Swansea City v Hull City - Premier League

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.

U.S. U-20s awaken in 2nd half vs. Haiti, keep WCQ hopes alive

USMNT U-20 team (Photo credit: U.S. Soccer)
Photo credit: U.S. Soccer
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With many thanks to the hat trick scored by Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake, on loan from Liverpool), the U.S. U-20 national team’s hopes of qualifying for the 2017 U-20 World Cup remain intact.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

After dropping all three points in their opening group-stage game against Panama on Saturday, Tab Ramos’ young Yanks faced elimination from CONCACAF’s U-20 Championship in Costa Rica with a defeat to Haiti on Tuesday. After 15 minutes, the Americans found themselves a goal down, the prospect of winning zero points from their first two games a terrifying possibility.

Then, Lennon struck from the penalty spot. A draw wouldn’t be enough, realistically, though, as they’d still trail Haiti by three points ahead of the final group game, against Saint Kitts and Nevis, with the top two sides from each team advancing to the classification stage.

The score remained 1-1 until halftime, after which point the Yanks roared to life with three goals in a seven-minute span. Luca de la Torre (Fulham) scored the first of the bunch, an empty-net finish after a failed punch by the goalkeeper. Lennon quickly followed suit with two more to make it 4-1.

With three points from two games and a goal differential that now sits at +2, the Yanks are second in Group B, just ahead of Haiti on goal differential (+1). Panama sit atop the group with six points and a +5 goal differential. A U.S. victory over Saint Kitts and Nevis, to go with a Haitian upset of Panama, would see the Americans finish top of the group go into Group E in the classification stage, which would see them accompanied by a pair of second-place sides. The first-place side in each classification group qualifies for May’s tournament in South Korea.

Guradiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” as a club

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City reacts as Leonardo Jardim head coach of AS Monaco looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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In the past, when faced with adversity in the UEFA Champions League, Manchester City could do little more than wilt and crumble as their European dreams when up in smoke year after year, typically in embarrassing and/or heartbreaking fashion.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

On Tuesday, when faced with 2-1 and 3-2 deficits late into the second half of their round-of-16 first leg against Monaco, deja vu was quickly setting in for anyone who’s followed Man City’s rise from middling afterthought to mega-rich conglomerate with aspirations of world domination. Then, something strange (based on years of recent history) happened: Sergio Aguero fired City back to level at 2-2 in the 58th minute. Sure, more shocking defending saw the deficit restored three minutes later, but again, Aguero dissented.

For this reason, and perhaps this reason alone considering the putrid defensively display over the course of 90 minutes, first-year City manager Pep Guardiola should be heartened by Tuesday’s events at the Etihad Stadium. In his mind, it was a massive step forward in the club’s psyche — quotes from the BBC:

“I am so happy for the result, we are still alive. These kind of things help this club to achieve another step. We attacked in small spaces. That’s why they wanted me to come here. Everybody has to be congratulated.

“We are going to fly to Monaco to score as many goals as possible. If we don’t score in Monaco we will be eliminated.”

UCL: Aguero, Falcao bag braces as Man City edge Monaco, 5-3

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City (C) celebrates with John Stones (L) and Leroy Sane of Manchester City (R) as he scores their third goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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  • Sterling gives Man City an early lead
  • Falcao hits back with a brace
  • Aguero’s brace breathes life back into City

Radamel Falcao and Sergio Aguero bagged dueling braces, while the defenders and/or goalkeepers from their respective sides engaged in dueling disasters, resulting in a bonkers UEFA Champions League round-of-16 first leg for the ages: Manchester City 5, Monaco 3.

Leroy Sane, David Silva and Raheem Sterling combined to put Man City in the lead after 28 minutes (WATCH HERE). Sane danced brilliantly and effortlessly past four defenders before playing Silva to the endline. The cross was simple for Silva, with Sterling arriving into acres of space in the goalmouth.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

That’s as good as the first half would get for City, though, as their annual Champions League meltdown commenced six short minutes thereafter (WATCH HERE). The Nicolas Otamendi-John Stones-Bacary Sanga triangle of deadly defending fell asleep in unison, which allowed Falcao all the time and space in the world to size up and head home his 23rd goal (in 29 games — all competitions) this season.

Eight minutes later, everyone else in sky blue joined the aforementioned trio for nap time. Fabinho, who also whipped in the cross for Falcao’s goal, dropped the most delicate of long balls onto the foot of Kylian Mbappe, and the 18-year-old fired his first-time shot past Willy Caballero without a single defender five yards from him in any direction.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

The second half began just as disastrously for City as the first ended. Otamendi tripped Falcao inside the penalty, and after discussing with his assistant on the endline, referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz awarded Monaco a penalty kick — City felt hard done by after Aguero wasn’t awarded a clear-cut penalty in the first half — which Falcao then proceeded to hit weakly into the waiting arms of Caballero. The tide had turned back in City’s favor.

Ageuro fired City back onto level terms just short of the hour mark, with many thanks to the horrendous howler of Danijel Subasic. Aguero’s effort on goal was tame, and right at the Croatian international, but the ball went right through his hands and found the back of the net to make it 2-2, a scoreline which lasted all of three minutes.

Stones tried his very best Otamendi impression, which looked like halfhearted defending as Falcao left him for dead and chipped Caballero in the 61 minute. The renaissance of Falcao will almost certainly result in a summer full of transfer stories linking him with a move back to the Premier League.

Aguero brought City back to level terms again in the 71st minute, unleashing a stunning volley from David Silva’s corner kick. Stones tapped home at the back post six minutes later to put City 4-3 ahead, and Sane completed the epic comeback with an empty-net finish in the 82nd minute.

In the end, City still have plenty of work to do in the second leg, having conceded not one, not two, but three away goals. One thing is a near certainty: no extra time shall be needed.

UCL: Atletico Madrid blitz Bayer for 4 away goals, win 1st leg 4-2

Atletico's Antoine Griezmann, front, is congratulated by his teammate Saul Niguez after scoring their side's second goal during the Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match between Bayer Leverkusen and Atletico Madrid in Leverkusen, Germany, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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  • Four away goals for Atleti
  • Niguez, Griezmann, Gamerio, Torres on the scoresheet
  • Bellarabi, Savic (OG) give Bayer a lifeline

If you spent your Tuesday glued to Manchester City’s thrilling 5-3 victory over Monaco in the UEFA Champions League, you may now direct your attention to the day’s other first-leg festival of goals: Bayer Leverkusen 2, Atletico Madrid 4.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

Saul Niguez opened the scoring with a stunning curler after 17 minutes (WATCH HERE), and Antoine Griezmann doubled Los Rojiblancos‘ advantage eight minutes later to put Diego Simeone’s side in a commanding position with two early away goals.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

Karim Bellarabi pulled one back for Bayer just three minutes into the second half, but Kevin Gamerio converted from the penalty spot to restore Atleti’s two-goal lead just before the hour mark. Stefan Savic gave one back to Bayer in the form of an owl goal in the 68th minute, before Fernando Torres brought the visitors’ away-goals haul to four in the 86th minute.