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Crystal Palace eyeing Tony Pulis as replacement for Ian Holloway

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It’s a good bet that Tony Pulis is walking around with a big smile today, having been named by Crystal Palace as a potential replacement for Ian Holloway.

Pulis, who once admitted that his goal in life was to be working in top-flight football, may yet again have that opportunity after being sacked by Stoke City last summer.

That firing was largely due to Pulis’ inability to innovate Stoke’s direct style of play, putting an end to a seven year reign with the Potters (his second stint with the club) and leading many to believe that a return to the Premier League was a long shot.

While his ego may have been bruised by the Potters’ sacking, Pulis nevertheless left Stoke-on-Trent with one very important record in tact: in his 18 seasons of managing English football he has never been relegated.

It’s an achievement that Palace co-chairman Steve Parish hasn’t failed to notice. “Tony has never got relegated, has he?” the co-chairman asked. “He’s out of work, got Premier League experience. Not a bad shout. We need someone who has been there and done it and got the T-shirt. Players respond to that.”

And just like that the former Stoke manager is the favorite with betting sites across the internet, followed by Avram Grant, Martin O’Neill and Chris Coleman. Pulis had surfaced as a potential candidate for positions at Sunderland, Derby County and Middlesbrough and is known to be very close with the departed Holloway, who has given Pulis his full backing.

“Tony’s one of my best mates,” Holloway said. “I told him [Parish] it’s who you need.”

Parish’s search for his fourth manager in three years begins Thursday with Keith Millen, Palace’s No. 2, taking charge of the club for Saturday’s home match against Arsenal.

In addition to top-flight experience and the track record of having never been relegated, Pulis fits Palace’s need of being available on the cheap. Following Holloway’s departure Parish blamed the club’s “tiny infrastructure” for a “ridiculous” summer that included signing 16 new players, largely at cut-rate prices, indicating the co-chairman looks unlikely to splash the cash on a new manager.

The influx of new characters, along with the loss of Wilfried Zaha (to Manchester United) and Glenn Murray (cruciate knee injury), diluted the character of Palace, something that Holloway lamented in his out going press conference. “I didn’t value enough the spirit of the group that got us here,” Holloway said. “We changed to give us a chance to stay up but lost that spirit of the group. We’ve got worse in that vein rather than better and I owe it to the lads [who were promoted] to admit that.”

Whether Pulis is the right man for the job is a topic likely to divide the masses.

His survival rate is impressive and Pulis is known to be an upbeat personality, one capable of motivating players while turning a dull ear to critics who pan his physical, straightforward approach to the game. If the players are receptive to his approach – which will undoubtedly be the 55 year old’s greatest hurdle if he is to be appointed manager at Selhurst Park – the Eagles’ fortunes could change rather quickly.

The area of the field Pulis could have an immediate impact upon is in defense. Under Holloway’s swashbuckling style, the Eagles were often left exposed at the back where opponents picked them apart, as demonstrated by Fulham this past Monday. Palace have a nice range of athletes (Arian Mariappa, Dean Moxey and Mile Jedinak), experience (Danny Gabbidon) and talent (Joel Ward and Kagisho Dikgacoi) on the defensive side of the ball and if linked together in the right scheme, could prove quite stingy. Pulis has the tools to make this happen.

Of course, the Eagles also need help offensively. One would expect Pulis to get the best out of former Stoke man Cameron Jerome while players like Dwight Gayle, Marouane Chamakh and James Puncheon all possess those ‘grinder’ qualities that work well in a direct style of play. If he can then motivate Palace’s more clever players like Barry Bannon and Jose Campana, there’s a chance Pulis could put Palace on the right side of a few results.

But there’s a lot of ‘ifs’ there. Like Holloway, Pulis will struggle to get a hold on this squad. The wide variety of player types and personalities may be tough to reel in, especially when you’re the manager best known for a brand of football that most consider outdated and unappetizing.

And yet, perhaps that is exactly what Palace need. As Holloway found out, they Eagles are not going to out-football another Premier League team.

So maybe bit of grit, a bit of fight, a bit of anti-football might just be the prescription to cure Palace’s ailments in the Premier League.

Azpilicueta: Biggest thing is “we haven’t conceded goals” since 3-4-3 switch

SWANSEA, WALES - SEPTEMBER 11:  Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea and Modou Barrow of Swansea City chase the ball during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Chelsea at Liberty Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte has been called a mastermind in the past for his unconventional tactics. Now, it’s those same tactics that are making him look the part of a genius yet again at Stamford Bridge.

[ MORE: Is 2016/17 the closest Premier League title race ever? ]

Since changing his system to a 3-4-3 following Chelsea’s gutting 3-0 defeat against Arsenal last month, the Blues have gone on to win three straight Premier League matches, including a recent 4-0 drubbing of Manchester United on Jose Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge.

As important as the results are for Chelsea at the moment, the even more impressive aspect is the way that the Blues are winning matches. In their three consecutive victories, Conte’s side has failed to concede a goal, which has helped bring Chelsea to within a point at the summit of the PL.

Not only do the supporters appreciate Conte’s willingness to adapt and build a team that plays up to its greatest potential, but defender Cesar Azpilicueta is one of the many players that have uttered similar sentiments about the Italian’s tactics.

“I find it good. The most important thing for me is the team and since we changed the system we haven’t conceded goals in the Premier League,” he told Sky Sports.

“I try to play my part in the team. The most important part of the system is the spirit of the team and the way we work. The tactics make a difference but what was most pleasing was the way the team work made it happen. Some players have different roles now but we have all week to work on that and we have a very clear idea what to do in the game. We have different options from the attacking fullbacks now.”

[ MORE Guardiola says he needs “time to learn, to improve” at City ]

Azpilicueta has been one of three key figures for Chelsea at the back since Conte made the switch defensively, joining Gary Cahill and David Luiz in a partnership that looks hard to crack at the moment.

Report: Mexico open to hosting 2026 World Cup despite potential joint bid with U.S., Canada

PASADENA, CA - JUNE 09:  Chicharito #14 of Mexico celebrates after his goal in front of Andre Blake #1 of Jamaica to take a 1-0 lead during Copa America Centenario at the Rose Bowl on June 9, 2016 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Despite some talks linking a possible two or even three nation bid for the 2026 World Cup, Mexico has opened the door for El Tri to host the world’s biggest football competition for a record third time.

[ MORE: Liverpool reaches summit of latest PST Premier League Power Rankings ]

Mexico Football Federation president Decio de Maria recently told ESPN that he and his country are prepared to go ahead with a bid for the 2026 edition of the tournament with or without any hypothetically joint bid.

“I don’t know [whether we would pursue a joint bid] but the rules are already open to it,” De Maria said. “What was agreed upon makes the path perfectly clear.

“Mexico will be in the hunt to host the 2026 World Cup.”

In addition to Mexico, the United States has been considered an early favorite to be named hosts in 2026 after losing out to Qatar for the 2022 competition. The U.S., Mexico and Canada have also been linked with a joint bid between the three CONCACAF nations, as the region looks to bring the World Cup back to North America for the first time since 1994 (when the U.S. hosted).

Mexico previously hosted the World Cup in 1970 and 1986, and is one of four nations to have held the tournament on home soil more than once.

Report: Barcelona eyeing Nathaniel Clyne to fill right back gap

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 17:  Nathaniel Clyne of Liverpool clears the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield on January 17, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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When Dani Alves left Barcelona to join Juventus over the summer, the Blaugrana appeared to have the right back vacancy covered.

[ MORE: Guardiola says he needs “time to learn, to improve”

However, manager Luis Enrique appears to be turning his attention to the Premier League in order to replace the versatile Brazilian defender.

[ MORE: Tony Pulis extends contract with West Brom ]

According to SunSport, Barcelona is prepared to approach Liverpool’s Nathaniel Clyne during the winter transfer window as the Spanish giants look to lock down the right back position.

The 25-year-old is reportedly seen as a significant upgrade from Sergi Roberto and Aleix Vidal, both of whom have been tabbed as starters this season for Barcelona.

Clyne has appeared in 12 matches this PL season for the Reds, who currently sit tied atop the Premier League with Manchester City and Arsenal on points.

In addition to Clyne, SunSport reports that Glen Johnson is also a consideration for the Blaugrana, however, the 32-year-old is certainly not a first option for Enrique and Barcelona given his age and drop in form.

MLS Conference Semis preview: Compelling match-ups all around

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 23:  Landon Donovan of the United States celebrates with team mate Tim Howard after victory that sends the USA through to the second round during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group C match between USA and Algeria at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium on June 23, 2010 in Tshwane/Pretoria, South Africa.  (Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)
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One of Major League Soccer’s most wide open new rivalries headlines a glorious quartet of first legs when the Conference Semifinals get going on Sunday.

[ MLS: Conference semis schedule ]

Toronto FC and New York City FC have squared off five times in a nascent rivalry which has seen plenty of thrills, including a 4-4 draw in NYC last season.

TFC has three draws but is yet to top NYCFC. There are so many reasons to love this match-up: the tactical face-off between Patrick Vieira of NYC and Greg Vanney of Toronto; the combined firepower of David Villa, Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, and Andrea Pirlo.

Aside from the postage stamp pitch at Yankee Stadium for the second leg, almost everything about this is wonderful.

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: Khiry Shelton #19 of New York City FC carries the ball against Marco Delgado #18 and Michael Bradley #4 of Toronto FC at Yankee Stadium on March 13, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

[ MORE: JPW talks with USL commish Edwards ]

The other Eastern Conference semi sees the Montreal Impact building off its upset of DC United with a pair of matches against high-flying New York Red Bulls.

The first match is in Montreal, and the Stade Saputo is a big, loud place. Didier Drogba is no longer featuring for the hosts, but Ignacio Piatti has been as good as any players in the league (He deserves MVP consideration but it seems politically difficult to imagine it will go anywhere besides a New York team or Giovinco).

The Red Bulls haven’t lost since July 3, and feature a dominant group up the middle which includes Luis Robles, Dax McCarty, Sacha Kljestand, and Bradley Wright-Phillips. This, too, shall be fun.

Over in the West, we see suddenly starring Landon Donovan and the LA Galaxy opening up against surprising Colorado Rapids.

A Donovan vs. Tim Howard match-up is in some ways an Evertonian and USMNT fan’s dream, but this will be more about whether Colorado’s “no-name” — outside of Howard and Jermaine Jones — team can stare down the star power of the Galaxy. Look for sneaky star Shkelzen Gashi to make his name known a bit more for the Rapids.

[ MORE: Spain may recall David Villa ]

Finally we’ve got the hottest team in the West, Seattle Sounders, duking it out with Supporters’ Shield and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup winner FC Dallas.

The playoffs find Seattle as a minor favorite since FCD star Mauro Diaz went out for the year and Fabian Castillo skipped town for Turkey. But ruling out Matt Hedges, Walker Zimmerman, and head coach Oscar Pareja is something you’d do at your own peril.

For Seattle, there’s new star Nicolas Lodeiro and striker Jordan Morris, the latter who is delivering at an unreal level (even for a rookie as hyped as the Stanford man).

All of these matches have the potential for special soccer. Bring on Sunday.