Joe Ledley

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.

source: Getty Images
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.

source: Getty Images
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.”

Electricity restored at Maracana after some late bills paid

This Feb. 2, 2017 shows Maracana stadium with a dry field in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Stadium operators, the Rio state government, and Olympic organizers have fought over $1 million in unpaid electricity bills and management of the venue. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Rio’s electricity utility has turned the power back on at the famous Maracana stadium after it was shut off for almost a month in a dispute over $1 million in unpaid bills.

The utility on Thursday said power had been restored after the stadium operator paid 1.3 million reals ($430,000) in late bills from November through January. It was shut off on Jan. 26 in the dispute.

The utility said it is still negotiating for 1.8 million reals ($600,000) in unpaid bills from the organizing committee of last year’s Rio Olympics. Rio 2016 organizers still owe millions to companies which helped prepare the Olympics and Paralympics

The stadium has been vandalized over the last month with seats torn out, televisions stolen and the grass field left untended.

VIDEO: FC Dallas youngster Kellyn Acosta unleashes howitzer goal

Arabe Unido goalkeeper Miguel lloyd (1) reaches up to block a shot from FC Dallas as defender Rigoberto Nino (2) and FC Dallas' Kellyn Acosta (23) watch in the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals soccer match, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 in Frisco, Texas (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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With FC Dallas taking on Panamanian club Aribe Unido in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League, 21-year-old Kellyn Acosta grabbed a second for the Major League Soccer club 10 minutes past halftime.

It wasn’t just any old goal. It was a STRIKE.

The Texas native trailed the play, and with Roland Lamah shut off in the box by solid man-marking on the ball, Acosta was there to provide an outlet, and he blasted a vicious strike into the top-left corner. The find by Lamah was a smart one with a host of defenders closing in, and his calm demeanor was rewarded as his teammate launched a rocket into the back of the net.

The goal is a fodder for those who believe Acosta, who has played full-back for much of his career, should be a midfielder instead. His positioning and ability to trail the play with deadly accuracy is what makes this goal so special.

Acosta would bag a third in the dying minutes of the game, giving FC Dallas a 3-0 lead to take on the road as they travel to Panama for the second leg on March 1st.

Top Premier League Storylines – Week 26

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 08:  Claudio Ranieri, manager of Leicester City speaks with his players during the break in extra-time in the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round replay match between Leicester City and Derby City at The King Power Stadium on February 8, 2017 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Well. This weekend’s return of Premier League action was already slated to be an exciting one, but now with today’s enormous bit of breaking news, it has become even more intriguing.

[ WATCH: Previewing every match in Week 26 ]

There’s plenty to discuss at the top of the Premier League table, as Arsenal and Spurs look to heal their European wounds, but it’s what’s at the bottom that has everyone talking today.

How will Leicester City react after the firing of Claudio Ranieri?

Leicester City vs. Liverpool —  3:00 p.m. EDT Monday on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Well. The Foxes had their work cut out for them coming into this match already, but now it has a whole new flavor. Claudio Ranieri has been dismissed just nine months after winning the Premier League title, and sitting just a point off the drop coming into the weekend (and inside the relegation zone coming into the match?) Leicester City will be lead into King Power Stadium by Assistant Manager Craig Shakespeare and First Team Coach Mike Stowell.

Liverpool stopped a five-match winless streak last time out with a quality 2-0 win over Tottenham, but the Reds defense has been leaky all season, and if Leicester is to break its horrid 610-minute goalless streak, it would be here. The Foxes are without a win in five and have not scored a Premier League goal in all of the 2017 calendar year. Can they respond and begin to play for themselves rather than their former manager?

Can Dele Alli and Tottenham bounce back?

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Stoke City — 8:30 a.m. EDT Sunday on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Spurs looked like they had rediscovered their Champions League form with a comprehensive smothering of Championship side Fulham in the FA Cup. Then, they welcomed KAA Gent to Wembley and promptly lost their heads. Dele Alli was sent off for one of the worst challenges you’ll see, and Spurs were vulnerable as a result, crashing out of the Europa League.

Now, Mauricio Pochettino must regroup the squad and get them ready to host Stoke, a team they clobbered 4-0 in the third match of the season. The squad is still healthy, and the loss of European play may actually help them in the long run. Here, however, it provides them with negative form and a short prep time. They need this one badly to solidify a top four place moving forward, can Poch turn it around?

Can Sunderland get a result against surging Everton?

Everton vs. Sunderland — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSports.com

Hull City hosts Burnley. Crystal Palace welcomes Middlesbrough. With those two fellow occupants of the relegation zone playing at home against lower-half sides, the spotlight is squarely on Sunderland. The Black Cats have a tough matchup, on the road at Everton.

The Toffees haven’t lost a Premier League match since falling to Liverpool in mid-December, and have scored 19 goals in the eight matches since that blemish. With that in mind, Sunderland must get some kind of a result to pull off the bottom of the Premier League table. Can they snatch points at Goodison Park?

EFL Cup final could leave Chelsea well out in front

Chelsea vs. Swansea City — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSports.com

Chelsea is already eight points ahead of the pack and looks to be the clear favorite to win the Premier League title. It could get even clearer after this week. Manchester United is off, Manchester City is off, and Arsenal is off. Couple that with Tottenham struggling and Liverpool facing a desperate Leicester City side, and it’s entirely conceivable that a win for Chelsea over Swansea City could leave the Blues as far as 11 points clear at the top of the table, albeit a game ahead of some. That would all but wrap things up, wouldn’t it?

Mario Balotelli handed 2-match ban for abusing referee

FILE- In this Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016 file photo, Nice's forward Mario Balotelli, of Italy, reacts during the Europa League group I soccer match between OGC Nice and FC Salzburg, in Nice stadium, southeastern France. Nice striker Mario Balotelli’s teammate Alassane Pleas has confirmed he heard Bastia supporters racially abusing Balotelli with monkey chants during the league match on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Claude Paris, File)
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After being sent off for referee abuse in last weekend’s Ligue 1 win over FC Lorient, Nice striker Mario Balotelli has been handed a two-match ban.

Balotelli earned his second red card of the season in the 69th minute of a 1-0 win that kept Nice within striking distance of the leaders Monaco. It was his second straight red and third sending-off of the season, having already been dismissed in reverse fixture against Lorient after a pair of yellows in the final three minutes of the game.

After the mercurial Italian’s hot start to the season, he has just one goal in the last two months, the third in a 3-1 win over Guingamp. He has not scored a point-winning goal since bagging both in a 2-1 win over Dijon back on December 18th.

Balotelli’s agent, the well-known Mino Raiola, was so frustrated with his client’s continual dismissal problems that he told French media conglomerate RMC Sport that the solution to Balotelli’s problems is to “cut out his tongue.”

“I have already found the solution: you have to cut out his tongue,” Raiola said bluntly. “To play soccer, there is no need for language! In all seriousness, he knows he made a big mistake and he has no excuse. He knows he needs to improve that. He is very sad for him, for the team.”

The suspension leaves Balotelli on the sidelines for tomorrow’s match against 11th placed Montpellier and then on March 4th at 17th placed Dijon. Nice sits in third, level on points with 2nd placed PSG and three back of leaders Monaco.