Premier League 2014-15 preview: Crystal Palace

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Many people expected Crystal Palace to be playing in England’s second-tier this season but thanks to a heroic turnaround and the genius of manager Tony Pulis, the Eagles are soaring into their second-straight Premier League season for the first-time in club history. By December last year they looked dead and buried, in the end Palace finished in 11th and put in some wonderful displays. This season Pulis will be hoping to build off the feel-good factor fostered by exceeding expectations last year, as the South Londoners hope to carry on their surprising spell in the top-flight. Selhurst Park has become a fortress and no team will be relishing a trip to play a physical, committed ‘Pulian’ team in front of the boisterous Ultras in 2014-15.

[RELATED: Full PL season preview]

Transfers In: Chris Kettings (Blackpool, Free), Fraizer Campbell (Cardiff City, $1.6 million), Brede Hangeland (Fulham, Free)

Transfers Out: Kagisho Dikgacoi (Cardiff City, Free), Danny Gabbidon (Released), Dean Moxey (Bolton Wanderers, Free), Jonathan Parr (Ipswich, Free), Jose Campana (Sampdoria, Undisclosed), Aaron Wilbraham (Bristol City, Free)

Full PL schedule | Watch Palace live via Live Extra | BPL on NBC schedule |

Last season: As we mentioned, Palace defied the odds to beat the drop last season. Pulis arrived to take over from Ian Holloway with the Eagles in the drop zone and looking doomed. However just as he did at Stoke the Welsh manager made them hard to beat and with some shrewd additions in the January transfer window, Palace’s fans began to believe the great escape was on. After beating the likes of Chelsea and stunning Liverpool with a remarkable comeback from 3-0 down late in the season, Palace were well clear of the relegation drama in the final weeks. It was a herculean effort from all involved in their first season back in the big time. Can they replicate it? Here is a recap of their 2013-14 season.

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Can Jedinak lead the Eagles to yet another surprise season in the PL?

Star player: Mile Jedinak

Palace’s skipper is the heartbeat of the team and an absolute machine in the engine room. The Aussie destroyer ploughed his way through plenty of PL midfields last season and after some great displays for the Socceroos at the World Cup, expect Jedinak to drive his team on once again. Palace’s incredible work ethic feeds off this guy and he epitomizes their blue-collar approach. The fans love him and he’s a true leader who slots perfectly into the way Pulis sets his teams up.

Coaches’ Corner: Tony Pulis

The reigning Premier League coach of the year agonized over taking the Palace job last season, but when he finally did the entire club got a lift and his PL experience with Stoke shone through. Even Pulis probably didn’t envisage the dramatic turnaround he conducted, as his team went from relegation certs to mid-table obscurity (not a bad thing) in the space of six months. His baseball caps, screaming and no-nonsense approach go hand-in-hand with Palace’s passionate supporters. Expect Pulis’ men to be direct, fast-paced and punch above their weight once again.

PST predicts: Will it be a case of second-season syndrome for Palace as teams figure out how to counteract their direct style? There haven’t been many new faces arriving at Selhurst this summer but Pulis is the king of deals late in the transfer window. Expect big moves. If the team spirit is retained then Palace’s home form will be key as they aim to try and finish in the PL’s top 10 for the first time in club history. If you love an underdog story, keep an eye on Palace.

Poignant FA Cup final reflects current mood in UK

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LONDON — Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-1 to win the 2016-17 FA Cup on Saturday at Wembley Stadium, but this was about much more than a game of soccer.

“They just keep coming, no matter what, don’t they?” said a fellow journalist I bumped into surveying the scene outside Wembley before kick off as a wave of red and blue supporters inched towards the home of soccer while under armed police guard.

They certainly did.

The FA Cup final on Saturday, a 90,000 sellout, provided most of the UK with a slight distraction from a nightmare week where the worst terrorist attack since the 7/7 bombings in 2005 dominated the hearts and minds of a nation.

After watching on in horror as 22 people were killed and 116 injured by a suicide bomber outside Manchester Arena late Monday, the attention of everyone in the UK has been focused on the atrocity in Manchester.

That horrendous attack led to the UK being placed into the highest terror threat level of “critical” for just the third time since it was introduced in 2006 and things like soccer games, rivalries and trophies seemed somewhat meaningless as the threat of an “imminent attack” dominated the news.

It didn’t matter that this was a final being played between two Premier League teams from London. Everyone had Manchester on their minds.

A few hours before the game British Prime Minister Theresa May downgraded the terror threat level to “severe” rather than critical, but that didn’t stop armed policeman in abundance at Wembley as armored police cars replaced some of the burger vans which usually littered the roads near Wembley Way.

Arsenal fan Andy Calcutt stood on an elevated walkway outside Wembley having a cigarette as he pushed his sunglasses further up his nose.

The skyline of London was visible in the distance on a glorious early summer day and the message was clear: terrorists will never win.

“It is the British spirit to soldier on and go through it. It is fantastic today,” Calcutt said. “Nobody that I know has any issues about turning up to a big event. There is obviously more of a security presence, which gives you a bit of reassurance, but it’s not an issue for anyone here. We keep on going through our day to day. That’s how we get on.”

As the glorious sunshine beat down on Wembley two hours before kick off, there was a lingering sense of remembrance but celebration was in the air too.

On Friday the most senior counter-terrorism officer in the UK, Mark Rowley, urged citizens to “go out as you planned and enjoy yourselves” around the bank holiday weekend.

After the week the UK has had, it is easy to understand why that was the message following security measures being reviewed for over 1,300 events as the Aviva Premiership rugby final took place at Twickenham, the Manchester Great Run was scheduled and there were many huge events up and down the nation.

The FA Cup final was by far the biggest as the eyes of the world fixed itself on Wembley.

Chelsea fan Marcus Mays stood with his partner looking out on Wembley Way as the fans flooded in before the cup final.

“I was born in Manchester and I have a lot of friends from up that way and I think everyone was behind Manchester United for their Europa League win in midweek. It was lovely to see,” Mays said. “We have got to get on with our lives and I think everyone appreciates that. I can’t imagine anybody swerving a cup final because of the terrorist attack. Everyone has to crack on with their lives.”

That sentiment was echoed time and time again by everyone in and around Wembley. There was plenty more waiting in lines before you got into the stadium but nobody complained, nobody moaned. They queued and got on with it with a smile on their face.

As I walked out of Wembley Park underground station before the game, a guy in an Arsenal shirt went up to a policeman and shook his hand and thanked him, then walked off.

It has been that kind of week, to appreciate those around you and what you have.

At times like these you call your family and friends more often, you kiss your wife, husband or kids more. You reach out to strangers and offer a smile while sat on the subway train, or a polite nod, when previously the stresses of the modern world appeared to be too much to offer such niceties.

Even in a major cup final between bitter rivals there was respect.

Sure, there was chanting back and forth between Chelsea and Arsenal fans beforehand, laughter and jokes as groups of friends met up in among policeman armed with semi-automatic rifles, but just before kick off it became apparent how reflective the mood was.

There was an immaculately observed minute’s silence to remember the victims as both teams stood united around the center-circle, linked to their teammates. 90,000 fans stood in silence as some began to chant “Manchester!” but quickly stopped.

Fans held up signs reading “I love MCR!” and on the large TV screens at either end of Wembley messages simply read “We Stand Together” as the vast three-tier venue stood perfectly still.

Following a week like this it easy to brush off the insignificance of sport. So often fans, and even players and managers, watch or get involved in the action to try and forget everything else in life for a few hours a week.

Speaking after the game, Antonio Conte reinforced that message, one he had shared before the game.

“It was an important game but don’t forget the tragedy in Manchester,” Conte said in the aftermath of defeat.

He was right. This was no place to forget.

Chelsea and Arsenal’s fans held banners up saluting Manchester and the victims of the attacks and before the game both clubs canceled plans for a trophy parade in London on Sunday, out of respect for Manchester and also to not put a further burden on the already-stretched police force as they continue their huge investigations.

Everyone in the stadium and everyone at home hoped they’d never have to live through seeing scenes like this again. Children and their families killed as they left a music concert.

At times like these sport can provide a distraction and helps some to heal, but there’s so many more important things going on in the UK, and across the globe, right now.

The overall message portrayed at Wembley on Saturday was a poignant one: this was no time to hide.

Now, even in one of the darkest moments for the UK in recent history, was the time to face the world and stand tall.

“It’s just another day. You can’t live in fear, can you?” Arsenal fan Ryan Kilburn said. “There’s no point in hiding.”

Pulisic helps Borussia Dortmund to German Cup win

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Christian Pulisic won the decisive penalty kick as Borussia Dortmund won its fourth German Cup final with a 2-1 win over Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday.

Pulisic subbed into the match to earn a foul off the keeper, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang converted the PK in Panenka style to ice the win.

[ MORE: Gunners win FA Cup

It’s BVB’s first Cup win since 2011-12, and ends a run of three-straight German Cup Final losses.

The 13-times capped USMNT winger finishes his club season with 43 appearances, five goals, and 13 assists. Not bad for an 18-year-old.

Conte’s verdict on FA Cup’s controversial flashpoints

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Failing at a first season double hasn’t taken the shine off a fine first season for Antonio Conte at Chelsea.

The Italian mastermind was adamant that his season was great, and that his side just had a rough day at the office on Saturday.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea | Three things from Wembley ]

That’s not just about form, either. There was, depending on your viewpoint, either a handball, offside, both, or neither in the run-up to Arsenal’s first goal, and Victor Moses was sent-off for diving when it appeared that he anticipated a body challenge that Francis Coquelin never provided.

Did it look like a dive? Yep. Was it? No, but that’s soccer. Here’s Conte’s thoughts on both:

“It’s a clear handball – it’s very clear. I don’t understand why the referee didn’t see this situation. It can happen. Players can make mistakes – referees too. At the end of the season I saw a lot of mistakes against us. Manchester United, Bournemouth. We were unlucky.”

“The Moses yellow card was a key moment. It’s very difficult to tell [whether it was a yellow] – I saw contact with Moses and the defender, but was there contact for a penalty? I don’t know.”

Again, I don’t believe there was diving intent by Moses yet understand why Anthony Taylor saw what he saw. As for the Sanchez handball and Ramsey offside… different story.

Wenger on future, FA Cup win: “It’s about competence.”

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Arsene Wenger is enjoying his time in the sun, but there’s certainly more than a trace of defiance in the legendary manager’s tone.

Under duress for most of a trying season at the Emirates Stadium, Wenger stood tall after leading Arsenal to a controversial win in the FA Cup Final.

The win is the Gunners’ third in four seasons, and for some would signal a fitting exit from the hot seat at Arsenal.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea | Three things from Wembley ]

Wenger doesn’t see it that way, doubling down on the idea that fans can be as critical as they want outside the stadium if they support their club once the ball is in play.

Wenger admitted that he’s keeping the winner’s medal from this victory, something he’s rarely if ever done. But that doesn’t mean he’s ready to leave London, and he’s not one for making a decision based on sentiment.

“There’s no perfect way. I just want to do well for this club. Apart from that, it’s down to the board members. Am I the right man to lead this club further and that’s it? And for me to decide, It’s up to the board and me. It’s not about popularity it’s about competence.”

As for his future?

“It would be ridiculous that 20 years depends on one game. Overall, we’ll know more next week.