Crystal Palace 0-1 Southampton: Rodriguez’s bizarre strike seals Saints’ win (video)

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Southampton beat Crystal Palace 1-0 at Selhurst Park on Saturday, as a first half strike from Jay Rodriguez was enough to give Saints all three points.

Palace battled hard throughout the match but Saints bossed possession and Rodriguez’s 11th Premier League goal of the campaign came courtesy of a bizarre finish in the 37th minute. Rodriguez raced through on goal after nipping the ball in front of Palace’s defense and won a block tackle with ‘keeper Julian Speroni before rolling the ball into an empty net from 30-yards out, while laying on the ground.

Saints came close to a second as they hit the post through Rickie Lambert but held firm, despite Palace’s intense pressure, to seal their first win in four games. With the victory Mauricio Pochettino’s side stay in ninth spot on 42 points, while Palace remain in the relegation battle just two points and two places above the bottom three.

(MORE: Premier League Roundup – Chelsea extend lead, Man United click, huge win for Cardiff)

Southampton started the game well but Palace pushed forward early on and forced the issue in front of a fanatical group of home supporters at Selhurst Park.

As the first half wore on Saints imposed themselves on the game more as Palace struggled to get hold of the ball.

source: Getty Images
Saints celebrate Rodriguez’s game-winner, as the South Coast club prevail.

Saints had 72 percent of possession in the opening 30 minutes but had no real clear cut chances to show for their efforts. Adam Lallana, Rodriguez and Luke Shaw were all making clever runs going forward but to no avail. Midway through the half Jack Cork suffered a nasty ankle injury and was replaced by Victor Wanyama. Soon after Saints were 1-0 up as a hopeful punt forward was chased down by England international Rodriguez who nipped the ball past Damien Delaney, then won a 50-50 challenge with Palace’ keeper Speroni before slotting home while he sat on the floor.

The goal gave Southampton a 1-0 lead at the break, which could’ve been 2-0 but Lambert was denied by the post, as Saints were finally rewarded for dominating possession.

After the break Saints sat back and Palace went on the attack as Yannick Bolasie raced clear and could only be brought down by Dejan Lovren for a free kick. Luckily for Saints and Lovren, right back Nathaniel Clyne was covering so it meant no red card and the Eagles wasted a great opportunity from the set piece.

(MORE: Latest Premier League Standings)

Palace continued to press and put Saints under intense pressure, but the away side went close midway through the first half via Lambert’s free kick which flashed just over the crossbar. The Eagles made a double substitution to liven things up as Tom Ince and Cameron Jerome were thrown on to give Palace a chance of snatching a point or more.

But despite their best endeavors the Eagles couldn’t break down a stubborn Southampton side as the South Coast club completed the double over Palace this season.

LINEUPS

Crystal Palace: Speroni, Ward, Dann, Delaney, Moxey, Dikgacoi (Jerome, 66), Jedinak, Ledley, Puncheon (Ince, 66), Bolasie (Thomas, 83), Murray. Subs: Hennessey, Gabbidon, Bannan, Thomas, Ince, Gayle, Jerome

Southampton: Boruc, Clyne, Fonte, Lovren, Shaw, Cork (Wanyama, 34), Schneiderlin, S. Davis (Ward-Prowse, 89), Lallana, Rodriguez, Lambert (Gallagher, 75)

Goal: Rodriguez (37)

Celtic’s dominance under Rodgers reaching new levels

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They’re unbeaten in 29 games, winning 27 of them. They hold a 25-point lead. They’re about to clinch a sixth straight league title this weekend and it’s still not even April.

Celtic’s players have taken their supremacy of Scottish soccer to a new level this season, putting the storied club from Glasgow in the conversation when discussing the most dominant sides in Europe’s domestic leagues in the 21st century.

Celtic will be the Scottish champion again as early as Friday if its closest rival, Aberdeen, loses to Dundee. If Aberdeen wins, Celtic will take an unassailable lead in the Scottish Premiership by beating Hearts on Sunday.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There’s been a sense of inevitability about the whole thing since the turn of the year, by which time Celtic had jumped into a 19-point lead. It’s long stopped being called a “title race” in Scotland, more a procession.

Meanwhile, the team coached by former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers won the Scottish League Cup in late November and is also through to the semifinals of the Scottish Cup.

With Celtic’s unbeaten run across three domestic competitions currently at 36 games, this might be the most dominant season by any club in the history of Scotland’s top flight.

A glance around Europe shows a few other examples of title monopolies.

Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) and BATE Borisov (Belarus) are currently on a streak of 11 domestic leagues titles in a row since 2006. Olympiakos is on course for a seventh straight Greek league title, which would be its 12th in the last 13 years, and Sheriff Tiraspol has won the Moldovan league every year except one since 2000. Basel leads the Swiss league by 17 points and is about to seal a ninth title in 10 years.

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

In these lesser-profile leagues, teams can dominate because of the cash they receive from participating in UEFA competitions, which often allow them to outspend their domestic rivals.

Last week, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin, attending a conference in Lisbon, spoke of the threats to European soccer in the coming years, including the “decrease in competitive balance within European club competitions and secondary effects affecting domestic competitions.”

There are examples of lopsided championships in Europe’s big leagues, too: Juventus is closing on an unprecedented sixth straight Serie A title in Italy and on course for a third straight Serie A-Coppa Italia double; Bayern Munich is on course for a fifth straight Bundesliga title in Germany, which included winning one championship after 27 matches of a 34-round league; Lyon won the French league title seven times in succession from 2002; and Ajax won four straight titles in the Netherlands from 2011-14.

Scotland is widely regarded as a backwater in European soccer these days, mainly because of the uncompetitive nature of its league and an increasing lack of exposure and coverage outside Britain.

What didn’t help was Rangers – Celtic’s fierce crosstown rival and winner of a record 54 league titles – getting demoted to the fourth tier of the Scottish game in 2012 because of financial irregularities.

This is Rangers’ first season back in the Premiership, but it hasn’t been able to challenge Celtic and currently sits 33 points behind in third place. There used to be constant talk of the two “Old Firm” clubs crossing the border to join the English league but that has cooled.

“I want to win (the league) by 50 points,” Rodgers, who is in his first season at Celtic, said last month.

[ MORE: RSL hires Petke ]

In any other league, that would be a preposterous comment, but perhaps no longer in Scotland.

The season started so embarrassingly for Celtic and Rodgers, a 1-0 loss to Gibraltarian part-timer Lincoln Red Imps in a Champions League qualifier in July described by some pundits as the club’s worst defeat in its 130-year history.

Now, they are about to lift the league title with eight matches to spare and potentially in the month of March for the second time in four years.

“We want to continue winning, continue the run that we’re on,” Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon said, “and make sure we do that for as long as we can.”

AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar in Geneva and James Ellingworth in Moscow, and Associated Press writers Ciaran Fahey in Berlin, Daniella Matar in Milan, Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, and Raf Casert in Brussels, Belgium, contributed to this report.

Steve Douglas is at http://www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

Mourinho: Midseason international friendlies don’t make sense

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Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United has a big challenge thanks to injuries and a club with far more international participants than the weekend’s Premier League rival.

It has the manager asking, frankly, why the friendlies?

While Phil Jones and Chris Smalling were injured in England training, not the friendly against Germany nor the World Cup qualifier versus Lithuania, Mourinho wonders why the national teams need to play relatively meaningless matches in the middle of club season.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

Mourinho says he is being careful not to be too vocal about his disappointment given that he’ll probably one day need those friendlies as an international boss. From Sky Sports:

“A couple of weeks before the Euros or a couple of weeks before the World Cup makes sense. But mid-season friendly matches mixed with qualification matches, I don’t think that makes sense.

“On top of that the matches are not really big matches so I am not a big fan. But I think one day I will be there so I cannot be very critical.”

Mourinho will be without Jones, Smalling, and Paul Pogba this weekend. He also has several internationals who won’t arrive back at Old Trafford until Thursday. United hosts West Brom on Saturday.

Lamela needs hip surgery, out for rest of Spurs season

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Tottenham Hotspur won’t be getting an Erik Lamela boost any time soon.

The 25-year-old winger will undergo surgery on his ailing hip this Saturday, costing him availability for Spurs’ stretch run and Argentina duty.

[ MORE: RSL hires Petke ]

Lamela has been missing since Oct. 29, and left Spurs lineup with the team unbeaten in the Premier League (5W-4D).

He registered a goal and an assist in PL play, adding a goal and four helpers in the side’s first two rounds of the EFL Cup and two assists in three Champions League matches.

Real Salt Lake introduces Mike Petke as new head coach

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Mike Petke is getting a deserved next kick as an MLS coach.

The New York Red Bulls icon, 41, is taking over at Real Salt Lake, where he had been leading USL side Real Monarchs since December.

“They’re an animal waiting to be released from a cage,” Petke called RSL’s roster.

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

Petke won better than 41 percent of his matches as RBNY boss, leading the club to the 2013 Supporters’ Shield. This came after 351 matches between Colorado, the Red Bulls/MetroStars, and DC United.

He leaves Real Monarchs with a perfect 1-0 record. Unbeaten!

“The vision that he laid out, along with Craig and Rob, was music to my ears,” Petek said. “They really showed me what was ahead for the RSL organization, and it was an easy thing to be a part of.”

Petke thanked the Monarchs for restoring some of his love for managing, something he said was “kicked out of me”. The Red Bulls shockingly parted ways with Petke in January 2015, moving onto Jesse Marsch.

This is a low risk hire for Real, who gains a respected coach and soccer mind. The optics aren’t great coming so early into the season and so soon after his hiring at Monarchs raised eyebrows.

The hiring comes four days after RSL drew the Red Bulls 0-0 at Red Bull Arena, which is the only disappointment of this whole ordeal: Not getting to see the response at his old home.