ProSoccerTalk’s Premier League Narratives (Matchweek 32)

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What a week in the Premier League!

The narratives have been flying high like Adrian Mutu on a Wednesday night in Florence – Nigel Adkins seeks revenge, Andy Carroll is no longer in Liverpool’s plans (again), Gareth Bale nearly snaps off his ankle, Chris Samba is an overpaid lump, Yaya Toure loves money, Paulo Di Canio is a fascist, Paulo Di Canio is not a fascist, and Paulo Di Canio may or may not be a little bit confused over the definition of fascism but nevertheless won’t be mixing politics with football.

Whew. Right then.

Here are the detailed narratives for Matchweek 32 in the English Premier League. Enjoy the matches!

READING v. SOUTHAMPTON (Madejski Stadium, Sat 7:45am ET)
Live TV: ESPN2; ESPN3; ESPND
Odds: Reading 9/4; Southampton 6/5; Draw 5/2

Reading manager Nigel Adkins faces his former club hoping to stop the bleeding at seven straight loses but don’t expect Mauricio Pochetino’s side to show any sympathy. The Saints are looking to shed their “giant-killer” reputation after recent victories over Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea has coincided with painful losses to Norwich QPR and Wigan.

Reading is down and out, now Southampton will kill them off. Saints cruise here.

NORWICH CITY v. SWANSEA CITY (Carrow Road, Sat 10:00am ET)
Live TV: Fox Soccer 2Go
Odds: Norwich 8/5; Swansea 7/4; Draw 23/10

Both clubs have struggled of late but it’s Swansea who comfortably sit 9th in the table on 40 points. Norwich aren’t so lucky – despite being 14th in the table and tied on points with 12th place Southampton, Chris Houghton’s side are only four points clear of the drop meaning this match will be a must-win if late season drama is to be avoided.

I’ve got little hope for this fixture. Feels like a drab 0-0 or 1-1 draw.

STOKE CITY v. ASTON VILLA (Britannia Stadium, Sat 10:00am ET)
Live TV: Fox Soccer 2Go
Odds: Stoke 21/20; Villa 11/4; Draw 47/20

Losing four of their last five and having only taken five points since December has some folks at the Britannia convinced that Tony Pulis has taken the club as far as he can in his five years as a Premier League boss. On Saturday his Potters face an up-start Villa side that’s playing a confident brand of football despite it’s seat in the relegation zone.

Stoke are never easy at home but Paul Lambert has his squad clicking. Look for Villa to get a result.

WEST BROMWICH ALBION v. ARSENAL (The Hawthorns, Sat 10:00am ET)
Live TV: Fox Soccer
Odds: West Brom 3/1; Arsenal 10/11; Draw 13/5

The door is closing fast on West Brom’s shot at a place in the Europa League and a win against Arsenal would be a major boost to the Baggies’ hopes. But it won’t come easy for Steve Clark’s men as the 5th place Gunners have their eye on a spot in Europe’s biggest tournament. Three points and a Chelsea loss would see Arsenal leapfrog the Blues into 4th place but with Jack Wilshire and Theo Walcott both doubtful, Arsene Wenger’s side has its work cut out for it.

Since Munich this has been a different Arsenal side. The Gunners take this in a classy performance.

LIVERPOOL v. WEST HAM UNITED (Anfield, Sun 8:30am ET)
Live TV: Fox Soccer Plus
Odds: Liverpool 20/63; West Ham 8/1; Draw 9/2

Aside from the blip at Southampton a fortnight ago Liverpool have been cruising of late, winning four of their last five. The 7th place Reds face a Jekyll-and-Hyde West Ham team that was brilliant in last week’s 3-1 demolition of West Brom, courtesy of an Andy Carroll brace. But the Geordie won’t be available against his parent club leaving Marouane Chamakh or Carlton Cole the likely candidates to deputize.

The Hammers are gonna get hammered. Mark it down.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR v. EVERTON (White Hart Lane, Sun 9:05am ET)
Live TV: Fox Soccer; ESPN (UK)
Odds: Spurs 5/6; Everton 13/4; Draw 27/10

Sixth place Everton square off with 3rd place Tottenham in a match of epic proportions. David Moyes’ side will once again be without the suspended Marouane Fellaini and Steven Pienaar while Kevin Mirallas is doubtful with a thigh injury. Spurs have their own personnel issues with Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon, William Gallas, Sandro, Jermain Defoe and Younes Kaboul all out injured. An Everton win combined with an Arsenal loss would send the Toffees into 5th place while Spurs will need a result to fend off 4th place Chelsea, who sit just two points back.

Spurs were run ragged in Thursday’s Europa League contest with FC Basel. Expect Everton to get a result.

CHELSEA v. SUNDERLAND (Stamford Bridge, Sun 10:00am ET)
Live TV: Fox Soccer 2Go
Odds: Chelsea 5/17; Sunderland 9/1; Draw 9/2

Fresh off their 3-1 Europa League victory over Rubin Kazan 4th place Chelsea faces a Sunderland squad that sits just one point above the drop zone. Rafa Benitez’ men will be hungry for the three points that could see them overtake Tottenham for 3rd place but with Paulo Di Canio at the helm for the Black Cats don’t expect this to be the same old Sunderland.

It might not be pretty but the Blues will get the job done.

NEWCASTLE UNITED v. FULHAM (St James’ Park, Sun 10:00am ET)
Live TV: Fox Soccer 2Go
Odds: Newcastle 1/1; Fulham 11/4; Draw 5/2

Newcastle’s double duty of playing in the Europa League and the Premiership has taken its toll with Alan Pardew’s men losing four of their last six and slipping all the way to 15th in the table. With merely 33 points to their name the Magpies could be in for a rude awakening if Wigan, Sunderland and/or Villa pull off wins this weekend. Fulham, on the other hand, continue their comfortable stroll that has seen the Cottagers go unbeaten in their last five matches.

Newcastle have the motive but they are beaten and battered. Fulham gets a result here.

QUEENS PARK RANGERS v. WIGAN ATHLETIC (Loftus Road, Sun 10:00am ET)
Live TV: Fox Soccer; Sky Sports 1
Odds: QPR 13/10; Wigan 21/10; Draw 47/20

With seven matches to play and seven points from safety it’s do-or-die for Harry Redknapp’s side. The Rangers dropped points last Monday at Fulham after some shambolic defending and will need to tighten things up if they hope to squeeze any points out of a high-flying Wigan side that’s won three of its last four matches.

QPR will have one last push this season and it begins this Saturday. Double down on the R’s to take this one.

MANCHESTER UNITED v. MANCHESTER CITY (Old Trafford, Mon 3:00pm ET)
Live TV: ESPN; Sky Sports 1
Odds: United 6/5; City 47/20; Draw 12/5

It goes without saying that the Manchester Derby is the crown jewel of Matchweek 32 but the hype around this fixture is a bit subdued given United’s league dominance. The Citizens, boosted by Yaya Toure signing a new four year deal at the club, are looking to exact revenge for last December’s 3-2 defeat and prove that United’s 15 point lead isn’t indicative of the difference between the two sides.

City feel like they have a lot to prove here – and rightfully so. Roberto’s men take the three points.

Arsenal want season completed ‘to maintain integrity’ of PL

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Arsenal remain in support of finishing the 2019-20 season in order to “to maintain the integrity” of the competition, despite Friday’s unanimous vote that the Premier League cannot resume at the start of May as previously hoped due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

[ MORE: UEFA threatens Belgian league with European expulsion ]

The Gunners, who currently sit ninth in the PL table with 10 games left to play (one more than the majority of clubs around them), were five points back of fifth-place Manchester United for qualification to next season’s UEFA Champions League thanks to Manchester City’s two-year European ban.

In a statement released on Friday, Arsenal reiterated their stance that the current season should be played to completion rather than called to completion at things stand or abandoned altogether.

We are in full support of the objective for all remaining domestic league and cup matches from the 2019-20 season to be played, in order to maintain the integrity of each competition.

We also fully agree with the principle that any return to action will only be with the full backing of government and when medical guidance allows.

The restart date is under constant review as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic develops and we continue to work together with all stakeholders through this very challenging time

Premier League rivalries: The Merseyside derby

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While the Merseyside derby has been dominated by one side of late, that has not detracted from the spectacle of the most historic matchup in English top flight history.

Uninterrupted in top flight play since 1962/63, the two sides are situated less than a mile apart, with the proximity feeding an already intense matchup.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Despite the incredibly close geographic proximity, the derby is sometimes known as the “Friendly Derby” as there are often families with split allegiances. Still, the matchup has the most red cards in Premier League history with 21, including 17 of those in the especially heated timeframe between 1997 and 2008.

Unfortunately for Everton, the rivalry has become one-sided over the past decade, with the Toffees failing to win since October of 2010. Liverpool has won 11 of the 21 games, with the other 10 ending in a draw. That has somewhat deescalated the vicious nature of the matchup, especially since Liverpool has gone on to become one of the most formidable sides in Europe over the past few years while Everton continues to challenge for a top-half place in the league.

Still, the 228 all-time matches between the clubs continues to fuel one of the great matchups in the English domestic landscape, and sooner or later this rivalry will regain its venom to bring the bite back to this matchup.

Bayern Munich signs coach Flick as permanent boss

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Bayern Munich has locked down interim head coach Hansi Flick as permanent boss, signing the 55-year-old on through the summer of 2023, the club announced on Friday.

Flick took over on an interim basis for Niko Kovac when the Croatian was let go in early November with the club fourth in the Bundesliga table. He impressed during his time as interim manager, leading the club back to the top of the table thanks in large part to a current 11-match league unbeaten run that features 10 wins and a draw.

That streak includes a 0-0 draw with then-second placed RB Leipzig that kept Bayern atop the table, plus a dominant 5-0 win over then-fifth placed Schalke. Successive 2-1 defeats to Borussia Monchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen are the only real blemishes on his record in charge so far, coming way back in late November and early December.

“I’m looking forward to taking on the upcoming tasks along with my staff and the team,” Flick said in the official team release. “The talks with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Oliver Kahn and Hasan Salihamidžić were very good and in a spirit of good faith. We’ve determined the direction for the upcoming years. I’m sure we can achieve a lot together.”

Flick has also kept the club’s pristine Champions League record alive this season, with wins over Red Star Belgrade, Tottenham, and Chelsea by a combined 12-1 scoreline. The 3-0 first-leg win over Chelsea in the Round of 16 has the club primed to reach the quarterfinal round should the competition eventually resume.

Speaking to Flick’s adaptability, he also kept the club rolling in the recent absence of in-form striker Robert Lewandowski, working 6-0 and 2-0 wins over Hoffenheim and Augsburg without his lead frontman who began a long absence with a broken tibia.

“Bayern are very satisfied with Hansi Flick’s work,” said Bayern’s chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in the release. “The team has had a very good development under him, plays attractive football which is reflected in results. We are the only club still competing in all three competitions.”

Sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic added, “Hansi and I know in which direction we want to develop the team. We believe that Hansi is also the right head coach for the current time.”

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Montiel to Palace or West Ham, Coutinho to depart Barcelona

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River Plate is one of many clubs that could use this coming transfer window to earn a payday after taking losses in the coronavirus shutdown, and that could come at the benefit of one Premier League club.

West Ham is apparently one of a few teams after Argentine international Gonzalo Montiel who could fetch River Plate somewhere in the vicinity of $24 million. The right-back is a River Plate youth product who established himself as a regular for the club at just 20 years old and has spent the last three seasons earning significant minutes. Now 23, Montiel is a strong passer who can create for teammates with long-range deliveries.

Argentine publication Ole mentions that Spanish side Valencia has shown interest of late, but also states that West Ham made contact in January but was turned down by River Plate and the Hammers could be suitors again once the next window arrives. Montiel was also linked with Crystal Palace by Goal back in late March, while Argentine newspaper El Intransigente linked the player with Southampton. Palace and Saints both make sense as they are both looking to replace big-name departures of late, with Crystal Palace still yet to truly replace Aaron Wan-Bissaka while Southampton has not seen much from those brought in to take over for Cedric Soares.

Barcelona is reportedly ready to lower its asking price on Philippe Coutinho, with a bid of $86 million potentially workable for the Catalan club, according to a report by the Evening Standard.

Coutinho was extremely poor in his season-and-a-half at Barcelona, and while the Brazilian playmaker had upped his game on loan at Bayern Munich before the coronavirus shutdown, the purchase price on his loan deal is a whopping $130 million, which Bayern Munich is not willing to pay.

Barcelona is desperately in need of funds to support its summer business, with Lautaro Martinez and Neymar both heavily linked with the La Liga giants. It’s highly unlikely that both will be possible to acquire given both the team’s business of late and the coronavirus shutdown causing financial strain on clubs all over the world, and a significant sale may even be needed to get one of them over the line. Coutinho provides such a possibility, but with Barcelona not exactly in a position of strength given Coutinho’s lack of recent star power and the club’s need to sell, dropping the asking price is a highly likely eventuality.

The Evening Standard report mentions that Barcelona believes the Premier League is the “most likely possibility” for a Coutinho suitor given the league’s memories of his incredible spell at Liverpool just a few years ago.

Speaking of the Premier League, Manchester United was reportedly close to securing a marquee striker last summer before eventually sticking with Marcus Rashford up front. Speaking to Italian print publication Tuttosport on Wednesday, Romelu Lukaku’s agent Federico Pastorello said that the Belgian big man almost went to Juventus on a swap deal before Manchester United backed out of the transfer negotiations due to Dybala’s high wage demand. Eventually, Lukaku departed for Inter Milan where he settled in quickly and has contributed to a furious title challenge that just lost steam before the coronavirus shutdown.

Pastorello simply responded “It’s true” when asked if Dybala had been a focal point of Manchester United negotiations, but hedged his answer with, “Romelu, however, had always hoped to go to Inter because he was impressed by the affection of the Inter fans.”