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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.”

After January camp, USMNT looks to rosters for World Cup, Olympic qualifying

at StubHub Center on January 31, 2016 in Carson, California.
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The United States men’s national team finished its experimental January camp with a 2-0 record, and now trains its eyes on World Cup and Olympic qualifying.

The last part is critical not just because of the ramifications of a potential second-successive Olympic absence for the men’s U-23 side.

[ USMNT: Tops Iceland 3-2 | Knocks off Canada, too ]

The Yanks have to deftly divide their player pool because March 25 and 29 are not only the dates for the next round of World Cup qualifying matches — a home-and-home series with Guatemala — but also the dates for the U-23s’ pair of matches with Colombia.

That’s why Jordan Morris isn’t likely headed to Guatemala City, and the same is true for impressive January camper Jerome Kiesewetter and new Chelsea defender Matt Miazga.

[ JPW: Recapping the top stories from an intense Premier League weekend ]

Bobby Wood, John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin are also eligible for the U-23s, but there’s the rub. All three are in good form for country, and only Yedlin isn’t playing well for his club (That’s because Sam Allardyce isn’t using him much at all. His substitute appearance against Liverpool was his first action since Jan. 9).

New England midfielder Lee Nguyen impressed Jurgen Klinsmann during January camp, and it’s hard to ignore the impact of Steve Birnbaum’s goal and assist.

Assuming health, here’s our best guess at who’s making the squad for Guatemala on March 25 and 29. It’s worth noting that six MLS clubs play on March 26 (NYC, New England, Vancouver, Houston, DC and Dallas):

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson

Defenders: DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks, Matt Besler, Steve Birnbaum, Geoff Cameron, Brad Evans, Jonathan Spector, Tim Ream

Midfielders: Fabian Johnson, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Danny Williams, Lee Nguyen, Darlington Nagbe

Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Gyasi Zardes, Bobby Wood, Aron Johannsson

Report: Atletico’s Fernando Torres has interest from MLS, NASL

Real Madrid v Atletico de Madrid - Copa del Rey: Round of 16
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Spanish outlet Marca claims that a number of North American sides are among the clubs chasing Fernando Torres.

The Spanish striker has only scored more than 11 goals once since 2009-10, and is uncapped since 2014. But that doesn’t mean clubs from China to to the U.S. and the UAE to Japan aren’t interested in the 31-year-old.

[ JPW: Recapping the top stories from an intense Premier League weekend ]

The Marca report claims three MLS teams are interested and also name drops the New York Cosmos of the NASL, who’ve recently brought Venezuelan legend Juan Arango on board.

It’s hard to imagine anyone outside the MLS rich sides taking a risk on Torres. Maybe Montreal would look to reunite him with Didier Drogba, and Torres certainly has experience combining with New York City’s David Villa. As for the third… Orlando City? Chicago?

Your guess is as good as ours, though it could be moot if this is solely about money. China continues to spend well.

Difficult fixture run looms as Aston Villa aims for great escape

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  Joleon Lescott of Aston Villa (3L) celebrates with team mates as he scores their first goal with a header during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Crystal Palace at Villa Park on January 12, 2016 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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Gabriel Agbonlahor is riding high, as the Premier League Player of the Week broke his duck this weekend and is thinking “great escape” for his Aston Villa side.

Villa has eight points in its last five matches, doubling its season total to 16. That’s still table bottom, but Remi Garde’s bunch would love to see their way out of the drop zone after a brutal start to the season under Tim Sherwood.

What would it take for Villa to pull that off, and avoid the first Premier League relegation in club history?

[ MORE: Premier League Team of the Week ]

Turns out, a lot.

There is no easy match in the next five, and Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal are all on the schedule after that.

Villa next five matches
Feb. 14 – vs. Liverpool
Feb. 27 – at Stoke City
March 1 – vs. Everton
March 5 – at Manchester City
March 12 – vs. Spurs

The Villans do have three relegation six-pointers left, and two of those are at Villa Park with Bournemouth and Newcastle United. Villa also heads to Swansea City.

But Villa has to make up 12 points on the Cherries, 11 on Swans and eight on the Magpies. And while they are within two goals difference of Newcastle, they have eight goals to make up on Bournemouth and 11 to make up on Swansea.

That doesn’t include Sunderland and Norwich, sides four and seven points ahead of the Villans (though both have tricky runs left as well).

If Garde’s club is to make its escape, it will be close to unbelievable. That it will close with a match against Arsenal makes it even trickier, but that would be just the final impressive note in what could only be considered a Garde-conducted masterpiece.

VIDEO: Recapping the top stories from an intense Week 25 in the Premier League

JPW at Stamford Bridge
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What a weekend. Let’s relive it.

Round 25 of the Premier League provided plenty more thrills, shocks and excitement as two unlikely title contenders — Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur — are pushing ahead.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Our own Joe Prince-Wright recaps all the major headlines from what could turn out to be a pivotal weekend in the Premier League title race.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League news

Click play on the video below to join JPW as he battles the elements and checks in from outside Stamford Bridge in London following Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United.