Three things we learned from Crystal Palace’s win at Watford

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WATFORD — Crystal Palace beat Watford 1-0 at Vicarage Road on Sunday as Alan Pardew‘s men continued their incredible record away from home.

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Yohan Cabaye‘s second half penalty kick was enough to grab all three points for the Eagles, as Watford lost at home for the first time this season.

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Here’s three things we learned from a glorious afternoon in the sun in Hertfordshire, England.

EAGLES GRIND OUT WIN

Alan Pardew might not have been overjoyed by Palace’s performance away at Watford, but he’ll be happy with the three points. If Crystal Palace are going to achieve Pardew’s lofty target of challenging for a Europa League spot by finishing in the top six, wining away at places like Vicarage Road is crucial. Palace’s incredible away record under Pardew since he took charge in January last season (nine wins and three defeats in 12 games) continues as they failed to rip Watford open on the counter but did what they needed to do 20 minutes from time when Wilfried Zaha won a penalty kick which Yohan Cabaye converted for the win.

[ MORE: Pardew thinking big as superb away form continues ]

The only criticism you could have had of Palace on Sunday was that the winning margin could’ve been more comfortable. With Patrick Bamford and Connor Wickham both missing, Dwight Gayle was given a run out up top and after Padrew gesticulated angrily at the speedy forward in the first half for not tracking his man, the 25-year-old hit the angle of the bar and post in the 59th minute when he should’ve scored, missed another effort from close range after Cabaye’s opener, then flashed another effort wide of the post. After this win, Palace sit in sixth spot on 12 points, just four points off top spot. Pardew’s plan is coming together nicely after another textbook away-day display.

HUMBLE HORNETS 

Watford’s fine start to life back in the Premier League has flown under the radar. The Hornets have only been in the PL on two separate occasions before — relegated at the first time of asking on both occasions in  1999 and 2006 — but in the first seven games of their third venture in the PL, they have shown they’re capable of at least staying up with two wins, three draws and two defeats to their name. With the pace of Ikechi Anya on the left flank, Etienne Capoue and Jose Manuel Jurado’s trickery in midfield and the bullish duo of Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney up top, Spanish coach Quique Sanchez Flores has a solid base to build from but you got the feeling his side just didn’t believe enough in their defeat to Crystal Palace on Sunday. Jurado hit the crossbar with a curling free kick in the second half but Deeney headed the rebound over, then in the 57th minute a glorious chance arrived but the Hornets left a loose ball in the box to each other as the moment came and went.

Flores has already said in this young season that he told his side to hold off from a gun-ho approach and in previous 0-0 home draws with Southampton and West Bromwich Albion, that was visible. To take that next step and not only solidify their place in the Premier League but push up to midtable, Watford need to stop being humble and replicate the likes of Swansea City, Crystal Palace and Southampton in becoming PL mainstays. With the players and financial backing they have, it’s attainable. They just need to be braver.

DEJA VU FOR WILF

Coming off the bench in the 62nd minute, Pardew grabbed hold of Zaha just before he entered the pitch and looked as if he was bellowing inspirational words into the young wingers ear. Its been a topsy-turvy return to Selhurst Park for Zaha after his big money move to Manchester United in 2013 didn’t pan out.

Nine minutes later Zaha won the penalty kick which won Palace the game. As he ran at Allan Nyom, Watford’s right back looked uneasy and dove into a clumsy tackle with Zaha going away from goal and about to reach the byline. Zaha was booed by Watford’s fans for the rest of the game. They’ve seen this script play out before. During the 2012-13 Championship playoff final between Palace and Watford, Zaha went down (much easier than he did on Sunday) under the challenge of Marco Cassetti. That won Palace a penalty kick at Wembley in the 105th minute of a tense, tight playoff final to decide who would get promoted to the PL. Kevin Phillips duly distracted the spot kick and Palace were promoted, while Watford had to wait another two seasons to reach the top-flight. In the first-ever top-flight meeting between these two teams, lightning struck twice as this was a cruel reminder to Hornets fans of how Zaha and Palace beat them over two years ago.

Live, UCL last 16: Spurs v. RB Leipzig, Atalanta v. Valencia

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One Premier League has already found life in the Champions League knockout stage tougher than anticipated. Now, another takes the field hoping to fare better.

Spurs take the field looking to earn a hard-fought result against Bundesliga title contenders RB Leipzig at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium at 3:00 p.m. ET. Jose Mourinho has spent much of the week reminding everyone how many obstacles the Spurs squad has faced after the news that Heung-Min Son could potentially miss the rest of the season with a broken arm, joining Harry Kane on the injured list.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 

Mourinho’s men have won three Premier League matches in a row, in good form coming into this match. They take on an RB Leipzig squad that sits just a point back of Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga title race but has won just once in its last four league games, a 3-0 victory over Werder Bremen last time out. Striker Timo Werner, who is rumored to be of interest to Liverpool, has not scored since January 18, a five-match drought across all competitions. Leipzig is also struggling with missing players as Dayot Upamecano is suspended and both Ibrahima Konate and Willi Orban are injured, so Chelsea loanee Ethan Ampadu is selected.

Meanwhile, Atalanta makes its Champions League knockout stage debut as the Italian side “hosts” Spanish club Valencia. The Serie A side was not allowed to play in its home Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia as it does not pass UEFA regulations, so they are playing all Champions League home games at the San Siro.

Chelsea loanee Mario Pasalic starts for Atalanta in midfield with rumors of a permanent move this summer to help fund the Hakim Ziyech deal. Since December 22, the Italian side has won five while losing just one in Serie A play, including a 2-1 win over Roma last time out that saw Pasalic score the winner.

Valencia counters with Uruguayan striker Maxi Gomez up front supported by Ferran Torres and Goncalo Guedes. The Spaniards are without Ezequiel Garay, Francis Coquelin, and Gabriel Paulista all through injury. Still, they managed a 2-2 draw with Atletico Madrid last time out in La Liga play on a 59th minute equalizer by Geoffrey Kondogbia’s first goal of the season.


Wednesday Champions League action

Tottenham Hotspur v. RB Leipzig
Atalanta v. Valencia

LINEUPS

Tottenham: Lloris, Aurier, Alderweireld, Sanchez, Davies, Winks, Fernandes, Lo Celso, Alli, Bergwijn, Lucas Moura.

RB Leipzig: Gulacsi, Mukiele, Klostermann, Halstenberg, Angelino, Laimer, Ampadu, Sabitzer, Nkunku, Schick, Werner.

Atalanta: Gollini; Toloi, Palomino, Djimsiti, Hateboer, de Roon, Freuler, Gosens, Pasalic, Ilicic, Gomez.

Valencia: Domenech; Wass, Diakhaby, Mangala, Gaya, Kondogbia, Parejo, Soler, Torres, Goncalo Guedes, Gomez.

Watch Live: Man City v. West Ham

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Manchester City looks for a reaction in its first match after the UEFA sanctions were announced as they host West Ham at the Etihad on Wednesday (Watch live at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Citizens will want to finish this season strong given the future uncertainty surrounding the club, and with Leicester City nipping at their heels, a strong performance will be imperative. Man City sits just a single point above the third-placed Foxes and a poor result could leave them vulnerable for when the two meet on Saturday.

[ STREAM LIVE: Man City v. West Ham ]

Man City’s lineup sees John Stones, Ilkay Gundogan, and Fernandinho all sat on the bench. Nicolas Otamendi partners with Aymeric Laporte at the back with Rodri covering them in midfield. Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva start in the middle with Bernardo Silva in the attacking midfield role, while Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero both start up front.

The match is massively important for West Ham as well, with the Hammers sitting 18th in the Premier League table a point off safety. The Hammers counter Man City’s attacking lineup with three at the back as Declan Rice provides cover per usual and captain Mark Noble partners with Tomas Soucek in midfield.

LINEUPS

Man City: Ederson; Walker, Otamendi, Laporte, Mendy; Rodri, De Bruyne, Silva; Bernardo, Jesus, Aguero.

West Ham: Fabianski; Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Masuaku; Rice, Soucek, Noble; Snodgrass, Antonio.

Solskjaer admits Rashford’s season may be over, Euros in jeopardy

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted Wednesday that Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford suffered a setback in his recovery from a stress fracture in his back, and that he may not return before the end of the Premier League season. In addition, Solskjaer admitted there is a chance that Rashford’s availability for England in this summer’s Euro 2020 tournament could be in jeopardy.

Speaking ahead of United’s visit tomorrow to Club Brugge in Europa League action, Solskjaer said that he hopes Rashford can make a return, but that it’s certainly in question as he will be out “another few months definitely.”

[ MORE: McTominay, Lindelof back fit ]

“It will just be touch and go towards the end [of the season],” Solskjaer said. “Hopefully we can get through this tournament and prolong the season. It takes time, I’m not a doctor. I was hoping he would recover quicker than what it looks like he’s going to be out for.”

When asked about his potential availability for selection at the Euros this summer, Solskjaer said, “If he’s not fit enough he won’t go.”

It seems that Manchester United expected Rashford to be back “He had a scan and it was maybe more severe, that fracture, than what we hoped for and expected, he felt fine the few days before that. And I’ve never had anatomy in school, so I didn’t know it just takes that time to recover.”

[ MORE: Neymar upset with PSG for extra rest ]

News of a potential injury to Rashford cropped up during the Premier League match against Norwich City game on January 11, when he was withdrawn after 59 minutes. Solskjaer admitted later that Rashford needed rest, but decided to risk the 22-year-old England international anyways against Wolverhampton Wanderers in an FA Cup replay four days later, a decision he later came to publicly regret. Rashford came off after just 16 minutes and it was later announced that he had aggravated his injury from a single stress fracture to a double stress fracture.

After the Wolves match, Manchester United announced a 2-3 month timetable for Rashford’s return, meaning he could be back by late March or early April. Now it seems he could be done for the year, and England’s Euro adventure may suffer as well.

Braithwaite to Barcelona imminent, could debut Saturday

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Barcelona is taking the controversial step of signing Leganes striker Martin Braithwaite outside the January transfer window, reportedly set to trigger his $19.4 million release clause. According to a report by ESPN, Braithwaite has already agreed to terms and will join the club immediately, possibly soon enough to make his debut on Saturday against Eibar.

The Catalan club was given an exception by La Liga after Ousmane Dembele was ruled out for the season, leaving the squad with just three healthy first-team forwards in Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, and 17-year-old Ansu Fati. The injury to Dembele, which follows a long-term injury spell for Luis Suarez, led La Liga to allow Barcelona 15 days to sign a forward outside the window, provided it was either a free agent or a player already registered in the Spanish top flight.

Reports from all over Europe state that Barcelona attempted to negotiate with Leganes, but they held out for Braithwaite’s full release clause and Barcelona had little choice but to relent. The ESPN report states that Barcelona had come to an agreement with Getafe for Angel Rodriguez but Barcelona manager Quique Setien stepped in with a preference for Braithwaite due to his positional flexibility.

The controversial part of the situation is that Barcelona somewhat put itself in this spot by offloading forwards Abel Ruiz and Carles Perez in the January window without replacing them, and now have been saddled with an injury crisis. Many are upset that a big club like Barcelona is being bailed out by La Liga while Leganes suffers the loss of its leading scorer having already seen  Youssef En-Nesyri depart in the January window. Guillem Ballague reports that Leganes will appeal to La Liga for its own exception to sign an emergency player but as the rules stand, they cannot add a replacement for Braithwaite. The league office can authorize exceptions on a case-by-case basis, which they did for Barcelona, although policy has been to grant exceptions for long-term injuries.

The 28-year-old has scored eight goals across all competitions this season while Leganes has struggled at the bottom of the table all year long. They currently sit 19th in the La Liga table, two points clear of safety.