Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Manchester United

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  • Mata, Rooney, Van Persie all available for Manchester United
  • Stoke City’s last Premier League win: Dec. 21, vs. Aston Villa
  • The Potters have not beaten Manchester United since joining the Premier League in 2008.

David Moyes demurred when given the chance to play Juan Mata with Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney on Tuesday. Instead, the former Chelsea playmaker’s debut saw Rooney start on the Red Devils’ bench, eventually coming on for Van Persie in the second half.

On Saturday, Moyes gets another chance to embrace United’s future when his team visits Stoke City (10:00 a.m. ET, NBCSN; also available on NBC Sports Live Extra).

If that future means Champions League soccer next season, there’s no room for error. Manchester United can’t afford to drop points at places like Stoke. While the Britannia would normally be a place where one-point would be explicable, a six-point (and three-team) gap between United and fourth means the Red Devils must maximum these opportunities.

On form, the Potters seem ready to accommodate United. Losers of four games in a row, Stoke hasn’t scored a goal in their last 275 minutes. Thanks in part to that drought, the team’s only three points clear of relegation, with Hull, Fulham and Cardiff the only teams below them in the form table.

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On Saturday, they’ll be without midfielder Steve N’Zonzi, who will be serving his one-match ban for picking up two yellow cards  against Sunderland.  Robert Huth will be out recovering from a knee injury, while Matthew Etherington is sidelined with a calf problem.

For United, Rio Ferdinand and Nani are both, with the team announcing late Friday that Michael Carrick’s ankle will keep him out for at least one more match. Captain Nemanja Vidic will also be absent, still serving a suspension from his Jan. 19 red card against Chelsea on.

What they’re saying

Juan Mata, on his transition to life at United: “I have felt comfortable at this club from the first minute. Time has gone so quickly but the welcome has been amazing. The lads are really good and there is a great atmosphere.”

Mark Hughes, on Stoke’s transfer needs: “If we don’t get anybody else in then so be it because the group has shown that they are an excellent group with determination and skill and if we go with this group from now until the end of the season then so be it because I haven’t got a problem with that.”

Prediction

For both teams, Saturday could provide a repeat of their mid-week performances. On Tuesday, Manchester United found the goals they needed in an otherwise unspectacular performance. On Wednesday, Stoke never found a way through Sunderland after conceding early. If United can recreate Tuesday’s best moments, they’ll have enough. United, 1-0.

VIDEO: Sporting KC’s Medranda scores wonder goal in win over Vancouver

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Sporting KC showed again on Friday night why they’re the rightful leaders at the top of the Western Conference, pulling four points ahead of the LA Galaxy and the Vancouver Whitecaps with a dominating 6-0 win over the Whitecaps at home.

Scottish forward Johnny Russell bagged a hat-trick in the game, all by the 48th minute, but the highlight of the night came off the foot of 24-year-old Jimmy Medranda. The Colombian scored an absolute worldie from a ridiculous angle, taking the space given to him outside the top-left corner of the box and sailing it over the head of Vancouver goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic and into the back of the net.

It was, of course, massively beneficial to Sporting KC that Vancouver went two men down in the 40th minute after a huge skirmish that saw Yordy Reyna and Efrain Juarez both sent off. Reyna earned his marching orders for throwing Russell to the ground, while Juarez reportedly used unacceptable language.

Still, KC was already up 3-0 when the incident occurred, and credit must go to teams that take advantage of what has been handed to them. Sporting KC certainly did that as Russell becomes the first Scotsman to score an MLS hat-trick since Colorado’s John Spencer in 2001, and Medranda’s wonder goal sealed the deal past the half-hour mark.

Jurgen Klopp already wants a piece of Man City next season

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Manchester City may have run away with the Premier League title this year, but Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp can’t wait for a clean slate to try and challenge City’s title defense next season.

The Reds are into the Champions League semifinals and also looking to finish the Premier League season strong in a battle for positioning in the top four, but when asked about next year, Klopp was giddy.

“Of course I don’t fear the challenge,” Klopp said in his prematch press conference ahead of Liverpool’s Premier League visit to West Brom on Saturday morning.

The German made it clear he wants a piece of Manchester City next season. “This year, if City plays a normal season – which they didn’t do – then it would have been really close until the end because we are now all close together.”

“United is four points ahead [of Liverpool], Tottenham is two points behind. It’s a real fight for these positions. All big six pretty much delivered this year but City delivered the best. We will see. It’s difficult to deal with success as it is difficult to deal with other things in football but I’m pretty sure they will be strong again.”

Liverpool is one of only two teams to beat City in league play this year, with Manchester United being the other. Klopp and company torched the City back line in a wild 4-3 victory that ended City’s 22-match unbeaten run. Ultimately, though, Klopp knows they have to look at the entire season as a whole to best the defending champs next year, not just their matches against each other.

“It’s not important how good City will be, it’s about how we can get all the other points, plus the points we got so far again,” he said. “That’s the job to do. That is why it is always possible that it is closer. But are they able to dominate? They don’t have a limit to spending and all that stuff so I don’t know.”

VIDEO: Goalkeeper sends Memphis Depay flying with skillful touch

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Former Manchester United attacker Memphis Depay has one of the brightest spots for Lyon this season that sees them battling with Monaco and Marseille for 2nd place behind a dominant PSG. He has scored 15 goals and assisted 11 others this Ligue 1 campaign, adding to his tally just four minutes into Friday’s 5-2 win over Dijon, the sixth win in a row for the club that pulled them within a point of Monaco.

However, there was a moment to forget for Depay in the victory as well.

With the score still at 1-1 in the 19th minute, Depay was sent high up the pitch to press Dijon goalkeeper Baptiste Reynet, owner of the leakiest net of the Ligue 1 season. Nevertheless, sometimes the underdog prevails, and that’s what happened as Depay flung himself at the ball to put Reynet under pressure.

One silky touch by the netminder was all it took for Depay to end up on his backside.

The 24-year-old Dutch winger has had a fantastic season and one that could potentially propel him back to the biggest stage and a bigger paycheck, but for now, we can all poke fun at his misery in the moment.

Dortmund admits interest in signing Batshuayi permanently

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Michy Batshuayi might be out for the season with a serious ankle injury, but he may have already done enough to earn a permanent move to Borussia Dortmund.

The Chelsea striker moved on loan to the Bundesliga side in January and made an immediate impact, scoring two goals on his debut, and ultimately wound up with seven goals in 10 Bundesliga games before his ankle injury brought his season to a close. Now, the Dortmund front office is speaking very highly of the Belgian goalscorer, not so subtly hinting that they will take an aggressive approach this summer.

The interest to sign him is there,” said Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke. “But first we have to wait and see who will be Chelsea’s coach next season. Then we’ll start looking.”

Chelsea has Antonio Conte currently at the helm, but there are strong rumors that the Italian will depart at the end of the season as the Blues sit comfortably outside the Champions League places. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is known for his quick trigger, and despite Conte winning the Premier League just last season, this year’s disappointment will likely not be tolerated.

That yet-to-be-determined future has a significant impact on Batshuayi’s future, as Watzke mentions. The new Chelsea boss could take a liking to Batshuayi, which could complicate his permanent move. In addition, it’s possible that current players on the Blues roster could depart, like Alvaro Morata, Olivier Giroud, or Willian, making Batshuayi’s place at Chelsea more tenable.

There’s plenty to be sorted out in the coming months, but with Batshuayi’s 10-game performance at Westfalenstadion at the forefront of Watzke’s mind, it’s clear there will be potential here as the summer draws near.