Prindi’s Premier League Picks: Sunderland to shock Manchester City

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Picking Premier League matches is hard work and frankly, I’m crap at it.

But I love the banter and figure at the very least I can provide you with some fodder to tear me up with in the comments. So let’s get it on.

UPSET SPECIALS

Sunderland v. Manchester City (Sun 9:05am ET on NBCSN; Stadium of Light)

No point in doing these picks without making at least one outlandish call so here it is: Sunderland win this match.

Totally ridiculous, right? Maybe not, my fine feathered friend.

City come into the fixture flying high off a 7-0 drubbing of Norwich City and a 5-2 domination of CSKA, making lil’ old Sunderland the perfect match to overlook. Throw in that David Silva, Vincent Kompany and Stevan Jovetic are all out with injury and that Fernandinho and Matija Nastasic are likely to join them on the sidelines, and the Citizens may be prime for the picking.

Sunderland 2 Manchester City 1

SQUEAKY BUM TIME

Aston Villa v. Cardiff City (Sat 10:00am ET on Extra Time; Villa Park)

Not sure what to do with Aston Villa. Early on they wiggled their way into neutrals’ hearts with stunning victories over Arsenal and Manchester City, but since the latter the Villains have flat-lined. No goals in four straight matches. Blanked. Punked. Shut-out and left for dead.

Injuries, most notably to Christian Benteke, have definitely played a role and will do so again this weekend with Andreas Weimann and Antonio Luna out, and Gabby Agbonlahor a major doubt.

Following their big derby win against Swansea, Cardiff will be susceptible to the let-down game but Malky Mackay’s squad always plays teams close, having only lost by more than one goal once this season (4-1 to Chelsea). Feels like a share of the points.

Aston Villa 1 Cardiff City 1

Southampton v. Hull City (Sat 10:00am ET on Extra Time; St Mary’s Stadium)

Mauricio Pochettino has done wonders keeping his side level-headed throughout their early season exploits and now the squad’s modesty will be tested even more with Jay Rodriguez and Adam Lallana earning calls into the England squad.

If the Saints fail to keep their eyes on the prize Hull City is exactly the kind of side that can send the Saints crashing back to earth. Just not at St. Mary’s.

Southampton 1 Hull City 0

Norwich City v. West Ham United (Sat 12:30pm ET on NBC; Carrow Road)

Um, yeah. So this game is happening.

Norwich City 0 West Ham United 0

Tottenham Hotspur v. Newcastle United (Sun 7:00am ET on NBCSN; White Hart Lane)

Having drawn with Liverpool, lost to Sunderland and beaten Chelsea over the last three weeks, we can officially crown Newcastle United the Jekyll & Hyde of the Premier League.

Spurs, on the other hand, are rather predictable. Defend well, score via penalty.

Tottenham 1 Newcastle 0

Manchester United v. Arsenal (Sun 11:10am ET on NBCSN; Old Trafford)

Hard not to be impressed with Arsenal. Last weekend they shrugged off Liverpool like they were a mid-table club before marching on to the famed Signal Iduna Park in mid-week Champions League play and becoming the first English squad to beat Borussia Dortmund at home.

A win on Sunday would complete an absurd run of form, not to mention it would be the first time since 2006 that the Gunners beat United at Old Trafford in the league. The icing on the cake? An Arsenal win will put them 11 points ahead of last year’s champions.

Without a doubt this will be the most telling fixture so far this season. Tune in or forever hold your peace.

Manchester United 1 Arsenal 2

Swansea City v. Stoke City (Sun 11:10am ET on Extra Time; Liberty Stadium)

I used to believe in Swansea City. I believed in their footballing prowess, in Michael Laudrup as a manger and Michu as a striker. I believed in their Spanish influence, their depth and the extra boost they received when playing in front of the Liberty Stadium. But no longer.

I blame you, Europa League.

Swansea City 1 Stoke City 1

CAPTAIN OBVIOUS

Chelsea v. West Bromwich Albion (Sat 10:00am ET on NBCSN; Stamford Bridge)

It’s been 35 years since West Brom recorded an away league win over Chelsea. The Baggies have never won a Premier League match at Stamford Bridge. And Jose Mourinho’s home league match unbeaten streak currently stands at 65 matches.

Combine these facts with the motivation Chelsea have following the atrocity that was last weekend’s 0-2 loss at Newcastle and even those tricky little Baggies from the West Midlands aren’t putting one over on the Blues.

Chelsea 3 West Bromwich Albion 1

Crystal Palace v. Everton (Sat 10:00am ET on Extra Time; Selhurst Park)

Why are people so high on Roberto Martinez? For one thing, the man specializes in humility and who doesn’t respect that? With regards to the Toffees’ match at Selhurst Park, the Spaniard had this to say:

“Unless we are at our best this team (Palace) can click at any time, we have to be prepared for that,” Martinez said Thursday. “I feel they are very close, they have been very unfortunate, and had a snowball effect in negative results, but they are much better than their points in the table.”

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a manager who will give Crystal Palace that much respect. But that’s how you keep the troops honest when playing the most decimated club in the Premier League. If Everton is to continue lingering around the Top 4, this one is a must win.

Crystal Palace 0 Everton 2

Liverpool v. Fulham (Sat 10:00am ET on Extra Time; Anfield)

Gotta love Martin Jol. Not because he looks like a mob boss, sounds like a Bronx mechanic or has the unique ability to open canned goods with his incisors — but because of his stubborn refusal to show the least bit of concern over his future employment at Fulham. Willful blindness at its very best.

Perhaps the SAS drubbing his side is about to absorb Saturday will snap him out of the fog. But hopefully not.

Liverpool 4 Fulham 1

La Liga roundup: Barcelona, Real Madrid remain level on points after wins (video)

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Routine wins from league favorites Barcelona and Real Madrid, highlight La Liga’s Saturday action.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Barcelona 5-2 RCD Mallorca

It was a special night at Barcelona’s Camp Nou.

Fresh from winning the Ballon d’Or for a record sixth time, Lionel Messi was greeted by his three children on the field, who handed him a shinny, golden ball – given yearly to the best player in the world – prior to the first whistle.

From that point on, it was evident that it would be all smiles for everyone tied to the defending champions at the stadium (and for those watching remotely) on Saturday.

 

That was the case.

Antoine Griezmann – a topic of conversation due to lack of productivity at Barcelona this season – kicked off the game with a solo run and subsequent goal in the seventh minute, opening the floodgates.

As a celebration of his latest, individual accomplishment, Messi showcased the power and precision of his left foot at the tune of a hat-trick. The Argentine ace scored twice in the first half and another in consolation time, putting his season total mark at a league-best 12 goals.

The moment and goal of the night (possibly of the season) didn’t directly involve Messi, however. With a daring, emphatic and genius back-heel strike, not only did Luis Suarez put the home side up 4-1, but cemented himself in the ballot for best goal of the season.

With 34 and a better goal differential than Real Madrid, Barcelona remain atop of La Liga ahead of their clash with Inter Milan on Tuesday, while Mallorca hope Ante Budimir can score another brace; this time against a struggling Celta Vigo next weekend.

Real Madrid 2-0 Espanyol

With goals from Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane, Real Madrid comfortably cruised past a struggling Espanyol.

With the majority of Real Madrid in Espanyol’s final third following a recovered free-kick attempt, Benzema charged his way into the box before laying off a ball to Varane, who not a proven goalscorer whatsoever, placed the ball into the back of the net with ease.

It was the 37th minute, and the home side were up 1-0 against a poor Espanyol.

With a notable superior style at hand, Los Blancos continued to surge forward. Opportunities at goal were generated but the ball wouldn’t go past ex-Real Madrid ‘keeper Diego Lopez.

Then, in the 79th minute, Benzema registered his 11th goal of the season, finishing an off-balance pass from Federico Valverde inside the box.

Winners in their last La Liga bouts, Real Madrid now prepare for their Champions League Group Stage finale against Club Brugge midweek. Espanyol, despite being in the drop zone, host CSKA Moscow in their Europa League Group Stage finale. The Catalonian club lead Group H with 11 points after five matches.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Granada 3-0 Alaves

Levante 2-4 Valencia

Ancelotti’s future uncertain after Napoli draws at Udinese

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ROME (AP) Carlo Ancelotti’s future as Napoli coach is uncertain after his team failed to beat Udinese on Saturday in Serie A.

The 1-1 draw extended Napoli’s winless run to nine matches in all competitions. Piotr Zelinski saved Napoli with a late goal that salvaged a point for the visitors.

Amid reports that Ancelotti could soon be fired, Napoli, which had won its last six league matches against Udinese, went a goal down after a counterattack which was finished by Kevin Lasagna in the 32nd minute.

Napoli improved after Fernando Llorente replaced an uninspired Lorenzo Insigne in the second half. It equalized after a good combination between Dries Mertens and Zielinski, who wrongfooted the Udinese ‘keeper with a shot into the bottom corner.

Also, Atalanta twice came from behind after Samuel Di Carmine’s two goals to beat Hellas Verona 3-2 with a late winner from Berat Djimsiti, who volleyed home from close range.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Kyle Walker: City catching up to Liverpool ‘difficult’ after derby loss to United

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After a crushing 2-1 loss to archrival Manchester United at home, 14 is the new magic number for Pep Guardiola and company.

14 is the number of points that Manchester City trail league leaders Liverpool by, an uphill battle that is influencing many people on the outside looking in to think that City’s chances of lifting the league’s silverware for a third straight season are officially done and dusted.

That’s not the narrative that is occupying Kyle Walker‘s train of thought, however. Speaking on behalf of his City teammates and himself, the defender is keen on fighting until they’re mathematically out of contention for the title, regardless if the standings show that Liverpool have yet to suffer a defeat this season after 16 matches.

“Can’t fault the manager,” Walker told Sky Sports following City’s second Premier League loss in five games. “He has won numerous trophies. I can’t put my finger on it. It is going to be difficult, Liverpool are on fire. They [Liverpool] are getting wins and we are not. It is a big gap but we will fight until the end.”

A consolation goal from Nicolas Otamendi in the 85th minutes wasn’t enough for the Cityzens, who endured a fourth league loss this season, matching last season’s number of losses throughout 38 games.

After the dispiriting derby day performance from City, the defending champions stand at 32 points after 16 bouts, the lowest point haul for Guardiola in his 11-year top-flight management career.

No team in league history has overcome a 14-point deficit. Since late October, City are yet to record a clean sheet, an apparent issue that Walker believes he and the rest of the team’s defenders need to address in order to return to old ways.

“Us as defenders need to hold our hands up,” he said. “We need to keep clean sheets and strikers maybe need to put more away. They had a game plan and it worked. They have quick players in quick areas and they are going to hurt you on the counter. Credit where credit is due, they stepped up today. Fair play.”

WATCH: Luis Suarez delivers one-of-a-kind back-heel goal

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At 32 years of age and with a 15-year career behind him, Luis Suarez has scored some emphatic goals.

On Saturday, however, he painted a fine piece of art, a goal that became an instant classic the moment the ball came off of his backheel. With Barcelona already up 3-1 against RCD Mallorca, Ernesto Valverde’s men continued to push forward, comfortably and strategically ping-ponging the ball around the defensive-oriented visitors.

And then Frenkie de Jong found the ball at the top of the box.

The Dutch international smoothly placed a through ball, finding Suarez, who with precision and expertise that only he has, belted the ball into the bottom-right corner of Manolo Reina’s goal.

It’s only December, but the Uruguayan’s goal is an automatic La Liga goal of the season contender: