Premier League Preview: Hull City v. Stoke City

Leave a comment
  • Hull have lost just one of their last eight Premier League home games (W4 D3 L1)
  • Stoke City have lost just one of their last six Premier League matches (W2 D3 L1)
  • Hull have won just one of their last eight league matches against Stoke (W1 D4 L3) and just one of the last five on home soil (W1 D1 L3) [Powered by Opta]

It’s 12:25pm ET on Saturday and you’re sitting on your couch lounging out, watching Rebecca Lowe talk Premier League, and thinking ‘Man, life is good. Not sure how this could get much better.’

And then, BOOM! Stop the presses! Just when you though life couldn’t get better, it does!

Because next up on the tele: Hull City and Stoke City. Butterflies explode in your stomach. Then, with an ear-to-ear grin, you turn to your significant other and inform him/her – ‘Honey, we’re ordering brunch in today.

Why wouldn’t you?

I recognize it’s not the sexiest fixture in the world. It takes a bold Premier League fan to watch two City’s, neither of which is named Manchester.

But you should be that person.

Anyone can talk Tottenham/Liverpool and Manchester City/Arsenal. You should be that dude who turns up at the water cooler and casually drops knowledge on Stoke/Hull.

Here’s why I kinda like Stoke.

Under Mark Hughes they’ve managed to shed the lumberjack label they used to have. Yes, they can go direct but they can also play some decent football.

Steven N’Zonzi is growing into a real player. The Frenchman, who so badly wants Arsenal to buy him, may actually warrant such a purchase. (They won’t, I’m just saying he’s done well.)

N’Zonzi generally plays in the center of the park with Charlie Adam, who clearly was born to play at a mid-to-bottom level club in the Premier League.

Liverpool was too much for him. But Stoke suits him well, not unlike Blackpool did when he played under Ian Holloway. Unfortunately, he’s unlikely to feature this weekend due to a knock. Making things worse for the Potters, Stoke’s best defender, Robert Huth, is out until the New Year with a knee injury.

Another player who is enjoying himself is Steven Ireland. I recognize he’s had some unfortunate news off-the-pitch in the past (use The Google, son!) but when he’s fit, he’s a top quality midfielder. This is the best I’ve seen him play since he lit it up at Manchester City in 2009 and earned team POY honors.

If Stoke are to win, guys like Ireland will have to step up because Asmir Begovic (thigh), Erik Pieters (groin) and Mathew Etherington (back) are all late fitness tests.

I’ve also enjoyed watching Marko Arnautovic and Geoff Cameron this season.

Arnautovic is a hardened Austria who is a physical speciman with a good touch. Could be a major player someday.

The 28-year-old Cameron has been a rock at right-back for the Potters, having started 14 of 15 matches. Like other notable quality American outfield players (e.g. Clint Dempsey), Cameron is a late-developer and has been a fascinating evolution to watch.

One final Stoke guy I love: Liverpool loanee Oussama Assaidi. As I preached to some of my boys this past weekend, Assaidi’s 25 yard, off-balanced 90th minute rip into the far corner to beat Chelsea 3-2 was my goal of the week. I’m interested in seeing more of the 25-year-old Moroccan.

On the Hull City side of the ball, Danny Graham got his first goal of the season in the 1-1 draw over Swansea City last Monday. It was the Sunderland loanee’s first strike since scoring in a 2-0 win against Chelsea in the Capital One Cup semi-final last January.

I was happy for Graham. Slumps suck. Maybe now he’ll bust out a bit.

Graham’s strike partner, Yannick Sagbo is an underrated player. Works hard, has pace, skill and a variety of finishing techniques. If the Tigers end up getting relegated, the 25-year-old Frenchman will be bought by a Premier League club.

I was also very impressed with Ahmed Elmohamady’s play on Monday as well. The 26-year-old Egyptian wing-back is rather fearless. His stamina is incredible. Six Box to six box, for 90 minutes. He loves to take players on.  Simply enough, Elmohamady is fun to watch.

Tom Huddlestone is quality. Good to see him finally coming around after being used sparingly by Tottenham. Nearly had to shave his gigantic afro after he thought he scored last week. It was quickly deemed an own-goal but he’s come so close on so many occasions. That coif will soon be chopped.

Finally, a quick shout to Curtis Davies, the heart of the Tigers defense. When he plays, they win. Easy as that. All praise on purchasing the 28-year-old center-back from Birmingham City goes the way of manager Steve Bruce, who purchased Davies for a cheeky £2.25 million this past summer.

So that’s my sell to you on Stoke City v. Hull City.

Watch it love this Saturday at 12:30pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports Live Extra.

What They’re Saying

Hull striker Danny Graham (on manager Steve Bruce): “He’s been great with me from the moment I walked through the door,” he told BBC Radio Humberside. “He keeps telling me how good a player I am and that the goals will come and I can only thank him for that.”

Stoke manager Mark Hughes (after Oussama Assaidi’s goal bet Chelsea): “I disappointed him because I took him out of the team. But I did say to him before the game that he had to be ready to come on and make an impact.”

Prediction

The injury situation at Stoke worries me. So does the predictable downfall following that big 3-2 win over Chelsea. Bruce has Hull playing solid football and they’re so difficult at the KC Stadium. Hull win this game.

Wenger: Timing of departure “not really my decision”

Leave a comment

Arsene Wenger has been speaking about his Arsenal departure and there are some intriguing details emerging.

Wenger, 68, announced last Friday that he would be leaving Arsenal at the end of the current 2017-18 campaign after almost 22 years in charge.

But when asked about the timing of his decision during his press conference ahead of the Europa League semifinal first leg against Atletico Madrid on Thursday, Wenger said it was taken out of his hands…

“The timing was not really my decision, the rest I have spoken about already,” Wenger said. “I focus on what I have to do every day. At the moment, I work like ever.”

Wenger added that he will “for sure” continue to work beyond this season but wasn’t giving anything away. The Arsenal boss also said he had a “high opinion of Luis Enrique” but that didn’t “want to influence the next manager.”

What do we make of all this?

Wenger still had one more year left on his current deal at Arsenal and it appears he was keen to be in charge next season. The growing notion that Wenger stepped down before he was sacked seems to be on point. After three Premier League titles and 10 major trophies in total in over two decades in charge, it appears Wenger didn’t get to decide when he called time on his Arsenal career.

The perfect end for Wenger at Arsenal would be to win the Europa League and then leave on a high, but these comments suggest the Frenchman may not be happy with some of the hierarchy at Arsenal.

These comments amid links to PSG and the French national team also suggest to rule out a role upstairs at Arsenal, at least for the foreseeable future, for Wenger.

Roma condemn violent scenes outside Anfield

Getty Images
Leave a comment

AS Roma have condemned an attack from some of its supporters on Liverpool’s fans before the game after a 53-year-old Liverpool supporter was injured outside Anfield before the UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg on Tuesday.

The Serie A side said that a “small minority of traveling fans brought shame on the club” as two men from Rome have been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after the attack on the Liverpool fan who is in a critical condition after suffering head injuries.

Below is the statement in full from the Italian club.

AS Roma condemns in the strongest possible terms the abhorrent behavior of a small minority of traveling fans who brought shame on the club and the vast majority of Roma’s well-behaved supporters at Anfield after getting involved in clashes with Liverpool supporters before last night’s fixture.

There is no place for this type of vile behavior in football and the club is now cooperating with Liverpool Football Club, UEFA and the authorities. The club’s thoughts and prayers are with the 53-year-old Liverpool fan in hospital and his family at this time.

Salah’s sensational season in context

AP Photo/Dave Thompson
1 Comment

Mohamed Salah is having a season on the same level as Lionel Messi.

Some* will even say it’s better.

[ MORE: LFC 2-1 Roma | Klopp reacts ]

There are few ways to overstate how well the Egyptian has performed for Liverpool this season, and few matches have been as strong as Tuesday’s destruction of AS Roma.

Make no mistake about it: Destruction is the right word. I Lupi isn’t dead thanks to the Reds right side of the defense and James Milner‘s arm, but it was fading out of consciousness when Salah departed the game.

It’s not crazy to draw the connection. Just ask Jurgen Klopp:

“If anyone wants to say it is my mistake that we concede the two goals because I change the striker, I have no problem with that,” he said. “Mo was running all the time and it would not have helped us if he gets an injury. What a player. If you think he is the best in the world, write it or say it. He is in outstandingly good shape, world-class shape, but to be the best in the world you need to do it over a longer period, I think. The other two are not bad.”

No, no they are not, but Salah is on their level.

The aesthetics of his first goal were first-class, dinging off the bottom of the cross bar like a vicious swish of a Steph Curry three. When the night ended, Salah had two more goals and two more assists to bring his total to 43 goals and 15 assists in 47 matches. In three more matches, the best player on the planet has 40 and 18 (Ronaldo has 42 and 7 in 39).

[ MORE: LFC supporter in critical condition after Roma attack ]

The reason not to overreact is Luis Suarez’s 2013-14, in which he posted posted 31 goals and 24 assists in 37 games and would’ve arguably made Salah’s season look just “pretty great” if the Reds were in European football (or, one could argue, Suarez wasn’t slowed by the demands of a more congested adventure).

And we also won’t know Salah’s path next season. Take Cristiano Ronaldo’s 2007-08 season, the closest thing we have to Suarez or Salah in this generation. The then-23-year-old posted 42+8 in 49, but took a step back the next season before exploding into space upon debut with Madrid the following season (His second Real campaign, 2010-11, was the first real otherworldly CR7 campaign, with 53+18 in 54).

Salah is the Premier League Player of the Year, and he’s the front-runner for the Ballon d’Or (which is likely to be determined by this summer’s World Cup in Russia, with Argentina and Portugal possibly on a quarterfinal collision course and Egypt in an very winnable Group A with Russia, Uruguay, and Saudi Arabia).

Jurgen Klopp deserves much credit for Salah’s explosion. Even if the Egyptian began his ascent in Italy, there’s been nothing like this. And if he can do it a few more years, he has the chance to land amongst the generational names in soccer (perhaps as the best African player in Premier League history with Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba).

He’ll almost certainly become the all-time single-season Liverpool league goal scorer this season barring rest for the UCL, and he’ll be their top all-time according to Opta if he nabs four or more goals across 4-5 matches (Roma again, Stoke, Chelsea, Brighton, and probably Real Madrid or Bayern Munich).

The Reds were unbelievably good for 80 minutes on Tuesday — 75 of which were Salah-led — and the praise would’ve been flowing like a waterfall had they not switched off for 10 (in which it must be said Liverpool was fortunate to only concede twice!).

*By the way, Messi fans, you’ll be relieved to count me as not one of those who’d say Salah is having a better season. It’s closer than you think. Messi is better than Salah in league play, while Salah is having a superior UCL campaign. Given the general consensus top-to-bottom on Premier League vs. La Liga and Barca’s UCL competition vs. Liverpool’s opponents — which is drawing level now — we’d say it’s even.

Messi vs. Salah league play (per 90, Squawka)
Assists: Messi 0.4-0.31
Key passes: Messi, 2.16-1.63
Chances created: Messi, 2.56-1.94
Attack score: Messi, 73.04-54.5
Possession score: Messi, 5.6 to minus-5.12
Pass completion (%): Messi, 81-77
Shot accuracy: Even (62%)
Tackles won: Salah, 0.24-0.2
Take-ons won (%): Messi, 69.47-64.96

Messi vs. Salah league play (per 90, Squawka)
Assists: Salah, 0.45-0.23
Key passes: Salah, 2.13-1.72
Chances created: Salah, 2.58-1.95
Attack score: Salah, 70.89-55.69
Possession score: Messi, 2.71 to minus-3.34
Pass completion (%): Messi, 81-73
Shot accuracy(%): Salah, 73-69
Tackles won: Messi, 0.69-.45
Take-ons won (%): Salah, 76.4-61.4

How long is Sebastian Giovinco for Toronto FC?

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
Leave a comment

While Toronto FC’s CONCACAF Champions League success has largely been driven by Sebastian Giovinco — Wednesday’s final second leg not withstanding — perhaps the Reds’ brass isn’t convinced the diminutive 31-year-old can keep it up much longer (at least in terms of value).

[ MORE: Behind the scenes at NYCFC training ]

Toronto’s dynamic Designated Player says he wants to stay in Ontario, implying that he’d like to be there for the rest of his career, but TFC’s brass may not want to pony up DP dollars for the next stage of Giovinco’s career.

From The Toronto Sun’s Kurt Larson:

“I already talk, but they said it’s not the moment (for contract talks),” Giovinco told the Sun. “For them, that’s not a problem, for me it is a little bit. I want to know my future. I have family. I’m 31 years old. For what I do for the city, I think I deserve it, no? … For them it’s not a problem, for me it’s starting to be a problem … I already said I want to stay here forever … If not, I have to think about other options.”

Let’s look into Seba’s success. The Italian has three goals and four assists in seven CCL matches (though scoreless through three MLS matches).

2017: 32 games, 20 goals, seven assists (6W-3L-2T w/o him)
2016: 37 games, 22 goals, 16 assists (1W-1L-4T w/o him)
2015: 35 games, 23 goals, 14 assists (0W-2L w/o him)

The assist numbers took a hit with the emergence of Victor Vazquez, but the ex-Barcelona man is also 31 years old. Michael Bradley turns 31 this summer, and Jozy Altidore is 29 in November.

Who will stay long-term? Who could general manager Tim Bezbatchenko have in mind as replacements, upgrades, or buttressing? Inquiring minds are