Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. West Bromwich Albion

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  • Baggies have won just one of their last 15 league games in London
  • Only Chelsea and Man City have 100 percent home league records so far this season
  • Mourinho is unbeaten in 65 Premier League home games with Chelsea

Up until last weekends hiccup at St. James Park, things have been ticking over smoothly for Chelsea.

Jose Mourinho’s squad rotation has been having the desired effect, as they won six straight games in October across all competitions.

But that 2-0 defeat to Newcastle last weekend saw Mourinho lash out at his team as he claimed that he made “11 mistakes” when selecting his starting lineup.

When West Bromwich Albion visit Chelsea on Saturday (10am ET, watch live on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports Live Extra) the Blues will be hoping to record a comfortable home win to try and close the gap on league leaders Arsenal to two-points before the Gunners visit Manchester United on Sunday.

Obviously Mourinho’s men are built to challenge in all competitions, with the PL, UEFA Champions League and Domestic Cups all in sight. But the lack of continuity constant chopping and changing (watch PST Extra above for more on that) brings has seen his side fail to light up the league so far… even though they’re sat in second place.

(WATCH – PST Extra: Talking Manchester United vs. Arsenal, Chelsea’s struggles and the South Wales derby)

In the lead up to the game, much of the talk has been about Eden Hazard and the fact that Mourinho left him out of Chelsea’s squad for the 3-0 UCL win over Schalke in midweek. The Belgian international apparently traveled to a foreign country when he wasn’t supposed to and then lost his passport while he was there. That infuriated Mourinho, who says Hazard has apologized and he’s now in contention to face West Brom

As for the Baggies, West Brom are comfortably sliding back into mid-table after a tricky start and Mourinho’s former assistant manager Steve Clarke has put the Midlands club back on course. A win at Manchester United and a draw at home with Arsenal in the past few weeks has shown that WBA can hang in with the big boys, and the emergence of youngster Saido Berahino has given Clarke’s team a massive boost.

(MORE: Preview – Norwich City vs. West Ham United)

Injury wise, Chelsea will be without Fernando Torres who has a thigh injury, which means Demba Ba or Samuel Eto’o could start. West Brom winger, and former Chelsea youngster, Scott Sinclair will miss out on a return to his former club after suffering a hamstring strain. Another former Chelsea man, Nicolas Anelka, is also doubtful but Victor Anichebe is fit again.

What they’re saying

Mourinho on meeting his former assistant Steve Clarke: “I am very happy to meet Steve Clarke again. It will be a difficult game because he organizes his teams well. He was more than an assistant coach… in charge of training methodology, sessions, match preparation. We stay in touch but not speaking about our jobs directly. Every game Steve Clarke plays I wish he will win, but tomorrow that is not the case which is strange.”

Steve Clarke on how his side can beat Chelsea: “A win wouldn’t mean anything to me other than the fact it’s another three points for the Albion. It would be a good scalp to take, winning at Stamford Bridge and beating Chelsea, but that’s it. I think if we’re 100 per cent focused, and concentrated and play at our maximum, then we have an opportunity to compete with any team in the Premier League and that’s what we have to focus on.”

Prediction

On paper this looks like being a big win for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. But after that slip up against Newcastle last week and a few disturbing signs in the last few weeks, there will be nothing routine about this. West Brom have gone to Manchester United and won, and have several attacking talents who can wreck havoc, with the likes of Anichebe, Sessegnon, Brunt and others who can deliver a shock. I think Mourinho’s men will grind out a win but it may not be pretty.

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. Hull City

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  • Hull won 2-1 on Nov. 6
  • Tigers two points clear of drop zone
  • Saints lead all-time 23W-20D-15L

After back-to-back losses to Man City and Chelsea, Saints meet a different kind of desperation when Hull City arrives at St. Mary’s (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

With a win, Hull can move five points clear of the final relegation spot and heap pressure on Swansea City, who plays Sunday. With a loss, Marco Silva’s men open the 17th place door for Swans.

[ MORE: JPW on Romeu the Destroyer ]

Since the start of the 2011-12 season in the Championship, Southampton has won six of seven matches against Hull. That seventh, however, was the match at the KCOM Stadium earlier this season, one that saw now-West Ham man Robert Snodgrass spur a Tigers comeback.

Saints open the day four points back of eighth place West Brom, and also hold a match-in-hand on the Baggies.

What they’re saying

Saints boss Claude Puel on slump busting“After two losses it’s important to move forward now and take points on Saturday in front of our own fans. We have to improve in the right areas and find a good balance of play, but also a good clinical edge in both penalty areas.”

Marco Silva on Hull’s away troubles““We have conceded goals on the counter-attack away from home in games when the result has been looking good for us – we cannot make it possible for our opponents to do this to us. The second goal we conceded at Stoke is an example of this – conceded at a time when we were in control of the game. Details like this are making the difference and these are things we must look to change. This is clear to me and I pass this on to my players.”

Prediction

Saints have more quality than Hull, but may not have as much fire in the belly. Still, home field means a lot here and Southampton should reverse the score line from November’s tilt. 2-1, with Manolo Gabbiadini and Dusan Tadic leading the way.

La Liga: Sevilla win late to move even with Atletico Madrid in 3rd

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MADRID (AP) Wissam Ben Yedder scored three minutes after entering the game to give Sevilla a late 2-1 win over 10-man Celta Vigo in the Spanish league on Thursday.

The victory moved Sevilla even on points with third-place Atletico Madrid with four matches left. Third place guarantees an automatic spot in the Champions League next season, while the fourth-placed team has to go through a playoff.

Ben Yedder netted the winner from close range after a low cross by Samir Nasri in the 79th minute, beating a defender to the ball and hitting the top of the net with a right-footed shot.

“It was a complex game but the team was able to overcome the difficulties,” Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli said.

Joaquin Correa put the host ahead after halftime, and Iago Aspas equalized by converting a penalty kick just minutes later. Aspas did not celebrate the goal out of respect to fans of his former club.

Sevilla dominated from the start and was pressuring vigorously in search of the winner, especially after Celta went a man down when midfielder Pablo Hernandez was sent off with a second yellow card in the 56th with the game 1-1.

Sergio Escudero and Nasri each struck the crossbar a few minutes apart late in the second half, and Vicente Iborra also had hit the woodwork earlier in the game played under steady rain in Seville.

It was the third win in four matches for Sevilla after a streak of five games without a win.

Sevilla and Atletico are level on points, but the Madrid club is ahead on the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Top PL Storylines: Bye-bye, St. Totteringham’s Day? So long, Sunderland?

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Ahead of Week 34 of the 2016-17 Premier League season, we’re most looking forward to keeping an eye on the following storylines…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Cancel St. Totteringham’s Day?

8,018 days (otherwise known as 22.9 years) have passed since Tottenham Hotspur last finished above Arsenal in the Premier League. First of all, that’s a lot of days. Secondly, the time to reset that clock is nearly upon us, as Tottenham take a 14-point lead into Sunday’s North London derby (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) — perhaps the final one to be played at White Hart Lane. With Arsenal having only five games left to play after Sunday, a 17-point deficit would be mathematically impossible to overcome, and would guarantee Spurs’ first PL finish above Arsenal since the spring of 1995.

The fact that Spurs could end that embarrassing, heinous streak in a game against Arsenal, in perhaps their next-to-last game at White Hart Lane, and maybe even close to within a single point of Chelsea in the title race… it’s almost all too timely and too perfect to believe it could really happen… to Spurs.


Finish the job

With all due respect to Middlesbrough (home), West Bromwich Albion (away), Watford (home) and Sunderland (home), Sunday’s trip to Goodison Park, where they’ve lost on their last two visits (all competitions) and they’ll take on seventh-place Everton (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com), is far and away the toughest remaining fixture on Chelsea’s schedule as they chase a fifth PL-era title (fifth in all eras). Having booked their spot in the FA Cup final by beating Spurs last weekend, Antonio Conte is dreaming of — and a favorite to win — a double in his first season at Stamford.


Someone has to finish top-four

Ahead of the weekend, two points separate Liverpool (third), Manchester City (fourth) and Manchester United (fifth), with Arsenal another four back in sixth (but possessing a game in hand). Given all the points dropped by each of the aforementioned sides in recent weeks, it’s important to remember that someone has to finish third and fourth in the PL this season.

We’ve already discussed Arsenal’s titanic task, so here’s the challenges facing the other three this round: Liverpool, at Watford (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com); Man City, at Middlesbrough (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, on  NBCSports.com); Manchester United, vs. Swansea City (7 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com).


So long, Sunderland?

For five seasons now, Sunderland have flirted with relegation from the PL; and every previous season, they’ve pulled a rabbit out of the hat and managed to stay up. This season, though, under David Moyes, there appears to be no rabbit. With five games to go, safety is a whopping 12 points away, which means a loss to Bournemouth on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSports.com), coupled with a win or draw by 17th-place Hull City, would officially send Sunderland to the Championship next season. If the Black Cats somehow find their way out of this predicament, a northeastern knighthood awaits Mr. Moyes.

French authorities investigating 2018, 2022 World Cup bids

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PARIS (AP) French financial prosecutors are investigating the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and have heard former FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

A person with direct knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press on Thursday that France’s financial prosecutor services (PNF) opened the investigation on grounds of private corruption, criminal association, influence peddling, and benefiting from influence peddling relating to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

Blatter was questioned in Switzerland last week as a witness, the same person told the AP.

The office of the attorney general of Switzerland said in a statement that “at the request of and in the context of proceedings being conducted by French justice authorities, it has questioned Mr. Joseph Blatter in his capacity as a person providing information on the 20th April 2017 in Zurich.”

The PNF opened its investigation last year.

FIFA has also been targeted by investigations led by Swiss and US authorities. Last month, FIFA sent 1,300 pages of internal investigation reports into suspected bribery and corruption to Switzerland’s attorney general. The documents complete a 22-month probe by legal firm Quinn Emanuel, which FIFA retained in the fallout from United States and Swiss federal prosecutors revealing their sprawling investigations of soccer corruption in May 2015.

Blatter said last week that he met with U.S. Department of Justice investigators and insisted he was not a suspect in their bribery and corruption case linked to FIFA.

Blatter was suspended from office in September 2015 and later banned from soccer by the FIFA ethics committee.