Manchester United's Rooney and van Persie attend a training session at the Carrington training complex in Manchester

Premier League Preview: Manchester United vs. Stoke City

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  • Stoke City haven’t beaten Manchester United in any form of competition since 1993 when they won the first leg of a League Cup matchup.
  • Manchester United have their lowest league point total after eight matches (11) since 1989.
  • Stoke City have conceded just seven goals in their eight matches.

Manchester United look to get back on track as they host Stoke City at Old Trafford (10am ET, watch live on NBCSN or online via NBC Sports Live Extra). With the heat on David Moyes increasing with every disappointing result, the new United manager will have Robin van Persie back to call upon in front of goal.

A draw with Southampton last time out, coupled with defeats to West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool already on the books this season, have seen many question whether Moyes is the right man to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson.

The defending champions may be on their way to a climb back up the table thanks to some momentum from their 1-0 Champions League win over Real Sociedad midweek.  The Red Devils must get the results in the Premier League however – and fast – or pressure on Moyes could certainly bubble over.

While Mark Hughes’ side hasn’t been exactly flashy this season, their defensive record will bring a decent test for the Manchester United goalscorers.  They’ve conceded just seven goals this season, although Stoke have also only scored four.

This where it will be massively important for Moyes to call on van Persie, who has struggled with nagging injuries to start the season.  Knocks have caused the attacking talisman to miss a Premier League match and a Champions League tie, and he was pushed to the substitutes bench for a second league match.

The return of van Persie plus the excellent form of Wayne Rooney is definitely a sign of better times to come.  The mercurial English star has three goals and an assist in his last five league matches, and did most of the work on the play that resulted in Sociedad’s early own goal midweek.

Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley will most likely not feature for Manchester United due to injuries, and Geoff Cameron is a doubt for Stoke with a calf injury that forced him to miss last week’s match against West Brom. Stoke captain Ryan Shawcross is also a question mark, having been sick all week.

What they’re saying

David Moyes on Wayne Rooney: “It’s been great working with Wayne because he’s an excellent footballer. I’ve said from day one he’s been great. He had a very good game in midweek. We want that form to continue. We want him to keep scoring goals. He is a big plus for us just now. I don’t think it’s me or anyone else. It’s Wayne Rooney. He had to make sure he was the best he could be and he’s done that. He’s in good nick, his talent is unquestionable. He’s physically very good, mentally in a good place and his form has been good.”

Mark Hughes on playing at Old Trafford: “West Brom have gone there and won, so it’s more than possible that we can get a positive result. We’re playing well away from home, arguably slightly better away from home than we are at home, so if we can take our performance level and keep it high we can go there and be positive. You can’t go to Old Trafford and be apprehensive about what’s ahead of you. You have to be positive and have a go. Our expectations and the expectations of our fans are high. We want to go there and put in a positive performance, if we do can that then let’s see what happens.”

Ryan Giggs on Manchester United form: “We’ve got the feeling that, somewhere along the line, we are going to score a load of goals. We have created a lot, especially in the last couple of games, whereas perhaps, before that, we didn’t.  That’s encouraging and, with the quality we have got on the pitch, we should be scoring more goals. Why we’re not, I don’t know, we are just going through one of those stages where we are not scoring enough goals. The lads at the back are doing a really good job, so hopefully it will come.”

Prediction

As much as Hughes has a point about teams not being as fearful of Old Trafford as they have been, it’s still a fortress for United.  The win midweek will provide them with a bit of confidence, and it’s hard to argue with the duo of Rooney and van Persie at this point.

Something Moyes & co. seriously  need to improve on is playing with a 1-goal lead.  Many times this season the club has had chances to extend an early lead, only to fail and see it come back to haunt them later.  This is something they failed to do against Southampton, and even against Real Sociedad midweek en route to a nervy win.

Nobody saw the West Brom win or Southampton draw coming, but it’s even harder to forsee yet another slipup.  A win for the home side is in the cards, although another tensely close victory would probably do little to ease the pressure on Moyes.  They’ll need to win confidently and convincingly to silence the doubters for the next 7 days.

New St. Louis stadium plan calls for state land contribution

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ST. LOUIS (AP) Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has made it clear he’s opposed to state funding for stadiums, yet a revised proposal for a $200 million soccer stadium in St. Louis calls for the state to contribute land that’s potentially worth millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, a city aldermanic committee delayed a vote Thursday to advance a measure putting the proposal, which also requires city voters to approve $60 million in funding, on the April ballot.

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The investor group SC STL’s proposal calls for a 22,000-seat stadium near Interstate 64 and Union Station, a key component in the group’s effort to lure a Major League Soccer expansion team. MLS officials have expressed strong interest in St. Louis, but only if a stadium is built.

Time is of the essence: The league is expected to award two new expansion teams in the fall, with play starting in 2020.

St. Louis’ project was on life support after Greitens, a Republican who took office this month, said repeatedly that he opposed taxpayer funding for stadiums, calling it “welfare for millionaires.” SC STL had been seeking $40 million in state tax credits.

But a provision of SC STL’s revised financing plan, presented at Thursday’s meeting at City Hall, says the state would contribute the majority of the 24-acre project site, which is currently owned by the Missouri Department of Transportation, and perform some site clearing and infrastructure work.

The value is still being appraised, but given its location and the amount of land, it likely is worth several million dollars.

Greitens spokesman Parker Briden told The Associated Press in a statement that the governor “remains opposed to state funding to build the soccer stadium.” He did not immediately respond to a question about how the potential donation of land doesn’t conflict with Greitens’ hard-line stance.

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The first hint of compromise with the governor came in an email from SC STL spokesman Jim Woodcock late Wednesday, when he wrote that a “path forward” had been reached after two weeks of meetings.

“Gov. Greitens has made it clear to us that he is very supportive of adding a new professional sports franchise to the State of Missouri, and that’s a sentiment we wholeheartedly share,” the statement said.

The stadium project also requires taxpayer help from the city. The city Ways and Means Committee heard from SC STL officials Thursday, but no vote was taken on whether to ask the full Board of Aldermen to place the issue on the April ballot. The committee is expected to reconsider the measure Monday.

SC STL would be responsible for at least $95 million of the project cost, the entire $150 million expansion fee and all maintenance costs going forward.

Bundesliga returns: Will Bayern hold off competition again?

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Germany’s top flight returns to action Friday when Bayern Munich travels to Freiburg in an attempt to keep the pressure on new boys RB Leipzig.

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For those who haven’t paid a ton of attention to the Bundesliga this season or need a bit of a refresher after several weeks away, here’s what to monitor over the next several months.

Really Big surprise Leipzig looks to keep title race going

Formed in 2009, RB Leipzig is a lot of German fans’ least favorite club after cash infusions caused a rapid rise into the top flight.

The new club is looking down at most of the haters, however. League leaders for much of the first half, Leipzig is three points shy of league leading Bayern Munich.

Bayern waxed Leipzig 3-0 before the holiday break, and the two sides won’t meet again until May 13. How long can the new boys keep up the show?

Historic relegation candidates

What does USMNT strikers Bobby Wood and Aron Johannsson share besides a national team? Both are on sides that have been in Germany’s top tier longer than the players have been alive.

Wood’s Hamburg has six national titles and hasn’t seen the second tier in 54 years. That’s the longest stretch in the league, two more seasons than Bayern Munich. Hamburg is a currently third-bottom, which would force them into a relegation-promotion playoff against the third-placed team in 2.Bundesliga.

As for Johannsson, his Werder Bremen side is just three points ahead of Hamburg. Bremen has been in the top flight for 36 seasons.

Chasing the Golden Boot

Robert Lewandowski has scored the most goals in two of the past three seasons, with Alexander Meier of Eintracht Frankfurt seizing the honor in 2014-15.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is leading the pack by three goals, but is with Gabon at the Africa Cup of Nations to help open the door for the rest of the bunch.

Koln’s Anthony Modeste is second with 13, while Lewandowski has 12. Two players, Timo Werner (RB Leipzig) and Sandro Wagner (Hoffenheim), have nine.

Can surprise Europe-chasers hold up?

Hertha Berlin was in 2.Bundesliga a few seasons ago, while Eintracht Frankfurt was there a season prior to that. RB Leipzig, as mentioned earlier, wasn’t even a club until 2009.

Eintracht made a Europa League run one year later, but neither was expected to be competing for a spot in Europe this season. As it stands, all three are in the mix.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 16 12 3 1 38 9 29 7-2-0 5-1-1 39
 RB Leipzig 16 11 3 2 31 15 16 6-1-0 5-2-2 36
 Hertha BSC Berlin 16 9 3 4 24 16 8 7-0-1 2-3-3 30
 Eintracht Frankfurt 16 8 5 3 22 12 10 5-3-0 3-2-3 29
 1899 Hoffenheim 16 6 10 0 28 17 11 4-5-0 2-5-0 28
 Borussia Dortmund 16 7 6 3 35 19 16 5-3-0 2-3-3 27
 1. FC Köln 16 6 7 3 21 15 6 4-4-0 2-3-3 25

Report: El Tri’s Chicharito to LAFC in 2018

Bayer Leverkusen's Javier Hernandez, left, and Atletico Mineiro's Mattheus Rolden fight for possession of the ball during the first half of a Florida Cup soccer match, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
AP Photo/John Raoux
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It makes a lot of sense, you know?

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez will turn 30 in 2018, not a spring chicken for a striker but still plenty productive if healthy.

His national team, Mexico, will likely be revving its engines for the World Cup, and won’t be upset to have the forward playing a bit less soccer and a lot closer to home.

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And Los Angeles FC will want to make a massive mark as it seeks to butt its head into a market dominated by the LA Galaxy (and, perhaps still then, Mexico national teamer Giovani Dos Santos).

So, tell us more, Steve Brisendine of MLSSoccer.com:

“[LAFC] are going to do everything possible to sign the current Bayer Leverkusen player, whose contract ends in 2018 and could therefore leave for a reduced fee. That’s what AS.com has confirmed with sources close to the project. LAFC hope to announce their new manager this spring and dream, a little later, to do the same with Javier Hernandez, aka Chicharito.”

Make it happen. Make. It. Happen. We’re already reserving his spot on our MLS fantasy teams.

Transfer rumor roundup: Jagielka, Begovic, Berahino, Zarate

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 13: Saido Berahino of West Brom challenges for the ball with Phil Jagielka of Everton during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Everton at The Hawthorns on September 13, 2014 in West Bromwich, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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There’s action all over England, from those defending the goal mouth to others striving to conquer it.

[ MORE: More transfer gossip ]

— Bournemouth wants an upgrade on Artur Boruc, according to The Telegraph, and that could come in the form of Chelsea backstop Asmir Begovic.

The Cherries reportedly had a $12.5 million bid turned down by Antonio Conte, who has Thibaut Courtois in the No. 1 seat and Portugal national team backup Eduardo in the ranks (along with three keepers on loan and young goalie Mitchell Beanie).

— Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger shut the door on acquiring West Ham wantaway Dimitri Payet according to Sky Sports’ Transfer Centre:

“We have many players offensively who can play in this position. You are interested by the quality of the player but there needs to be a need as well, and we have no need in this domain.”

— Clubs in need of experienced Premier League backs need look no further than Everton, where manager Ronald Koeman has admitted that England international Phil Jagielka could leave Goodison Park. The 34-year-old center back has 40 caps for England and has made 337 appearances for Everton. He could be a massive upgrade for Sunderland if David Moyes is up for a reunion.

— Stoke City chairman Peter Coates says a purchase of Saido Berahino from West Brom is not contingent on a sale of Bojan Krkic. The latter has been linked to Middlesbrough.

— Mauro Zarate may be returning the Premier League. Watford boss Walter Mazzarri has been largely let down by his strike corps as Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney have taken steps back this season. Could $4 be enough to bring the ex-West Ham and QPR man from Fiorentina to Vicarage Road? Zarate has four goals in nine matches for La Viola, and has nine goals in 40 Premier League matches.