City vs. United: Premier League will be decided in Manchester, again

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When Manchester City pasted Manchester United 6-1 last October, it was still too early in the Premier League season to know if the campaign would become a two-team race. But after Chelsea’s winter swoon took them out of title contention, England’s most decorated team (United, 19 titles) was left to defend their title against a rival who had not won the first division since 1967-68.

This year there’s no illusion that the title will be settled outside Manchester. Second place City, defending their first Premier League title, remain undefeated and have a six-point lead on Chelsea and Tottenham. United, three points clear of their rivals at the top of the league, have already won three more matches than anybody else in the league. With the exception of Chelsea’s strong start, there’s been no indication anybody can keep up with the Manchester sides, and with the teams combining for 21 wins and six draws in 30 games, there’s little hint either club will come back to the pack.

MORE: Key man in Sunday’s Manchester Derby

Early Sunday morning, the teams wage their first of two league derbies this year (8:30 a.m. Eastern kickoff), a match that you could see as one of only two big, title-relevant matches of the Premier League season. Sure, history and locality mean matches like Arsenal-Tottenham and Liverpool-Manchester United will always be important, but if you discard folklore and narrow your focus to this Premier League season, the two Manchester derbies start to look disproportionately important. Like Spain’s Clasicos.

While it will take much longer than two years to establish the type of two-tier league Spain’s evolved into, this year’s developments in the Premier League combined with the 19-point gap the Manchesters put on the league last year is noteworthy. If you look at the underlying numbers, goals scored and goals against, the numbers are even more troubling. Last year City and United put up differences of +64 and +59. The next-best mark was Arsenal and Spurs’ +25. Last year, the Premier League was Spain.

If Chelsea can’t get their management issues worked out — if Arsenal and Liverpool don’t recover and if Tottenham can’t cease their window they’ve opened for themselves — we could see a small fissure form between the Manchesters and their competition. It will be small and less entrenched than chasms that exist in Spain and (to a lesser extent, now) Ukraine, but it will soon become something England’s other powers will have to overcome.

MORE: Chelsea finally comes good in Premier League

Within the derby, Manchester United, despite their lead in the standings, finds itself trying to make up ground. Their late-season collapse this spring allowed City to win the title at their expense. Though United has recent wins over City in the FA Cup and Community Shield, the Citizens won both the teams’ Premier League meetings last season and defeated the Red Devils when the clubs met in April 2011’s FA Cup semifinal. Recent big games — the ones both teams have really wanted to win — have gone to City.

source:  There are a number of reasons to think Sunday’s meeting will be different. This time, Manchester United have Robin van Persie, the former Arsenal-man quickly becoming the focal point of Manchester United’s attack. Any doubt that the Red Devils needed a player of van Persie’s potency has been assuaged by 13 goals in 19 all-competition appearances. Add his presence to the a United team who, after losing last year’s race to their noisy neighbors, have no confusion about where their focus should lie and a City side that has struggled to regain last year’s stride may have trouble replicating last year’s dominance.

There is another side to that coin, though. For all his production with Manchester United, van Persie has not scored in his last eight matches against Manchester City. And although Nemanja Vidic could return to Alex Ferguson’s back line, Manchester United’s defense (11th in the Premier League) is among the worst competing for a major European title. It’s rare that a team so flawed can compete for a crown like the Premier League’s, but with the firepower at Ferguson’s disposal, it’s not difficult to imagine a scenario where they can best City.

And within the current landscape of the Premier League, that’s may be all either Manchester club has to do: Beat their rival. Last year, Manchester City took all six league points. Had Manchester United drawn one of those two games, the Red Devils would have won a 20th title. And already three points up on City (nine points ahead of the rest of the league), a draw may be all United needs to take control of this year’s Premier League.

MLS Snapshot: FCD lose 2nd in a row; Fire win 4th straight

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The game in 100 words (or less): After starting the 2017 season nine games without a loss, FC Dallas, the longest-lasting unbeaten team in MLS, has lost two straight. Saturday saw their unbeaten start come to an end, against the San Jose Earthquakes, just as Wednesday’s trip to Toyota Stadium saw Oscar Pareja’s side drop all three points to the Chicago Fire. All three of the game’s goals were scored during the opening nine minutes, as FCD fought back from 1-0, but couldn’t find a second equalizer on the night. Nemanja Nikolic bagged the opener, his 11th goal in 13 games to extend his lead in the Golden Boot race to two, in the 3rd minute. Roland Lamah brought FCD back to level terms three minutes later, but David Accam restored the home side’s advantage after three more minutes. Nikolic had every opportunity in the world to take his goals tally to a dozen during second-half stoppage time, but Chris Seitz denied the Hungarian international from the penalty spot. For the first time since Sept. 2012, Chicago have won four straight league games, and sit just two points back of Eastern Conference-leading Toronto FC (26 points).

[ WATCH: Chicharito-to-MLS in doubt due to $10M contract demands ]

Three moments that mattered

3′ — Nikolic redirects past Seitz for 1-0 — Nikolic ran 15 yards straight ahead without a single FCD player picking him up or impeding his path to the near post, and they paid for it.

6′ — Lamah taps it in to make it 1-1 right away — Lamah has been quite the disappointment since arriving in Dallas this winter, but he happened to eb in the right place at the right time in this one, as a failed clearance fell to the five-times-capped Belgian international for an easy tap-in, and his first MLS goal.

9′ — Accam cuts inside to make it 2-1 just as quickly — At some point, Accam will be properly rated by the wider MLS audience, as he’s been Chicago’s best player for two full seasons, and has only hit a new high with capable attackers all around him.

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

Man of the match: Dax McCarty

Goalscorers: Nikolic (3′), Lamah (6′), Accam (9′)

Report: Chicharito-to-MLS in doubt due to contract demands

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While Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has the feel of the player most clearly destined to play in MLS since Thierry Henry, we might have to wait a little while longer before the 28-year-old Mexican international ditches Europe in favor of a return to North America.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to a report from ESPN FC on Thursday, Hernandez is seeking an annual salary “way north of $10 million,” which would shatter the current record contract for an MLS player (Kaka — $7.2 million per year).

Hernandez has one more season left on his contract with Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen. During the summer of 2018 he’ll be available for any club in the world to sign on a free transfer. With Los Angeles FC, the team Hernandez has reportedly been negotiating with for months now, set to debut in MLS in March 2018, chances are they’d like the centerpiece of their squad (and the largest annual investment in MLS history) to be involved on opening day, thus a fee will be required, very likely pushing the club’s total investment (salary plus fee) into the neighborhood of $50 million.

[ WATCH: Giovani dos Santos’ jaw-dropping volley vs. MIN ]

You can see pretty quickly why LAFC might balk at such demands.

With that said, 1) LAFC shouldn’t be surprised by this recent development, given Hernandez’s otherworldly allure within the LA market; 2) to piggyback on no. 1, a player should be paid every cent he’s worth to the club, on and off the field, and there might not be a player in the entire world (this side Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo) who’d make LAFC a bigger hit in LA from day one.

Enrique “more than satisfied” with Barca tenure, eyes one more trophy

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MADRID (AP) Luis Enrique is finally saying goodbye to Barcelona, with one last chance at a trophy.

The Luis Enrique era in Barcelona ends after the Copa del Rey final against Alaves on Saturday, when the coach could cap his three-year stint with a ninth trophy out of a possible 13.

It would be a fitting farewell for him nearly three months after his surprise announcement that he was leaving.

“It would be a special title,” Luis Enrique said.

The former Barcelona midfielder has won nearly everything as the coach, since replacing Gerard Martino in 2014.

He led the team to the treble of the Spanish league, Copa del Rey, and Champions League in 2015. He achieved the league-Copa double in 2016, and began this season with the Spanish Super Cup title, their only trophy so far.

It hasn’t been Luis Enrique’s best season with Barcelona, which was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, and lost the Spanish league to Real Madrid last weekend.

“I’m happy and more than satisfied for all the years that I’ve enjoyed with this club,” the 47-year-old Luis Enrique said.

He announced in March he was leaving so he could get some rest.

“I came here to be a leader and I’ve been one. I’m leaving when I think it’s the best time to do it.”

His other titles included the 2015 European Super Cup and the 2015 Club World Cup.

Barcelona has yet to lose a Copa del Rey home-and-away series since he took over, a run of 12 straight triumphs.

“We are all thankful for these three years (with Luis Enrique),” captain Andres Iniesta said. “We have to win one last title to finish the best possible way.”

Barcelona has been in the Copa final in seven of the last nine seasons, including the last four. It has won it a record 28 times, including the last two.

Alaves will be playing in the final of a major tournament for only the second time in its 96-year history. The other was the UEFA Cup 16 years ago, when it lost to Liverpool 5-4 in extra time.

Alaves’ only winner’s trophy is for Spain’s second division. It was a promoted club in Spain’s top division this season after 10 years in the lower divisions, including four in the third tier. It finished ninth in the Liga.

Alaves enters the Copa final boosted from having beaten Barcelona 2-1 at Camp Nou at the beginning of the season.

The coach touted to replace Luis Enrique at Barcelona is Ernesto Valverde, who left Athletic Bilbao this week. An official announcement is expected next week.

Marco Silva leaves Hull; Premier League clubs lining up

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Marco Silva came to the Premier League, he saw the PL, but he didn’t conquer the PL — at least, not yet.

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It was announced on Thursday that the 39-year-old Portuguese manager, who took over last-place Hull City in January, has left the club after succumbing to relegation from the PL. Silva, whose stock rose quickly during his brief stay in England, signed a contract that ran only through the end of the season should they be relegated, thus he’s not sure on options these days. Hull would have undoubtedly welcomed him back for a run at promotion from the Championship next season.

As recently as Wednesday, Silva was expected to be named the new boss at Porto, though various reports stated that talks between the manager and club had broken down.

[ MORE: Terry “couldn’t care less” about criticism of his farewell ]

Watford and Crystal Palace, both of whom are manager-less after Walter Mazzarri was fired and Sam Allardyce resigned, respectively, are said to be extremely interested in Silva’s services.