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Premier League preview: Liverpool vs. Stoke City

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  • Liverpool (3rd) 9 points back of leaders Chelsea
  • Reds top scores in the PL
  • Stoke (12th) would go 9th with a win

The Premier League title race — if it’s not been won by Chelsea already — feels like it’s been whittled down to a three-horse race, with Manchester City and Liverpool quickly losing sight of the runaway leaders. Simply put, when Stoke City visit on Tuesday (Watch live, 12:15 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), is a must-win for Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds. Making the issue all the more pressing, Liverpool have never lost a home, top-division game to Stoke in the two clubs’ histories (53 all-time top-division meetings at Anfield). However, Stoke were the last away side to win at Anfield (all competitions), winning 1-0 in the League Cup semifinal second leg, though Liverpool advanced to the final on penalties.

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Man City’s trip to Anfield, which comes on Saturday, will almost certainly cut the chasing pack down to one. The Reds’ dramatic, late triumph over Everton in Monday’s Merseyside derby gave Klopp’s side back-to-back wins for the first time since Oct. 29 and Nov. 11. All the while, Chelsea haven’t dropped a single point, moving to a dozen victories in a row seven days later, on Boxing Day.

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Joel Matip (ankle) will be unavailable once again, as will Philippe Coutinho (ankle) and Danny Ings (knee surgery) for Liverpool, while Stoke will be without Marko Arnautovic (suspension), Geoff Cameron (knee), Jack Butland (ankle) and Phil Bardsley (knee).

What they’re saying

Klopp, on the busy holiday schedule: “It is a run that could do that [end a title challenge] but I am the type of guy who thinks you can make it work the other way around. It is all the same for all the teams, or nearly all the teams. We all have to go through it and in the end the teams who use all the different situations in the best way will be top of the table.”

Mark Hughes, on Joe Allen‘s return to Anfield: “I think Joe will want to do well when he goes back there, that is natural. He has nothing to prove there though in fairness, because I know that he was appreciated there by supporters and players alike.”

Prediction

Perhaps more so than any other side in the PL, once Liverpool get rolling, they’re just about impossible to slow down. They should thrive during the upcoming congested series of fixtures, solidifying their place as Chelsea’s most legitimate title competition.

Newcastle linked with targets as Benitez begins transfer quest

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Newcastle United’s players have canceled their Christmas party, as manager Rafa Benitez admits he’s working on January gifts for the St. James’ Park set.

The Magpies have one point from their last eight matches, and face Arsenal, West Ham, and Manchester City in the run-up to the New Year, closing off a run of five matches in 16 days with Brighton and Stoke.

[ PL PREVIEW: Man City vs. Spurs ]

Benitez says he’s begun talks with managing director Lee Charnley about the January window. The team is expected to make moves whether Mike Ashley completes a reported sale of the team or not. From Sky Sports:

“At this time it is just to talk about ideas,” he said. “You might say ‘I would like to sign this player’ and someone will say ‘£40m’ – maybe it is not realistic.

“The main thing, we had this conversation, then we have to move forward quickly. I don’t know the details but at least we were talking about that. We have to progress and it is so obvious that we have to improve things.”

Newcastle has been linked with a number of notable names a few weeks from the start of the January market, including Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, prolific Besiktas striker Cenk Tosun, as well as Liverpool’s Danny Ings and Manchester United’s Luke Shaw.

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace

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  • Leicester leads all-time 26W-18D-23L
  • Foxes 3W-1D vs. Eagles since Oct. 2015
  • Palace won at Leicester in Feb. 2015

The Claude Puel revolution at Leicester City has the Foxes surging up the Premier League table, and Saturday’s visitors from Crystal Palace are making moves of their own (Watch live Saturday at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Leicester has won four-straight matches, the latest a 4-1 beatdown of Southampton at St. Mary’s, and returns to King Power Stadium with a chance to make a dent on the five-point deficit between the Foxes and the Top Four.

 

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After beginning the season 0-7, Crystal Palace has claimed 14 of 30 points to move from 20th to 18th on the table. Roy Hodgson’s men have two wins and four draws in their last six matches.

What they’re saying

Leicester’s Harry Maguire on the task at hand:

Palace’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek on his high-flying loan spell from Chelsea: “It’s what you aspire to be when you’re younger. Right now it’s a case of trying to improve as much as I can and to keep the performances up. As long as I’m enjoying it I think I’ll do well, so I’m really happy. The experience of playing week in week out and the physical side of things, getting my body used to playing games – sometimes three in a week – has been a massive thing for me, especially when I haven’t played for two years regularly. That was one of the main reasons I wanted to get away from Chelsea, to play regular football, get my body used to it, get more robust and I think once you have that then it’s a platform to play better.”

Prediction

This could be a fun one, with names like Zaha, Townsend, Loftus-Cheek, Vardy, Mahrez, and Gray ready to bless the match with pace and creativity. Goals have come in bunches when Leicester’s on the pitch, and we’ll call it 2-1 to the Foxes.

RBNY’s Grella heads to Columbus (through Colorado)

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Mike Grella didn’t get to pick No. 20 of the MLS Re-Entry Draft, but that didn’t stop Columbus from getting their hands on the New York Red Bulls veteran.

Colorado selected Grella with the third overall pick, then sent him to Columbus for a second round pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft.

[ MLS: Ousted “blacklisted” by MLS? ]

The only other pick was made by Minnesota United, who took Tyrone Mears from Atlanta United.

Grella, 30, is a well-traveled Duke product who has played in England and Denmark. He scored 18 times with 13 assists in 89 matches for the Red Bulls, but missed most of the 2017 season with a pair of knee injuries.

It’s a good gamble for the Crew, and an extra draft pick for 2019. Second-round picks have become long odds to make MLS rosters, with Tommy McNamara and Aaron Long the last impact players to come out of the round. That was in 2014, and both needed changes of scenery before hitting their MLS strides.

John Cena makes entertaining Premier League predictions

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We do not recommend putting any money on John Cena’s Premier League predictions for this weekend.

The actor and WWE star was the guest picker on the BBC site on Friday, and admitted his soccer knowledge doesn’t extend much further than Cristiano Ronaldo and a tour of Tottenham (he has a fondness for Spurs, it seems).

[ PL PREVIEW: Chelsea vs. Southampton ]

But his actual selections are quite amusing. From picking matches based on species to trying to anger his fiancee’s Arsenal supporting brother, Cena brought the goods.

Our favorites:

Why West Ham will win at Stoke: “Who doesn’t love a good ham? It provides you with nourishment, happiness and a sense of community. It is always served at a big family function gathering. I like West Ham. 0-1.”

Why Southampton will win at Chelsea: “From where I am from, in Massachusetts, Southampton is a pretty cool place, so I am going to have to pick them, only because of how it relates to the States.”