What we learned from Manchester City’s squeaker win over Crystal Palace

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  • City’s bench comes through … even Dzeko

Manuel Pellegrini responded to the tight holiday schedule with six changes, meaning a well-deserved rest for key figures. James Miler, Edin Dzeko, Dedryck Boyata, Matija Nastisic, Gael Clichy and Javi Garcia were the newcomers, while Yaya Toure and Alvaro Negredo and a foursome of other starters took their seats for a day.

The newcomers did their parts, retaining almost all of the possession, even if the visitors did turn up some danger moments of their own on limited time with the ball.

Dzeko continues to be something of a mystery man around the Etihad – and certainly a polarizing one. The Bosnian international peeled off smartly to pry himself loose form the marking at the moment that mattered, and his ability to do exactly this – find the space and finish clinically, that is – will check a lot of boxes as City continues to deal with Sergio Aguero’s absence.

But that’s not enough for some people, and it’s not hard to understand why. He sometimes seems to lack the all-out commitment, and way too many attacks disintegrate once they reach his feet.

(MORE: Highlights and recap as City tops Crystal Palace)

Once again, we saw an afternoon where Dzeko asked too few questions of the defense – and yet managed to make the difference with a critical goal. And in the end, isn’t that all a striker needs to do, make the difference in the moment that matters most?

  • Crystal Palace made this one difficult

Palace did make this one quite difficult; but what would we expect from a Tony Pulis side? And he has certainly injected some quality and a lot of stubbornness upon his arrival into Selhurst Park.

We are talking, after all, about a City team that has scored 37 at home while conceding just six measly goals, a stunning plus-31 goal difference at home. Plus, that’s a tad more than four goals a game at home.

So for Palace to walk away 1-0 losers is hardly a shame. Plus, Pulis’ bunch of hard-trying types had a couple of late chances to level the game. And if not for a big, stretching save off Joe Hart’s left palm, the Palace man probably would have.

In fact, speaking of City now-and-again No. 1 in goal …

  • Joe Hart is standing the test

Pellegrini keeps nailing the bullseye with his personnel decisions; it seems that a benching for Joe Hart – he’s certainly strengthened his spot as England’s No. 1, too, eh? — has done the trick. Hart seems to be back at his best, all the better for the time out of City’s starting lineup.

He has been an absolute rock in City’s goal since returning to the lineup two weeks back, and especially so over the last three days. Hart was excellent when called upon in the big win over Liverpool and (ironically) even better and braver Saturday against the far less heralded Palace.

His save on Jason Puncheon’s well-aimed volley from just beyond the 18 was the veteran keeper’s best stuff. It came after a real worry for City faithful, having seen their top backstopper take a bad cut below his left eye in a no-nonsense collision with Cameron Jerome.

It left Hart looking as if he’d been on the wrong side of a barroom brawl, but he was clearly still on top of things.

  • David Silva will miss City’s next match

The City playmaker’s cynical, late challenge will prove costly. Coming in the 89th minute as it did, we can ask a couple of questions.

First, was the challenge even necessary? Yes, Jonathan Williams was running through midfield at a hardy pace, but City seemed to have its defensive house in order behind the ball. Vincent Kompany is back there, you know?

Second, should Silva have been on the field? Pellegrini had seemed to be toying with the idea of removing the Spanish creator, surely considering that Silva was sitting on four yellow cards and was, in fact, just one bad challenge from missing his next match. The manager chose other switches instead and, well …

Silva’s fifth booking means he misses City’s New Year’s Day match at Swansea.

Griezmann: Playing for Barcelona is ‘not the easiest’

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Over the summer, Barcelona shelled a whopping $135 million to land Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid.

It was a match made in heaven; the rest was supposed to be history.

Only that hasn’t been the case for the Frenchman in Barcelona.

Despite scoring a brace in his debut at the Camp Nou, Griezmann’s impact and influence on the field has quickly dwindled. In 11 league appearances with the Catalan giants, the 28-year-old has scored four goals and added three assists, signs that the World Cup winner is, in fact, struggling with his new team.

Speaking to Telefoot, Griezmann revealed that playing for Barcelona is not an easy thing to do, but that with hard work, his fortunes will turn around for the best:

“It is hard, I knew it would be, it is not the easiest place. This is a new team, a new club, new tactics, a new position. I have to work, try to understand my team-mates, after they will understand me too and it will work just like that… Critics will always be there. But I am good, I am proud of where I am. Only work pays off. I have to take confidence and it will all come just like that.”

This season, Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde has frequently deployed the Frenchman as a left winger, with the hope that he will link up with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. The positives form such an ideology have yet to be reaped, however. Griezmann is scoring a goal every 224 minutes, a career worst.

The 28-year-old, too, has played in a central role on a couple of occasions, specifically during the absences of Messi and Suarez, but it hasn’t worked out for a player that has made a career from roaming that part of the field.

The building clamor at the Camp Nou is borderline justifiable – mainly because it’s now evident that Griezmann is wrestling with adapting to the expectations and systems in place in Barcelona.

But the high-flying attacker has proven he’s worth the price time and time again, and now he’s on the record saying that he’ll do everything in his power to do so with his new club.

Real Monarchs beat Louisville City to win first ever USL Cup

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Real Monarchs scored three unanswered goals as they routed Louisville City 3-1 at Lynn Stadium to win their first ever USL Cup title.

Noah Powder’s goal in the 66th minute sealed the deal for the visitor’s, adding to the goals scored by defenders Erik Holt and Konrad Plewa in the first half.

Surprisingly enough, it was Lou City who got off to a superb start on Sunday night, though.

Only six minutes after the initial whistle, Lou City’s leading goalscorer, Magnus Rasmussen, scored the game’s first goal, breaking a record for the fastest goal in a USL Cup final.

The defeat brings an end to Lou City’s historic run of consecutive USL Cup-winning seasons.

On July 1, former Real Salt Lake defender, Jamison Olave, took over as the Monarchs interim coach following Martin Vasquez’s unexpected resignation.

Man arrested after English soccer player reports homophobia

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TRANMERE, England — A footballer in England’s third tier reported being subjected to homophobic abuse from the stands, leading to police making one arrest.

Wycombe goalkeeper Ryan Allsop told the referee of the abuse at halftime of the League One soccer game at Tranmere as his team won 2-0.

Tranmere says it is very disappointed to learn of a homophobic comment made.

In a statement, Merseyside Police condemned abhorrent incidents.

Police Chief Inspector Jason Crellin added that “hate crime has no place in our communities, and not least at a showcase sporting event attended and watched by many people.”

Brazil beat Mexico to win U-17 World Cup (video)

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Brazil became Under-17 world champions for a fourth time in dramatic fashion as Lazaro Vinicius Marques’ scored a 93rd-minute winner to edge Mexico 2-1 at Estadio Bezerrão on Sunday.

Brazil’s comeback started in the 84th minute when Kaio Jorge converted from the penalty spot, following VAR’s decision which ruled contact on the tournament’s Golden Ball winner, Gabriel Veron, inside the 18-yard box.

With Brazilian legends Ronaldo and Cafu in attendance, the host’s had the better of chances throughout the first 45 minutes. Without any luck, however, Brazil were unable to get the ball past Eduardo Garcia, instead hitting the bar on several occasions.

Then in the 66th minute, Mexico – winners of the tournament in 2005 and in 2011 – stunned the home crowd when Bronze Ball winner Eugenio Pizzoto’s cross into the box was headed into the back of the net by Bryan Alonso Gonzalez Olivan, breaking the deadlock between two sides that had met in the same game back in 2005.

What was going to be a stunning, underdog victory for El Tri, turned into a heartbreaking night for Marco “Chima” Ruiz and company.

Brazil, on the other hand, are now only one championship away from tying Nigeria’s record of five championships.