Premier League Preview: Hull City vs. Chelsea

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  • Hull have conceded the joint-fewest home league goals (6)
  • Chelsea have picked up 14 points from losing positions
  • Hull have only beaten Chelsea four times in history, October 1988 was the last time

Hull City host Premier League title chasers Chelsea at the KC Stadium on Saturday (Watch live on NBCSN from 7am ET, online via NBC Sports Live Extra) as the Tigers aim for yet another upset against the Blues.

Hull, who have already beaten Liverpool at home and given Manchester United a real scare, are a force to be reckoned with in Yorkshire and Chelsea will not be taking this trip North lightly.

However Jose Mourinho’s men have little to be scared about, as they’ve won four of their last five PL games and have the second best defense in the league behind Arsenal. The Blues are positioning themselves rather nicely for a title-charge in the second half of the campaign.

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Steve Bruce’s Hull don’t have grand ambitions like that, but they are in the dizzying heights of tenth place and last time out they smashed six past Chelsea’s West London neighbors Fulham at the KC. The gameplan for the Tigers will be to keep it tight for as long as possible, then try to overpower Chelsea on set-pieces to snatch all three points late on.

Yet there’s  anew-found resilience about this Chelsea side, as young stars likes Osacar, Eden Hazard and Willian are proving they can mix it up when they have to. They’ll certainly have to get stuck in and hold their own against an extremely physical Hull side on Saturday. This promises to be a real cracker.

In terms of injuries Paul McShane could miss out for Hull, while Sone Aluko and Robbie Brady are both still sidelined. As for Chelsea, again they will be without experienced duo Frank Lampard and Branislav Ivanovic who are still a few weeks away from full fitness.

What they’re saying

Hull’s captain Curtis Davies on how they can beat Chelsea: “You look at our recent home game against Manchester United. The way we started that game and really went for it is the same attitude we should show against Chelsea. But, if we’re able to get a goal or two, hopefully we’ll be able to hold onto it for a bit longer that we did against Manchester United. I always look forward to these games, like I do any game in the Premier League.”

Jose Mourinho on if Chelsea are looking for a striker in January: “A striker, 100 per cent no. It is not a priority, it is not an option. We have three. The market is open, but for us, it is almost closed.”

Prediction

Many will expect Chelsea to go up to Hull and ground out a 2-0 or 3-0 win, and I don’t deny I am thinking about that. But if the Tigers get off to a strong start at home, they could make life very difficult for Mourinho and co. I think Hull can sneak a point here, I really do, but I think Chelsea’s vast arsenal of weapons on the bench will swing the game in their favor. Narrow away win.

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.

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

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.”

Report: Chelsea planning Hazard, Courtois pay raises

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Eden Hazard has returned to his old self under Antonio Conte this season, and now Chelsea is hoping to lock down their star attacker.

[ MORE: Lukaku says decision has been made on Everton future ]

According to the Mirror, the Premier League leaders are planning on offering up a pay raise to Hazard, who has 11 league goals this season for the Blues.

Hazard signed a nearly $250,000 per week deal two seasons ago, but the Belgium international will likely rake in significantly more under the reported deal as Chelsea hopes to keep the 26-year-old away from Spanish giants Real Madrid and others.

The Mirror is also reporting that goalkeeper and Hazard’s Belgian teammate Thibaut Courtois is likely to be handed a raise is salary as well.

The shot-stopper is set be handed a deal roughly in the range of what Hazard is currently making after allowing just 21 goals in 28 PL matches this season.