Crystal Palace’s Joe Ledley joins PST to preview huge Manchester United clash

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EXCLUSIVE — As dream debuts go, Joe Ledley’s was right up there with the best as he scored in Crystal Palace’s 3-1 win over West Bromwich Albion in Palace’s last home game.

The Welsh international midfielder joined the Eagles from Scottish powerhouse Celtic on transfer deadline day, and along with Palace’s other new signings, made an immediate impact in his home debut. Needless to say, Palace’s fans will be hoping Ledley can again fire his new side to victory against Manchester United this Saturday (Watch live on NBC, 12:30pm ET and online via Live Extra) as the Eagles have won five of their seven home games since new boss Tony Pulis arrived in November.

Ledley, 27, has played in some huge games in the UEFA Champions League, won titles in Scotland and has shone with Wales throughout his career so far. While he was playing for Cardiff City as a youngster in the Championship, the talented midfield player was courted by some massive teams in England and even AS Roma in Italy, but he chose to head to Scotland four years ago.

But the lure of playing in the Premier League means he’s now switched Celtic Park for Selhurst Park.

“I had some fantastic years at Celtic, it is a brilliant club and I enjoyed every minute of it,” Ledley said. “But I just felt to have the opportunity to play in the Premier League, not many players get that chance, and with my age I thought it was time for me to go for it.”

And go for it he has. During his debut Ledley started off in the unfamiliar role of left back, but then moved into midfield after burying a header in the first half to put Palace 2-0 up. He admits his favored role is in central midfield, but he will play anywhere his manager wants him to.

(WATCH LIVE: Crystal Palace vs. Manchester United – 12:30pm ET, NBC and via Live Extra)

The Welshman, who is often lauded for his composure on the ball and his superb range of passing, spoke about what’s different in the PL and how much of a challenge it will be for him in England’s top-flight.

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Ledley scored on his Palace debut, and is hoping his side can down United at home this Saturday.

“The tempo is quicker and all of the players have more ability. I’ve played in the Champions League and its similar to that but it’s a higher tempo. Playing in the Premier League, you will get that every week. It’s a great challenge for me, obviously I’ve played in big games in the Champions League but now to be playing week in, week out in the PL is going to be a big challenge.”

Facing the reigning PL Champions, albeit a team on the slide, Manchester United is going to be a big challenge for Palace to get something from this Saturday, but Ledley revealed the squad are embracing  it.

“We are looking forward to it, we are doing okay at the moment,” Ledley said. “We are looking forward to playing against the likes of Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and van Persie. We know it’s going to be a very difficult game but we look forward to it.”

As for United and why they’ve struggled in David Moyes’ first season in charge at Old Trafford, Ledley couldn’t put his finger on the main reason, but insisted the Red Devils will turn things around. That said, he’s hoping Palace can nick one point, or take all three, in what would be their first-ever win against United in the Premier League.

“They are Manchester United. They have some great individual players and they are a great club,” Ledley said. “Somehow, it just hasn’t worked this season. But it’s only a matter of time until they start going and start performing. It’s going to be difficult but with our fantastic support, which has been brilliant, if we can get through the game and get three points or a point that would be a fantastic achievement.”

(MORE: Ledley shines on debut, as Palace bag vital win – video)

Palace had such a poor start to the current PL campaign, losing nine of their first 10 games and were rooted to the bottom of the standings for much of the season. Then new boss Pulis arrived and the Eagles have soared clear of danger, but not too far, as the clubs around them have also been revitalized with the bottom half of the table so tight.

Just four points separate 1oth place Swansea from Sunderland in 18th, and Ledley knows Palace must keep focused to avoided the dreaded drop.

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With the Eagles embroiled in the relegation battle, Ledley believes his side can stay up and kick on in the PL next season.

“You need to take it game by game, everyone knows how tight it is down the bottom,” Ledely said. “You can see how just about anyone can go down. We have to try and concentrate on ourselves and not get too carried away with things around us. We just need to get as many points as we can.”

If Palace managed to do that this season, there’s a real chance they can kick on and become an established PL team in the future. Ledley is dreaming of that, as his chance in the Premier League has finally arrived.

“We need to establish ourselves in the Premier League,” Ledley said. “This is the league where all the best players want to play in and it would be fantastic to stay up, then go again next season and start a fresh. It would be a dream come true. We know it’s going to be difficult but if we stick together we can hopefully do it and stay in the Premier League.”

Sydney FC to face Melbourne Victory in A-League final

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SYDNEY (AP) Sydney FC will face the Melbourne Victory in next weekend’s grand final of Australian football’s A-League after the top-ranked teams won contrasting semifinals.

[ MORE: Spurs revel in North London rule, but want more ]

While Sydney was as dominant as it has been throughout a 27-match regular season in its 3-0 win over Perth on Saturday, Melbourne needed a 70th-minute goal from striker Besart Berisha to advance with a 1-0 win Sunday over Brisbane.

Josh Brillante, Jordy Buijs and Filip Holosko scored first-half goals as Sydney continued a seemingly unstoppable drive towards its third A-League title – and its first since 2010. The video referee interceded in two of the goals, making the win contentious, but Sydney still demonstrated superiority over the young, confident and ambitious Perth side.

Sydney lost only once in 27 regular-season matches and will enter the final as a considerable favorite.

Berisha sank the hopes of his former club, Brisbane, with his late strike in Sunday’s second semifinal. While the margin was small, the Victory deserved to win after playing more assertively throughout the match.

Its semifinal victory means that the teams that finished first and second at the end of the regular season will contest the final for the fifth straight year. The final repeats the 2015 showdown between Sydney and Melbourne, which the Victory won 3-0.

Hoffenheim reaches Champions League qualifiers for 1st time

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BERLIN (AP) The youngest coach in the Bundesliga, 29-year-old Julian Nagelsmann, has steered Hoffenheim to a place in the Champions League qualifiers in the club’s best ever season.

Hoffenheim could even secure its first appearance in the Champions League group stage if it holds on to third place – where it now stands after Benjamin Huebner scored in the last minute to snatch a 1-0 home win over Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday. It has three more matches to play this season.

Huebner’s late goal, a powerful header to Sebastian Rudy’s corner, moved the side one point above Borussia Dortmund, which was held to a scoreless draw at home by Cologne on Saturday.

The goal was scored by the son of Frankfurt sporting director Bruno Huebner.

“A lucky win,” acknowledged Hoffenheim backer Dietmar Hopp, the software billionaire whose finances helped his hometown club progress from minor leagues to the Bundesliga.

A co-founder of the SAP software giant, Hopp became the first private owner of a Bundesliga side when he took a majority stake in Hoffenheim in 2015. By then he had already spent an estimated 350 million euros on the team.

However, Hoffenheim’s best appointment to date appears to be that of Nagelsmann, who took over in February 2016 after Huub Stevens stepped down for health reasons.

Then 28, Nagelsmann hadn’t even earned his coaching credentials from the German football federation (DFB). But he saved the side from relegation and Hoffenheim is enjoying its best ever season this year.

The win over Frankfurt extended its unbeaten run at home to 16 games and ensured it beat its previous best-mark of 55 points from the 2008-09 season.

As a player, Nagelsmann lined up for Bavarian sides Augsburg and 1860 Munich before turning his attention to coaching. He spent almost a decade coaching the youth sides of 1860 Munich and then Hoffenheim, for which he was also assistant coach in 2012-13.

Earlier this year, Nagelsmann was named the German football federation’s coach of the year for 2016.

Dortmund hosts Hoffenheim next weekend for a game that is likely to decide which side goes into the qualifiers and which secures automatic qualification for the Champions League.

AUGSBURG 4, HAMBURGER SV 0

Hamburger SV slipped closer to its first ever relegation in a humiliating defeat at fellow struggler Augsburg.

Hamburg, the last founding member of the league to have played every season since its formation in 1963, was left in the relegation playoff place with three games remaining.

“We’re all affected by the performance we showed today,” Hamburg coach Markus Gisdol said. “We were hoping for something different. But we’ve got over other setbacks before and have to deliver the best in the next game.”

Hamburg goalkeeper Tom Mickel and the left post denied Augsburg early on before Halil Altintop fired the home side ahead, midway through the first half.

Altintop scored another before the break, set up by Philipp Max, to give Augsburg some breathing space.

Michael Gregoritsch reacted with a brutal challenge on Dominik Kohr, for which the Hamburg midfielder was fortunate to escape with a yellow card.

Max sealed the result on a counterattack before setting up Raul Bobadilla to complete the scoring late on.

“We could even have scored more goals,” Augsburg coach Manuel Baum said. “But more than three points wouldn’t have been possible.”

Victory lifted Augsburg out of the relegation playoff place and two points above Hamburg, Wolfsburg and Mainz, all level on 33 points. Hamburg, which has conceded a league-worst 59 goals in 31 games, has an inferior goal difference to the other two.

Ingolstadt and Darmstadt occupied the automatic relegation spots. Ingolstadt was four points behind Hamburg, while Darmstadt was all but doomed, nine points behind.

Balotelli, Nice may have spoiled PSG’s title chances

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Monaco took care of business at the top of Ligue 1 on Saturday and now the Champions League semifinalists could be closing in on France’s crown.

[ MORE: Spurs revel in ruling North London, but want more ]

Paris Saint-Germain slipped up on Sunday with a 3-1 loss against third-place Nice, and it could spell the end for the Parisians’ hopes of winning Ligue 1 in 2016/17.

Mario Balotelli sprung Nice in front after 26 minutes with a curling left-footed effort from outside the box, before Ricardo Pereira doubled the advantage for the hosts just three minutes into the second stanza with a lovely curler of his own.

PSG managed to pull a goal back in the 64th minute as Marquinhos gave the visitors a glimmer of hope to keep their title hopes alive.

However, the final minutes of the match took a drastic turn for the worse for PSG as Thiago Motta and Angel di Maria were both shown red cards for violent tackles on Nice players.

Nice also found a third finish after PSG was dwindled down to nine men when Anastasios Donis headed home a lofted cross from the left wing.

With three matches remaining for PSG, Unai Emery’s side sits three points behind league leaders Monaco, who also have a match in hand. PSG finishes up their Ligue 1 account with matches against Bastia, St Etienne and Caen.

Video: Camilo Sanvezzo scores wonder goal for Queretaro

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Camilo Sanvezzo scored two goals on Sunday for Queretaro but many won’t even remember the score of the game after his brilliant first effort.

The Queretaro forward scored the first of two finishes in the 66th minute after winning the ball in his own half, carrying it into the Toluca end and unleashing a deadly shot from just inside midfield.

Sanvezzo eventually scored his side’s second goal in the dying minutes of the match, and his 88th minute finish proved to be the winner for Queretaro, who currently sit 13th in Liga MX.

The 28-year-old should be familiar to MLS fans after Sanvezzo’s time with the Vancouver Whitecaps from 2011 to 2013. The veteran scored 39 goals in 92 matches with the Canadian side.