Manchester United, Real Sociedad plod along to a 0-0 Champions League draw

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Just days away from a huge Premier League clash with league leading Arsenal, perhaps Manchester United could be forgiven for a European night that seemed to be all about holding serve.

From the lineup selections to a wee lack of urgency from the UEFA Group A leaders, it all seemed a bit deflated as Manchester United and last place Real Sociedad exchanged a couple of bad misses, a few half chances and not much else. United will retain a Group A lead after the 0-0 draw, one where the second half did come to life a bit, at least, following a first 45 that could kindly be termed “sleepy.”

The second period included a notorious miss from Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and a squandered penalty kick from Robin van Persie – one that came after what looked very much like a disgraceful dive from Ashley Young.

Regardless, the whiff of crisis now dissipated around David Moyes’ Manchester United, a point on the road in Spain (where the Red Devils have traditionally experienced precious little success) will do for Moyes’ men ahead of Sunday’s Old Trafford date with Arsene Wenger and Co.

There was so little happening during a languid first half Tuesday. A little elbow from Hernandez here, a little thrust by Wayne Rooney there and … not much else to say about a cautious approach from both sides on a damp, windy night in San Sebastian in the north of Spain.

Marouane Fellaini’s booking not long before the break gave everyone a little something to talk about, especially when he fouled right away to begin the second period. (Sure enough, he was off in the 89th for a second yellow card.)

Sociedad may have been the home team, but the Spanish side, doing better lately in La Liga, didn’t fire toward David De Gea in Manchester United goal until 28 minutes in.

The tempo quickening some, Real Sociedad started the second 45 with a couple of quick half-chances, right before the blown chance that will have Red Devils fans buzzing.

Shinji Kagawa, a bit ill-suited for his left-sided role in United’s 4-4-2 but surely happy to be on the field, found space to deliver a sharp, low ball from the left. Hernandez did what he does best, expertly timing his burst of separation from a defender – but then blasting his uncontested left-footed shot from six yards implausibly high over goal.

It was the kind of miss that we have seen more often from Chicharito in a Mexican shirt rather than United colors.

Van Persie had been on the field just two minutes when he clanged one off the post from close range. The Dutchman came on for Rooney in the 63rd minute. Kagawa, United’s most productive attacker, was part of that build-up, too.

Four minutes after that, Van Persie’s blast from the penalty spot went thumping off the right post. He was at the spot after the softest of arm tugs had felled Young a step inside the penalty area.

Van Persie and Young did add more punch to the visitor’s attack, and United had most of the ball, always seeming more likely to score, although clear chances remained fairly rare for both teams.

One of six changes from the weekend to Moyes’ lineup was Ryan Giggs, assigned to the starting bunch about three weeks ahead of his 40th birthday. The other notable change was in Mexican international Hernandez replacing Van Persie – which probably has a lot to do with United’s upcoming PL fixture.

Lineups

Real Sociedad: Bravo; Carlos Martinez, Gonzalez, Inigo Martinez, de la Bella; Pardo, Markel Bergara, Zurutuza; Vela, Agirretxe, Griezmann

Manchester United: De Gea, Evra, Ferdidand, Vidic, Smalling; Valencia, Fellaini, Giggs, Kagawa; Hernadez, Rooney

Rio prosecutors launch probe into soccer final violence

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro launched an investigation Thursday into the fan violence surrounding the Copa Sudamericana final between local club Flamengo and Argentine team Independiente.

[ SOURCE: LAFC close to signing third DP, Geraldes of Sporting CP ]

Clashes broke out on the night before Wednesday’s match at Maracana Stadium, and continued throughout the day. There was vandalism inside the stadium during the match and violence afterward, with more than 50 Flamengo supporters being detained over the two days.

The Rio prosecutor’s office said in a statement it would be questioning officials at Brazil’s football confederation, South American soccer’s ruling body, CONMEBOL, and local police about the incidents.

The statement added that “a profound investigation of the facts is needed so we can identify and punish the criminals that disguised as fans to spread chaos, fear and disorder in society.”

Major Silvio Luiz, head of policing for the final, criticized Flamengo’s handling of ticket sales.

Flamengo drew the second-leg match 1-1, and lost the final 3-2 on aggregate. The Copa is the second most prestigious club competition in South American soccer.

Ligue 1 set to use VAR starting in 2018/19 season

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With video replay technology becoming more and more prevalent in soccer across the globe, another major European league has revealed it too will join those ranks.

[ SOURCE: LAFC set to sign third DP with Sporting CP’s Geraldes ]

Ligue 1 has announced that the French top flight will begin to utilize video replay and have a video assistant referee (VAR) starting in the 2018/19 season.

Major League Soccer and the German Bundesliga are just two of the major global leagues to implement the system thus far. In MLS, the technology can be used in four instances; when goals are scored, during penalty situations, when a straight red card is given and during cases of mistaken identity.

French outlet L’Equipe wrote on Thursday that Ligue 1 would also follow a similar structure in what decisions VAR officials will be reviewable.

Spain has also announced that it will introduce VAR in 2018, ahead of the next La Liga season.

Top Premier League storylines — Week 17

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The title is looking more and more like it’s heading to Manchester, so will Tottenham be able to slow the Premier League leaders on Saturday?

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

 

Here are the four biggest storylines ahead of this weekend’s action.

Can anyone stop the Cityzens?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

Nobody has found a way to halt Pep Guardiola‘s side yet this season in PL play, so why would that change this weekend? City remain unbeaten through 17 matches, and while Spurs enter the weekend unbeaten in its last four, Mauricio Pochettino and Co. have their work cut out. The City attack, which has scored 52 goals this season, has shown no signs slowing down during the first four-and-a-half months of play, giving Tottenham a big test defensively. Harry Kane and his 12 goals will surely have a say in the get together, but Spurs has been lacking thus far in another go-to finisher.

Will the Toffees keep rolling under Big Sam?

Everton vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

It’s been quite the turnaround recently at Goodison Park, and Everton has the chance to extend its unbeaten streak to six games on Monday. Sam Allardyce has brought life to the Toffees as of late, with Everton scoring 11 goals over the last five matches.

Foxes aim to climb higher, while Palace shoots for safety

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Foxes have found their footing this season, and dare I say there are some glimpses of the team that won the title two years ago? Since Leicester’s 2-0 defeat to Man City, the Foxes have looked the part of a top-tier PL side, winning four of five matches, including victories over Tottenham and Burnley. Meanwhile, Palace has made the relegation battle a very intriguing one, as Roy Hodgson and Co. sit just a point inside the bottom three. Amazingly, Palace is unbeaten in seven of its last eight matches, but the club remains in 18th place.

Clarets aim for third consecutive victory

Brighton vs. Burnley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Clarets don’t boast a bonafide goalscorer, but Burnley looks like a well-oiled machine as Sean Dyche‘s side sits on the edge of the top four. Although the side likely won’t be pulling off a Leicester-sided feat in 2017/18, what the Clarets are accomplishing is quite amazing given the squad currently in place. Brighton has gone through its share of struggles recently, going winless in its last six matches, and scoring just three goals in that span. They’ll likely have a hard time breaking past Burnley’s tough backline.

NYCFC busy on Thursday with Abdul-Salaam, Stuver additions

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New York City FC is moving on from the club’s first-ever MLS SuperDraft selection, but they’ll be acquiring a solid defensive piece as the team continues to rebuild at the back.

[ SOURCE: LAFC finalizing deal to make Sporting CP’s Geraldes third DP ]

On Thursday, NYCFC announced a trade sending former 2015 first-round pick Khiry Shelton to Sporting KC in exchange for defender Saad Abdul-Salaam.

Shelton, who spent three seasons with NYCFC, struggled to find playing time under manager Patrick Vieira, particularly once the organization drafted England youth international Jack Harrison in 2016.

Vieira and Co. will be getting back a player also selected in the 2015 SuperDraft in Abdul-Salaam.

With the departures of Ethan White, RJ Allen and Andraz Struna this offseason, the move certainly makes sense for NYCFC, who were severely lacking at the right back position heading into this week.

NYCFC signed Malmo defender Anton Tinnerholm on Wednesday to help improve the backline.

The Eastern Conference side also added goalkeeper Brad Stuver from the Columbus Crew on Thursday, with the 26-year-old presumably serving as the backup to Sean Johnson in 2018.