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England’s Jack Wilshere insecurity surfaces again after performance in Ukraine

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England’s obsession with Jack Wilshere’s born from his singularity. At least, his singularity in England. The Three Lions have produced their Steven Gerrards and Frank Lampards, but Jack Wilshere’s supposed to be something more akin to somebody you’d see at Barcelona, which is why Pep Guardiola’s 2011 assessment continues to be brought up.

The then Barcelona boss, complimentary of the Arsenal talent’s skill, also put England’s Wilshere awe in perspective:

“Wilshere is a top player. He is an excellent player, not just Arsenal, but also for the national team. [But] he is lucky because we have many players in the second team like him but he plays because there is no pressure at his club to win titles.”

That Guardiola was responding to a question from English media about the then 19-year-old’s quality also speaks to the obsession. English soccer identity isn’t going to live or die with his success, but their culture will sure feel better about itself if Wilshere lives provides a return on their emotional investment.

Knowing that helps explain why Wilshere’s health is always headline news, as it is today. One day after England’s “awful” performance in a 0-0 World Cup Qualifying draw at Ukraine (Gary Lineker’s words), Roy Hodgson was forced to make excuses for his young midfielder, explaining that fitness played a part in Wilshere’s performance.

Wilshere started but was brought off in the second half. Whereas he would normally be expected to be among England’s most prolific and accurate passers, the Arsenal midfielder completed only 16 of his 24 attempts. His three turnovers where the most on his team.

From The Telegraph, in an article headlined “England manager Roy Hodgson defends Jack Wilshere form against Ukraine, saying: ‘he’s still not 100 per cent'” the led the paper’s online sports section:

“Jack is still looking for full fitness,” said Hodgson. “That is why we took him off in the second-half.

“We certainly saw a much more effective Jack against Moldova, but he still did his work against Ukraine and, tactically, did all the things I asked of him.”

Against Moldova last Friday, a 4-0 win at home, it’s all good. Wilshere’s fine. The team looks good. Four days later, the team’s in Ukraine playing a much more difficult opponent, and Wilshere’s now completely fit. At least, that’s what gets discussed in public when we need to explain why Wilshere isn’t performing like the English Andres Iniesta.

source: Getty Images
Jack Wilshere missed the 2011-12 Premier League season with an ankle injury but returned to make 25 appearances in 2012-13. Despite one goal and nine assists in 65 career Premier League appearances, Wilshere remains the subject of much hope and attention in England.

If Hodgson says so, we should take him at his word. Wilshere is almost certainly not 100 percent. At the same time, is Wilshere not allowed to merely have a bad game? If her was fit enough to start against both Moldova and Ukraine, to what extent should fitness be used as an excuse? Isn’t it better to say that Wilshere, though not fully fit, is capable of playing better, yet against Ukraine, he merely had a bad game? Or is he not permitted the same ups and downs as a normal player?

Consider some other headlines around England on Wednesday. One calling for Hodgson to get more out of his midfield is fair, though it may be reading too much into one match’s result. Another said Wilshere’s not ready for international soccer, something I’m assuming wasn’t evident on Friday, while England were winning. Another sees Wilshere as fighting to fulfill his promise, which is curious pessimism coming from the same optimists that created this tension.

The whole conversation is absurd, particularly considering Wilshere’s only 21 years old. He has plenty of time to develop into a legitimate star, but given the undo hype around him, there’s a paranoia that surrounds every Wilshere performance. His apparent brittle physical state doesn’t help (playing only 25 games over the previous two seasons), but the underlying causes remain the same. Wilshere is a very good player but overhyped, leading to these insanely paranoid conversations about his form whenever he doesn’t meet England’s potentially unreachable expectations.

As Guardiola said two years ago, there were players in Barcelona’s second team that rivaled Wilshere. That’s not a bad thing. One of those players (Thiago Alcantara) was bought by Bayern Munich for $33.2 million this summer. It’s not as if Guardiola was dismissing his talent. Yet that’s the quote many choose to remember, a choice made from a viewpoint that also worries about a down game in Ukraine and whether Wilshere will be the English Iniesta when he may “only” be Alcantara.

These are the type of narratives that get written by uncertain. Sometimes that’s labeled insecurity.  Chips on shoulders are also discussed. It’s why U.S. fans latched on to Freddy Adu and are constantly searching for their first soccer superstar. It’s why Barry Bannan was briefly hailed by Scotland, and why so much hope was tied into Aaron Ramsey in Wales. It’s also why you don’t hear these stories from places like Brazil, Argentina, Spain, and Germany.

A lot of countries need a Jack Wilshere. They’re waiting for somebody to live up to the hype. But that doesn’t mean the hype’s fair. And that doesn’t mean conversations centered around one sub-par performance are completely rational.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks – Week 14

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Week 14 of the Premier League is here.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

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.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Click play on the videos below to hear my score prediction and preview of each game.

[ VIDEO: Previews of every PL game – Week 14 ]

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

Stoke City 2-0 Burnley – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Tottenham 3-1 Swansea City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Crystal Palace 0-2 Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Man City 1-2 Chelsea – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

West Ham 2-3 Arsenal – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

West Brom 1-1 Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Bournemouth 1-2 Liverpool – (Sunday, 8:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Middlesbrough 1-0 Hull City – (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

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

Everton 2-2 Man United – (Sunday, 11 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

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

Conte, Guardiola share thoughts on each other ahead of Chelsea-Man City

COBHAM, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 21: Chelsea Manager, Antonio Conte watches on during the Premier League 2 match between Chelsea and Southampton at Chelsea Training Ground on November 21, 2016 in Cobham, England.  (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images
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It’s no surprise that the managers are in focus as tactical wizards Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola prepare to face off for the first time.

The Etihad Stadium will be the scene for Saturday’s 7:30 a.m. EDT kickoff, and pur own Joe Prince-Wright was on the scene for Friday’s prematch presser.

He shared the sentiments of the Stamford Bridge boss, who was — no surprise — asked about Guardiola.

[ MAN UTD: Schweinsteiger could stay ]

“I have great respect (for Guardiola),” Conte said. “I think he is a fantastic manager and is doing fantastic work with Manchester City.”

One terrific little run from Conte had to do with the differences between him and Guardiola… as players. The Chelsea and Man City bosses both played in Serie A during the early part of this century.

“He was a fantastic midfielder and we had different characteristics. He was more of a pivot in front of the defensive line. I was more offensive, with penetration. I think I ran more than him, but he thought more than me with the ball.”

It wasn’t long before Guardiola was asked for his thoughts on Conte. Here they are, courtesy Sky Sports:

“He (Antonio Conte) made an exceptional job in Turin and in the national job. It doesn’t matter if it is Serie A or the national team, you realise his strengths.

“He has started here with maybe not good results, but they have won last seven games, conceding one goal. That says a lot about how good they are. They were contenders to win the Premier League from the beginning.

“Now, maybe more than before. It’s a good test for us.”

Who’s excited for Saturday’s early kickoff?

Follow @NicholasMendola

Chapecoense tragedy survivor could recover to play again

ADDS NAMES - In this Nov. 2, 2016 photo, players of Brazil's Chapecoense team pose before a Copa Sudamericana soccer match against Argentina's San Lorenzo in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Top row from left, goalkeeper Marcos Danilo Padilha, Bruno Rangel Domingues, Helio Hermito Zampier Neto, Cleber Santana Loureiro, Willian Thiago. Bottom row from left, Guilherme Gimenez de Souza, Ananias Eloi Castro Monteiro, Tiago "Tiaguinho" Da Rocha Vieira, Matheus Bitencourt da Silva, Dener Assuncao Braz and Jose "Gil" Gildeixon Clemente de Paiva. A plane carrying the Brazilian soccer club Chapecoense team that was on it's way for a Copa Sudamericana final match against Colombia's Atletico Nacional crashed in a mountainous area outside Medellin, Colombian officials said Tuesday, Nov. 29. (AP Photo/Gustavo Garello)
AP Photo/Gustavo Garello
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Remarkably, one of the Chapecoense players who survived the deadly plane crash in Colombia may yet take the field again.

Remarkable? Maybe that’s too tame. Astonishing, perhaps.

Helio Hermito Zampier Neto, 31, needed knee, lung, wrist, and head surgery following the crash that killed 71 people.

[ USMNT: Moyes updates Gooch injury ]

It’s a comeback story that will be followed by many, and Neto’s father says it’s very real. The center back bounced between Brazil’s Serie A and B, even going on loan at a Serie D side before finding his place at Chape.

From the BBC:

Neto’s father, Helam, said on Facebook that news of his recovery was giving the family “renewed hope and faith”.

“My son is getting better and better. He has just undergone surgery on his leg and doctors say he will return to football,” he said.

“We shall continue praying because we still need his discharge from hospital to see him closely.”

Forca Chape.

Follow @NicholasMendola

WATCH, STREAM: Premier League TV schedule – Week 14

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Week 14 of the 2016-17 Premier League season is here.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Manchester City host Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday (7:30 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) as two title contenders collide. Pep Guardiola vs. Antonio Conte. Sergio Aguero vs. Diego Costa. It will be a mammoth clash as first plays third.

Then Tottenham Hotspur look to bounce back from their first defeat of the season as they host Swansea City (10 a.m. ET live NBCSN andonline via NBC Sports.com) at White Hart Lane. Bob Bradley‘s Swansea got their first win under his stewardship last week and they’ll look to build on that and drag themselves out of the relegation zone.

As the same time struggling Crystal Palace welcome Southampton to Selhurst Park (10 a.m. ET live CNBC and online via NBC Sports.com) with Alan Pardew looking to avoid a seventh-straight defeat which could mean the end for him in south London. Saints are on a good run after wins against Everton and Arsenal in their last two game.s

Rounding things off on Saturday we have a big London derby between West Ham and Arsenal (12:30 p.m. ET live NBC and online via NBC Sports.com) at the London Stadium with Arsene Wenger‘s side looking to go 13 games unbeaten in the PL. West Ham have shored things up at the back in recent weeks and Slaven Bilic will look to Dimtri Payet and a hostile atmosphere to try and get past the Gunners.

On Sunday Bournemouth host Liverpool (8:30 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) with Jurgen Klopp‘s side looking to stay in touch at the top and get through a spell of injuries impacting their forwards. The Cherries have a young, hungry team and will be eager to take a big scalp and grab a first-ever win against Liverpool. Later on Sunday Everton welcome Manchester United to Goodison Park (11 a.m. ET live on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) with both teams so far failing to live up to lofty preseason expectations as they’re losing ground with the top four.

On Monday Middlesbrough welcome Hull City to the Riverside Stadium (3 p.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) in a big battle in the north east with both teams eager to move up to the table and edge towards 40 points as quickly as possible.

You can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App, plus you can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at 10 a.m. ET for all the goals as they go in. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App,

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here. They are available soon after the final whistle, but rights limit us to a certain number each week. Looking for game highlights? Try this. Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Man City  vs. Chelsea – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Swansea City – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Southampton – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Brom vs. Watford – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Sunderland vs. Leicester City – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Burnley  – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET:  West Ham vs. Arsenal – NBC [STREAM]

Sunday
8:30 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Liverpool – NBCSN [STREAM]
11 a.m. ET: Everton vs. Man United – NBCSN [STREAM]

Monday
3 p.m. ET: Middlesbrough vs. Hull City – NBCSN [STREAM]