Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: Sporting Kansas City

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(Through the week we’ll look at three Major League Soccer clubs per day, considering what they need to accomplish and what questions deserve answers during preseason training camps. Opening day in MLS is March 2.)

A U.S. Open Cup trophy and an Eastern Conference regular season crown landed at formerly named Livestrong Sporting Park in 2012. But who can blame Peter Vermes and Co. (and the club’s peppy supporters) for feeling just a little unfulfilled?

Vermes, heading into his 5th season as SKC’s manager (fourth full season), has all the elements in place to make a mark on MLS yet again. It’s mostly about tinkering, tuning up and turning up the best roles for a couple of talented, experienced additions.

Sporting Kansas City seems to have a lot of upside – again. Even more perhaps if Vermes and his club can answer these questions over the next five weeks:

  • Where does Benny Feilhaber fit?

Losing midfield workhorse Roger Espinoza could have been a powerful blow but for the opportunity to scoop up Benny Feilhaber (pictured) at relatively low cost.  The U.S. international is equally as talented as Espinoza, although not the same player. Whereas Espinoza, the Honduran international who just took up with Wigan Athletic, was an industrious ball-winner who could also contribute on offense, Feilhaber is a passing and attacking specialist who can help out on defense.

Sporting Kansas City’s attack system requires loads of effort from the two central midfielders (in front of the holding man) and the wingers. Feilhaber has to show that he’s willing to put in his share of the work load, and that he’ll press, track and defend the way everyone does in Vermes’ high-energy system.

There is also a hole to fill where the departed Julio Cesar played last year, but Paulo Nagamura is a better fit there. Given the busy season ahead, they’ll need a little extra cover and will need to identify at least one more who can provide minutes in the screening role.

  • Does Bobby Convey have a role?

Convey was a big part of SKC’s big start in 2012, but injuries interrupted his progress and in the end the former U.S. international was limited to 14 starts and 18 appearances. By season’s end, he was available but not part of the regular rotation.

He’s on the books for about $215,000 this year, quite a stack of cash in MLS for someone who cannot earn regular minutes.

Convey looked like the perfect left-wing weapon when he came east in a trade from San Jose a year ago. Now, Vermes and the SKC management need to figure out if Convey can be part of the plan around Sporting Park. (It’s no longer Livestrong Sporting Park, you know.)

  • How best to configure the forward line?

There are all kinds of options along a front line that can be configured in several ways.

Incoming Argentine newcomer Claudio Bieler, a Designated Player, will presumably be front-and-center in the plan. So what are the supporting roles around them for Convey, Kei Kamara, Teal Bunbury, C.J. Sapong, Jacob Peterson and others?

Related to the above: Is Kamara still part of SKC, or will the big attacker be moving on? Is Bunbury healthy and set for an effective Sporting Park return? Where does Zusi best fit, tucked inside in the midfield or out wide along the front line?

Again, it’s about tinkering and arranging. That doesn’t mean the choices are easy, but they are positive choices to have.

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Up Next: Toronto FC

Premier League Preview: Huddersfield Town vs. Liverpool

Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images
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  • Huddersfield last beat Liverpool in 1959
  • Reds won both 3-0 last season
  • Liverpool winless in four across all comps
  • Reds also unbeaten on PL season

There are few endeavors in which the following sentence can accurately describe time: It’s been both a bit more than 675 minutes and also 56 years since Huddersfield Town last scored a goal against Liverpool.

The Terriers will try to change that, of course, when injury-hit Liverpool visits the John Smith’s Stadium on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks ]

The exhaustive web site LFChistory.net tells us that Huddersfield Town carried a 1-0 lead into halftime at Anfield on April 7, 1962, only to see Bill Shankly’s home side equalize and earn a draw.

Since then, the Terriers and Reds have squared off just seven times, and Liverpool has kept its sheets clean (aside from the dust of age). The scores over the ensuing half century-plus? 4-0, 0-0, 2-0, 0-1, 0-2, 3-0, and 3-0.

The good news for the Terriers is there have only been two of those matches in the 21st century, though they were both last season.

The other good news is that the international break was especially menacing to Liverpool, as Virgil Van Dijk, Naby Keita, Mohamed Salah, and Sadio Mane were all injured and only Salah and Van Dijk trained on Thursday.

The bad news is seemingly everything else. The Terriers have not looked much like the side that impressed in last season’s return to the Premier League.

David Wagner‘s men are winless through eight matches and have managed a joint-worst four goals while allowing the second-most goals in the Premier League (17).

What they’re saying

Huddersfield Town’s Erik Durm on Jurgen Klopp’s role in his development: “Jürgen had a big influence on me; he was the first one who told me to start in a defending position because I was a striker before. He came into training and told me ‘I want you to be a defender, left or right-back’, so he had a big influence on my career. I’m very happy that he made this solution and that he saw that I could play in this position.”

Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp on rarely used, $57 million Fabinho“Everyone asks you constantly, why doesn’t he play? There’s one reason, no other. Another player fits better in the slot. As long as there’s a player ahead who is fresh then it’s about the new player to close the gap. It always took time. When you do close the gap, go and make us better. That’s the plan.”

Prediction

This one is way trickier than you’d think. On a normal “Welcome back from international break,” I’d advocate expecting Huddersfield Town to keep it close and maybe even squeeze a point out of it. But Liverpool has been itching to get back on the field, and a bunch of players will see this as an opportunity to make a statement. Reds 3-0 (again).

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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Week 9 of the Premier League season is here and the international break is finally over. Hurrah!

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ]

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush” ]

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Arsenal 3-1 Leicester City – (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Manchester City 3-0 Burnley – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM ]

Huddersfield 1-3 Liverpool – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

Everton 3-1 Crystal Palace – (Sunday, 11 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Chelsea 2-1 Man United – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Bournemouth 2-2 Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

Wolves 1-1 Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

West Ham 2-3 Tottenham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM


“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

 

Cardiff City 2-1 Fulham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

Newcastle United 2-1 Brighton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

Premier League TV, streaming schedule

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The Premier League is back after the international break, and Week 9 of the 2018-19 season kicks off with a cracker at Stamford Bridge between Chelsea and Manchester United. Let’s do this.

MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

The full TV schedule for the games this weekend are below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at for all the goals as they go in around the grounds. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Chelsea vs. Manchester United – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Ham United vs. Tottenham Hotspur – NBCSN [STREAM
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Southampton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM
10 a.m. ET: Cardiff City vs. Fulham – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Manchester City vs. Burnley – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Newcastle United vs. Brighton & Hove Albion – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM
12:30 p.m. ET: Huddersfield Town vs. Liverpool – NBC [STREAM

Sunday
11 a.m. ET: Everton vs. Crystal Palace – NBCSN [STREAM]

Monday
3 p.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Leicester City – NBCSN [STREAM]

How will Chelsea, Man United line up?

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Chelsea host Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with Maurizio Sarri and Jose Mourinho in very different situations with their respective clubs.

[ MORE: 3 key battles ]

Sarri has yet to taste defeat as Chelsea boss since arriving from Napoli in the summer, with the Italian coach steering Chelsea to joint-top of the Premier League table playing an exciting, mezmerising brand of soccer with Eden Hazard leading the charge.

As for Jose Mourinho, his future at Man United has been questioned on multiple occasions already as they’ve accrued just 13 points from their opening eight games of the season amid plenty of haphazard defensive displays.

[ MORE: Sarri – “Man United have best squad in PL” ]

Below is a look at the potential starting lineups for both teams on Saturday in west London, with a few injury concerns for each coach to contend with.


Chelsea’s projected starting XI

—– Kepa —–

—- Azpilicueta —- Rudiger —- Luiz —- Alonso —-

—- Kante —- Jorginho —- Kovacic —-

—- Pedro —- Giroud —- Hazard —-


Man United’s projected starting XI

—– De Gea —–

—- Young —- Smalling —- Bailly —- Shaw —-

—- Fred —- Matic —-

—- Martial — Pogba —- Rashford —-

—– Lukaku —– 


Evaluation

Chelsea’s main problem is whether or not Mateo Kovacic will be fit enough to start in midfield, as Ross Barkley has picked up a small knock which is a blow after his fine recent displays for club and country. Cesc Fabregas could come into Chelsea’s midfield if neither are fit, while the only real selection dilemma is whether Willian or Pedro will start out wide in support of Eden Hazard and Olivier Giroud. Sarri’s back four picks itself after a strong start to the season, while Olivier Giroud gets the best out of Hazard and he will get the nod ahead of Alvaro Morata.

For Man United, they have plenty of injury issues to contend with and that is mostly in midfield. Nemanja Matic, Marouane Fellaini and Scott McTominay are all struggling with knocks, with Ander Herrera has been rushed back to be a part of the squad for Saturday. You would think that Mourinho would be a little more defensive when it comes to his lineup given United’s defensive issues this season, so having Fred and Matic (one of whom may do a man-marking job on Hazard) in central midfield makes sense. Alexis Sanchez may not start after his late arrival back from the international break, with Anthony Martial set to start again out wide as Jesse Lingard has been out through injury.