Premier League Preview: Hull City v. Stoke City

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  • 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.

French league terminates goal-line technology contract

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PARIS (AP) The French football league has terminated the contract with its goal-line technology provider after a series of glitches.

The LFP had already suspended the use of GoalControl, the German system that was deployed at the 2014 World Cup.

According to L’Equipe newspaper, the league will launch a tender in February to find a new provider of the technology that determines whether the ball crossed the line.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

In recent months, the French league had repeatedly expressed its discontent with GoalControl.

Goal-line technology entered soccer after a goal was wrongly disallowed at the 2010 World Cup.

FIFA is already focused on fast-tracking the next phase of technology – video assistant referees – for the World Cup in June.

Goal-line technology and VAR were provided by Hawk-Eye at the Confederations Cup last year.

Bristol City’s Johnson: “They certainly have heard of us now”

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The Premier League world may see Bristol City next season, but it seems its manager has the personality to arrive on the top flight whether or not his Robins earn promotion this season.

Johnson, 36, earned plenty of plaudits after leading his Championship club to the League Cup semifinals, famously defeated Manchester United in the quarters.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Before that, Bristol beat Premier League sides Crystal Palace, Stoke City, and Watford. The Robins beat third tier Plymouth Argyle 5-0 in the first round.

Johnson was beaming after the Robins took Man City to the edge, closing to within a goal of extra time before Kevin De Bruyne‘s stoppage time number ended the tie 5-3 on aggregate.

“Absolutely I’m proud. It’s not just tonight but over the course of the season, particularly the cup run. It was a fantastic occasion, I’m sorry we couldn’t get the win but we played against the best side that I have ever seen live. They have so many good individuals.

“We kept going and it’s taken two injury-time goals to beat us. They certainly have [heard of us] now…everybody knows what we’re about. It’s been great.”

Bristol City is in the Championship’s fifth place, bidding for its first top flight campaign since 1980. Johnson should be a hot prospect to earn a shot in the Premier League should the Robins not make the jump.

League Cup semifinal preview: Arsenal vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 4-of-7 League Cup matches vs. Arsenal
  • Arsenal leads all-time series 74W-58D-62L
  • Clubs have drawn four times this season

Hardware hopes are on the line when Chelsea hits the Emirates Stadium for a League Cup semifinal second leg with Arsenal on Wednesday.

The sides drew 0-0 at Stamford Bridge, giving Chelsea the advantage of knowing a scoring draw would do the trick and set up a date with Manchester City at Wembley on Feb. 25, though Arsenal has home field advantage in pursuit of a win.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Henrikh Mkhitaryan may debut for Arsenal, though the club released an interesting note on Tuesday: He’ll wear No. 7 in most competitions, but will have to use a different number in the Europa League because Alexis Sanchez wore it to start the tournament.

Chelsea’s Antonio Conte won’t have Alvaro Morata (back) and Cesc Fabregas for the match, though Andreas Christensen will be available for selection.

The clubs are no strangers to each other in big non-PL spots, squaring off in this season’s Community Shield (Arsenal won in penalty kicks) and last season’s FA Cup Final (Arsenal won).

Nothing has separated the sides on the field aside from those penalty kicks at Wembley Stadium, as Arsenal and Chelsea have drawn 1-1, 0-0, 2-2, and 0-0 since August.

What they’re saying

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger on Henrikh Mkhitaryan“He can play in different positions, but personally I see him first in a wide position, but I’m thinking about him a possibility to play through the middle. You are certain in our job of nothing, that’s absolutely sure. But you believe and I believe he has the qualities to do well, is a team player and our game is based on team attitude and movement and I think he can absorb the quantity of movement in our team.”

Chelsea’s Conte on the lineup: “Every game is different, you change the quality of your opponent and you must be intelligent enough to understand if you should continue with the same players or make some changes.”

Javier Mascherano leaving Barcelona after 8 seasons

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano is leaving the club after eight seasons.

Barcelona says there will be a farewell ceremony on Wednesday with Mascherano, club president Josep Bartomeu and the rest of the squad.

[ MORE: Man City to buy $86m CB ]

The 33-year-old Argentina international will say goodbye to the fans before Thursday’s game against Espanyol at Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey. He is reportedly going to play in China.

Mascherano, who also played as a defensive midfielder, arrived in Barcelona in 2010 from Liverpool and helped the Catalan club win 18 titles. He has made 334 appearances with Barcelona, but recently hadn’t been playing much.

The club earlier this month signed Colombia international Yerry Mina to boost its defense.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga