Can Everton win their eight-straight PL game against Palace?

Everton 3-2 Swansea City: Everton tighten grip on Europa League spot (video)

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The Champions League is but a dream for Everton, but Europa is looking increasingly likely. A 3-2 win over Swansea City puts the Toffees temporarily into fifth, depending on how Tottenham do against Southampton tomorrow. The Swans, however, are now just four points in the clear, although neither Sunderland or Fulham are making a decent bid for safety.

The first half at Goodison Park started rather quietly.

Wilfried Bony two chances rather quickly, with his first, a rather speculative shot from 35 yards, was easily saved. His second, off a ball from Chico, went just wide, wasting Swansea’s opportunity to once more take an early lead.

Everton, as is their want, tried to gain control through possession, but it was a penalty that gave them the lead with twenty minutes played. Chico brought down Ross Barkley as he got on the end of a lovely pass from John Stones. Leighton Baines was the man who stepped to the spot, sending a low, sharp shot to the bottom corner of the net. Michel Vorm guessed correctly but was unable to keep it out.

Yet the Swans managed to beat – or at least equal – Everton at their own game. Wayne Routledge did well to pick out Angel Rangel tearing up the right. The fullback squared for Bony, who this time had no trouble slotting home from close range.

The Toffees wasted little time in restoring their advantage after the restart, however. With less than ten minutes played in the second half, Romelu Lukaku shook off his marker before dashing on to meet Kevin Mirallas’ cross. From that range, the Belgian could hardly fail to score.

Five minutes later and Everton were ahead 3-1. As the corner came in, the Swansea defense determined Lukaku was their main threat, leaving Ross Barkley unmarked. The attacker slipped in to head home at the far post.

With over thirty minutes left to play, Swansea started to push. Tim Howard did well, flying through the air to deny Bony with just one hand. It was Pablo Hernández who set up Bony with a cross, and two minutes later he himself had a go, but Howard was quick enough once more.

Gary Monk then threw Michu into the mix, denying Bony the chance at a second. The Spaniard, just returned from a month out, hasn’t scored in the Premier League since September, and although his presence did liven up the Swansea side, he did little to challenge Howard in goal.

The visitors did manage another goal, however, in stoppage time. A corner taken by Hernández dropped favorably to Ashley Williams, who nodded in Swansea’s second.

Everton: Howard, Coleman, Baines, Stones, Distin, McCarthy, Barry, Mirallas, McGeady (Osman 85), Barkley (Naismith 84), Lukaku (Gerard Deulofeu 93)

Goals: Baines 20′; Lukaku 53′; Barkley 58′

Swansea City: Vorm, Rangel, Chico, Williams, Davies, Britton, Cañas (De Guzmán 69), Hernandez, Dyer (Shelvey 63), Routledge, Bony (Michu 70)

Goals: Bony 33′

FOLLOW LIVE: 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round

Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer, center, is congratulated by teammates, including midfielder Roger Espinoza (27), following his goal during the first half of an MLS soccer match against the Houston Dynamo in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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The knockout round of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs concludes on Thursday, as four teams vie for the final two places — one in the Eastern Conference, one in the Western Conference — in the conference semifinals, which begin on Sunday.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round ]

Up first, the East’s fourth-seeded D.C. United welcome the five-seed Montreal Impact to RFK Stadium for the two sides’ third meeting of the 2016 season. Each of the year’s first two clashes finished a 1-1 draw, in July and August. Didier Drogba is expected to be unavailable for the win-or-go-home tie. United finished the regular season with four wins in the last five games, while the Impact won just two of their last eight.

[ MORE: Preivewing Thursday night’s knockout-round games ]

In the nightcap, the West’s fourth-seeded Seattle Sounders will take on the five-side, Sporting Kansas City, at CenturyLink Field. Sporting were victorious in both regular-season meetings this year — 1-0 on opening day, and 3-0 in late-July, the day the Sounders essentially quit on Sigi Schmid. Since that blistering hot day in KC, the Soudners have lost just twice in 14 games (eight wins, four draws).

Thursday’s MLS Cup Playoffs schedule

D.C. United vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting KC — 10 p.m. ET

Cristiano Ronaldo says Ashley Cole is the toughest player he faced

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Cristiano Ronaldo has faced the best defenders in the world during his time with Manchester United, Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team.

He has also caused fits for most of those defenders with goal after goal for club and country. But, there have been some players who have at least made it difficult for the all-time leading goal scorer in Real Madrid and Champions League history.

According to Ronaldo, former Chelsea and Arsenal defender Ashley Cole was the toughest player he has faced in his career.

[ MORE: VIDEO: Incredible Pelle goal in China ]

“Over the years I had some great battles with Ashley Cole, he does not give you a second to breathe,” Ronaldo told Coach Mag. “He was such a tenacious player when he was at his peak, quick, tough in the tackle. You knew it would never be an easy game.”

During his time with Manchester United, Ronaldo faced Cole on numerous occasions while Cole was with Arsenal and Chelsea. The two have also faced off in international competition between Ronaldo’s Portugal and Cole’s England.

It’s certainly high praise for Cole, who now plays in MLS for the LA Galaxy. At the age of 35, Cole has started 25 matches for the Galaxy this season, scoring one goal.

Phil Neville praises Juan Mata’s play to Manchester United

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Juan Mata has appeared in 116 matches for Manchester United since moving to Old Trafford in 2014. In that time, Mata has scored 29 goals and recorded 18 assists.

Despite his performance for the team, some thought Mata would be moved when Jose Mourinho came to town, including former United player and assistant coach Phil Neville.

Neville told Sky Sports, “I actually thought he would be the first out of the door when Jose came, but he’s actually becoming one of the most important players.”

Neville praised Mata’s contributions and versatility for United. “He is never injured, he provides a lot of assists, he plays in two or three different positions, and he scores important goals.”

Manchester United has lacked an identity under Mourinho and recently faltered in the Premier League as the team is winless in its last three matches.

[ MORE: Mourinho gets FA charge ]

Could Mata be the answer to some of United’s problems?

The Spaniard is a classic No. 10 with the ability to dictate his team’s attack and create scoring opportunities for his teammates. Mata can also put the ball in the back of the net as evidenced by his winner against Manchester City in the EFL Cup.

Mourinho has options in the center midfield with the likes of Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick in addition to Mata on the roster.

However, given the team’s Premier League struggles, it could be worth giving Mata a chance as the team’s No. 10.

David Moyes faces FA charges after being sent off during EFL Cup

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David Moyes and Sunderland have gotten off to one of the worst starts in Premier League history.

If they fail to earn a point against Arsenal this weekend, they will tie the 1995-96 Manchester City team for the worst start ever through 10 matches with two points.

It appears those frustrations carried over to the EFL Cup for Moyes. On Wednesday, the manager was forced to leave the dugout toward the end of Sunderland’s 1-0 loss to Southampton after he protested a no-call from referee Chris Kavanagh.

Moyes was charged by the FA for his protests, saying the manager “used abusive and/or insulting words towards a match official”.

It’s just another thing to add to Moyes’ plate as he looks to keep Sunderland’s hopes of safety alive in the Premier League.