Premier League Preview: Manchester City vs. Manchester United

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  • Manchester City leads the Premier League in average possession at 58.39% per match
  • Wayne Rooney has now either scored or assisted 40 goals in his last 44 Premier League games
  • Six of the last seven meetings between Manchester City and Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium have seen fewer than two goals scored

Ah, the Manchester Derby.

Arguably the most entertaining derby in all the land, the battle between blue and red in the city of Manchester returns to audiences this Sunday (11:00 am ET on NBCSN, watch live via NBC Sports Live Extra). Both sides enter the match with new managers at the helm in Manuel Pellegrini and David Moyes, and even on record at 2-1-1 means a loss for either club could result in them slipping out of the Top 5.

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David Moyes and Manuel Pellegrini both make their derby debut this Sunday, 11:00 am ET on NBCSN.

For City, they enter the match not only looking to take points from their rival but also to set right an inconsistent start to the season. After a dominant 4-0 victory over Newcastle to start the season, City lost 3-2 to Cardiff before skipping past Hull City 2-0 in a hard fought match and drawing 0-0 with Stoke City.

Aside from last weekend’s lifeless offensive performance at the Britannia, City’s main problem has been in defense. With Vincent Kompany injured for the first four Premier League matches of the season, Pellegrini was forced to deploy center-back combinations of Joleon Lescott,  Javi Garcia and Matija Natasic. The inconsistent performances and lack of leadership had supporters worried but with Kompany’s emphatic return in Tuesday’s 3-0 Champions League victory Victoria Plzen, stability appears to have returned to the Etihad.

For United, Sunday’s match represents another chance for their new-look offense to gel. Last weekend saw Wayne Rooney recover from a head gash to go 90 minutes strong in the supporting striker role behind Robin van Persie. The Englishman scored a fantastic free-kick and his overall performance received rave reviews, prompting manager David Moyes to confirm that unlike last season, Rooney would not be used in the midfield.

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Since 2011-12, Wayne Rooney has played in 64 Premier League matches, scoring 40 goals and notching 16 assists.

The Scot’s stroke of confidence in his temperamental striker appears to have paid off as Rooney joined United’s prestigious 200 goal club on Tuesday night after scoring twice in the 4-2 Champions League victory over Bayer Leverkusen. The victory also saw the full debut of Marouane Fellaini, whose harrowing presence and crunching tackles released pressure on Michael Carrick and provided Rooney with additional space in which to operate.

A head-to-head look at each club’s form and the history of the derby shows that Sunday’s match should be a hotly contested affair. City have won seven and lost one of their last eight home games in the Premier League while defeat to Liverpool in their last away game ended a run of 13 matches unbeaten for United. Of the last five Premier League derbies contested at the Etihad, City have only one a single match. But from the last four Premier League derbies overall, the Citizens have won three of those contests.

What They’re Saying

City goalkeeper Joe Hart: “The derby is one of the most anticipated and exciting games in world football. As players, we are all looking forward to Sunday, and we know that the fans will be too. The home support is so important for us, and I know they will be like an extra man for the team on the day.”

City manager Manuel Pellegrini: “We have the derby next Sunday so winning away in the Champions League and scoring three goals, having three or four more chances to score and keeping a clean sheet always gives you a lot of confidence.”

United midfielder Michael Carrick [on Rooney]: “It was probably Wayne’s best performance that I’ve seen for a while. It’s great to have him in that form – he can be untouchable when he’s like that.”

United defender Chris Smalling: “It is a game that we all relish. It is better going to their stadium, it is backs to the wall and we will come out fighting.”

Prediction

While the argument can be made for either side to win this match, the good part is that it’s unlikely to end in a draw as there has only been a single stalemate (the 0-0 result in 2010-11) in the last 15 Manchester derbies in the Premier League. Both clubs come in flying high after dominant mid-week performances in Europe but for me, United has hit its stride quicker than City. Rooney is on fire, Van Persie continues to terrorize, Fellaini has added bite to the midfield while the back four – despite the loss of Rafael – looks rock solid. Three points to the Red Devils in what promises to be another classic Manchester Derby.

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 17 of its last 23 Premier League games
  • Alvaro Morata has 3 goals and 2 assists, all with his head
  • Stoke has lost just 1 of its past 7 home games vs defending champions

Eden Hazard is back and at full strength as Chelsea travels to the Britannia to take on Stoke City Saturday (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

With Hazard back and Diego Costa finally shed to Atletico Madrid, the Blues have positioned themselves to make a run at the Premier League’s top spot. Chelsea has not lost since their Opening Day misstep against Burnley, and despite firing a blank in last weekend’s 0-0 draw with the Gunners, Chelsea is still just three points off the top spot, and will look to put pressure on the Manchester clubs.

In addition to Hazard, the Blues also get Temoue Bakayoko and Pedro back in the lineup as well, although David Luiz is suspended after his late red card last weekend.

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This season has been a roller coaster ride for Stoke City, having picked up four points against Arsenal and Manchester United, but also losing to Newcastle and Everton, plus a very disappointing defeat midweek to Bristol City in the Cup. The Potters are missing a host of defenders, with Geoff Cameron and Ryan Shawcross both injured, plus Kurt Zouma ineligible to face his parent club. Kevin Wimmer is also touch and go with a hamstring injury, not expected to be available.

What they’re saying

Mark Hughes on Chelsea’s discipline issues: “Chelsea at the moment look like they are getting yellow and red cards more frequently, but that might be just an anomaly, something happening in the moment. I don’t think it is prevalent in their team. They are just strong when they need to be. It is not going to be tactic we are going to irritate them with, to step over the line, because if I’m honest I don’t think I’ll have the players to do that.”

Antonio Conte on Stoke: “The most important thing for us is to go game by game. Tomorrow it will be a really tough game. We must prepare very well this game in all the situations, tactically, physically, to be disciplined. Stoke won against Arsenal and then drew against Manchester United. It means Stoke is a really good team.”

Prediction

Stoke City has given tough teams trouble, and could again if Maxim Chupo-Moting shows up at his best again, but it’s much more likely that Chelsea will ease by in this game. The Potters have fallen off slightly this season, and while their draw against Manchester United shows they pack some punch, it won’t be enough to see off a Chelsea side buoyed by the return of Eden Hazard. Chelsea could win their opening three Premier League away matches for the first time since 2009…their third away fixture of that campaign was a 2-1 victory at Stoke, so we’ll go for the same scoreline here.

Hope Solo says she has settled grievance with US Soccer

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Hope Solo has settled a grievance with U.S. Soccer over her suspension from the women’s national team following comments she made at the Rio Olympics.

The settlement was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. The 35-year-old goalkeeper was suspended for six months and her contract with the federation was terminated after she called the Swedish team “a bunch of cowards” following the U.S. team’s quarterfinal loss.

Details about the settlement, reached last month, were not released. The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Players Association filed the grievance on Solo’s behalf.

In a statement provided Friday to The Associated Press, Solo reiterated her regret over the comments.

“As I expressed in my apology to the Swedish captain immediately following the match, I have tremendous respect for the Swedish team, and in describing the style of play, I used a choice of words that was both offensive and not at all what I had intended to convey,” she said.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks ]

“We have amicably resolved the matter and are moving forward in a positive way,” she added.

U.S. Soccer did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Women’s Soccer Team Players Association declined to comment.

Solo anchored the team in goal for the 2015 Women’s World Cup victory, allowing just three goals in seven games with five shutouts during the tournament – earning her a second straight Golden Glove Award.

For her career, Solo has made 202 total appearances with the national team, with 153 wins and an international-record 102 shutouts.

The defending champion U.S. women were ousted from the Olympics last summer when Sweden advanced 4-3 on penalty kicks following a 1-1 draw.

Solo’s “cowards” quote came immediately following the loss. Sweden went on to play in the gold-medal match against Germany.

Solo told the AP in an interview late last year that she spoke to coach Jill Ellis and U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati following the loss, and felt that the issue was put to rest. After she returned to the United States, she said she was blindsided by the announcement about her suspension.

She said she believes U.S. Soccer wanted her off negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. Solo has been an outspoken advocate for equal pay and was among the players who filed a complaint against the federation with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging wage discrimination.

“Let’s call it what is, which is a firing,” Solo told AP then. “It was a termination of my contract effective immediately with severance. That is a firing. It wasn’t a suspension, that’s what they told the media because it looked better. But I got fired. I got fired for what they say was using the word `cowards’ but in reality they got rid of an adversary in the fight for equal pay.”

U.S. Soccer said at the time that Solo was suspended following a culmination of actions, and separately her contract was also terminated with the team.

Awful goalkeeping howler dooms Bayern to draw

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Bayern fans are already counting down the days until Manuel Neuer’s return in goal.

In his absence, Sven Ulreich has earned a pair of starts in Bundesliga play, and the most recent has not ended well. With Bayern leading Wolfsburg 2-0, Ulreich completely botched a simple save leading to Wolfsburg’s first goal, sparking a comeback from the visitors.

As Max Arnold delivered a free-kick 10 minutes after halftime, the ball sailed just over the wall and directly at Ulreich’s head. Instead of catching the attempt or using both hands to parry the shot, Ulreich raised just his right hand and failed to connect fully. The ball glanced off the side of his palm and into the back of the net to bring Wolfsburg a goal back.

The free-kick had decent pace, and it didn’t help that Sebastian Rudy made a poor attempt to block the delivery, but Ulreich won’t want to see a replay of that chance, as he made a hideous attempt to stop the shot. Wolfsburg would eventually equalize with just seven minutes remaining in the match as Daniel Didavi scored a pinpoint header in off the post. Ruddy let Didavi sneak behind him, and Paul Verhaegh delivered a fantastic long ball into the box for the 27-year-old to redirect in.

The draw means Bayern has failed to put pressure on Borussia Dortmund this weekend, leaving Die Roten level with their Dortmund rivals on 13 points with the latter still to host Borussia Monchengladbach on Saturday.

Neuer likely won’t be back until January thanks to yet another foot injury, leaving Bayern to either continue along with Ulreich and hope he improves, or look for other options either in-house or on the free agent market. Ulreich came over from Stuttgart in the summer of 2015 and has backed up Neuer since.

Former Fulham midfielder Sidwell tells another amazing Felix Magath story

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German manager Felix Magath has always been known as a mercurial individual, but as time passes from his failed stint in charge of relegated club Fulham, more and more stories continue to flow from former players that absolutely boggle the mind.

The most famous story thus far has come from former Fulham defender Brede Hangeland about Magath’s suggestion that applying cottage cheese directly to his ailing knee would help solve his injury problem. Hangeland also spoke of how Magath would make the team run in the dead of night after returning from away trips, calling him “an awful human being.”

Now, former Fulham midfielder Steve Sidwell, who spent three years at Craven Cottage, spoke up about his own experiences under Magath. Sidwell, now with Brighton but yet to make a Premier League appearance, told BBC 5 Live Sports about another time Magath was frustrated with his squad, and how he chose a different way to express that during training.

“We played poorly – I can’t remember what game it was – and we got off the bus and he said ‘right, well everyone in tomorrow at 8:00 and we’re gonna train.’ We was due a day off but we’re gonna be in for training. So everyone got in, we got outside…there was no balls coming out with us so we’re thinking ‘right, ok.’ So he’s gone ‘right, your formation yesterday, can you get in your positions?’ So we got on the pitch…goalkeeper, back four, midfield four, two strikers…stood there. And he said, ‘right, you didn’t want to run around yesterday, we’re not gonna run around today.’ And he just blew the whistle, and he said ‘everyone just stand still.’ And we had to just stand still. And it was a cold day, and there was a couple lads with gloves on, they was off straight away. There was leaves blowing across the pitch, you couldn’t make eye contact with anyone, you had to just stand there, and I think we was just there for about 40 minutes just standing there.”

In. Credible. Stuff. Sidwell also said that Magath had every player participate in a pint night before each and every away game, often in the hotel bar.

Magath was fired in September of 2014, just seven months after his hire, with Fulham having suffered an eleven-game winless streak. The Whites were eventually relegated later that season, and have not recovered since, still in the Championship looking for a return to the top flight.