Premier League Preview: Hull City v. Manchester United

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  • Hull have the best home defense in the Premier League this season (three goals conceded).
  • Manchester United have won 16 of the last 17 games they have played on December 26, with the defeat away Middlesbrough in 2002 the exception.
  • Hull’s only previous Premier League game on December 26 was a 5-1 defeat at Man City which saw then-manager Phil Brown conduct the half-time team talk on the pitch.

Boxing Day kicks-off at 7:00am ET this Thursday when Manchester United heads to the KC Stadium to take on Hull City (watch live on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports Live Extra).

For Hull, it’s a chance to continue their under-appreciated form of having lost only one of their last five Premier League matches, a 2-0 loss to Arsenal. Granted, the Tigers only took all three points once during that stretch but the three draws proves just how tough this side can be.

This is especially true at home where Hull has won four times, drawn once and lost three times. That ties them for the 7th best home form in the league.

United enter the match eighth in the table, their lowest position at Christmas in 24 years. They’ve improved of late, however, looking impressive in their last three in all competitions, comprehensively defeating Aston Villa 3-0, Stoke City 2-0 (League Cup) and West Ham 3-1.

Perhaps most impressive is that United’s improved form has arrived without any help from Robin van Persie, who has been sidelined with a hip/thigh injury. In his absence players like Danny Welbeck, Adnan Januzaj and the much-maligned Ashley Young have stepped up in a big way.

Most important for United is that they appear to have found their sense of identity under Moyes. They have a grittier, meaner look to them. They’re playing with chip on their shoulder, like they have something to prove. Which they do.

It makes for exciting times in the Premier League. And while they may be 8th in the table, United are just at eight points adrift of leaders, Liverpool. Without going so far as to say they are title contenders, that’s a margin that United could easily close over the next 21 matches.

If they are to make that move, taking care of smaller clubs like Hull is a necessity. They’ll have to do it without RVP, Michael Carrick (calf), Marouane Fellaini (wrist) and Nani (hamstring).

Hull have some injury concerns as well, with Robbie Brady (groin), Sone Aluko (calf) and Stephen Quinn (hamstring) all due to be out.

What They’re Saying

United winger Ashley Young: “It’s vitally important (to win) now we are going into this busy Christmas and new year period. Getting wins and points on the board is what we want to do. We’ve got nine points up for grabs between now and the new year and we want to keep building that momentum.”

Hull manager Steve Bruce (on Robbie Brady): “He’s had an injection into his groin which will take a couple of weeks to settle. We hope that does the trick. It’s been a frustrating time for him and us. We need our big players.”

Prediction

With a lot of ex-United players in their ranks (James Chester, Corry Evans, Paul McShane and Robbie Brady) I expect Hull to make life difficult on Moyes’ squad. But the Red Devils current form is too convincing for me – United should win this one by a goal.

Giovinco strikes twice to lift Toronto FC to Canadian Championship (video)

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
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Sebastian Giovinco scored twice including in stoppage time as Toronto FC overcame Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla’s fantastic strike to win 2-1 in the second leg of the Canadian Championship at BMO Field on Tuesday.

TFC held the advantage after a 1-1 first leg in Montreal. The Reds advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Tabla, who just turned 18 in March, is an Ivorian-born Canadian youth international who now has four senior goals for the Impact.

Montreal veteran Patrice Bernier saw red in the 89th minute, putting the Impact’s chances behind the 8-ball.

[ MORE: USMNT Gold Cup questions ]

Toronto FC entered the match with a road goal advantage, which was undone in the quick flash of a left-foot, as Tabla dug a ball from underneath him and past a flying Clint Irwin to make it 2-1 on aggregate.

The goal was a double whammy for Toronto, which went to the break knowing it would need to score twice (or win in penalty kicks) to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Yet TFC came back after a horrendous pass from Montreal, as Michael Bradley pinged a gorgeous diagonal ball to Sebastian Giovinco. The Atomic Ant recovered from a tough opening touch to bury his chance. 1-1.

And, oh yeah, watch this man work for his second…

Who is Kenny Saief, and other USMNT Gold Cup personnel questions

Photo by Stephen Pond - The FA/The FA via Getty Images
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Kenny Saief is an 23-year-old American left-sided player with UEFA Champions League experience.

So why do we know so little about the Miami-born man?

The answer is pretty straight-forward: Saief’s entire career has been under-the-radar. After coming up through a series of Israeli teams, he moved to KAA Gent in Belgium. None of those matches, even adding in his representing the full Israel national team twice, got a ton of play on American soil.

[ MORE: Saul scores stunner for Spain U-21s ]

So when Saief filed his one-time switch to represent the United States, paving the way for a USMNT call-up for this summer’s Gold Cup, even those of us who’d followed his career from afar had put a limited amount of actual observation on match footage.

So here’s the long-and-short:

  • Saief turns 24 in December.
  • He moved to Gent from Israeli second tier side Ramat haSharon in 2014.
  • Played a total of 35 minutes in friendlies versus Serbia and Croatia.
  • Saief has 20 total appearances between the Europa and Champions Leagues.
  • Posted a UCL assist versus Wolfsburg in the 2015-16 Round of 16.
  • Had goal, 2 assists in UEL this season, played 180 mins vs. Spurs.
  • Has 15 goals, 9 assists in 107 apps for Gent.

Saief should get an opportunity to make an impact for Bruce Arena’s USMNT, perhaps as soon as Saturday’s friendly against Ghana in East Hartford.

Who else stands a chance to gain the most from this tournament?

Joe Corona — The 26-year-old made his thirst-inducing name in American soccer circles by scoring a pair of goals in the 2013 Gold Cup, but has just 17 caps to his name. His call-up over veterans like Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan either shows how high he’s risen or how far those veterans have fallen.

Cristian Roldan — Seattle’s hard-nosed midfielder was playing college ball at Washington just three years ago, and it’s not crazy to think strong performances could boost him onto the radar of bigger clubs abroad (let alone make him a mainstay along Kellyn Acosta with the USMNT).

Dom Dwyer — If Roldan’s rise is surprising, Dwyer’s really is astounding. It’s easy to forget that the Sporting KC star forward was playing junior college soccer in 2010 before spending one season of Division I soccer with South Florida. Now he has 57 MLS goals and a look at becoming the clinical finisher the American side has wanted for some time.

Justin Morrow and Eric Lichaj — The 29- and 28-year-old fullbacks would love to prove their mettle is as good if not better than Jorge Villafana, the current front-runner to start at left back should the Yanks complete their revitalized run to the World Cup. Lichaj, a Nottingham Forest veteran, is also adept at right back.

This isn’t to say that Juan Agudelo and Kelyn Rowe won’t benefit from strong tournaments, but the names above have either been rescued from soccer’s scrap heap or at least Jurgen Klinsmann’s prison.

PODCAST: Bob Bradley talks MLS past, USMNT

Jonathan Daniel /Allsport
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Scott Nicholls and Otis Earle welcomed Bob Bradley to their “Beyond The Pitch” podcast to discuss his time coaching the Chicago Fire, the Fire’s current squad, how MLS has evolved, the new generation of players coming into the USMNT and more.

Perhaps most interesting is Bradley talking about previous losses with stinging emotion that sounds like they happened yesterday, including the 2000 MLS Cup.

[ MORE: Latest Men In Blazers pod ]

Since being fired from Swansea City after less than 100 days, Bradley has been linked with the Norway national team gig as well as a return to Los Angeles. Keep up with the U.S. coach here, and check out the podcast here:

U.S. Open Cup preview: Which underdog has best odds?

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Every dog has its day, and the three lower-tier clubs remaining in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup are hoping for a second.

Miami FC, Sacramento Republic, and FC Cincinnati enjoyed wins over Major League Soccer sides in the fourth round, and now get further MLS tests in this week’s fifth round.

[ MORE: Lampard linked with manager opening ]

Once FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids tangle on Tuesday, attention turns to the underdogs on Wednesday. Who has the best chance to advance?

  1. Miami FC vs. Atlanta United — Playing an MLS expansion side at Riccardo Silva Stadium will give Miami a bit of confidence, and this is also a side with some good experience in pressure spots. Whether it’s manager Alessandro Nesta or MLS vets Michel, Gabriel Farfan, and Michael Lahoud, MFC won’t shy away. Upset chance: Solid.
  2. FC Cincinnati vs. Chicago Fire — The visitors are having a heck of a season in MLS and don’t have a group which will be worried by a huge crowd, but there’s no debating that 25,000-plus in Southern Ohio give FCC more than a puncher’s chance. Upset chance: Improbable, but possible
  3. LA Galaxy vs. Sacramento Republic — If LA puts something close to its best side out there, Sacramento will struggle to stop its attack.  Upset chance: Long shot.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, New England hosts DC United, Philadelphia visits the Red Bulls, Seattle is off to San Jose, and Houston hosts Sporting KC.