Crystal Palace earns Premier League promotion – Thoughts on Zaha, Zola, Holloway and Cassetti

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By now I hope you’ve heard about today’s thrilling finish to the English Championship where Crystal Palace defeated Watford 1-0 in extra time earning the Eagles the 20th and final spot in next year’s Premier League.

After fighting tooth-and-nail to a 0-0 draw after 90 minutes, the two sides went to extra time where the ageless Kevin Phillips blasted home a penalty just before the interval.

Here are a few thoughts on the game:

Wilfried Zaha is a gem of a player and, at £15 million, an absolute steal 

Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha, who Manchester United recently acquired for a paltry transfer fee of £15 million, is an absolute gem of a player.

He’s young (20 years old), raw, athletic and relentless. While not nearly as technically gifted, Zaha reminds me of Gareth Bale with a sprinkling of Demba Ba, Marouane Fellaini, Moussa Sissoko and Antonio Valencia.

Given his influence in both today’s match, drawing the winning penalty, and his brace in the second-leg of the Championship playoff semi-final, Palace will be devastated to see him go.

But fair play to Zaha, his departing gift for the Eagles was a fantastic match that supporters will not long forget. He could have taken it easy, knowing his ticket to the Premier League was already punched but instead, he tore it up, giving fans a taste of what’s to come. It was a very, very classy way to depart a club.

Really looking forward to watching the Ivory Coast born, England International blossom in the top-flight but have to be honest, I would’ve preferred him to play the 2013-14 season with Palace and then head to United.

Sad to see Zola stay in the Championship

I’m a bit sniffly over not having Watford manager Gianfranco Zola back in the Premier League.

The Italian was such a fabulous player both for Chelsea and the Premier League, in general. And now as a manager, he’s just a guy you want to route for. He’s got charm, commitment  passion, knowledge – the perfect makeup for a gaffer.

My gut tells me that Zola may want to stay at Watford for one more season to see the Hornets through to top-flight football. But then again, he  could very well see a nice offer come through from a club like Stoke City or Everton. Both clubs look poised to pounce on Wigan’s Roberto Martinez (Everton is also strongly linked to Porto’s Vitor Perreira) but don’t be surprised if you see the little Italian popping up in the mix.

Fired up to have Ian Holloway back in the Prem

As I reflected over Twitter earlier today, having Palace manager Ian Holloway back in the top-flight has me positively fired up. I could listen to him talk for days – easily one of world football’s best characters.

Here’s a snippet from the Palace manager after today’s match:

“I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with some great players and I’m very grateful to this bunch. We’re in the Premier League now and … god help us. We battled hard.”

If you see Marco Cassetti, buy the man a beer

Phillips’ game-winning spot kick came virtue of a reckless hack by Watford’s Marco Cassetti on Wilfried Zaha. My sympathies are with the Italian defender, who was undoubtedly drained from 105+1 grueling minutes.

Making matters even worse, Cassetti was the player who conceded the injury-time penalty that nearly cost Watford a semi-final aggregate victory over Leicester City. Tough to hate one a guy going through that so if you see Cassetti on the beach or local pub, do me a favor and buy that man a beer.

Alexis Sanchez says he “expected better” from himself at Manchester United

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Alexis Sanchez isn’t happy with his performance so far at Manchester United.

The Chilean superstar has scored just one goal for the Red Devils in 10 appearances since joining from Arsenal, and the club has lost three of those games and has been knocked out of the Champions League by Sevilla.

Speaking with Chilean media on national team duty in Sweden, Sanchez said he expects more of himself and that he’s so far let himself down. “As I am self-demanding, I expected something better,” Sanchez said. “After my arrival at United, it was hard to change everything very quickly. I even hesitated to come here [to join the national team].”

Chile missed out on World Cup qualification, and has friendlies with Sweden and Denmark scheduled over the next week. With so little at stake, Sanchez was poised to take time off from the national team, but says he was convinced by Manchester City goalkeeper and Chilean captain Claudio Bravo to stick it out.

“The change of club was something that was very abrupt – it was the first time I’ve changed clubs in January – but many things have happened in my life that are difficult,” Sanchez said. “I had asked permission to miss these games, but then I thought better and spoke with Claudio and told him that we should all be united.”

Once the international break is over, Manchester United resumes Premier League play against Swansea at the end of March before an April 7th derby meeting with Manchester City.

James Collins injured in West Ham friendly

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West Ham defender James Collins hobbled off the field in the 29th minute of the Hammers’ friendly against Dagenham & Redbridge on Wednesday, a big blow to the club’s already paper-thin back line.

With the league on an international break, West Ham agreed to play a friendly against Dagenham & Redbridge to help raise money for National League club that could be in serious financial trouble. However, it could be detrimental to the short-term future of the Hammers, who are hoping to stave off relegation, sitting just two points above the drop.

The 34-year-old defender has missed significant time this season due to injury, with an ankle injury keeping Collins out for nearly three months in 2017. West Ham has lost just four of the 12 Premier League matches Collins has appeared in this season, with three clean sheets. However, two of those have come in the club’s last three games, thrashed by a combined 7-1 scoreline between 90 minutes against Liverpool and Burnley.

The injury comes at the worst possible time, with West Ham set to play Southampton in a critical relegation matchup between teams in the in 17th and 18th in the Premier League table. The Hammers are already without defender Winston Reid who remains out for the season with a knee injury, while the club sold center-back Jose Fonte to Chinese club Dalian Yifang F.C. in late February.

West Ham was hoping to do its part to help save the London club. Former director Glyn Hopkin abruptly resigned and pulled all financial backing in early February, leaving the club fearing for its immediate future. They reportedly need $353,000 just to stay afloat the rest of the season, even with zero club debt.

Men In Blazers podcast: Mohamed Salah continues to shine

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Rog and Davo marvel at Mo Salah’s four goal, one dime haul in Liverpool’s 5-0 beatdown of Watford, analyze Jose Mourinho’s recent rants about football heritage at Manchester United, and recap Rog’s family trip to Stoke vs. Everton.

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1912 FA Cup winner’s medal stolen

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A 106-year-old footballing relic has been snatched from a house in England.

The home of the 82-year-old grandson of former Barnsley player Philip Bratley was burglarized last weekend according to the BBC and other reports, and among the items stolen was an “invaluable” FA Cup winner’s medal from 1912.

That year, Barnsley defeated West Bromwich Albion in the finals of the 41st FA Cup, with Bratley scoring the winning goal in the semifinal replay over Swindon Town. He went on to make over 100 appearances for Barnsley between 1910 and 1014 before moving transferring to Liverpool, where he spent one season before he left during the first World War.

“This item is of great sentimental value to the family and belonged to the 82-year-old victim’s grandfather who, at the time, played for Barnsley,” the South Yorkshire police said. “The family is extremely upset that this, along with many of their belongings, have been stolen. If you have any information please get in touch so we can try and reunite this invaluable item with its rightful owner.”

Barnsley has offered to assist the South Yorkshire police in their search for the stolen artifact, as those with any information are encouraged to contact either entity to share what they may know.