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

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LONDON — Sunderland beat Crystal Palace 1-0 at Selhurst Park on Monday with Sam Allardyce‘s side grinding out just a second win of the season and a first away victory of the campaign.

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Here’s what we learned from the Black Cats’ smash and grab win, with Jermain Defoe making the most of a defensive mix up to grab all three points.

PALACE TOO PATIENT

For much of the first half Sunderland looked comfortable as they sat back as a five-man defense when Palace had the ball and cut out any space for the Eagles out wide. There were no gaps in-behind for Palace’s pacey wingers to run into as Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie cut inside but were met by a covering Sunderland player. After 15 minutes, during a stoppage in play when John O'Shea went down, Pardew called over Yohan Cabaye, his general in midfield, and tried to hammer home a point about how to get in-behind the Black Cats. As soon as Palace’s full backs got the ball, that was the trigger for Sunderland’s wing backs — Billy Jones and Patrick Van Aanholt — to drop back and make a five-man defense as Sebastian Coates, O’Shea and Younes Kaboul held steady in central defense marking only Connor Wickham. In the 34th minute Palace had their first good chance of the first half as Bolaise’s overhead kick nearly dropped in and Zaha’s header was off target from a tight angle. The Eagles were starting to turn the screw but the tempo was too slow from the home side and Sunderland were able to retreat into a five-man defensive shell at ease.

Alan Pardew, Crystal Palace FC

At half time Pardew simply had to change things and Bakary Sako came on in place of Jason Puncheon as the Eagles went to a 4-4-2 formation. From distance Sako curled a dipping effort just wide of the far post 15 minutes after coming on and he did make a difference, but the winger was forced off with an injury and Patrick Bamford lacked the movement to out-smart Sunderland’s defense. Palace had no real plan B and their set piece delivery was awful on the night. Sunderland “did a job” on them and Pardew will be deeply disappointed his team once again failed to break down a team at home who only cared about defending and trying to snatch something on the break. The notion that the Eagles are better away from home is true. Their players are better suited to playing on the break. This season Palace have lost at home narrowly to Arsenal, Man City and West Ham, plus had a 0-0 draw against Manchester United. They have broken down stubborn teams in West Brom and Aston Villa late on at Selhurst but on Monday they ran out of ideas and ingenuinty, missing the chance to move into the top six in the process. It’s not all doom and gloom for Pardew as his side have enjoyed a best-ever start to a PL season thus far. However, they must find a new way to win games as teams figure out that if you cut off the supply line to Zaha and Bolasie you have a chance of winning.


BIG SAM HAS A PLAN

There will be no awards won for style or panache, but Sunderland’s resolute defensive display helped them grab the win. As aforementioned, the Black Cats deployed a 3-5-2 and with the wings backs tucked in they completely nullified Palace’s threat out wide. It is something Allardyce has often done throughout his managerial career and watching Sunderland on Monday was like watching one of his Bolton teams from 15 years ago. Organized. Resolute. Rigid. There wasn’t much fluidity in this display but after three defeats from his opening four games in charge, Allardyce clearly needed to obtain a strong defensive base to build from and then threaten to nick a goal from set pieces. They nearly did just that at the start of the second half when Cabaye cleared Coates’ header off the line. Allardyce has been around the block a fair few times as the stat below shows.

With 30 minutes to go Big Sam deviated from the plan as he brought on Duncan Watmore and Jeremain Lens and switched to a 4-3-3 formation. He fancied getting at Palace’s defense with the pace of Watmore and Lens much needed. It worked with Sunderland looking dangerous on the break and Lens had a glorious chance 15 minutes from time as Watmore burst into the box but Lens’ side-footed his effort straight at Wayne Hennessey. Not to worry. 10 minutes from time the game-winning moment arrived as Jones dispossessed Bolasie and slotted the ball forward to Defoe. He pounced on a terrible misunderstanding between Scott Dann and Hennessy to slot the ball into an empty net and put Sunderland ahead. Big Sam’s plan worked perfectly on Monday as his side are now only one point behind bitter rivals Newcastle and getting out of the relegation zone. There’s light at the end of the tunnel for the Stadium of Light faithful.


DEFOE’S INSTINCTS INTACT

“And it’s Jermain Defoe as he proves that he is still a premium scorer of goals in the Premier League!”

That was the proclamation from a radio commentator deep in the Main Stand as Defoe rounded Hennessy and rolled the ball into an empty net to hand Sunderland a vital three points. With four goals in nine games so far this season and seven in his last nine starts, Defoe, 33, remains Sunderland’s main hope of staying up. He was in the right place at the right time and harried a usually cool Dann into making a mistake as he and Hennessy hesitated to let in one of the best marksmen in PL history. Defoe didn’t miss an opportunity like that and the Londoner has now scored at least once in 17 Premier League seasons since he made his debut for West Ham back in the 2000-01 season. He will have to continue to roll back the years if Sunderland stay up this season but with his predatory instincts, they have a chance.

10-man Red Bulls hold off Atlanta United at home

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Atlanta United’s five-game winning streak went up in smoke as the New York Red Bulls pulled off an incredible 1-0 victory.

Playing down a man for around 65 minutes, the Red Bulls shutout Atlanta United’s high powered offense in front of 18,495 fans at Red Bull Arena. Tom Barlow, in just his second appearance with the Red Bulls, scored the game-winning goal in the 65th minute off a header at the far post, one that left U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper Brad Guzan rooted to his line.

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Tim Parker was shown a straight red card in controversial fashion, after grabbing Josef Martinez’s left arm with Martinez in front of him just outside the box. Martinez was clearly pulled back but continued running and eventually got a shot off that Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles parried away.

Referee Robert Sbiga then decided to call the play back and award Atlanta United a free kick outside the box. After what seemed to be consultation with his assistants, Sbiga then showed Parker a straight red card, likely for denial of a clear goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO) while Martinez was through on goal.

The outcome is a massive one for the Red Bulls. It’s been a rough season, with the loss of both Jesse Marsch and Tyler Adams and the poor form of Bradley Wright-Phillips up top. Wright-Phillips was out on Sunday and another attacker Andreas Ivan, went off with an injury in the first half as he was about to be substituted off anyways following the red card.

Alejandro Romero Gamarra, Kaku, has made his feelings known that he wants (or wanted) to leave the club. His form hasn’t been stellar this season either.

Meanwhile, Atlanta’s finally found its way back into the win column and is looking more like the juggernaut from last season, especially with five-straight shutout wins. It’s all back to zero today though, with the defeat at the Red Bulls on a perfect grass pitch up a man.

Mbappe hints he could leave PSG

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Kylian Mbappe accepted his award as the Ligue 1 MVP, dedicated it to Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, and then mentioned he could be off soon to another club.

Wait, what?

Yes, following Mbappe accepting his award, the French star and World Cup winner stated he hoped he could continue his career at PSG but left open the possibility of moving to another club that allows him to take the next steps in his career.

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“This is a very important moment for me, I arrive at a first or second turn of my career,” Mbappe said, via L’equipe. “I’ve discovered a lot of things here, I feel that maybe it’s time to have more responsibility. I hope it may be at Paris Saint-Germain, it would be with great pleasure, or perhaps elsewhere for a new project.”

Mbappe later clarified his comments, stating he was looking for more responsibility. “If it’s at PSG, that’s good. If it is elsewhere, it will be elsewhere for a new challenge.

“For me, it was time to say it. I am someone whole: when I say something, I think it. For me, it was the right time to say it. That’s it, I said it!”

It’s unclear why exactly Mbappe used this moment to put some pressure on PSG. Perhaps its to remind them that the club needs to be successful in its transfer endeavors this summer, so it can compete deep into the UEFA Champions League. With Neymar injured and a central midfield ravaged by injuries, PSG capitulated and somehow fell to Manchester United in the Champions League Round of 16, grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.

There’s no reason why PSG can’t dominate the Champions League like it does Ligue 1, especially with the attacking trident of Mbappe, Neymar and Edinson Cavani. But of course, against better competition, the inferiority in mentality and in talent along the backline has started to show.

So, where could Mbappe go? There’s very few places that could effectively match both his salary and his competitive goals. It’s the usual suspects, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and perhaps Manchester City, should they be interested in it. More recently, while Man City has spent big, it’s been on signing multiple players on $50 million transfers, as opposed to one player on a $200 million transfer, for example.

It’s unlikely, but an intriguing option would be Liverpool. If the club somehow came up with the funds, imagine Mbappe playing alongside Sadio Mane and Mo Salah, with Roberto Firmino coming in to spell either of the three over the course of the season. Mbappe would likely make up that one-point difference between Liverpool and Man City, and if that’s what it takes for Liverpool to finally win the title, it could be worth the initial massive investment.

Messi finishes season leading La Liga in goals, assists, and more

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Lionel Messi turns 32 this summer, and after more than a dozen years of first team soccer, playing more than 50 games a season, the old man’s still got it.

The Argentine star, playing his first season in almost a decade without direct competition from Cristiano Ronaldo, scored twice as Barcelona tied Eibar, 2-2. The two goals gave him 34 for the season, by far the most by any player in the league, and his 50th in all competitions.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Messi also led La Liga this season with 13 assists, 136 shots, 85 shots on target and 70 through balls. In terms of successful dribbles, Messi’s 132 fell seven short of Celta Vigo’s Sofiane Boufal.

Messi’s 34 goals gave him his sixth Pichichi, the trophy given to the league’s leading scorer. Messi is now tied with legendary Telmo Zarra for the all-time record of most Pichichi’s, and Messi is now three ahead of Ronaldo.

As if Messi wasn’t already a legendary player, the man seems to be showing no signs of slowing down. It may have helped that he skipped matches with Argentina after the 2018 World Cup this past fall, keeping him fresh for Barcelona. Even so, the man looks as good, if not better, with age.

Messi already holds the record for most goals in league history, and at this rate, he’ll set it to a level that will be almost impossible to reach. While he’s going to be remembered for his incredible control on the ball, it doesn’t hurt that he’s been incredibly productive during his career, including in 2018-2019. Barcelona won the league title with ease and the club made the UEFA Champions League semifinal. If for some better defending, Messi could be contesting for another Champions League title.

Nani scores twice as Orlando City thrashes FC Cincinnati

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Nani may not be the star he once was while he played for Manchester United, but he’s still making a powerful impact in MLS.

The Portuguese international scored his sixth and seventh goals of the season as Orlando City ran circles expansion side FC Cincinnati, winning 5-1. Along with Nani, Tesho Akindele scored a brace and Dom Dwyer came off the bench and scored a header in the win.

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Aside from having a chance to record a big win over a struggling side, Orlando City may have been ultra motivated on Sunday. Orlando City manager James O’Connor has history with FC Cincinnati from his time at Louisville City, with intense rivalry matches taking place as well as arguments between O’Connor and former FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch on the sidelines.

FC Cincinnati actually went up early with a Darren Mattocks finish past Brian Rowe, but it didn’t take long for Orlando City to respond. Akindele fired home from 20-yards out in the 37th minute to make it 1-1. Early in the second half, Nani scored on a penalty kick rebound to make it 2-1 to the hosts, and then he added a second off a cross from the right to blast the game wide open.

With the win, Orlando City moved just one point outside of a playoff place, while Cincinnati remains in the basement of the Eastern Conference. However, Orlando City has a difficult road ahead, with matches against the LA Galaxy, Montreal Impact and D.C. United to come.