Van Persie breaks drought as Man United top Stoke

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Is Geoff Cameron about to be playing second-level soccer? Stoke City’s relegation fears deepened today after a predictable 2-0 defeat to Manchester United.

When the United States international left the Houston Dynamo for England last August, he had reason to expect he was joining a club that would challenge for a place in the top half of the Premier League.

After promotion in 2008, the division’s most-physical, direct team had been a model of consistency, finishing comfortably in the middle of the standings each year. Just look at their total points in each of the past four seasons: 45, 47, 46, 45. Manager Tony Pulis has spent some decent money, too, lavishing $7.6 million last August to take playmaker Charlie Adam from Liverpool and going Texan again in January to prise Brek Shea from FC Dallas.

A solid roster, effective playing style, intimidating home crowd and ample Premier League experience: it was all set for Stoke to have a break-out year. Instead, they simply look broken.

Stoke’s form since January puts Pulis under intense scrutiny, with media talk suggesting his seven-year reign is under threat. They’ve collected only one point from their past seven matches and have won only once in the league since beating Liverpool 3-1 on December 26.

Among the 92 clubs in England’s top four divisions, only Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and David Moyes have stayed with their current employers longer than Pulis. But any manager would come under scrutiny with an ongoing run of 2-11-4 in all competitions. Stoke have the Premier League’s worst record since January and are only three points clear of the drop zone, having played two more fixtures than 18th-placed Wigan Athletic. Their grinding, aggressive tactics ought to mitigate against such a deep slump – but it looks like they’ve gone stale. It doesn’t help that key striker Peter Crouch is out-of-sorts with only five league goals, half his tally from 2011-12.

Cameron started at right back today but United prised open the defense after only four minutes, Michael Carrick poking in from a Van Persie corner. It was Carrick’s first league goal since January, 2012 – a woeful scoring rate for a midfielder of his talent.

Speaking of slumps, Van Persie had not found the net for his club since February 10 – an eternity given how prolific he has been in his first season at Old Trafford. But when defender Andy Wilkinson felled him midway through the second half, Van Persie stepped up to score the penalty. It was so windy that the ball initially rolled away from the penalty spot.

With Manchester City facing Chelsea in the FA Cup today, the win restored United’s Premier League lead to 15 points.

Stoke now face a trio of what look like season-defining games against fellow relegation-threatened sides: QPR, Norwich City and Sunderland. It shouldn’t be a fireable offense to lose to England’s best team – but try telling that to Sunderland’s ownership.

Former Czech Republic defender Rajtoral kills himself

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PRAGUE (AP) Former Czech Republic defender Frantisek Rajtoral, who won the domestic league title four times before joining Turkish club Gaziantepspor, died on Sunday. He was 31.

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The Czech football federation said in a statement that Rajtoral had “committed suicide in Turkey.”

His agent Pavel Zika confirmed the player’s death, describing it as a “huge tragedy.”

Gaziantepspor announced Rajtoral’s death in a brief statement on its website.

Rajtoral played 14 international matches for the Czech Republic.

In the top Czech league, he won four titles with Viktoria Plzen and played in the group stage of the Champions League twice for the club. He moved to Hannover in the Bundesliga in 2014 for half of the season, on loan.

He left Viktoria Plzen last year to move to Turkey.

Bellerin wants to represent Spain U21s despite Wenger’s wishes

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Arsene Wenger has made it clear about Hector Bellerin representing Spain this summer but the Arsenal defender is prepared to go against his manager’s wishes if he is selected.

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The 22-year-old has said he hopes to play for Spain’s Under-21 side this summer during the 2017 European U-21 Championship but Wenger has been weary of Bellerin’s injury status and wants his fullback to maintain a clean bill of health throughout the offseason.

“I really want to play,” Bellerin told IBTimes. “Representing Spain is very important. If [Albert] Celades gives me the chance I’ll be there.

“Those are opinions of the managers. I have to keep working. The truth is that I had a difficult injury but I think that I am at 100% now and I’ll try to prove it when I get the chance.”

Bellerin signed a six-and-a-half year deal with the Gunners in November, where he has resided since coming up in the club’s academy. He has made 102 appearances for Wenger’s team in that span over all competitions.

Roma boosts bid for 2nd in Serie A by beating Pescara 4-1

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PESCARA, Italy (AP) Roma boosted its bid for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the Champions League with a 4-1 win at Pescara, which was mathematically relegated on Monday.

[ MORE: Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League ]

Roma moved four points clear of third-placed Napoli, which drew against Sassuolo 2-2 on Sunday. Third place in Serie A receives a Champions League playoff.

Pescara remained 15 points behind Empoli. There are only five matches left and Empoli has the better head-to-head record, which is the deciding factor if two teams finish level on points.

There were 48 goals in total in the 33rd round, matching the record set in October 1992.

Roma took control shortly before halftime, with Kevin Strootman breaking the deadlock after Stephan El Shaarawy unselfishly rolled the ball across the area.

Radja Nainggolan, who earlier hit the bar, doubled Roma’s lead two minutes later.

Mohamed Salah extended Roma’s advantage three minutes after the break and the winger doubled his tally on the hour following a swift counterattack.

Ahmad Benali got a consolation for Pescara and a Cristiano Biraghi free kick also hit the post for the home side.

Frank Yallop resigns as Phoenix Rising coach shortly after Drogba arrival

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The timing is a bit sudden and certainly leaves many questions up in the air, but Phoenix Rising will have to look for a new manager.

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On Monday, head coach Frank Yallop resigned from his position with the United Soccer League (USL) club less than one day after former Chelsea legend Didier Drogba joined the organization as a player-owner.

With Phoenix seen as one of several lower-level clubs with ambitions of making the leap to MLS over the coming seasons, Yallop’s departure is surely a shock to many.

According to ESPN FC, Rising lead owner Berke Bakay was quite surprised by Yallop’s decision to step down, as was Drogba.

“Didier was as surprised and disappointed as we were that Frank is unable to continue coaching our Club,” Bakay told ESPN FC. “But, we all respect his decision to put his family first.

“Didier’s focus will remain on improving our team as a player and assisting our MLS expansion team ownership group as a co-owner. Frank will be helping with our international search for a new head coach.”

Rick Schantz, the current Rising assistant coach, will head the team’s managerial duties for the interim while the club completes a full search for a new manager.