Steve Sidwell

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PL Sunday preview: Liverpool, Arsenal face newly promoted sides

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A pair of Premier League big boys take on a pair of sides only just promoted from the Championship over the summer, while Everton host Burnley in the other of Sunday’s three PL fixtures…

[ MORE: PL roundup — Man City win at Chelsea; Kane gets 2 more ]

Arsenal vs. Brighton & Hove Albion — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Away in Belarus for Europa League action on Thursday, back home in the PL on Sunday — that’s the not-so-simple reality for Arsenal this season, and it rears its ugly head again this week. The Gunners victory over BATE Borisov will have come less than 72 hours prior to taking on Chris Hughton‘s Brighton on Sunday. Further complicating matters, last week’s 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion came on Monday, less than 72 hours prior to their 1,400-mile European excursion. As such, the majority of Arsene Wenger‘s first-choice starters were left in London, but the likes of Shkodran Mustafi and Per Mertesacker could be asked to pull double-duty given injury concerns along the three-man backline.

Brighton, meanwhile, will be without star striker Tomer Hemed, who on Wednesday was handed a three-match ban for his stamp on DeAndre Yedlin last weekend. Hemed maintains he did not intend the contact with Yedlin.

“I accept the decision against me but do not agree with it and I am devastated to miss three matches,” Hemed wrote on his Instagram account. “I would never go out and injure a fellow professional on purpose, and those of my friends and teammates who know me, know that this is not in my nature.”

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Mesut Ozil (knee), Danny Welbeck (groin), Santi Cazorla (achilles), Francis Coquelin (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: Laurent Koscielny (achilles), Alex Iwobi (thigh) | Brighton — OUT: Tomer Hemed (suspension), Steve Sidwell (back), Sam Baldock (calf), Beram Kayal (leg); QUESTIONABLE: Glenn Murray (ankle)


Everton vs. Burnley — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Things are beginning to look up for Everton — maybe just a tad — as Ronald Koeman‘s side is unbeaten in its last three games (all competitions), with a winnable home date with Burnley on Sunday. While the likes of Wayne Rooney, Davy Klaassen and Gylfi Sigurdsson have largely faltered of late (just two PL goals between them — both Rooney’s — and zero assists), Oumar Niasse has stepped into the void and lent the Toffees three goals en route to a pair of wins last week, over Sunderland (League Cup) and Bournemouth (PL).

As for the Clarets, Sean Dyche‘s side is four games unbeaten in PL play (three draws) and up to ninth in the league table. Sunday’s clash at Goodison Park will be the first meeting between Burnley’s current players and former teammate Michael Keane, now at Everton, provided he’s passed fit to play.

“We all got on with Keano. He’s a great lad,” midfielder Jeff Hendrick said. “He’s been brilliant for the club here. It was his time to step on and challenge himself in a different way. He’s still young and he’s still improving. We all speak highly of him here and I’m sure they do at Everton as well. It will be good to play against him. He’s a good player but we want to get one over on him.”

INJURIES: Everton — OUT: Ross Barkley (back), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), James McCarthy (knee), Yannick Bolasie (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Michael Keane (foot) | Burnley — OUT: Tom Heaton (shoulder), Nakhi Wells (ankle), Jonathan Walters (knee), Dean Marney (knee)


Newcastle United vs. Liverpool — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Rafa Benitez guided Liverpool to UEFA Champions League glory in 2005, a short dozen years ago now, an on Sunday welcomes his former club, and the many by whom he’s still so beloved, to St. James’ Park.

“He’s a very, very interesting person,” Jurgen Klopp said on Friday. “I know he’s still connected, not only because he lives around here still, he’s really connected to the club still, wishes the club all the best and all that stuff — it’s how it should be after this fantastic time he had here.”

The visitors enter Sunday’s game in frustratingly indifferent form, having won just one of their last five games (all competitions). During that stretch, the Reds have conceded 13 goals. Klopp is yet to figure out the perfect formula for consistent defending in the PL, as that very shakiness at the back ultimately ended Liverpool’s title bid last season. Klopp writes a bit of that off as bad luck.

“We in this moment are not the luckiest team in world football, so it’s not that things go easy for us,” he said this week. “We did enough and we had four or five 100-percent chances and that’s then disappointing but it is like it is.”

INJURIES: Newcastle — OUT: Paul Dummett (hamstring) | Liverpool — OUT: Adam Lallana (thigh), Nathaniel Clyne (hamstring)

PL Sunday preview: Newcastle shoot for top-4 place at Brighton

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures offers up a meeting of two newly promoted sides in the only game of the day.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Goals galore on a wild Saturday ]

Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Newcastle United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Newcastle’s return to the PL had all the makings of another spectacular flame-out and an immediate return to the Championship — owner Mike Ashley promised manager Rafa Benitez a busy summer of signings, but that never materialized; Benitez’s discontent was widely reported, some going so far as to say he had considered stepping down; the Magpies lost their first two games of the season, failing to score in either — until Jamaal Lascelles decided he was having no more of it.

Lascelles, Newcastle’s 23-year-old captain and star center back, has helped Benitez’s boys to three straight victories, in which they’ve conceded just one goal (in last week’s 2-1 victory over Stoke City), has united a group of players which seemed headed for self-destruction just four short weeks ago. The key, according to Lascelles, is accountability evenly shared by every player in the dressing room.

[ MORE: Pochettino — “I am in love with Harry Kane” ]

“A couple of seasons back, we’d go a goal down or concede a goal and heads would drop,” Lascelles said. “We’d be looking at each other like, ‘who’s going to step up?’ But everyone steps up, the 11 of us. This group of boys are excellent, we just keep going.”

Three points on Sunday would see Newcastle leapfrog Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, two sides level on 11 points and presently fighting over fourth place, to finish the weekend in the PL’s final Champions League place (after six of 38 games, of course).

[ MORE: Mourinho bewildered by sending-off; Man United beat Southampton ]

As for Brighton, returning home to Falmer Stadium is a welcome development after losing twice at Bournemouth (first in the PL, then in the League Cup) in the span of four days. In charge of Brighton is another former Newcastle manager, Chris Hughton, who guided his new club to promotion from the Championship last season (just as he did for Newcastle in 2010). Brighton held the league lead heading into the season’s final days before the Seagulls faltered and Newcastle pounced, but Hughton says there isn’t any ill will onto which to be held.

“There shouldn’t be, because they deserved it,” Hughton said. “We had opportunities in the last three games to clinch the title and we weren’t good enough at that particular moment to do that. All credit goes to Newcastle for doing it and certainly there’s no revenge. We are up against a good team that’s in good form at the moment.”

INJURIES: Brighton — OUT: Steve Sidwell (back), Sam Baldock (calf), Beram Kayal (leg); QUESTIONABLE: Izzy Brown (hamstring) | Newcastle — OUT: Aleksandar Mitrovic (suspended), Paul Dummett (hamstring), Florian Lejeune (ankle), Karl Darlow (ankle)

Former Fulham midfielder Sidwell tells another amazing Felix Magath story

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German manager Felix Magath has always been known as a mercurial individual, but as time passes from his failed stint in charge of relegated club Fulham, more and more stories continue to flow from former players that absolutely boggle the mind.

The most famous story thus far has come from former Fulham defender Brede Hangeland about Magath’s suggestion that applying cottage cheese directly to his ailing knee would help solve his injury problem. Hangeland also spoke of how Magath would make the team run in the dead of night after returning from away trips, calling him “an awful human being.”

Now, former Fulham midfielder Steve Sidwell, who spent three years at Craven Cottage, spoke up about his own experiences under Magath. Sidwell, now with Brighton but yet to make a Premier League appearance, told BBC 5 Live Sports about another time Magath was frustrated with his squad, and how he chose a different way to express that during training.

“We played poorly – I can’t remember what game it was – and we got off the bus and he said ‘right, well everyone in tomorrow at 8:00 and we’re gonna train.’ We was due a day off but we’re gonna be in for training. So everyone got in, we got outside…there was no balls coming out with us so we’re thinking ‘right, ok.’ So he’s gone ‘right, your formation yesterday, can you get in your positions?’ So we got on the pitch…goalkeeper, back four, midfield four, two strikers…stood there. And he said, ‘right, you didn’t want to run around yesterday, we’re not gonna run around today.’ And he just blew the whistle, and he said ‘everyone just stand still.’ And we had to just stand still. And it was a cold day, and there was a couple lads with gloves on, they was off straight away. There was leaves blowing across the pitch, you couldn’t make eye contact with anyone, you had to just stand there, and I think we was just there for about 40 minutes just standing there.”

In. Credible. Stuff. Sidwell also said that Magath had every player participate in a pint night before each and every away game, often in the hotel bar.

Magath was fired in September of 2014, just seven months after his hire, with Fulham having suffered an eleven-game winless streak. The Whites were eventually relegated later that season, and have not recovered since, still in the Championship looking for a return to the top flight.

Championship season under way with favorites Newcastle already dropped by Fulham

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Had we done this Championship season preview a few hours ago, we’d sit here and tell you how Rafa Benitez and Newcastle are the clear favorites to win the league and make a straight return to Premier League play.

Oh, how things change in a few hours.

Fulham – last season’s defensive punchlines – took down a frail looking Newcastle 1-0 at Craven Cottage. Here are three things you need to know from this match: Newcastle did not put on a title-winning performance, looking shaky at the back; Fulham, on the other hand, looks a completely revitalized squad with a host of solid signings; and one of those new additions, Denis Odoi, completed this utterly ridiculous bit of skill, sending Paul Dummett to the woodshed:

Nevertheless, the Magpies remain the clear favorite in the league, with Rafa Benitez one of two Champions League-winning managers in the English second tier. The other is Roberto Di Matteo, the new Aston Villa manager charged with bringing them back to the Premier League with a much more underwhelming squad than Newcastle boasts. Di Matteo does have the chance to deploy a bright, shiny new toy up front in experienced Championship striker Ross McCormack, signed from Fulham on Thursday for a healthy sum of cash.

There are plenty of contenders for those promotion spots, however, and as always in the Championship, it’s a long, slog of a season to keep the favorites honest. Reading finished 17th last season, and replaced Brian McDermott with former Champions League winning player in Jaap Stam, handing the 44-year-old his first managerial job. Fulham is another side to keep an eye on, who finished 20th last year with a miserable defensive record, but despite the loss of leading scorer McCormack, as displayed in their victory over Benitez and Newcastle, they’ve made a host of smart signings and look to be a solid side under the management of former Chelsea midfielder Slavisa Jokanovic.

Derby County is another contender, having found themselves just barely on the wrong side of promotion yet again last year. Under the wing of Nigel Pearson – the man who brought Leicester City to the Premier League – they’ll give it another go. QPR is always a team to look out for, although they were uncharacteristically quiet this summer. Brighton Hove & Albion missed out on promotion last season on goal differential, and after succeeding in fending off interest in some of their best players this summer, they look ready to go, plus the addition of experienced midfielder Steve Sidwell.

The grinding nature of life in the Championship has begun again – with a shocking result already upon us on opening day – and it promises to be a wild ride as always, with everything on the line.

Premier League 2016-17 season preview: Stoke City

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The Potters just keep plugging away.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Steady progress has been the name of the game for Mark Hughes‘ side over the past nine years since they were promoted to the Premier League and this season will be no different. Having flirted with the top six for most of last season, they fell away at a pivotal stage of the campaign.

[ MORE: Every PL season preview ]

Scoring goals has been a slight problem for Stoke but when everything clicks into place, they ooze class at the Bet365 Stadium. That venue is one of the most intimidating (and coldest) places to play in the PL and Stoke’s home record will once again be key if they’re going to finish in the top 10.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL game live ] 

Stoke will finally kick on and finish in the top six because… They have a strong defensive unit, plus new signing Allen will slot seamlessly into midfield to link up with the likes of Bojan and Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic.

Most likely they’ll finish ninth, again: After finishing in ninth in each of the last three PL campaigns, Stoke’s fans will want more but are unlucky to get it. With teams like Liverpool and Chelsea strengthening, plus Everton set for a new era under Ronald Koeman, they could struggle to finish in the top 10. The one area Hughes must strengthen up top with Diouf, Crouch and Joselu all hard workers but hardly prolific.


Best possible XI

—– Butland —–

— Cameron — Shawcross — Wollscheid — Pieters —

—– Allen —– Imbula —–

—- Arnautovic —- Bojan —- Shaqiri —-

—– Diouf —–


Transfers in: Joe Allen ($17 million, Liverpool), Ramadan Sobhi ($6.5 million, Al Ahly)

Transfers out: Ben Barber (Free, York City), Steve Sidwell (Free, Bright & Hove Albion), Yusuf Coban (Free, TGG 1899 Hoffenheim), Dominic Kurasik (Free, Brentford), Peter Odemwingie, Ed Dryden, Bobby Moseley, Ryan O’Reilly, Peter Skapetis, Maston Watkins-Clark (All released)

Last season: Stoke started the season superbly and in the first half of the campaign they’d racked up wins against Chelsea and Manchester City at home. They then faded towards the end of the season but still finished ninth for a third season running. Their aim was to better their record PL points tally of 54 from the previous campaign but they just came up short of that with 51 points on the board. All in all, another steady season for Stoke.

during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Chelsea at Britannia Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Stoke on Trent, England.
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Star player: Marko Arnautovic – Austrian forward signed a new contract over the summer which was a huge boost for the Potters. “Arnie” was their top scorer in the PL last season with 11 goals and he may be given more opportunity to play in his preferred role out wide if the club are successful in recruiting a new striker. When he’s on his game there are few who can stop him. Pace, power and trickery, Arnautovic is a mercurial talent.

Coach’s Corner: Hugheshy has done incredibly well in his three season at Stoke so far. He’s spent wisely and built solidly on what Tony Pulis left behind. The way he has changed Stoke into an attractive team to watch has been subtle but focused and bringing in players like Bojan and Shaqiri has had its ups and downs but has certainly taken Stoke to the next level as they’ve established themselves as a solid top 10 club in the PL. Hughes will now look to push for the top six but he may need a lot more cash to spend on one or two key new players to do it.

Mark Hughes, Stoke City FC

PST predicts: Another season of solidity for Stoke as they’ll be in and around 10th place and if everything clicks and their star man stay clear of injury, they could flirt with a top six finish. Like last season, expect a good cup run from them.