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A Closer Look: The opening 10 PL matches for the Big Six

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The release of the Premier League schedule marks the start of a new season, and with that the hopes and dreams of the millions of fans around the world.

As Premier League clubs gear up or are well into a busy summer of transfers, expectations can start to be set based on the schedule and where certain games fall.

With Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham all pushing for the Premier League title, we thought it would be good to go in depth and look at how each team will open the season, focusing on the first 10 games of the campaign.

Chelsea of course won its first three games before drawing with Swansea City and losing to Liverpool and Arsenal, which allowed manager Antonio Conte to make his famous switch to the 3-5-2 formation that paid such dividends for Chelsea down the road.

While we can’t predict a future like that, here’s our take on the opening 10 games of the season for each of the top six teams.

ARSENAL

Arsenal v Leicester City
Stoke City v Arsenal
Liverpool v Arsenal
Arsenal v AFC Bournemouth
Chelsea v Arsenal
Arsenal v West Bromwich Albion
Arsenal v Brighton
Watford v Arsenal
Everton v Arsenal
Arsenal v Swansea City

Arsenal’s initial run in isn’t too bad. While it has road matches at Liverpool and at Chelsea in the opening 10 games, the only two other top-10 teams from last year Arsenal faces is Everton on the road and West Bromwich at home. With six games against bottom-ten teams, Arsenal should be able to start the season on a positive note like it has in the past.


CHELSEA

Chelsea v Burnley
Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea
Chelsea v Everton
Leicester City v Chelsea
Chelsea v Arsenal
Stoke City v Chelsea
Chelsea v Manchester City
Crystal Palace v Chelsea
Chelsea v Watford
AFC Bournemouth v Chelsea

After facing Burnley, Chelsea faces three of the big six in Tottenham away and Arsenal and Manchester City at home as well as a pair of other London derbies at Crystal Palace and home against Watford. Having to face Tottenham so early in the season after the clubs’ physical battles in the past could be an issue if any new members of the squad haven’t adjusted to the Premier League pace at that point.


LIVERPOOL

Watford v Liverpool
Liverpool v Crystal Palace
Liverpool v Arsenal
Manchester City v Liverpool
Liverpool v Burnley
Leicester City v Liverpool
Newcastle United v Liverpool
Liverpool v Manchester United
Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool
Liverpool v Huddersfield Town

Among the big six, Liverpool has arguably the toughest run-in to start the season. Jurgen Klopp‘s side will have to navigate both the UEFA Champions League as well as two back-to-back stretches against top six sides. Matches home against Arsenal and at Manchester City early in the season is split up by an international break while in October Liverpool will host Manchester United on the weekend, play a Champions League group stage match midweek, and then travel to Tottenham the coming weekend, a grueling gauntlet of games. Klopp may want to adopt former Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez‘s rotation policy for at least that week.


MANCHESTER CITY

Brighton v Manchester City
Manchester City v Everton
AFC Bournemouth v Manchester City
Manchester City v Liverpool
Watford v Manchester City
Manchester City v Crystal Palace
Chelsea v Manchester City
Manchester City v Stoke City
Manchester City v Burnley
West Bromwich Albion v Manchester City

Like Arsenal, Manchester City have an easier start to the season, facing six teams who finished in the bottom half of the table last year as well as opening up the season against Premier League debutants Brighton and Hove Albion. Manchester City face just two of the big six, at home against Liverpool and at Chelsea, although that 11th game is against Arsenal, which could determine where each team finishes depending on the result.


MANCHESTER UNITED

Manchester United v West Ham United
Swansea City v Manchester United
Manchester United v Leicester City
Stoke City v Manchester United
Manchester United v Everton
Southampton v Manchester United
Manchester United v Crystal Palace
Liverpool v Manchester United
Huddersfield Town v Manchester United
Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur

Like its crosstown rivals, Manchester United only faces two of the big six in the opening ten fixtures, at Liverpool and home against Tottenham, both well into the season. But unlike Manchester City, the schedule is balanced with games against mid-table sides such as trips to Southampton and Stoke and home games against Everton, West Ham and Leicester City. Jose Mourinho’s side will be plenty tested heading into the Tottenham match.


TOTTENHAM

Newcastle United v Tottenham Hotspur
Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea
Tottenham Hotspur v Burnley
Everton v Tottenham Hotspur
Tottenham Hotspur v Swansea City
West Ham United v Tottenham Hotspur
Huddersfield Town v Tottenham Hotspur
Tottenham Hotspur v AFC Bournemouth
Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool
Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham has a difficult start and finish to its opening ten-game stretch, with more manageable games in the middle. After visiting Newcastle for the season opener and then hosting Chelsea at Wembley Stadium, Tottenham only has a trip to Everton two weeks later before the schedule lightens up, with home games against Swansea City and Bournemouth as well as trips to West Ham and Huddersfield. But the slate ends with a home match against Liverpool followed by a trip to Old Trafford to face Manchester United. If the team hasn’t shown its title-winning quality by the end of this ten-game slate, it may be too late.

Vidal rips Ronaldo ahead of Confederations Cup semifinal

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Chile hopes to make a statement on Wednesday when it faces EURO 2016 champions Portugal and Ballon d’Or champion Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions can lay claim to another inter-confederation title with two more wins in the 2017 Confederations Cup, beginning with the semifinal in Kazan.

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Chile finished behind Germany in Group B but didn’t lose a match and only allowed two goals. That’ll be tested by Portugal and its seven goals in three matches.

Two of those goals came from Ronaldo, but don’t tell that to Arturo Vidal. Chile’s hard-edged midfielder doesn’t like him much.

From Goal.com:

“Cristiano is a smart ass,” he told reporters. “For me he does not exist.

“I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final.”

Germany will have to take care of Mexico to make that happen, though we have a feeling a certain smart ass will have a thing or two to say before it’s all said and done.

Vidal has spoken loudly of his desire to get Chilean teammate Alexis Sanchez, a former Barcelona man, at his club Bayern Munich. If Ronaldo is on the market, this isn’t a great recruiting tool. Ah, jokes.

Trio of Crew players in Ghana roster to face USMNT, Mexico

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Ghana’s team to face the United States men’s national team on Saturday in East Hartford will look somewhat familiar to fans of Major League Soccer.

Columbus Crew players Harrison Afful, Mohammed Abu and Jonathan Mensah join David Accam of the Chicago Fire, and Gershon Koffie of the New England Revolution on a unit with Kwadwo Poku of the NASL’s Kwadwo Poku.

John Boye, Asamoah Gyan, and Mensah are the only three players from the loss to the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup.

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Like the U.S., this is a less than full-strength squad. Missing are a number of Black Stars standouts, with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah, Daniel Amartey, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Christian Atsu, Jeff Schlupp, and Baba Rahman not with the team.

Saturday’s match is the last USMNT outing before the Gold Cup begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.

Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)

Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew),  Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor),  John Boye (Sivasspor), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty)

Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew, Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Kwadwo Poku (FC Miami), Winful Kwaku Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution)

Strikers: Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC), David Accam (Chicago Fire)

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

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That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

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Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

USMNT Gold Cup 23-man roster leaves some questions

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We have Bruce Arena’s 23-man United States men’s national roster for the Gold Cup, and there are more than a few surprises left out of the bunch.

Often a chance to experiment, those who thought this year’s Gold Cup roster would be one aimed at reclaiming glory with authority may be surprised to see the status quo.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought most of his big guns to the 2015 party — which didn’t go well for Brad Guzan and Co. — but Arena will roll into this summer’s tournament without most of his big names. There’s no Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, nor Jozy Altidore.

Those aren’t huge surprises, though who Arena neglected from his original 40-man short list is a bit of a shock to the system (Players can be called into the mix after the group stage, which is a fairly simple affair for the USMNT to navigate versus Panama, Martinique, and Nicagarua).

Arena is going with Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, and Bill Hamid in a trio that fails to impress. Hamid does have a big crowd of fans who’d like to see him get a chance to assert himself as the future, and hopefully either Johnson or Hamid finds time between the sticks against a serious opponent like Panama. No surprise that Tim Howard and Joe Bendik didn’t leap into the trio (EDIT: This post initially questioned the omission of Jesse Gonzalez, but his one-time switch from Mexico to the USMNT has yet to go through).

We’ll ignore the omission of Danny Williams for the most part considering he was absent from the 40-man list, but he must have said something seriously awful to Arena or someone at U.S. soccer.

The group of forwards leaves little to complain about, as Juan Agudelo and Dom Dwyer very much deserve their chances to compete for playing time with Sounders star Jordan Morris, but the midfield provides some head-scratching. Gyasi Zardes may be a longtime Arena favorite, but the Galaxy man has been ice cold in MLS. The 25-year-old has a single assist in almost 1000 minutes of play this season, and that came back on April 8. Tommy McNamara has not lighting the league on fire and Chris Pontius and his six assists are 30 years old, so much of the grief should be directed at the 40-man again, but Zardes has to embrace this opportunity. And maybe it’s a way to help the Galaxy and Zardes get a little mojo.

As an aside, Wil Trapp is among leaders in several MLS passing stats, which leads me to believe Arena is going to play Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta a ton and doesn’t see much of a need for Trapp in this tournament, not ever.

Defenders Steve Birnbaum and Jonathan Spector were not rewarded with looks, though Graham Zusi was included in what must be an arm reaching out for USMNT experience. Birnbaum is leading MLS in aerials won per game and Spector is by far Orlando’s top rated player since returning from England. Yes, Spector is 31 but this is about still qualifying for next summer’s World Cup, not the 2022 cycle. Spare a thought for Matt Polster, who has been decent since returning from a knee strain. This is nothing against Zusi, a consummate professional who won’t kill the team by any means and will be an tremendous asset in leadership.

What about you? Any other gripes? Or do you love the bunch?