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Offshore drilling, England: Manchester United 3, at Chelsea 2

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Man of the MatchJuan Mata provided another entrancing display, fulling validating a week’s worth of media hype anointing him the season’s best player. From an amazingly curled free kick goal in the 44th, to his cross in the buildup to Chelsea’s 53rd minute equalizer, to his constant stressing of Manchester United’s defense, Mata turned around what initially looked destined to be a lopsided affair.

Mata’s October contributions may have finally surpassed Eden Hazard’s early season results. Even if he’s still playing catchup, Chelsea has the Premier League’s two best performers of the (still young) 2012-13 season. 

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Two huge Sunday matches, two games overshadowed by the officiating. Whereas the Everton-Liverpool match saw one late call determine the result, Mark Clattenburg and crew provided two talking points for us content-hungry keyboard jockeys.
  • With Chelsea already down a man (Branislav Ivanovic uncontroversially shown red in the 63rd after running through a goal-bound Ashley Young), Fernando Torres was given a second yellow card (68′) for exaggerating a foul by Jonny Evans. At the time, the score was 2-2.
  • Two interpretations of the play – where Torres appears to be brought down after playing a ball behind Evans – with most people critical of Clattenburg.
    • The first: There was contact, it was a foul, so Torres shouldn’t have been carded. Clattenburg ARRRRGGGH!
    • The second: Foul or not, Torres was guilty of simulation, exaggerating the effect of the contact.
  • There’s no doubt Torres did just that. The problem: Evans wasn’t whistled, Torres was shown off, and onlookers were left to wonder what Clattenburg was thinking.
  • There is a huge, hypocritical tension here. There are constant complains about diving, and without a doubt, Torres dived to one degree or another. He exaggerated for the purpose of drawing a foul. Yet there’s general consternation over Clattenburg’s call, mostly because Evans made some contact with Torres. But if the problem with diving is the ethics behind it – the deceit, exaggeration, simulation of it all – then Torres should have been booked. No doubt, no debate under that standard. So which way do we want it? Because when decisions a binary and Clattenburg has to give a yes-no, it can’t go both ways.
  • Fine print: Don’t dive when you’re carrying a yellow card!
  • Three minutes after Torres left, Javier Hernández (having just been brought on for Tom Cleverley) put home a pass from Rafael from an offside position. The play stood, and Manchester United had their first win in 10 years at Stamford Bridge.
  • Before Blues started being dismissed, the match was split into two halves: Thirty minutes of United dominance followed by a half-hour of Chelsea control.
  • Manchester United played the best soccer of the Premier League season over the first third. Their passing was impeccable, their attacks were decisive and destroyed Chelsea’s defense, and we finally saw the devastating effect the speed of Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young can have with Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney through the middle. Who knows how potent this team can be when Shingi Kagawa returns?
  • The first goal was a perfect example. Van Perise and Young had switched, leaving “RVP” wide left. A turnover on Chelsea’s left allowed Young to burst between Chelsea defenders before Rooney hit him at the edge of the attacking third. Young laid it of for Rooney, pulled the defense with him as he ran toward goal, leaving an open area for van Persie. Rooney found him, RVP putting his shot off the post and David Luiz for a fourth minute goal.
  • The second goal, nine minutes later, was very similar. Rafael and Valencia blew through their right thanks to a poor read from Ashley Cole. The United winger was able to hit van Persie as his teammate dropped back from the defense, a right-footed shot into the middle of goal giving United a 2-0 lead.
  • As is there tendency, United let up, willing to let Chelsea control the game. Based on the first half hour, this should have been fine. United’s 4-1-4-1 defensive shape gave them a line across midfield that prevented Chelsea from connecting with their Eden Hazard-Oscar-Juan Mata level.
  • United look vulnerable on crosses, however, with Gary Cahill missing a chance off a corner. With the control Chelsea had over the game, it was a matter of time before the home side broke through.
  • Rooney helped him out. A misguided takedown of Hazard at the edge of the arc gave Mata too much of David de Gea’s goal. When the United keeper took a step left before Mata aimed to his right, he had no chance to stop a shot put into the side-netting. Minutes before halftime, Chelsea had got United’s lead in half.
  • Coming out the break, Chelsea made a crucial adjustment, having Oscar drop behind Manchester United’s midfielders to pick up the ball from Ramires and John Obi Mikel. As a result, Chelsea dominated the opening of the second half, exploiting United’s fullbacks, eventually creating a goal after crosses from Mata to Oscar to the goal-scorer, Ramires.
  • Ten minutes later, the match changed again. Ivanovic was off, and Chelsea was on their way to their first loss of the season.
  • For each team, it was a very mixed performance. Put the last 30, chaotic minutes aside and look at the first two-thirds. Over the first half hour, United looked like the best team in England. Through the middle third, Chelsea made the beginning seem a fluke. While Chelsea’s defense showed an alarming vulnerability, United again displayed a willingness to concede control of a match they should dominate.
  • Despite the loss, Chelsea maintains the lead in England. One point behind them: the Manchesters.

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 2-2 Colorado Rapids (video)

Montreal Impact forward Didier Drogba celebrates his goal against the Colorado Rapids during first half of an MLS soccer game, Saturday, April 30, 2016 in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP
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The game in 100 words (or less): Dropped points from a winning position are the ones that frustrate and come back to haunt managers more than anything. Twice on Saturday, the Montreal Impact conceded goals from a winning position and were forced to settle for a 2-2 draw with the suddenly rampant Colorado Rapids at Stade Saputo. Didieo Drogba scored another magnificent free kick (video below), but a bit of calamitous set-piece defending on the Rapids’ second goal ultimately meant two points dropped by Mauro Biello’s side, though their hold on the Eastern Conference’s top spot remains intact for one more day (third-place Toronto FC will go top of the East with a win on Sunday). The Rapids, meanwhile, are four games without a defeat and top of the Western Conference for the time being (fourth- and fifth-place LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake could claim the spot as their own with wins on Sunday and Saturday, respectively).

[ MORE: Monday’s MLS Rewind column  ]

Three Four moments that mattered

9′ — Drogba’s latest FK beauty makes it 1-0 — If you haven’t loved watching Drogba destroy MLS since his arrival last August, you must be a Toronto FC fan. Or you hate fun, beautiful things, like this free kick.

47′ — Gashi finishes Williams’ cross for 1-1 — Mekeil Williams served the ball across the face of goal, and Gashi made no mistake on the finish, hammering it past Evan Bush to bring the visitors level.

50′ — Tissot hammers home from distance to restore the lead — As they say, this ball stayed hit. Also, it had eyes.

73′ — Burling smashes home from close range — Gashi’s free kick caused all kinds of problems for the Impact defense, leaving Bush unsure of whether to come out and attack the ball or stay on his line. Axel Sjoberg kept the play alive, playing the ball across the face of goal, and Bobby Burling found himself on the right side of his marker.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Shklezen Gashi

Goalscorers: Drogba (9′), Gashi (47′), Tissot (50′), Burling (73′)

MLS Snapshot: New York City FC 3-2 Vancouver Whitecaps (video)

New York City FC forward David Villa, left, and New York City FC defender Chris Wingert celebrate Villa's early goal during the first half of the match between New York City FC and Toronto FC, Sunday, July 12, 2015, at Yankee Stadium in New York. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)
AP Photo/Kevin Hagen
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The game in 100 words (or less): New York City FC are still Frank Lampard-less (he’s yet to even appear on the bench this season), but at least they’re not seven games without a victory anymore. Having last won a game back on March 6, opening day, Patrick Vieira’s side stole one of the wackier games we’re likely to see all season at — yes, you guessed it — Yankee Stadium on Saturday. From down a goal after 37 seconds, to up 2-1 after a pair of brilliant strikes by David Villa, to staring into the face of another disappointing draw, to late jubilation, being an NYCFC supporter must be super fun awful exhausting. Let’s talk about Villa for a moment: 32 goals and assists combined in 39 MLS appearances. That’s not quite Robbie Keane territory, but alongside Sebastian Giovinco, he’s the only one anywhere close to achieving Keane’s obscene numbers.

[ MORE: Monday’s MLS Rewind column  ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

1′ — Saunders gifts Rivero an early opener — It took NYCFC all of 37 seconds to go a goal behind, and Josh Saunders has no one but himself to blame for this one. Octavio Rivero hadn’t scored a goal in over eight months. This is one way to get going.

35′ — Villa clinical with his chance for 1-1 — Khiry Shelton played the through ball into acres of space, and Villa doesn’t miss chances like this one.

41′ — Villa side-volleys from a corner kick for 2-0 — Having Andrea Pirlo serve up delicate set-piece delivery to the back post for David Villa seems a fairly smart “gameplan” by Patrick Vieira. Villa is simply brilliant.

63′ — Bolaños puts home his own saved-PK rebound — Kekuta Manneh was taken down inside the penalty area, and Christian Bolaños nearly blew the penalty chance, but the Costa Rican followed up on the rebound and pulled the visitors level again.

73′ — Mendoza beats Ousted at his near post for the winner — David Ousted will be seeing this one in his sleep tonight. Beaten at his near post by a worm-burner without too terribly much behind it … not great from the big Dane.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: David Villa

Goalscorers: Rivero (1′), Villa (35′, 41′), Bolaños (63′), Mendoza (73′)

MLS Snapshot: Seattle Sounders 1-0 Columbus Crew SC (video)

Seattle Sounders' Jordan Morris, left, celebrates with teammate Nelson Valdez, right, after Morris scored a goal against the Philadelphia Union during the second half of an MLS soccer match, Saturday, April 16, 2016, in Seattle. The goal was Morris' first career MLS goal, and the Sounders defeated the Union 2-1. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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The game in 100 words (or less): Slowly but surely, it’s all starting to come together for the Seattle Sounders. Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Columbus Crew SC is the latest proof we have that Sigi Schmid’s side is finding its way and realizing its new, post-Obafemi Martins identity. After struggling mightily the first month and a half of the 2016 season, Saturday’s win saw a side full of attacking intent and, most importantly, ever-dangerous on counter-attacks.  As a newly-committed 4-3-3 side, this season’s edition of the Sounders will have to be much sturdier at the back, adept at attacking down the wings, and ruthless with their inevitably fewer chances. It was the last bit of that that eluded them for much of Saturday afternoon, but Jordan Morris provided the late breakthrough to score his third goal in three games, and suddenly the most heralded homegrown player in MLS history is flying.

[ MORE: Monday’s MLS Rewind column  ]

Three moments that mattered

42′ — Finlay is in one-on-one, blows the finish — The build-up was brilliant, and all Ethan Finlay had to do was beat Stefan Frei with a shot inside of either post. Instead…

50′ — Dempsey heads just over the bar at the far post — Joevin Jones got all the way up the left wing and whipped in a delightful cross to the back post, but Clint Dempsey couldn’t keep his header down and it sailed just over the bar (WATCH HERE).

88′ — Morris bundles home after Clark makes a save — More like Jordan on the Spot, am I right?

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Osvaldo Alonso

Goalscorers: Morris (88′)

PL Sunday preview: The day Leicester are crowned champions?

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 24:  Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City (top) celebrates with team mates as he scores their first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Swansea City at The King Power Stadium on April 24, 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
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The race for the 2015-16 Premier League title could be officially over by this time tomorrow. The biggest day in the history of Leicester City Football Club awaits…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Swansea City vs. Liverpool — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and Live Extra

Swansea City (40 points – 15th place) are ever so close to guaranteeing their status as a Premier League club for another season, and a win over Liverpool at the Liberty Stadium would do the mathematical trick for the Swans. Three points would also vault them into 13th place with two games remaining on the season, a dream-land finish to the campaign that months ago looked destined to end in a relegation scrap.

As for Liverpool, the’re 10 points back of Manchester City for fourth place and UEFA Champions League qualification, so don’t be surprised if Jurgen rests a handful of key contributors with both eyes focused on Thursday’s UEFA Europa League semifinal second leg against Villarreal (Liverpool trail 1-0 after the first leg). Winning the UEL is the Reds’ last avenue for Champions League qualification next season, and the kind of recruiting tool Klopp will so desperately need to build his own squad in the summer transfer window.

Injuries: Swansea — OUT: Leroy Fer (hamstring), Alberto Paloschi (hamstring) | Liverpool — OUT: Divock Origi (ankle), Emre Can (ankle), Jordan Henderson (knee), Mamadou Sakho (suspension); QUESTIONABLE: Philippe Coutinho (illness)

[ MORE: PL roundup — Newcastle get massive win in relegation fight ]

Manchester United vs. Leicester City — 9 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and Live Extra

The last nine months have merely been building up to this day, this game, for this team — the soon-to-be Premier League champions, Manchester United Leicester City. Are you prepared to live in a world where, for 12 full months, the tag of “defending Premier League champions” will precede any mention of the Foxes? You better be, because it’s happening, perhaps on Sunday.

Louis Van Gaal has challenged his Man United side to not be the foes against which Leicester win the title, but that’ll be easier said than done against the side with the best points tally from away games (37 points from 17 games) in the league this season, including away triumphs over Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and West Ham United already. When these sides met back in November, it was United who grabbed a second-half equalizer for a 1-1 draw, canceling out Jamie Vardy‘s opener which set a new Premier League record for consecutive games with a game (11). The math is simple: a win for Leicester, and they’re PL champions; a draw for Leicester and a draw or loss for Tottenham at Chelsea on Monday, and Leicester are champions; a loss for Leicester and a loss for Tottenham, and Leicester are champions.

Injuries: Man United — OUT: Bastian Schweinsteiger (knee), Luke Shaw (leg)| Leicester — OUT: Jamie Vardy (suspension); QUESTIONABLE: Leonardo Ulloa (back)

[ MORE: PHOTOS — Arsenal fans hold another protest of club, Wenger ]

Southampton vs. Manchester City — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and Live Extra

West Ham’s thrashing of West Bromwich Albion on Saturday (plus a possible result for Man United on Sunday) at least makes the race for a top-four finish interesting for Man City, inasmuch as they need to win away to Southampton in order to maintain a five point gap between themselves and fifth place (a win would see them go back above Arsenal for third, based on goal differential).

As for Southampton, a win would secure their third straight top-eight finish in the PL, with a decent shot at leapfrogging Liverpool for seventh. When Saints and City met back in November, it was the latter side who took all three points in a 3-1 home victory.

Injuries: Southampton — QUESTIONABLE: Charlie Austin (knee) | Man City — OUT: David Silva (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: Yaya Toure (thigh), Samir Nasri (hamstring)