Letters from London: One Night in The Valley

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LONDON – “I think I’d be happy with mid-table,” an Addicks supporter says when asked about Charlton’s chances this season. After racing away from League One last year, the London-based club is within one step of a Premier League return, though that’s far from fans’ minds. Opening their season with Birmingham City and Leicester City (two sides among the favorites to earn promotion), fans need results to fuel new dreams.

“We haven’t added anybody, have we,” the same supporter (a mid-20s professional) tells me, having come to the stadium straight from work. “It’s pretty much the same team that came up. We still need a bit more depth.”

They may be thin, Chris Powell’s side has made a strong impression. On Saturday, they earned a 1-1 draw at Birmingham City, with only a late Nikola Zigic goal keeping the Valiants from a surprise three points. Nonetheless, fans were happy with a result at one of the Championships’ bigger clubs. Brum won the League Cup just over one year ago.

Charlton, who spent nine seasons in the Premier League between 1998-99 and 2006-07, is now five years removed from England’s top division. Three seasons ago, they finished last in the Championship, earning their second relegation in three years. It was their first trip to the third division in 27 years.

In their first League One campaign, Charlton missed automatic promotion by two points before losing in the playoffs to Swindon Town. Although they collapsed to 13th a year later, Charlton bounced back in Powell’s first full season to win the league by eight points.

Considering the occasion, Charlton’s first home game could have had a celebratory atmosphere. Instead, their return was scheduled for a weeknight. It’s a perfect evening following a day that gave Londoners a reprieve from three days of blanketing humidity, but there’s still no change of selling out. On a weekend, however, the place would have been full, just as it did on the final day last season. For a 7:45 p.m. kickoff on Tuesday, 16,658 showed up at The Valley, Charlton’s 93-year-old, 27,111-capacity ground located in a working class Southeast London.

A retiree and his wife, season pass holders in the upper west stand, point to seats that will likely be empty, usually occupied by regulars who will be unable to return for this kickoff. I’m mistakenly sitting in another pass holders’ seat.

“No, it’s alright,” the husband says, a vague exoneration. “They might not be able to get back in time.” The couple would arrive just after kickoff.


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LONDON – The National Maritime Museum Gardens in Greenwich, where banners for the 2012 London Summer Olympics still hang. Greenwich Park hosted the equestrian and pentathlon events at the games. August 22, 2012. (Photo: Richard Farley)

Two miles west of Charlton is Greenwich, an affluent, historic town on one of the Thames River’s southern bends, five and a half miles from London’s center. The district has one of the city’s larger parks, gave its name to 0 degrees longitute (Greenwich Meridian) and GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), and is considered somewhat posh. After all, it’s official name is Royal Greenwich.

Walk east along Trefalgar Road as it becomes Woolwich and you’ll hit Charlton in 40 minutes. Along the way, you’ll see a cross section of London, albeit a simplified one. Near river’s edge, where you’ll find Greenwich’s historic Old Royal Naval Museum and the National Martime Museum, the streets are dotted with Fiats and Mercedes Benz. Tourists step off river ferries to snap pictures of the Cutty Sark before ambling south toward the market. A few blocks to the west, rows of ivory temporary tents still welcome Olympic athletes who departed last week, with isolated people stopping to snap photos of the area cordoned off by cast iron gates. With the scene lacking the amusement park urgency you’d see from other tourist spots, like the London Eye, even Greenwich’s tourists seem upmarket.

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LONDON – A bridge crossing Woolwich Road along the walk from Greenwich to Charlton in southeast London. August 22, 2012. (Photo: Richard Farley)

Along Trefalgar Road the scene becomes a New England fishing town. Small shops occupying old brick buildings line the main road, with sheets in windows above the business’s signs hiding apartments that beg you to guess their rent. The blocks closest to Greenwich have supermarkets like Tesco’s and other big businesses, like Blockbuster Video, but soon there’s only one convenience store per block. After you pass the midway point – the A102 – it’s only fast food and pubs, with the white paint on one row of houses having faded to a shade between grey and neglect.

At the edge of Charlton, large industrial buildings start to appear on the north side of the road. The pubs and restaurants are to the south. Two hours before game time, blue shirts speckle the sidewalk, Leicester City fans who made the journey from the East Midlands arriving early to enjoy an evening in London. Outside the Rose of Denmark, a few blocks east of The Valley, Foxes’ fans have taken over a pub which hangs a Charlton Athletic supporters’ group tapestry from the patio’s fencing. Aside from a few red Addicks scattered amongst the blue, it’s still too early (and too far from the stadium) for the local support.


“We’re bringing 1,200,” replies Steve to a curious Charlton fan, his name written in gold across the shoulders of his Fox blue shirt. Outside Seabay Fish Bar on Valley Grove, he talks to what appear to be a grandfather, father and his son, three generations waiting for their pregame meal. The surrounding blocks are lined with fans sitting on rock walls and crouching on sidewalks, all hovering over paper boats filled with fish and chips. At one point, the line neared 25 people long.

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LONDON – Outside Seabay Fish Bar in Charlton, just outside The Valley, home to Charlton Athletic F.C. August 21, 2012. (Photo: Richard Farley)

It’s a strong traveling party for Leicester, who will fill up three-quarters of the Jimmy Seed Stand – The Valley’s south end, allocated to the visiting support. Two buses of supporters arrive an hour before the match and are funneled into the venue’s east entrance. They’re joined by the majority who drove or (more likely) took the two-hour train from the East Midlands.

Nick and his wife, two retirees from Leicester, are amongst the traveling support. They always are. Life-long Foxes fans, they travel to every away game.

“Even Cardiff,” I ask, failing my British geography. The Welch capital won’t be their longest trip.

“Sure,” replies the wife, kindly.

“And Blackpool?” I’m getting slightly better. Blackpool’s over 260 kilometers (165 miles) from Leicester.

“Oh, yes,” she says. “We’ll go a few days ahead of time. If the game’s on a Tuesday, we’ll go up Sunday.”

“And Middlesbrough?” The North Yorkshire city is actually slightly closer than Blackpool.

“Yes,” she says before conceding, “that’s the tough one.” Teeside must offer few of Blackpool’s charms.

“And you’re expecting to go up this year, right?” I’m cutting to the chase.

“Well,” Nick starts, remembering last year’s expectations. Reluctantly, he concedes, “We’re hoping to be there, yeah.”

Like Charlton’s fans, he doesn’t want to invest false hope, though for different reasons. A year ago, former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson brought in a series of expensive signings only to be dismissed mid-season. This year, although some of Eriksson’s signings remain, it’s Nigel Pearson who’ll try to end Leicester’s eight-year spell outside the top division.

Pearson, in his second go at Leicester, is part of one of the night’s two major on-field subplots. While with the Foxes from 2008-2010, Pearson gave Chris Powell his first coaching job, transitioning the defender from his final spot as a player. In his pre-match notes, Powell acknowledged Pearson’s contributions to his career, his tone helping to defuse the Pearson versus Powell angle.


The start is furious, the sides racing end to end, and although Leicester has held more of the ball, only one team’s executing in their final third. In the 18th minute, that execution pays off when Bradley Wright-Phillips, younger brother of Shaun, let loose from the edge of the area, drilling a ball past Kaspar Schmeichel into the lower left hand corner of goal.

Within seconds, the crowd is paying tribute to last year’s leading scorer:

“Better than Shaun
Better than Sha-aa-auun
Bradley Wright-Phillips
He’s better than Shaun.”

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LONDON – Leicester City supporters stand in silence after Yann Kermorgant’s goal for Charlton on August 21, 2012. Charlton would go on to win 2-1 at The Valley. (Photo: Richard Farley)

Fourteen minutes later, the night’s second major subplot reached it’s climax when former Leicester forward Yann Kermorgant scored Charlton’s match-winning goal.

When lineups were announced, the former Fox garnered the largest (and most contentious) reception. Kermorgant’s history with Leicester City meant he was destined to be the match’s focal point. Having scored, he was the match’s hero, stealing Wednesday morning headlines with the goal that sank his former club. Had he failed to get on the scoresheet, he would have been the goat. Such is the 30-year-old Frenchman’s place in Leicester City history.

That history dates back to 2010, when Leicester’s Championship playoff semifinal against Cardiff City went to penalties, each side converting the first three. With the fourth, Kermorgant attempted a Penanka – a chip into the middle of goal designed to take advantage of `keepers’ tendencies to guess and dive for either corner. Bluebirds’ goalkeeper David Marshall did guess, leaping to his right, but stabbing his right arm into the ground, he was able to stop his drive. Reaching back with his left hand, Marshall saved Kermorgant’s Penanka. When Cardiff went on to win the shootout 4-3, Kermorgant’s irreverence became unforgivable.

It was the final touch Kermorgant would take for the Foxes. He spent the next season on loan in Ligue 1 ahead of last year’s move to Charlton.

After Kermorgant’s shot beat Kasper Schmeichel, Addicks fans erupted, shocked their team had run out to a 2-0 lead over one of the league’s favorites. And after collecting themselves and realizing who’d scored, a small number of Charlton fans turned their applause toward the south end, sarcastically reminding Leicester supporters of their pre-match derision.


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LONDON – Charlton Athletic manager Chris Powell (lower right) responds to fans in the north end of The Valley. Charlton had just defeated Leicester City 2-1. August 21, 2012. (Photo: Richard Farley)

An hour later, Powell was the last man off the field, at one point looking toward the supporters’ end from the center line, hands folded behind his head as he led the scene wash over him. Just under two years into his managerial career, he’d taken the club he spent seven years at as a player to a third division title, following that promotion with a victory in The Valley’s first match of the season. His stride slowed, his shoulders straighten as he took in the moment, having knocked off a division favorite to cap a four-point start.

As Powell approached the tunnel in the field’s northwest corner, the supporters, few of whom had left, started chanting: “Chris Powell! Chriiiis Poooowell!” They were begging for a sign, acknowledgement the 42-year-old was eager to give. The former Addicks’ left back, a member of division-winning teams for both Charlton and Leicester, extended his hands, the crowd’s appreciation ringing like thunder against the section’s metal roof.

“He’s extremely popular,” a Charlton supporter explained midway through the second half, after the Addicks had their lead reduced to one. “When he [was hired], I think he won his first four games, but then the team struggled after that. If he wasn’t so popular, I don’t think he would have survived. But then last year, it was brilliant. It’s nice that the manager has time.”

Powell’s hands don’t come down until he hits the retractable tunnel, but that doesn’t stop the chants. Within seconds, he’s back on the field, giving a final curtain call. When he leaves, the fans have permission to go home.


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LONDON – Fans leave The Valley on August 21, 2012 after Charlton Athletic defeated Leicester City, 2-1. (Photo: Richard Farley)

Leicester fans are already gone, most flocking to Charlton’s train station near the top of Floyd Road. The Southeastern Line will take them back to London Bridge, Waterloo Station, or Channing Cross. It’s a two-hour ride back to the East Midlands, riders left to stew in their team’s first loss of the season.

“Beckford was terrible tonight,” one supporter tells another, referring to striker Jermaine Beckford. Eriksson’s £2.5 million buy from Everton was substituted at halftime, playing more to the price David Moyes paid when he moved to Goodison Park from Leeds United (on a free transfer).

“He turns it off in the second minute,” the supporter bemoans at the suggestion that Beckford, when he’s on, is among the best players in the league. “He never turns it on.

“It’d be a mistake if Pearson plays him again.”

Coming off a weekend win over Peterborough United (a favorite to get relegated), Leicester has a respectable three points after two matches. That’s not enough for this train. Fans stand in clusters, reviewing what went wrong: Andy King, who scored the Foxes’ only goal, should have started ahead of Matty James in midfield; The tactics were wrong; The team needs defender Sean St. Ledger back; Jermaine Beckford is useless. Nothing like a tough road loss to bring out supporters’ high expectations.

Just as before the match, nobody’s willing to make predictions about where Leicester will finish. And although the win had made a few Charlton supporters regret not picking up full points at St. Andrews on Saturday, Addicks’ fans remain cautious. The season is 46 matches long, and each team has only passed its second hurdle. There are still plenty of mid-week matches left in this Championship season.

Arsenal – West Ham: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction

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Arsenal – West Ham: Mikel Arteta and Arsenal take on another London pal when his former manager David Moyes brings West Ham to the Emirates Stadium on Saturday (Watch live at 3pm ET Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Arsenal beat Fulham in its first match of the Premier League season and will be further buoyed by a new long-term contract for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

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West Ham has been very frustrated by the transfer market, with captain Mark Noble reacting publicly when the club sold Grady Diangana. That was before a 2-0 home loss to Newcastle on Saturday.

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Here is everything you need to know ahead of Arsenal – West Ham this Saturday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Arsenal – West Ham (INJURY REPORT)

Shkrodan Mustafi and Pablo Mari are out for Arsenal, while Granit Xhaka is a question mark. Gabriel Martinelli and David Luiz remain long-term absences.

Jack Wilshere rolled his ankle at training this week for West Ham and is not expected to be available.


What they’re saying

New defender William Saliba on a lifelong affair with Arsenal: “I had an Arsenal jersey when I was little with Thierry Henry [on the back], so I liked the club since then. Now I am very proud to have the Arsenal jersey. I don’t know why! I went in the shop, and I only wanted Arsenal. I liked Vieira and Thierry Henry because I was little and I only knew the French players and they were very good. I am very, very proud to have the number four, so I have to be ready to carry number four.”

David Moyes on West Ham’s cup win after losing to Newcastle: “I just want to win whatever game we play next. I’d have taken 3-0 before the game but I thought that by the end I was disappointed that we hadn’t won by more. Keeping a clean sheet was good as well and we look forward to the next game and get a win in that. Any cup win, any competition I am thrilled to do so.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

The home Gunners are -190 to win while West Ham getting anything would surprise the bookmakers to the tune of +340 for a draw and +475 for Moyes’ boys to upset his former midfielder.

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Prediction

Arsenal did the double against West Ham last year and it will be interesting to see whether Moyes tries to beat the Gunners with his top talents or again opts for grinders as he did in the loss to Newcastle. We think Arteta will have more up his sleeve and the Gunners were off all week. Arsenal 4-0.


How to watch Arsenal – West Ham stream and start time

Kickoff: 3 pm ET Saturday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: NBCSports.com

Leeds edge Fulham in seven-goal thriller

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Leeds – Fulham was a belter of a game, as Leeds won for the first time since gaining promotion back to the Premier League but they didn’t make it easy for themselves as they squandered a 4-1 lead but held on for the win.

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Leeds took the lead through Helder Costa’s stunner but Aleksandar Mitrovic briefly leveled things up from the penalty spot. Mateusz Klich then made it 2-1 to Leeds from the spot before half time and after the break Klich set up Patrick Bamford to make it 3-1. Costa made it 4-1 but then goals from Bobby Decordova-Reid and Mitrovic made it 4-3 and set up a wild finish, but Fulham couldn’t find an equalizer.

The win was Leeds’ first in the Premier League for over 16 years, while Fulham have now lost their opening two games back in the Premier League and have conceded seven goals in the process.


3 things we learned: Leeds – Fulham

1. “Bielsaball” will deliver classics: Their first two games back in the Premier League have both ended in 4-3 results, one defeat and one win. Leeds will be fun to watch this season. Now, they should have wrapped this game up and created so many chances but they ran out of steam in the second half. That is because they press so high early on and “Bielsaball” is based on that. Maybe they will have to tweak their tactics to cope with the PL but probably not. That means it will be fun to watch Leeds for the foreseeable future.

2. Both teams hampered by defenses: Attack is not the problem for either of these team but at the back they made so many mistake. Bielsa and Scott Parker both love to watch their teams attack but if they’re going to fulfil their potential this season (top 10 for Leeds and staying up for Fulham) they have to cut out silly errors at the back. Both teams gave away sloppy penalty kicks and failed to defense crosses as they left huge gaps at the back. They have to shore things up.

3. New Leeds signings taking a while to settle: Rodrigo was okay but Robin Koch had another game to forget as it is taking Leeds’ two main summer signings a while to settle in. Fulham’s new boys did okay. Maybe the new boys had less time to settle in due to the shorter offseason? But when you look at Everton and Newcastle and Leicester in the opening week of the season, their new boys settled in quickly. Leeds have spent big on new signings and they need more from them.

Man of the Match: Patrick Bamford – He won a penalty, scored a goal and set up another and he is proving he is capable of making a difference in the top-flight.


Leeds got off to the perfect start as they were 1-0 up within the first five minutes. A Kalvin Phillips corner was flicked on to the back post and Helder Costa was somehow left totally unmarked but finished superbly as he smashed home off the woodwork and in.

Michael Hector’s header was deflected over by Robin Koch as Leeds were pinned back after taking the lead. At the other end Koch had a header on goal which Fulham’s new goalkeeper Alphonse Areola tipped over.

Fulham were handed a golden opportunity to get back in the game as Koch slid in and just caught Joe Bryan as a penalty kick was given and Mitrovic made no mistake from the spot. 1-1. In his first two Premier League games for Leeds, Koch has now given away two penalty kicks.

No sooner had Fulham looked settled, they gave away an equally soft penalty kick as Bryan pushed Patrick Bamford in the back at the crucial moment and Klich slotted home to make it 2-1.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

A few minutes into the second half Klich set up Bamford who exposed a huge gap in the Fulham defense and slotted home his second Premier League goal in as many games. Bamford then turned provider as he surged down the left and pulled it back perfectly for Costa to slot home and make it 4-1.

Fulham got themselves back into the game as substitute Decordova-Reid smashed home after good work from Andre-Frank Anguissa to make it 4-2.

Kenny Tete then whipped in a lovely cross which Mitrovic headed home to make it 4-3 and moments later Neeskens Kebano hit the post and Mitrovic flashed a shot just wide as the away side surged forward in search of an unlikely point.

In the end, Leeds rallied and just held on for their first Premier League win since 2004.

Diogo Jota to Liverpool confirmed

Jota to Liverpool
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Jota to Liverpool is confirmed, as the Portuguese international has sealed his switch to Anfield.

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Diogo Jota, 23, has reportedly signed a five-year contract at Liverpool after the clubs agreed a fee which could rise to $58 million.

Jota is eager to add an extra dimension to Liverpool’s attack is ready to roll.

“It’s just a really exciting moment for me and my family,” Jota said. “All of my path since I was a kid and now, to join a club like Liverpool – the world champions – is just unbelievable. I just want to get started. It is one of the best teams in the world – the best at the moment because they are world champions. When you look at the Premier League, you always see Liverpool as one of the biggest teams in the country, so it’s impossible to say no. So we just want to come [here], to give our best and hopefully I can become a good option for Liverpool in the future.”

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp could hardly hid his excitement that Jota is now a Liverpool player.

“He’s a player who gives us so many options to use him. He’s 23 years old, still far away from being kind of a finished article, so much potential,” Klopp said. “He has the speed, he can combine, can defend, can press. It makes it just more unpredictable and gives us real options for different systems because he can play pretty much all three positions up front in a 4-3-3, if we play with four midfielders he can play both wings.

“So, these kinds of things. It’s just nice. And he has some natural things which we have in our game, like this desire and the greed and the direction. He is part of this unbelievable Portuguese generation in the moment, where they have really a lot of obviously quite skilled players. We saw the Portuguese team last time, it’s quite impressive. So, I’m really happy to have him here. And on top of that, a really good guy and really happy to be here.”

This has all happened very quickly but it works out well for everyone. Would Wolves have loved to have kept Jota? Of course.

Speaking to reporters ahead of Wolves’ clash with Manchester City on Monday (start time, 3:15pm ET, stream live on Peacock), head coach Nuno Espirito Santo praised Jota’s contribution to the club and said he is joining the right club in Liverpool.

“Diogo is amazing and everybody knows the relationship we built. What Diogo did for us is absolutely fantastic,” Nuno said. “I think Diogo is going to the right place and we wish him all the best, knowing that it never be forgotten, especially by our fans, all the memorable moments that Diogo provided.”

Wolves have bought Portuguese starlet Fabio Silva this summer and have Pedro Neto, Daniel Podence and Adama Traore who can support Raul Jimenez in attack. They will be just fine without Jota. He joined them on loan from Atletico Madrid when they were a Championship club and helped them gain promotion to the Premier League and has been incredibly consistent in terms of goals and assists over the last two seasons.

At Liverpool Jota will have to wait for chances behind Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane but his style of play suits them perfectly and it is a great move for him. Working under Jurgen Klopp will take his game to the next level and Liverpool’s secondary attacking options have just got a lot better, plus they’ve added Thiago Alcantara to upgrade their midfield.

Diogo Jota to Liverpool is now a done deal and he leaves Wolves with the best wishes of everyone and for a transfer fee which justifies letting him go as he cost them just $16.5 million less than three seasons ago.

Manchester United – Crystal Palace: How to watch, start time, team news

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Manchester United – Crystal Palace: Manchester United finally begins its Premier League season with a visit from Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 pm ET on Peacock).

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The two sides met at Selhurst Park in July. Marcus Rashford had a goal and an assist in a 2-0 win over the Eagles, a bit of vengeance after Patrick van Aanholt keyed a Palace upset of the Red Devils at Old Trafford in August 2019.

STREAM MANCHESTER UNITED-CRYSTAL PALACE LIVE

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Manchester United – Crystal Palace this Saturday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Manchester United – Crystal Palace (INJURY REPORT)

Paul Pogba starts for Man United as he continues to get back in shape after COVID-19 quarantine, as Solskjaer noted the Frenchman gets himself ready quickly. Mason Greenwood is on the bench, while Timothy Fosu-Mensah starts at right with Aaron Wan-Bissaka only fit enough for the bench. Donny van de Beek is also on the bench.

Mamadou Sakho returns for Palace, while Wilfried Zaha is handed the captains armband for the first time and he captains Palace against his former club.


What they’re saying

Donny van de Beek on joining Man Utd“Everyone has helped me a lot and wanted to make me feel at home and this is really good for me and it has given me the confidence to play. … It’s a family club, I feel this already from the first seconds I have been here. Old Trafford is an amazing stadium. The nicest thing will be when the fans are there too and I cannot wait to play for the first time in front of them. I hope to see them soon in the stadium because for our team they will give us a lot of power when we can have them with us.”

Palace’s Roy Hodgson on perceived wantaway Wilfried Zaha: “Nothing’s changed at all since the last 230 times I’ve spoken on the subject, I don’t think. He’s fit, he’s well, he’s playing extremely well, he’s looking forward to Saturday and we’re looking forward to using him. I’m pretty sure when something major happens on the Wilf Zaha front, the mass media will be the first to know.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Palace is the biggest underdog of the weekend at +850, with hosts United at -325. Even a draw at +440 would be a big surprise.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Prediction

Palace will be playing its third match in a week and that could have them a bit sharper than their opening day hosts or lagging a bit. Given United’s superiority in attack and the impossibility that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men will sleep on a team that upset them in the same building a year ago, we’re going 3-1 to the Red Devils. Wilf Zaha scores against his former team, but Aaron Wan-Bissaka gets an assist versus his.


How to watch Manchester United – Crystal Palace stream and start time

Kickoff: 12:30 pm ET Saturday
Online: Stream via Peacock