Sunderland v Manchester United - Premier League

Manchester United cruise past clawless Sunderland

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With one eye on Monday’s FA Cup quarterfinal at Chelsea, Manchester United cruised at Sunderland on Saturday, putting in a typical Red Devils performance while taking a 1-0 victory out of the Stadium of Light. And by typical Manchester United, we mean there are two probably distinctly different ways to interpret their performance.

The first is the reflex reaction to any United performance that fails to awe as much as their 25-2-3 Premier League record. United didn’t generate a ton of chances, let a bland and boring Sunderland stay within striking distance, and never had to show their true selves to see off a perpetually disappointing Black Cats’ side. With their only score a first half own goal, the Red Devil win was another example of a decent but deep team dominating a down league despite obvious deficiencies.

It’s a tired story. Manchester United were knocked out of Champions League early, but in the process they showed they’d rebounded after a down season, resuming their place among Europe’s elite. While individual results can be picked apart, their body of work speaks to a quality that emerges when Manchester United plays the Real Madrids of the world.

Sunderland isn’t Real Madrid. They’re not Atletico Madrid. They’re not even Getafe or Rayo Vallecano, La Liga’s other Madrid-based sides. They’re so much worse. Martin O’Neill has made Sunderland into an impotent, inflexible side that’s intent on diving into a relegation battle. The team hasn’t won since visiting Wigan on Jan. 19, posting only six goals and three points during their eight-match winless run.

So Manchester United didn’t start Wayne Rooney. They didn’t start Patrice Evra or Rio Ferdinand. Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck also started the game on the bench. It’s only Sunderland. Why should they? If Manchester United didn’t look like world-beaters, it’s because they never tried to put their best foot forward.

A Tyson Bramble own goal mid-way through the first half was all United needed to claim full points, and as the second half played out predictably – Sunderland with a few half-chances, Manchester United showing frustrating restraint – the Red Devils never seemed interested in more. United did put eight shots on Simon Mignolet and held 61 percent of the ball, but there was never a feeling they needed a second goal.

If anything, the numbers testify to control, not intent. Sunderland has fallen so far that a half-speed United were able to hold them to one shot despite having one eye on Monday. For a team with Sunderland’s resources to have so little way of influencing matches speaks volumes about how much the squad has regressed.

Such is that state of the Black Cats, but such is also the comfortable ride United have created for themselves in this year’s Premier League.

VIDEO: 70-yard volley from Chile is nearly impossible to believe

Alejandro Camargo, Universidad de Concepcion
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His name is Alejandro Camargo, and he scored what might just go down as the best goal of 2016 on Sunday: an impossibly perfect volley from well beyond the halfway line.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea top Man City; Arsenal, Spurs win big ]

Miguel Pinto is the opposing goalkeeper whose long-range clearance, which covered about 50 yards during the final seconds of Universidad de Concepcion’s clash with O’Higgins in the Chilean first division, was taken off the fly, first-time, by the Argentine midfielder to seal a 3-1 victory for the home side.

[ MORE: Serie A roundup — Roma, AC Milan win, still tied for 2nd ]

“The coach told us Pinto was always playing in advance of his goal, so I closed my eyes and hit it,” Camargo said after the game.

“Hit it and hope” has never looked so good.

Roma fans stay away from derby to protest new security barriers

A view of a huge section of empty seats as Roma fans desert derby in protest over security barriers, during a Serie A soccer match between Lazio and Roma, at the Rome Olympic stadium Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia
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ROME (AP) Roma’s most ardent supporters stayed away from the derby match against Lazio in protest at barriers introduced at the start of last season in their area.

Normally filled with supporters waving huge banners, lighting flares and singing, half of the “curva sud” — southern end — of the Stadio Olimpico was left empty for Sunday’s match.

[ MORE: Serie A roundup — Roma, AC Milan win, still tied for 2nd ]

Three of Roma’s locally born standouts held a meeting with the “ultra” fans during the week. Captain Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi and Alessandro Florenzi asked the supporters to return, and the club itself has also tried to resolve the matter.

But the appeals had no effect.

In contrast, Lazio fans filled the northern end of the stadium as usual.

The plexiglass barriers were put in place by city officials for security reasons.

VIDEO: “Behind The Badge: Watford FC” — Episode 2

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In Episode 2 of Behind the Badge: Watford FC, watch the players’ recovery after a win against Leicester, a look at the club’s one-of-a-kind internship program and a flashback to a memorable moment in Watford’s history.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

To watch past episodes of Behind The Badge, including last season’s edition featuring a look inside Crystal Palace, head over to the full archive by clicking here.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea top Man City; Arsenal, Spurs win big ]

First episode: Watch full episode, here
Second episode: Above video
Third episode: Sunday, Dec. 11, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Fourth episode: Sunday, Dec. 18, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN

Pardew saves his job, says Palace owners “don’t know a lot about football”

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03: Alan Pardew, Manager of Crystal Palace thumbs up prior to the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Southampton at Selhurst Park on December 3, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images
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While some may advise that keeping a low profile would best suit Alan Pardew right now, Crystal Palace’s embattled manager is of a totally different mindset.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Following Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Southampton, in which Pardew’s side saved his job (for the time being), the 55-year-old Eagles boss and former player chose the first bright moment, Palace’s first Premier League win since Sept. 24, to hit out at the club’s new American owners with a scathing assessment of the footballing prowess, or perhaps lack thereof — quotes from the Guardian:

“The chairman got a bit edgy this week, as you’d expect. We have a lot of serious investors at the club who perhaps don’t know a lot about football so the chairman has been defending me.

“I always think as a manager at any level, particularly in the modern era, expect the sack. Just expect it; it’s coming at some stage, so just do your job as best you can. Every week, that’s what I try to do.

“Sometimes it’s hard to dress up six defeats when you’re the owner of the club and you have investors. Obviously there are things he’s got no control over but he’s tried to offer me all the assistance that he could. He’s been brilliant for me and I just want to say thank you to him really.”

With various reports linking Sam Allardyce and Roberto Mancini to a job which he still holds, it’s understandable that Pardew would be slightly on edge, quick to thump his chest and restake his claim as the right man for the job, but perhaps alienating and borderline embarrassing the new investors, who are now responsible for signing your paychecks, wouldn’t have been my go-to move.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea top Man City; Arsenal, Spurs win big ]

On the other hand, as Pardew rightly stated in the above quotes, his day of reckoning will eventually arrive, so what’s he really got to lose?