Live Extra.

What they’re saying

Palace manager Ian Holloway: “The team hasn’t played together before especially with players like Florian Marange coming in. It’s just important we stick together and work hard as a team. . . . We’re full of optimism and hope, but we’ve got to get some players over the line before Monday.”

Sunderland manager Paulo Di Canio: [On the return of striker Steven Fletcher] “Steven will join the rest of his team-mates on the trip and then I will decide if I will play him, but he will be with the group. . . . He is an important player and joined us in full training just 10 days ago. For 25 days we were abroad during the pre-season and he couldn’t go, so it’s obvious he needs to practice. With the fitness level and the belief he has he can stay with the group and maybe have a part in the game.”

Sunderland defender John O’Shea: “It’s going to be difficult; we’re fully aware that they’ve just come up from the Championship but they’ve played quite well in their two league games so far even though they’ve not got anything from them. . . . They’ve got a manager who wants to play football the right way. We saw [in the game] against against Stoke at some stages that they can mix it and go forward quickly, but they can also pass it through midfield. There’s lots to look forward to but lots to be wary of as well.”


If this match were being played at the Stadium of Light there’s no question Sunderland would be taking all three points. But fans saw how difficult it was for Spurs to play in Selhurst Park in opening week and we shouldn’t be surprised if a similar atmosphere presents itself this time around. Sunderland are good enough to overcome the crowd and win this match but Palace have the ability to nip a point here, and I think they get it.

Allow England defender Alfie Mawson to charm you

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Swansea City’s Alfie Mawson is at England national team camp, and the young man is conducting himself in downright adorable fashion.

It seems the 24-year-old London defender cannot quite believe Gareth Southgate called his name for the Three Lions.

[ MORE: Key newcomers for USMNT friendly ]

“A lot of people wouldn’t have even heard my name until this call up,” Mawson told the BBC. “You know it’s down to performing well at certain times, it’s down to doing the right things and sometimes it’s down to being a nice person.”

Mawson has played every minute for Swans this season, picking up two goals and an assist. More importantly, he’s won 3.3 aerial battles per game and 6.3 clearances.

While this won’t necessarily serve him well against the Netherlands and Italy in this week’s friendlies — they don’t put a lot of hopeful balls into aerial or clearing positions — it’s kept Mawson on the England radar for this summer’s World Cup.

Mawson is two seasons removed from playing in the Championship, and was loaned to lower league clubs like Maidenhead United and Welling United. At the time, he was going to “car boot sales with my girlfriend” which from my limited Googling seems the English equivalent of a yard sale and flea market combined.

“We are in a good position now where we don’t really have to do the car boots unless she wants a bit of excitement on a Sunday morning.”

Pretty good position, yeah.

FIFA urges Russia to hasten work on delayed World Cup arena

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SAMARA, Russia (AP) FIFA has urged Russia to speed up World Cup preparations at a stadium which needs “a huge amount of work” to be ready on time.

With less than three months to go until the World Cup, the 45,000-seat Samara Arena is the only one of 12 stadiums which doesn’t yet have a pitch installed.

The stadium in the Volga River city of Samara was already badly delayed due to a complex roof design, but now cold weather in the Russian spring is causing further problems. The pitch can’t be installed until the weather warms up.

“Obviously we would expect further progress than this,” FIFA’s chief competitions official Colin Smith said on a visit to the arena Wednesday. “We don’t yet have a pitch, and obviously we need to wait for some warmer weather conditions in order to get this pitch installed.”

As of Tuesday, instead of a field, there was an area covered with tarpaulins and snow. Temperatures are forecast to stay slightly below freezing for the rest of the week.

“There’s a huge amount of work still to be done,” Smith added. “From the information we’ve received there’s nothing stopping all these areas being completed on time. It just requires commitment and more manpower to get it done on time, and when we talk about on time, we’re talking about the commissioning date of the end of April.”

If that date passes, it could restrict FIFA’s ability to test the stadium with Russian league games and install World Cup equipment. Outside the arena, deep snowdrifts cover much of an area that is due to be landscaped for the tournament and will host some facilities for fans.

Alexander Fetisov, deputy governor of the Samara region, said the stadium will be ready.

“I’d like to avoid unnecessary dramatization of the situation,” he said. “Everything is being done so that the stadium is commissioned in the time required.”

Samara isn’t the only World Cup field which has drawn attention in recent weeks. The stadium in Kazan has been widely criticized by Russian fans after a brown, muddy surface was used for league games after the winter break.

Smith said FIFA was offering Russia help to get its fields ready, adding, “We’re doing everything possible and we’re convinced that we’re going to have a very, very high standard of pitches at this tournament.”

Key newcomers for USMNT friendly

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While the excitement potential is high amongst big club USMNT call-ups like PSG’s Tim Weah and Everton’s Antonee Robinson, there are several other relative newcomers who are facing a more acute focus.

So yes, of course, we’re most excited to see the young guns fire away, but a few others will be under the microscope for different reasons.

[ MORE: Best PL summer buys ]

Paraguay is leaving some big names behind — Dario Lezcano, Jesus Medina, Edgar Benítez — but won’t be using as “B” or “C” of a squad as the USMNT. Key defenders Junior Alonso (Lille) and Gustavo Gomez (AC Milan) will be staring down the U.S. attack, while Atlanta United star Miguel Almiron will try his luck against the Yanks’ backs.

  1. The goalkeepers — With full respect to Bill Hamid and his five caps, the trio of backstops who could play against Paraguay are unknown entities on the senior international level. There are reasons to be excited about Alex Bono (Toronto FC) and Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew) going against Los Guaraníes — and Hamid, too — and standing behind a young and untested group of center backs should give plenty of chances to make a name for whoever is chosen (If Sarachan is more “woke” this go-round, it’ll be multiple keepers).
  2. Andriya Novakovich — The Telstar striker is checking all the boxes: 6-foot-4, productive on the youth level, and now succeeding overseas. The 21-year-old has 17 goals on loan from Reading in the Dutch second tier. While that’s far from a “Woah” figure considering the top-tier in the Netherlands isn’t exactly a defensive hot bed, it’s intriguing for Tuesday in North Carolina.
  3. Rubio Rubin — We’re hopeful Sarachan goes with a 4-4-2, which would allow both Rubin and Novakovich to get runs next to Bobby Wood. Rubin is seeing some time at Liga MX side Club Tijuana after his European adventure stalled following a hot start for Utrecht. He had an assist in CONCACAF Champions League play against Red Bulls this month.
  4. Tyler Adams — Speaking of that match, the Red Bulls got a goal from Adams. It’s fair to say he’s got the chance to be as special a player as Schalke youngster Weston McKennie (and would apparently like to join his USMNT teammate overseas). Adams and McKennie together could legit be an engine room for years. Will that begin on Tuesday?
  5. Cameron Carter-Vickers — The 20-year-old center back has shown resilience in England. His hot start to life at Sheffield United, on loan from Tottenham, cooled enough to have him sent back to North London, but Carter-Vickers has rebounded to become a key part of Ipswich Town’s back line. With 22-year-old Matt Miazga the only clear center back on the roster and older than him, CCV can quiet a lot of doubters.
  6. Kenny Saief — This guy has excited at nearly every turn since bursting onto the scene with Gent via the Israeli national team, and an injury cost him some momentum with the USMNT. Now healthy and on loan with Anderlecht, the same side which refined the fire of Sacha Kljestan, the once-capped Florida-born man is as intriguing as ever.

Season strugglers: Some ignominious PL performances

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Tuesday found us breaking ties on our “Most Impactful Premier League Summer Buys” rankings by digging through some advanced statistics sites.

In doing so, something struck us: We rarely if ever check out which players are faring the worst when it comes to those next level numbers.

Ah, the international break: Good for off-the-wall posts.

[ MORE: Alonso, Pedro have Morata’s back]

At the risk of kicking a player while he’s down, here are some negative numbers that stand out from the pack.

Of the 358 players who’ve played at least 10 Premier League matches, Joe Hart is having the worst season of the bunch according to Squawka. That’s a bit misleading due to how the site’s metrics operate, considering eight of the bottom 20 players are goalkeepers (and several, like Jonas Lossl and Jordan Pickford, are having outstanding campaigns).

So the unfortunate honor goes to Swansea defender Martin Olsson, who edges James McClean of West Brom for the infamy. Since the site does heap numbers on players by action accumulated, perhaps it’s better to single out the per-game and per-90 strugglers. Olsson and McClean are still very much near the bottom, but surprisingly Yannick Bolasie is the worst per game, and Swansea’s Wayne Routledge is having the least effective season per 90 minutes.

As for WhoScored, its metrics are hammering forwards, with Lys Mousset, Andre Gray, and Benik Afobe at the back of the back (ahead of McClean, again, who is a multi-site struggler).

These stats aren’t perfect, of course, and I like the idea of having McClean on my squad. But there are some other odds stats in the pack.

 These players might want to pass their next opportunity to the keeper. Of players with 10 or more shot attempts this season, Adam Lallana (11), Renato Sanches (12), Lewis Cook (14), and Dale Stephens (15) have failed to put a single shot on target.

— Of the 81 players who’ve tried their luck 30 times or more, these are the worst accuracy rates

— For perspective, Harry Kane has put 56 percent of his league-leading 162 shots on target, while second place man Mohamed Salah is 61 percent of 118.

— Defensive errors also can be increased significantly by the times a player is put under pressure by his team, which is why goalkeepers are high on Squawka’s list. Take them out, and you get a list with Spurs’ Eric Dier up top. Two of his six errors have led to goals against Tottenham, with Zanka (Huddersfield Town), Alfie Mawson (Swans), Andreas Christensen (Chelsea), and Shane Duffy (Brighton) next with four errors.