Prindi’s Premier League Picks: Newcastle and Stoke City to surprise

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Picking Premier League matches is haaard dang work and quite frankly, I’m crap at it. I’d like to think it has to do with the fact that the beautiful game has three possible results (win, draw, loss) but that’s basically just an excuse. Nevertheless, I enjoy the banter and figure at the very least I can provide you all with some fodder to tear me up with in the comments. So without further ado, let’s get it on.

Manchester United vs. Crystal Palace (Sat. 7:45 am ET, Old Trafford)

‘All in’ on Manchester United. That’s the prevailing sentiment this week among anyone who has the champions left in their Survivor pool and as heavy 4/21 favorites, Vegas agrees. Sure, they were stuffed goalless in their last two league fixtures but in Palace the Red Devils see a squad that’s prime for the picking as manager Ian Holloway will be in the seats serving a two match ban.

Holloway’s side will nevertheless make a go of it, just as his Blackpool squad did last time the manager was in the Premier League. In both fixtures against United during the 2011-12 season, the Tangerines managed to take the lead before conceding defeat. The four goals Blackpool scored in those fixtures were a testament to Holloway’s philosophy of attacking football, regardless of the opponent.

Attacking United may prove a bit more difficult this time around as Marouane Fellaini looks likely to partner Michael Carrick in the holding role. The Belgian’s debut for United should be a good watch, especially when he employs those trademark marauding runs.

Awaiting Fellaini, however, are two of the more underrated players in the league, Palace wrecking balls, Mile Jedinak and Kagisho Dikgacoi. If United are to do the damage they’ll need to get past these two beasts and Shinji Kagawa may be just the man to make that happen. The Japanese international is a tricky little customer and could see his name on the team sheet as Wayne Rooney remains sidelined with that gaping head injury.

Expect an all-action display with goals galore. But in the end, United are as safe a bet as there is and that’s why they’re my ‘Lock of the Week’.

Sunderland vs. Arsenal (Sat. 10:00am ET, Stadium of Light)

source:  Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil.

Have you heard that Arsenal signed Mesut Ozil? You may have read about it somewhere. Or everywhere. My Mom actually wrote a nice little piece about the German international in her Facebook timeline earlier this week. Fascinating stuff.

In all seriousness, Arsenal welcome the German international (whose last name is actually pronounced ‘Er-zill’, believe it or not) to the squad and for his first test he gets to head north to the Stadium of Light to get kicked around by Sunderland. Yes, Steven Fletcher’s back but Paulo Di Canio sold their best player in Stephane Sessegnon so how exactly the Black Cats expect to create goals remains a mystery.

Vegas has Arsenal as huge favorites to win (20/31) and I’m not one to disagree.

Aston Villa vs. Newcastle United (Sat. 10:00am ET, Villa Park) 

source:  Forget Raymond, Everybody loves Villa. Three weeks into the season and that’s abundantly clear. And justifiably so as Paul Lambert’s influence is finally paying dividends after a hellacious 2012-13 campaign. After knocking off Arsenal and playing both Liverpool and Chelsea tight, most see Newcastle as a layup for the Midland’s team.

But that’s the kind of dangerous thinking that got Manchester City in trouble against Cardiff City a few weeks back. The fact is, Newcastle has dominated this Premier League fixture in the past, winning 19 of 38 encounters and losing only eight times. In addition, Alan Pardew has Villa’s number, winning five of nine matches against them during his managerial career in the Premier League.

Newcastle has been shooting blanks on the offensive end but that could well become a thing of the past this weekend as the Magpies have Papiss Cisse, Loic Remy and Yoan Gouffran all healthy.

Expect this to be hard fought match (Villa lead the league in yellow cards with 12) and while Vegas gives the home side the edge (11/10), I’m making this my ‘Upset of the Week’ and say Newcastle wins it.

Fulham vs. West Bromwich Albion (Sat. 10:00am ET, Craven Cottage)

source: Getty ImagesPretty tough to get excited about this matchup. Fulham’s offense has looked positively anemic although the Cottagers have managed to score twice this season.

In the world of West Brom, that’s quite an achievement as the Baggies are the only team in the league that has yet to score a goal. The reason? A lack of shots, of course. As in four. Four total shots after 270 minutes of play.

But West Brom manager Steve Clarke has gone out and done something about the problem, bringing in Big Victor Anichebe from Everton. Fingers crossed the Nigerian international can add some excitement to a match that Vegas has the Cottagers as slight favorites to win at 21/20.

This one has draw written all over it.

Hull City vs. Cardiff City (Sat. 10:00am ET, The Kingston Communications Stadium)

source:

In the battle of the new City’s in the league, Hull and Cardiff should be an entertaining affair. Hull will look for their second consecutive home victory following their 1-0 victory over Norwich but will have to do so without forward Yannick Sagbo, who is serving the last of his three match ban.

For Cardiff, they will be without striker Andreas Cornelius while goalkeeper David Marshall is doubtful after suffering a hip injury in Scotland’s FIFA World Cup qualifying win over Macedonia on Tuesday.

The sharps give Hull (5/4) the slight edge in this one but from my end, the introduction of Peter Odemwingie at Cardiff should be the difference in handing the Bluebirds the win.

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Norwich City (Sat. 10:00am ET, White Hart Lane)

source:  Hopefully Andre Villas-Boas received plenty of hugs over the international break because following Spurs 1-0 loss to Arsenal he had the look of a boy who’d lost his puppy. ‘It’s ok,‘ I wanted to tell Andre, ‘There tend to be growing pains when you bring in eight new players and sell your golden boy.

But by match week four, some things should start to fall into place and scoring from the run of play is one of them. That has to happen for Spurs. No more of these penalties for Soldado, it’s time the Spaniard throws out some of that poacher love he’s so well known for.

This Norwich City side is not to be taken lightly but Spurs need the points to stay among the league’s elite. That’s why Vegas favors them at 10/23 and I believe they’ll come good.

Stoke City vs. Manchester City (Sat. 10:00am ET, Britannia Stadium)

source:  Manchester City are heavy favorites (19/4) to do the damage at Stoke City and with the roster that Manuel Pellegrini has at his disposal, it’s no wonder.

But Stoke City are a plucky side and having won successive league games for the fourth time in the last 18 months, the Potters are full of confidence. A secondary source of that confidence comes from the Britannia Stadium, where Stoke have never lost to City, having won once and drawn four times.

Oh yes, my pretties. I’m going there. Stoke are snatching a point in this match.

Everton vs. Chelsea (Sat. 12:30pm ET, Goodison Park)

source:  You know that look of brazen confidence that Jose Mourinho loves to don when his side is about to provide a thumping? That will be on full display Saturday when Chelsea head to Goodison Park. The Portuguese manager has never lost to the Toffees in his six previous meetings with Everton, winning four and drawing two.

Factor in the arrival of one of his favorite past crushes, Samuel Eto’o (who somehow landed at Chelsea on a FREE transfer from Anzhi – totally ridiculous), and Brazilian attacking midfielder Willian, and The Special One has plenty of high-powered toys to chose from.

It’s perhaps no surprise then that Vegas is backing Chelsea at 5/4 to take all three points. Roberto Martinez’ side may have something to say about that. The Toffees remain one of three unbeaten sides in the league and despite those draws coming against less than enviable teams, Everton have showed promise. With a bit of luck and perhaps a change in striker – giving the woeful Nikica Jelavic a break in favor of Arouna Kone or, dare I say it, 19 year old Barcelona sensation Gerard Deulofeu – Everton’s struggle in front of net could soon be a thing of the past.

It’s always a tasty affair when these two sides meet and tomorrow should be no different. But I think that smug look on Jose’s face turns sour after 90 minutes when these sides draw even.

Southampton vs. West Ham United (Sun. 11:00 am ET, St. Mary’s Stadium)

source:  West Ham hates the road. The Hammers haven’t won an away fixture since February and last year they scored only 11 goal outside of Upton Park. With Andy Carroll coming down with yet another injury, West Ham is left with Modibo Maiga and Mladen Petric to make things happen up front.

Making matters worse Stewart Downing, Joe Cole and George McCartney all join Carroll on the sideline while the Saints only injury concern is a twisted ankle to Danny Fox. Factor in that raucus St. Mary’s crowd and Southampton (5/4) should take all three points.

Swansea City vs. Liverpool (Mon. 3:00 pm ET, Liberty Stadium)

source:  Liverpool enters the match on their best start to a season since 1994. Ahhhh, glory days.

Could this finally be the season the good times return to Liverpool? Monday’s fixture at Swansea City will provide an excellent litmus test as the Reds have proven themselves against top competition, so the question now becomes –  Can they avoid that next match letdown that has plagued them over the last few years?

It will be a homecoming for former Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers, who managed a win against Liverpool when he coached the Swans back in 2012. In all three of the other fixtures between these two sides in the league, however, the Swans have failed to score. It’s a streak that Swansea manager Michael Laudrup will look to break with the swashbuckling style of Michu and that thundertrunk legs of Wilfred Bony.

Liverpool are the favorites to win at 12/5 but this match has all the makings of an upset. Look for Swansea to get a result in this match.

Money from Wembley replay will ‘support Rochdale for two or three years’

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Worst-case scenario for Tottenham Hotspur: drawing League One side Rochdale in Sunday’s FA Cup fifth-round clash; best-case scenario for the Dale: drawing the Premier League giants and forcing a replay at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

For a club the size of Rochdale — 10,200-seat stadium, and never been above the third tier of English soccer — the financial impact of raking in half of the game’s gate receipts “will support the club for the next two or three years,” according to manager Keith Hill — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t know how much it is worth but a lot of money has gone into the new pitch. That was a heavy investment for us. Hopefully the money we make will support the club for the next two or three years. We will cut our cloth accordingly and we won’t be in debt.”

As for Steve Davies’ 93rd-minute equalizer, Hill was adamant that it was nothing short of what they “deserved”:

“It was a feeling of reward, not relief, because the performance deserved at least the opportunity for us to go to Wembley for a replay. I’ve always wanted to do that against a Premier League team and manager. Why not take them on and try to win? It could have been football suicide but I thought we gained their respect and to score the goal we did was tremendous. The players were magnificent.”

Tottenham Hotspur, soccer philanthropists.

Try, try again: Messi seeks 1st goal vs. Chelsea in 9th attempt

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LONDON (AP) As unlikely as it sounds, Lionel Messi is still waiting to score his first goal against Chelsea after drawing a blank in eight previous Champions League matches.

The five-time World Player of the Year is likely to get another chance to break his duck this week and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte believes the past will count for little when Barcelona visits Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

“I hope we maintain this tradition but we are speaking about a fantastic player,” Conte said ahead of the last-16, first-leg Champions League game. “The most important thing is the present.

“We must have great respect but at the same time we must be excited to play this type of game and take on this type of challenge. It won’t be easy because we know very well this player, we are talking about one of the best in the world.”

The teams have produced some epic games in the past although they have not met in the Champions League since Chelsea pulled off a remarkable backs-to-the-wall semifinal victory over Barcelona on the way to winning the trophy in 2012.

Messi missed a penalty in the second leg at the Nou Camp as the London club overcame the first-half dismissal of captain John Terry, and a 2-0 deficit, to draw the game 2-2 and secure an unforgettable 3-2 aggregate win.

Bayern Munich hosts Besiktas in Tuesday’s other game while the following day sees Manchester United traveling to Sevilla, and Shakhtar Donetsk playing host to Roma.

Two weeks ago, the prospect of a Chelsea win over Barca would have been unthinkable after Conte’s men had slumped to successive defeats by two of the Premier League’s lesser lights.

The London club was still smarting from a 3-0 home loss against Bournemouth when it traveled to Watford and succumbed to an embarrassing 4-1 reverse.

Chelsea has got back on track since then, though, easing past West Bromwich Albion 3-0 in the league last Monday before swatting aside second-tier Hull 4-0 in the FA Cup four days later.

Conte has several selection dilemmas. He must choose between captain Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger for a place at the back, and between Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud up front.

Cesc Fabregas will also be desperate to play against his former team but may have to settle for a spot on the bench.

Barca has lost only once in 38 matches this season since falling in the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid in August. It has a seven-point lead at the top of La Liga and has reached the final of the Copa del Rey.

Messi is having another stellar campaign, scoring 27 times in all competitions, and he helped set up two goals in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Eibar.

Philippe Coutinho is ineligible for Barca following his move from Liverpool.

Mourinho claiming injury crisis ahead of CL showdown

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The next three weeks will go a long way toward defining Jose Mourinho’s second season at Manchester United, with the Red Devils facing not only fellow top-four aspirers Chelsea and Liverpool, but also contesting their Champions League round-of-16 tie with Sevilla.

[ MORE: VAR provider admits incorrect graphic displayed on TV ]

Thus, it’s not exactly the most convenient time for the words “injury crisis” to rear their ugly heads yet again, but that’s the challenge Mourinho claims he faces ahead of Wednesday’s CL clash.

Paul Pogba missed Saturday’s FA Cup victory with a last-minute illness; Marcus Rashford is dealing with a leg injury and remains questionable, as are Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Marouane Fellaini are all but officially out, according to Mourinho — quotes from ESPN.co.uk:

“I didn’t rest one single player so we had today every player available here. I didn’t rest anyone. I brought two kids that played on Friday 90 minutes [for the under-23s] because I don’t have another player, so we arrive at this crucial moment with some problems.”

“Can we recover some of them to Wednesday? I believe so. I think Rashford, Herrera, Valencia — I think they have a chance.

“Paul, I don’t know. Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Marouane, Zlatan — I don’t think they have any chance.”

Mourinho dealt with a similar rash of injuries very late on last season, as his side barreled its way into, and eventually won, the Europa League final, securing a place in the CL this season. With a top-four finish all but out of reach at the time, Mourinho opted to rest his bare-bones group of first-team regulars in Premier League action and prioritize Europe’s “other” competition.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

This time around, United sit second in the PL table, just four points clear of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur, and the path to winning the CL will prove far more difficult than taking on the likes of Saint-Etienne, Rostov, Anderlecht, Celta Vigo and Ajax.

Serie A: Napoli, Juve hold serve in 1-point title race

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona now 31 games unbeaten | Real Madrid 17 points behind ]

Napoli 1-0 SPAL 2013

The battle for Serie A supremacy isn’t ending anytime soon, as Napoli and Juventus continue to match one another (nine straight wins for each side) in Europe’s only remaining major title race.

On Sunday, they even traded 1-0 victories — Napoli at home to SPAL 2013, with Juve triumphing over Torino in the Turin derby.

Brazilian midfielder Allan bagged the only goal for Napoli after just six minutes, finishing off a mesmerizing, free-flowing move that’s become synonymous with Napoli this season. The video-assisting referee came into play just after the hour mark, when Marek Hamsik headed home to make it 2-0 before the VAR wiped it away for offside.

Napoli’s current nine-game winning streak is the longest in club history.

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Juve’s victory came at something of a cost, though, as star striker Gonzalo Higuain was lost to an ankle injury after just a quarter-hour (the injury occurred after just three minutes), followed by a potentially serious knee injury for Federico Bernardeschi, who replaced Higuain, in second-half stoppage time. Higuain isn’t expected to miss significant time, with the club calling it a twisted ankle.

In between the injuries came Alex Sandro‘s 33rd-minute winner, a tap-in from close range masterfully set up by Bernardeschi. One additional positive for Juve: Sunday also saw Paulo Dybala return after missing five weeks with a hamstring injury. The Argentine star entered as a second-half substitute.

“Paulo played 30 minutes at a good level,” Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri said. “I’m pleased with his and everyone else’s performance. This is a good result against a well-organized Torino side.”

Elsewhere in Serie A

AC Milan 1-0 Sampdoria
Atalanta 1-1 Fiorentina
Bologna 2-1 Sassuolo
Benevento 3-2 Crotone