Prindi’s Premier League Picks: Newcastle and Stoke City to surprise

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Picking Premier League matches is haaard dang work and quite frankly, I’m crap at it. I’d like to think it has to do with the fact that the beautiful game has three possible results (win, draw, loss) but that’s basically just an excuse. Nevertheless, I enjoy the banter and figure at the very least I can provide you all with some fodder to tear me up with in the comments. So without further ado, let’s get it on.

Manchester United vs. Crystal Palace (Sat. 7:45 am ET, Old Trafford)

‘All in’ on Manchester United. That’s the prevailing sentiment this week among anyone who has the champions left in their Survivor pool and as heavy 4/21 favorites, Vegas agrees. Sure, they were stuffed goalless in their last two league fixtures but in Palace the Red Devils see a squad that’s prime for the picking as manager Ian Holloway will be in the seats serving a two match ban.

Holloway’s side will nevertheless make a go of it, just as his Blackpool squad did last time the manager was in the Premier League. In both fixtures against United during the 2011-12 season, the Tangerines managed to take the lead before conceding defeat. The four goals Blackpool scored in those fixtures were a testament to Holloway’s philosophy of attacking football, regardless of the opponent.

Attacking United may prove a bit more difficult this time around as Marouane Fellaini looks likely to partner Michael Carrick in the holding role. The Belgian’s debut for United should be a good watch, especially when he employs those trademark marauding runs.

Awaiting Fellaini, however, are two of the more underrated players in the league, Palace wrecking balls, Mile Jedinak and Kagisho Dikgacoi. If United are to do the damage they’ll need to get past these two beasts and Shinji Kagawa may be just the man to make that happen. The Japanese international is a tricky little customer and could see his name on the team sheet as Wayne Rooney remains sidelined with that gaping head injury.

Expect an all-action display with goals galore. But in the end, United are as safe a bet as there is and that’s why they’re my ‘Lock of the Week’.

Sunderland vs. Arsenal (Sat. 10:00am ET, Stadium of Light)

source:  Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil. Mesut Ozil.

Have you heard that Arsenal signed Mesut Ozil? You may have read about it somewhere. Or everywhere. My Mom actually wrote a nice little piece about the German international in her Facebook timeline earlier this week. Fascinating stuff.

In all seriousness, Arsenal welcome the German international (whose last name is actually pronounced ‘Er-zill’, believe it or not) to the squad and for his first test he gets to head north to the Stadium of Light to get kicked around by Sunderland. Yes, Steven Fletcher’s back but Paulo Di Canio sold their best player in Stephane Sessegnon so how exactly the Black Cats expect to create goals remains a mystery.

Vegas has Arsenal as huge favorites to win (20/31) and I’m not one to disagree.

Aston Villa vs. Newcastle United (Sat. 10:00am ET, Villa Park) 

source:  Forget Raymond, Everybody loves Villa. Three weeks into the season and that’s abundantly clear. And justifiably so as Paul Lambert’s influence is finally paying dividends after a hellacious 2012-13 campaign. After knocking off Arsenal and playing both Liverpool and Chelsea tight, most see Newcastle as a layup for the Midland’s team.

But that’s the kind of dangerous thinking that got Manchester City in trouble against Cardiff City a few weeks back. The fact is, Newcastle has dominated this Premier League fixture in the past, winning 19 of 38 encounters and losing only eight times. In addition, Alan Pardew has Villa’s number, winning five of nine matches against them during his managerial career in the Premier League.

Newcastle has been shooting blanks on the offensive end but that could well become a thing of the past this weekend as the Magpies have Papiss Cisse, Loic Remy and Yoan Gouffran all healthy.

Expect this to be hard fought match (Villa lead the league in yellow cards with 12) and while Vegas gives the home side the edge (11/10), I’m making this my ‘Upset of the Week’ and say Newcastle wins it.

Fulham vs. West Bromwich Albion (Sat. 10:00am ET, Craven Cottage)

source: Getty ImagesPretty tough to get excited about this matchup. Fulham’s offense has looked positively anemic although the Cottagers have managed to score twice this season.

In the world of West Brom, that’s quite an achievement as the Baggies are the only team in the league that has yet to score a goal. The reason? A lack of shots, of course. As in four. Four total shots after 270 minutes of play.

But West Brom manager Steve Clarke has gone out and done something about the problem, bringing in Big Victor Anichebe from Everton. Fingers crossed the Nigerian international can add some excitement to a match that Vegas has the Cottagers as slight favorites to win at 21/20.

This one has draw written all over it.

Hull City vs. Cardiff City (Sat. 10:00am ET, The Kingston Communications Stadium)

source:

In the battle of the new City’s in the league, Hull and Cardiff should be an entertaining affair. Hull will look for their second consecutive home victory following their 1-0 victory over Norwich but will have to do so without forward Yannick Sagbo, who is serving the last of his three match ban.

For Cardiff, they will be without striker Andreas Cornelius while goalkeeper David Marshall is doubtful after suffering a hip injury in Scotland’s FIFA World Cup qualifying win over Macedonia on Tuesday.

The sharps give Hull (5/4) the slight edge in this one but from my end, the introduction of Peter Odemwingie at Cardiff should be the difference in handing the Bluebirds the win.

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Norwich City (Sat. 10:00am ET, White Hart Lane)

source:  Hopefully Andre Villas-Boas received plenty of hugs over the international break because following Spurs 1-0 loss to Arsenal he had the look of a boy who’d lost his puppy. ‘It’s ok,‘ I wanted to tell Andre, ‘There tend to be growing pains when you bring in eight new players and sell your golden boy.

But by match week four, some things should start to fall into place and scoring from the run of play is one of them. That has to happen for Spurs. No more of these penalties for Soldado, it’s time the Spaniard throws out some of that poacher love he’s so well known for.

This Norwich City side is not to be taken lightly but Spurs need the points to stay among the league’s elite. That’s why Vegas favors them at 10/23 and I believe they’ll come good.

Stoke City vs. Manchester City (Sat. 10:00am ET, Britannia Stadium)

source:  Manchester City are heavy favorites (19/4) to do the damage at Stoke City and with the roster that Manuel Pellegrini has at his disposal, it’s no wonder.

But Stoke City are a plucky side and having won successive league games for the fourth time in the last 18 months, the Potters are full of confidence. A secondary source of that confidence comes from the Britannia Stadium, where Stoke have never lost to City, having won once and drawn four times.

Oh yes, my pretties. I’m going there. Stoke are snatching a point in this match.

Everton vs. Chelsea (Sat. 12:30pm ET, Goodison Park)

source:  You know that look of brazen confidence that Jose Mourinho loves to don when his side is about to provide a thumping? That will be on full display Saturday when Chelsea head to Goodison Park. The Portuguese manager has never lost to the Toffees in his six previous meetings with Everton, winning four and drawing two.

Factor in the arrival of one of his favorite past crushes, Samuel Eto’o (who somehow landed at Chelsea on a FREE transfer from Anzhi – totally ridiculous), and Brazilian attacking midfielder Willian, and The Special One has plenty of high-powered toys to chose from.

It’s perhaps no surprise then that Vegas is backing Chelsea at 5/4 to take all three points. Roberto Martinez’ side may have something to say about that. The Toffees remain one of three unbeaten sides in the league and despite those draws coming against less than enviable teams, Everton have showed promise. With a bit of luck and perhaps a change in striker – giving the woeful Nikica Jelavic a break in favor of Arouna Kone or, dare I say it, 19 year old Barcelona sensation Gerard Deulofeu – Everton’s struggle in front of net could soon be a thing of the past.

It’s always a tasty affair when these two sides meet and tomorrow should be no different. But I think that smug look on Jose’s face turns sour after 90 minutes when these sides draw even.

Southampton vs. West Ham United (Sun. 11:00 am ET, St. Mary’s Stadium)

source:  West Ham hates the road. The Hammers haven’t won an away fixture since February and last year they scored only 11 goal outside of Upton Park. With Andy Carroll coming down with yet another injury, West Ham is left with Modibo Maiga and Mladen Petric to make things happen up front.

Making matters worse Stewart Downing, Joe Cole and George McCartney all join Carroll on the sideline while the Saints only injury concern is a twisted ankle to Danny Fox. Factor in that raucus St. Mary’s crowd and Southampton (5/4) should take all three points.

Swansea City vs. Liverpool (Mon. 3:00 pm ET, Liberty Stadium)

source:  Liverpool enters the match on their best start to a season since 1994. Ahhhh, glory days.

Could this finally be the season the good times return to Liverpool? Monday’s fixture at Swansea City will provide an excellent litmus test as the Reds have proven themselves against top competition, so the question now becomes –  Can they avoid that next match letdown that has plagued them over the last few years?

It will be a homecoming for former Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers, who managed a win against Liverpool when he coached the Swans back in 2012. In all three of the other fixtures between these two sides in the league, however, the Swans have failed to score. It’s a streak that Swansea manager Michael Laudrup will look to break with the swashbuckling style of Michu and that thundertrunk legs of Wilfred Bony.

Liverpool are the favorites to win at 12/5 but this match has all the makings of an upset. Look for Swansea to get a result in this match.

Javier Hernandez explains retirement comments

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Javier ‘Chicharito‘ has explained comments he made about his move to the LA Galaxy and Major League Soccer as he mentioned the word ‘retirement’ in his YouTube reality show which featured him talking about his move to LA.

That’s right, using the words retirement and MLS in the same sentence will unleash an unreal level of fury among the most ardent supporters of North America’s top-flight.

Chicharito, 31, was shown in tears as he spoke with his parents on the phone about his move to the Galaxy and it appears his comments have been blown out of proportion as he was speaking about the end of his European journey as he returns to North America.

“It’s so simple. I think all over the world, but in my country, we love and we are, like, obsessed with drama and excess,” Hernandez said. “They don’t really listen to what I said at the beginning of the retirement (comment). This retirement could last 10 years. That word is strong for them when I mention (retirement), but it’s just the beginning of that. Hopefully this beginning is going to last so long.”

Drama? LA? Soccer? Surely not…

Hernandez has issued some much-needed perspective on this topic. Is he heading towards the end of his career? Well, folks, water is wet. Anybody who tries to say MLS is not a great place for stars from Europe to see out the final years of their careers is in denial. There is still a place in MLS for huge names to raise the profile of the league and have a swansong while they are paid handsomely.

MLS isn’t dominated by those type of players anymore but we’ve all seen the success David Villa, Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane had and more recently Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney.

Yes, Hernandez probably should have not used the word ‘retirement’ but it was taken out of context and even if he now realizes he’s in the final years of his career he seems hellbent on enjoying them in the USA as he tries to restore the Galaxy’s status as the elite club in MLS.

Chicharito is keeping it real and we salute him for that. Anybody who has a serious problem with his comments should probably just go back to yelling at the clouds.

Chicharito seizes chance to be center of the Galaxy

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Carson, Calif. — Javier Hernandez has been to the top of the soccer world. He spent the last 10 years in Europe’s top leagues, winning trophies and representing some of the biggest clubs.

Yet from Manchester United to Sevilla, the Mexican striker better known as Chicharito often struggled to get consistent playing time.

Whether his path was blocked by Wayne Rooney‘s brilliance or a manager’s lack of confidence in him, Hernandez rarely got to show his full talent. When he wasn’t fighting injuries, he often served as a key backup instead of a centerpiece.

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That’s the main reason the 31-year-old Hernandez agreed to return to North America with the LA Galaxy, who introduced their latest superstar acquisition Thursday.

Chicharito is the center of the Galaxy now, and he is thrilled.

“I just want to play,” Hernandez said in his distinctively rapid bilingual delivery. “This league and this team, it’s giving me that opportunity (to show) that I’m one of the best players around the world. That’s why they want me to be here, to try to improve this league and this team. … It’s a win-win-win-win. I know I’ll be on the pitch most of the time if I keep working hard for the club. I’m going to be doing what I loved since I was in the belly of my mother.”

With Chicharito playing in only nine games so far this season for Sevilla, the timing was finally perfect for this long-rumored combination of player and club.

While the Galaxy made major improvements and reached the playoffs last season behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s franchise-record 30 goals, they desperately needed another topflight striker at the center of coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s attack when Ibrahimovic chose to return to Europe. Unlike most Major League Soccer clubs, the Galaxy have the money to go get elite talents, even in the January transfer window.

Hernandez is well aware of the five-time MLS champions’ history of landing world-class players, reeling off his own list of favorites: “Robbie Keane. Steven Gerrard. Giovani Dos Santos. Jonathan Dos Santos. Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Landon Donovan. David Beckham, that’s the most iconic one, obviously. And then my name is over those. I’m just so blessed and so humble that I can be a part of all this.”

The speedy, shifty Chicharito likely fits Barros Schlelotto’s style even better than the hulking Zlatan, and the Argentine coach worked aggressively behind the scenes to land Hernandez.

While Chicharito’s European career got off to a strong start at Manchester United under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson, he repeatedly struggled elsewhere when managers clearly didn’t believe in his abilities.

[ MORE: Premier League Club Power Rankings ]

“More than anybody, Guillermo was involved in making it happen,” said Galaxy general manager Dennis Te Kloese, who has known Chicharito since the player’s childhood. “In the end, it had to do with Javier’s interest in being a part of this organization because he’s going to be in a team and with a coach who has a lot of trust in him.”

That clearly wasn’t always the case in Hernandez’s European career. After four years in Manchester, Chicharito spent one season at Real Madrid and two more at Bayer Leverkusen, followed by two seasons back in the Premiership at West Ham. He scored goals at every stop, but never landed a permanent, consistent role matching his importance to the Mexican national team.

“I think what makes a lot of the world-class players even better is (how) they get used to their circumstances,” Chicharito said. “That’s something that I think I can bring. I want to show them that I’ve never been a selfish player – even though strikers are going to be in front of everyone, and I’m probably going to take the shot. I’m completely motivated.”

The top goal-scorer in the history of the Mexican national team already knows Los Angeles from many trips representing El Tri, which is invariably treated as the home team at the Rose Bowl by California’s massive Mexican-American population. Chicharito was greeted at the airport by hundreds of noisy fans when he arrived with his young family Wednesday night.

“I’ve been playing in this country since I was 16 years old,” Chicharito said. “I’ve won a lot of games here, and I’ve been treated with a lot of value and respect. I want that, and it’s coming from the best club in the USA. They came to get me, and that speaks of what they think of me.”

While the MLS is an undeniable step back in overall exposure and competition, Hernandez knows he will deal with even more scrutiny on his home continent from the fans and Spanish-language media based in Los Angeles.

That extra scrutiny has already started: When Chicharito’s YouTube reality show released an episode Wednesday in which Hernandez told his father that moving to the Galaxy was “like the beginning of my retirement,” fans and critics immediately seized on the term often used to denigrate MLS.

Chicharito explained himself with a smile before he held aloft his Galaxy jersey and formally began his next chapter.

“In my country, we love and we are, like, obsessed with drama and excess,” Hernandez said, clarifying that he only meant he had finished the European portion of his career.

“They don’t really listen to what I said at the beginning of the retirement (comment). This retirement could last 10 years. That word is strong for them when I mention (retirement), but it’s just the beginning of that. Hopefully this beginning is going to last so long.”

Simeone has no plans to leave Atletico Madrid despite setbacks

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It might seem insane, the idea that anyone other than Diego Simeone would manage Atletico Madrid any time soon.

And if the 49-year-old Argentine manager comes available, the market for his services is going to be active.

Simeone was answering questions about his future following Atleti’s stunning 2-1 loss to third-tier Cultural Leonessa in the Copa del Rey’s Round of 32 on Thursday.

“I have the desire to work like every day since I arrived,” Simeone said, via Marca. “The penalties or the extra time in the Champions League didn’t change me, nor will going out in this round. I have an important squad and results will come soon.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Simeone has led Atleti to a La Liga crown, two Europa League titles, and a pair of Champions League finals.

He’s a three-time La Liga coach of the year, and Atleti has finished Top Three in all of his seasons at the club except 2011/12. He was hired in December of that year and won Europa.

The third-place run is at risk this season, and not because Simeone hasn’t been able to marshal his back line (Come on, obviously). The club has struggled to find goals without Antoine Griezmann, though massive signing Joao Felix has shown signs. After Alvaro Morata’s 10 goals, only Angel Correa (5) and Felix (4) have more than two.

Hence all the Edinson Cavani talk. And the Alexandre Lacazette talk.

If Simeone were to be looking for a job, it would be interesting to see how many jobs would almost instantly become available.

PL Club Power Rankings: Week 24

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What are we supposed to do when the form table says there are about four teams playing well across the Premier League, and one conceded two stoppage-time goals to draw their last match?

It’s nutty, dear reader.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Liverpool is a team of destiny and Man City unbeaten in seven across all competitions. After that, there’s a lot of long exhalations and ponderous glances at the form table.

Things might get nutty in our first power rankings since Week 22.

Green: New season-high ranking
Red: New season-low

[ MORE: PL Club Power Rankings archive ]

20. Norwich City — The Canaries have this awful penchant for getting no points when they should get one, and one when they should get three. The former happened against Spurs, and now they simply have to sweep Newcastle by winning at St. James’ Park in two weeks.
Last week: 20
Season high: 10
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Spurs
Up next: 10 a.m. Feb. 1 at Newcastle United

19. West Ham United — All David Moyes does is win, he says, though he hasn’t done it since pounding moribund Bournemouth. No Felipe Anderson for a month is brutal.
Last week: 16
Season high: 5
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 4-1 at Leicester City
Up next: 2:45 p.m. ET Wednesday v. Liverpool; 10 a.m. ET Feb. 1 v. Brighton
18. Brighton and Hove Albion — Losing to Bournemouth after drawing at home to Villa leaves the Seagulls just two points above the drop zone.
Last week: 12
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Lost 3-1 at Bournemouth
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Feb. 1 at West Ham

17. Bournemouth — The Cherries faithful needed that. Now it needs health… and Jacob Bruun Larsen?
Last week: 18
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Won 3-1 v. Brighton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Feb. 1 v. Aston Villa
16. Burnley — They’re doing it again. They’re unkillable.
Last week: 17
Season high: 5
Season low: 17
Last match: Won 2-0 at Manchester United
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Feb. 2 v. Arsenal
15. Watford — Going out of the FA Cup is probably a good thing.
Last week: 13
Season high: 13
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Aston Villa
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Everton
14. Aston Villa — A big win meets a big swing: Will Mbwana Samatta adjust seamlessly to the Premier League and give Jack Grealish some aid in attack?
Last week: 19
Season high: 6
Season low: 19
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Watford
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Feb. 1 at Bournemouth
13. Crystal Palace — Winless in five, though four were draws. Need health in a bad way after getting controlled by Saints at Selhurst Park.
Last week: 14
Season high: 5
Season low: 18
Last match: Lost 2-0 v. Southampton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Feb. 1 v. Sheffield United
12. Newcastle United — Getting a half-decade’s worth of good fortune in one season, and adding Nabil Bentaleb (for sure) and Valentino Lazaro (pending Friday medical) on loan-to-buy deals fill big holes. Watch the highlights from the match below and pretend you didn’t know the final score; Stunning turnabout.
Last week: 15
Season high: 11
Season low: 20
Last match: Drew 2-2 at Everton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Feb. 1 v. Norwich City
11. Manchester United — Ole Gunnar Solskjaer saw “very many positives” in a poor display versus Liverpool, then repeated his “biggest club in the world” trope after bumbling versus Burnley. He’s in an impossible spot without Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford and not a terrible boss, but he’s certainly not the right man for the job right now. Light into them!
Last week: 3
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Lost 2-0 v. Burnley
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Feb. 1 v. Wolves
10. Everton — The back line (and keeper) provided a point at West Ham, then gave away two versus Newcastle in what was otherwise a complete performance from Carlo Ancelotti‘s men. Otherwise.
Last week: 10
Season high: 5
Season low: 19
Last match: Drew 2-2 v. Newcastle United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Feb. 1 at Watford
9. Liverpool — Just kidding… wanted to see if you were still reading.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 2-1 at Wolves
Up next: 2:45 p.m. ET Wednesday at West Ham
9. Tottenham Hotspur — Family is good. A striker would be better.https://soccer.nbcsports.com/2020/01/21/sheffield-united-man-city-premier-league-aguero-de-bruyne-video/
Last week: 7
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Lost 1-0 v. Liverpool
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Feb. 2 v. Man City
8. Arsenal — Nicolas Pepe hasn’t been so good the past couple of weeks, but how about this for a number? His 62 successful dribbles are 39 more than anyone else on the team despite playing only 1,345 minutes. Unique.
Last week: 11
Season high: 4
Season low: 13
Last match: Drew 2-2 at Chelsea
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Feb. 2 at Burnley
7. Southampton — James Ward-Prowse is getting England talk, and he deserves it. Saints are flying.
Last week: 9
Season high: 7
Season low: 20
Last match: Won 2-0 at Palace
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Feb. 1 at Liverpool
6. Sheffield United — Again, how remarkable is it that the newly-promoted Blades are letdown from only getting a point from Man City and Arsenal?
Last week: 6
Season high: 5
Season low: 17
Last match: Lost 1-0 v. Man City
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Feb. 1 at Crystal Palace
5. Chelsea — Judging from the Mixed Zone, Chelsea isn’t too worried about its disappointing draw with Arsenal. Will they be happy with a point at the King Power Stadium in two weeks?
Last week: 4
Season high: 2
Season low: 12
Last match: Drew 2-2 v. Arsenal
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Feb. 1 at Leicester City
4. Wolves — What if Diogo Jota finished that late chance versus Liverpool? You’d have to think it would’ve been richly deserved for their second half. Willy Boly‘s return is better than any result, though, as he rejoined the bench after a long absence.
Last week: 8
Season high: 3
Season low: 17
Last match:Lost 2-1 v. Liverpool
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Feb. 1 at Man Utd
3. Leicester City — Jamie Vardy’s injury is a concern, but the Foxes’ four-star showing versus West Ham was a refreshing result.
Last week: 5
Season high: 2
Season low: 10
Last match: Won 4-1 v. West Ham
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday v. Chelsea
2. Manchester City — How long will Sergio Aguero stay in Manchester? All of the goal records are asking after his super sub showing. He’s one behind Vardy in the Golden Boot race.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 6
Last match: Won 1-0 at Sheffield United
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Feb. 2 at Spurs
1. Liverpool — Just magnificent, this guy. The commitment and fitness he’s provoked from his men are simply stunning.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 2-1 at Wolves
Up next: 2:45 p.m. ET Wednesday at West Ham; 10 a.m. ET Feb. 1 v. Saints