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.”

Herrera: Ibrahimovic competitive drive insatiable in everything

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Ander Herrera is dishing the goods on his Manchester United teammates while on Spain duty this week, and was asked about Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The Swede is a fierce competitor on and off the pitch, which Herrera jokes is an ever-present challenge to personal patience.

[ MORE: Deulofeu laments early Messi talk ]

It almost seems like there’s a bit of envy that Ibrahimovic can charge into public comments the way Herrera goes into tackles.

From Marca:

“[Ibrahimovic] is a genius, he’s very intense because he wants to win everything, even football-tennis,” Herrera said to Radio MARCA.

“He assumes this role of doing or saying what he likes in front of the media because he does not care, he can say that he’ll score 30 goals or is the best because he can afford to.”

There’s certainly something to stature when it comes to saying what you feel (though on the other hand, being egotistical is rarely controversial. It’s not like Ibrahimovic is often railing on controversial soccer or social issues).

We’re sure there are plenty of players across all sports, casual and professional, who don’t understand hyper-competitive teammates, but we love a guy who doesn’t turn it down when it comes to on-the-field activities. Hopefully Ibrahimovic is the Jaromir Jagr of soccer.

Gerard Deulofeu calls early Messi comparisons “detrimental”

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Players often like to brush off speculation or criticism in the moment by claiming they don’t read stories written about themselves, but we all know better.

Former Everton winger Gerard Deulofeu confirmed that sentiment by citing specific comparisons he remembers as a youth with Barcelona, citing stories that compared him to Lionel Messi. Now 23 years old, Deulofeu reflects on those early comparisons and wishes the media wasn’t so quick to jump to conclusions about his career.

“In the end, [the comparisons] were more detrimental than beneficial,” he told weekly magazine Forza Milan. “Normally I don’t read newspapers, but that headline I remember well. It created too much expectation among Barcelona fans. There’s only one Messi.”

With expectations high, Deulofeu made just six senior team appearances without a goal or assist before loan spells at Sevilla and Everton saw him out of the club permanently. His time at Goodison Park was up and down as well, with his ability to dazzle a crowd punctuated by long spells of invisibility, failing to earn himself a consistent starting role.

Deulofeu is now on loan from Everton at AC Milan, looking to revitalize his career. He has started every league game since arriving, and has picked up a goal and three assists in 11 matches. There is speculation he could end up in Milan on a permanent basis this summer, but he’s not focused on that right now.

“My future? It’ll be seen to,” Deulofeu said. “My sights are in the present, from experience I know it’s best to leave the past behind and focus on the present. We’ll see what happens in the future. For now, I just want to enjoy the good time that I‘m having at Milan.”

Barcelona plan Cruyff tribute at club’s training center

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) One year after his death, Barcelona says it will name the future stadium at its training center after Dutch great Johan Cruyff.

The new stadium at Barcelona’s training center just outside the Catalan city will be called “Johan Cruyff Stadium” in honor of the club’s former player and coach.

Barcelona says in a statement that “the most emblematic building in the facility where future Barca players are coached is to be named after somebody who played such a central role in fostering youth talent at the club.”

Barcelona also says it will commission a “commemorative sculpture” of Cruyff, who died of lung cancer on March 24 last year at age 68. The statue will be placed at Barcelona’s main Camp Nou stadium.

Cruyff is largely credited with launching Barcelona’s era of trophy success, both as a player and a coach.

As a player, Cruyff joined Barcelona midseason in 1973 and led the middle-of-the-table team to its first national title in a decade.

He later returned as a coach and guided Barcelona to four consecutive Spanish leagues from 1991-94 and the club’s first European Cup in 1992.

“I think the tributes are very warming,” said Cruyff’s son, Jordi Cruyff. “It sort of changes the sadness that we might feel as family to lose a father, a husband and a grandfather. It changes to a certain kind of pride to understand that he left something behind.”

MLS Snapshot: Defense optional — Crew SC outlast Timbers, 3-2

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The game in 100 words (or less): As far as teams who get out in the open field and score the lion’s share of their goals on the counter-attacking, there aren’t many MLS teams better than Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers. The two sides met Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium, site of their MLS Cup 2015 clash, and lived up to their reputations. Of the five goals scored, two were notched on flat-out counters and two more came to pass through quick transitional movements. Portland (9 points) dropped their first points of the season, falling 3-2 to goals scored by Justin Meram, Ola Kamara and Niko Hansen, while Crew SC have back-to-back wins and find themselves level on points (7) with the New York Red Bulls with each side having played four games.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS (afternoon) roundup ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

4′ — Asprilla opens the scoring early on — 2017 Crew SC defending, same as 2016 Crew SC defending.

11′ — Meram fires home the rebound for 1-1 — One of Portland’s biggest weaknesses last season was their set-piece defending. Looks like not much has changed.

19′ — Higuain feeds Kamara for a 2-1 lead — The question mark that Portland will eventually have to answer is this: How much, if at all, have they improved defensively in the open field? Based on this Crew SC counter-attack, the answer might be “not much.”

45+3′ — Adi recovers to make it 2-2 — Everything Adi does these days (even the bad things, like this first touch) ends up being good.

84′ — Hansen cleans up at the back post for 3-2 — Jake Gleeson made a spectacular reaction save to deny Kamara his second goal of the game, but the rookie, making his MLS debut, was in the right place at the right time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Asprilla (4′), Meram (11′), Kamara (19′), Adi (45+3′), Hansen (84′)