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ProSoccerTalk’s Premier League Narratives: Matchweek 31 (Part One)

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As the great Roger Bennett and Michael Davies love to remind the footie-loving public, narratives are what make the Premier League so exhilarating. There are league narratives, club narratives, owner narratives, player narratives and even supporter narratives. Sometimes, the narratives run so deep that you find yourself lost in a bliss of a narrative trapped inside a narrative trapped inside another narrative.

Yes, the Premier League is that delicious. And this column promises to help you drink it down like a room-temp Boddingtons on a Sunday morning. Enjoy the storylines and have a good laugh over my predictions for following matches:  Sunderland v. Manchester United, Arsenal v. Reading, Manchester City v. Newcastle and Southampton v. Chelsea.

SUNDERLAND v. MANCHESTER UNITED (Stadium of Light, Sat 8:45am ET)

Steven Fletcher’s injury means Sunderland – who are winless in their last seven matches and sit 15th in the table, just four points from the drop zone – will look to former Swansea City striker Danny Graham to ease Wearside’s relegation fears. But don’t expect Manchester United to care. With his squad 15 points clear of 2nd placed Manchester City, Sir Alex Ferguson is poised to claim his 12th league title. And in the Glaswegian’s eyes the sooner it comes, the better. But with the second leg of the FA Cup quarter-final at Chelsea set to go forward on Monday don’t be surprised if United takes the pitch at the Stadium of Light with a less-heralded side than normal.

The 48 hour turn-around is totally ridiculous. Dare I say it? I think Sunderland get a result here. BOOM.

ARSENAL v. READING (Emirates Stadium, Sat 11:00am ET)

Both Arsenal and Reading will be hard-pressed to secure three points when two sides meet, albeit for very different reasons. The Gunners remain hell-bent on closing the four point gap separating them from 4th placed Spurs and a spot in the Champions League. Meanwhile, with seven points separating them from safety, Reading has its back against the relegation wall and will hope newly appointed manager Nigel Adkins will the immediate impact needed to preserve his side’s dream of staying in the top flight.

Arsenal is depleted but it’s an absolute must win and they have the talent to get the job done.

MANCHESTER CITY v. NEWCASTLE UNITED (Etihad Stadium, Sat 11:00am ET)

With Roberto Mancini conceding the title race and Yaya Toure’s future at the club in question, Newcastle United may be arriving at the Etihad at just the right moment. In 13th place and six points from the drop the Magpies need all the points they can get. But with an injury ravaged squad and a trip to Benfica for next Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final, Alan Pardew’s side will need to dig deep if they’re to get a result.

I’m going with the obvious choice: City takes it. Look for Kun Aguero (pictured) to return and to enjoy himself.

SOUTHAMPTON v. CHELSEA (St. Mary’s Stadium, Sat 11:00am ET)

Southampton hope their up-tempo attack and high line of pressure will disturb Chelsea just as it did Liverpool in Matchweek 30. Mauricio Pochetino’s squad has shown some real quality since the Argentinian’s appointment in January but they’ll need to be mistake-free against a Rafa Benitez side that’s playing it’s best football of the season. The Blues mental strength will be tested at St. Mary’s as it looks to secure three points while staying fresh for Monday’s FA Cup replay against United.

Am I taking the piss? Possibly. But I still say Chelsea suffers the same fate as United. Saints get a result.

MLS Cup Playoffs: D.C. United 2-4 Montreal Impact (video)

CORRECTS DATE - Montreal Impact forward Matteo Mancosu, back, celebrates his goal with Ignacio Piatti (10) during the first half of an MLS playoff soccer match against D.C. United, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
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The game in 100 words (or less): There are epic playoff collapses, and there is the MLS Cup Playoffs abomination put forth by D.C. United on Thursday. Playing host to a Montreal Impact side that won just two of its last eight regular-season games and crawled over the finish line, United — winners of four of their last five and one of the hottest teams in the league down the stretch — no-showed Thursday’s knockout-round tie, and their season is deservingly finished. Laurent Ciman put the Impact ahead inside the first five minutes, and United never recovered or seemed the least bit urgent with their season on the line. Matteo Mancosu bagged a brace either side of halftime to make it 3-0, and Ignacio Piatti, who was his usual brilliant self — so good, in fact, he made you forget Didier Drogba was unavailable due to injury/dispute over his role as a substitute — added a fourth not long before full-time. Lamar Neagle grabbed a late consolation goal for United, bringing them back to 4-1 before Taylor Kemp fired a laser past Evan Bush for 4-2 late in stoppage time, but that’s as close as they’d get. Up next for the Impact, it’s the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals, beginning Sunday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three moments that mattered

4′ — Ciman slots home from a corner for 1-0 — An absolute dream start for Montreal, as Ciman gets front side of his marker and benefits from a fortunate bounce after he scuffs the shot.

43′ — Mancosu slams home Piatti’s cross for 2-0 — Someone tell DCU that the knockout round is most definitely win-or-go-home. Horrific defending. Ball-watching all over the place. This is not the same team that won four of their last five in order to host this game.

58′ — Mancosu heads home at the near post for 3-0 — Steve Birnbaum has not had the greatest end to the 2016 season. Stay healthy, John Brooks and Geoff Cameron.

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

Men of the match: Matteo Mancosu

Goalscorers: Ciman (4′), Mancosu (43′, 58′), Piatti (83′), Neagle (90′), Kemp (90+4′)

FOLLOW LIVE: 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round

Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer, center, is congratulated by teammates, including midfielder Roger Espinoza (27), following his goal during the first half of an MLS soccer match against the Houston Dynamo in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
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The knockout round of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs concludes on Thursday, as four teams vie for the final two places — one in the Eastern Conference, one in the Western Conference — in the conference semifinals, which begin on Sunday.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round ]

Up first, the East’s fourth-seeded D.C. United welcome the five-seed Montreal Impact to RFK Stadium for the two sides’ third meeting of the 2016 season. Each of the year’s first two clashes finished a 1-1 draw, in July and August. Didier Drogba is expected to be unavailable for the win-or-go-home tie. United finished the regular season with four wins in the last five games, while the Impact won just two of their last eight.

[ MORE: Preivewing Thursday night’s knockout-round games ]

In the nightcap, the West’s fourth-seeded Seattle Sounders will take on the five-side, Sporting Kansas City, at CenturyLink Field. Sporting were victorious in both regular-season meetings this year — 1-0 on opening day, and 3-0 in late-July, the day the Sounders essentially quit on Sigi Schmid. Since that blistering hot day in KC, the Soudners have lost just twice in 14 games (eight wins, four draws).

Thursday’s MLS Cup Playoffs schedule

D.C. United vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting KC — 10 p.m. ET

Cristiano Ronaldo says Ashley Cole is the toughest player he faced

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Cristiano Ronaldo has faced the best defenders in the world during his time with Manchester United, Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team.

He has also caused fits for most of those defenders with goal after goal for club and country. But, there have been some players who have at least made it difficult for the all-time leading goal scorer in Real Madrid and Champions League history.

According to Ronaldo, former Chelsea and Arsenal defender Ashley Cole was the toughest player he has faced in his career.

[ MORE: VIDEO: Incredible Pelle goal in China ]

“Over the years I had some great battles with Ashley Cole, he does not give you a second to breathe,” Ronaldo told Coach Mag. “He was such a tenacious player when he was at his peak, quick, tough in the tackle. You knew it would never be an easy game.”

During his time with Manchester United, Ronaldo faced Cole on numerous occasions while Cole was with Arsenal and Chelsea. The two have also faced off in international competition between Ronaldo’s Portugal and Cole’s England.

It’s certainly high praise for Cole, who now plays in MLS for the LA Galaxy. At the age of 35, Cole has started 25 matches for the Galaxy this season, scoring one goal.

Phil Neville praises Juan Mata’s play to Manchester United

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Juan Mata has appeared in 116 matches for Manchester United since moving to Old Trafford in 2014. In that time, Mata has scored 29 goals and recorded 18 assists.

Despite his performance for the team, some thought Mata would be moved when Jose Mourinho came to town, including former United player and assistant coach Phil Neville.

Neville told Sky Sports, “I actually thought he would be the first out of the door when Jose came, but he’s actually becoming one of the most important players.”

Neville praised Mata’s contributions and versatility for United. “He is never injured, he provides a lot of assists, he plays in two or three different positions, and he scores important goals.”

Manchester United has lacked an identity under Mourinho and recently faltered in the Premier League as the team is winless in its last three matches.

[ MORE: Mourinho gets FA charge ]

Could Mata be the answer to some of United’s problems?

The Spaniard is a classic No. 10 with the ability to dictate his team’s attack and create scoring opportunities for his teammates. Mata can also put the ball in the back of the net as evidenced by his winner against Manchester City in the EFL Cup.

Mourinho has options in the center midfield with the likes of Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick in addition to Mata on the roster.

However, given the team’s Premier League struggles, it could be worth giving Mata a chance as the team’s No. 10.