At EPL halfway pole: can anyone catch Manchester United?

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Halfway through the English Premier League season, it’s so tempting to wonder if Manchester United’s highly flawed defense will eventually be the undoing of Sir Alex Ferguson’s men?

Consider that the league leaders have found a way to trail in 57.9 percent of their matches – a truly startling statistic that should strike everyone as very un-leader-like. Especially when you hold it up against a far weaker side like Aston Villa. Even a team that’s doing everything lately except standing aside while the opposition fires away, Villa has been on the bad side of a lead in only 52.6 percent. (Those figures come courtesy of The Guardian.)

The question for me, however, is this: does any team really have the horses to make up the ground? The lead over Man City currently stands at seven points.

I just cannot see Manchester City getting there. There just seems too much wrong with the current title holders. Not “wrong” as in “they aren’t very good.” There’s plenty of talent – but they just don’t seem as stable as a title defender needs to be. There’s too much collective ordinary about it all.

Perhaps they just need one swashbuckling result, something like the head-turner Manchester United just concocted, that thrilling come-from-behind 4-3 win over Newcastle. That’s the kind of win where you look at a team and say, “They’ve got the belief. They have the fight. They have that doggone ‘something extra’ that it’s going to take.”

Problem is, that’s Manchester United we are talking about, not Manchester City. One team has it; one team might … but needs to get busy showing it.

Chelsea is the side that looks more able to make up the ground, perhaps able to use the recent run as a catapult to pull close enough and to then apply some pressure to Ferguson’s men in the spring.

Rafa Benitez’s boys have won six of their last seven; the one loss was to Corinthians in the FIFA Club World Cup final. They have won their last three EPL contest by a combined 14-1.

This weekend’s biggie at Goodison Park against Everton will tell us a lot. If the Blues get through this one with a result, they’ll go flying into the New Year, sights firmly affixed to Ferguson’s back side.

At the very least, Sunday’s match in Liverpool will have something to say about which of these teams (it could be both, of course) finish among the top four.

Geiger, Marrufo, Villarreal picked as Gold Cup referees

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) Mark Geiger, who three years ago became the first American to referee a knockout stage match at the World Cup, is among 17 referees picked for next month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Americans Jair Marrufo and Armando Villarreal also were announced Thursday for the 12-nation tournament, which runs from July 7-26 in various U.S. cities.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

Geiger, who is from New Jersey, was a referee for France’s 2-0 win over Nigeria in the round of 16.

Three each were picked from Mexico (Roberto Garcia, Fernando Guerrero and Cesar Ramos) and Honduras (Melvin Matamoros, Oscar Moncada and Hector Rodriguez).

Two will come from Costa Rica: Henry Bejarano and Ricardo Montero.

Others picked for the tournament are Joel Aguilar (El Salvador), Drew Fischer (Canada), Walter Lopez (Guatemala), Yadel Martinez (Cuba), John Pitti (Panama) and Kimbell Ward (St. Kitts and Nevis).

Watch Live: Germany, Chile in Confederations Cup showdown

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Alexis Sanchez is back in the Chilean starting lineup for the Confederations Cup’s marquee match-up on Thursday at 2 p.m.ET live on Telemundo Deportes.

Chile faces Germany for the Group B driver’s seat, holding a one goal advantage in goal differential.

[ WATCH LIVE: Cameroon vs. Chile on Telemundo Deportes ]

Germany starts Arsenal’s Shkodran Mustafi and Liverpool’s Emre Can in a young lineup with Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich and Barcelona’s Marc-Andre Ter Stegen.

Report: Manchester United outbidding giants for PSG’s Marquinhos

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Brazilian outlet Globo Esporte says Manchester United has made the best offer to Paris Saint-Germain in a three-team giant battle for Marquinhos.

According to the report, the transfer fight is between United, Juventus, Barcelona, and Real Madrid, though only the first three sides have lodged bids.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

Barca’s offer is said to be the lowest, around $50 million, while United is said to be willing to pay a staggering $78 million for the 23-year-old Brazilian.

Marquinhos has made 155 appearances for PSG since joining from Roma in 2013. He’s reliably made 40-plus appearances over the past three seasons, and has 17 caps for Brazil.

A terrific defender who excels in keeping possession, Marquinhos has also played some right back for PSG.

VAR steps in to help Australia draw Cameroon 1-1

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Twenty-one year-old Cameroon midfielder Zambo Anguissa scored a deft late first half goal, but Video Assistant Referee helped Australia to a match-tying penalty kick as both sides stayed alive in the Confederations Cup after a 1-1 draw on Thursday.

Australia captain Mark Milligan scored for Australia in the second group stage match for both teams at the Confederations Cup in Russia on Thursday.

Both teams lost opening matches, and victorious Chile and Germany square off at 2 p.m. ET

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

Australia struggled to put any semblance of threat together, and wasted its prime chance just after halftime when Mathew Leckie cued up Tomi Juric only to see the Luzern striker waffle before mailing a harmless chance wide and high.

The Socceroos came close again in the 55th minute, as a Leckie shot was blocked wide of goal. Their forward-thinking allowed some chances for Cameroon, too, as Aboubakar missed wide himself in the 58th minute.

Referee Milorad Mazic used Video Assistant Referee to change a corner kick to a penalty kick in the 60th minute, and Australia captain Milligan buried the spot kick to make it 1-1.Cameroon defender Ernest Mabouka chopped down Alex Gersbach in the box.

Aboubakar had a near post offering blocked wide by Milos Degenek, and the corner came to nothing. Australia had survived.