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.

Pep Guardiola praises Man City’s “animals”

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Pep Guardiola‘s Manchester City have set a new English top-flight record with 15 consecutive wins and, of course, comparisons are already being made as to just how good this City side are.

Runaway leaders of the Premier League with an 11-point lead heading into the busy festive period, City are being compared to the great teams in PL history.

Their winning run means they’ve accomplished something none of the other great PL teams have, and it seems like there is no stopping City.

Speaking to the media after the 4-0 win at Swansea on Wednesday which clinched the record, Guardiola praised his players for breaking the record but also their ability to not only excel when they have the ball but to hunt in packs to win it back.

“In history there have been some amazing teams – Liverpool, [Manchester] United with Sir Alex Ferguson, Chelsea with Jose Mourinho. A lot of good, good teams and we are the first ones to win 15 games in a row,” Mourinho said. “Of course that will not make sense if we do not win the title, if we don’t win the title it will just be a record. This record will be broken but it will not be easy. When (my players) don’t have the ball they go to win it like animals. At this level it’s so competitive. That means we are strong in the head.”

Guardiola’s team have made the best start in Premier League history to a season with 49 points from their opening 17 games and 16 wins from those matches.

They’ve scored 52 goals and the duo of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne are controlling the tempo of each and every game they play in, but not much has been said about the tenacity in City’s play to win the ball back.

That quality has always been a hallmark of Guardiola’s teams at Barcelona and Bayern Munich with the fabled “six second rule” mentioned time and time again as he set his players a target of six seconds to win back possession of the ball.

City did that time and time again against Swansea on Wednesday with Silva regaining possession on multiple occasions in midfield and releasing the likes of Sterling and Sergio Aguero to attack.

There is a lot more behind this ruthless City side than just breaking winning and scoring records. Their extreme hunger for success and doing the dirty work was duly noted by Guardiola.

USSF says nominations submitted for 8 president candidates

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CHICAGO (AP) The U.S. Soccer Federation says it received the required three letters of nomination for eight candidates in its presidential election, one fewer than the total of people who announced their intention to run.

The USSF is conducting background checks on the candidates whose nominations were received by Tuesday night’s deadline. The governing body said the check is to ascertain that a candidate has “no conviction or no contest plea to a felony or crime of moral turpitude” and it will announce the candidate slate after completing the process.

[ MORE: Atlanta acquires Nagbe ]

Sunil Gulati, the USSF president since 2006, decided after the Americans failed to qualify for the World Cup that he will not seek a fourth four-year term.

The nine people who announced they are running include former men’s national team players Paul Caligiuri, Eric Wynalda and Kyle Martino; U.S. women’s goalkeeper Hope Solo; Soccer United Marketing president Kathy Carter; USSF vice president Carlos Cordeiro; Boston lawyer Steve Gans; New York lawyer Michael Winograd; and Paul LaPointe, Northeast Conference manager of the United Premier Soccer League.

The election will be held in February.

Madrid rallies to beat Al Jazira, reach Club World Cup final (video)

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Gareth Bale scored an 81st-minute winner as Real Madrid came from behind to beat Emirates club Al Jazira 2-1 on Wednesday and reach the Club World Cup final.

Madrid will try to win its third world title in four seasons when its faces South American champion Gremio on Saturday.

[ MORE: Premier League Weds. roundup ]

The match had two goals disallowed by video review, one for each team.

Madrid struggled early and allowed the local league winners to open the scoring with a goal by Brazilian forward Romarinho just before halftime.

But Cristiano Ronaldo equalized early in the second half and Bale netted the winner less than a minute after entering the match as a substitute for Karim Benzema.

Paul Clement admits helplessness at facing Man City

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Swansea City manager Paul Clement may have the enduring quote of the season so far when it comes to facing the behemoth that is Manchester City.

[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]

The suffering Swans have had their share of poor performances this season — Clement later said January transfer spending “is a must” if the club wants to stay up — but he’s throwing his hands up in the air when it comes to Wednesday’s loss at the Liberty Stadium.

The man sounds exasperated, and sorry for his team. From the BBC:

“At times it was horrible to be on the sideline watching that, seeing my side trying but suffering for long periods. They’re not the games that will decide our season but it was hard to watch at times because they were so dominant. For me, one of the best sides I’ve ever come across. So many good athletes, so many intelligent footballers and it’s really hard to pin them down. We actually had some attempts on their goal so I’m disappointed we didn’t get on the score sheet but they were a far superior side to us. We’ve got to put it aside that game. We’ve got Everton away (next) and we’ve got to try and pick something up there.”

All that’s left is for Clement to pick up a clarinet, awkwardly blow into it, then point at Pep Guardiola and say, “He’s good.”

Free message board points to the first one to name the reference.