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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).

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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

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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).

UEL Recap: Wolves earn huge road victory, and more

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Wolverhampton Wanderers has one proverbial foot back in a European competition, potentially breaking a 40-year drought for the club.

Wolves defeated Torino on the road, 3-2, in the first leg match between the two sides on Thursday at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino. Mexican international Raul Jimenez continued his red-hot form with another goal, while Diogo Jota scored as well for Wolves.

The Premier League side took the lead late in the first half thanks to an own goal, as Gleison Bremer headed in a Wolves free kick expertly into the side netting. Jota then added the second for Wolves in the 59th minute after an individual moment of brilliance from Adama Traore down the right side of the box, completely bamboozling his defender.

Torino’s Lorenzo di Silvestre answered just two minutes later off a late run into the box and a powerful header, but Jimenez then gave Wolves another two-goal advantage, as well as another crucial away goal. Jimenez ran with the ball from midfield and with Nicolas N’Koulou retreating, Jimenez took the space and scored.

Torino striker Andrea Belotti gave the Italians some late hope with a penalty kick goal in the 89th minute, but it wasn’t enough to complete the comeback. Anything but a defeat by more than two goals for Wolves will be enough for the club to make it to the Europa League group stage.

Here’s more results from around the Europa League on Thursday afternoon:


Celtic top AIK at home

The Scottish champions appear to have brushed off the disappointment of exiting the UEFA Champions League with a solid 2-0 win at Celtic Park against AIK Solna on Thursday evening.

James Forrest scored the opener for Celtic, taking advantage of a ricochet on the edge of the box to unleash a strike that AIK goalkeeper Oscar Linner couldn’t parry away. Odsonne Edouard then put the icing on the cake with a tremendous free kick from 30-yards out to give Celtic it’s 2-0 lead.

Neil Lennon’s side then held off AIK late to secure the shutout.

Thursday’s Europa League Playoff Round first leg qualifying matches:


Astana 3-0 BATE
Ararat Armenia 2-1 F91 Dudelange
Malmo FF 3-0 Bnei Yehudah Tel Aviv
Suduva 0-0 Ferencvaros
Feyenoord 3-0 Hapoel Be’er Sheva
Ludogorets 0-0 Maribor
FC Copenhagen 2-1 Riga
AEK Athens 1-3 Trabzonspor
Legia Warsaw 0-0 Rangers

Crossroads: What if Arsenal hadn’t gone unbeaten?

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The 2003-2004 Premier League season will forever be remembered for Arsenal’s Invincibles, the first team in history to go an entire 38-game season undefeated.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

But what if they hadn’t?

On the latest episode of NBC Sports’ new series Crossroads, host Aaron West dives into the Invincible season for Arsenal, and what would have happened if Arsenal lost along the way. Of course, we know that didn’t happen, and it wasn’t until the next season against Manchester United that Arsenal’s unbeaten run of 49 games was ended.

Watch the latest episode of Crossroads above, and check out previous episodes on Manchester City and Liverpool on NBC Sports‘ Youtube Page.

 

Oxlade-Chamberlain signs contract extension at Liverpool

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While Liverpool hasn’t been busy in the transfer market, it continues to be busy upgrading its first team contracts.

The club announced on Thursday that it had signed midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to a new, undisclosed long-term contract. The BBC reported that the new contract tied Oxlade-Chamberlain to Liverpool through 2023, after his last deal was set to expire in 2022.

[READ: JPW’s Premier League Picks]

“I’m really, really excited – it’s been in the pipeline for a little while, so it’s nice to finally get it done and just extend my time here, which I am really looking forward to,” Oxlade-Chamberlain told Liverpool’s website in a statement. “I feel like I missed out on a year, which I obviously did, so it’s really exciting for me to be able to sign. It’s something that I feel is an opportunity to give that year back and make up for lost time – and hopefully put in some good performances to make amends for not being around last year.

“You’ve got to count your blessings every time you get an opportunity like this, you don’t get the chance to play for Liverpool Football Club every day. I am really excited to be able to extend my time here.”

Oxlade-Chamberlain is finally healthy after a long, long recovery from a horrific knee injury suffered in April 2018. The England international missed out on the World Cup as well as the Champions League final, though he was able to make the field off the bench towards the end of last season, eventually making the bench for Liverpool’s Champions League victory in June.

With some injuries and fatigue to other players, Oxlade-Chamberlain made his first Premier League start in more than a year last Saturday against his former club Southampton, playing 89 minutes in Liverpool’s 2-1 victory. He also started and played the first half in Liverpool’s UEFA Super Cup win over Chelsea on penalty kicks.

This deal is ultimately a good-will gesture from both sides, making up for the year lost that Oxlade-Chamberlain endured after the knee injury in the Champions League semifinal. It could take him more time, but Liverpool is certainly hoping that he can make a full recovery and come good for the Reds as it looks to win its first Premier League title, and first top league title in England since 1990.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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There are only two teams with perfect records through the opening two weeks of the new Premier League season, as there continues to be plenty of surprises.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ]

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

While you can download the NBC Sports Predictor app (below) and play the Premier League Pick ‘Em game yourself to predict the scores and win the prizes.

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With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Bournemouth 1-3 Man City – (Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Man United 3-1 Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Tottenham 3-0 Newcastle – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Liverpool 1-1 Arsenal – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM] 

Brighton 1-1 Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

Watford 1-2 West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Sheffield United 1-2 Leicester City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM


“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

 

Norwich City 2-2 Chelsea – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Aston Villa 2-1 Everton – (Friday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Wolves 1-2 Burnley – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM