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Premier League Preview: Manchester United vs. Cardiff City

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  • Manchester United’s 37 points through 22 matches are fewest for club in history of the Premier League.
  • Cardiff last won at Old Trafford in 1954.
  • Craig Pawson’s your referee

Manchester United’s relative struggles at Old Trafford inspired podcasters The Football Ramble to hilariously search for a new nickname for the building, but Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s return to the building as Cardiff City manager will bring plenty of positive memories and familiar faces into the Theater of Dreams on Tuesday. (Watch at 2:45pm ET on on NBC Sports Live Extra).

And while “LOL’D Trafford” and “The Al Ferguson Loser Dome” are worth a few laughs, surely Red Devils supporters haven’t been giggling it up as their team was booted from the League Cup at home and losing three of five Premier League fixtures at their former fortress.

Enter Solskjaer, who scored 91 goals over 10 years for Manchester United and comes with an unknown number of old friends. There’s former Manchester United youth star Magnus Wolff Eikrem and recent Red Devils red cardee Fabio in addition to on-loan Wilfried Zaha as Solskjaer stocks Vincent Tan’s cupboard with players he knows from his days developing players in Manchester.

Despite all that familiarity, it’s a new face who deserves all the run. Juan Mata will don the No. 8 as he’s expected to make his bow after leaving the clutches of Jose Mourinho at the bargain basement price of 37.1 million pounds (which could buy you 211 average houses in Manchester).

WATCH LIVE ONLINE VIA NBC SPORTS LIVE EXTRA, 2:45PM ET, TUESDAY

Cardiff’s picked up a pair of road FA Cup wins at Newcastle and Bolton but hasn’t won away from home in the Premier League in eight matches, since a 2-1 win at Craven Cottage in late September. They haven’t won at all in PL play in six tries, dating back to a 1-0 win over fellow strugglers West Bromwich Albion on Dec. 14.

What They’re Saying

Cardiff boss Solskjaer on returning to Old Trafford: “I have always had a great relationship with Manchester United’s fans. Back in Norway, when we’ve been watching United games over the years, I’ve nudged the kids and said: ‘They are still singing about your dad.’ I am not that emotional a man so it is hard to say how I will feel. You never know. Sometimes, it just catches you, doesn’t it? Like when you do your wedding speech.”

Mata upon his arrival at Manchester United: “I would like to win the Premier League here, it’s a very special trophy for every player who plays in this country and it would be amazing, and I think at this club you can achieve it because this club is used to winning leagues and I will try my best. Obviously I’m still young and I’ve been lucky to win some trophies but I want to win lots more.”

Prediction

There are some who say Manchester United’s leaky defense will prevent them from a return to Champions League football, but Mata’s arrival and Wayne Rooney’s expected return make them dangerous even if Robin van Persie isn’t ready today (which he just may be). Whether you’re calling it the “Theater of Dreams” or the “Theater of Screams,” it’ll be rowdy tonight. I would not dream of betting against Manchester United here. In fact, here’s my proffer: two goals to the good for the Red Devils. 3-1 your final.

Napoli fans wear Koulibaly masks to support defender after racial abuse

NAPLES, ITALY - FEBRUARY 07:  Fans of Napoli  during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Carpi FC at Stadio San Paolo on February 7, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
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Napoli fans showed their support for Kalidou Koulibaly on Sunday after the Senegalese center-back was the subject of racial abuse in a match against Lazio last week.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

The Lazio match was temporarily stopped in the second half as Lazio supporters hurled racial insults at Koulibaly.

At Napoli’s match against Carpi on Sunday, fans wore Koulibaly masks and painted signs in his honor to show their support for the 24-year-old defender.

A statement from Napoli’s supporters’ group read: “Everyone in Naples is offended by what happened to our young star. Because of this, we want to show our full support to Koulibaly.”

[ VIDEO: Van Gaal rips journalist who questions his Manchester United future ]

Lazio was fined more than $50,000 and will be forced to close certain sections of their stadium for the next two league matches because of the incident.

Afobe says he scored 15 goals a game with Harry Kane at the Arsenal academy

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on February 2, 2016 in London, England.
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Benik Afobe and Harry Kane are Premier League foes, but as kids, they were teammates.

Now Afobe is at Bournemouth and Kane at Tottenham, though both strikers played together with the Arsenal U-9 team as children.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal ]

While Kane left Arsenal at 10 and eventually settled at crosstown rivals Tottenham, Afobe stayed under contract with the club until 2015 despite never making an appearance for the Gunners.

Afobe went on six loan spells before moving to Wolverhampton last season, then joining Bournemouth in January.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

With three goals in his first five Premier League matches for the Cherries, Afobe is no stranger to scoring, as he said he would combine with Harry Kane for 15 goals a game back in the day.

I’ve got pictures of us from Arsenal.

He was so small at the time, a bit of a late developer, but he’s always loved scoring. The scores used to be 17-15 and stuff – we just knew we’d score in every game.

But it’s weird because he used to play in goal sometimes, and wasn’t bad actually. You wouldn’t think it – remember that goal he let in for Tottenham a couple of years ago (against Asteras Tripolis in the Europa League) when he had to play in goal.

I think Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs’ supporters are happy Harry Kane chose to play striker over goalkeeper…

[ MORE: Deficiencies visible on both sides as Chelsea draw Manchester United ]

Kane has proven that he is an elite goalscorer in the Premier League, and Afobe is off to a fine start himself. With both players just 22-years-old, we’ll likely be seeing many more goals to come from the duo.

Gary Neville under pressure as Valencia without a win in nine

EIBAR, SPAIN - DECEMBER 13:  Head coach Gary Neville of Valencia CF reacts during the La Liga match between SD Eibar and Valencia CF at Ipurua Municipal Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Eibar, Spain.  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
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Gary Neville was appointed manager at Valencia on December 2. He is still yet to win a La Liga match.

After falling 1-0 to Real Betis on Sunday, Neville is now winless in nine league matches at Valencia as pressure grows on the new boss.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

Some have called for Neville to step down from his position, as the club has fallen from 8th to 13th and now sit just four points clear of the drop.

However, the former Manchester United legend has said he has been judged too quickly and will work hard to turn things around.

I said before I came that I would be judged in five months. I have been judged in six weeks.

There’s no doubt that at times like this everyone needs to stay together.

Everyone suffers. It’s just not going for us at the moment. I continue to work, I continue to have belief.

Conversations with the owners are between me and the owners. We have to turn it round quickly, I understand that. It is hard to explain the defeat. It will turn.

Not only has Neville struggled in La Liga play, but he has also seen Valencia bounced from the Champions League and saw his side smashed 7-0 by Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semifinal.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United ]

Valencia’s next league match is on Saturday against Espanyol, who sit three points below Valencia and haven’t won a match since December. If Neville fails to win again, there could be some real trouble at the Mestalla.

PSG down Marseille 2-1 for ninth-straight Le Classique win

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 21:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic #10 of Paris Saint-Germain is congratulated by teamamte Maxwell #17 after Ibrahimovic scored a goal in the second half against AFC Fiorentina during the International Champions Cup at Red Bull Arena on July 21, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.Paris Saint-Germain defeated ACF Fiorentina 4-2.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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France’s biggest rivalry has been quite one-sided, as Paris Saint-Germain defeated Marseille 2-1 on Sunday to take their ninth-straight Le Classique.

Marseille’s last win over PSG in Ligue 1 play was in November of 2011.

[ MORE: Juve win 14th straight ]

PSG got off to a dream start in Sunday’s Classique as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in the opening two minutes to give the Le Parisiens an early lead. It was Zlatan’s league-leading 21st goal of the season.

On loan from Newcastle, Remy Cabella equalized for Marseille in the 25th minute. Cabella scored on a brilliant individual effort, taking the ball from his own half on a solo run to the PSG box before firing a low shot into the bottom corner.

[ RELATED: Lewandowski’s agent confirms contract talks with Bayern Munich ]

However, PSG pushed on and claimed the win thanks to a 71st minute goal from Angel di Maria, who has been impressing in his first season in Paris. With eight goals and ten assists in Ligue 1 play, only Zlatan has been involved in more goals than di Maria.

Through 25 matches, PSG hold a ridiculous 24-point lead at the top of the Ligue 1 table.