LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 12: Despair for Brad Guzan of Aston Villa as Jason Puncheon of Crystal Palace celebrates as he scores their first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Aston Villa at Selhurst Park on April 12, 2014 in London, England.

Crystal Palace 1-0 Aston Villa: Puncheon lifts his side once more (video)

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The two sides met at Selhurst Park even on points, but Crystal Palace emerge almost certain of safety, while results at the bottom mean Aston Villa are fearing relegation once more.

As was to be expected from a Tony Pulis side meeting a side set up defensively, there was very little action to be had in much of the match. In fact, by the break, Brad Guzan had needed to make just one save, while Villa hadn’t tested Julian Speroni at all.

It looked like Villa might be able to get something out of the match when Kagisho Dikgacoi went off injured. Pulis brought on Marouane Chamakh, pushing Joe Ledley into midfield and putting Chamakh just behind Cameron Jerome. The result was a rather disjointed Palace side.

Villa nearly took advantage of Palace’s inability to settle shortly after. Ciaran Clark got a touch on a corner from Ashley Westwood, but Jerome was there to clear the ball off the line.

Palace were able to work their way back into the game before the half had finished. The hosts’ best attempt came in the 41st minute, when Yannick Bolasie got on the end of a cross from Jason Puncheon. His header was rather tame, however, and Guzan had no trouble keeping it out.

Palace was again ready to cause trouble in the second half. Guzan was forced to push away a decent effort from Bolasie, but the ball fell to Jerome. The forward’s shot only rattled the bar, however.

At the hour mark, the lively Bolasie nearly got one past Guzan. His shot from 25 yards had the goalkeeper beaten, but Guzan was saved from embarrassment when the ball went just wide of the far post.

There was no one rescuing Guzan in the 76th, however, when Jason Puncheon put Crystal Palace up again. Last week’s hero netted his sixth of the season when he got on the end of a low ball from Bolasie to sweep home.

With less than fifteen minutes left to play, Paul Lambert made a double switch, bringing on Andi Weimann for Karim El Ahmadi and Marc Albrighton for Ryan Bertrand.

The substitutions very nearly paid off. Speroni was forced into a fantastic save to keep out an effort from Weimann. In injury time, the Austrian set up a good chance for Ciaran Clark, while Joel Ward and Scott Dann combined to keep out an attempt by Ron Vlaar.

LINEUPS

Crystal Palace: Speroni, Mariappa, Dann, Delaney, Ward, Dikgacoi (Chamakh 19), Jedinak, Bolasie (Parr 83), Puncheon, Ledley, Jerome (Murray 75)

Goals: Puncheon 76′

Aston Villa: Guzan, Lowton, Vlaar, Baker, Clark, Bertrand (Albrighton 82), Westwood, Delph, El Ahmadi (Weimann 82), Agbonlahor, Holt

Subs: Bennett, Weimann, Albrighton, Sylla, Bowery, Tonev, Steer

Mourinho: Leicester home should be Claudio Ranieri Stadium

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24:  Claudio Ranieri, Manager of Leicester City shows his frustration as Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United looks on during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on September 24, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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Jose Mourinho cannot quite get his head around Leicester City’s firing of Claudio Ranieri.

The story is on the tips of the tongues of many in the Premier League, and Manchester United’s boss is no exception.

[ MORE: UEL draw | Who is Rostov? ]

Speaking Friday ahead of United’s EFL Cup Final against Southampton, here’s what Mourinho had to say.

From the BBC:

“He deserves the Leicester stadium to be named ‘Claudio Ranieri Stadium’. The most beautiful thing in the Premier League and one of most beautiful in football history.

“Now Leicester are in the highlights again with a decision that has everyone in football united. It’s very difficult to accept. It’s important to realize how football is and we need to react. I was sacked as a champion [by Chelsea], a giant negative as I thought – peanuts compared to Claudio.

“I don’t think he needs more. Nobody can do what he did. If some of the stories have just a little bit of truth, it is difficult to find words to justify but we have to be able to cope.”

Mourinho is giving voice to what many feel, this writer included. Ranieri is in a relegation fight, yes, but to fire him days after the Foxes stole a road goal against Sevilla that gives them reasonable odds to advance in the UEFA Champions League? It’s an odd one, and smacks a bit of, “Well, we can’t fire him if he beats Liverpool or Sevilla”.

Liverpool visits the King Power Stadium this weekend, and the Foxes will need an incredible response at home to topple the rested Reds. Sure the Premier League is win now, but add me to the chorus who thinks the new manager will have the same odds to fix Leicester as Ranieri.

Roma’s American president losing patience over stadium delay

James Pallotta, AS Roma
AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino
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ROME (AP) Roma’s American president is starting to lose patience with city officials over long-delayed plans for a new stadium.

Ahead of a meeting between municipal authorities and club officials Friday, James Pallotta issued a statement saying the team expects “a massively positive result” from the encounter.

Pallotta adds “the alternative would be catastrophic for the future of AS Roma, Italian football, the city of Rome, and quite frankly for future business in Italy.”

[ MORE: PST feature on Pallotta ]

The mostly privately financed 1.6 billion euro ($1.7 billion) project received another setback this week when cultural authorities announced plans to declare the proposed stadium site – an abandoned hippodrome – as a site of “particularly important interest.”

The project in Tor di Valle, halfway between downtown and Leonardo Da Vinci Airport, also includes three office towers.

Who is Manchester United’s UEL opponent Rostov?

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 15: Jano Ananidze (L) of FC Spartak Moscow is challenged by Alexandru Gatcan of FC Rostov during the Russian Premier League match between FC Spartak Moscow v FC Rostov at Otkrytie Arena Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho and Manchester United have learned their fate for the UEFA Europa League’s Round of 16.

The Red Devils face Russian side FC Rostov in the next round of the tournament, four victorious ties from claiming an automatic spot in the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Spurs sent packing | Full UEL draw ]

So who is Rostov? Seventh in the Russian Premier League standings, Selmashi finished second last season and won the league in 1994 and 2008.

Rostov entered the Europa League after a run through the Champions League which saw the club knock out Anderlecht and Ajax, both still alive in the UEL, before finishing third behind Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich in the group stage. Rostov beat Sparta Prague in the Round of 32 of the UEL.

The club is led by former Moldova boss Ivan Daniliants. Its leading scorer is left wing Dmitri Poloz with 11 goals, and Ecuadorian national teamer Christian Noboa and Moldova veteran Alexandru Gațcan among its mainstays.

While some will make the case that a rough pitch, long trip, and stingy team makes this draw a bad one for United, Mourinho’s crew should triumph. How worse could it have been? This one won’t be easy, but consider Roma, Schalke, Borussia Monchengladbach… even a reunion with Memphis Depay and Lyon would bring more of a challenge than Rostov.

Europa League draw: Man Utd learns fate

Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan, center back to camera, celebrates scoring the opening goal with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 2nd right, and other teammates during a Europa League round of 32 second leg soccer match between Saint Etienne and Manchester United at Geoffroy Guichard stadium in Saint Etienne, France, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
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The travel is tricky, but Manchester United’s draw for the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 could’ve been much worse.

The Red Devils are off to Russia to face FC Rostov in the next round of the UEL competition.

[ MORE: Spurs out | Who is Rostov? ]

In another draw that leads you to question whether there’s anything random about it all, United and lone La Liga representative Celta Vigo drew winnable matches against Russian clubs, Roma has a tantalizing match against Lyon, and an all-Bundesliga match hits the docket.

Heck, we’ll even see an all-Belgian tie between Gent vs. Genk.

And in a draw which will have many glued to their sets, USMNT left-sided man Fabian Johnson will help Borussia Monchengladbach against German rivals Schalke. The first leg comes five days after the pair face off in Bundesliga play.

The Round of 16 legs will be played March 9 and 16.

UEFA Europa League Round of 16

Rostov vs. Manchester United
Celta Vigo vs. Krasnodar
Copenhagen vs. Ajax
Olympiacos vs. Besiktas
Lyon vs. Roma
Schalke vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
APOEL Nicosia vs. Anderlecht
Gent vs. Genk