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.

Newcastle close to $50 million Joelinton signing

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Newcastle United’s fans are about to have a new hero.

Brazilian forward Joelinton is on Tyneside and is undergoing a medical ahead of a club-record $50 million transfer from Bundesliga side Hoffenheim.

According to our partners Sky Sports, Joelinton, 22, is finalizing his move to St James’ Park and will become Steve Bruce‘s first signings as Magpies boss.

Much-maligned owner Mike Ashley has promised to reinvest the money Newcastle bring in via transfer fees back into the playing squad, and this move would not only prove that but also suggests he could stick around as a potential sale of the club continues to drag on.

Newcastle’s need for a new striker is clear for all to see as they’ve lost top goalscorer from last season, Salomon Rondon, who returned to parent club West Brom after his loan and has since joined former Newcastle boss Rafael Benitez at Dalian Yifang in China.

With Ayoze Perez sold to Leicester City for $40 million, Bruce badly needed attacking reinforcements and Joelinton’s impending arrival is a huge deal, as the previous club-record transfer was the $27 million they paid for Miguel Almiron in January.

Maybe this will lift some of the gloom which has hung over Newcastle this offseason…

Does Joelinton fit the bill? He scored 11 goals in 33 outings for Hoffenheim last season and is a Brazilian youth international. The last Brazilian striker to leave Hoffenheim for the Premier League has had a pretty good impact (sarcasm alert) as Roberto Firmino arrived for $40 million in the summer of 2015.

But Joelinton is a much different striker to Firmino. In many ways he is the perfect replacement for Rondon, as he is strong in the air, a powerful runner on the break and has a calmness in front of goal to finish off mazy runs or speedy counters.

That will be music to the ears of Newcastle’s fans, as the likes of Almiron and Matt Ritchie will whip in plenty of crosses for him to attack next season. His figures in Germany haven’t been prolific but Joelinton is still young and all of his attributes align with the direct style of play Newcastle had under Benitez and that’s how they will likely play under Bruce.

Take a look at the video above to see Joelinton in all his glory for Hoffenheim last season.

We’re not saying he’s going to be the next Alan Shearer, but he has the potential to be exactly what Newcastle need as they aim to cement their place in the Premier League.

Man United next? Deals for Fernandes, Pepe developing

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Manchester United could be looking a lot different by the time the summer transfer window closes on Aug. 8.

After already signing pacy youngsters Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka for a combined $83 million, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be enthused to hear about the latest developments regarding two of his other targets.

With Man United on their preseason tour of Australia and the Far East, Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has remained in England to sort out transfer deals and there have been updates on their pursuit of winger Nicolas Pepe and attacking midfielder Bruno Fernandes, with both players consistently linked with a move to Old Trafford this summer.

Pepe, 24, lit up Ligue 1 last season as Lille finished second in the table and qualified for the UEFA Champions League. The Ivory Coast winger has just returned from the Africa Cup of Nations and here’s  what Lille club president Gerard Lopez had to say about his future at the club.

“For Nico, it is almost done and he could have left last summer,” Lopez said. “It is true that there are big offers and big clubs in for him, so I think [he will leave].”

As for Fernandes, he has spoken to the media ahead of Sporting Lisbon’s trip to New York City to play a friendly against Liverpool on Wednesday and admitted he wants to move to the Premier League.

“I don’t care about the market, I’ve talked about this many times. The only thing I can do now is that I need to catch the plane so I don’t miss it,” Fernandes said. “‘Will this be the last match for Sporting?’ I don’t know, it’s the coach who decides. I told you I’d like to play in England, but that’s not what interests me. It may be when the club decides.”

Sporting’s president Frederico Varandas has said earlier this week that Fernandes will not leave for anything less than $65 million, even though Fernandes has a much smaller release clause in his contract.

There is a clause which Sporting have in his contract which says they can pay Fernandes $6 million direct if they reject any offer over his release clause. So, yeah, that deal is a little more complicated.

As for Pepe, it is believed Lille want around $75 million for the clinical winger and although both Bayern Munich and Liverpool have been linked with a move for him, Man United are now the new favorites to sign him.

Even though United should spend more money on their defensive unit, both of these players bring one main thing: Goals. And plenty of them.

Pepe scored 22 in France’s top-flight last season, while Fernandes, 24, scored 31 times for Sporting Lisbon in all competitions as the Portuguese midfielder had a breakout year.

With a $100 million move for Leicester’s Harry Maguire lined up, plus Newcastle’s Sean Longstaff still courted, Solskjaer is focusing on bringing in players 26 years old or younger.

That is the correct approach as United want to match the intensity of the way Liverpool and Man City play to push themselves back into the top four and return to being perennial title challengers.

As for the rest of their squad, Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku, for now, are still around, while David De Gea is set to sign a new contract with the Red Devils in the coming days. If Lukaku leaves, which looks likely, then Mason Greenwood seems ready to step in and give Solskjaer yet another attacking option.

Taking into account these possible moves and the signings United have already made, here’s what their matchday squad could look like this season.

Not bad, eh?

Possible Man United matchday squad, 2019-20

—– De Gea —–

— Wan-Bissaka — Lindelof — Maguire — Shaw —

—– Matic —– 

— Pepe — Pogba — Fernandes — Martial —

—– Rashford —- 

Bench
Romero (GK)
Bailly
Young
Longstaff
James
Lingard
Greenwood

Pulisic dazzles as Chelsea beat Barcelona

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Christian Pulisic‘s first start for Chelsea saw him put on a show as the Premier League side beat Barcelona 2-1 in Saitama, Japan on Tuesday.

The USMNT star made his first start of preseason for the Blues and his pace off the left flank tore Barca apart on numerous occasions.

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His early shot was parried by Marc Andre ter Stegen and Tammy Abraham should have finished off the rebound but blazed over the bar. Abraham did grab the winner though, as Jorginho intercepted the ball in a key area which led to Abraham showing quick feet to finish in the first half. Ross Barkley then came on in the second and scored a beauty for Chelsea’s second, and although Ivan Rakitic pulled one back in stoppage time, Frank Lampard grabbed his second preseason win as Chelsea’s new boss.

As for Pulisic, he played the first 60 minutes and again wore the No.24 shirt for the Blues. His squad number for this season is yet to be confirmed (USMNT fans everywhere are still waiting with bated breath to buy their Chelsea shirts) but the Pennsylvania native is unlikely to get Eden Hazard‘s No.10 jersey as Willian has confirmed to Brazilian media he will wear that next season.

The 20-year-old impressed Lampard by cutting short his summer break after playing for the U.S. at the Gold Cup. Pulisic is quite fresh after being in and out of the Borussia Dortmund team last season due to injuries and the emergence of Jadon Sancho, but the fact he wanted to hit the ground running with Chelsea as soon as possible certainly starts his Blues career off in the correct manner.

Putting in an impressive display against Barcelona in a preseason friendly will no doubt help his chances of being a key player for Lampard as he battles with Pedro, Willian and other to start in one of the wide positions early in the season.

A fairly strong Barcelona side (missing Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez as they rest after the Copa America) did see Antoine Griezmann play his first game for Blaugrana as they will Vissel Kobe, Arsenal and Napoli in Japan, Spain and the USA as their mammoth preseason tour continues.

Chelsea will now return to England to play against Reading, then travel to Red Bull Salzburg in Austria and Borussia Monchengladbach in Germany before their opening game of the Premier League season against Manchester United on Aug. 11 (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Pulisic is certainly pushing to be in the Blues’ starting lineup at Old Trafford on the opening day.

Zidane says Bale refused to play as saga continues

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Zinedine Zidane has responded to being called a “disgrace” by Gareth Bale’s agent.

And Zizou isn’t standing down in this situation, as he revealed that Bale refused to play in their friendly against Bayern Munich in Houston, Texas on Saturday.

Talk about doubling down…

Real Madrid’s manager said last week that Bale would be leaving the Spanish giants and it would be “best for everyone” if it happened quickly. That prompted an angry response from Bale’s agent, Jonathan Barnett, who believed his client deserved more respect after winning four UEFA Champions League trophies, a La Liga title and Spanish Cup in his six seasons at Real.

Zidane has confirmed that Bale is training with Real in the U.S. and may play against Arsenal in Washington D.C. later today. But the situation is far from resolved.

“The first thing is that I’ve never disrespected anybody – certainly not any player. I’ve always said the same. Players are the most important thing here. If there is a player here, I will be with them. Secondly, I said the club were trying to find a way out for Gareth,” Zidane explained.

“Thirdly, which is the most important, is that the other day he didn’t get changed for the game because he didn’t want to. The club are trying to find a way out for him. For now, Gareth is a Real Madrid player, he’s going to train normally with us and we will see what happens on Tuesday.”

Bale, 30, is reportedly not keen on taking a huge pay cut from his $620,000 per week contract at Real and his family are settled in Madrid. He has another three years left on his monster contract at Real, and this is a huge problem for Zidane to sort out. Bale’s agent has also said that his client will not be leaving on loan, and that really puts Real in a tough position.

After signing the likes of Rodrygo, Eden Hazard and Luka Jovic this summer, Real’s attack has a whole new feel to it with Karim Benzema, Mariano Diaz and Lucas Vazquez all still around too.

Our own Nick Mendola broke the situation down over the weekend as to where Bale could move, with the likes of Bayern Munich, Tottenham and PSG listed as possible destinations, while a move to the Chinese Super League seems increasingly likely.

Reports suggest both Jiangsu Suning and Beijing Guoan will pay Bale over $1.3 million per week to get him to move to China, and if he is to leave Real this seems like the best option right now as many of Europe’s top clubs are balking at his huge wages, let alone stumping up a transfer fee for him.

It isn’t Bale’s fault Real offered him this huge amount of cash. And it isn’t his fault that Zidane doesn’t seem to rate him and Real’s fans boo him. The supporters have latched onto stories that Bale doesn’t speak Spanish after seven years in Madrid, plus the fact he enjoys being out on the golf course a lot and they blame that for many of his injuries.

That said, Bale has scored 102 goals and added 65 assists in 231 appearances for Real, which include star displays in Champions League and Spanish Cup finals. Real and Zidane want to get rid of Bale, but he isn’t going to go anywhere if he doesn’t want to.

Player power will win this battle, as it always does these days.