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PST’s Major League Soccer Power Rankings – Week 3

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Strength of schedule matters. Since this should go without saying, I risk entering the realm of mansplaining just by bringing it up, but it’s something often overlooked this early in the season, even if this point in the season is where an easy schedule will have its biggest influence.

Just look at the top of each conference. In the East, you have a Houston team that’s been able to rack up six points and a plus-five difference with home games against the Revolution and Impact. This weekend’s results in New England and Montréal only reinforced the idea that the standings (and, our rankings) may have overvalued Houston’s hot start.

It’s the same story in the West. FC Dallas has seven points in three games, but its wins have come against Montréal and Chivas USA. Óscar Pareja’s team got a point in Kansas City, but it was against a Sporting squad that’s been juggling commitments. Dallas deserves credit for their start, but proper credit considers their level of competition.

As games go by and we learn more about teams, perceptions need to be adjusted. In Week 1, Vancouver blew out New York, a result that earned them a spot high in our rankings. With time we’ve seen the Red Bulls’ struggles go beyond one game. And with Houston, that 4-0 win on opening night over New England looked different once the Revs went their next 180 minutes without a goal.

It works the other way, too. Toronto’s win in Seattle looks better after the Sounders’ performance in Quebec, while Sporting’s 1-0 over San Jose looks very good when you consider that same team took a Champions League semifinalist to penalty kicks three nights before.

The point: We need to stay mentally nimble in this early portion of the calendar. The unknowns vastly outnumber the knows, part of the reason teams keep jumping around this table.

Here’s our Power Ranking, after Week 3 of the MLS season:

(MORE: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Week 2’s Power Rankings)

RANKING
Up/Down
source:  1 UP 3 Toronto FC: A day after TFC’s win over D.C. United, I was still not on board with moving them to the top of this list. A second viewing of the game convinced me. A one-goal loss was the best possible result for D.C. United, and while D.C. is the worst team int he league, in all phases of the game, Toronto was much better. Their performance exceeded a 1-0. Combine that form with a win at CenturyLink  and Toronto is clearly off to the league’s best start. (2-0-0)

2 DOWN 1
Real Salt Lake: Even after their slip on Saturday, RSL still fairs well in the test that matters to this list: If they play tomorrow, neutral field, who wins? I know the cosmic law of Power Rankings says a team with two straight draws shouldn’t be this high, but when I watched those San Jose and LA draws, I didn’t see a team that’s so incredibly vulnerable. I saw a team that had two difficult games against tough opponents. Granted, one of those games was at home, but it will take more than a Robbie Keane counterattack (and, some late match fatigue) to make RSL look worse than the other 17 teams on this list. (1-0-2)
source:  3 UP 6 Columbus Crew: With the possible exception of central defense, the Crew look incredible right now. Every person in Gregg Berhalter’s starting XI has such a strong, specific idea of what they’re supposed to do – a cognizance that’s most evident in their midfield. Wil Trapp’s the anchor, Tony Tchani’s the shuttler, while Federico Higuaín’s the creator. Thanks in no small part to Tchani (an unsung hero on Saturday), the threesome maintains a balance that centers the team, a virtue that allowed the Crew to defeat a strong Union squad.  (2-0-0)
source:  4 UP 1 Sporting Kansas City: Kansas City has so many asterisks, it’s impossible to feel good about this ranking. On Saturday, the team was still resting players (Matt Belser, Uri Rosell, C.J. Sapong), playing on short rest, and facing a quality opponent. At the same time, this team needs to start generating more chances. Against San Jose, there were enough opportunities before Dom Dwyer’s goal to make me believe the attack’s coming around. Besides, the team Sporting was going up against had Victor Bernardez and Clarence Goodson in central defense. (1-1-1)
source:  5 DOWN 2 Philadelphia Union: Saturday’s game was great – by far the best game of the week. Both teams, so drastically improved since last year, played at a level that would have beaten most teams in the league. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, they happened to be visiting another of the league’s better sides, but if you look at the first 15 minutes and the quarter-hour that begins at the 60-minute mark, you’ll see the quality Philadelphia brings to this spot.  (1-1-1)
source:  6 DOWN 4 Houston Dynamo: Dom Kinnear’s team didn’t play, but we learned more about their start. The two teams they played (and, played at BBVA Compass) are a combined 0-5-1 through six games, with neither team producing a win at home this weekend. We need to see Houston against better teams before we’re so sure this perfect record goes beyond an easy schedule. (2-0-0)
source:  7 UP 3 Seattle Sounders: Here’s the difficulty with the Sounders: They just played their best game of the season but did so playing a formation (4-3-3) they’re unlikely to employ when Clint Dempsey and Brad Evans are available. That midfield that performed so well in Montréal? Two of its three parts will be on the bench when a full squad is available. I want to rank the Sounders higher, but when I ask myself how Saturday’s result informs how the team will fair forward, I’m not sure which Sounders team to judge. The one that played on Saturday was better than the one we’ve seen to this point in the season, but it’s also not Seattle’s preferred setup. (2-1-0)
source:  8 UP 5 FC Dallas: Pros – most points in the league; MLS’s best attack; Mauro Díaz and Fabian Castillo; a set-up that is going to give Castillo and Je-Vaughn Watson a chance to embarrass defenders all year. Cons – their schedule; their defense; not knowing whether Watson can maintain Saturday’s level all season. (2-0-1)

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9 DOWN 1 LA Galaxy: A draw in Sandy should normally move a team up the rankings, but this early in the season, with enough teams making big leaps (Columbus, Dallas), LA still managed to slip. The defense looks better with A.J. DeLaGarza in the middle, with Todd Duivant’s return to the starting lineup also giving Galaxy fans hope the back four can be stabilized. We’ll have to wait and see how often Bruce Arena goes with a midfield diamond, though. That may have been one part opponent (RSL), one part resting  players. (0-1-1)
source:  10 DOWN 3 San Jose Earthquakes: Chris Wondolowski’s late miss in Kansas City may have cost the Earthquakes a point, but a 1-0 loss at Sporting is nothing to fret over. A bigger concern may be getting the team’s two-man midfield working together. Right now, it’s too much of the same between Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi and Sam Cronin. At times it felt like all three Sporting midfielders could do whatever they wanted in the space between Wondo and the Earthquakes midfielders.  (0-1-1)

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11 UP 3 Colorado Rapids: If Columbus-Philadelphia was the weekend’s best game, Colorado-Portland was the worst. Neither team looked good, with the Rapids eventually breaking the game open after Donovan Ricketts got himself sent off. If the Timbers’ keeper doesn’t do his Street Fighter impression instead of staying calm on his clearance, that game ends 0-0. Instead, Colorado gets a win and, thanks to other teams, a small bump on this list. (1-0-1)
source:  12 Vancouver Whitecaps: Another uninspiring performance on the road is rewarded with a point thanks to David Ousted, whose first half save on Andy Dorman rivals Troy Perkins’ Sunday stop for weekend’s best. Ultimately, however, the result recommends Vancouver more than the form, something that’s worrisome going forward. Fortunately, the Whitecaps get to make their tweaks while enjoying an unbeaten start. (1-0-2)
source:  13 DOWN 7 Portland Timbers: The Timbers have had 270 minutes to tempt us. Now, we’re inching toward conclusions, mostly based on their consistently teasing performances. The defending is fine but tends to have one or two big errors per game. Going forward, the team  stills control play, but the only goals they’ve scored this year have been poached by Gastón Fernández. With Will Johnson and Diego Valeri yet to show their 2013 form, Portland has small questions at each level of the field, something that’s led to a poor start. (0-1-2)
source:  14 DOWN 3 Chivas USA: The 3-1 loss looks worse than it played out.  Michel’s final goal insurance was a fluke deflection off the Chivas wall. At the same time, Chivas was clearly second best on Saturday, and while you can chalk that up to the absences of Bobby Burling and Agustín Pelletieri, it may also be the team regressing to their mean, a little. (1-1-1)
source:  15 UP 2 Chicago Fire: This may be a bit low, but given how bad New York (and, in hindsight, Portland) has been, it’s difficult to assign too much credit for Saturday’s performance. Chicago were the slightly better team, generating the better chances throughout, yet they were unable to find a winner against a team who, on current form, they should be beating at home. The central defense looked very good, and Jeff Larentowicz has had a strong start to the season. Mike Magee, however, doesn’t look like a two-in-three scorer. (0-1-2)
source:  16 New York Red Bulls: That attacking midfielder Mike Petke so desperately wanted? The Red Bulls needed him on Saturday. They also needed a much better day from Tim Cahill, who couldn’t seem to stay onside or keep his hands off the ball (or, mark Jeff Larentowicz on a corner). The fullbacks look like a problem, but thanks to Luis Robles, Ibrahim Sekagya, and Dax McCarty, the Red Bulls were able to get out of Chicago with a point. (0-1-2)
source:  17 UP 1 New England Revolution: Just like on the field, New England’s progress in this ranking is small but noticeable. The team generated more chances on Saturday, but Teal Bunbury couldn’t do anything with them. The questions at the back went untested, largely because of improved play in midfield. New England earned its first point of the season, but as we said last week, the result is less important than the performance. The Revolution need to keep that momentum going into San Jose. (0-2-1)
source:  18 DOWN 3 Montréal Impact: It’s difficult to both praise Seattle and be down on Montréal, especially with Marco Di Vaio yet to play a minute for the Impact. But Hernan Bernardello and Patrice Bernier look redundant in midfield. Collen Warner is a non-factor when starting at left midfield, and the team has no consistent, non-Di Vaio way of generating chances. Saturday only added context to their two losses in Texas. (0-3-0)
source:  19 D.C. United: Despite the improved result, D.C. shortcomings were still evident. The attack was ineffectual. The midfield did nothing to stop Michael Bradley and Jonathan Osario. A central defense pairing of Jeff Parke and Bobby Boswell seemed to spend as much time turned toward their own goal as facing the middle of the field. The team spent big for Eddie Johnson and have no way to get him the ball. (0-2-0)

Report: Everton had bid rejected for Wayne Rooney in January

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 01: Wayne Rooney of Manchester United applauds supporters during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Hull City at Old Trafford on February 1, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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According to the Daily Mail, Everton submitted a bid for Wayne Rooney in January, which was rejected by Manchester United.

The report did not state an amount of the bid, but it did confirm that the club is now in discussions about returning for their former player in the summer.

Rooney came through the Everton youth system and played for the Merseyside club’s first team from 2002-2004 before his famous move to Manchester United for $37 million. Rooney has seen very limited time this season under Jose Mourinho, and at 31 years old, has looked to have lost the ability to keep up with the standards of the Premier League.

The Liverpool native was the subject of heavy speculation in recent weeks of a move to China, with the Chinese transfer window open until the end of February, but Rooney released a statement to confirm he will stay with Manchester United until the end of the season.

Key to these rumors are Everton manager Ronald Koeman‘s comments from Thursday, when he affirmed his respect for Rooney, claiming the former Toffee can still play at a Premier League standard. “Yeah I think Wayne Rooney is still on that high level to compete in a competition like the Premier League.”

Despite all this, it seems a deal for Rooney is unlikely. Everton is not known as a heavy-spending club, and they would likely need to compete with the money of the Chinese league on both the transfer fee and wage front. Rooney would be worth a heavy investment for a Chinese club due to his big name, while his performances on field would be less important there. In contrast, Everton’s justification for a bid would focus more on his ability to perform consistently on the field, an area of clear decline.

Santi Cazorla details his newest injury setback

GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN - AUGUST 07: Santi Cazorla of Arsenal during the Pre-Season Friendly between Arsenal and Manchester City at Ullevi on August 7, 2016 in Gothenburg, Sweden. (Photo by Nils Petter Nilsson/Ombrello/Getty Images)
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Santi Cazorla hasn’t played since mid-October, and with just 619 minutes of first-team football in the last calendar year, the Spaniard has become more than a liability.

He’s also become increasingly frustrated.

After having ankle surgery in October, Cazorla has faced a multitude of challenges on the sidelines, with his body unwilling to cooperate. He went back under the knife in December, and has returned to the hospital again for yet another procedure, one that refuses to go away as he looks to keep himself as match fit as possible during his time on the sidelines.

Speaking to Spanish radio station Onda Cero, Cazorla gave them all the details – even the cringe-worthy ones – on his ankle problems.

“It was a small operation they just had to close a wound that had opened, so they reopened it and closed it again,” Cazorla said. “It wasn’t anything serious, but that’s why I’m in the hospital. They did a graft about a month and a half ago because the skin on my ankle was practically dead and had developed a wound that wouldn’t close, so they operated in Sweden. It was starting to feel better until I started to do a bit of cycling and other exercise and then the skin broke, opened and the stitches came out so they had to close the wound again. I’ve been injured about a year and a half now since the knee [problem] in November last season and now this year with the ankle injury.

And that’s not all. Aside from his ankle injury, Cazorla’s back has begun to flare up again, a problem he dealt with 2 months ago.

“It’s given me a lot of time to think, especially about the World Cup and how bad my back felt then,” Cazorla said. “My back is even worse now. Back then I was out for about six months and now it has been a year and I’m still not better. But that’s life. You gotta deal with it as best you can. I can’t do much, can’t walk, I have to use crutches and it’s frustrating day after day. But I don’t have any other option, just to deal with it as best I can and get better.”

With Cazorla at 32 years old and his contract set to expire this June, this most recent setback couldn’t have come at a worse time. The Gunners are known to be wary of giving contracts to players over 30 years old, even their most influential ones, and he will be desperate to prove his worth to Arsene Wenger ahead of the club’s decision. It has been reported that the club already activated its option for another year on Cazorla’s contract, but the team has not officially confirmed that.

Cazorla’s Arsenal future could be especially in doubt if Wenger were to leave this summer. A new incoming manager might not be so sentimental about Cazorla’s club status.

Southampton’s Puel puts the pressure on Man United

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 14: Claude Puel, Manager of Southampton looks on during the Premier League match between Stoke City and Southampton at Bet365 Stadium on December 14, 2016 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
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SOUTHAMPTON — Calm. Quiet. Focused.

Those are the best words to sum up not only Southampton’s manager Claude Puel most of the time, but especially this week. Think of that famous Seinfeld episode where Kramer learns to relax: “Serenity now!”

[ MORE: Saints’ journey goes full circle

For Puel, his first season managing in England has been far from relaxing. His team have already played 39 games this season across the Europa League group stage, FA Cup, EFL Cup and Premier League. The former Monaco, Lille, Lyon and Nice boss has now led his Southampton side to just the fourth major final in their 131-year history, as he has the chance to become just the second Saints manager to win a major trophy after Lawrie McMenemy in 1976 when they beat Manchester United to win the FA Cup and became heroes.

Serenity, now. The steely, soft spoken Frenchman is not getting distracted.

[ MORE: Latest EFL Cup final news ]

Puel has kept the focus on this game and he doesn’t want to talk about what it would be like to lead the team out at Wembley, even though he recognize the importance of the occasion.

Speaking exclusively to Pro Soccer Talk on a gloriously sunny late winter afternoon in Southern England, he has called for his team to write a new chapter in Southampton’s rather barren history book when it comes to trophies.

“It is an exciting game, I know the last win in the cup was 1976… it is time, perhaps to finally win another trophy,” Puel smiled. “I would like to, and all the players are with me, to give our fans a fantastic pleasure and enjoyment. It has been fantastic to see them always since the start of the season in every competition. To see 8,000 fans away at Inter Milan, it was fantastic. It will be a big reward and always our fans deserve a good result.

“For the moment it is important to keep our calm, a good concentration, good focus about our game. Just to think about the consequence of the result it would not be a good thing. It is important to play a strong game against this great team and to put in place a good collective, to defend together and also to take any opportunity to score and to go forward with danger.”

This week none of Southampton players have been permitted to speak with media outlets, with all of their pre-final interviews completed last week before they jetted off to Spain to enjoy a few days of intensive training in the sun. Saints are ready, prepared and focused.

Puel admitted his side are the underdogs against Jose Mourinho’s red-hot Manchester United this Sunday.

With United losing just one of their last 25 games in all competitions the pressure is is off Southampton, just like it was at Arsenal in the quarterfinal and especially in the semifinal victory against Liverpool.

“Yes, I think there is a big pressure for Manchester [United]” Puel said. “People expect a win for Manchester. We respect them but don’t fear team. In football all is possible. We saw this in the last game, the semifinal against Liverpool. We are the underdogs. I think it is important to respect them but to keep the good attitude and positive spirit and to believe in us. That’s the most important.”

The 55-year-old Frenchman won three French cups with Monaco as a player, while lost in the French League Cup final as a manager with Monaco in 2001. He hopes his experiences of playing and coaching in finals will help, even though it doesn’t stack up to Mourinho’s supreme trophy-wining ability.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live ]

Over the two-legged semifinal against Liverpool, Saints had countless quality chances on the counter and although they beat Jurgen Klopp‘s side 1-0 home and away, they could’ve won more convincingly. The problem for Puel and Saints all season long has been being clinical. That create good chances but haven’t been finishing. New club-record signing Manolo Gabbiadini could be the difference on Sunday with the Italian international scoring three goals in two games since arriving in January from Napoli.

But Puel wants his team to be prepared to win anyway they can.

“All the games are different, sometimes we can have good possession and good set pieces, good possibilities,” Puel said. “Other games it is difficult, like against Liverpool because perhaps in the set pieces they were better than us. It is important for my players and my team to play with possibilities and the abilities with set pieces, possession and to counter-attack. I like that my players can have a good adaptation against any opponent. For me it is important to have the ability and capacity to play against any opponent, it is a good thing for the future.”

[ MORE: Latest EFL Cup final news

For the future, the prospect of Saints getting back into Europe is at the forefront of Puel’s mind. This season, their first in the Europa League group stage, they endured a disappointing exit on the total number of away goals scorer between themselves and Hapoel Be’er Sheva.

Reaching Europe for a third-straight season only appears possible through winning the EFL Cup as Southampton plod along in 11th place in the Premier League table. That’s something Puel wants, badly.

“For me it’s not just the opportunity to win a trophy, of course it is most important because a trophy is history and special. But for me the first thing in my mind is the opportunity to perhaps find again the European games next season, Puel explained. “It is most important to continue this work because we can play in different competitions this season, European games with young players and it was the first time they can play all these games. It will be interesting, very important to continue this work for next season and to find again possibilities to play these important games with change of teams and to have game time and to learn and improve with game time and maturity. All of this, for me, is this the most important to develop all of the squad.”

Can the Premier League form pick up if they win the EFL Cup?

“For the moment the Premier League has been frustrating,” Puel said. “Since the beginning of the season we can do good quality, good work without a good reward and without finding the good clinical without and with a lot of opportunities to score without conceding a lot of chances against us. Just before Boxing Day we were seventh place in the table, just two or three points off Manchester United. It is important to react and give a good answer. This final is an opportunity to give the season a good atmosphere, good spirit and a good reward for our fans and for our players also. In January and at the beginning of February we lost too many games. Which is is unusual for us.”

What is unusual for Puel is his current surroundings.

For a man who spent his entire 17-year playing career at Monaco, then 15 more years managing some of France’s top clubs, living on England’s South Coast is a little bit of a different proposition.

Still, Puel feels at home and enjoys being by the water in Hampshire and, most importantly, around knowledgeable fans who love their club passionately. Even if he can’t stroll down to the pub too often…

“It is difficult for me, like a lot of trainers I stay just focused about football. I read what Guardiola said, that it wasn’t possible for him to do anything else for 32 minutes. Perhaps for me it is 35 minutes,” Puel laughed. “It is a nice city, very interesting and I like the sea, it is the same as Monaco, for me.

“The weather is good, I was surprised because there is a lot of sun. Often I am surprised about this. I like this. I also like the atmosphere of the fans and people around the team, around the football, because I find that the fans know the football. They’re not just spectators. I like this. They give strong and fantastic opinions of the team and the players. I like this because it is a football country.”

Puel admitted that when he does get some free time, he’s been reminded by many how he and his players will become legends in the City of Southampton if they manage to upset United and joined the famous team of 1976 in the history books.

“We will see the result after this game. The most important thing is to focus about our game. The attitude of my players. It is important,” Puel said. “It is not me. That’s a shame, that I cannot play. It is fantastic for the fans and for the players to play in an exciting game. It is important to play this game with all the possibilities, attitude and a good spirit. To give their quality it is important they will stay focused.”

Focus is the buzzword around Southampton.

As a player at Monaco, Puel was (this will come as a huge shock) known for his focus, dedication and commitment. He was nicknamed “the dog” for his ferocious work as a midfield enforcer in Arsene Wenger‘s teams — to this day he is still good friends with the Arsenal manager — and tales of him flying into tackles in training with his players during his time at Lille, plus keeping up with them fitness-wise in drills, are commonplace around the French game.

Does he still join in with training now? Puel, somewhat begrudgingly, admitted he only fills in now and then when they need an extra man in games.

“Sometimes when I go to play on the pitch, sometimes the feeling of the player comes back,” Puel smiled. “It is difficult because now I have to be calm, I am a trainer… It is finished now, my playing. It is better.”

When you see him celebrate and jump up and down on the touchline during games as a manager, you get to understand a little more about his personality and his past as a player. Even if he isn’t box-office with quotes in his press conferences and is still mastering the English language, Puel is making his mark.

With Saints fans traveling from all over the world and snapping up tickets wherever they can to see their team in a major final at Wembley, Puel has a simple message for them.

All of the focus and hard work, it’s for them, and he is clearly blown away by the global reach of the Premier League.

“It is fantastic to have all of these fans all over the world,” Puel said. “The Premier League, before I came I knew it was a great championship with many fans in the world but when I see all this atmosphere, the positive atmosphere around the club with all the fans, I can just tell them thank you. I hope we can give them all the pleasure and enjoyment for this game.”

If Southampton win on Sunday, the quiet, calm Frenchman will be revered by every Southampton for the rest of his life and beyond. Perhaps that’s why he is so reluctant to think about leading the Saints to yet another famous upset in a final at Wembley against Manchester United.

Premier League Preview: Crystal Palace vs. Middlesbrough

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Scott Dan (L3) of Crystal Palace in action during the Premier League match between Middlesbrough FC and Crystal Palace FC at Riverside Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Middlesbrough, England. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images) *** Local Caption **** Scott Dan
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  • Palace leads all-time 18W-12D-17L
  • Palace won 2-1 on Sept. 16
  • Second PL meeting since 2005

Two relegation-battling sides just three points apart meet Saturday at Selhurst Park when Middlesbrough visits Crystal Palace (Watch live at 10 a.m. EDT on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

Wins have been hard to come by for both sides, and Boro enters the day in 16th place with 22 points. That’s three ahead of the 19th place Eagles.

Palace boss Sam Allardyce made more waves this week when he ripped into his players for not following his directions. The Eagles have a single PL win since a 3-0 home win over Southampton on Dec. 3.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won a Premier League match since Dec. 17, its only 2017 victories coming in three FA Cup wins. Still, Boro has proven stingy in engineering four draws. Aitor Karanka‘s side just needs more goals.

What they’re saying

Boro’s Karanka on not overdramatizing the match: “I can’t forget how well the team is doing so far, and we need to keep going in the same way. It is the biggest game because it is the next game. It is against a direct opponent but we will not be taking this game as a final. We can take heart from our previous games and performances. With our consistency and intensity we always have a chance.”

Palace boss Sam Allardyce rips his players“My experience and my qualifications are far greater than theirs. They can talk about tactics and systems, that’s fine, but they’re players are they’re paid to play. I’m the manager, and the system and tactics are my expertise, not theirs.”

Prediction

Boro’s defense has been strong, and Palace’s strength comes from its attack. We bet Alvaro Negredo will find his way to the score sheet, but that the Eagles find a way through as well. 1-1.