Prindi’s Premier League Picks: Southampton and Arsenal to stumble

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In case you didn’t notice, this weekend’s Premier League fixture list is positively bonkers.

The excitement kicks-off first thing Saturday with Newcastle v. Chelsea and continues straight through to the final match of the day when Liverpool try to dethrone Arsenal.

On Sunday, Everton and Tottenham serve as a tasty appetizer for the much-anticipated South Wales derby between Cardiff City and Swansea City.

So strap on in, it’s going to be a wild one.

Here’s how I have it all shaking out.

UPSET SPECIALS

Hull City v. Sunderland (Sat 11:00am ET on Live Extra; KC Stadium)

How on earth Jozy Altidore has gone eight matches without scoring is beyond comprehension. He’s working hard, come agonizingly close to scoring on numerous occasions and is linking up well with his teammates.

It’s cliché to say it but the man has simply been unlucky.

But this weekend, the fluke ends. I’m calling it now, Jozy breaks his duck before the halftime whistle blows and Sunderland march on to steal all three points from the rugby field that is the KC Stadium.

Write it down. Take it to the bank. Cash it.

Sunderland 1 Hull City 0

source:
Sam Allardyce, shortly after being told the cupboard is empty.

West Ham United v. Aston Villa (Sat 11:00am ET on Live Extra; Upton Park)

When asked for the team news on Thursday morning, West Ham manager Sam Allardyce responded: “[We have] quite a big problem in terms of numbers. We’re very short of first team squad players available for Saturday so it’s about getting on with the job and using the players we’ve got available.”

Translation: ‘Well, we’re basically screwed but maybe the scrubs can put something together.

Way to motivate the troops, Big Sam.

To be fair, it has to be difficult to shout instructions with a  mouth full of peanut butter.

West Ham 1 Aston Villa 2

Stoke City v. Southampton (Sat 11:00am ET on Live Extra; Britannia Stadium)

Southampton have shown they can knock-off top teams (Liverpool), equalize when losing to Champions (Manchester United) and wipe the floor with bottom dwellers (Crystal Palace, Fulham). But can they go into the depths of mortar and snatch three points from the frothing jaws of a Stoke City side with their back to the relegation wall?

Make no mistake about it, there will be blood. And in the end I think the Potters prevail and the Saints come crashing back to earth. You heard you.

Stoke City 1 Southampton 0

Arsenal v. Liverpool (Sat 1:30pm ET on NBC; Emirates Stadium)

Ultimately, this one feels like a 1-1 draw. But calling for a draw here is about as safe and boring as ordering the pad thai while on holiday in Bangkok. Philippe Coutinho is in, Mathieu Flamini is out and for me, that’s the difference maker in this one. For a full match report, click here.

Arsenal 1 Liverpool 2 

CAPTAIN OBVIOUS

Manchester City v. Norwich City (Sat 11:00am ET on Live Extra; Etihad Stadium)

After getting ‘Nando’d by Chelsea last weekend it’s safe to say that Manchester City is poised to dole out one of those quintessential bounce-back punishments they’re so well known for. Sadly, those sweet, loveable Canaries find themselves in the firing line.

Manchester City 5 Norwich City 0

West Bromwich Albion v. Crystal Palace (Sat 11:00am ET on Live Extra; The Hawthorns)

When it comes to Crystal Palace playing on the road, things are relatively straightforward – they’re going to lose. This is the sad reality of a club promoted to the Premier League one to two years before they were ripe to compete in the top flight.

West Brom 3 Crystal Palace 1

source:
Chicharito bagged a midweek brace against Norwich City, might we see the him Saturday?

Fulham v. Manchester United (Sat 11:00am ET on NBCSN; Craven Cottage)

Has anyone else grown tired of Manchester United?

I have. No offense Red Devils fans, but I need a break. Or a morphine drip. Something to take away the pain that is the current state of the red side of Manchester.

I used to love watching United play but these days the only action coming out of Old Trafford is that whiny, suck-the-fun-out-of-life drama that a drunk ex-lover heaps on you at four in the morning when all you want to do is sleep. Admit it, you’ve been there.

But as much as I want to say Fulham can get a point in this one, I’m merely jaded, not delusional.

Fulham 0 Manchester United 3

SQUEAKY BUM TIME

Newcastle United v. Chelsea (Sat 8:45am ET on NBCSN; St James’ Park)

Admit it, you were impressed with Chelsea’s victory over Manchester City last week, weren’t you?

Me too. But let’s not get carried away, this Blues squad is still miles away from consistent football and reaching their full potential. It’s their consistency that will be tested early Saturday and don’t be surprised if Jose Mourinho’s men find themselves behind early.

Ultimately I think they figure it out but not without some tense moments before doing so.

Newcastle 2 Chelsea 3

Everton v. Tottenham Hotspur (Sun 8:30am ET on NBCSN; Goodison Park)

Keep it moving. Nothing to see here, folks. Just the dark-horse match of the week hiding its pretty little head behind headline grabbers Arsenal/Liverpool and Cardiff/Swansea.

When these two sides met last year it was a battle royale at Goodison Park with Clint Dempsey’s second-half opener being cancelled out by injury time strikes by Steven Pienaar and Nikica Jelavic. Having sat in the Gwladys Street end for that match, I can tell you it was positively bananas. Expect the madness to be reborn this year, with the same result.

Everton 2 Tottenham 1

Cardiff City v. Swansea City (Sun 11:00am ET on NBCSN; Cardiff City Stadium)

As you’ve probably heard, this will be the 55th league derby between Cardiff and Swansea but the first one played in the English top-flight and the first ever English top-flight fixture between non-English clubs.

And, as you’ve also probably heard, the last football fan on earth who you ever want to mess with is a drunk Welshman.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Cardiff City 1 Swansea City 2

Panama boss blunt and honest before nation’s World Cup debut

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez isn’t in the business of sugarcoating the truth before his team makes history by playing in its first World Cup.

The Central American team has trouble scoring and his players will need to have a good day to have any chance against Belgium on Monday, he said.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Blunt and honest, Gomez didn’t even hide his starting lineup, the normal way of doing things for coaches these days. And when asked if Panama could repeat Iceland’s upset against Argentina — the teams drew 1-1 on Saturday — the Colombian didn’t bother picking the right words when downplaying the Argentine squad.

“Iceland sent Croatia to the playoffs (in European qualifying), and it did well in the European Championship as well,” Gomez said. “It played against an Argentina squad which isn’t at the same level as Belgium right now. I mean, the distance between Iceland and Argentina isn’t as significant as the distance between Belgium and Panama.”

Gomez didn’t completely dismiss Panama’s chances of a surprise result against the Belgians, saying “anything can happen in football,” but admitted it wouldn’t be normal.

“It’s very clear that they are the favorites,” the 62-year-old coach said. “But each game is different, and if we have a good day, maybe we can achieve something.”

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

If Panama does find a way to advance past the group stage, Gomez said he already knows how he will be celebrating.

“I’ll drink two bottles of vodka,” he said laughing, before taking it back. “No, no … we are professionals.”

Gomez didn’t bother keeping his lineup a secret for the match in Sochi, naming the 11 starters without hesitating when asked about it. He even frankly talked about the formation his team would be playing Monday.

Gomez said Panama won’t be trying anything but defending against the talented Belgians, and admitted that scoring goals has been a weakness of his team entering the tournament.

“We’ve become strong on defense. It’s Panama’s virtue,” he said. “Panama isn’t a team that will score a lot of goals. We may create good chances in some matches, but we aren’t able to score. We arrive at the World Cup with problems scoring the goals.”

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

The 55th-ranked Panama drew 0-0 with Northern Ireland and lost 1-0 to Norway in its final warm-up matches before traveling to Russia.

It qualified for the tournament by finishing ahead of the United States in CONCACAF thanks to a last-minute victory over Costa Rica in qualifying.

Gomez said the team carries a big responsibility by representing the nation at a World Cup for the first time, and his biggest job is to get the players ready for the pressure they are about to face.

“The whole country is excited about this,” Gomez said. “I have to prepare the players mentally.”

Gomez has been coaching Panama since 2014. He was previously with Ecuador, Guatemala and Colombia.

Panama’s other Group G games will be against England on Sunday and Tunisia on June 28.

Maradona: Argentina drawing Iceland is “a disgrace”

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It’s been a pretty trying and criticism-filled 36 hours for Lionel Messi and Argentina, and that was already true before the World Cup hero that is Diego Maradona weighed in.

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

No longer are La Albiceleste simply known as the side that drew tiny Iceland — the smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup — but now their efforts on Saturday have been dubbed “a disgrace” by Maradona.

It’s not so much the players whom Maradona, manager of the national team for the 2010 World Cup (quarterfinals appearance, beaten 4-0 by Germany), has gone after, but current boss Jorge Sampaoli for his lack of a proper gameplan befitting the opponent. As for Messi, who failed to convert a critical penalty kick, Maradona has absolved the Barcelona superstar of much of the blame — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s a disgrace. Not having prepared for the match knowing that Iceland are all [6-foot-3] tall.”

“I get the feeling there’s an anger at the heart of the team.”

“I don’t blame the players. I could blame the lack of work rate. But I can’t blame the players, much less Messi, who gave it all he had,” said Maradona.

“I missed five penalties on the spin and I was still Diego Armando Maradona. I don’t think that they dropped two points because Messi missed a penalty.”

England squad reconnects with fans with image makeover

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VOLGOGRAD, England (AP) — Whatever happens to England at the World Cup, at least the reception facing the squad should be less brutal than it was in 2014 after its exit following the group stage.’

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

For once, the players can’t be accused of hiding away, retreating behind their headphones. The hallmark of England’s preparations for Russia has been shedding the past reticence to engage with the public, a calculated move by the team leadership to reconnect with a public disaffected by years of failure at tournaments and uninspiring performances.

“They appear more relaxed. They appear more normal,” supporter Gavin Hughes said, overlooking the Volgograd Arena where England opens its World Cup campaign against Tunisia on Monday. “They appear human. They are just lads playing football at the end of the day. That’s been the problem in the past. There’s more of a togetherness.”

A defining clip of the 2010 World Cup was Wayne Rooney bellowing down the barrel of a camera after a 0-0 draw with Algeria: “Nice to see your home fans booing you, that’s what loyal support is.”

That disconnect with the public has been bridged by the 23-man squad facing the media in a 45-minute, Super Bowl-style session before leaving for Russia. The English Football Association’s approach is in a marked contrast to club duty where they are largely closeted away, save for appearances with paying broadcasters or often in controlled appearances.

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

“We’ve done a lot for the fans on social media so they can see what we are up to, which has not always been the case,” captain Harry Kane said Sunday. “It’s important while we have free time is to try to let the fans know what we are up to.”

The public is seeing a new side of the players. Not only are they more relatable but painted in a more sympathetic light, beyond the caricatures of millionaire mercenaries just chasing more money.

“That connection with the supporters is really important,” coach Gareth Southgate said. “There have been perceptions about our players for a long time … so it’s been really good for our public to see how much it means to the players to play, to see a different side of their personality.”

In a move unthinkable in years gone by, when a since-departed FA official blocked Rooney talking about his Christianity, defender Danny Rose recently opened up on his problems dealing with depression. Publicly praised by Prince William for raising awareness of health issues, Rose realizes how players can use their new platform to show their human side and inspire others.

“A lot of people messaged me to say thank you, that they know someone who is going through this or has been through that and that I’ve helped them and given them the confidence to express themselves,” Rose said. “We have a lot of down time and I’m going to think of something to help others when I get back. I’ve got time to think while I’m here and when I get back from the World Cup about how I can go forward and help people.”

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

It’s not just about the players feeding a voracious traveling media pack with material. Kieran Trippier, who is also Rose’s club teammate at Tottenham, told the left back he appeared no longer burdened by a private plight in England’s last World Cup warm-up game.

“I was playing with a bit of freedom,” Rose said of the victory against Costa Rica. “I think he’s got a point.”

Southgate is credited with encouraging the warmer environment, far removed from the controlling regimes under Fabio Capello and Gary Neville, who was Roy Hodgson’s assistant for the dismal 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship last-16 humbling to Iceland. A bemusing, running theme in the British papers at Euro 2016 in France was the players’ refusal to divulge any details of a darts tournament. The squad has been overhauled by Southgate and it has even been playing darts with the media at the World Cup base near St. Petersburg.

Southgate has been playing his part, going to fan forums in the buildup to the tournament to recognize the commitment and cost involved watching England abroad.

“Sometimes those really good people who follow us are overlooked at the expense of some who have caused problems in the past,” Southgate said.

Ultimately, results dictate the public mood and England hasn’t won a knockout game at any tournament since 2006.

“It’s about how we perform,” Southgate said, “but there’s a bigger picture.”

WATCH: World Cup, Day 5 — England, Belgium enter the fray

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The weekend might be all but over, but that doesn’t mean that 2018 World Cup action is slowing down anytime soon.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Monday, in fact, will be quite the opposite, as Group G giants — and a pair of popular dark horse picks — Belgium and England make their debut in Russia, taking on Panama and Tunisia, respectively.

Following Germany’s 1-0 loss to Mexico on Sunday, Group F is currently turned upside down on its head. Sweden and South Korea, who’ll face off in the day’s opener, are even more hopeful now than prior to the start of the tournament.

Below is Monday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Monday, June 18

Group F
Sweden vs. South Korea: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group G
Belgium vs. Panama: Sochi, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Tunisia vs. England: Volgograd, 2 p.m. ET –LIVE COVERAGE