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.

Defoe: Sunderland’s Duncan Watmore reminds me of Gareth Bale

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Sunderland at Selhurst Park on November 23, 2015 in London, England.
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Duncan Watmore is highly regarded at Sunderland, as the 21-year-old was rewarded with a new four-year contract with the club earlier this week.

While the club has high hopes for the young winger, his teammates are taking notice as well.

[ MORE: Transfer Rumor Roundup ]

Watmore’s teammate Jermain Defoe, a seasoned veteran who knows all about succeeding in the Premier League, praised the 21-year-old’s play, comparing him to one of his former teammates at Tottenham, Gareth Bale.

In a funny way he reminds me of Gareth [Bale]. When he came on the scene at Tottenham, he used to just get the ball and glide.

He’s such a nice boy, I don’t think he’s bothered about signing new contracts and stuff, all he wants to do is play football and do well for the club.

If he can go on to do what Gareth has done then he’ll be fantastic. He’s the future of this club.

That’s quite the comparison, as Watmore has only made six Premier League appearances in his young career. Bale was twice named the Premier League Player of the Year before being sold to Real Madrid for a world record transfer fee in 2013.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

While it’s a bit too soon to be calling Watmore the next Gareth Bale, there’s no denying he could be a huge talent for Sunderland. After coming on as a substitute in the Black Cats’ win over Crystal Palace on Monday, Watmore showed his speed and willingness to run at defenders, something the club is in desperate need of. He made his debut for the England U21 side this fall, which shows his form has impressed many outside of just the North East.

After starting his career in the Manchester United youth setup, Watmore was released and played with non-league side Altrincham before signing with Sunderland in 2013. He scored 11 goals in 18 appearances last year with the U21 side, being named the Under 21 Premier League Player of the Season.

Five Premier League players make UEFA Team of the Year shortlist

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 03:  Kevin de Bruyne of Manchester City celebrates scoring his team's fourth goal with his team mate Sergio Aguero (L) during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Newcastle United at Etihad Stadium on October 3, 2015 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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UEFA has released the 40-man shortlist for the 2015 Team of the Year, with five Premier League players making the cut.

[ MORE: Champions League roundup ]

Chelsea’s Eden Hazard is on the list after being named the Premier League Player of the Year last season, as is Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez.

Manchester City accounts for the other three players, as Joe Hart, Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne have been selected. However, De Bruyne makes the list mainly based off his play for Wolfsburg last season.

Three teams have more players selected than the entire Premier League combined. Barcelona leads the list with eight players, while Bayern Munich and Juventus each have six.

[ MORE: FIFA Ethics Committee seeks lifetime ban for Sepp Blatter ]

Cristiano Ronaldo already has the most appearances on the final list with nine, and is looking to make his ninth consecutive Team of the Year. No other player has been selected more than six times since the beginning of the award, which was started in 2001.

Below is the complete 40-man shortlist.

Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (Manchester City), Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Denys Boyko (Dnipro).

Defenders: Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), David Alaba (Bayern Munich), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), David Luiz (Paris St-Germain), Dani Alves (Barcelona), Thiago Silva (Paris St-Germain), Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich), Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Javier Mascherano (Barcelona), Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid).

Midfielders: Grzegorz Krychowiak (Sevilla), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Arturo Vidal (Bayern Munich), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Marco Verratti (Paris St-Germain), Yevhen Konoplyanka (Sevilla), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), James Rodriguez (Real Madrid), Paul Pogba (Juventus), Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen).

Forwards: Gareth Bale (Real Madrid), Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Paris St-Germain), Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Neymar (Barcelona), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Alvaro Morata (Juventus), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Luis Suarez (Barcelona), Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid).

New York Red Bulls’ Jesse Marsch voted MLS Coach of the Year

Jesse Marsch
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NEW YORK (AP) — The Red Bulls’ Jesse Marsch has been voted Major League Soccer’s Coach of the Year, the first to earn the honor in the two-decade history of the New York team.

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The Red Bulls went a league-best 18-10-6 in Marsch’s first season after replacing Mike Petke, winning 14 of their last 20 games with one tie. They trail Columbus 2-0 going into Sunday’s second leg of their Eastern Conference final.

MLS said Tuesday that from combined team, media and player votes, Marsch received a weighted total of 152 out of a possible 300.

Dallas’ Oscar Pareja was second with 91 and Vancouver’s Carl Robinson third with 24.

How can Chelsea qualify for last 16 of Champions League?

HAIFA, ISRAEL - NOVEMBER 24: Willian of Chelsea celebrates scoring his teams second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group G match between Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC and Chelsea FC at Sammy Ofer Stadium on November 24, 2015 in Haifa, Israel.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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With one match left in UEFA Champions League group play, Chelsea control their own destiny.

After beating Maccabi Tel-Aviv 4-0, the Blues sit tied with FC Porto on ten points at the top of Group G.

[ MORE: Champions League standings

However, with Dynamo Kyiv earning a big win over Porto on Tuesday, Chelsea must wait until the final matchday to qualify for the knockout round, as there is a possibility of a three-way tie for the top spot in Group G.

With Chelsea hosting Porto on December 9, here are the scenarios for Jose Mourinho’s men to assure advancement.

  • A win over Porto will clinch Chelsea the top spot and a place in the last 16.
  • A draw against Porto will see Chelsea advance.
    • Chelsea draw/Dynamo win: Chelsea win group, Dynamo finish second
    • Chelsea draw/Dynamo draw or loss: Porto win group, Chelsea finish second
  • A loss to Porto and a Dynamo Kyiv draw/loss to Maccabi Tel-Aviv will see Chelsea finish second in the group and advance to the last 16.
  • The Blues have secured at least a berth in the Europa League, regardless of the result in their final match.

Simply put, get a point at Stamford Bridge and Chelsea advance.