Three things we learned from Man United’s win vs. Crystal Palace

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LONDON — Manchester United beat Crystal Palace 2-1 at Selhurst Park on Wednesday as their stars shone.

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A goal and an assist each for the brilliant Paul Pogba and the clinical Zlatan Ibrahimovic did the damage with United making it two wins on the spin to keep themselves in the top four battle.

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Here’s what we learned from a slow-burner in south London as Palace remain in relegation trouble.


STARS SHINE FOR UNITED

This is why you pay them the big bucks. Pogba and Ibrhahimovic were the difference in this game and Pogba was particularly sublime in midfield.

He set up Wayne Rooney with a wonderful dinked pass in the first half and then right on the stroke of half time he finished off a cheeky chest down from Zlatan (which appeared to come off his arm) to put United 1-0 up.

Pogba then provide the game-winning assist with two minutes to play as he slotted in Zlatan but the Swedish striker still had plenty to do as he dinked home across goal to make it 2-1.

Jose Mourinho hailed Ibra after the game, saying he never questioned his character and his quality.

With Zlatan now scoring 14 goals in 24 games since arriving in England, plus Pogba putting in a man of the match display, United are figuring this thing out. Sure, they’re still six points off the top four but you can’t argue with Mourinho when he says their performances have been a lot better for a long time.

Now, United is finally get the results their performances deserve. That has a lot to do with Zlatan and Pogba stepping up to show their star quality when it mattered most.


KEY DECISIONS INCORRECT

There were four pivotal moments in this game which referee Craig Pawson got wrong. Very wrong.

After the game Palace’s manager Alan Pardew felt hard done by and Mourinho didn’t want to say anything apart from applaud Pawson. Would he have been doing that had United not grabbed the late winner their dominance deserved? Probably not.

Anyway, for United’s first goal, right on half time, Zlatan looked to have handled and Pogba was offside as he finished. Pawson needed help from his assistants but the referee didn’t get any. He did get plenty of stick from the home fans in the first half as he let tough tackles go from United.

That brings us to the second incident: Marcos Rojo‘s lunging tackle.

Now, Mourinho may say he is “playing phenomenally and is a very clean player” but the evidence suggests otherwise. In United’s 1-1 draw with Everton 10 days ago Rojo was lucky to stay on the pitch after a lunging tackle. He did exactly the same in the first half against Palace as he lunged in with both sets of studs showing on Wilfried Zaha. He should’ve been sent off. Pawson missed it and gave him just a yellow.

Then came two more moments of controversy in the second half as first Joe Ledley blatently handled in the box but no penalty kick was given and then Rojo headed down for Juan Mata to slot home but the offside flag went up.

You can clearly argue all four decisions were wrong and in the end they canceled each other out. Still, not a vintage display from a young, promising referee.


PALACE PUNISHED FOR TIMIDNESS

We know Pardew’s Palace have been struggling for a while, but the way he set his team up spoke volumes of their limitations. They only wanted a draw. Nothing more.

With Mathieu Flamini handed his first start of the season, the Frenchman sat in during the first half and so did the rest of his teammates. Palace barely got out of their own half in the first half which frustrated the home fans and something had to change.

Ledley was brought on at the break which livened up the game and when James McArthur equalized it got interesting for a while. But, yet again, Palace retreated when they were level and United deservedly won.

Heading into the busy festive period Palace now have Chelsea and Arsenal in their next three games. With just 15 points on the board and confidence clearly at an all-time low under Pardew, the Eagles won’t be soaring anywhere other than towards the drop zone as 2016 comes to a close.

It has been a truly dreadful 2016 for the Eagles who have just six wins in the Premier League over the last 12 months. Fresh impetus is needed at Selhurst Park as Wednesday’s lack of belief proved. Is Pardew the man to get the best out of this talented, yet top-heavy, squad?

MLS Snapshot: FCD lose 2nd in a row; Fire win 4th straight

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The game in 100 words (or less): After starting the 2017 season nine games without a loss, FC Dallas, the longest-lasting unbeaten team in MLS, has lost two straight. Saturday saw their unbeaten start come to an end, against the San Jose Earthquakes, just as Wednesday’s trip to Toyota Stadium saw Oscar Pareja’s side drop all three points to the Chicago Fire. All three of the game’s goals were scored during the opening nine minutes, as FCD fought back from 1-0, but couldn’t find a second equalizer on the night. Nemanja Nikolic bagged the opener, his 11th goal in 13 games to extend his lead in the Golden Boot race to two, in the 3rd minute. Roland Lamah brought FCD back to level terms three minutes later, but David Accam restored the home side’s advantage after three more minutes. Nikolic had every opportunity in the world to take his goals tally to a dozen during second-half stoppage time, but Chris Seitz denied the Hungarian international from the penalty spot. For the first time since Sept. 2012, Chicago have won four straight league games, and sit just two points back of Eastern Conference-leading Toronto FC (26 points).

[ WATCH: Chicharito-to-MLS in doubt due to $10M contract demands ]

Three moments that mattered

3′ — Nikolic redirects past Seitz for 1-0 — Nikolic ran 15 yards straight ahead without a single FCD player picking him up or impeding his path to the near post, and they paid for it.

6′ — Lamah taps it in to make it 1-1 right away — Lamah has been quite the disappointment since arriving in Dallas this winter, but he happened to eb in the right place at the right time in this one, as a failed clearance fell to the five-times-capped Belgian international for an easy tap-in, and his first MLS goal.

9′ — Accam cuts inside to make it 2-1 just as quickly — At some point, Accam will be properly rated by the wider MLS audience, as he’s been Chicago’s best player for two full seasons, and has only hit a new high with capable attackers all around him.

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Man of the match: Dax McCarty

Goalscorers: Nikolic (3′), Lamah (6′), Accam (9′)

Report: Chicharito-to-MLS in doubt due to contract demands

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While Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has the feel of the player most clearly destined to play in MLS since Thierry Henry, we might have to wait a little while longer before the 28-year-old Mexican international ditches Europe in favor of a return to North America.

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According to a report from ESPN FC on Thursday, Hernandez is seeking an annual salary “way north of $10 million,” which would shatter the current record contract for an MLS player (Kaka — $7.2 million per year).

Hernandez has one more season left on his contract with Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen. During the summer of 2018 he’ll be available for any club in the world to sign on a free transfer. With Los Angeles FC, the team Hernandez has reportedly been negotiating with for months now, set to debut in MLS in March 2018, chances are they’d like the centerpiece of their squad (and the largest annual investment in MLS history) to be involved on opening day, thus a fee will be required, very likely pushing the club’s total investment (salary plus fee) into the neighborhood of $50 million.

[ WATCH: Giovani dos Santos’ jaw-dropping volley vs. MIN ]

You can see pretty quickly why LAFC might balk at such demands.

With that said, 1) LAFC shouldn’t be surprised by this recent development, given Hernandez’s otherworldly allure within the LA market; 2) to piggyback on no. 1, a player should be paid every cent he’s worth to the club, on and off the field, and there might not be a player in the entire world (this side Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo) who’d make LAFC a bigger hit in LA from day one.

Enrique “more than satisfied” with Barca tenure, eyes one more trophy

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MADRID (AP) Luis Enrique is finally saying goodbye to Barcelona, with one last chance at a trophy.

The Luis Enrique era in Barcelona ends after the Copa del Rey final against Alaves on Saturday, when the coach could cap his three-year stint with a ninth trophy out of a possible 13.

It would be a fitting farewell for him nearly three months after his surprise announcement that he was leaving.

“It would be a special title,” Luis Enrique said.

The former Barcelona midfielder has won nearly everything as the coach, since replacing Gerard Martino in 2014.

He led the team to the treble of the Spanish league, Copa del Rey, and Champions League in 2015. He achieved the league-Copa double in 2016, and began this season with the Spanish Super Cup title, their only trophy so far.

It hasn’t been Luis Enrique’s best season with Barcelona, which was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, and lost the Spanish league to Real Madrid last weekend.

“I’m happy and more than satisfied for all the years that I’ve enjoyed with this club,” the 47-year-old Luis Enrique said.

He announced in March he was leaving so he could get some rest.

“I came here to be a leader and I’ve been one. I’m leaving when I think it’s the best time to do it.”

His other titles included the 2015 European Super Cup and the 2015 Club World Cup.

Barcelona has yet to lose a Copa del Rey home-and-away series since he took over, a run of 12 straight triumphs.

“We are all thankful for these three years (with Luis Enrique),” captain Andres Iniesta said. “We have to win one last title to finish the best possible way.”

Barcelona has been in the Copa final in seven of the last nine seasons, including the last four. It has won it a record 28 times, including the last two.

Alaves will be playing in the final of a major tournament for only the second time in its 96-year history. The other was the UEFA Cup 16 years ago, when it lost to Liverpool 5-4 in extra time.

Alaves’ only winner’s trophy is for Spain’s second division. It was a promoted club in Spain’s top division this season after 10 years in the lower divisions, including four in the third tier. It finished ninth in the Liga.

Alaves enters the Copa final boosted from having beaten Barcelona 2-1 at Camp Nou at the beginning of the season.

The coach touted to replace Luis Enrique at Barcelona is Ernesto Valverde, who left Athletic Bilbao this week. An official announcement is expected next week.

Marco Silva leaves Hull; Premier League clubs lining up

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Marco Silva came to the Premier League, he saw the PL, but he didn’t conquer the PL — at least, not yet.

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It was announced on Thursday that the 39-year-old Portuguese manager, who took over last-place Hull City in January, has left the club after succumbing to relegation from the PL. Silva, whose stock rose quickly during his brief stay in England, signed a contract that ran only through the end of the season should they be relegated, thus he’s not sure on options these days. Hull would have undoubtedly welcomed him back for a run at promotion from the Championship next season.

As recently as Wednesday, Silva was expected to be named the new boss at Porto, though various reports stated that talks between the manager and club had broken down.

[ MORE: Terry “couldn’t care less” about criticism of his farewell ]

Watford and Crystal Palace, both of whom are manager-less after Walter Mazzarri was fired and Sam Allardyce resigned, respectively, are said to be extremely interested in Silva’s services.