Prindi’s Premier League Picks: United to get it right, Arsenal to stumble

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True to form opening weekend of the Premier League provided all the drama the competition is known for as Swansea City upset Manchester United, Leicester City announced themselves with a late leveler against Everton, Arsenal and Liverpool squeaked by lesser opponents at home and Manchester City bombed back to the forefront of our footballing consciousness with a delightful display against Newcastle.

But it was Chelsea who stole the show in Matchweek 1 with a scintillating performance at the homely Turf Moor, coming back from one-nil down to beat Burnley 3-1. Any doubt fans had of Diego Costa’s potential was immediately erased with a beasting performance that included a classy opener while the x-ray vision and soft touch of Cesc Fabregas brought palm to head for Arsenal fans.

Matchweek 2 brings a few killer games including Everton v. Arsenal on Saturday and Manchester City v. Liverpool on Monday, as well as a few sneaky good ones in Tottenham v. QPR, Sunderland v. Manchester United and Swansea City v. Burnley.

Here’s how I see it taking shape:

TAKE IT TO THE BANK 

Chelsea v. Leicester City (Saturday 10:00am ET on NBCSN)

With Diego Costa swallowing up defenders like a goliath grouper on a binge and Fabregas’ perfectly-weighted pass to Andre Schurrle looping in our minds like a gif gone mad, the masses are convinced Chelsea are the side to beat in the Premier League. Normally this boon would be followed by a poor result crashing the Blues back to earth. But they’re at home and face Leicester City. Expect this one to go according to plan.

Chelsea 3 Leicester 1

Southampton v. West Bromwich Albion (Saturday 10:00am ET on Live Extra)

What a difference a week makes. Going into the season Southampton had the sharps talking relegation but since the Liverpool match, the Saints are back to being hailed as one of the best footballing sides in the Premier League. Must be something in the water down there.

Southampton 1 West Brom 0

Sunderland v. Manchester United (Sunday 11:00am ET on NBCSN)

RVP returns, Marcus Rojo joins up and Louis van Gaal avoids a complete kniption.

Sunderland 1 Manchester United 2

THE PLOT MAY BE LOST 

source:  Aston Villa v. Newcastle (Saturday 7:45am ET on NBCSN)

When given the opportunity he’s a crafty man, that Alan Pardew. This summer the opportunity came in the form of cash from owner Mike Ashley and Pardew wisely looked to Newcastle’s powerful chief scout, Graham Carr, for suggestions. Carr, the 69-year-old father of comedian Alan Carr, is the guru of all things French football and was responsible for such coups as Cheick Tiote, Hatem Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye, the latter being his most notable pull and, subsequently, biggest loss after departing for PSG last January. Cabaye’s replacement this season, Remy Cabella, an audacious attacking midfielder whose mohawk and waxed eyebrows have him looking like he arrived on Tyneside straight out of a Northern New Jersey men’s league. Whispy, skillful and fearless, Cabella is the key creative piece in Pardew’s placard. Shower this man with your love and thou shall not regret.

Aston Villa 0 Newcastle 1

Hull City v. Stoke City (Sunday 8:30am ET on Live Extra)

If Live Extra crashes this weekend, blame this match. Sweet mercy, what a fixture!

Hull City 1 Stoke City 0

Manchester City v. Liverpool (Monday 3:00pm ET on NBCSN)

By Monday, Liverpool’s deal for Mario Balotelli should be all but complete and we can expect the enigmatic striker to be on hand for this one. Will it be enough to compel Brendan Rodgers’ men to victory? Doubtful.

Manchester City 2 Liverpool 1

HIGHLY SUSPICIOUS

source: Getty ImagesEverton v. Arsenal (Saturday 12:30pm ET on NBC)

When Boss Rarkley went down so too did the souls of Evertonians across the globe, crushed by the loss of their playmaking man-child. So who will step up for the Toffees? The onus falls squarely on Romelu Lukaku, who manager Roberto Martinez will likely deploy as a right winger in an attempt to steamroll Nacho Monreal just as he did last spring’s 3-0 drubbing of the Gunners at Goodison Park. Further problems head Arsenal’s way considering they’re depleted defense, the long mid-week trip to Turkey and needing to secure a victory over Besiktas on Wednesday to remain in the Champions League. Everton may be Boss-less but Arsenal are ripe for the picking.

Everton 2 Arsenal 1

Crystal Palace v. West Ham United (Saturday 10:00am ET on Live Extra)

So, Tony Pulis leaves 48 hours before the start of the season and Crystal Palace nearly replace him with Malkay Mackay before an investigation reveals the Scot engaged in a series of sexist/homophobic/racists texts with Iain Moody during their time at Cardiff City, which then prompts Moody to resign from his current post as sporting director of Selhurst Park.

This actually happened. Not fiction, not lightly scripted reality television. Just straight up real-life Premier League drama at it’s very finest (worst?). And for that, Palace fans deserve some love.

Crystal Palace 2 West Ham United 1

Swansea City v. Burnley (Saturday 10:00am ET on Live Extra)

If there was ever a classic let-down match, this is it. Swansea were fantastic last weekend against United, earning all the plaudits. But what about Burnley? They actually managed to keep a fantastic Chelsea side within somewhat of check last week. Put your trust in Sean Dyche, the Ginger Mourinho.

Swansea 1 Burnley 1

Tottenham v. QPR (Sunday 8:30am ET on CNBC)

Kick around good ole ‘arry for his wheeling and dealing in the transfer market but locking down Maurcio Isla and Leroy Fer this week was some really impressive business. Add these guys to the list of additions to last year’s team – including Eduardo Vargas, Steven Caulker, Jordan Mutch, Rio Ferdinand and Loic Remy – and the R’s might just make this a London derby to remember.

Tottenham 1 QPR 1

Bradley Wright-Phillips gets new deal; Nephew called up to England U-16

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It’s been a big 24 hours for the Wright-Phillips family.

Bradley Wright-Phillips signed a new Designated Player deal with the New York Red Bulls, while his nephew has been called up the England U-16 national team.

D’Margio Wright-Phillips is the son of Shawn Wright-Phillips, the former RBNY player currently plying his trade with Phoenix Rising of the USL.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Of course that will only serve to grow the pride of Arsenal legend Ian Wright, who adopted Bradley and Shaun.

The details:

BWP has signed a new multi-year deal with the Red Bulls which brings the 70-goal man into Designated Player status.

“I’d like to thank Denis, Jesse, and everyone at the club for the opportunity to continue wearing this shirt and playing in front of the best fans in MLS,” said Wright-Phillips. “I am very proud of what has been accomplished in my time here, but my sole focus is on trying to win MLS Cup.”

As for D’Margio, he’s in Manchester City’s academy and obviously taking the right steps toward making it three generations in the Premier League. Both Shaun and Bradley spent time in City’s academy.

VIDEO: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago Fire can win World Cup

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Big press conferences bring unusual media members out of the woodwork, and this can be pretty embarrassing when it comes to sports.

I remember a few years ago in Buffalo, when the NHL’s Sabres had not resigned Chris Drury and Daniel Briere. A TV newsman, not known for his sports coverage, asked the general manager what they would say to fans who bought Drury and Briere jerseys.

The awkward reply: “Sorry?”

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There was no exception when the Chicago Fire unveiled Bastian Schweinsteiger on Wednesday. The World Cup winning midfielder faced the press and was asked if his arrival would help Chicago win the World Cup.

You read that right. Here’s the video, even as the communications man jumped in to try and save the reporter by suggesting he meant the FIFA Club World Cup.

Woof. The media overseas are having a field day with this one, but it doesn’t have anything to do with American soccer fans, perhaps even sports media. I’d be stunned if the reporter spent a ton of time around the game.

But man, oh man.

Celtic’s dominance under Rodgers reaching new levels

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They’re unbeaten in 29 games, winning 27 of them. They hold a 25-point lead. They’re about to clinch a sixth straight league title this weekend and it’s still not even April.

Celtic’s players have taken their supremacy of Scottish soccer to a new level this season, putting the storied club from Glasgow in the conversation when discussing the most dominant sides in Europe’s domestic leagues in the 21st century.

Celtic will be the Scottish champion again as early as Friday if its closest rival, Aberdeen, loses to Dundee. If Aberdeen wins, Celtic will take an unassailable lead in the Scottish Premiership by beating Hearts on Sunday.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There’s been a sense of inevitability about the whole thing since the turn of the year, by which time Celtic had jumped into a 19-point lead. It’s long stopped being called a “title race” in Scotland, more a procession.

Meanwhile, the team coached by former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers won the Scottish League Cup in late November and is also through to the semifinals of the Scottish Cup.

With Celtic’s unbeaten run across three domestic competitions currently at 36 games, this might be the most dominant season by any club in the history of Scotland’s top flight.

A glance around Europe shows a few other examples of title monopolies.

Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) and BATE Borisov (Belarus) are currently on a streak of 11 domestic leagues titles in a row since 2006. Olympiakos is on course for a seventh straight Greek league title, which would be its 12th in the last 13 years, and Sheriff Tiraspol has won the Moldovan league every year except one since 2000. Basel leads the Swiss league by 17 points and is about to seal a ninth title in 10 years.

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

In these lesser-profile leagues, teams can dominate because of the cash they receive from participating in UEFA competitions, which often allow them to outspend their domestic rivals.

Last week, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin, attending a conference in Lisbon, spoke of the threats to European soccer in the coming years, including the “decrease in competitive balance within European club competitions and secondary effects affecting domestic competitions.”

There are examples of lopsided championships in Europe’s big leagues, too: Juventus is closing on an unprecedented sixth straight Serie A title in Italy and on course for a third straight Serie A-Coppa Italia double; Bayern Munich is on course for a fifth straight Bundesliga title in Germany, which included winning one championship after 27 matches of a 34-round league; Lyon won the French league title seven times in succession from 2002; and Ajax won four straight titles in the Netherlands from 2011-14.

Scotland is widely regarded as a backwater in European soccer these days, mainly because of the uncompetitive nature of its league and an increasing lack of exposure and coverage outside Britain.

What didn’t help was Rangers – Celtic’s fierce crosstown rival and winner of a record 54 league titles – getting demoted to the fourth tier of the Scottish game in 2012 because of financial irregularities.

This is Rangers’ first season back in the Premiership, but it hasn’t been able to challenge Celtic and currently sits 33 points behind in third place. There used to be constant talk of the two “Old Firm” clubs crossing the border to join the English league but that has cooled.

“I want to win (the league) by 50 points,” Rodgers, who is in his first season at Celtic, said last month.

[ MORE: RSL hires Petke ]

In any other league, that would be a preposterous comment, but perhaps no longer in Scotland.

The season started so embarrassingly for Celtic and Rodgers, a 1-0 loss to Gibraltarian part-timer Lincoln Red Imps in a Champions League qualifier in July described by some pundits as the club’s worst defeat in its 130-year history.

Now, they are about to lift the league title with eight matches to spare and potentially in the month of March for the second time in four years.

“We want to continue winning, continue the run that we’re on,” Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon said, “and make sure we do that for as long as we can.”

AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar in Geneva and James Ellingworth in Moscow, and Associated Press writers Ciaran Fahey in Berlin, Daniella Matar in Milan, Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, and Raf Casert in Brussels, Belgium, contributed to this report.

Steve Douglas is at http://www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

Mourinho: Midseason international friendlies don’t make sense

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Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United has a big challenge thanks to injuries and a club with far more international participants than the weekend’s Premier League rival.

It has the manager asking, frankly, why the friendlies?

While Phil Jones and Chris Smalling were injured in England training, not the friendly against Germany nor the World Cup qualifier versus Lithuania, Mourinho wonders why the national teams need to play relatively meaningless matches in the middle of club season.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

Mourinho says he is being careful not to be too vocal about his disappointment given that he’ll probably one day need those friendlies as an international boss. From Sky Sports:

“A couple of weeks before the Euros or a couple of weeks before the World Cup makes sense. But mid-season friendly matches mixed with qualification matches, I don’t think that makes sense.

“On top of that the matches are not really big matches so I am not a big fan. But I think one day I will be there so I cannot be very critical.”

Mourinho will be without Jones, Smalling, and Paul Pogba this weekend. He also has several internationals who won’t arrive back at Old Trafford until Thursday. United hosts West Brom on Saturday.