Premier League Sunday Preview: Liverpool’s chance to tighten its grip; Fourth place in focus

Leave a comment

Liverpool already controls its title destiny, but with a win at Carrow Road on Sunday, the Premier League leaders can tighten its grip on the 2013-14 crown. In the wake of last week’s win over Manchester City, the Reds’ upcoming visit from Chelsea looked set to define the title race, but after both the Citizens and Blues were tripped up by Sunderland, Brendan Rodgers’ team can forge some breathing room. Beat Norwich City, and Liverpool will be five points clear at the top.

In the day’s two other games, the league’s final Champions League spot will be in focus. The most difficult match of Arsenal’s run-in, Sunday’s trip to Hull, coincides with one of Everton’s two biggest remaining challenges, a visit from Manchester United. After the Toffees were upset by Crystal Palace midweek, Arsenal has already reclaimed fourth place, but if Everton stumbles again, Gooners can stop worrying their club will follow Manchester United out of the top four.

With each game to be broadcast on NBCSN (and streamed via NBC Sports Live Extra), here is quick look at the three-match Sunday in the Premier League:

Norwich City vs. Liverpool, 7:00 a.m. Eastern, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra

  • Norwich City only two points above the drop.
  • Liverpool has won 10 league matches in a row.
  • Luis Suárez (29) has more goals than the Canaries have scored this season (26).

With three losses in a row, there’s an increased feeling of doom around the Canaries, particularly with the three teams in the drop starting to pick up points. All of Cardiff City (18th), Fulham (19th), and Sunderland (20th) could pass Norwich with a win next week, provided the Canaries don’t get a result on Sunday.

Given Chelsea and Manchester City’s stumbles, we should be mindful of a potential Liverpool slip, particularly with Daniel Sturridge out. The Reds will also be without Jordan Henderson, who begins a three-match suspension. Still, with the likes of Suárez, Steven Gerrard, and Raheem Sterling set to play, it will take an upset of Chelsea-Sunderland proportions to keep the Reds from their 11th straight win.

Hull City vs. Arsenal, 9:05 a.m. Eastern, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra

  • Arsenal’s won the teams’ last five meetings.
  • With 40 goals allowed, Hull has conceded one fewer time than Arsenal.
  • No Hull player has scored more than four goals this season (Nikica Jelavic).

Spirits were raised around Arsenal after the team’s mid-week win over West Ham. Not only did the victory end a near-month-long winless run, but the result allowed the Gunners to reclaim fourth. Coming into Sunday’s game one point ahead of Everton, Arsenal controls its own Champions League 2014-15 destiny.

For Hull City, relegation is still a concern, though six points above the drop, you can forgive the Tigers for looking at this as a pure FA Cup Final preview. Set to meet the Gunners at Wembley next month, Hull will be measuring itself against the last team that stands between it and the club’s first major honor. Sunday’s result is more likely to be seen through that lens than relegation’s.

Everton vs. Manchester United, 11:10 a.m. Eastern, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra

  • David Moyes makes his first visit to Goodison Park since leaving Everton.
  • Toffees one-point back of Arsenal for fourth place.
  • Wayne Rooney expected to be available after toe injury.

What’s the bigger surprise: That Manchester United, on Moyes’ return to Goodison, have no chance to make Champions League? That Everton does? Or that Moyes’s Red Devils, riding a two-match winning streak, could play a major part in keeping his old club out of Champions League? Given what we saw mid-week from Everton, a United win at Goodison isn’t difficult to imagine.

For Roberto Martínez’s men, the Crystal Palace game may serve as a wake-up call. Not sufficiently scared by their close call against Sunderland, the Toffees went out and gave up three goals to what used to be the  league’s worst attack (the Eagles’ explosion in Liverpool changed that). A similar performance against Rooney and Juan Mata could end their top-four dream.

For most of this season, Everton’s been the better of these teams, but as United has shown all season, playing with expectations can have a debilitating effect. After defeating Arsenal two weeks ago, Everton’s transcended plucky upstart. They’re now expected to maintain a challenge for fourth.

Preview: Everton v. Newcastle

Leave a comment
  • Everton have won seven of their last eight games v Newcastle
  • Newcastle have won four PL games in a row
  • Wayne Rooney has more goals (15) against Newcastle than any other PL team

Everton host Newcastle United on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Toffees and Magpies both setting pretty in midtable.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game

The Toffees sit in ninth, with Newcastle in 10th and just one point behind Everton with a game in hand. Rafael Benitez has been lauded for taking his newly-promoted side into the top 10 with defensive solidity, while Sam Allardyce has been lambasted for a defensive style of play despite getting Everton out of a relegation fight following his appointment back in November.

In team news Everton have Mason Holgate and Gylfi Sigurdsson out injured, while Newcastle will be without Christian Atsu but Islam Slimani could make his first start.


What they’re saying 

Sam Allardyce on the job Rafael Benitez has done at Newcastle: “From a difficult period they have managed to recover and get in the Premier League and they have turned it around. They have put together a run of games and we’ll see a better Newcastle than we saw up there [when Everton won 1-0 in December]. Rafa has progressed very well. He has always expressed his disappointment with not enough funds – we can all say we don’t have enough funds. What he has managed with the funds he has, particularly in the January months, has been excellent.”

Rafael Benitez on his Newcastle future: “I want to win games and I want to win trophies and I want to have the tools to be capable of competing. At the same time. I like to improve players, coach players, follow a business plan, a realistic business plan in modern football. I have no problem with that because I did it in the past.”

Prediction
Two teams who are very similar in terms of their style of play should see a bit of a stalemate take place at Goodison. 1-1 draw, which is a much better result for Newcastle and will pile more pressure on Big Sam.

Paul Pogba: “Transfers are not in my head”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Paul Pogba has been discussing his future at Manchester United beyond this season.

The Frenchman delivered a stunning assist in United’s 2-1 win against Tottenham in the FA Cup semifinal on Saturday, with the midfielder now named Man of the Match in each of his last two games after plenty of speculation about his future at United in recent months.

Jose Mourinho left Pogba out of his starting lineup on multiple occasions, while Pep Guardiola claims he was offered to buy Pogba in January and speculation about him joining Paris Saint-Germain, going back to Juventus or heading to Real Madrid continue.

Speaking to French outlet Canal Football Club, Pogba had the following to say about his own future.

“Right now, I am at Manchester United and I am honestly only thinking about the present. Transfers are not in my head. We are in the [FA] Cup final and the World Cup is around the corner,” Pogba said.

Pogba also addressed the rumors regarding his relationship with Mourinho with reports stating that the duo do not get along and United’s manager is fed up with the Frenchman’s attitude off the pitch.

“I don’t have a problem with him, and I don’t think he has a problem with me,” Pogba said. “He’s the coach and he has to make choices. I am a player and I accept them. I have to answer on the pitch.”

Benitez happy to stay at Newcastle if he “has the tools to compete”

Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Rafa Benitez is approaching something vaguely resembling sainthood in the northeast of England — with the Newcastle United-supporting portion, at least — but his future remains in doubt as the end of the current Premier League season draws nearer and the next one approaches.

[ MORE: Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the year award ]

Benitez and Newcastle owner Mike Ashley have endured an unhappy working relationship for much of Benitez’s 25 months at the club. The Spaniard was true to his word, though, when he stuck around another season after being relegated from the PL in 2016, then again after winning promotion on the Magpies’ first attempt, but he’ll be faced with the same dilemma again this summer, even after guiding Newcastle to a mid-table finish (they currently sit 10th with five games left to play).

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

If he’s not given assurances that he’ll be handed the necessary funds to properly strengthen his squad during the upcoming summer transfer window, the 58-year-old could very well walk away and leave Ashley to play the part of all-too-familiar villain. Or, as Benitez put it this weekend, Ashley could fork over “the tools to be capable of competing” and make everyone, from the manager to the fans, happy — quotes form the Guardian:

“If they [Ashley’s representatives] want to talk to my people [about a new contract,] they can talk. The main thing is to be sure we share the same ambition.

“I want to win games and I want to win trophies and I want to have the tools to be capable of competing. At the same time, I like to improve players, coach players, follow a business plan, a realistic business plan in modern football. I have no problem with that because I did it in the past.

“We have to be sure to have all the tools to compete and achieve what we want to achieve because Newcastle is a massive football club and we want it to reach its potential.”

Of course, the perfect scenario for everyone involved would have been for any one of the numerous takeover bids to have gone through during the last two years, but as was most recently evidenced earlier this year, Ashley and the Toon can’t seem to quit each other just yet.

MLS: Timbers end NYCFC’s unbeaten start; Seattle get 1st win

Serena Morones/The Oregonian via AP
Leave a comment

Sunday was a very good day for a pair of green-clad Cascadia rivals, the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders, as the former put to end the unbeaten start of the best team in MLS, while the latter picked up their first win of 2018…

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundupOther MLS Things — The Archive ]

Portland Timbers 3-0 New York City FC

Through their first seven games, NYCFC were almost inarguably the best team in MLS (aside: how much better is their opening-day walkover of Sporting KC looking these days?), but Patrick Vieira’s side might as well have not even shown up to Providence Park on Sunday. Chalk it up to “it’s only one game,” or “these things happen in MLS,” or “NYC to Portland is a long trip for Russian clubs,” or any other credible rationale you prefer, but they were nothing more than 11 passengers for the whole of 90 minutes.

A quick look at the defending on all three of Portland’s goals…

Vieira was right at halftime, when he said his side was lacking intensity and aggression, and that it’d be nigh impossible to get back into the game in the second half if they continued to play that way. Spoiler: it was, because they did.

Just as I’ll not be rushing to judgment over NYCFC’s no-show performance, I’m not yet buying into the idea that Portland have figured things out defensively on the back of one clean sheet (their first of the season).

Seattle Sounders 3-1 Minnesota United

Speaking of firsts, Seattle are the proud owners of points — as in, more than one point — after putting three past Minnesota but almost fatally failing to kill the game off after going 2-0 up. I’m not sure what any defender in black is doing on this sequence…

Alas, Gustav Svensson, Will Bruin and Jordy Delem were far more clinical with their chances than the Loons…

Still, though, Seattle were completely helpless when it came time to grab control of the game while in a commanding position. Osvaldo Alonso is nowhere near the player he once was, which is a massive problem against teams that set up to counter-attack, as Minnesota did on Sunday. It doesn’t help that Roman Torres and Chad Marshall are the plodding center backs behind him.

The obvious answer to the midfield problem is to play Cristian Roldan deeper, alongside Alonso as they did en route to winning MLS Cup in 2016, but injuries to a number of key attackers have forced him into a de facto no. 10 role for the time being. These things will work themselves out with a bit of time, I suppose.

Full MLS scoreboard

Sporting Kansas City 6-0 Vancouver Whitecaps (Friday) — FULL RECAP
Montreal Impact 3-5 Los Angeles FC — FULL RECAP
Houston Dynamo 5-1 Toronto FC
New York Red Bulls 1-2 Chicago Fire
Columbus Crew SC 2-2 New England Revolution
Orlando City SC 3-2 San Jose Earthquakes
FC Dallas 2-0 Philadelphia Union
Real Salt Lake 3-0 Colorado Rapids
LA Galaxy 0-2 Atlanta United