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.

League Two game restarted in empty stadium after fans storm field

Photo credit: BBC Sport / Twitter: @BBCSport
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LONDON (AP) An English soccer game restarted in an empty stadium after a pitch invasion led to the crowd being told the fixture had been abandoned.

There were five minutes remaining in Leyton Orient’s fourth-tier game against Colchester on Saturday when a sit-down protest was staged on the pitch by Orient fans against Italian owner Francesco Becchetti.

It forced the referee to take the players off the field. The protests lasted for more than an hour before the crowd was told the game had been abandoned and the stadium eventually cleared. The teams came out and finished the game.

Leyton Orient lost 3-1 a week after its relegation from the English Football League was confirmed after 112 years.

“A decision was taken with the police to announce that the game had been abandoned as it was felt this would help clear the pitch, which proved correct,” the EFL said in a statement. “However, it was deemed appropriate that the game needed to be played to a conclusion in order to maintain the integrity of the competition.”

La Liga: Barcelona, Real Madrid hold serve in tight title race

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Super-duper Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of top 7 ]

Espanyol 0-3 Barcelona

Barcelona are doing all they can do — win — in their bid to usurp Real Madrid in the race for the title. While they entered the weekend — and still are — ahead of their El Clasico rivals based on head-to-head results this season, Los Blancos still have a game in hand which will surely decide whether Madrid claim their 33rd top-division title, or a 25th for Barca.

On Saturday, Luis Enrique’s side had more than just the title at stake — also at stake: the Derbi Barceloni, against fellow Catalan side Espanyol.

For 45 minutes, the home side held firm and refused to break, but once Luis Suarez put the Blaugrana ahead in the 50th minute, that was all she wrote. Ivan Rakitic doubled the advantage in the 76th minute, and Suarez completed the scoring 11 minutes later.

Real Madrid 2-1 Valencia

By the time the derby kicked off, Madrid had already applied the pressure and gone three points clear with a 2-1 victory that was a whole lot closer than the final score indicates.

Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark, and Zinedine Zidane’s side was well on its way to victory. Ronaldo followed up his opening goal with a missed penalty kick 10 minutes into the second half, and Daniel Parejo pulled the visitors level with a sensational free kick just eight minutes before the end of regular time. Points looked sure to be dropped, and the door opened wider for Barca, but Marcelo was prepared to play the part of hero on the day, and the Brazilian left back bagged one of the season’s more improbable goals, a right-footed strike from the top of the box, in the 86th minute.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Las Palmas 0-5 Atletico Madrid
Real Sociedad 2-1 Granada

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Osasuna vs. Deportivo La Coruña — 6 a.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Alaves — 10:15 a.m. ET
Eibar vs. Leganes — 12:30 p.m. ET
Celta Vigo vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:45 p.m. ET

Monday’s La Liga schedule

Malaga vs. Sevilla — 3 p.m. ET

Championship Focus: It’s all about the playoff places now

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With Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United having already clinched the Championship’s two automatic promotion places, all eyes turn to the four teams behind them still jockeying for playoff positioning…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s coverage of the Championship ]

3rd — Reading — 82 points, +2 GD
4th — Sheffield Wednesday — 81 points, +16 GD
5th — Huddersfield Town — 81 points, +1 GD
6th — Fulham — 77 points, +27 GD

First of all, the Championship remains the least sensible league in the world. Disagree? Just try to explain the above wildly varying points totals and the corresponding goal differentials. Go ahead, I’ll wait

As for the weekend’s results, Reading and Wednesday did themselves major favors in the race for third with victories over Wigan Athletic (1-0) and Ipswich Town (1-0), respectively, while Huddersfield, who entered the weekend in that top playoff place, played 67 minutes with a man advantage against Birmingham City, and lost 2-0. All three of Reading, Wednesday and Huddersfield have clinched their place in the promotion playoffs, which begin two weeks from Saturday, on May 13.

[ MORE: PL Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of the top 7 play ]

Given Leeds United’s 3-3 draw with Norwich City, a win would have clinched the fourth and final playoff place for Fulham, but the Cottagers dropped a pair of points themselves in a 1-1 draw with Brentford at Craven Cottage. Still, Fulham are all but into the playoffs with a three-point lead on Leeds, and a goal differential that’s 13 goals better.

PL Sunday preview: North London derby; clarity for the top-four?

Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images & Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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There’s Super Sunday, and then there’s this Sunday, when six of the top seven sides in the Premier League will be in action…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Manchester United vs. Swansea City — 7 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

Injury crisis — noun: see, also: United, Manchester

With five games to go in the PL season, and a top-four place very much within reach — as well as the Europa League trophy — Jose Mourinho is without a half-dozen players whom would have been considered automatic first-choice starters at the season’s start (see below). Fortunately for him, he’s got players like Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan beyond anxious for additional playing time.

Following a 0-0 draw with Manchester City on Thursday, Man United have climbed to within two points of third-place Liverpool (with a game in hand), and control their own destiny as far as finishing in the top-four goes. Following three straight defeats to Swansea in 2014 and 2015, order has somewhat been restored with the Red Devils winning the last two meetings between the sides. As badly as United need three points to qualify for the UEFA Champions League, the Swans need them more in their bid to stave off relegation from the PL (they currently sit three points back of 17th-place Hull City, with a better goal differential).

INJURIES: Man United — OUT: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee), Paul Pogba (leg), Marcos Rojo (knee), Juan Mata (groin), Marouane Fellaini (suspension), Chris Smalling (knee), Phil Jones (toe) | Swansea — OUT: Angel Rangel (foot), Nathan Dyer (achilles), Wayne Routledge (hernia)

Everton vs. Chelsea — 9:05 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

Sunday’s trip to Goodison Park, where they are winless in their last two visits (PL and FA Cup), looks to be Chelsea’s toughest remaining fixture as Antonio Conte‘s side seeks to lift the club’s fifth PL trophy (sixth in all eras). After a pair of losses in four games’ time saw their lead cut from 10 points to four, the Blues reasserted themselves as the team to beat with an FA Cup semifinal victory over Tottenham Hotspur, their last remaining challenger, and a convincing 4-2 victory over Southampton in league play on Tuesday.

INJURIES: Everton — OUT: Seamus Coleman (leg), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), James McCarthy (hamstring), Yannick Bolasie (knee), Muhamed Besic (fitness) | Chelsea — OUT: None

[ MORE: Sunderland officially relegated to Championship ]

Middlesbrough vs. Manchester City — 9:05 a.m. ET, on NBCSports.com

Following that 0-0 draw in the Manchester derby, Man City remain fourth in the league table, a single point back of Liverpool (with a game in hand). Given the mathematics involved, their margin for error is greater than any of the three sides fighting for the final top Champions League places. With that said, a loss away to 19th-place Boro would be horrendous, season-defining result — one that would take their destiny out of their own hands and see them rely on results elsewhere to finish top-four in Pep Guardiola‘s first season.

INJURIES: Boro — OUT: Victor Valdes (ribs); QUESTIONABLE: Grant Leadbitter (hamstring) | Man City — OUT: John Stones (knock), Ilkay Gundogan (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Sergio Aguero (back), David Silva (ankle), Gabriel Jesus (fitness)

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Arsenal — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

It was confirmed on Friday that Sunday’s North London derby would be the very last meeting between Tottenham and Arsenal ever played at White Hart Lane, as the 118-year-old stadium will be demolished this summer as construction on Spurs’ brand new, 61,000-seat stadium continues. As fate would have it, not only can Spurs round out the White Hart Lane era with another famous derby when at the Lane, but Sunday also offers Mauricio Pochettino‘s side the chance to do something the club has failed to do in each of the last 22 seasons: clinch a finish above Arsenal in the league table.

Everything is in Spurs’ favor, too, as they’ve won eight straight league games for just the third time in club history (the first time in the PL era), by a combined score of 23-4. Following back-to-back 4-0 wins, over Watford and Bournemouth, their title hopes were kept alive by a brilliant, late strike from Christian Eriksen on Wednesday at Selhurst Park. At the same time, Arsenal were fortunate to top Leicester City courtesy of a comical own goal scored by Robert Huth. If any of those things — stadium nostalgia, form, or current standing in the league (Spurs sit second, 14 points clear of the Gunners — mattered, we’d hand Spurs the three points now. But, this is still Spurs we’re talking about, and why would we ever skip out on the North London derby?

INJURIES: Tottenham — OUT: Erik Lamela (hip), Harry Winks (ankle), Michel Vorm (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Danny Rose (knee)| Arsenal — OUT: Santi Cazorla (achilles), Shkodran Mustafi (thigh); QUESTIONABLE: Laurent Koscielny (knee)