Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Premier League Preview: Crystal Palace v. Brighton

Leave a comment
  • Palace (33 points), 13th, 8 points clear of relegation
  • Brighton (30 points), 15th, 5 points clear
  • Brighton 3-1 Palace, in December

Brighton & Hove Albion are likely no more than five points from having done enough to avoid relegation from the Premier League this season, and the Seagulls have an eminently winnable FA Cup quarterfinal matchup with Championship side Millwall next weekend. By every realistic measure, 2018-19 will go down as a successful second season back in England’s top flight. Chris Hughton‘s side could just about take care of those required points when they visit Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com), and complete the league double over the Eagles in the process.

After knocking off Huddersfield Town at home last weekend, Brighton are in search of back-to-back wins for the first time since Dec. 1 and 4, a stretch of 13 games without so much as a sniff of consistency (two wins in 13, including eight losses).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Palace, on the other hand, have lost just one of their last six while winning three during that same stretch. Roy Hodgson has done a decent enough job to guide his boyhood in his first full season in charge, and the Eagles will feel they’ve already done enough to stay up with a victory on Saturday.

Michy Batshuayi has proven an inspired loan signing for Palace after scoring a goal in two of his last three games — both of which were victories — at the end of the January transfer window. Speaking of inspiration, winger Wilfried Zaha has bagged four goals in four games — 2W-1D-1L — since Batshuayi’s arrival. The two of them are clearly enjoying playing together.

“I told him, ‘Bro, once you get that first goal, they start coming from nowhere,'” Zaha said of Batshuayi. “I’m happy to see him on the scoresheet.”

Injuries

Crystal Palace OUT: Mamadou Sakho (knee), Pape Souare (shoulder) | Brighton — OUT: Pascal Gross (hamstring)

What they’re saying

Palace manager Roy Hodgson, on retirement: “They are not thoughts that I wish to entertain. I have no wish to entertain them. I don’t feel the need in any way to entertain them.I live in the present, basically. I try to make certain my life is as good as it can be at any given moment in time, doing what I’ve got to be doing and living my life the right way. In moments like this, where fortunately that is very much the case, I just try to profit from it without trying to get the crystal ball out and think what will it be like in March 2020.”

Brighton forward Glenn Murray, on stockpiling points: “We realized the magnitude of (facing Huddersfield), and we understand that. (In recent games) things were going against us slightly, and it was just about keeping our cool, going back to basics and (stop) conceding goals. There’s still plenty to do, we’re not home and hosed yet.”

Prediction

While Palace have been in good form of late, they’ve done most of their damage away from home (just one win in their last six at Selhurst Park). On the other side, Brighton haven’t won away from home in six tries. Each happy to take a point toward their season total, this one has draw written all over it.

Fans who want to try their hand at predicting PL games can down the NBC Sports Predictor app, with a chance to win up to $50,000 each week. Download it on iOS or Google Play.

Petr Cech earns win with 2 penalty saves in hockey debut

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Former Chelsea and Arsenal goalkeeper joined English fourth-division hockey team Guildford Phoenix four days ago and made his debut on Sunday.

He did not disappoint.

The 37-year-old saved two penalties in the shootout, earning Man of the Match honors.

Cech is reportedly a fan of the Guilford Flames, the first-division side who use the Phoenix as their developmental side. He was signed to be the team’s third-choice goalkeeper, just a chance for him to get in on the action before his body gives way for good, but he was given a chance to play right away. He wore number 39, a nod to famous Czech goaltender Dominik Hasek. His custom helmet was adorned with Arsenal and Chelsea colors. Regulation finished level at 2-2 before Cech’s shootout heroics.

“I wanted to win, that was the main thing, and I’m glad we did,” Cech said after the match. “I was surprised that I wasn’t more nervous. I didn’t know what to expect so it was nice how quickly my body switched into matchday mode.”

Giroud upset with reserve role at Chelsea

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Olivier Giroud does not look back on his transfer to Chelsea and wish he had done things differently, but that doesn’t mean things are all sunshine and roses for the 33-year-old.

Giroud, who moved to Chelsea from Arsenal in the winter of 2018 after six years with the Gunners, has played just 43 times in the Premier League, averaging just 35 minutes per appearance. That has him frustrated, hoping to prove his loyalty to the club and work harder than the other options up front.

“I had competitors in attack – [Alvaro] Morata, [Gonzalo] Higuain, who ended up leaving,” Giroud said. “I won at the end: I played the final of the FA Cup in 2018 and the [Europa League] final in 2019. Once again, I’m starting the year in a difficult situation. But as my brother says, I have always built myself in the face of adversity.”

Girou is trying to be smart about how he approaches the competition for time with the likes of Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi, but he says it is emotionally taxing.

“You do not have to be fatalistic in certain situations,” Giroud says about keeping a level head. “I have always been respectful and humble. Even if I do not agree with the coach, I do not criticize him. But in myself, I cannot accept it because I know what I’m worth on a pitch.”

The French international has made just three league appearances this season, mostly thanks to Abraham’s scalding form. Abraham, still just 22 years old, has snatched his opportunity for first-team minutes with eight goals in eight games to start the campaign. That has left Giroud on the sidelines for each of the last five league games, missing out on a spot in the matchday squad altogether for the last three.

Despite his struggles at the club level, Giroud has maintained his place in the French national team, missing just five matches of France’s last 64 games, including 37 of the last 39.

James says he was not knocked unconscious in Wales draw

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Head injury awareness again rose to the forefront in the 1-1 draw between Wales and Croatia in Cardiff when Daniel James went down after colliding with a pair of opponents.

The Manchester United winger looked to almost sure have been knocked unconscious when Domagoj Vida’s knee appeared to tap the back of his head while challenging for a ball in the air. Vida went toppling over the back of teammate Borna Barisic who ducked out of the way, but it was James who many were concerned for as he lay motionless on his back with his eyes closed.

Yet James was allowed to come back onto the field and completed the full 90 minutes, sparking criticism from injury advocates and fans who were concerned for James’ safety on the field, at potential risk for even more serious consequences should he indeed have suffered a concussion.

After the game however, despite what fans saw as James lie on the turf, the 21-year-old insisted he was not knocked unconscious. “I’m fine,” James claimed after the match, speaking to Sky Sports. “I think he just caught me in the head but I didn’t get knocked out fortunately.”

Wales boss Ryan Giggs backed up the decision as well, calling James’ motionless display “a bit of acting.”

“The medical staff went over, he was compos mentis and we did all the checks at half-time and he was fine,” Giggs said, referring to the latin phrase for “of sound mind.”

If James was indeed faking unconsciousness, it’s natural to wonder if he should face a fine from UEFA for looking to con referees, and in the process possibly confusing the independent neurologists on site assigned to assess head injuries.

ESPN broadcaster Taylor Twellman, who has been outspoken over the past few years advocating for head injury awareness after his career was cut short by concussions, took to Twitter to criticize Wales for allowing James back into the game. Twellman, who was on the ESPN call of the broadcast with Ian Darke, said more needs to be done to prevent players from being able to force their way back onto the field, lest someone be killed by second impact syndrome.

Former Hull City player Ryan Mason, who was forced to retire after a serious skull fracture saw him fighting for his life, was also seriously concerned about the incident.

Interestingly enough, later in the match just seconds after the second half restart, young Wales midfielder Ethan Ampadu was whalloped from behind by Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic in a wild and reckless aerial challenge. Petkovic’s elbow went clattering into the back of Ampadu’s head, and the was left writhing on the ground holding his head. The Chelsea youngster was taken off the field and immediately replaced by Joe Morrell, while Petkovic was lucky to escape with just a yellow card.

Kane reflects on Tottenham, England struggles

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Harry Kane keeps finding the back of the net, but his teams keep losing.

The 26-year-old striker has bagged five Premier League goals in eight games for Spurs thus far, plus another seven goals for England in five Euro 2020 qualifiers this cycle. Yet Tottenham sits ninth in the table after three losses already this season, while England slumped to its first Euro defeat last time out, putting its seeding at the Euro finals next summer in jeopardy.

Kane is hoping to be a leader through the tough times for both club and country, wearing the armband for both as it currently stands.

“I think you need to lead by example,” Kane said ahead of England’s visit to Bulgaria on Monday. “Not getting too down when you lose a game, not getting too high when you win games. It is a long, old season for club and country ahead – a lot of games to be played so there are going to be tough periods.”

Kane has taken over the England captaincy on a permanent basis, and is filling in for the injured Hugo Lloris at Tottenham. “I am still the same person,” he said. “I still try and lead by example on and off the pitch and I will continue to do that. I have been in high pressure situations before in my career, whether that is going through goal droughts, playing in high-pressure games or not playing well as a team. It is something I will take in my stride and improve on.”

Leading by example includes finding the back of the net, while also supporting teammates both on and off the pitch. He knows even if he’s in good personal form on the stat sheet, there’s always ways to improve and help the squads through tough times.

“I am scoring goals but can I get more assists, create more chances? So yeah, I always look at little things I can get better at. Yes, the England form has been good but as ever, it can be better. We will see if I can continue scoring. It has been a good campaign but important I do not stop now.”