Southampton v Sunderland - Premier League

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.”

Prediction

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.

FIFA candidate Prince Ali claims voting pledge from Liberia

Jordan's Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, flanked by school-age soccer players in uniforms, speaks before about 300 guests during an event at a Roman amphitheater in Amman, Jordan, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. The prince is running for FIFA president, saying Wednesday he will fight "deep-seated corruption and political deal-making" and make soccer's scandal-scarred governing body more transparent. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali of Jordan says the Liberia soccer federation has pledged its vote to him.

Liberia follows Egypt as the second African voter claimed by Prince Ali since the Confederation of African Football’s leadership endorsed Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman of Bahrain on Friday.

The CAF executive committee urged the 54 African voters among FIFA’s 209-strong membership to back the sheikh in the Feb. 26 election.

Prince Ali’s campaign team on Saturday published a three-page letter of endorsement signed by Liberia federation president Musa Bility.

Bility writes that Prince Ali “represents real change” while other candidates are “not even prepared to criticize” the FIFA system.

Bility was himself an applicant in the presidential contest, then failed an integrity test judged by FIFA’s election monitoring committee.

LVG says Mourinho speculation is false, calls the whole thing “nonsense”

Chelsea's manager Jose Mourinho, center left, makes his way from the opposition dugout after greeting Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, centre right, during their English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Sunday Oct. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Louis Van Gaal is sick and tired of the media speculating about his employment (or potential lack thereof), as well as reports linking the presently unemployed Jose Mourinho to his job, so what we’re going to do now is speculate on those reports a bit more.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

But first, we’ll give Van Gaal the chance to tell his side of the story. Who better to explain what’s going on at Manchester United than the manager of Man United, right? OK, Louis, take it away, mate — quotes from the Guardian:

“The last two months have been very difficult for my wife, my kids, my grandchildren and my friends to cope with. For me too, but I can cope. In the Netherlands they know I am too arrogant to doubt myself, but I also know that such a nonsense is being created about me. I do not believe that there is already a relationship between José Mourinho and Manchester United.”

“It is logical when you have lost four matches in a row, people are bound to be doubting. … I criticize the media for inventing stories. I never hired security. Never ever. And I am walking on the streets without security and all the people I meet are very positive.”

OK, now that that’s out of the way, Jose Mourinho is definitely talking to Manchester United, or someone is doing so on his behalf. There’s arguably never been a more sitting-duck manager in world football than Van Gaal is right now — not only have the results been extremely “meh” for nearly two seasons now, but he’s also got less than 18 months left on his contract, which means it would cost the club considerably less to make him go away than, say, David Moyes, who still had more than five years(!!!) left on his deal when he was fired in April of his first season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL preview — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

Also, they were totally in for Pep Guardiola, too, and since they didn’t get him, they’ll have to respond thusly, and since Carlo Ancelotti has already been named Guardiola’s successor at Bayern Munich, Mourinho is the last “big name” out there right now. Unless, of course, they wanted to tap up Manuel Pellegrini, who’s on his way out to make room for Guardiola. Could be fun. But not as fun as Jose back in the Premier League, at Man United, in the same city with Pep. Remember the last time those two were employed on opposite sides of a heated rivalry?

As spectacular as this year’s PL season has been — and it’s bordering on the best of all time, still with 13 weeks to go — think about what that means for next season. It’s going to have be even more bonkers, so as not to seem boring by comparison. Louis van Gaal seems like a nice enough guy, but his team’s football isn’t that exciting on the field, and he offers little more off it. Mourinho isn’t the hero we deserve, but he’s certainly the one we need.

Another one: Lavezzi the latest star set for the riches of China

Paris Saint Germain's Ezequiel Lavezzi form Argentina, celebrates the opening goal during a French league one soccer match between Paris-Saint-Germain and Rennes at Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Paris Saint Germain clinhed its second straight French league title on Wednesday after rival Monaco drew 1-1 against French Cup holder Guingamp. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
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The list just keeps growing; Ezequiel Lavezzi, he of Paris Saint-Germain and Argentine national team fame, is the latest star leaving Europe behind with the Chinese Super League his next stop, according to multiple reports Saturday night.

[ MORE: The latest transfer news and gossip ]

Linked with a move to Premier League side Chelsea during the recently completed January transfer window, a move away from PSG never materialized for the 30-year-old. Not on the European continent, at least.

Now, the former Napoli, San Lorenzo and Estudiantes (Argentina) attacker is set for Shanghai Shenhua, where he’ll reportedly take home something in the $11-to-15-million-per-year ballpark. When you can somehow get a raise from your current deal with a Qatar Sports Investments-owned club… well, I guess you’d be dumb not to do it.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

It was already pretty well known Lavezzi would be leaving the French capital in 2016, but when his tenure survived through much of Europe’s winter window, it seemed he would hang around until the expiration of his current contract before moving elsewhere on a free transfer.

Then came the monstrous windfall of cash into and subsequent spending by CSL clubs over the last two weeks; Lavezzi joins the likes of Ramires, Gervinho, Jackson Martinez, Alex Teixeira, Demba Ba and Fredy Guarin, among others, to move to China for massive annual salaries. At Shenhua, Lavezzi will play alongside Ba and Guarin, as well as former Everton and New York Red Bulls man Tim Cahill, who made the move to China last year.

The CSL’s transfer window doesn’t close until Feb. 26, so the spending spree may well go on a little while long.

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Atleti bounce back to keep pressure on Barca

Atletico's Jose Maria Gimenez, right, celebrates after scoring a goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Atletico de Madrid and Eibar at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Atletico Madrid 3-1 Eibar

The race for the La Liga title isn’t over quite yet — though Barcelona are overwhelmingly favorites at the moment — and Atletico Madrid will have to keep winning, with just about no room for error, to keep it that way. On Saturday, they did just that by defending their home turf, to the tune of a 3-1 victory over Eibar.

Keko put the visitors ahead in the 46th minute, but Jose Gimenez quickly opened the scoring for Atleti and equalized on 56 minutes. Saul Niguez made it 2-1 to Atleti seven minutes later, and Fernando Torres’ 100th career goal (below video) gave Los Rojiblancos a bit of insurance in the first minute of second-half stoppage time. With the victory, Atleti are level on 51 points with Barca, but the Catalan giants have two games in hand on Madrid’s “other” team, the first of which they’ll play on Sunday.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Rayo Vallecano 2-0 Las Palmas
Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Villarreal
Sporting Gijon 1-1 Deportivo La Coruña

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Levante vs. Barcelona (6 a.m. ET)
Real Betis vs. Valencia (10 a.m. ET)
Celta Vigo vs. Sevilla (12:15 p.m. ET)
Granada vs. Real Madrid (2:30 p.m. ET)


Bologna 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina have left the door wide open for Inter Milan to re-enter the top three — and UEFA Champions League-qualifying — places with a 1-1 draw away to Bologna. The Viola finished the game with 10 men after Matias Fernandez was sent off for two yellow cards 10 minutes apart either side of halftime.

Their opening goal, which gave them the lead in the 59th minute, was beautifully worked and wonderfully taken by Federico Bernardeschi (below video). It was quickly canceled out, though, as Emanuele Giaccherini equalized four minutes later to earn a point and strengthen Bologna’s hold on 10th place in the league table.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Genoa 0-0 Lazio

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Hellas Verona vs. Inter Milan (6:30 a.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Carpi (9 a.m. ET)
Torino vs. Chievo (9 a.m. ET)
Frosinone vs. Juventus (9 a.m. ET)
Sassuolo vs. Palermo (9 a.m. ET)
AC Milan vs. Udinese (9 a.m. ET)
Atalanta vs. Empoli (12 p.m. ET)
Roma vs. Sampdoria (2:45 p.m. ET)