Championship Sunday focus: Stoke City

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Story so far… Change is in the air at the Britannia, and the fans are loving it. This season brings not only the club’s highest point total ever in the Premier League, but the most home points Stoke have racked up in the top division and, almost certainly, their highest ever finish.

Stoke began the season under new leadership, with Tony Pulis departing at the end of last season. At first it seemed a case of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” Prior to January, Stoke scored 18 goals in 19 games, playing out nine matches in which the squad didn’t manage to score.

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Since the start of 2014, Stoke have managed 25 goals in 18 matches, failing to score in just five of those games, bringing their total to 43. For comparison’s sake, in their last five seasons in the Premier League, the Potters have bagged more goals than games played in just one season. They scored just 34 last year, beating out only Queens Park Rangers for lowest number of goals scored. It was dismal. It was dreary.

And it’s in the past. Hughes has had his opportunity to put his mark on the side, and his approach is perhaps best personified by last week’s 4-1 victory over Fulham. Hughes’ 4-2-3-1 was lead by Peter Odemwingie, brought in by the manager this January. Marko Arnautović, signed from Werder Bremen, added to Odemwingie’s opener, with Oussama Assaidi adding the third. All Hughes signings. All signaling the future: A Stoke City side that thrills the fans in its possibilities, while no longer prompting the neutrals to whine about having to watch the Potters.

Who do they play and where can I watch it? Stoke’s final match is at The Hawthorns. Technically West Brom aren’t yet safe, but Norwich would need to score an absurd number of goals against Arsenal to force the Baggies down. Still, this is a Midlands Derby, so don’t expect Stoke to go easy on their hosts.

You’re almost certain to appreciate Stoke’s revamp if you tune in on Sunday. Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on Oxygen or live online via NBC Sports Live Extra.

Form guide: Back in October, before the attack was really clicking, Stoke played out a goalless draw with the Albion. But after last week’s performance, such a result looks unlikely.

March 29 vs. Hull City, W 1-0
April 5 at Chelsea, L 3-0
April 12 vs. Newcastle, W 1-0
April 19 at Cardiff City, D 1-1
April 26 vs. Tottenham Hotspur, L 1-0
May 3 vs. Fulham, W 4-1

What’s at stake? Pride. The Potters are almost certain to end the day in 10th, their highest ever finish in the Premier League. But if Liverpool beat Newcastle and Stoke get all three points against West Brom, that takes them into 9th. Either way, an impressive finish indeed for Hughes’ side.

When the final whistle blows…start dreaming, Stoke fans. Hughes is in a position to keep finding bargain acquisitions that still make the side fun to watch. Bring in Assaidi on a permanent deal, make sure Marko Arnautović sticks around, and by all means, make sure you get a fair price for Asmir Begović. Then go spend it on more attackers. Who knows what might happen next season – Europe, even?

Transfer rumor roundup: PL duo eyeing Asensio and more

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The ongoing World Cup hasn’t halted the transfer talk across global soccer, and on Wednesday there are a number of potentially intriguing storylines.


Two Premier League sides are chasing Real Madrid attacker Marco Asensio, including Chelsea and Manchester United, while they will have to battle Paris Saint-Germain as well.

Although Asensio is prepared to stay in Spain next season, he wants to be assured of playing time under new manager Julen Lopetegui, who recently joined the club.

The 22-year-old scored 11 goals in all competitions last season for Los Blancos.


Juventus continues to have several players at the center of transfer rumors, and Miralem Pjanic is a name that keeps popping up.

The midfielder won’t come cheap though, with Juve reportedly set to ask for $92.6 million in the event that a club wants to acquire Pjanic.

Barcelona is rumored to be seeking a move for Pjanic with Andres Iniesta now heading to Vissel Kobe in the J-League.


New Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri is reportedly looking to bring several of his former Napoli players to Stamford Bridge, including Belgium star Dries Mertens.

The Blues are seeking more attacking options ahead of the fall, and the veteran Mertens has become a proven commodity in front of goal over the course of his Serie A career.

Uruguay reaches Round of 16 courtesy of Suarez

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The first two nations have advanced to the knockout phase out of Group A.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Uruguay reached the Round of 16 on Wednesday with a 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia, who has been eliminated from the 2018 World Cup.

Hosts Russia will also reach the knockout rounds with the Uruguay win, thus eliminating Egypt as well.

The Barcelona striker gave Uruguay the lead in the 23rd minute, after a poor read from Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais.

Suarez was given a wide-open finish at the far post off the corner kick for his first goal at the World Cup. The 31-year-old had scored a combined five goals during his last two World Cup appearances (2010 & 2014).

The Uruguyans dictated the tempo throughout much of the match, but Saudi Arabia’s back line held strong for the majority of the game.

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

Uruguay will close out group play against Group A leaders and hosts Russia on June 25, while Saudi Arabia and Egypt will tango that same day.

Video: Goalkeeping error grants Suarez, Uruguay gift

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Luis Suarez was clearly upset with his lack of finishing in Uruguay’s opener last Friday, but the Barcelona man is finally on the scoresheet at the 2018 World Cup.

[MORE: Ronaldo’s early header gives Portugal win over Morocco ]

The veteran striker gave Uruguay the lead in the 23rd minute after a close-range finish off of a corner kick.

Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais came out to try and collect the cross, however, he was slow in his reaction, allowing the ball to slip through to Suarez for the easy finish.

The Uruguayans will reach the Round of 16 with one match remaining if they hold on to their 1-0 lead.

NZ women’s coach placed on leave after player complaints

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Wellington, New Zealand (AP) The coach of New Zealand’s women’s football team has been placed on leave pending an investigation of complaints about his conduct from members of the national team.

[ MORE: Senegal holds off late Poland charge for Group H win ]

The complaints centered around tactics Andreas Heraf used in a recent home international against Japan and his comments to media after that match. Players reportedly objected to the defensive nature of Heraf’s tactics in the 3-1 loss.

New Zealand Football chief executive Andy Martin said at a news conference on Wednesday that his organization had received a letter from the New Zealand Professional Footballers Association, containing letters of complaint from 13 national team members.

Defending his approach at a news conference after the match, Heraf said the New Zealand players would never have the “quality” to compete with a team of Japan’s ability and might have lost 8-0 if they had not adopted a defensive style.

Further reports have emerged of player concerns about Heraf’s behavior, including allegations of bullying.

Martin was repeatedly questioned at the news conference about when New Zealand Football first had notice of the players’ concerns about Heraf. He insisted he was not aware of any problems until the letter from the NZPFA containing the players’ complaints was released on Monday.

In a statement, New Zealand Football Chairman Deryck Shaw said player welfare was “of utmost importance.”

“We hold player welfare as a matter of utmost importance and that is why we are conducting a thorough, independent review. We want to ensure we better understand these issues in an objective review. There is no place for inappropriate behavior of any kind with New Zealand Football.”