BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26: (L-R) Crystal Palace manager Tony Pulis and Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert talk before the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Crystal Palace at Villa Park on December 26, 2013 in Birmingham, England.

Paul Lambert: There’s no magic formula

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Before Aston Villa hosted Crystal Palace, Paul Lambert made it clear that his side needed to step up and stop their run of three straight defeats. The Villa manager said, “We have to win – it will be a cracking crowd there, Boxing Day and we have to go and win.”

But the hosts were beaten by a stoppage time goal by Dwight Gayle, a goal that lifted Palace up out of the relegation zone. A goal that also put Villa within three points of the drop, after four consecutive losses. It was a classic counter attack that brought down the hosts — one that Villa themselves had put on display to beat Manchester City earlier this season.

In this match, however, it was all about possession, and that tactic didn’t pay off. The Villa were unable to do much with the ball, often resorting to hoofed balls, with shots going high or wide more often than not. It was not enough, and the home side was booed off the pitch at the final whistle.More distressing, for fans of the club at least, is the fact that Lambert’s side seem totally out of ideas.

Christian Benteke, after going ten games without a goal, is now out with injury. Andi Weimann is showing barely a spark of the form that allowed him to light up the pitch last season. And the forwards Lambert brought in  as cover — Libor Kozák, Aleksandar Tonev and Jordan Bowery — aren’t cutting it. More strangely, Lambert is keeping bright youngster Nicklas Helenius on the bench.

But, when speaking after the loss, Lambert couldn’t pin down an exact reason for his side’s failure to win. When asked about their dismal home record, with just two wins in nine matches, the Villa manager simply said,”It isn’t good enough. The lack of goals is contributing to the not winning games. You have to turn it around. There’s no magic formula.”

Yet his opponent today seemed to have found such a formula. When asked about his side’s victory, Tony Pulis said “We’ve worked very, very hard on the shape of the team, on making sure that people are in certain positions at certain times and that everybody knows what they’re supposed to do.”

It seems simple enough. And that’s just how Palace looked: compact, organized, disciplined – and willing to punish if they found an opportunity to exploit a weakness. Crystal Palace have won four of their six matches since Pulis was appointed. The formula may not be magic, but it’s certainly effective.

When wrapping up his time with the press, Lambert said, “I have looked at the table. It’s as tight as anything for midway through to right down.” Perhaps, then, what his side needs most is the same sort of approach that Pulis has taken with Palace to lift them out of the drop zone. Because Villa are, in fact, fighting a relegation battle.

Argentine star Messi leaves Honduras match with back injury

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 08:  (L-R) Jose Juan Vazquez #23 of Mexico and Lionel Messi #10 of Argentina during a international friendly at AT&T Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) Argentine soccer superstar Lionel Messi left the field with a back injury in the second half of a 1-0 victory over Honduras in a friendly Friday night.

The Argentine team captain and Barcelona star was hit on an apparently inconsequential play and immediately went to the locker room. He was replaced at the 62-minute mark by Sevilla midfielder Ever Banega and never returned to the field.

“Messi suffered a trauma to the left side of his lower back and rib cage,” the Argentine Football (Soccer) Association said in a statement, adding that doctors were looking at the injury.

[ MORE: Hull City snares last PL spot for 2016-17 ]

Messi is not a player who leaves the field with minor injuries like he did Friday at San Juan’s Bicentenario stadium.

“I would not dare to venture a diagnosis,” said a concerned Argentine manager, Gerardo Martino.

Gonzalo Higuain, who scored for Argentina, said it “was an important win and here’s hoping that what happened to Leo is nothing.”

Messi was scheduled to fly to Spain to resolve a tax issue and then rejoin the team in Santa Clara, California.

Hull City secures PL position next season

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 28: Ross Wallace of Sheffield Wednesday make a break during Sky Bet Championship Play Off Final match between Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley Stadium on May 28, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Mohamed Diame was the hero on the day for Hull City, as the Tigers gain promotion to the Premier League next season.

The Senegalese attacker sent Sheffield Wednesday packing on Saturday afternoon at Wembley Stadium after hitting a scorching long-distance effort past goalkeeper Kieren Westwood in the second half.

After an initial back-and-forth spell of chances over the opening half hour-plus, Sheffield was drastically taken out of the match as Hull began to gain their composure on the ball.

Hull City will join Championship winners Burnley and Middlesbrough in the Premier League in 2016-17 after being promoted. Relegated clubs Newcastle, Norwich City and Aston Villa will take their place in England’s second flight.

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UCL FOLLOW LIVE: Lineups as Atleti, Real duel in finale

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, right, fights for the ball with Atletico Madrid's Tiago Mendes during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. The match ended in a 1-1 draw. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
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After their devastating defeat two seasons ago, Atletico Madrid looks for revenge and their first UEFA Champions League title on Saturday against Real Madrid.

Milan will be the site for the action, as Zinedine Zidane and Real are seeking their 11th title in the competition and have the opportunity to knock Atleti out in the title match for the second time in three seasons.

To follow live, click here.

LINEUPS

Real Madrid: Navas, Marcelo, Ramos, Pepe, Carvajal, Casemiro, Kroos, Modric, Ronaldo, Bale, Benzema Subs: Casilla, James, Nacho, Lucas Vasquez, Jese, Isco, Danilo

Atletico Madrid: Oblak; Filipe Luis, Godin, Savic, Juanfran; Gabi, Fernandez, Koke, Saul Niguez; Griezmann, Torres. Subs: Moya, Tiago, Correa, Hernandez, Thomas, Ferreira-Carrasco, Gimenez.

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Atlanta United actively pursuing Mexican duo Guardado, Vela

ATLANTA, GA - JULY 07:  (L-R) Former professional soccer player Carlos Bocanegra, MLS Atlanta owner Arthur Blank, rapper Ludacris, Commissioner of MLS Don Garber, and former professional soccer player Darren Eales attend the MLS Atlanta Launch Event at SOHO on July 7, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for MLS Atlanta)
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With Atlanta United FC set to make their MLS debut in 2017, the club is reportedly set to make a major splash with one or possibly two Mexican stars.

[ MORE: Agent: Zlatan Ibrahimovic may not join Man United ]

ESPN FC‘s John Sutcliffe reported from the team’s future home, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, on Friday, saying that the team is targeting both Andres Guardado and Carlos Vela.

[ MORE: Edgar Castillo to replace Timmy Chandler for USMNT ]

Guardado, who currently plays for PSV Eindhoven, has long been a staple of the El Tri midfield, making 124 appearances for the Mexican national team.

While Vela wasn’t included in Mexico’s Copa America Centenario roster, the Real Sociedad striker has every bit of talent you’d want from a future Designated Player, which is likely what either Guardado or Vela would be.

Atlanta currently has three players on their roster. Greek goalkeeper Alexandros Tabakis, Junior Burgos and Jeffery Otoo currently round out the squad.

The potential addition(s) of an Andres Guardado or Carlos Vela would prove to be not only big for Atlanta but for MLS as a whole, more so with Vela though. MLS’ growth over recent years has brought young DPs like Sebastian Giovinco and Giovani Dos Santos to Toronto FC and the LA Galaxy, respectively.

Another league addition who is in the prime of their career will only continue to build the league’s reputation, and immediately put Atlanta on the map next season.

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