Premier League Preview: Newcastle United v. West Bromwich Albion

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  • West Brom have won just one of their last eight Barclays Premier League away games (W1 D4 L3).
  • In the last eight Barclays Premier League meetings between Newcastle and West Brom, neither side has kept a clean sheet.
  • Shane Long has scored three goals in his last two Premier League appearances, this after failing to score in his previous 10 in the competition.
  • Magpies’ striker Loic Remy has scored eight goals in his last eight Premier League games.

Five days after Shane Long’s stunning double against Aston Villa, the Republic of Ireland striker and his West Brom teammates travel to up-start Newcastle (watch live on NBC 12:30pm ET and online via NBC Sports Live Extra) at St. James’ Park.

In the corresponding fixture in October 2012, a 93rd minute strike by Papiss Cisse cancelled out a Romelu Lukaku leveller to hand the Magpies a 2-1 victory. Six months later West Brom exacted revenge in the form of a 1-1 home draw with Billy Jones scoring a second half goal for a share of the points.

This year it’s a different story as Newcastle are enter the match in red-hot form having won their last three in the league. Alan Pardew’s side got things started following the 1-2 loss to Sunderland in the Tyne-Wear derby by upsetting Chelsea 2-0. The Magpies followed that up with a 1-0 win over Spurs at White Hart Lane before returning home to knock off Norwich City 2-1.

Much of Newcastle’s success is due to the fantastic play by on-loan striker Loic Remy, who brought his strike-tally to eight goals this past weekend. But while the offense is clicking, the defense deserves credit with Mike Williamson and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa stepping up brilliantly in the absence of the injured Steven Taylor and Ryan Taylor. If both ends of the pitch get it right on Saturday, Newcastle could make the leap from eight to fourth in the table, making European dreams a potential reality on Tyneside.

West Brom enter the match in a decent run of form, having taken five out of possible nine points from their last three fixtures against Crystal Palace (2-1 win), Chelsea (2-2 draw) and Aston Villa (2-2 draw). Of all the clubs in the Premier League, they’re the one that nobody wants to face.

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Keep not paying attention to Shane Long at your own peril. Hands down, the most underrated striker in the Premier League.

With a tricky front four that includes Shane Long (for me, the most underrated striker in the Premier League), Saido Berahino, Morgan Amalfitano and Stephane Sessegnon, the Baggies can be devastating on the counter-attack. They’re strong up the spine as well, with Claudio Yacob and Youssuf Mulumbu forming a menacing holding pair that sits in front of a pair of underrated center-backs Jonas Olsson and Gareth McCauley.

West Brom’s current susceptibility is at the full-back position where Goran Popov and Steven Reid have deputized for the injured Liam Ridgewell and Billy Jones. Reid has been decent but Popov was atrocious last Monday when his lazy marking allowed Karim El Ahmadi to score and his poor clearance allowed Ashley Westwood to level.

If the Baggies are to avoid a loss this weekend, they’ll need to shore up the flanks where players like Yoan Gouffran and Moussa Sissoko and Hatem Ben Arfa will be looking to feast.

What They’re Saying

Newcastle manager Alan Pardew: “The focus now is on this period because it really is the nuts and bolts of this league. Between now and the end of January is really when it all happens.”

West Brom manager Steve Clarke: “At the moment, the feeling is more disappointment than anything else . . . . I’ve touched on it a couple of times this season that I feel we’re drawing too many games, and we have to turn those draws into wins.”

Prediction

People are high on Newcastle right now and I don’t blame them. The Magpies have been impressive and look to have put the woes of last season into their rear-view mirror. If they truly are the real deal they have to prove it against mid-table clubs like West Brom. Problem is, West Brom are one heck of a difficult mid-table club.

Expect these sides to share the points.

Totti leaves future uncertain before final match with Roma

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ROME (AP) Francesco Totti has finally announced that Sunday’s match against Genoa will be his last with Roma after an incredible 25-season career with his hometown club.

Whether the 40-year-old Totti will continue playing with another squad remains anyone’s guess.

The 2006 World Cup winner opened his future to questions by releasing a carefully worded statement on Thursday.

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“Roma-Genoa, Sunday 28th May 2017. The last time I can wear Roma’s jersey,” Totti said. “I can’t tell you in a few words how much these colors meant, mean and will always mean to me.

“I just feel that my love for football never fades; it’s a passion, my passion. It’s so deep I can’t imagine not fueling it any longer. Ever. From Monday I’m ready to go again. I’m ready for a new challenge,” Totti added.

The first part of Totti’s statement inferred that it wasn’t his decision to end his Roma career but that of the club, by not offering him a contract for next season.

Totti has not hidden his difficult relationship with Roma coach Luciano Spalletti, who has used Totti mainly as a last-option substitute.

However, Spalletti is widely expected to follow former Roma sporting director Walter Sabatini to Inter Milan; while Sassuolo coach Eusebio Di Francesco, a former teammate of Totti’s, could move to Roma.

The second part of Totti’s statement, when he mentioned a “new challenge,” inferred that Totti is considering ending his career with another club.

Miami FC, which plays in the second-tier NASL and is managed by Totti’s former teammate with the national team, Alessandro Nesta, and co-owned by Paolo Maldini – another former Italy teammate – appears to be the most attractive option.

James Pallotta, Roma’s American owner, has offered Totti an unspecified management position.

As for Sunday, Totti is not expected to start.

While the match at the Stadio Olimpico was sold out for Totti’s goodbye, Roma enters the final match of the season still looking to seal second place in Serie A and a direct berth into the Champions League.

Roma is one point ahead of third-place Napoli, which will play at Sampdoria.

Totti has appeared in 785 matches in all competitions with Roma, third all-time in Italy for most games with a single club behind only Maldini (902 with AC Milan) and Javier Zanetti (858 with Inter Milan).

Totti is also second all-time in goals scored in Serie A with 250, 24 short of the record that Silvio Piola established from 1929-54. No other active player has more than 200.

But statistics don’t tell the entire story for Totti, a cultural icon perhaps more linked with his club and city than any other player in Italian history.

Born in the working-class San Giovanni section of Rome, Totti made his debut for Roma at the age of 16 way back in 1993.

In 1998 at the age of 22, Totti became the youngest ever Serie A captain.

At the 2000 European Championship, Totti’s chipped “Panenka” penalty against the Netherlands highlighted his talent and audacity.

A year later, Totti led Roma to its third Serie A title and was the centerpiece of a celebration inside the Circus Maximus attended by a crowd estimated at 1 million.

After a spitting incident with Denmark’s Christian Poulsen at Euro 2004 slightly tarnished his image, Totti regained respect within the national team by returning from a broken leg to help Italy win the 2006 World Cup – playing with a metal rod and about 10 support screws inside his left ankle.

In 2007, Totti led Serie A with a personal-high 26 goals and earned the Golden Shoe award as the top scorer in Europe.

In 2015, Totti scored twice as Roma came back from two goals down to earn a draw with Lazio in the city derby, then took a selfie with Roma’s fans in the background.

A final highlight came in February, when Totti scored in added time to give Roma a 2-1 win over Cesena and a spot in the Italian Cup semifinals.

On Sunday, Totti’s career will be honored with an extensive post-match celebration at the Olimpico.

Whether or not there will be more highlights next season – somewhere – remains to be seen.

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

Transfer rumor roundup: Morata flying to Milan, Carvalho to Newcastle

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Alvaro Morata is one of the hottest properties on the planet. Like James Rodriguez, he doesn’t get the time at Real Madrid he’d receive at most other clubs in the world. And like James, he’s been linked with plenty of clubs including Premier League powers Chelsea and Manchester United.

[ MORE: Man City medical for Silva ]

But Italian site Gazzetta says Morata will skip over the Premier League for a return to Serie A, this time heading to AC Milan. The ex-Juventus star, 24, scored 20 goals in 42 appearances for Real this year.

Morata is said to be flying to Italy, hours after Marca claimed that Jose Mourinho would insist on his inclusion in any deal for David De Gea.

Newcastle United is the latest club linked to Portuguese center midfielder William Carvalho, and the Magpies are said to be looking into a $78 million bid. The 25-year-old Sporting CP dynamo is a regular in the transfer rumor mill, and has 31 caps for Portugal. The Angola-born Carvalho played nearly every minute of Portugal’s EURO 2016 winning run.

Sevilla: Agreement with Sampaoli to leave for Argentina job

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Argentine managerial wizard Jorge Sampaoli is coming home.

Sevilla announced that Sampaoli is leaving the club after one season to take charge of the Argentina national team, with La Albiceleste’s World Cup fate hanging in the balance.

Sampaoli won 50 percent of his matches at Sevilla, leading the side to the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 in addition to finishing fourth in La Liga.

[ MORE: U-20 World Cup latest

He previously led Chile to its first Copa America crown.

Sevilla said the agreement to let him go will be signed on Thursday, allowing him to oversee Argentina’s next World Cup qualifier in late August. Argentina sits fifth in the CONMEBOL table, just two points out of second.

It heads to Uruguay before hosting Venezuela, with the remaining qualifiers versus Peru and away to Ecuador.

FA Cup Final preview: Desperate Arsenal meets Double-seeking Blues

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  • Clubs split PL series
  • Chelsea’s Conte aims for double
  • Chelsea 8W-3D-2L vs. Arsenal since 2012

Arsenal and Chelsea face off with a trophy on the line for the fourth time this century when the London sides hit Wembley Stadium for Saturday’s FA Cup Final.

Arsenal beat Chelsea in the 2015 Community Shield, the first silverware match-up between the two sides since the 2007 League Cup Final in Wales. The Blues won that one, 2-1, while Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-0 in the 2002 FA Cup Final.

[ MORE: Conte open to contract extension ]

A win would be Arsenal’s third FA Cup trophy in four seasons, and Arsenal would be thrilled to put something shiny in its trophy case following a season of tumult at the Emirates Stadium which ended without UEFA Champions League qualification for the first time in 20 years.

Conte knows Arsenal is desperate for something good.

What they’re saying

Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on what a win could mean“We wanted to finish higher up in the league, there is no doubting that. We cannot hide from that and we need to own up to that. The FA Cup is a big trophy, one we want to win and which would definitely boost morale going into next season.”

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte on the match: “If you ask me who is the favorite now, I can tell you it is Arsenal because Arsenal now has the possibility to find a good season after a win in the FA Cup. For this reason, we must play with great patience. We must find in ourselves the right motivation, the right anger because the game can be very difficult for all of these reasons.”

Prediction

Could go either way, with many players not just glory-hunting but in the shop window. Will Alexis Sanchez be the difference maker? Mesut Ozil? Maybe, but we think Chelsea ratchets up the intensity one more time and claims a double with a 2-1 win.