Prindi’s Premier League Picks: West Brom to upset Newcastle

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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

Newcastle United v. West Bromwich Albion (Sat 12:30pm ET on NBC; St James’ Park)

Weird times at Newcastle United.

The club is playing well, hopes of European nights are creeping into fans’ minds, the rancor concerning Joe Kinnear is dying down but two of their best players, Yohan Cabaye and Fabricio Colocinni, are both rumored to want out of St. James’ Park.

West Brom, on the other hand, keep getting the short end of the stick. With a unique array of firepower between Saido Berahino, Shane Long, Stephane Sessegnon and Morgan Amalfitano, among others, they’re a side who can beat anyone.

This could be a sneaky good match. Newcastle are heavy favorites but something tells me this weekend the Baggies finally get something to go their way.

Newcastle 1 West Bromwich Albion 2

SQUEAKY BUM TIME

Aston Villa v. Sunderland (Sat 10:00am ET on Live Extra; Villa Park)

Impressive comeback by Aston Villa last Monday at West Brom but perhaps if Paul Lambert started Andi Weimann, Gabby Agbonglahor and Fabian Delph – rather than bringing them off the bench as a 57th minute triple sub – they wouldn’t have been in the hole to begin with.

This weekend expect all three men to start, which means Christian Benteke can return to his favored lead striker role, which means Sunderland’s defense will have to be in top form, which I don’t see happening.

Aston Villa 2 Sunderland 1

Everton v. Stoke City (Sat 10:00am ET on Live Extra; Goodison Park)

Last week’s derby was an emotional journey for Everton but they’ll need to put it in their rear-view if they’re to take all three points against Stoke City.

The Potters were impressive in their 2-0 win over Sunderland, even if they did benefit hugely from the ridiculous sending off of Wes Brown.

Gut-check time for the Toffees. If they have hopes of a Top 4 finish, matches like this are a must win.

Everton 2 Stoke City 1

West Ham United v. Fulham (Sat 10:00am ET on Live Extra; Upton Park)

Don’t look now but the only thing separating West Ham from the relegation zone is the five goal difference between them and Fulham. With both clubs on 10 points and desperate to separate themselves from the bottom of the table this match has the potential to be a real belter.

West Ham United 2 Fulham 1

Norwich City v. Crystal Palace (Sat 10:00am ET on Live Extra; Carrow Road)

Can’t wait to see Tony Pulis’ baseball cap, track suit and tugboat-sized sneakers on the sideline this weekend. The former Stoke boss will be installing Route 1 football at Crystal Palace and with the players gaining confidence by the week, it might just work.

But as pressing as issues are at Selhurst Park, they’re nearly as dire at Carrow Road. Chris Hughton needs to keep his job. Norwich City needs to stay clear of the relegation zone. Beat the clubs who they should beat and the Canaries should come out top bird in this match.

Norwich City 2 Crystal Palace 1

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

Last year Spurs had United’s number, defeating the Red Devils at Old Trafford and scrambling for a late point at White Hart Lane.

This year it’s difficult to foresee a repeat performance. Last week’s shellacking aside, Tottenham are a side that simply lack cohesion among the players. What should be an entertaining, high-flying side has become dull, unimaginative and predictable. And now, with many believing AVB’s days are numbered (an opinion I don’t agree with, by the way), question marks are omnipresent throughout North London.

It’ll be closer than you think but expect United to capitalize on their mid-week thrashing of Bayer Leverkusen.

Manchester United 1 Tottenham 0

Chelsea v. Southampton (Sun 11:10am ET on NBCSN; Stamford Bridge)

If Chelsea’s mid-week loss to Basel has you thinking they’re on the decline, think again. Jose Mourinho’s side had already qualified for the next round of the Champions League before Wednesday’s loss and while they will want to finish atop their group, that can still happen with a win over bottom-of-the-barrel Steau.

Jose Mourinho’s men were dominant in the 3-0 win over West Ham last weekend and while I expect this match to be tight, I think ‘The Special One’ keeps that precious Stamford Bridge unbeaten streak in tact.

Chelsea 2 Southampton 1

CAPTAIN OBVIOUS

Cardiff City v. Arsenal (Sat 10:00am ET on NBCSN; Cardiff City Stadium)

True to form, the Bluebirds have once again made Cardiff City Stadium a fortress this year. The two Manchester sides failed to win there and Steven Caulker ensured derby success over Swansea with a towering header.

Cardiff will be thinking that with Arsenal playing three matches in one week, the Gunners will be prime for the picking as well.

Ain’t happenin’, pal.

Arsenal are too comfortable on the ball. Too mentally strong.

Cardiff City 0 Arsenal 2

Hull City v. Liverpool (Sun 9:05am ET on NBCSN; The KC Stadium)

With a lack of attacking danger and a defense on the mend, things don’t look good for Hull in this one.

Hull City 1 Liverpool 4

Manchester City v. Swansea City (Sun 11:10am ET on Live Extra; Etihad Stadium)

Manchester City at home.

Swansea City coming off a Thursday night Europa League match plus injuries to Michu and Wilfried Bony.

Enough said.

Manchester City 4 Swansea City 1

If the 2018 World Cup started today…

Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images
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Another international break has passed, with fortunes rising and falling in most of FIFA’s confederations (Africa took a break during the break, having staged AFCON in January).

[ MORE: All World Cup qualifying news ]

Brazil joined hosts Russia as nations to have qualified for the 2018 World Cup, and 30 spots remain. Let’s take the opportunity to project the field for Russia.

In October, we took the projected qualifiers and simulated all the way down to the World Cup final. Germany beat Brazil. Let’s go again. Who will “win” it this time?


QUALIFICATION

We’ll again use actual qualification, as flawed and early as it is in some confederations, to be predict our combatants.

Asia (7 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia
PLAYOFF: Uzbekistan vs. Australia

PROJECTION: While Uzbekistan has been better in terms of overall form, Australia’s experience boosts it into a match-up with the USMNT.

Africa (2 of 6 qualifiers played)
IN: DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt

CONCACAF (4 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama
PLAYOFF: United States

(AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

South America (14 of 18 qualifiers played)
IN: Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, Chile
PLAYOFF: Argentina

Oceania (4 of 6 qualifiers played)
PLAYOFF: New Zealand vs. Tahiti

UEFA (5 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: France, Switzerland, Germany, Serbia, Poland, England, Spain, Belgium, Croatia
UEFA PLAYOFFS: Sweden, Portugal, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, Italy, Greece, Iceland

SIMULATED PLAYOFFS (random draw):
Sweden vs. Iceland — Sweden wins
Portugal vs. Republic of Ireland — Portugal wins
Northern Ireland vs. Slovakia — Slovakia wins
Italy vs. Greece — Italy wins

Intercontinental playoffs:

Australia vs. United States — USMNT wins
Argentina vs. New Zealand — Argentina wins


FIELD (FIFA Rankings)

  1. Russia (hosts, 60)
  2. Argentina (1)
  3. Brazil (2)
  4. Germany (3)
  5. Chile (4)
  6. Belgium (5)
  7. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

    France (6)

  8. Colombia (7)
  9. Portugal (8)
  10. Uruguay (9)
  11. Spain (10)
  12. Switzerland (11)
  13. Poland (12)
  14. England (13)
  15. Italy (15)
  16. Croatia (16)
  17. Mexico (17)
  18. Costa Rica (19)
  19. Egypt (20)
  20. Slovakia (25)
  21. USA (30)
  22. Iran (33)
  23. Burkina Faso (36)
  24.  (Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

    DR Congo (38)

  25. South Korea (40)
  26. Nigeria (41)
  27. Sweden (45)
  28. Ivory Coast (47)
  29. Japan (51)
  30. Serbia (52)
  31. Panama (53)
  32. Saudi Arabia (57)

THE POTS

The 10 European qualifiers mean two will have to join Pot 2. Our random selections were… Croatia and Spain.

Pot 1 (seeds): Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Chile, Belgium, France, Colombia, Brazil

Pot 2 (CAF, CONMEBOL, UEFA): DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Uruguay, Croatia, Spain

Pot 3 (AFC & CONCACAF): Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, USMNT

Pot 4: (UEFA): Sweden, Slovakia, Italy, Switzerland, Serbia, Poland, England, Portugal


THE DRAW

Group A: Russia, DR Congo, Saudi Arabia, Sweden
Group B: Chile, Croatia, Mexico, Portugal
Group C: Brazil, Nigeria, Panama, Switzerland
Group D: Germany, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Poland
Group E: Argentina, Spain, Japan, Slovakia
Group F: France, Ivory Coast, South Korea, Italy
Group G: Belgium, Uruguay, USMNT, England
Group H: Colombia, Egypt, Iran, Serbia

So… should we play it out? We’ll try to throw in some upsets and not just go with the chalk.

Round of 16
Mexico (B2) def. Russia (A1)
Brazil (C1) def. Poland (D2)
Spain (E1) def. Italy (F2)
Belgium (G1) def. Egypt (H2)
Portugal (B1) def. DR Congo (A2)
Germany (D1) def. Nigeria (C2)
France (F1) def. Argentina (G2)
Colombia (H1) def. England (G2)

Quarterfinals
Brazil def. Mexico
Spain def. Belgium
Germany def. Portugal
France def. Colombia

Semifinals
Brazil def. Spain
France def. Germany

Final
Brazil def. France

Dempsey leads way for MLS players during Cup qualifying

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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The latest round of World Cup qualifying saw a major increase in the number of players from MLS called in for their national teams.

A number of those decisions paid off for their countries, perhaps no one more than Clint Dempsey.

A few months ago, Dempsey wasn’t even in consideration for the U.S. after missing the latter half of last season because of a heart issue. But the Seattle Sounders forward scored four times in two matches as the U.S. gathered four critical points in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Dempsey was part of an influx of MLS players contributing during the latest round of qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

In all, MLS had 55 players called in for qualifying in CONCACAF, CONEMBOL (South America) and UEFA (Europe) competitions. Last September, the league saw 58 players called in to their national teams, but there were more countries still alive in qualification at that time. The 55 players selected this time was an increase of 16 from the last round of qualifying matches in November, and 40 of the 55 saw action during the two days of competition in the past week representing 12 countries.

In the three CONCACAF games last Friday, 29 of the 84 players to see the field were from MLS. That outpaced LigaMX, which had 17 players among the 84 used in the three matches.

Dempsey wasn’t the only MLS player coming up big for his country. Minnesota midfielder Kevin Molino had the only goal for Trinidad and Tobago in its 1-0 win over Panama. The Vancouver duo of Christian Bolanos and Kendall Waston teamed for the only goal in Costa Rica’s 1-1 draw with Honduras.

But not all went well for MLS players during qualifying.

Young Atlanta star Josef Martinez injured his left leg during the second half of Venezuela’s 2-2 draw with Peru in CONEMBOL qualifying. Martinez returned to Atlanta and an MRI revealed a left quadriceps injury that will keep the MLS leader in goals scored out for four to six weeks. Martinez had five goals in Atlanta’s first three games.

U.S. midfielder Sebastian Lletget was forced off early in the match against Honduras but not before scoring the opening goal for the Americans. Los Angeles announced Tuesday that Lletget suffered a Lisfranc injury that will require surgery and he will be sidelined for four to six months.

[ MORE: BWP a DP; Nephew called up to England U16 ]

MATCH OF THE WEEK: The club that set the bar for expansion debuts faces the newcomer looking to topple that standard.

The Seattle Sounders will host Atlanta United on Friday night. It’s the only regular-season matchup between the two sides, but there’s more than just the competition on the field.

Seattle’s expansion season of 2009 was regarded throughout the sports industry as arguably the best franchise launch ever, not just in MLS. Between ticket sales and fan engagement, Seattle’s start could not have gone better.

Atlanta might be setting a new standard. Atlanta drew more than 55,000 for its first match and more than 45,000 for its second home game, a win over Chicago. Atlanta seems to be following significant parts of Seattle’s blueprint, down to having an influential NFL owner highly involved from the start.

As for the on-field product, the validity of Atlanta’s promising start will be tested over the next month with four straight road matches.

“It’s definitely still an expansion team,” Atlanta defender Michael Parkhurst said. “We’ve got our bumps and bruises along the way. Off the field, everyone’s still trying to get sorted and situated to the new city.”

BEST OF THE REST: Toronto finally gets to come home after opening the season with three straight road games. The Reds will host Sporting KC on Friday night. The trade-off for opening the season on the road is that Toronto gets five of its next six league matches at home and was able to get five points out of those three road contests to start.

Also of note will be what kind of lineup Vancouver rolls out on Saturday night against Los Angeles. The Whitecaps play in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals four days later.

BACK ON THE BENCH: Real Salt Lake introduced Mike Petke as its new head coach Wednesday, less than two weeks after firing Jeff Cassar. Petke was the head coach of the New York Red Bulls for two seasons, including the 2013 season when they won the Supporters’ Shield. After two years out of coaching, Petke signed on to be the head coach of the Real Monarchs, the minor-league club associated with RSL.

OFF TARGET: The other expansion debut this season by Minnesota United is on pace to set records, but not any they want to be associated with. Simply put, Minnesota can’t play defense.

Minnesota allowed at least five goals for the third time in four matches in last week’s 5-2 loss at New England. Minnesota allowed five goals to Portland and six to Atlanta and is on pace to allow more than 150 goals this season.

LAST WORD: “I’ve been very encouraged by what I’ve seen over the last 10 days. It’s going to take some time to piece that team together.” U.S. coach Bruce Arena after the latest round of World Cup qualifying.

Messi explains actions that warranted 4-match ban

AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano
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Lionel Messi is set to miss four Argentina matches for something we arguably see every week on TV.

That doesn’t make it okay, but is anyone else scratching their head at the suspension handed down to the world’s best player for verbal abuse of an official?

[ MORE: Barca defends Messi ]

Messi, 29, shouted an obscenity at the linesman in Thursday’s 1-0 win over Chile, and was both banned and served the first match of his ban on Tuesday, as Argentina was beaten 2-0 in Bolivia.

Messi explained his actions Wednesday with the following:

“My expressions were never directed to the referee, they were said to the air,” Messi told La Nacion.

That’s pretty ridiculous, yeah? But I can’t help but feel the four matches are a bit harsh. Hardly a high-level match goes by without seeing a player clearly being derisive toward an offical, and usually lipreading proves it wasn’t G-rated.

Again, I have no problem for setting a standard, as abuse of officials is unnecessary (and even those of us who are serially offenders know it).

But if confederations and leagues want to get serious about cutting it out, this can’t be a one-off suspension; End the group upbraiding of referees during games, the wild gesticulations, so on and so forth.

Bradley Wright-Phillips gets new deal; Nephew called up to England U-16

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It’s been a big 24 hours for the Wright-Phillips family.

Bradley Wright-Phillips signed a new Designated Player deal with the New York Red Bulls, while his nephew has been called up the England U-16 national team.

D’Margio Wright-Phillips is the son of Shawn Wright-Phillips, the former RBNY player currently plying his trade with Phoenix Rising of the USL.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Of course that will only serve to grow the pride of Arsenal legend Ian Wright, who adopted Bradley and Shaun.

The details:

BWP has signed a new multi-year deal with the Red Bulls which brings the 70-goal man into Designated Player status.

“I’d like to thank Denis, Jesse, and everyone at the club for the opportunity to continue wearing this shirt and playing in front of the best fans in MLS,” said Wright-Phillips. “I am very proud of what has been accomplished in my time here, but my sole focus is on trying to win MLS Cup.”

As for D’Margio, he’s in Manchester City’s academy and obviously taking the right steps toward making it three generations in the Premier League. Both Shaun and Bradley spent time in City’s academy.