Yet this book’s claim may also play a big part in one of the most stunning shots the soccer world has ever seen, as a free kick or free shot outside the box from Cristiano gives opposition goalkeepers sleepless nights.
Week 15 of the Premier League season has arrived with Manchester United hosting Tottenham, Liverpool welcoming West Ham and Leicester City and Manchester City clashing at the King Power Stadium.
[ STREAM: Every PL game live, here ]
With some intense relegation battles between Swansea City and Sunderland and Hull City and Crystal Palace, there is plenty on the line as the festive season really starts to heat up.
Below are previews, score predictions and everything else you need to know about all 10 games this weekend.
Chelsea vs. West Brom
Leicester City vs. Manchester City
Manchester United vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Liverpool vs. West Ham
Arsenal vs. Stoke City
Southampton vs. Middlesbrough
Swansea City vs. Sunderland
Watford vs. Everton
Hull vs. Crystal Palace
Burnley vs. Bournemouth
Ahead of the 2016 MLS Cup final this Saturday in Toronto, the PST crew take a look at the key issues as Toronto FC host Seattle Sounders FC with both clubs not only searching for their first MLS Cup trophy but also competing in their first-ever final.
[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]
With over 35,000 expected at BMO Field in freezing conditions, everything is set up for one of the most exciting MLS Cup finals in recent history.
Can Toronto’s Designated Players lead them to glory and help them become the first Canadian team to win the title? Will Seattle finally reward its incredibly loyal fans by finishing off its miraculous run to the final with a win?
All that and more is answered, right here.
It’s here, MLS Cup 2016 in freezing conditions in Toronto… What are you most looking forward to about this game and why?
Joe Prince-Wright: The atmosphere. Watching the games in Toronto, the crowd really has been a 12th man and bought into this team. The stadium renovations have helped massively and turned Toronto into one of the most intimidating places to play in MLS. You can guarantee whatever the weather TFC’s fans will be out in full force and doing their best to roar their team on to victory. Something special is happening in the soccer scene in Toronto.
Nick Mendola: A new champion, and a few fantastic story lines: Does USMNT bragging rights goes to Bradley/Jozy or Morris? Is Nicolas Lodeiro able to “out-Seba” Giovinco? Can hardly wait.
Matt Reed: I’m looking to see how the Sounders handle the two-headed monster of Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore. For a long portion of the season teams only had to worry about Giovinco, which was a nightmare in itself, but now you throw in an in-form Altidore and that increases the challenge for the Sounders backline significantly.
Compared to other MLS Cup finals in recent years, is there extra excitement around this? Two well-supported teams with star names and fairly new to MLS.
Joe: I’m going to go out on a limb and say this could be one of the best finals ever. It’s safe to say defending isn’t the strength of either team (at least in the playoffs) and we could see a straight shootout, just like Toronto’s stunning Eastern Conference final win against Montreal. If you add the crazy crowd, the big name DPs and the fact that these two clubs have yet to win an MLS Cup, it’s a recipe for one heck of gameday.
Nick: I think this game had danger of being overlooked and under hyped before the Toronto-Montreal final at BMO. It was impossible to miss, and people will tune in for the atmosphere and the stars. Could be — and this is saying a lot — a watershed moment for MLS.
Matt: I think the fact that not only has neither team ever won a cup but couple that with the reality that they’ve each never played in a final prior to Saturday makes it all the more enticing of a matchup. Despite the frigid temperatures it could very well be one of the most highly anticipated finals we’ve seen when you consider the stars involved the game (Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco, Jordan Morris, Jozy Altidore, etc.).
Seattle has reached its first MLS Cup against all the odds. Does anyone have the sense their name is written on this trophy?
Joe: Sort of. When Sigi Schmid was fired and Brian Schmetzer was hired, nobody thought this would happen. I think most of the Seattle organization, their fans and even the players are a little bit stunned they’ve made it to MLS Cup. When you compare this team to others they’ve had in recent years, it’s not as good individually plus injuries to Clint Dempsey and others this campaign have been very disruptive. Somehow, they’ve made it to MLS Cup and these dream runs happen for a reason. Soccer works in mysterious ways.
Nick: I wouldn’t want to bet this game, mostly because Seattle is coming across the country and that’s been a recipe for struggle for almost every MLS side this year. Have to think Toronto is favored, fate or not (especially since fate is better known as the arrival of Nicolas Lodeiro!).
Matt: It just seems like 2016 is the year of the Sounders. Both clubs have had superb seasons and have their own unique storylines heading into the match, but when you consider the fact that the Sounders looked dead in the water halfway through the season, made a coaching change and are playing without arguably their most influential player (Clint Dempsey) it really looks like this team will have their fate sealed in the biggest way possible on Saturday night.
What will be the key battle in this game?
Joe: I think Seattle’s defense staying firm and not allowing Morris to latch on to balls from Lodeiro in behind. With the home crowd roaring them on, it would be quite easy for Toronto to go at it early on and leave themselves exposed defensively. If Justin Morrow, Drew Moor and Steven Beitashour can use their vast experience in MLS wisely, and regain their top form from the regular season, TFC will have a great chance of winning.
Nick: Seattle’s veteran back line against Giovinco and Altidore.
Matt: Nicolas Lodeiro has been the game changer for the Sounders since joining over the summer and Morris definitely can’t do this all by himself. I think the Uruguayan will need to be on top of his game against the talented Toronto back line and if he can work some of his magic, particularly finding Morris, then the Sounders will have a solid chance to take home the cup.
If you had to pick one striker right now, would you have Jordan Morris or Jozy Altidore?
Joe: I’m going to go with Altidore, but only just. The way he is right now, you sense he will score every time he steps on the pitch. He has done that throughout the playoffs and he finally seems fully fit and has his confidence back. It feels like Altidore’s time to shine. Morris’ time to be the main man in MLS and for the USMNT will come in the future.
Nick: Altidore. His motivation is high and his experience better. Morris is more of a 1b choice than 2, though!
Matt: I love what Morris has done this season but have to pick Altidore here. He’s been on fire since early August and playing with Giovinco certainly makes it a lot easier to shine when you don’t have defenders solely zoning in on you.
So, if TFC wins MLS Cup, do you think they can build a dynasty like DC United back in the day and LA Galaxy in recent years?
Joe: That have a great chance. Greg Vanney hasn’t got enough credit for the balance he has brought to this team and if they can continue to add to the squad wisely, their three DPs will be around for the next three to four years.
Nick: It’s possible. The key players/Dps are young enough, that’s for sure. But Toronto also has given the league a bit of a blueprint for making the playoffs.
Matt: Toronto has to be one of the most, if not the most, complete squads in MLS right now. The moves the club made during the offseason were spot on, starting with Will Johnson, Drew Moor and Steven Beitashour. Then the attack has two of the most deadly strikers in all of MLS. In short, yes, I think this team is here to stay.
And if Toronto does win, will Michael Bradley be applauded for his decision to leave Europe to lead this squad?
Joe: I think Bradley has come under some unjust criticism in recent months. If you dissect his form for Toronto this season, he’s been one of the main reasons they’re in MLS Cup. Sure, he’s had a few bad displays for the USMNT but it’s not like anybody else around him has excelled either for the USA. He wanted to lead a team to glory and he’s on the cusp of doing so. I respect that.
Nick: I doubt it. The excitement of his arrival and ability to see him each week has been seriously tarnished (for now) by the disappointing performance of the USMNT. He’ll be rightly celebrated as a champion, but I’m doubting too many outside of Toronto will say, “Yeah, NOW it was worth it.”
Matt: I’m not sure Bradley will be applauded because he’s certainly received criticism over his move back to the states but he’s definitely played an integral role in the Toronto midfield. I think it’s easy to get lost in the Giovinco hype and looking at the talent in the backline, but Bradley has been stellar this season controlling the midfield.
We can’t not mention Sebastian Giovinco. If he plays the hero role (highly likely) and TFC wins, will he go down as the best-ever DP in MLS history?
Joe: Apart from Robbie Keane, which other DP has had a bigger impact than Giovinco in MLS history? I’m struggling to answer that. If he wins MLS Cup, I think he will sit alongside Keane as the best ever.
Matt: I’m not sure Giovinco automatically becomes the best with just one title but he’s easily a top 5 DP. If Toronto builds this into a dynasty I think it’ll be easier to justify the Italian being considered the best of all-time over a Robbie Keane.
Finally, not letting you go without a score prediction. Who wins it?
Joe: Toronto to win 2-1. Somehow, I had a major epiphany in March during our preseason picks in the roundtable chat and I predicted Toronto to beat Seattle 2-1 in MLS Cup final. So, I’m sticking with that.
Nick: Toronto, 2-1.
Matt: The Sounders have defied all odds to get to this point but I think Toronto takes it 3-2 on their home field.
This is it, don’t get scared now.
[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]
Premier League duo Southampton and Manchester United both go into their final group game of the UEFA Europa League needing to avoid defeat if their going to make the knockout rounds.
For United, their task is simple. Jose Mourinho’s men need just a point from their trip to Ukraine to play Zorya Luhansk to advance to the Round of 32, while a win could see them finish top depending on the result of the Feyenoord vs. Fenerbache game.
As for Southampton, it’s a little bit more complicated.
A win for Claude Puel‘s side at home against Hapoel Be’er Sheva at a sold out St Mary’s would see them safely through to the knockout rounds of the Europa League for the first time in club history. A 0-0 draw would also do the trick but a score draw (1-1, 2-2, 3-3 etc) would send the reigning Israeli champions through instead as they’d have the advantage in head-to-head away goals after the duo drew 0-0 in Israel back in October. Making the knockout rounds of this competition would be a huge deal for Southampton and would keep their cup momentum going after they reached the semifinals of the EFL Cup last week.
[ MORE: Europa League standings ]
Elsewhere there is plenty on the line across the 12 groups, with the standings page in the link above very handy to work out the permutations as the top two teams from each group (first place team is seeded, the second unseeded) advance to the Round of 32 and will be joined by the eight teams who finished third in their respective groups in the UEFA Champions League group stage.
Below is the full schedule for Thursday’s game which kick off in three separate time slots, while you can follow live commentary and stats on the games by clicking on the link above.
Full Europa League schedule, Thursday Dec. 8
11 a.m. ET
Konyarspor vs. Gent
Qarabag vs. Fiorentina
Osmanlispor vs. Zurich
Braga vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Villarreal vs. Steaua Bucuresti
PAOK vs. Liberece
1 p.m. ET
Vikrotia Plzen vs. Austria Wien
Apoel Nicosia vs. Olympiacos
Sassuolo vs. Genk
Anderlecht vs. Saint-Etienne
Zorya Luhansk vs. Manchester United
Rapid Wien vs. Athletic Bilbao
Young Boys vs. Astana
AZ Alkmaar vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg
Feyenoord vs. Fenerbahce
Maccabi Tel-Aviv vs. Dundalk
Mainz vs. Gabala
Astra Giurgiu vs. Roma
3:05 p.m. ET
Panathinaikos vs. Celta Vigo
Standard Liege vs. Ajax
Inter Milan vs. Sparta Prague
Southampton vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva
RB Salzburg vs. Schalke
Nice vs. Krasnodar
With reports circulating in the British press that American coach Bob Bradley could be fired after just seven games in charge of Swansea City, their chairman has publicly backed the former U.S. national team head coach.
[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]
Bradley, 58, has just one win in his opening seven games in charge of the Swans who currently sit bottom of the Premier League table on nine points, three points off safety.
That poor form, coupled with many other issues at the club, has reportedly prompted new American owners Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien (they took over as majority owners in July) to conduct an extensive review of every department at the club.
However, chairman Huw Jenkins has moved to quell rumors about Bradley becoming the second Swansea manager to be fired through the opening 14 games of the season.
“I don’t know where that story came from, but it’s natural in football that everyone wants and needs results. But the last thing we need at this moment of time is a continual change in manager. We need stability first and foremost,” Jenkins told talkSPORT. “Take a team like Fulham, they changed managers three times in the season they tried to stave off relegation and we’re in a similar position now.”
“Perhaps in the summer I could have made a better decision – from pre-season onwards I don’t think things were right, it was too flat at the club. That had a knock-on effect and obviously it’s taken us a while to work through it. But we’re with Bob now to try and turn that corner – that’s what we’re working towards. We look at the January window as a chance to reinforce things. There are players not hitting the form levels they have done in the past and we have to find out why that is and get that right as well.”
So, it seems that sense is prevailing after all.
Jenkins took the blame for Swansea’s poor start to the season in media interviews on Wednesday and now the long-time chairman is backing his manager.
The south Wales businessman was part of a consortium which saved Swansea in 2004 and then led them on an incredible journey up from the fourth-tier to the Premier League, plus winning the League Cup and getting to the group stages of the Europa League. He and other directors have come in for some serious stick from Swansea’s fans for selling their stake to the new American owners and Jenkins is believed to have made just over $10 million from selling 8.2 percent of his 13.2 percent stake in the club.
On the pitch, it’s difficult to blame Bradley for the current situation Swansea finds itself in.
After some woeful moves in the transfer window last summer (Jenkins has admitted they weren’t great with Ashley Williams and Andre Ayew allowed to leave for big profits but their replacements just haven’t been good enough) the American coach needs at least one transfer window to bring in better players and the Swans are only three points off safety with a pivotal stretch of six games to come in the Premier League.
Home games against Sunderland, West Ham and Bournemouth, plus trips to West Brom, Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace will see the Swans go up against direct relegation rivals between now and Jan. 3.
The next four weeks will be huge not only for Swansea’s future but also for Bradley and ahead of their crunch home game against Sunderland on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) the American coach is eager to cut out defensive mistakes as the Swans have now conceded 19 goals in his seven games in charge.
“When you are a manager it (the pressure) goes with the territory,” Bradley said. “It is work as usual, knowing from the beginning when I got here that it would be a big challenge, and it is. When you see a scoreline like that it is easy to jump on us. We are not going to survive if we keep on conceding goals like this.”