Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Sunderland

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  • Chelsea boast a 12W-2D-1L record in past 15 versus West Ham
  • West Ham is 1W-1D-5L in last seven road PL matches
  • Hammers outscored 19-4 across January competitions in 2014

It’s not even February in the crowded bottom half of the Premier League table, but there’s no question Wednesday’s relegation scrap between Stoke City and Sunderland could send the fortunes of each club in either direction (Watch at 2:45pm ET on on NBC Sports Live Extra).

While a win pulls Sunderland out of the relegation zone and moves them to within a point of the Potters, Stoke needs all three points considering their upcoming fixtures.

The 21 points Stoke had a few weeks ago was able to keep Potter pulses in check, but having 22 after this one would send heart rates soaring with Manchester United, Southampton, Manchester City and Arsenal opponents in four of their next five matches.

Newly-minuted League Cup finalists Sunderland have been on their way up since Gus Poyet took over for embattled boss Paolo di Canio, but they haven’t found their consistency in Premier League play.

Still, the Black Cats’ nine points through their last six matches make for Top Eight form. Their draw at Southampton and win at Everton are nice and all, but draws against fellow scrappers Norwich and Cardiff show safety isn’t built in a day, and a home loss to Aston Villa shows how much work’s left for Poyet.

Then, there’s Stoke City’s one point in five matches. To be fair to the Potters, it’s been a brutal stretch that included a double red card affair with Newcastle in addition to matches with Spurs, Everton and Liverpool. They drew the Toffees, but is the loss to Crystal Palace in their most recent match a symptom of the sick or just another slip up?

The Potters should have Peter Odemwingie available after their swap with Cardiff City for Kenwyne Jones.

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What They’re Saying

Potters boss Mark Hughes on Sunderland: “I saw them against United in the semi and thought they were excellent on the night and fully deserved to go through in my opinion, irrespective of the fact that it needed a penalty shoot-out. They have a lot of confidence behind them at the moment but we’re going there looking to be positive. We want to get back on track in terms of accumulating points on the road; we need to do that sooner rather than later.”

Sunderland’s Fabio Borini on stifling League Cup final thoughts: “We can’t just think about one game. We have four or five games in between which are more important now to stay in the Barclays Premier League. It’s one of the most important weeks of the season. We have got two games that are achievable to get three points. If we could get away with four or six points then it would be a very good week and hopefully we can look forward to the last part of the season.”

Prediction

Stoke’s goal differential (-14) is just one better than Sunderland, so there’s plenty at stake at the Britannia Stadium. It’s improbable you could understate how much this much this match means for both teams, but it seems the lion’s share of the pressure would be on the home side. Expect a heart-pounder with goals to show as the teams draw 2-2.

Wenger: Arsenal “complacent, had no ideas” in Ostersunds loss

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Perhaps Sunday’s League Cup final had already reached the forefront of their minds, but Arsene Wenger admonished his players, whom he said were “complacent, not focused” and “had no ideas” for much of Thursday’s Europa League defeat, at home, to Swedish side Ostersunds.

[ MORE: Premier League TV schedule | Man United vs. Chelsea ]

The Gunners advanced to the round of 16 on the back of their 3-0 first-leg victory last week, but Wenger was understandably displeased by the effort he saw and expressed such feelings in no uncertain terms, before quickly easing up and praising the fact they were able to pull back a goal against the current fifth-place team from Sweden — quotes from the BBC:

“We were not at the races in the first half,” said Wenger, who saw his side booed off at half-time and full-time. I think in the second half it was much better and we should have scored a few goals.

“In the first half, we were in trouble and in danger because we were complacent, not focused and were open every time we lost the ball. We had no ideas with the ball and that’s why we were in trouble.

“We responded very well because we did the job to qualify, but that’s what we have to take from the night and that’s all.”

With Arsenal now trailing fourth-place Chelsea by eight points (and seven back of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur), winning the Europa League might just be the Gunners’ last chance at qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

Batshuayi racially abused by Atalanta fans

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Borussia Dortmund striker Michy Batshuayi says he was subject to racist chants from Atalanta fans during a Europa League game in Italy.

The Belgium international, on loan from Chelsea, tweeted:

Dortmund advanced to the round of 16 by drawing 1-1 to beat Atalanta 4-3 on aggregate on Thursday.

The game was played at Mapei Stadium in Reggio Emilia because Atalanta’s home stadium is unsuitable for UEFA games.

There have been several incidents of racism at Serie A matches this season.

Whitecaps defender Tim Parker being tracked by several teams from East

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Tim Parker’s next destination could very well be closer to his hometown, however, other MLS sides are in hot pursuit of the U.S. Men’s National Team defender.

[ MORE: CCL recap — FC Dallas falls, Club America struts its stuff ]

The Vancouver Whitecaps center back has been the subject of trade speculation recently, and Pro Soccer Talk has learned that Parker has turned down a new contract with the Cascadia side that would have kept the 24-year-old in Canada for at least three more seasons.

Multiple sources have told PST that the deal Parker rejected was worth over $1.4 million in totality. Metro New York’s Kristian Dyer was the first to report the story.

Parker was subject to make roughly $99,000 in 2017, according to the MLS Players Union, although he’s expected to receive a significant increase with any new deal that he signs. On an average basis, Parker would have made over $400,000 annually had he signed a new contract with the Whitecaps.

A New York-native, Parker has been looking to return to the East Coast after spending three seasons with the Whitecaps. The former Saint John’s University standout was selected in the first round by the Whitecaps in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, after spending all four years with the Red Storm on the collegiate level.

Sources can also confirm that D.C. United and the Montreal Impact have emerged as the leaders to obtain Parker’s services if a deal is struck with the defender, although a move to the New York Red Bulls hasn’t been ruled out.

The Red Bulls have shown interest in the young defender for some time — and would be the preferred destination for the player — given Parker’s New York roots. A combination of allocation money and a player would likely be needed from the Red Bulls if the Eastern Conference side proved to be serious about pursuing Parker.

D.C. has managed to acquire significant allocation money over recent years, particularly GAM, which would prove to be essential in signing Parker. Ben Olsen’s defense has been built around USMNT center back Steve Birnbaum — who arrived in 2014 — but an addition of Parker would surely benefit a D.C. back line that conceded 60 goals in 34 regular season matches a season ago.

Meanwhile, a move for the Impact would be logical given the fact that the Canadian side lost center back Laurent Ciman this offseason when the Belgian international was traded to expansion side Los Angeles FC.

Police officer dies after fan violence before Bilbao-Spartak Moscow

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BILBAO, Spain (AP) A Spanish riot police officer died of cardiac arrest after clashes involving Russian soccer fans before a Europa League match on Thursday between hosts Athletic Bilbao and Spartak Moscow, raising concerns less than four months before the World Cup in Russia.

Basque Country authorities in northern Spain said the officer died in hospital after the confrontations outside San Mames Stadium in the city of Bilbao, which will host matches in the 2020 European Championship.

Police also said a Russian man was injured but the extent of his injuries was not immediately disclosed. Five people were arrested – three Russian nationals and two Spaniards.

The identity of the dead officer was not immediately disclosed.

Spartak won the match 2-1 but Athletic advanced 4-3 on aggregate.

Earlier Thursday, German police arrested a Russian suspected of seriously injuring a British soccer fan during the European Championship in France two years ago.

The trouble in Spain erupted ahead of the round-of-32 match in the second-tiered European club competition.

Police were escorting some Spartak fans into the stadium but a stray group allegedly started igniting fireworks and throwing flares and objects toward Athletic supporters and police officers.

The fighting spread onto the streets near the stadium and police struggled to restore order. Many fans were seen trying to run away from the trouble as fireworks exploded all around.

There was concern ahead of the match because of the reported presence of `Ultra’ Russian fans in Bilbao, and a large police force was deployed to try to prevent fan trouble.

Six year ago a fan died in Bilbao in clashes after a match between Athletic and German club Schalke.