West Bromwich Albion v Aston Villa - Premier League

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

WATCH: NBC to stream USWNT, every CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying game

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The CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championships kick off on Wednesday and NBC Sports will be streaming all 15 games of the tournament over the next 11 days.

Every single game will be streamed live online or on the app via NBC Sports Live Extra, in addition to up to four matches airing on NBCSN.

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The eight-team tournament takes place from Feb. 10-21 in Houston and Frisco, Texas, with the top two teams advancing to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Below is a full schedule of the games.

2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship Schedule

Frisco, Texas – Toyota Stadium
Houston, Texas – BBVA Compass Stadium
Times U.S. Central (U.S. Eastern in parentheses)

FIRST ROUND
Group A: USA, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Costa Rica
Group B: Canada, Guatemala, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana

Wednesday, Feb. 10 (Frisco)
Puerto Rico vs. Mexico                                   5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
USA vs. Costa Rica                                    7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

Thursday, Feb. 11 (Houston)
Guatemala vs. Trinidad & Tobago                  5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
Canada vs. Guyana                                           7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

Saturday, Feb. 13 (Frisco)
Costa Rica vs. Puerto Rico                              12:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.)
USA vs. Mexico                                                 3 p.m. (4 p.m.) NBCSN at 9:30 p.m. ET

Sunday, Feb. 14 (Houston)
Guyana vs. Guatemala                                     12:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.)
Trinidad vs. Canada                                          3 p.m. (4 p.m.)

Monday, Feb. 15 (Frisco)
Mexico vs. Costa Rica                                       5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
USA vs. Puerto Rico                                          7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) LIVE on NBCSN

Tuesday, Feb. 16 (Houston)
Trinidad & Tobago vs. Guyana                         5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
Canada vs. Guatemala                                      7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

SEMIFINALS

Friday, Feb. 19 (Houston)
Group B winner vs. Group A runner-up          4:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m.) ***
Group A winner vs. Group B runner-up          7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) ***

FINAL

Sunday, Feb. 21 (Houston)
Semifinal winners                                            4 p.m. (5 p.m.) NBCSN at 11 p.m.

***USA’s semifinal, should the USA advance, will air LIVE on NBCSN

Sunderland’s Adam Johnson admits child sex charge

BRADFORD, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 10:  Adam Johnson arrives with girlfriend Stacey Flounders at the Crown Court on February 10, 2016 in Bradford, England. The Sunderland FC midfielder, aged 28 and from Castle Eden, County Durham, is on trial having previously denied three counts of sexual activity with a child and one count of grooming. He has one daughter.  (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)
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Premier League winger Adam Johnson has pleaded guilty to one count of sexual activity with a child, but the Sunderland player has denied two other charges.

Johnson, 28, appeared at Bradford Crown Court in Yorkshire, England on Wednesday and admitted the sex count and another count of grooming.

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The former Middlesbrough and Manchester City winger is an England international but has denied two other charges of having sex with a girl under the age of 16.

Up until Wednesday Johnson had pleaded not guilty but following legal talks he agreed to admit to two of the charges.

[ MORE: Reports claim Mourinho to United is “done deal” ]

The trial over the charges Johnson has denied will be held this Friday and a jury has been sworn in. The initial trial date of Aug. 3, 2015 was adjourned.

Johnson was originally arrested in March 2015 over allegations he had sex with a 15-year-old girl.

He played eight times in the final months of last season after the allegations became public, plus he has made 20 appearances in all competitions for Sunderland this season.

Report: Mourinho tells friends he will be new Man United manager

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Numerous reports from the British tabloids claim former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has told close friends he will take charge of Manchester United this summer.

[ MORE: What is USMNT’s best XI? ]

Both the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror have plastered headlines such as “Mourinho: Takes it as red” and “United job is mine” across their backpages on Wednesday morning, while the Daily Mail say Mourinho believes it’s a “done deal” for him to take over at Old Trafford.

Mourinho, 53, was fired by Chelsea in December just seven months after leading the Blues to the Premier League title.

The Portuguese coach has won three PL trophies in five full seasons in England but Chelsea’s dramatic collapse this season saw them floundering towards the relegation zone rather than fighting to defend their crown.

[ MORE: Arsenal, Spurs to contend for PL title? ]

With Louis Van Gaal‘s long-time future at United in question — the veteran Dutch coach, 64, has a deal through the end of the 2016-17 season — and the Red Devils six points off the top four in the PL despite sepnding over $375 million on new players in the past 18 months, it is believed that United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward is under pressure to appoint a manager capable of returning United back to title contenders and perennial challengers in Europe.

On Tuesday it was reported that United had reached out to reps of Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino, and it certainly seems like they’re assessing their options before giving LVG even more money to spend this summer, if he’s still around.

If United decide to make a change, Mourinho fits the bill.

At least in terms of winning trophies and attracting the best players on the planet which will be increasingly necessary for United to stay in touch with crosstown rivals Manchester City who will be managed by one of Mourinho’s great managerial foes, Pep Guardiola, from next season. After winning the UEFA Champions League with FC Porto and Inter Milan, the eccentric yet brilliant coach has also won league titles in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain. Following the debacles on and off the pitch this season at Chelsea, Mourinho needs a chance to prove himself and be in charge of a rebuilding project. He wants to stay in England and after being fired by Chelsea twice in his career, you get the sense that United is the only other club befitting of his reputation that can offer him a job he deems up to his standards.

After Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, it is believed the United’s hierarchy turned down the chance to appoint Mourinho as they didn’t want the media circus and the antics which come from hiring Mourinho. Now, though, it’s all about winning and Mourinho will be United’s best chance of transitioning from the disappointing David Moyes era and the so far underwhelming spell since Van Gaal’s been in charge.

Seven unheralded stars of this Premier League season

during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur at Vitality Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.
Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images
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Look, it’s been a crazy year in the Premier League. Leicester City is top by five points, Chelsea is a bottom-half side, and not one of the league’s top three scorers hails from a team in last season’s Top Four.

So it follows that among the league’s other statistical leaders — advanced and traditional — are some surprisingly shining stars.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Or at least they aren’t mentioned a ton. We plan to rectify that here. By no means do we claim these statistical leaders without fault this season, but hats off to the good they’ve done (or, in some cases, the pain they’ve felt).

Most saves in a starring role

You wouldn’t know it from the goal totals these past few weeks, but Stoke City’s Jack Butland has been playing otherworldly between the sticks. His 87 saves lead the Premier League, and the Potters would be in the thick of a relegation battle if he hadn’t shone as brightly.

Ironman

Eleven players have played every minute of their side’s Premier League campaign this season (a 12th, Gareth Barry, has played all but one). Four of those 11 are goalkeepers, and six more are defenders. The only midfielder? Bournemouth’s South African standout Andrew Surman (above).

Top thief, too

Surman is also the league leader in interceptions with 92. The next seven players on the list, headed by Chris Smalling, are all defenders.

The most under-appreciated of the underdogs

Kante (Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

Leicester City has been fantastic, and people are quick to name Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy as big parts of the table-topping effort at King Power Stadium. Then, perhaps they’ll say something about goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel or defender Wes Morgan.

But how about the Premier League’s leader in tackles. Midfielder N'Golo Kante (right) has 115 tackles, 12 more than second-best Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace.

An all-expense paid journey to the massage parlor for…

Five players have been fouled more than 50 times this year, and you need to be around the ball a lot for that to happen. The four also-rans are Southampton’s Sadio Mane, Swansea City’s Andre Ayew, Everton’s Ross Barkley and Mahrez, but the man who deserved to skip to the head of the ice bath line is from Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha has been fouled 59 times. And that’s the amount of times the foulers were caught in the act.

Let Newcastle United’s captain climb in second, though; Fabricio Coloccini‘s 47 blocked shots are eight more than runners-up Neil Taylor (Swans) and Christian Fuchs (Leicester).

A man possessed

He hasn’t been heralded like a year ago, and most witnesses would tell you the midfielder’s been playing much worse. No, touches don’t equal success, but Cesc Fabregas‘ 2,027 credited touches are 74 more than the next player despite the fact that he’s the only player in the top four to have started less than 25 matches. He’s also completed 83 more passes than the closest competitor (Surman).

All-around stars

Advanced stats site Squawka uses an algorithm to generate statistics on who just might be the most complete player in the Premier League.

It’s certainly not foolproof, but the best player per-90 minutes would likely surprise you: Mousa Dembele of Spurs (Minimum 15 matches).

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As for who’s produced the most when numbers are averaged out over the entire game, one man rises to the top: Ross Barkley.

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