Premier League Preview: Hull City v. Stoke City

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  • Hull have lost just one of their last eight Premier League home games (W4 D3 L1)
  • Stoke City have lost just one of their last six Premier League matches (W2 D3 L1)
  • Hull have won just one of their last eight league matches against Stoke (W1 D4 L3) and just one of the last five on home soil (W1 D1 L3) [Powered by Opta]

It’s 12:25pm ET on Saturday and you’re sitting on your couch lounging out, watching Rebecca Lowe talk Premier League, and thinking ‘Man, life is good. Not sure how this could get much better.’

And then, BOOM! Stop the presses! Just when you though life couldn’t get better, it does!

Because next up on the tele: Hull City and Stoke City. Butterflies explode in your stomach. Then, with an ear-to-ear grin, you turn to your significant other and inform him/her – ‘Honey, we’re ordering brunch in today.

Why wouldn’t you?

I recognize it’s not the sexiest fixture in the world. It takes a bold Premier League fan to watch two City’s, neither of which is named Manchester.

But you should be that person.

Anyone can talk Tottenham/Liverpool and Manchester City/Arsenal. You should be that dude who turns up at the water cooler and casually drops knowledge on Stoke/Hull.

Here’s why I kinda like Stoke.

Under Mark Hughes they’ve managed to shed the lumberjack label they used to have. Yes, they can go direct but they can also play some decent football.

Steven N’Zonzi is growing into a real player. The Frenchman, who so badly wants Arsenal to buy him, may actually warrant such a purchase. (They won’t, I’m just saying he’s done well.)

N’Zonzi generally plays in the center of the park with Charlie Adam, who clearly was born to play at a mid-to-bottom level club in the Premier League.

Liverpool was too much for him. But Stoke suits him well, not unlike Blackpool did when he played under Ian Holloway. Unfortunately, he’s unlikely to feature this weekend due to a knock. Making things worse for the Potters, Stoke’s best defender, Robert Huth, is out until the New Year with a knee injury.

Another player who is enjoying himself is Steven Ireland. I recognize he’s had some unfortunate news off-the-pitch in the past (use The Google, son!) but when he’s fit, he’s a top quality midfielder. This is the best I’ve seen him play since he lit it up at Manchester City in 2009 and earned team POY honors.

If Stoke are to win, guys like Ireland will have to step up because Asmir Begovic (thigh), Erik Pieters (groin) and Mathew Etherington (back) are all late fitness tests.

I’ve also enjoyed watching Marko Arnautovic and Geoff Cameron this season.

Arnautovic is a hardened Austria who is a physical speciman with a good touch. Could be a major player someday.

The 28-year-old Cameron has been a rock at right-back for the Potters, having started 14 of 15 matches. Like other notable quality American outfield players (e.g. Clint Dempsey), Cameron is a late-developer and has been a fascinating evolution to watch.

One final Stoke guy I love: Liverpool loanee Oussama Assaidi. As I preached to some of my boys this past weekend, Assaidi’s 25 yard, off-balanced 90th minute rip into the far corner to beat Chelsea 3-2 was my goal of the week. I’m interested in seeing more of the 25-year-old Moroccan.

On the Hull City side of the ball, Danny Graham got his first goal of the season in the 1-1 draw over Swansea City last Monday. It was the Sunderland loanee’s first strike since scoring in a 2-0 win against Chelsea in the Capital One Cup semi-final last January.

I was happy for Graham. Slumps suck. Maybe now he’ll bust out a bit.

Graham’s strike partner, Yannick Sagbo is an underrated player. Works hard, has pace, skill and a variety of finishing techniques. If the Tigers end up getting relegated, the 25-year-old Frenchman will be bought by a Premier League club.

I was also very impressed with Ahmed Elmohamady’s play on Monday as well. The 26-year-old Egyptian wing-back is rather fearless. His stamina is incredible. Six Box to six box, for 90 minutes. He loves to take players on.  Simply enough, Elmohamady is fun to watch.

Tom Huddlestone is quality. Good to see him finally coming around after being used sparingly by Tottenham. Nearly had to shave his gigantic afro after he thought he scored last week. It was quickly deemed an own-goal but he’s come so close on so many occasions. That coif will soon be chopped.

Finally, a quick shout to Curtis Davies, the heart of the Tigers defense. When he plays, they win. Easy as that. All praise on purchasing the 28-year-old center-back from Birmingham City goes the way of manager Steve Bruce, who purchased Davies for a cheeky £2.25 million this past summer.

So that’s my sell to you on Stoke City v. Hull City.

Watch it love this Saturday at 12:30pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports Live Extra.

What They’re Saying

Hull striker Danny Graham (on manager Steve Bruce): “He’s been great with me from the moment I walked through the door,” he told BBC Radio Humberside. “He keeps telling me how good a player I am and that the goals will come and I can only thank him for that.”

Stoke manager Mark Hughes (after Oussama Assaidi’s goal bet Chelsea): “I disappointed him because I took him out of the team. But I did say to him before the game that he had to be ready to come on and make an impact.”

Prediction

The injury situation at Stoke worries me. So does the predictable downfall following that big 3-2 win over Chelsea. Bruce has Hull playing solid football and they’re so difficult at the KC Stadium. Hull win this game.

PL Sunday Preview: Leicester travel to Burnley; Liverpool put perfect record on the line against Man Utd

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With eight Premier League fixtures on Saturday, two more remain in Matchweek 23.

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Burnley v. Leicester City  — 9 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Burnley are free falling and there doesn’t seem to be a safety net in sight.

The Clarets, who are two points removed from the relegation zone, head into a tough three-match window without striker Ashley Barnes. Recuperating from a hernia surgery, the 30-year-old is set to miss bouts against Leicester, Manchester United and Arsenal – to name some.

But quite possibly more alarming than that is the team’s recent form. Losing seven out of their last nine, just two points divide Burnley from the drop zone. Sean Dyche‘s team are clueless in the box, scoring one goal in four league bouts. Trouble looms over Turf Moor.

But even then, Dyche, who has made Burnley a force to be reckoned with in the past, believes his side are still a threat.

“They are a good side,” Dyche said about Leicester. “We are on a tough run of form, but I don’t think they are naive enough to think it is turn up and get the business done. We are not a million miles away.”

Can Burnley pull a Southampton and stun a top-four bound Leicester?

“We weren’t at our best [against Southampton] and we didn’t have the energy and intensity that we would have liked,” Brendan Rodgers said ahead of Sunday’s early match.

“We work twice as hard and that’s what we’ve done after every setback. We still have a lot to improve on.”

The Foxes had a rare full week to train, so one can bet that Rodgers is serious about his word.

INJURIES: Burnley —  OUT: Barnes (hernia), Gudmundsson (hamstring) | Leicester City — OUT: Ndidi (knee), Amartey (ankle), James (match fitness)

Liverpool v. Manchester United — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Manchester United are a part of the exclusive anti-Liverpool club for more than the obvious reason.

Yes, the North West Derby is one of the league’s most heated rivalries, with countless flashbacks in its 203 meetings during its over 100 years of history.

But these two, star-studded squads led by Jurgen Klopp and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, respectively, also have a permeating rivalry of their own. The Reds, who have yet to taste defeat this season, have dropped points to only United.

It can be argued that Sunday’s bout may be Liverpool’s most complicated and least favorable, despite maintaining an immaculate record at home. This is the “big one” that many didn’t particularly circle on the calendar.

“It’s a very, very important football game,” Klopp said. “Very important. We have to learn how to deal with games like this in the right manner. We haven’t done bad in the past but we can still improve.

“Old Trafford [a 1-1 draw in October] was a good example, [we were] not at our best because of their quality. We have to make it more likely we’re at our best.”

Solskjaer had his tactics in place last time around; a small injection of final quality and the team would have crushed Liverpool’s aspirations of matching the Iinvincibles or Manchester City’s points record.

“The last two performances [against Liverpool] at Old Trafford we have drawn twice and been close to winning both games, so we’ve got some games to look back at and that will give us loads of belief… if we perform to our best we have a chance to win,” Solskjaer said.

Sunday presents itself as the final chance for United to pull the upset, and reaffirm why they’re a part of the exclusive club to begin with. But Liverpool are slowing becoming invincible themselves.

INJURIES: Liverpool —  OUT: Lovren (hamstring), Clyne (knee), Keïta (groin), Milner (hamstring) | Manchester United  — OUT: Tuanzebe (hamstring), McTominay (knee), Pogba (ankle)

Serie A roundup: Immobile nets hat-trick, Lazio runs over Sampdoria (video)

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Lazio’s record-extending 11th straight Serie A win highlights Saturday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Lazio 5-1 Sampdoria  

Like Lazio’s season, Ciro Immobile continues to make strides with each passing day.

The 29-year-old’s hat-trick powered Simone Inzaghi’s side past Sampdoria 5-1, extending his goal count to 23, nine more than Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaka.

 

Lazio, who are three points behind top-of-the-table Juventus and one behind second-place Inter Milan, were up three goals by the 20-minute mark. By the 65th minute, Immobile reached the three goal mark, converting from the spot.

“We would need too much time to count his records,” coach Simone Inzaghi said on Immobile’s magnificent run of form. “We are talking about an extraordinary team player. He has shown that so many times. Immobile has been doing extraordinary things for four years, I’m not surprised.”

Full of confidence, Lazio turn one of the most challenging corners of the season, as they take on rivals AS Roma defend the Italian Cup against Napoli.

“We’ll enjoy this 11th win but we have to already be thinking about the next matches,” Inzaghi said. “We know what a derby means but I can’t allow myself to think about Roma.

“We play Napoli on Tuesday, we know what the Italian Cup means for us, what it meant last year, we have it on our shirts and we will fight for it again.”

When it comes to Sampdoria, things are going from bad to ugly, quick.

“Tonight I’ll add salt and pepper and I’ll eat them alive,” Sampdoria coach Claudio Ranieri said of his players.

“Lazio was too good for us, you could clearly see the difference between the two teams, but it was without doubt the worst Samp performance since I’ve been here.”

Elsewhere

Sassuolo 2-1 Torino

Napoli 0-2 Fiorentina

La Liga roundup: Casemiro’s brace earns injury-riddled Real Madrid win (video)

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Casemiro’s heroic performance against Sevilla highlights La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Real Madrid 2-1 Sevilla

Real Madrid’s goalscoring hero on Saturday wasn’t Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard, or even Sergio Ramos.

With two crucial goals in the second half, Casemiro single-handedly earned three points at the Santiago Bernabeu, days removed from cathartic Spanish Super Cup win against arch rivals Atletico Madrid.

With Bale, Hazard, Ramos injured, Benzema on the bench far from match-fit, and Federico Valverde suspended, Los Blancos were in dire need of someone to lead the way, and place pressure on struggling co-leaders Barcelona, who are now under Quique Setien’s tutelage.

By the time the first 45 minutes came to a close, the overall impression was that it would take a miracle for the home side to earn much-needed three points.

That all quickly changed in the second half as the Brazilian midfielder chipped Tomas Vaclik after a picture-perfect backheel from Luka Jovic. Madrid were edging Julen Lopetegui’s side, and Casemiro foreshadowed what was to come.

With the score level, the Brazilian leaped inside the box and headed home a lofting ball from the right flank, catching Sevilla’s defense completely off guard.

Casemiro’s brace came just five minutes after Luuk De Jong‘s left-footed goal in the 64th minute.

League leaders with 43 points, Madrid prepares for their Copa del Rey bout against third-division side Unionistas midweek. Sevilla, on the other hand, host Levante in the same tournament.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Eibar 2-0 Atletico Madrid

Osasuna 0-0 Real Valladolid

Levante 0-1 Alaves

16-year-old Cherki scores 2 as Lyon advances in French Cup

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PARIS (AP) Two goals and two assists from 16-year-old forward Rayan Cherki helped Lyon win 4-3 at Nantes and reach the last 16 of the French Cup on Saturday.

But the run of Reunion Islanders JS Saint-Pierroise ended with a 1-0 loss away to Epinal, which scored deep into extra time.

Cherki put Lyon ahead in the first minute, deftly rounding goalkeeper Alban Lafont and then clipping the ball beyond a defender. He made it 2-0 in the ninth, slotting the ball through Lafont’s legs after being set up by right winger Bertrand Traore.

New signing Renaud Emond headed in Moses Simon’s cross from the left to pull a goal back for Nantes in the 16th. Cherki then showed great awareness to release forward Martin Terrier with a fine pass from midfield in the 37th for 3-1.

Cherki shaved the crossbar with a shot in the 60th and won a penalty in the 67th after robbing the ball off Thomas Basila. He generously allowed striker Moussa Dembele to take it, but Lafont saved Dembele’s attempt.

Two minuter later, Cherki threaded the ball down the right to Dembele, who slotted in, and the irrepressible Cherki set up another chance for Terrier.

Lyon’s defense remains vulnerable and Simon set up Imran Louza’s goal before heading in late on to ensure a tense finish.

Saint-Pierroise had caused an upset in the previous round by knocking out second-division Niort and the players again traveled 6,000 miles (around 9,700 kilometers) from the small island in the Indian Ocean, located off the east coast of Africa.

Saint-Pierroise, the former club of France midfielder Dimitri Payet, was looking to become the first club from the Reunion Islands to reach the last 16 and almost forced a penalty shootout, despite having forward Jean-Michel Fontaine sent off in the 15th minute.

But substitute Adel Berkane rifled home a half-volley for fourth-tier Epinal with two minutes left in extra time.

Also, there were wins for first-division sides Nice, Lille, Saint-Etienne and Strasbourg.

Lille won 2-0 at fifth-division Gonfreville thanks to goals from forwards Loic Remy and Victor Osimhen, while coach Patrick Vieira’s Nice side held on to beat third-tier Red Star 2-1.

Saint-Etienne won 3-2 at Paris FC, a team fighting relegation in the second division.

Paris FC led 2-1 with goals from former Paris Saint-Germain forward Jeremy Menez and ex-Rennes winger Jonathan Pitroipa. Teen forward Charles Abi equalized for Saint-Etienne with 20 minutes left before veteran right back Mathieu Debuchy netted the winner.

Strasbourg won 5-1 at fourth-tier Angouleme.

On Sunday, Rennes plays at fifth-tier Athletico Marseille and PSG travels to face second division league leader Lorient.

Rennes beats PSG in last year’s final.

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