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.

MLS (afternoon) roundup: Historically awful MNUFC spanked again

Photo credit: New England Revolution / Twitter: @NERevolution
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The fourth (partial — playing during international breaks should be banned) MLS Saturday of 2017 is two-thirds of the way complete. A quick roundup of the day’s early games…

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New England Revolution 5-2 Minnesota United

What else needs to be said about Minnesota at this point? What else can be said? The number of goals they’ve conceded in their first four MLS games: 5, 6, 2, and 5. While (we think) a bit of luck will eventually go their way, and they’ll curtail the goals they’re conceding (we can’t be sure anymore), Adrian Heath’s side is on pace to conceded 153 goals this season.

Anyway, New England picked up their first win of the season. The quality (and ease) of goals scored will tell you everything you need to know about Minnesota’s defending.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

New York Red Bulls 0-0 Real Salt Lake

Five days after firing head coach Jeff Cassar, RSL returned to their inept, toothless ways in a scoreless draw away to New York. Through four games, the Claret and Cobalt have scored all of one goal, and genuinely look the league’s most lifeless side; Minnesota have at least shown signs of quality in the attacking half.

On Saturday, New York created the majority of the game’s best chances — a pair of shots from distance, masterfully saved by deputy goalkeeper Matt VanOekel — but the chance that will live in the memories of RSL fans for a lifetime came and went in agonizing fashion.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”

USMNT: 4 players, including Brooks, Lletget, released; Arriola added

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Hours after his side’s 6-0 thrashing of Honduras to resuscitate dreams of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Bruce Arena announced on Saturday five changes to the U.S. national team roster ahead of Tuesday’s qualifier against Panama.

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John Brooks (sinus infection), Sebastian Lletget (foot), Jordan Morris (knee) and Michael Orozco (knee) were all released back to their club teams, while Club Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola was added to the squad.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Brooks dealt with the sinus infection throughout USMNT camp this past week, as Morris did his knee injury which he picked up last weekend. Lletget left Friday’s win over Honduras in the 18th minute and will undergo further tests to determine the severity of his injury; he was seen leaving the stadium on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

The USMNT’s roster for Tuesday’s qualifier in Panama City, Panama, now stands at 23 players, and reads as follows:

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Rapinoe won’t back down on social issues despite U.S. Soccer policy

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Megan Rapinoe recently earned her spot back in the U.S. Women’s National Team squad ahead of next month’s friendlies against Russia, but the veteran won’t remain silent when it comes to her stance on the social climate of America.

[ MORE: Looking back on USMNT’s big win over Honduras ]

The 31-year-old was scrutinized for joining NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when they knelt during their respective sporting events, along with dozens of other athletes across the United States.

While Rapinoe admits that the form of protest is up for discussion, she also states that social inequality issues in the U.S. go far beyond that.

“What has surprised me the most, especially post-election, is that people are still sort of arguing against it. It’s really obvious that we have very serious inequality in this country across many different spectrums,” Rapinoe told the Guardian. “Yes, we can talk about the form of protest, or the way it’s done, or this or that. But it’s still not really the conversation that I think we desperately need to have more of in this country.”

A few weeks back, U.S. Soccer announced that it now requires all players that represent the Stars and Stripes to stand when the national anthem is played, and Rapinoe has agreed to do such.

While her days of kneeling on the pitch are in the past, Rapinoe believes she wouldn’t do anything different because she was simply trying to spark discussion amongst the American people.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way to protest. I think if there was something else being done, something else would have been said about it. I can’t look back and say that I would have done this different, this different or this different.

“I can sleep at night knowing that I genuinely tried to have a really important conversation, or at least tried to open it up. I think I came to it with an open mind, an open heart and tried to get as many people to talk about it as I could.”