Manchester United officially clinches 20th league championship

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A story that started about 11 months ago has now been told. And how.

Manchester United fumbled away the English Premier League crown a year ago, squandering a late-season lead as rival Manchester City improbably, notoriously tiptoed away with the last-minute glory in May of 2012.

Sir Alex Ferguson and his Manchester United bunch set immediately about putting that right. Through the 2012-13 English Premier League campaign, the men of Old Trafford toiled and boiled and churned and never took their eyes off the EPL prize.

Then they ran away with the doggone thing. This took on the whiff of “foregone conclusion” more than two months ago. It has been a fait accompli, all but officially, for the last month now.

Monday it became official, a 3-0 win over Aston Villa at Old Trafford mathematically wrapping up the Premier League crown – still a month from last kick in the world’s most storied association.

This was Manchester United’s 20th league crown. In terms of Premier League titles proper (the league has been labeled as such since 1992), Manchester United has 13 crowns – a phenomenal total considering that no other club has more than three crowns.

What distinguishes the latest Manchester United coronation is that this version is rather undistinguished. This is not like the Red Devils of 1999 and 2008, signature sides of the Ferguson era, the fabulously talented groups that ruled the Premier League matters. David Beckham, Peter Schmeichel, a young Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane and Dwight Yorke were marquee men of the former; Edwin van der Sar, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez, Scholes and Giggs (still) highlighted the latter. These were all giants of their era. (OK, “eras” in the cases of the ageless Giggs and Scholes.)

(MORE: Robin van Persie’s hat trick Monday, in context)

The current version is not a signature squad in terms of talent. In fact, we don’t need too fine a microscope to identify real flaws in this roster.

David de Gea in goal? He’s not there yet, not close to Schmeichel-esque. The defending was left quite iffy once captain Nemanja Vidic suffered yet another injury setback. Michael Carrick has been effective in midfield, but he won’t make anybody’s World Best XI.  Nor will Rooney nowadays – not outside of England, anyway.

Robin van Persie is truly the Red Devils only world class star of the moment. And yet, take a gander at that luxurious lead in the Premiership table.  That spells dominance, no matter which way you turn it.

This latest title, the milepost 20th, is all about Ferguson’s drive and the group’s collective desire, unflinching and always so determined, to grind on. They won early and late and at all points in between, never losing footing nor focus while the pursuers took the occasional spill. Those seem so inevitable over such a taxing campaign. Inevitable, that is, but for the most stubbornly single-minded assemblies.

The Premier League has demanded that United wait until its home finale (May 12 vs. Swansea) to actually, physically lift the Premier League trophy. Never mind that. The players celebrated well after Monday’s final whistle. And it seemed about time – the rough draft on this one has been long since finished.

(MORE: Robin van Persie’s stunning strike, the best of his Monday trio)

From van Persie, in his first year at  Old Trafford since the high profile move out of his longtime Arsenal home: “I feel very happy, I had to wait so long for my first title. We’ve got a fantastic team, great players, it’s a championship for every single one of them. Managers, trainers, physios, staff, everyone deserves this.”

Griezmann’s advisor namechecks Man Utd, 4 others

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Antoine Griezmann has maintained a desire to stay at Atletico Madrid, but his advisor says the French striker has five realistic destinations for next season if he doesn’t stay at the Vicente Calderon.

Speaking on the French outlet Telefoot, advisor Eric Olhats says the 26-year-old Griezmann is limited by his $109 million release clause.

[ MORE: Zlatan’s comeback vow; Mata close ]

Griezmann has 25 goals and 11 assists this season, slightly lighter on the goals and a step up in helpers with Atleti alive in two competitions this season. He’s still played centrally and wide right, and Yannick Carrasco is starring on the left.

From Sky Sports:

“There is an unavoidable 100m clause so that restricts the number of candidates. You have United, City, Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

“United were the first to come and see us and the most concrete in their wishes.”

Griezmann to the Premier League is a move many would love to see, or at least a new challenge for the fantastic attacker. With respect to Barcelona and Real Madrid, we’ve seen plenty of top La Liga talents move within the division.

Of course, there would be something special to both Diego Simeone and Griezmann winning the UEFA Champions League and defending it at Atleti. Something tells us their fate in this year’s semifinal against Real Madrid may tip the scales for both men, or at least Griezmann.

Zlatan posts comeback vow; Mata nears return

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One of the more unique personalities in the sports world, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has released comments and a leggy photo following news that he’ll need ACL and PCL surgery.

The Swedish star was injured in stoppage time of Manchester United’s UEFA Europa League quarterfinal win over Anderlecht, and tests revealed the injury was serious.

Ibrahimovic, 35, had not signed his contract extension with United, but it seemed more likely as time wore on. He finishes his first season with 28 goals and 10 assists, an unfettered success in his Premier League bow.

Despite the severe nature of his injury, Ibrahimovic vowed to return by posting a picture of his massive, uncovered legs in front of a fireplace (See full Instagram message at bottom).

“One thing is for sure, I decide when it’s time to stop and nothing else. Giving up is not an option. See you soon.”

One of United’s locker room leaders is backing him. Ander Herrera told a Swedish outlet that Ibrahimovic spoke to the team and wished them luck with the rest of the season.

“But he did not say much, really. He wished us only good luck with the rest of the season. He has an incredible mentality and a great physique, I have never seen such a good football body.”

I don’t think anyone doubts that Ibrahimovic will come back and play at a high level, but a starring role in the Premier League is a big ask. Because of that, will he be more motivated to reprove himself with United and less motivated to test out MLS or another league?

There is some good news for United, as Juan Mata says he hopes to be back with the team soon.

PL title & FA Cup in sight, Conte says Chelsea still rebuilding

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Antonio Conte might be just seven games away from guiding Chelsea to a Premier League and FA Cup double this season, but the Blues’ first-year Italian manager insists his squad is nowhere near being a finished product.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Speaking after Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal triumph over Tottenham Hotspur, Conte insisted that the team he inherited last summer, after a disastrous 10th-place finish in the PL, is “in a period of transition” and that “[they] need time” as the club moves on from an accomplished, foundational generation — quotes from Sky Sports:

“I think that now at Chelsea we are in a period of transition. In this season, we have lost (Branislav) Ivanovic, (John Obi) Mikel and next season we lose John Terry.

“We are talking about players who wrote the history of this club. They won a lot. Now we have to find the right substitutes for these players and then work to put these players at the same level.

“I think that in the period with Carlo (Ancelotti) — and Carlo is the best Italian coach, I have great respect for him — he arrived at Chelsea when they had a really strong squad. Now we are building. We are building something important. We need time.”

[ MORE: Kante takes home PFA Player of the Year | Dele wins Young Player ]

Conte is doing two things with the above comments: 1) he’s tempering expectations for next season, when Chelsea will be back in the UEFA Champions League and automatically expected to repeat as PL champions — not to mention, taking a bit of pressure off in these final two months of the 2016-17 season; and, 2) pointing out just how impressive his work to date has been, the fact he’s potentially seven games away from lifting two trophies in seven days’ time next month.

Ligue 1: Mbappe, Falcao fire Monaco top again

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PARIS (AP) Strikers Radamel Falcao and Kylian Mbappe continued their fine form with a goal each to help Monaco secure a 2-1 win at Lyon and reclaim top spot in the French league on Sunday.

Monaco moves above defending champion Paris Saint-Germain on goal difference, with Monaco having played a game less. PSG has four games left.

“It wasn’t easy and it was a big win for us tonight,” Monaco center half Andrea Raggi said. “We all play for each other and it’s now or never.”

It has been an astonishing season for Monaco, which has now scored 143 goals in all competitions and remains on course for the treble. Monaco faces PSG in the French Cup semifinals next Wednesday.

Falcao and Mbappe scored in midweek when Monaco beat German side Borussia Dortmund 3-1 in the return leg of their Champions League quarterfinal to reach the last four 6-3 on aggregate.

Lyon also did well in Europe, going through on penalty kicks away to Turkish club Besiktas to reach the last four in the Europa League.

Falcao and the 18-year-old Mbappe have combined for 51 goals.

Falcao put Monaco ahead in the 36th minute with a header from close range – his 28th goal of the season – and Mbappe made it 2-0 just before halftime with a trademark surging run and cool finish for his 23rd.

“I just try and give my best whenever I play,” said Mbappe, who has recently been called into the France team. “I wasn’t playing much at the start of the season, so I’m still quite fresh and I hope I can help us win the remaining games.”

PSG beat Montpellier 2-0 at home on Saturday with Edinson Cavani scoring his 31st league goal of the season and 44th overall.

Nice has already guaranteed third place and a spot in the qualifying round for next season’s Champions League.

But with four games remaining, it is six points behind Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain. Nice hosts PSG next Sunday.

Striker Corentin Jean gave mid-table Toulouse the lead in the 57th minute. Midfielder Valentin Eysseric continued his fine form with the equalizer three minutes later.

The game was briefly halted early in the first half after a group of Saint-Etienne supporters forced themselves into the stadium.

The match was supposed to be played behind closed doors as a punishment for unruly supporters during Saint-Etienne’s local derby against Lyon.

After a brief delay for police to remove the fans, Slovakia striker Robert Beric put the home side ahead in the 39th and center half Edson Mexer leveled just before the break.

Saint-Etienne is in seventh place, while Rennes is ninth.