Prindi’s Premier League Picks: Sunderland to shock Manchester City

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Picking Premier League matches is hard work and frankly, I’m crap at it.

But I love the banter and figure at the very least I can provide you with some fodder to tear me up with in the comments. So let’s get it on.

UPSET SPECIALS

Sunderland v. Manchester City (Sun 9:05am ET on NBCSN; Stadium of Light)

No point in doing these picks without making at least one outlandish call so here it is: Sunderland win this match.

Totally ridiculous, right? Maybe not, my fine feathered friend.

City come into the fixture flying high off a 7-0 drubbing of Norwich City and a 5-2 domination of CSKA, making lil’ old Sunderland the perfect match to overlook. Throw in that David Silva, Vincent Kompany and Stevan Jovetic are all out with injury and that Fernandinho and Matija Nastasic are likely to join them on the sidelines, and the Citizens may be prime for the picking.

Sunderland 2 Manchester City 1

SQUEAKY BUM TIME

Aston Villa v. Cardiff City (Sat 10:00am ET on Extra Time; Villa Park)

Not sure what to do with Aston Villa. Early on they wiggled their way into neutrals’ hearts with stunning victories over Arsenal and Manchester City, but since the latter the Villains have flat-lined. No goals in four straight matches. Blanked. Punked. Shut-out and left for dead.

Injuries, most notably to Christian Benteke, have definitely played a role and will do so again this weekend with Andreas Weimann and Antonio Luna out, and Gabby Agbonlahor a major doubt.

Following their big derby win against Swansea, Cardiff will be susceptible to the let-down game but Malky Mackay’s squad always plays teams close, having only lost by more than one goal once this season (4-1 to Chelsea). Feels like a share of the points.

Aston Villa 1 Cardiff City 1

Southampton v. Hull City (Sat 10:00am ET on Extra Time; St Mary’s Stadium)

Mauricio Pochettino has done wonders keeping his side level-headed throughout their early season exploits and now the squad’s modesty will be tested even more with Jay Rodriguez and Adam Lallana earning calls into the England squad.

If the Saints fail to keep their eyes on the prize Hull City is exactly the kind of side that can send the Saints crashing back to earth. Just not at St. Mary’s.

Southampton 1 Hull City 0

Norwich City v. West Ham United (Sat 12:30pm ET on NBC; Carrow Road)

Um, yeah. So this game is happening.

Norwich City 0 West Ham United 0

Tottenham Hotspur v. Newcastle United (Sun 7:00am ET on NBCSN; White Hart Lane)

Having drawn with Liverpool, lost to Sunderland and beaten Chelsea over the last three weeks, we can officially crown Newcastle United the Jekyll & Hyde of the Premier League.

Spurs, on the other hand, are rather predictable. Defend well, score via penalty.

Tottenham 1 Newcastle 0

Manchester United v. Arsenal (Sun 11:10am ET on NBCSN; Old Trafford)

Hard not to be impressed with Arsenal. Last weekend they shrugged off Liverpool like they were a mid-table club before marching on to the famed Signal Iduna Park in mid-week Champions League play and becoming the first English squad to beat Borussia Dortmund at home.

A win on Sunday would complete an absurd run of form, not to mention it would be the first time since 2006 that the Gunners beat United at Old Trafford in the league. The icing on the cake? An Arsenal win will put them 11 points ahead of last year’s champions.

Without a doubt this will be the most telling fixture so far this season. Tune in or forever hold your peace.

Manchester United 1 Arsenal 2

Swansea City v. Stoke City (Sun 11:10am ET on Extra Time; Liberty Stadium)

I used to believe in Swansea City. I believed in their footballing prowess, in Michael Laudrup as a manger and Michu as a striker. I believed in their Spanish influence, their depth and the extra boost they received when playing in front of the Liberty Stadium. But no longer.

I blame you, Europa League.

Swansea City 1 Stoke City 1

CAPTAIN OBVIOUS

Chelsea v. West Bromwich Albion (Sat 10:00am ET on NBCSN; Stamford Bridge)

It’s been 35 years since West Brom recorded an away league win over Chelsea. The Baggies have never won a Premier League match at Stamford Bridge. And Jose Mourinho’s home league match unbeaten streak currently stands at 65 matches.

Combine these facts with the motivation Chelsea have following the atrocity that was last weekend’s 0-2 loss at Newcastle and even those tricky little Baggies from the West Midlands aren’t putting one over on the Blues.

Chelsea 3 West Bromwich Albion 1

Crystal Palace v. Everton (Sat 10:00am ET on Extra Time; Selhurst Park)

Why are people so high on Roberto Martinez? For one thing, the man specializes in humility and who doesn’t respect that? With regards to the Toffees’ match at Selhurst Park, the Spaniard had this to say:

“Unless we are at our best this team (Palace) can click at any time, we have to be prepared for that,” Martinez said Thursday. “I feel they are very close, they have been very unfortunate, and had a snowball effect in negative results, but they are much better than their points in the table.”

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a manager who will give Crystal Palace that much respect. But that’s how you keep the troops honest when playing the most decimated club in the Premier League. If Everton is to continue lingering around the Top 4, this one is a must win.

Crystal Palace 0 Everton 2

Liverpool v. Fulham (Sat 10:00am ET on Extra Time; Anfield)

Gotta love Martin Jol. Not because he looks like a mob boss, sounds like a Bronx mechanic or has the unique ability to open canned goods with his incisors — but because of his stubborn refusal to show the least bit of concern over his future employment at Fulham. Willful blindness at its very best.

Perhaps the SAS drubbing his side is about to absorb Saturday will snap him out of the fog. But hopefully not.

Liverpool 4 Fulham 1

Juventus bumped by Atalanta at the death

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Juventus is still in firm control of the Serie A title race, but they were dealt a slight setback as Atalanta secured a 2-2 draw with a dramatic 89th minute equalizer in Bergamo.

Dani Alves had given Juventus the lead in the 83rd minute on a header after a brilliant far-post cross by Miralem Pjanic, but Remo Freuler answered late as he grabbed a point.

The goal came on a fortunate bounce as Pjanic and substitute Stephen Lichtensteiner got tangled up on the ball and failed to clear, and the ball squirted to Freuler who suddenly found himself free in front of Gianluigi Buffon. The Juventus keeper came off his line to smother the chance, but he failed to completely collect, and the ball again popped free. Freuler followed up the loose ball, and with a trio of Juventus defenders flying in, the 25-year-old Swiss attacker knocked it in.

The draw was deserving for Atalanta, who had controlled the game for much of the first half, and went ahead just seconds before the break on a goal by Andrea Conti. Atalanta outshot Juventus 7-4 in the first half, 3-1 on shots on target. Juventus took over control in the second half, and got back on level terms just five minutes after the break as Juventus loanee Leonardo Spinazzola put one in his own net.

Alves’ goal put Juventus in front, but that lead only lasted six minutes. Juventus goes nine points clear at the top of the Serie A table with the draw, but Roma has the chance to cut that to six if they can beat Lazio at home on Sunday.

MLS Week 8: Litmus tests across the board

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Week 8 in MLS action could teach fans a lot about clubs with plenty to prove.

With questions still abound regarding teams like NYCFC, New England, Seattle, Portland, and New York Red Bulls, all those teams have a chance to make statements regarding their potential strength this season.

[ MORE: Week 8 MLS Power Rankings ]

In addition, struggling teams such as Los Angeles, Minnesota, and Montreal all have opportunities for much-needed points against arguably weaker opposition.

Let’s take a look at the weekend slate chronologically:

Toronto FC vs. Houston Dynamo
7:30 p.m. ET Friday

Toronto got a pair from Giovinco last time out, and sitting near the bottom of the crowded East mid-tier, they need points fast to avoid finding themselves in a hole behind the top of the table. There’s goals in this one, with Houston defensively challenged and Cubo Torres on fire to start the year.

Montreal Impact vs. Vancouver Whitecaps
3:00 p.m. ET Saturday

An all-Canadian clash actually serves as a vitally important match for both clubs. With each side near the bottom of their conference standings, they both need a result badly to jump-start the campaign. A draw does nobody any good here moving forward.

Orlando City vs. Colorado Rapids
4:00 p.m. ET Saturday

The Lions are one of 2017’s surprises, and Cyle Larin is on an absolute tear. Unfortunately, so far, anyone who shuts down Larin shuts down Orlando City. That said, good luck to Colorado shutting down an early MLS Golden Boot challenger.

Cyle Larin has 6 goals in 6 games this season (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images).

NY Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire
7:30 p.m. ET Saturday

New York has seen bumps on the early-season road, but overall remains a strong Supporter’s Shield contender. They face a big test against another strong Eastern Conference side, and a win here would make it three straight, all over good competition. Chicago is reeling after its defeat to Toronto, out-shot 9-1, but has another chance to pick up a road win before heading back home.

Columbus Crew vs. NYCFC
7:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Columbus has been poor on the road, but they return home to Mapfre Stadium to take on a strong NYCFC side. This game could potentially teach us a lot about whoever comes out on top, as both look to build separation from the rest of the pack in the East. Both have lost two of three, but both still appear strong up front, and three points in this game could prove to be a marquee win to point to later in the season.

Minnesota United vs. San Jose Earthquakes
8:00 p.m. ET Saturday

Minnesota United, owners of one of the worst starts to the season, has shown signs of life. Can they keep it going against another team struggling for points?

FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers
8:00 p.m. ET Saturday

This is a marquee matchup, and with FC Dallas unbeaten so far, represents a huge test but also a huge opportunity for Portland to announce itself as a true top contender in the West. They’re top of the table, but have played at least one more game than most teams just below them. Can the Timbers find a way through the strong Dallas D?

Sporting KC vs. Real Salt Lake
8:30 p.m. ET Saturday

A big rivalry game with big table implications, Sporting KC has the unfortunate luck of catching RSL after hiring Mike Petke and not before. This should be a fun one.

Seattle Sounders vs. New England Revolution
10:00 p.m. ET Saturday

We still don’t know exactly what New England is. For every step forward they’ve taken one back, and for every setback they’ve had they’ve found a way through. This is a fantastic test. There are plenty of excuses for a potential loss with the team going cross-country to face one of the league’s best attacks, but a result could be a true statement.

LA Galaxy vs. Philadelphia Union
10:30 p.m. ET Saturday

With Philadelphia struggling and now traveling a long way, this should be a chance for the Galaxy to turn things around. Should be.

Atlanta United vs. D.C. United
3:00 p.m. ET Sunday

Atlanta is back home for the first time in over a month. They have slipped a bit since the torrid start, but still appear a dangerous club. D.C. will have its work cut out.

Asian FIFA executive pleads guilty to bribery charges

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A guilty plea was entered early Friday by senior Asian Federation (AFC) official Richard Lai to bribery charges, leading FIFA to suspend the 55-year-old indefinitely.

Lai has served as the head of the Guam FA since 2001, and is a member of the FIFA audit and compliance committee. He was also formerly a member of the AFC executive committee, and currently sits on the AFC marketing committee. Lai is a United States citizen.

The guilty plea confirms more than $1 million in bribes accepted by Lai, including those from Kuwaiti officials looking to increase their influence over FIFA voters in the confederation. Two unnamed AFC executives, including one Kuwaiti, were also named as co-conspirators.

“One of the functions the defendant Richard Lai performed for Co-Conspirator #2 and Co-Conspirator #3 in exchange for the funds they sent him was to advise them on who was supporting which candidates in AFC and FIFA matters, including elections, and who Co-Conspirator #2 and Co-Conspirator #3 should recruit to support their chosen candidates,” a Department of Justice document published on Friday said.

That wording seems to indirectly implicate Qatari executive Mohamed bin Hammam, who was banned for life by FIFA in 2011 for bribery.

“I would like to thank the American authorities for their continued efforts to stamp out corruption from football,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in a statement following the plea. “I am happy to confirm once again, that FIFA will provide whatever assistance is needed by the U.S. and any other authorities around the world.”

Lai has also been provisionally suspended by the AFC.

Argentina closes in on Sampaoli, according to FA boss

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The Argentinian FA is hoping to convince Jorge Sampaoli to abandon Sevilla and take the opening in his home nation.

President Claudio Tapia confirmed that Sampaoli is their top target, calling the 57-year-old their “chosen one” in an interview with ESPN.

“We have chosen a coach that has a contract,” Tapia told ESPN. “We want to be respectful and wait because he has a release clause which is once the tournament ends. We will communicate it to the club and we will sit down and negotiate his departure and release clause. We want things to go well in the final games he has left.”

Argentina dismissed coach Edgardo Bauza after the country fell to fifth in CONMEBOL World Cup qualification following defeats to Paraguay, Brazil, and Chile over the past six months.

Sampaoli is under contract with Sevilla until the summer of 2018, but has a $1.6 million release clause, to which Tapia was referring. Sevilla sits in fourth position in the La Liga table, level on points with Atletico Madrid but behind significantly on goal differential. The club finishes its league season on May 21st against Osasuna, and Argentina’s next game is a friendly on June 9th at home against Brazil. The next World Cup qualifier is in August against Uruguay.

Samapoli has been with Sevilla since since last summer in his first European club job, but the Argentinian has ample experience to take over for his home country. He managed Chile for four years, winning the 2015 Copa America in Chile. He resigned in early 2016 due to a contract dispute, paying a heavy price to do so as he gave up bonuses to wriggle free of his contract.

Argentina’s desire to secure Sampaoli as coach is nothing new, as the man himself confirmed an offer for the job a week ago, but said he would not consider it until the end of the season. It appears now that a deal is likely, and he will have a very short turnaround to get his first look at the team against a fierce continental rival.