Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Sunderland

Leave a comment
  • 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.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE VIA NBC SPORTS LIVE EXTRA, 2:45PM ET, WEDNESDAY

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.

Newcastle takeover bid moves closer

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Newcastle United fans are getting very, very excited.

PCP Capital Partners, led by Amanda Staveley, have signed a confidentiality agreement with the club’s owners after Mike Ashley put the club up for sale earlier this week

Ashley is said to value Newcastle at over $520 million, while Staveley is said to believe the club is worth close to $395 million, so there is plenty of negotiating still to happen but things are heading in the right direction.

In a statement on Monday Ashley said he would allow any potential buyer to pay the overall transaction fee in installments, while he also wants a buy to be completed by the end of December.

Who is Staveley?

She was seen at a Newcastle vs. Liverpool game at St James’ Park earlier this month as speculation was rife that a new owner was being lined up to buy Newcastle. That is indeed the case and Staveley, 44, is now able to look over the finances of the club exclusively.

Staveley oversaw the purchase of Manchester City by Abu Dhabi United and also lined up a deal for Liverpool to be bought by Dubai International Captial which fell through in the past.

Her close links to the Middle East has seen her become one of the most prominent British businesswomen in recent years and she currently manages over $34 billion of wealth globally. Staveley and her investors are said to be interested in buying several Premier League clubs.

Ashley’s lawyer, Andrew Henderson, released a statement on Thursday stating several other parties have inquired about buying the club since the announcement came that they were up for sale.

“Since Monday, a number of additional parties have come forward which we believe to be credible. We are also continuing to engage with a number of parties with whom we had entered into negotiations prior to Monday’s announcement.”

Things are moving very quickly for Newcastle’s fans as they thought they’d never get rid of much-maligned owner Ashley who is a lifelong fan of the club and bought them in 2007.

After two relegations from the Premier League (followed by instant returns to the PL on both occasions) Ashley has been accused of failing to spend money on the playing squad and realize Newcastle’s full potential as they challenged for the Premier League title on numerous occasions during the 1990s.

With Rafael Benitez getting the most of his squad and the Magpies sitting in the top 10 of the PL as things stand, the future is looking bright for Newcastle with plenty of investment expected if this sale does go through to Staveley or those she is closely connected with.

VIDEO: Man United ooze class after consoling teenage goalkeeper

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Wednesday was a big night for Benfica goalkeeper Mile Svilar.

The 18-year-old was making his debut in the UEFA Champions League and in doing so he became the youngest-ever goalkeeper to play in the competition, jumping ahead of the likes of Iker Casillas to set a new, hugely impressive, record.

Still, the night did not end well for the Belgian youngster.

[ MORE: United targeted Benfica’s goalkeeper ]

With Marcus Rashford‘s free kick floating into the box from out wide, he caught the ball but then stepped back over his own goal line… taking the ball with him.

Goal-line technology showed the ball had gone over and United were awarded the goal and won 1-0.

At the final whistle the teenager was stunned but Romelu Lukaku was one of the many United players who took time to console the distraught teenager.

Classy from Lukaku.

Even if Jose Mourinho did admit afterwards that United had targeted the teenager…

FIFA probe: Al-Khelaifi confirms his presence in Switzerland

Getty Images
Leave a comment

PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi says he will go to Switzerland next Wednesday to answer questions from Swiss prosecutors investigating the suspected bribery of a top FIFA executive for World Cup broadcasting rights.

Criminal proceedings against Al-Khelaifi, who is also CEO of Qatar-owned BeIN Media Group, former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, and an unnamed businessman working in sports rights were announced by the office of Switzerland’s attorney general last week.

The case involves the award of broadcast rights for the next four World Cups from 2018 through 2030.

Al-Khelaifi is alleged to have offered advantages to Valcke – FIFA’s CEO-like secretary general from 2007 until his firing in January 2016 – for the award of media rights in certain countries for the 2026 and 2030 World Cup.

Speaking Wednesday night on Canal Plus television, after PSG’s 4-0 win away to Anderlecht in the Champions League, Al-Khelaifi confirmed his trip to Switzerland.

“I have an appointment on the 25th. I will go there to speak with them, the Swiss (authorities),” said Khelaifi, who attended Wednesday’s match in Belgium. “That’s all.”

The proceeding against Al-Khelaifi is one of the first direct links to Qatar in sweeping investigations by federal law enforcement authorities in Switzerland, the United States, and France concerning FIFA, international soccer, and the 2018-2022 World Cup bidding contests.

Last week, the Paris offices of BeIN Sports were searched. Properties were searched in Greece, Italy, and Spain while Valcke was questioned in Switzerland.

Europa League preview: Arsenal in Serbia, Everton desperate vs. Lyon

John Walton/PA via AP
Leave a comment

The twelve groups of the UEFA Europa League bring forth soccer on Thursday, with a bevy of matches dotting the continent.

[ MORE: Full Europa schedule ]

Here are the top five matches to keep an eye on.

Everton vs. Lyon — 3:05 p.m. ET

If you would’ve told Ronald Koeman his Toffees would walk into this match with just one point but sit only another behind Lyon, he’d probably tell you to take a hike. But Lyon drew 1-1 at Apollon Limassol and 1-1 at home to Atalanta, opening the door for Everton to finish the day in Group E’s top two slots.

Nabil Fekir and Real Madrid loanee Mariano Diaz have seven goals each for Lyon, while ex-Premier Leaguers Memphis Depay and Bertrand Traore are also key components of the French outfit’s attack.

Red Star Belgrade vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET

Arsenal in Europa has been pretty thrilling, with 3-1 and 4-2 wins under Arsene Wenger‘s belt ahead of the first of two with the 1991 European Cup winners. It’s a nice challenge for Canadian national team backstop Milan Borjan, who should be the man to try to thwart the Gunners in Serbia.

Hoffenheim vs. Istanbul Basaksehir — 3:05 p.m. ET

The favorites to win the group are dead last in the group as they welcome the perceived group underdogs from Turkey. The Super Lig runners-up have some familiar names on the roster with Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy, Eljero Elia, Mevlut Erdinc, Gokhan Inler, Aurelien Chedjou, and Emre Belozoglu.

AC Milan vs. AEK Athens — 3:05 p.m. ET

Milan has been burying goals in Europa play, with five at Austria Wien and three in a home win over Rijeka. Enter Athens, which has scooped up four points in group play and will look for a win to put them ahead of the group-leading Rossoneri.

Nice vs. Lazio — 1 p.m. ET

The only group with a pair of 2-0 teams. Mario Balotelli is plenty familiar with his Roman opposition from his time in Serie A.