Prindi’s Premier League Picks: Norwich to shock Chelsea at home

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It’s the penultimate weekend in the Premier League and anything can happen. So who better to take a stab at predictions than myself – a notoriously crap gambler with a penchant for picking big time upsets that never pan out.

Have a difference of opinion? Drop some love in the comments.

Let’s do this!

UPSET CITY

Everton v. Manchester City (Sat 10:00am ET on Live Extra; Goodison Park)

The greatest story of the season won’t be Liverpool winning the title, it’ll be Everton nipping a point off of Manchester City, handing their rivals the title and sparing Stevie G major blushes.

Everton 1 Manchester City 1

Manchester United v. Sunderland (Sat 10:00am ET on NBCSN; Old Trafford)

Wow, never figured I’d be so torn over this fixture… I’m no United fan but I want Giggsy to get the permanent job (even though that’s not happening) AND I want Sunderland to stay up (yes I still have love for Jozy). The difference maker, though, no Roo Roo means no dice for United.

Let’s go upset on this one with New Jersey’s finest netting a brace.

Manchester United 2 Sunderland 3

Newcastle United v. Cardiff City (Sat 10:00am ET on Live Extra; St James’ Park)

Really looking forward to that 69th minute walkout planned by the Geordies. Love the time they’ve chosen as well! No, no you silly sexbots it’s not because of what you’re thinking, it’s because the last time Newcastle won a trophy (the Inter Cities Cup, now Europa League) was in 1969. Duh.

Gonna be weird to see Cardiff win in a stadium filled with only traveling support.

Newcastle 1 Cardiff City 2

Stoke City v. Fulham (Sat 10:00am ET on Live Extra; Britannia Stadium)

My new favorite manager and Warby Parker model, Felix Magath The Cat.

Meow.

Stoke City 1 Fulham 2

Swansea City v. Southampton (Sat 10:00am ET on Live Extra; Liberty Stadium)

Wilfried Bony, The Thighmaster. That is all.

Swansea City 2 Southampton 2

Chelsea v. Norwich City (Sun 11:00am ET on NBCSN; Stamford Bridge)

Champions League hangover? Cech out? Mourinho and Hazard infighting?!

That’s right people, in honor of my buddy Tusk (legend of the EVS), I’m calling it right here, right now: The strikingly handsome Snodgrass is gonna head into Stamford Bridge and slay the Blue Giant.

Slow clap? Hell yes, slow clap!

Chelsea 2 Norwich City 3

SQUEAKY BUM TIME

West Ham United v. Tottenham Hotspur (Sat 7:45 ET on NBCSN; Upton Park)

This one’s like choosing between beets and carrots in the hot lunch line. Try not to spew.

Both clubs are secure with zero motivation except perhaps to help their manager get the win in the hope it will prevent the summer axe from falling hard… Which it won’t.

Sam. Tim. It’s been real, fellas.

West Ham 1 Tottenham 1

Aston Villa v. Hull City (Sat 10:00am ET on Live Extra; Villa Park)

Put up or shut up time for Villa here and as much as I’d prefer the latter when it comes to listening to Paul Lambert’s post-match sound, I gotta give the home side the edge.

Aston Villa 1 Hull City 0

CAPTAIN OBVIOUS

Arsenal v. West Bromwich Albion (Sun 8:30am ET on NBCSN; Emirates Stadium)

Arsenal loves dominating teams outside the Top 5.

Arsenal 4 West Brom 0

Crystal Palace v. Liverpool (Mon 3:00pm ET on NBCSN; Selhurst Park)

There’s no scarier place in the Prem to play right now than Selhurst Park. Unless, of course, you have a strong malocclusion, the taped-back ears of a prized pitbull and are in dire need of two goals to set the 38 game Premier League record for goals in a season.

He gets it on Monday. Kiss the wrist.

Crystal Palace 1 Liverpool 4

 

Who’s to blame? A closer look at Chelsea’s blunder late vs. Barcelona

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As our very own Joe Prince-Wright explained yesterday in the aftermath of Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Barcelona in the Champions League Round of 16, Antonio Conte could not have set his team up better for success at Stamford Bridge.

And yet, they walked away from the first leg with a disappointing result, one that could set up Barcelona with the advantage as they head to the Camp Nou in two weeks time.

So where did it all go wrong? That pass from Andreas Christensen, obviously – the one that gifted Lionel Messi a late goal. But is Christensen to blame? Or were there other culprits?

Clearly, the pass was ill-advised. Christensen sends the ball across his own box parallel to the goal mouth, which Andreas Iniesta easily pilfers and sends to Messi for his first goal against Chelsea. It was a pass they teach 7-year-olds not to make, one that even the youngest of dedicated soccer players knows to avoid.

Christensen makes an easy target, given that he is just 21 years old, has only just recently earned his way into the Blues starting lineup, and was the most obvious culprit having made the fateful pass.

However, upon closer inspection, it may not have even been meant to reach the far side of the field.

Christensen’s exasperated reaction suggests the pass was likely intended for Cesc Fabregas who sat at the top of the box under little pressure. Christensen was closed down on the far touchline with little room to operate, and his outlet to Fabregas in the middle of the field was a good option, even if the general idea of a pass in that direction is usually frowned upon. However, Christensen’s pass was just slightly behind Fabregas, and the Spaniard ultimately decided to let the ball go instead of chasing it down, leaving it for a less populated area of the field.

Unfortunately, with his back turned to the eventual destination of the pass, Fabregas was unaware that Iniesta had anticipated its flight path and was already making a run to steal the ball. When the veteran Barcelona midfielder reached the ball, he was challenged by a sliding Cesar Azpilicueta, who completely whiffed. While Christensen and Fabregas were culpable of putting the team in a dangerous situation, Azpilicueta’s tackle was an abomination. Azpilicueta actually reached the ball first, but inexplicably failed to make contact with the ball, allowing Iniesta to easily evade the slide and still take charge of the ball.

Andreas Christensen is the clear perpetrator, but Fabregas and Azpilicueta both contributed negatively to the situation, leaving Chelsea at a slight disadvantage heading into a hostile environment despite Antonio Conte’s best efforts. Sadly, Conte will be the one to shoulder the accountability at the end of the season if Chelsea goes out of the Champions League, even though he received top marks for the match, and his players let him down.

Mata seems to confirm Champions League is Man United’s priority

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With the Premier League title all but wrapped up, English top flight teams are beginning to put their true focus onto competitions they still have a realistic shot of winning.

Manchester United sits in second place in the Premier League table, but they are a full 18 points back of rivals Manchester City, as so with a Champions League match against Sevilla on Wednesday afternoon, Juan Mata all but confirmed that the Red Devils are putting their main efforts into Europe’s largest competition.

[ MORE: Messi pegs back Chelsea despite winning tactics ]

“If we had less of a gap with respect to the Premier League leaders and we had a chance to fight for it, it wouldn’t be so tough to be eliminated from the Champions League, but now our aim is to progress from every round,” Mata said to Spanish radio station Cadena Ser. “It would be a big blow to be eliminated in the last 16.”

Last season, a similar story played out. Manchester United was out of reach of a top four finish in the league, so manager Jose Mourinho publicly admitted they were putting their main focus on the Europa League due to the automatic berth the competition’s winner received into next year’s Champions League. The gamble paid off, as Manchester United won the competition and earned their spot in the Champions League this season.

Sevilla has not progressed past the Round of 16 since 1958. Manchester United, meanwhile, has not made it past the Champions League quarterfinals since their runners-up finish in 2011, when they lost to Barcelona in the finals at Wembley Stadium.

Wenger confirms Ospina will start pair while Ozil, Ramsey miss out

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Arsene Wenger confirmed in his pre-match press conference that goalkeeper Petr Cech will get an extended rest with a pair of Cup games on the horizon for Arsenal.

In his place, David Ospina will start both Thursday’s Europa League Round of 32 match against Ostersund and Sunday’s EFL Cup Final against Manchester City. Ospina is no stranger to this type of rotation, with the Colombian owning just 30 starts over the last three seasons in national and international Cup competitions compared to just seven Premier League appearances.

In addition, Wenger also confirmed that Mesut Ozil will miss out for Thursday’s match due to illness, but is expected back for Sunday’s EFL Cup final. Arsenal has a 3-0 lead over Swedish club Ostersund after the first leg, with the second leg to be played at the Emirates.

Wenger said Aaron Ramsey is back in training, and while he will not be risked in the Europa League match in his return from a groin injury that saw him miss the North London derby loss, he could be in contention to play against Manchester City. [Ramsey] is not in the squad tomorrow, he had a good training session. We will see how his evolution goes between now and Sunday. I don’t rule him out.”

Ramsey scored a hat-trick in the 5-1 win over Everton in early February, but has played just 181 minutes since picking up a hamstring injury in mid-December.

Finally, Wenger said that Danny Welbeck and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will both receive starting spots against Ostersund, as will some unnamed youth products. Welbeck has been out of Premier League action since mid-January, stuck behind Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but he received four minutes off the bench in the North London derby and will get another opportunity in the Europa League to prove his worth.

Conte admits job security speculation will always exist at Chelsea

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Antonio Conte admits that he will always face speculation about his tenure as manager while he is employed at Chelsea, but dismissed it as “no problem for me.”

There is a general acceptance that Conte will part ways with Chelsea at the end of the season given the tough times the club has seen this campaign. The Blues are hanging on to a Champions League place by a thread, and struggled through a January that included just two wins across all competitions in six matches.

“I’ve said it very clearly: I’ve got a contract until 2019 and I intend to respect this, but you know anything can happen in football,” Conte told Italian publication Mediaset. “It takes two to be happy and continue a marriage. Our work is unique because we’ve always got our suitcase in our hands.”

Conte did issue somewhat of a warning to Chelsea, however, that if he were to be fired, it could come back to haunt the club, as he would have no shortage of offers. “My intention is to respect my contract, but if something were to happen, it would open up different scenarios.” Big clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid could have job openings this summer if their lofty goals aren’t met, and those places would be attractive destinations for Conte, who won the Premier League title with Chelsea just last year.

“It’s a bit the history of Chelsea and inevitable when, in the past, in 14 years, 10 coaches have been changed,” he said. “Clearly when there is this habit, let’s say, the press play on it and as soon as there is a result or two which don’t go your way, they try to put the pressure on.

“But it’s no problem for me. I hope that this pressure doesn’t harm the players, not me, because I go looking for pressure.”