Premier League 2017-18 preview – Stoke City

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Next weekend’s 2017-18 season opener will mark the beginning of Stoke City’s 10th season in the Premier League, a stretch of top-division football bested by just seven sides in England (the “big six,” plus Everton).

[ LIVE: Stream Premier League live ]

No club in the PL better knows what it means to be mid-table, always and forever, for better or for worse — average finish in nine seasons: 11th; never higher than 9th, never lower than 14th.

[ MORE: 2017-18 PL season preview hub

Best-, worst-case scenario: There’s a version of the universe in which Everton’s big-money signings require an entire season to take to the PL, Southampton lose their best player before the season is two weeks old and are slow to take to new manger Mauricio Pellegrino‘s ideas. All of which would open the door for Stoke to challenge last season’s seventh- and eighth place finishers for those very spots. There’s also a universe in which Saido Berahino is less interested this year than last, Stoke’s oft-injured defensive stars are injured again, and they finish 15th, avoiding relegation by two or three points.

Best possible XI is…


—– Butland —–

—– Zouma —– Cameron —– Indi —–

—- Diouf —- Imbula —- Fletcher —- Pieters —

—- Shaqiri —- Allen —-

—– Berahino —–


Transfers In: Kurt Zouma (loan, Chelsea), Darren Fletcher (free, West Bromwich Albion), Josh Tymon (compensation, Hull City)

Transfers Out: Marko Arnautovic ($26.3 million, West Ham United), Jonathan Walters ($4 million, Burnley), Phil Bardsley ($2.6 million, Burnley)

Last season

13th in Premier League
3rd round in EFL Cup
3rd round in FA Cup

Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Star player: Xherdan Shaqiri — When speaking about “star players” for mid-table sides like Stoke, the first thing you should ask yourself is, “Which player will one of the big clubs impulse-buy for $30 million if he has a great season?” Last year, it was Marko Arnautovic (though, West Ham United aren’t quite the “big club” that immediately comes to mind). Shaqiri is merely an 18-goal/assist season away from a $40-million move to, say, Liverpool, and with a solid midfield base behind him and a handful of capable(-ish) striking options ahead of him, 2017-18 could be that season.

Coach’s corner: Here’s what you’re almost guaranteed to get with Mark Hughes as your manager, assuming he’s been afforded a balanced squad (translation: any season outside his Queens Park Rangers stint): they’re going to be extremely disciplined, organized and committed to the cause… for roughly half, maybe even two-thirds, of the season. The curse of a mid-table inertia is as follows: even when you’re punching well above your weight, you’re still miles off the promised land. Once you’ve secured your status in the league for another season, the drop-off is easy to forecast weeks in advance. You can fire the overseer — say, Tony Pulis — but you’re only ever going to end up in the exact same place.

PST predicts: Adding the experience of Fletcher and the otherworldly upside of Zouma, for a grand total of $0, is fantastic business and will do wonders to improve the spine. That said, the Potters were in the bottom third of the goal-scoring charts last season, and that was before Arnautovic left (and is yet to be replaced). Anything higher than 9th would be massively overachieving; if nothing else, the goal differential should be closer to zero this season (-15 in 2016-17).

USMNT’s Ricardo Pepi defies xG with relentless goal (video)

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USMNT forward Ricardo Pepi’s goal while trying to will Groningen back into an eventual 4-1 loss to AZ Alkmaar on Saturday will not be one of the expected variety.

The 19-year-old striker, on loan from Augsburg, ran onto an audacious long pass from 20-year-old defender Neraysho Kasanwirjo but had plenty of work to do with AZ leading 2-0.

[ MORE: Josef Martinez scores audacious overhead goal ]

Pepi sees one defender fall in a race to the ball, then bodies up AZ’s Sam Beukema a little outside the six-yard box.

Hand-to-hand combat sees both players hit the turf, and Pepi probably could won a penalty.

But the World Cup hopeful spins while on the pitch and snaps a shot past charging AZ goalkeeper Hobie Verhulst to make it 2-1.

Video after the jump.

Ricardo Pepi
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Ricardo Pepi goal video: Fantastic start to Groningen loan

Pepi now has a goal or an assist in his first three Eredivisie outings, not unlike his fantastic start to life in a USMNT shirt.

His goal contributions have taken a dive since his first two USMNT matches — World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Jamaica — and he only has one assist from the following 10 outings in a U.S. shirt.

Still, Pepi is clearly one of Gregg Berhalter’s favorite options for the upcoming World Cup, and his performances will be measured against Union Berlin’s Jordan Pefok, FC Dallas’ Jesus Ferreira, and others.

In a tournament where every moment matters, his work for this scrappy finish will be well-noted by the USMNT staff.

Josef Martinez scores vicious overhead kick in Atlanta United loss (video)

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If this is the last goal of Josef Martinez’s (likely) final season with Atlanta United, it will be very appropriate.

So for Martinez, even in a losing effort, to go airborne for an overhead kick that is a simply sensational feat of athleticism and power, well, it just feels right.

The 29-year-old Venezuelan forward joined the Five Stripes in 2017 in what seemed a massive capture for the club at the time and now seems downright gargantuan, but he’s fallen out with current manager Gonzalo Pineda and was even suspended for a match last month.

[ MORE: West Ham beats Wolves | Klopp reacts to latest setback ]

Martinez has nine goals and four assists in an injury-abbreviated 25-game season, giving him 111 goals in 156 appearances for ATL UTD. The former Torino and Young Boys striker is still being capped for Venezuela and would leave with an MLS Cup, Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and Campeones Cup as well as a boatload of individual honors.

Atlanta lost 2-1 to New England on Saturday and returns home for their season finale next weekend versus New York City FC. The Five Stripes won’t make the playoffs unless at least two teams decide not to field teams, so if the NYCFC game doesn’t go well, let’s pretend this one was his final appearance for the club.

Leeds vs Aston Villa: How to watch live, stream link, TV, team news

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Leeds vs Aston Villa: Two sides in desperate need of a victory to stop their ongoing slides will meet at Elland Road on Sunday (watch live, 11:30 am ET on USA Network and online via NBCSports.com). 

STREAM LIVE LEEDS vs ASTON VILLA

Leeds came flying out of the gates to begin Jesse Marsch’s first full season in charge as they went 2W-1D-0L in their first three games. Since then, two defeats and a draw.

Seven games into their own season, and Aston Villa appear on the verge of stabilizing the ship after an incredibly rocky start which included four defeats from their first five games.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Leeds vs Aston Villa

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


How to watch Leeds vs Aston Villa live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 11:30 am ET, Sunday
TV channel: USA Network
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com


Key storylines & star players

As expected under Marsch, Leeds have taken a high-volume approach to their tactics — lots of pressing and challenges, lots of counter-attacking and lots of scoring chances created. Their 1.57 expected goals (per 90 minutes) ranks 7th in the Premier League. Leeds haven’t played a game (in any competition) since Sept. 3, one day shy of a month come Sunday, due to the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the ensuing fixture postponements. Leading goal-scorer Rodrigo remains out with a shoulder injury, but the Spaniard could be back in the next week or two.

Goal-scoring has been a major issue thus far for Aston Villa, who have scored multiple goals in a game just once this season. Six different players have scored a goal, but no one has scored two. Unsurprisingly, Steven Gerrard’s side sits 19th in the PL for xG (0.76 per 90).


Leeds team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Rodrigo (shoulder), Stuart Dallas (thigh) | QUESTIONABLE: Adam Forshaw (ankle)

Aston Villa team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Diego Carlos (achilles), Lucas Digne (ankle), Boubacar Kamara (knee) | QUESTIONABLE: Matty Cash (hamstring), Cameron Archer (adductor)

Follow @AndyEdMLS

West Ham gets breakthrough win, goals for Scamacca and Bowen

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West Ham United won a proper scrap with Wolves on Saturday at London’s Olympic Stadium, using a beautiful goal from Gianluca Scamacca and a clever finish from Jarrod Bowen to post a 2-0 win.

WATCH WEST HAM vs WOLVES FULL MATCH REPLAY STREAM

The Irons win their second match of the year to move clear of the bottom three with seven points.

Wolves now occupy 18th place on the Premier League table with six points, but will feel hope at the performance of Diego Costa off the bench for the final 32 minutes.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


What we learned from West Ham vs Wolves

Gianluca Scamacca is feeling comfortable: He was spotted visibly angry when a teammate’s sloppy first touch destroyed an early chance, and Scamacca is obviously not sheepish about his role in the team. He also clearly wanted to take a start over Michail Antonio to make his case to start every week. His thunderous goal from the edge of the 18 should’ve adequately made it.

Diego Costa flashes: The big, tempestuous veteran striker still knows where to be on the pitch and was just put off enough on a powerful header that went wide of the goal. Costa was a fine hold-up man, something Wolves have used to thrive when Raul Jimenez is at or near his best. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Costa become the positive difference in 3-4 matches this season… maybe even next Saturday against old pals Chelsea?

Declan Rice: Speaking of the positive difference, Declan Rice is a force from endline-to-endline.

West Ham vs Wolves
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Jarrod Bowen reaction: ‘Just what we needed’

“It’s just what we needed. We haven’t had the start we wanted, and we had an international break to regroup our thoughts and go out on the front foot. We suffered without the ball but what this manager does is we’re a tough team to break down and we can counter. Massive three points for us, and we’ve got a lot of games now.”


Gianluca Scamacca reaction: First Premier League goal ‘amazing’

“It was an amazing feeling, for the fans. We needed to win. Today we worked very hard and made a good victory.”


Tactical focus

Declan Rice, Lucas Paqueta, and Tomas Soucek going up against Joao Moutinho, Ruben Neves, and Matheus Cunha was a grind and we think all deserve ice baths. Not so much a midfield muddle as a melee, Neves and Paqueta were kept from their creative best in order to snap into tackles, though Rice stepped forward to seize the day on several occasions

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]


Stars of the Show

Declan Rice

Jarrod Bowen

Rayan Ait-Nouri


What’s next?

Wolves have a trip to Anderlecht for Thursday action in the Europa Conference League before Fulham visits London’s Olympic Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 9.

Wolves will reunite Diego Costa with Chelsea come 10am ET Saturday.


How to watch West Ham vs Wolves live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 12:30 pm ET, Saturday
TV channel: NBC
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com


Key storylines & star players

For both sides, the goal-scoring woes are a result of not only a failure to convert scoring chances, but also their inability to create them. West Ham and Wolves both rank in the bottom five of the Premier League in expected goals with identical paltry 0.9 xG averages (per 90 minutes). No other side in the Premier League is anywhere close to underperforming their expected numbers by more than 50 percent.

Goals have come much more easily for West Ham in the Europa Conference League, where they have scored three goals in all four games thus far — six in two games against Danish side Viborg, and three apiece against Romanian runners-up FCSB and another Danish side in Silkeborg.

Wolves made the effort to be a better attacking side this season, as they spent $18 million on Sasa Kalajdzic, but the Austrian international striker tore his ACL on his debut for the club. Raul Jimenez, meanwhile, has played just 211 minutes in three Premier League appearances (none since Aug. 31) and has just one goal, in the League Cup. The Mexican international is now in a race against time to be healthy and fit for the 2022 World Cup eight weeks from now.


West Ham team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Nayef Aguerd (ankle), Benjamin Johnson (hamstring)

Wolves team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Raul Jimenez (groin), Sasa Kalajdzic (torn ACL), Nathan Collins (suspension), Chiquinho (knee)

Follow @AndyEdMLS