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.

PL Preview: Brighton vs. Stoke City

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  • Stoke leads all-time 16W-14D-9L
  • First league meeting since 2006
  • Potters have won last 8 in series

Brighton and Hove Albion meets Stoke City for the first time in Premier League history when the two battle at the Amex Stadium on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Brighton is unbeaten in its last four PL matches, with a pair of away wins and two draws at home.

They’ve been led at the back end by Shane Duffy and in attack by Pascal Gross, but it’s been a well-traveled Premier League veteran filling the goals. Glenn Murray has historic motivation to keep scoring, knowing that a marker versus Stoke would make him the first Brighton player to ever score a goal in four successive top flight matches.

Stoke followed up its win over Watford with a draw against Leicester City. The Potters have two goals and four assists from Swiss attacker Xherdan Shaqiri, and three and one from Senegalese scorer Mame Biram Diouf.

What they’re saying

Brighton’s Chris Hughton on bagging wins“For a club like us to get back-to-back wins would show the level we are playing at. It’s tough. I remember being told by somebody with one of the promoted teams that they didn’t get their first away win until February-March. That can happen and it’s exactly the same for a team getting promoted to get back-to-wins. They are hard to come by. Any way we are able to do that would certainly be a major boost for us.”

Stoke manager Mark Hughes on Xherdan ShaqiriHe is taking on more the role of the main instigator of our attacking threat. When he gets the ball, I think the whole team responds to that. You sense that maybe something’s going to happen. And I think the crowd sends it as well. And I know opposition team sense it too.”

Prediction

Few matches are more of a toss-up than this one, and there’s no recent match-ups on which to rest our heads. So we’ll side with the home team managing a point, and maybe a pair of old-timer goals from Murray and Peter Crouch, in a 1-1 draw.

Italy soccer chief resigns after failure to reach World Cup

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ROME (AP) Italian football federation president Carlo Tavecchio has resigned a week after the Azzurri failed to qualify for the World Cup.

Monday’s announcement came following calls for a complete overhaul of the nation’s most popular sport, from the amateur leagues right up to Serie A and the national teams.

[ MORE: What’s next for West Brom? ]

Sweden’s playoff win over Italy kept the four-time champion out of the World Cup for the first time in six decades.

Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura was fired two days after the loss.

For the last week, Tavecchio has resisted calls to step down but he eventually lost the support of the federation’s board of directors.

Former federation chief Giancarlo Abete said as he left the board meeting where Tavecchio resigned that a new election would be held within 90 days.

Managerial change a slippery slope for West Brom

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Tony Pulis brought much needed stability to West Bromwich Albion before his tenure soured in a hurry.

When Pulis took over at the Hawthorns, West Brom had seen both Pepe Mel and Alan Irvine do little winning in abbreviated managerial stints. Mel won three of 17 matches in charge, while Irvine could only nab five in 22.

[ MORE: Pulis sacked ]

So there is little debating, even for those who West Brom fans who revel in the club’s former free-flowing ways, that Pulis had a productive time in charge from January 2015 right on through most of last season.

But Pulis was seemingly limited to setting a points total and then kicking his heels up once Premier League safety was reached.

While that sounds a bit laughable, the facts are that the Baggies finished 10th last season despite an impressive start that saw the club comfortably eighth for much of the season. However, West Brom won five points from its final 12 matches to finish 16 points behind a European place (including five shutout losses at home).

The Baggies finished 14th the previous season, Pulis’ first full year in charge, but collapsed again after hitting the rarefied air of 11th. That final stretch? Five losses and four draws including shutout losses at home to Norwich City, Watford, and West Ham.

In doing so, Pulis belied his own budgetary critiques by proving the Baggies had the talent to compete for something relatively special.

Pulis was good at getting his side to play with the fury of a relegation contender from Day One, but it was so clear the side was sated once safety was secure. It wouldn’t be callous to opine that the manager would’ve viewed the Europa League as a nuisance to his “never been relegated” reputation (an idea buttressed by West Brom’s performances in Cup competitions, where Pulis never advanced to a quarterfinal while losing to Reading, Norwich City, Derby County, Northampton Town, and, this season, Man City).

What West Brom does next will say a lot. If it’s as simple as a rehashing of the “never been relegated” deck with Sam Allardyce, well, that’s something. But the Baggies are in the tricky predicament of having to replace a relatively stable hand who was their first good hire in three tries, while also running with the knowledge that their players clearly are capable of so much better than 17th.

The names on the bettor’s lists show what’s expected of West Brom: gritty style from an island manager. Derek McInnes is the favorite, with Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill just ahead of Sam Allardyce. Alan Pardew is next, followed by Ronald Koeman (For what it’s worth, bookies are still milking money from gamblers by including Jurgen Klinsmann’s name at 20:1 or so).

West Brom is in its eighth-straight Premier League campaign. The firing will jostle an already rocking ship, but the Baggies have steady leadership in Jonny Evans, Ben Foster, Chris Brunt, Gareth Barry, Gareth McAuley, and Craig Dawson. They have the wherewithal to achieve safety again, and can even look good in the process should a manager find the right way to use Salomon Rondon, Matty Phillips, Jay Rodriguez, Nacer Chadli, and others.

Who’s the right man for the job?

West Brom fires manager Tony Pulis

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Tony Pulis‘ reign over the Hawthorns is over, as West Bromwich Albion has fired the 59-year-old after just under three years in charge of the Premier League outfit.

Assistant coach Gary Megson takes over on an interim basis.

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The Baggies have not won a game since August, and were belted 4-0 at home by Chelsea on Saturday to leave the club one point above the drop zone.

Overall, Pulis oversaw wins in just 36 of his 121 matches, losing 49, in what will go down as one of the least successful stints in his well-traveled career. Only three PL clubs have scored less than the Baggies’ nine goals.

Here’s the club statement:

“These decisions are never taken lightly but always in the interests of the Club.

“We are in a results business and over the back end of last season and this season to date, ours have been very disappointing.

“We would like to place on record our appreciation of Tony’s contribution and hard work during a period of transition for the Club which included a change of ownership. We wish him well in his future endeavours.”

Pulis will almost certainly be back on the touch line soon, as he hasn’t spent more than a few months out of work since 2002.