Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

PL Sunday preview: Liverpool host Arsenal; Chelsea vs. Everton

Leave a comment

Four games featuring four of last season’s top-five sides, as well as the no. 1 hopeful to join those very Premier League elites this season, will bring the third week of the 2017-18 season to a close on Sunday…

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — United keep 100% record; City win late ]

Chelsea vs. Everton — 8:30 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

Chelsea are the defending PL champions, but also one of a handful of sides which appear to be far from finished with their transfer dealings as the deadline for the summer window looms large (Thursday), while Everton spent big (and early, and often) well before August arrived. Despite Chelsea’s 2-1 victory over Tottenham last weekend, Antonio Conte‘s Blues look far from settled ahead of Sunday’s visit by Ronald Koeman‘s Toffees.

Conte feels another central midfield is required to bolster his squad, as is fullback/wingback depth beyond starters Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses — only time will tell is Roman Abramovich grants his manager’s wishes during the final five days of the transfer window. Everton’s first two results — victory over Stoke City, and a 1-1 draw with Manchester City on Monday — were each achieved courtesy of goals scored by Wayne Rooney, who’s made the intended, immediate impact at the start of his second spell at the club. Chelsea won both PL meetings between the two sides last season, by a combined score of 8-0.

INJURIES: Chelsea — OUT: Eden Hazard (ankle), Gary Cahill (suspension) | Everton — OUT: Davy Klaassen (foot), Ross Barkley (hamstring), Morgan Schneiderlin (suspension), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), James McCarthy (knee), Yannick Bolasie (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Sandro Ramirez (heel)

[ MORE: Mourinho’s moves pay off as United stay perfect ]

West Bromwich Albion vs. Stoke City — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Three sides entered this third weekend of the PL season with six points from their first two games. You might have guessed one of them — Manchester United — but probably not the other, at least not prior to the start of the season: Huddersfield (dropped points against Southampton on Saturday) and West Brom. The Baggies welcome Stoke to The Hawthorns on Sunday, as Tony Pulis looks to extended his unbeaten record against the Potters after winning four of his first five meetings with his former club. The arrival of 20-year-old Oliver Burke from RB Leipzig this week has Pulis believing his side, and his new signing, have only begun to scratch the surface.

“We’re really pleased to get him in – the lad has got a tremendous talent,” Pulis said. “He’s got a fantastic, raw ability but he has now also got the experience of going away from the comfort of his own area to a foreign country and experiencing life. He’s gained the experience of playing for a top club in the Bundesliga with top coaches. That will have broadened his horizons and been good for his development.”

INJURIES: West Brom — OUT: Hal Robson-Kanu (suspension); QUESTIONABLE: Jommy Evans (hamstring), Claudio Yacob (hamstring), Gareth McAuley (thigh) | Stoke — OUT: Ibrahim Afellay (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Xherdan Shaqiri (hamstring)

[ MORE: Bilic in trouble as West Ham fall to 3rd straight defeat ]

Liverpool vs. Arsenal — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The weekend’s marquee matchup pits a pair of teams, Liverpool and Arsenal, expected to finish the season fighting one another for a top-four finish and UEFA Champions League qualification. The theories go as follows: Liverpool could struggle to replicate last season’s fourth-place finish once the current campaign’s Champions League begins, while Arsenal will struggle to rebound from finishing fifth last season because their summer signings were massively impacted by the lack of CL football, not to mention they have the Europa League to slog into this time around.

Whether he stays or leaves for Barcelona, the next five days will signal the end of the Philippe Coutinho transfer saga (the star Brazilian will not be available for selection on Sunday). The ay Jurgen Klopp sees it, continuously competing in the CL is the only way for Liverpool to return to the very top of the game.

“It’s a big influence on the transfer market, especially if we do it more often,” he said. “If you talk to a player, they really often (mention it) … especially players we talk to because we don’t have to talk to players which are not better than our players because it’s difficult to find. Or even if you try to extend a contract with a player in the squad, ‘Yeah, I want to play Champions League’ and I always think, ‘It’s your job to do it with us together, so don’t ask that we do a job and you cannot play Champions League — do it with us together.'”

INJURIES: Liverpool — OUT: Philippe Coutinho (back), Adam Lallana (thigh), Nathaniel Clyne (hamstring), Mamadou Sakho (knee) | Arsenal — OUT: Santi Cazorla (achilles), Calum Chambers (groin), Jack Wilshere (fitness)

[ MORE: Spurs have a new right back on the way, for $30 million ]

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Burnley — 11 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

The only narrative you need to know — and the only one Tottenham hope to squash on Sunday — is Spurs’ dreadful record at Wembley, which is to serve as their home this season, since it was rebuilt and opened in 2007. In 11 games at England’s national stadium, Spurs have won just twice, and lost eight times. Last weekend’s loss to Chelsea ended Mauricio Pochettino‘s 19-game home unbeaten run (14 straight wins) which covered the entirety of the 2016-17 season, the club’s final campaign at White Hart Lane.

Of course, Spurs have rarely, if ever, faced an opponent the size of Burnley at Wembley. The step down in quality (all due respect to the Clarets) could be exactly what Spurs need to hush talk of the Wembley hex and send them into the international break with renewed confidence. Putting the month of August into the rearview mirror should also help Harry Kane, who’s yet to score a first-team goal for Spurs during the opening month of the season at any point in his career, after being held goal-less by Newcastle United and Chelsea.

INJURIES: Tottenham — OUT: Danny Rose (knee), Erik Lamela (hip) | Burnley — OUT: Jonathan Walters (ankle)

Minnesota United host special guests for Aston Villa friendly

Leave a comment

Thousands of Minnesotans and others from the Midwest will flock to St. Paul, Minnesota on Wednesday to see Minnesota United take on Aston Villa. But one group of soccer players and staff in attendance will have traveled from thousands of miles away to enjoy the match.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Minnesota United is hosting the Girls Under-15 team from the LEAD Monrovia Football Academy in Monrovia, Liberia while the team plays in the USA Cup. While the team of 14 players and three staff members are hosted in Minnesota, they’ll also be watching the Aston Villa game from Allianz Field.

“As a club, we’re always looking for ways to connect with our diverse community through the world’s game,” Minnesota United CEO Chris Wright said in a statement. “Our ownership group has worked tirelessly with LEAD Africa to make this trip possible for these girls and we couldn’t be more excited to welcome them to Minnesota. We know it will mean a lot to the more than 35,000 Liberians living here in the Twin Cities and to Liberia’s president, soccer legend George Weah.”

This week, the U-15 team got to attend Minnesota United training and had some fun with Designated Player Darwin Quintero.

The USA Cup is taking place this week in the Twin Cities, with other clubs from all over the world jetting in to play in the tournament. In addition, the organization LEAD Africa, of which the Monrovia Academy is under the umbrella of, is a group that works to empower the future of Africa through sports and education.

For Aston Villa, Wednesday’s match represents the beginning of a season back in the Premier League, and the chance to test themselves against decent opposition. It’s a quick trip to the U.S. for Aston Villa, which finishes up preseason back in England before one last game in Germany at RB Leipzig.

Premier League Friendly Roundup: Leicester, Norwich in action

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ayoze Perez got off to a great start for his new club on Tuesday, as Leicester topped Scunthorpe United, 1-0.

Perez, who arrived earlier this month from Newcastle in a $38 million transfer, scored on a first-time strike in the box that proved to be the difference in the game.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Brendan Rodgers side got a chance to get minutes for plenty of first-team regulars. Johnny Evans, Jamie Vardy, Perez and Youri Tielemans all started. Wes Morgan, new signing James Justin, Rachid Ghezzal all came off the bench.

An interesting note was that Harry Maguire, the target of serious transfer interest from Manchester United, came off the bench at halftime and played the second half of the game. According to the latest reports, Man United and Leicester City are still very far apart regarding a transfer fee, so Maguire looks set to remain for the time being.

Elsewhere, Norwich City continued its preseason tour of Germany with a friendly match held behind closed doors. Norwich beat Bonner SC, 4-1, with goals from Adam Idah, Onel Hernandez and Teemu Pukki.

UCL Roundup: Red Star, The New Saints (Wales) advance to second round

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Second legs are underway in the UEFA Champions League first qualification round, and both Red Star Belgrade and The New Saints from Wales are through to the second round.

Here’s a short roundup of UCL action on Tuesday:


Red Star Belgrade 2-1 Sudova (2-1 on Aggregate)

The Serbian giants advance to the next round with a big 2-1 win over Lithuanian Champions Sudova. Richmond Boakye and former Chelsea midfielder Marko Marin both scored in the first half. Red Star Belgrade was set to keep a clean sheet but Sudova scored late.

With the win, Red Star Belgrade moves on to face HJK Helsinki in Finland in the second round.


The New Saints 1-0 Feronikeli (3-2 on aggregate)

Welsh Premier League side The New Saints defeated Kosovan club Feronikeli, 1-0, thanks to a goal from Irish forward Dean Ebbe. Ebbe came off the bench and headed home a lofted ball into the box.

Feronikeli had chances to take the lead early, including twice in the first ten minutes, but blasted shots in the box well over the wall.

UEFA Champions League Second Leg Results

Shkendija 1 – 2 Nõmme Kalju 
Saburtalo 1 – 3 FC Sheriff
Valletta 1 – 1 F91 Dudelange
HB 2 – 2 HJK 

Solskjaer: ‘We just need consistency’

Getty Images
Leave a comment

In a vague, general word, Manchester United manager knows exactly what his club have been missing. Consistency.

More specifically, consistent success.

In a sit-down interview with the BBC, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer mentioned striving for consistency in performances on no less than four occasions, including when speaking about Alexis Sanchez. Man United won eight straight matches in all competitions and 10 of its first 11 under the Norwegian manager.

[READ: De Ligt lands in Turin ahead of Juventus move]

And yet, the consistency wasn’t there late in the season, when Man United faltered down the stretch and won just two of its last ten matches to close the season on a sour note. Man United finished in sixth place, and while Solskjaer said he believed it would be a challenge to break into the top four, he said with some consistent performances, Man United could achieve its goals.

“We have to aim for further up than fourth,” Solskjaer told the BBC. “I would rather be an optimist and be wrong than a pessimist and be right. I am not used to us being fifth or sixth but that is where we are at. That is the size of the challenge. I love that challenge.

“We have to work with the players, sign the right types and gradually make our way to the challenging line. Our players do have quality. They do have a chance. We just need consistency. We have to keep working every single day and not take our eyes off the target. Everyone gets off line at some point but you can’t let it drift too far because then you won’t get to the overall goal.”

Some Man United fans have been mumbling and rumbling due to the slow start in this summer’s transfer window. Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia have both departed on free transfers, while only Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have come in. While it’s not the improvements some fans were hoping for, it’s helped give some of the young players, like James Garner, Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and Mason Greenword, some hope that they can get minutes.

Perhaps the push from the young players for first team minutes will make Man United a bit more competitive in training again, which can only help in terms of having success on the field.

The big question remains, which Man United team will we see this season. The one from Solskjaer’s first two months on the job, or the one from his last six weeks.