Mark Hughes

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Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 17 of its last 23 Premier League games
  • Alvaro Morata has 3 goals and 2 assists, all with his head
  • Stoke has lost just 1 of its past 7 home games vs defending champions

Eden Hazard is back and at full strength as Chelsea travels to the Britannia to take on Stoke City Saturday (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

With Hazard back and Diego Costa finally shed to Atletico Madrid, the Blues have positioned themselves to make a run at the Premier League’s top spot. Chelsea has not lost since their Opening Day misstep against Burnley, and despite firing a blank in last weekend’s 0-0 draw with the Gunners, Chelsea is still just three points off the top spot, and will look to put pressure on the Manchester clubs.

In addition to Hazard, the Blues also get Temoue Bakayoko and Pedro back in the lineup as well, although David Luiz is suspended after his late red card last weekend.

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This season has been a roller coaster ride for Stoke City, having picked up four points against Arsenal and Manchester United, but also losing to Newcastle and Everton, plus a very disappointing defeat midweek to Bristol City in the Cup. The Potters are missing a host of defenders, with Geoff Cameron and Ryan Shawcross both injured, plus Kurt Zouma ineligible to face his parent club. Kevin Wimmer is also touch and go with a hamstring injury, not expected to be available.

What they’re saying

Mark Hughes on Chelsea’s discipline issues: “Chelsea at the moment look like they are getting yellow and red cards more frequently, but that might be just an anomaly, something happening in the moment. I don’t think it is prevalent in their team. They are just strong when they need to be. It is not going to be tactic we are going to irritate them with, to step over the line, because if I’m honest I don’t think I’ll have the players to do that.”

Antonio Conte on Stoke: “The most important thing for us is to go game by game. Tomorrow it will be a really tough game. We must prepare very well this game in all the situations, tactically, physically, to be disciplined. Stoke won against Arsenal and then drew against Manchester United. It means Stoke is a really good team.”

Prediction

Stoke City has given tough teams trouble, and could again if Maxim Chupo-Moting shows up at his best again, but it’s much more likely that Chelsea will ease by in this game. The Potters have fallen off slightly this season, and while their draw against Manchester United shows they pack some punch, it won’t be enough to see off a Chelsea side buoyed by the return of Eden Hazard. Chelsea could win their opening three Premier League away matches for the first time since 2009…their third away fixture of that campaign was a 2-1 victory at Stoke, so we’ll go for the same scoreline here.

Mourinho pins blame on Hughes after handshake snub

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Here’s a post-game storyline you probably never though you’d hear: Jose Mourinho and the opposing manager — Stoke City’s Mark Hughes, a man with a length history of handshake-related strife of his own — didn’t shake hands following Saturday’s 2-2 draw at the bet365 Stadium, and the Manchester United manager appears terribly offended to have been asked about the incident.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Premier League’s big boys score big on Saturday ]

Here’s what Mourinho had to say, which as you’ll note, doesn’t go any deeper than “It’s not my fault,” which, to be fair, nothing has ever been Mourinho’s fault:

“I want to be polite with you, and I prefer to not answer the question because your question is really a bad question. It’s really a bad question because it [makes it look] like it’s my fault, my problem. Your question is not correct, sorry.”

Should “hands not shaken” henceforth be tracked as an official stat, one might forecast that Mourinho would lead the league and/or world in such a category, given his history of salutational controversy. You know what they say, Jose: if you are the common denominator, you might also be the problem.

Here’s what Hughes had to say — quotes from the BBC:

“I’m not sure why he didn’t want to shake my hand, I didn’t think there were any issues.

“There was a time he came into my technical box and I told him to get out but that was it. Maybe that was what upset him.”

Premier League preview: Stoke City vs. Manchester United

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  • Man United has scored 10 goals and conceded 0, both leading the PL
  • Last season Stoke City winless in 12 games vs. top 6 clubs
  • Henrikh Mkhitaryan has 5 assists in first 3 matches of season, equaling PL record

Manchester United puts the Premier League’s only remaining perfect record on the line as they travel to bet365 Stadium to take on Stoke City Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET live on NBC or live online at NBCSports.com.

Jose Mourinho has the Red Devils rocking through three games, clobbering West Ham, Swansea City, and Leicester City. Manchester United doesn’t face a top four finisher from last season until Liverpool in mid-October, so it behooves Mourinho to pick up as many points as possible for the inevitable gauntlet run.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

The Red Devils have few injury concerns, with Luke Shaw possibly on his way back and Marcus Rashford hoping to make the United squad after playing well for England over the international break.

On the other side, Mark Hughes got through the international break with little to no problems, with only Maxim Chupo-Moting a question mark for the game. Kevin Wimmer could make his debut for the club with Ryan Shawcross struggling with a back injury.

What they’re saying

Jose Mourinho on being over-confident from good start: “Extra confidence is very dangerous and fear is even more dangerous. I think fear we don’t have for sure, confidence we have, but we have to make sure the right level of confidence is there.”

Mark Hughes on Manchester United: “United have areas that are a little loose, positionally, and we’ll try to exploit it. The best way is to get about them and ask questions.”

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Prediction

Mark Hughes always puts up a good fight against Manchester United, but I think the Red Devils are in too good of form to fall in this fixture. This will be a good test for Jose Mourinho’s squad to see if they have what it takes to turn draws into wins. This year is different from last, but they will slip up sometime, and will concede their first goal of the season in a 1-1 draw.

Top PL Storylines; Top Four fortunes, final impressions, Mou’s kids

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There’s neither title nor relegation drama as the Premier League hits Championship Sunday, but the table is far from set.

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There’s the Top Four to consider, but you know that, and the midtable is also in play. With approximately $2.6 million per place, some teams could gain or lose $10-plus million on Sunday.


Who will go to the UEFA Champions League?

Arsenal vs. Everton — 10 a.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com
Liverpool vs. Middlesbrough — 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com
Watford vs. Man City — 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via NBCSports.com

It’s as simple as this: Whether they start fast or slow, Liverpool and Manchester City control their destinies in the race for the Top Four. A point will do it for Man City, while Liverpool needs a win to ensure its spot. Arsenal needs a win and either a Man City loss or a Liverpool draw. There are tiebreaking scenarios…

According to The Sun, If Arsenal draw 1-1 Everton and Liverpool lose 0-2 against Middlesbrough the teams would be forced into a tie-breaker after finishing level on points, goal difference and goals scored.

Champs and their captain vs. the Championship

Chelsea vs. Sunderland — 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com

Chelsea’s players have one final chance to impress Antonio Conte before the FA Cup Final, and the boss may hand John Terry one final start at Stamford Bridge. Meanwhile, Sunderland would relish one last big result before a season in the second tier.

Will the kids be alright?

Manchester United vs. Crystal Palace — 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com

Jose Mourinho is going to play a host of youngsters on Sunday, and Paul Pogba will return. This is a club that loves promoting its youth, and would love to see some new Old Trafford heroes take care of business against Big Sam Allardyce and mercurial Palace.

What impression will Puel, Hughes leave?

Southampton vs. Stoke City — 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com

Mark Hughes feels safer than Claude Puel, but both Stoke City and Southampton underachieved this season (at least in terms of total points produced). Puel led his club to a EFL Cup final and didn’t look bad in UEFA Europa League play, but has still be under fire at St. Mary’s. Hughes had a head-scratching year at the bet365 Stadium. A positive impression would help either heading into the summer.

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Arsenal

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  • Arsenal won 3-1 on Dec. 10
  • Stoke unbeaten in six home matches vs. Gunners
  • Arsenal leads all-time 55W-24D-25L

Stoke City hopes to extend Arsenal’s bet365 Stadium woes when the Potters host the Top Four hopeful Gunners on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Gunners have three draws and three losses in their last six trips to Stoke City, which is enduring a disappointing season. The Potters can still finish top half, but were hoping for much more from Mark Hughes‘ bunch this season.

That disappointment is nothing compared to the failings of Arsenal, which needs either Liverpool or Manchester City to trip up in the final fortnight of the season in order to have a chance at a Top Four slot

 

What they’re saying

Stoke City’s Mark Hughes on faring well vs. Arsenal: “I have always liked going up against Arsenal teams, as a player and a manager, because they are one of the best teams in Europe and you always want to test yourself. They will always test you with pace, power and technical ability. You’ve got to get your own game right and negate their threat – and have a threat going the other way.”

Arsene Wenger on visiting Stoke“Overall, I must say as well that they have had good teams. Stoke are now regular participants in the Premier League for years, and that means that anybody who goes there is in trouble. We have to show character again. We know we have to play to win the games, so let’s keep the focus on the way we want to play and on our team spirit.”

Prediction

Stoke’s remarkable streak continues, just, with a 1-1 draw against the Gunners.