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Van Gaal delivers trophy but is likely to be fired by Man United

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LONDON — Minutes after Louis Van Gaal and Manchester United won the 2015-16 FA Cup rumors about his future at Old Trafford continued to rumble on.

Van Gaal, 64, is widely expected to be fired by United in the coming days as reports from AS in Spain and the Daily Telegraph in the UK state that Jose Mourinho is waiting in the wings to replace his former mentor.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

His United players dug deep to win the clubs first trophy since 2013 but this encounter depicted the struggles United have had this season as they struggled to break down Palace and prodded and probed without much creativity in the final third. That has become commonplace under Van Gaal and it seems as though his era is coming to an end.

They went down to 10-men, battled back from falling 1-0 down and when Jesse Lingard‘s stunning volley in the 111th hit the back of the net the usually somber Van Gaal jumped from his seat and celebrated like a madman.

“It is fantastic to win this title for the club, for the fans, and also for me because I now have won the cup in four countries, and not many managers have done that,” Van Gaal said afterwards when speaking to the BBC.

[ VIDEO: Lingard’s screamer wins it for United ]

Not many managers have divided opinion so much about their futures, either. With Ryan Giggs, Van Gaal’s assistant, waiting in the wings to take over or the club potentially turning to Mourinho, it seems as though Van Gaal is set to leave.

“Thank you for your congratulations!” said Van Gaal, sarcastically, as he walked out of his combative press conference with the FA Cup in hand. It may the last time we see him in an official capacity as Manchester United boss.

Van Gaal blamed injuries and issues with being able to bring the players he wanted to the club due to complications with transfer fees. He also flatly refused to talk about speculation regarding his future, even though news was breaking during his press conference that Mourinho will replace him.

“I show you the cup. I don’t discuss it with my friends of the media who already sacked me for the last six months,” Van Gaal said. “Which manager can do that? What I have done?”

Pressed again and asked if this would be the perfect way to leave United, with a trophy and on a high, Van Gaal simply said: “I don’t want to talk about leaving the club.”

Even though he led them to glory on Saturday, he will have to start thinking about it, and seriously. His press conference summed up his tenure at Old Trafford so far. Jumbled, full of defensive comments protecting his record and a few excuses scattered in. It was classic Van Gaal as his prickly relationship with the media continues until the bitter end.

The Red Devils have now won 12 FA Cups, equaling Arsenal’s record, but what does winning an FA Cup mean (their last FA Cup success came in 2004) to a club like Manchester United when it is so used to challenging for the Premier League and UEFA Champions League?

Stephen Ward and his friend Nicholas Short are season ticket holders at Old Trafford. They’ve been unimpressed with the way this season has gone but they were excited before the game as they sipped on cans of beer on a sidestreet just off Wembley Way.

“A club like Manchester United, a club of this size should be in the final of this competition more than it has been in recent years. It’s been a while, some would say that the opposition go into today as underdogs. They will give Man United a game but Man United will get that trophy back today,” Ward said. “It means a lot to Manchester United fans to get a trophy today. I genuinely believe that. The club is going through a change. It has had, in recent times, tough times compared to the last decade or so but it will bounce back and it starts today.”

John O’Dowd and his son Sean were stood on a balcony in a shopping mall in the Wembley complex. They were leaning against the handrail, taking in the sights as United’s fans poured into Wembley.

Should Van Gaal stay?

“I don’t want him to. No disrespect to him but we need a fresh person at the top,” O’Dowd said.

Earlier this week Van Gaal stated United’s fans expectations were “too high” amid widespread disappointment at finishing fifth in the Premier League and missing out on a spot in next season’s Champions League.

“I would say they we should still be aiming for top four. Not win it. But top four comfortably,” O’Dowd said. “I don’t want to celebrate just making the top four. This lad here (points to his son, Sean) within about eight years of him supporting the club we won two European Cups and went to another final. We are brought up on that success. We have expectations like Real Madrid, Bayern Munich… we are up there.”

Outside of the bubble United’s fans live in, even outsiders felt like the Dutchman’s time was up.

Speaking to two Crystal Palace fans in their fan zone area as they sipped on beers, they agreed that Van Gaal “just isn’t a Manchester United manager.” Amanda and Richard Clark explained why.

“He’s got a philosophy and I just don’t think it is suited to English football,” Richard said.

“He’s gone,” Amanda said when asked if Van Gaal would be fired even if he won the trophy. “I think they would’ve been better sticking with [David] Moyes, but this is where their expectations come in. Fergie was a one-off.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21: Louis van Gaal Manager of Manchester United salutes the fans after winning The Emirates FA Cup Final match between Manchester United and Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium on May 21, 2016 in London, England. Man Utd won 2-1 after extra time. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
(Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

Well, as we all know, Van Gaal did guide United to the FA Cup and delivered a trophy in his second season in charge but it seems like it is too little too late.

He has been stubborn and forthright during his time in charge as the former Ajax, Bayern Munich and Barcelona manager has weathered storm after storm with fans, pundits and former players sticking their oars in and condemning the patient style of play he prefers. His time is almost up.

The feeling that he’s still walking on thin ice remained even when he had the FA Cup in his hands. When a replay was shown on the big screen in the stadium of Van Gaal lifting the trophy, some of United’s fans booed. Throughout the game United’s fans were subdued and seemed unimpressed with their teams play and after he lifted the trophy aloft, Van Gaal was shown hugging United’s executive vice chairman Ed Woodward. It wasn’t a particularly warm embrace and in the coming days we will find out if Van Gaal has been ousted by Woodward, the man who gave him a huge three-year contract back in 2014 and entrusted him with nearly $400 million in transfer funds to rebuild this dynasty.

Everything is pointing to Mourinho taking over and Van Gaal being fired.

Van Gaal delivered a trophy but he couldn’t deliver consistent success as the Red Devils aim to get back to the heights of the Sir Alex Ferguson era. Now it seems like Mourinho, a former apprentice of Van Gaal, will be handed the reins. Let’s see if he will fare any better as United’s lofty expectations will likely see them appoint a fourth manager in the last three years.

Van Gaal’s reign has been a rollercoaster which has delivered one top four finish, an FA Cup and plenty of ups and downs. It seems like it will end on a high but ultimately, as it has been for quite some time, it’s all over for LVG.

PL Sunday Preview: Leicester travel to Burnley; Liverpool put perfect record on the line against Man Utd

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With eight Premier League fixtures on Saturday, two more remain in Matchweek 23.

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Burnley v. Leicester City  — 9 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Burnley are free falling and there doesn’t seem to be a safety net in sight.

The Clarets, who are two points removed from the relegation zone, head into a tough three-match window without striker Ashley Barnes. Recuperating from a hernia surgery, the 30-year-old is set to miss bouts against Leicester, Manchester United and Arsenal – to name some.

But quite possibly more alarming than that is the team’s recent form. Losing seven out of their last nine, just two points divide Burnley from the drop zone. Sean Dyche‘s team are clueless in the box, scoring one goal in four league bouts. Trouble looms over Turf Moor.

But even then, Dyche, who has made Burnley a force to be reckoned with in the past, believes his side are still a threat.

“They are a good side,” Dyche said about Leicester. “We are on a tough run of form, but I don’t think they are naive enough to think it is turn up and get the business done. We are not a million miles away.”

Can Burnley pull a Southampton and stun a top-four bound Leicester?

“We weren’t at our best [against Southampton] and we didn’t have the energy and intensity that we would have liked,” Brendan Rodgers said ahead of Sunday’s early match.

“We work twice as hard and that’s what we’ve done after every setback. We still have a lot to improve on.”

The Foxes had a rare full week to train, so one can bet that Rodgers is serious about his word.

INJURIES: Burnley —  OUT: Barnes (hernia), Gudmundsson (hamstring) | Leicester City — OUT: Ndidi (knee), Amartey (ankle), James (match fitness)

Liverpool v. Manchester United — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Manchester United are a part of the exclusive anti-Liverpool club for more than the obvious reason.

Yes, the North West Derby is one of the league’s most heated rivalries, with countless flashbacks in its 203 meetings during its over 100 years of history.

But these two, star-studded squads led by Jurgen Klopp and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, respectively, also have a permeating rivalry of their own. The Reds, who have yet to taste defeat this season, have dropped points to only United.

It can be argued that Sunday’s bout may be Liverpool’s most complicated and least favorable, despite maintaining an immaculate record at home. This is the “big one” that many didn’t particularly circle on the calendar.

“It’s a very, very important football game,” Klopp said. “Very important. We have to learn how to deal with games like this in the right manner. We haven’t done bad in the past but we can still improve.

“Old Trafford [a 1-1 draw in October] was a good example, [we were] not at our best because of their quality. We have to make it more likely we’re at our best.”

Solskjaer had his tactics in place last time around; a small injection of final quality and the team would have crushed Liverpool’s aspirations of matching the Iinvincibles or Manchester City’s points record.

“The last two performances [against Liverpool] at Old Trafford we have drawn twice and been close to winning both games, so we’ve got some games to look back at and that will give us loads of belief… if we perform to our best we have a chance to win,” Solskjaer said.

Sunday presents itself as the final chance for United to pull the upset, and reaffirm why they’re a part of the exclusive club to begin with. But Liverpool are slowing becoming invincible themselves.

INJURIES: Liverpool —  OUT: Lovren (hamstring), Clyne (knee), Keïta (groin), Milner (hamstring) | Manchester United  — OUT: Tuanzebe (hamstring), McTominay (knee), Pogba (ankle)

Serie A roundup: Immobile nets hat-trick, Lazio runs over Sampdoria (video)

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Lazio’s record-extending 11th straight Serie A win highlights Saturday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Lazio 5-1 Sampdoria  

Like Lazio’s season, Ciro Immobile continues to make strides with each passing day.

The 29-year-old’s hat-trick powered Simone Inzaghi’s side past Sampdoria 5-1, extending his goal count to 23, nine more than Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaka.

 

Lazio, who are three points behind top-of-the-table Juventus and one behind second-place Inter Milan, were up three goals by the 20-minute mark. By the 65th minute, Immobile reached the three goal mark, converting from the spot.

“We would need too much time to count his records,” coach Simone Inzaghi said on Immobile’s magnificent run of form. “We are talking about an extraordinary team player. He has shown that so many times. Immobile has been doing extraordinary things for four years, I’m not surprised.”

Full of confidence, Lazio turn one of the most challenging corners of the season, as they take on rivals AS Roma defend the Italian Cup against Napoli.

“We’ll enjoy this 11th win but we have to already be thinking about the next matches,” Inzaghi said. “We know what a derby means but I can’t allow myself to think about Roma.

“We play Napoli on Tuesday, we know what the Italian Cup means for us, what it meant last year, we have it on our shirts and we will fight for it again.”

When it comes to Sampdoria, things are going from bad to ugly, quick.

“Tonight I’ll add salt and pepper and I’ll eat them alive,” Sampdoria coach Claudio Ranieri said of his players.

“Lazio was too good for us, you could clearly see the difference between the two teams, but it was without doubt the worst Samp performance since I’ve been here.”

Elsewhere

Sassuolo 2-1 Torino

Napoli 0-2 Fiorentina

La Liga roundup: Casemiro’s brace earns injury-riddled Real Madrid win (video)

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Casemiro’s heroic performance against Sevilla highlights La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Real Madrid 2-1 Sevilla

Real Madrid’s goalscoring hero on Saturday wasn’t Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard, or even Sergio Ramos.

With two crucial goals in the second half, Casemiro single-handedly earned three points at the Santiago Bernabeu, days removed from cathartic Spanish Super Cup win against arch rivals Atletico Madrid.

With Bale, Hazard, Ramos injured, Benzema on the bench far from match-fit, and Federico Valverde suspended, Los Blancos were in dire need of someone to lead the way, and place pressure on struggling co-leaders Barcelona, who are now under Quique Setien’s tutelage.

By the time the first 45 minutes came to a close, the overall impression was that it would take a miracle for the home side to earn much-needed three points.

That all quickly changed in the second half as the Brazilian midfielder chipped Tomas Vaclik after a picture-perfect backheel from Luka Jovic. Madrid were edging Julen Lopetegui’s side, and Casemiro foreshadowed what was to come.

With the score level, the Brazilian leaped inside the box and headed home a lofting ball from the right flank, catching Sevilla’s defense completely off guard.

Casemiro’s brace came just five minutes after Luuk De Jong‘s left-footed goal in the 64th minute.

League leaders with 43 points, Madrid prepares for their Copa del Rey bout against third-division side Unionistas midweek. Sevilla, on the other hand, host Levante in the same tournament.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Eibar 2-0 Atletico Madrid

Osasuna 0-0 Real Valladolid

Levante 0-1 Alaves

16-year-old Cherki scores 2 as Lyon advances in French Cup

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PARIS (AP) Two goals and two assists from 16-year-old forward Rayan Cherki helped Lyon win 4-3 at Nantes and reach the last 16 of the French Cup on Saturday.

But the run of Reunion Islanders JS Saint-Pierroise ended with a 1-0 loss away to Epinal, which scored deep into extra time.

Cherki put Lyon ahead in the first minute, deftly rounding goalkeeper Alban Lafont and then clipping the ball beyond a defender. He made it 2-0 in the ninth, slotting the ball through Lafont’s legs after being set up by right winger Bertrand Traore.

New signing Renaud Emond headed in Moses Simon’s cross from the left to pull a goal back for Nantes in the 16th. Cherki then showed great awareness to release forward Martin Terrier with a fine pass from midfield in the 37th for 3-1.

Cherki shaved the crossbar with a shot in the 60th and won a penalty in the 67th after robbing the ball off Thomas Basila. He generously allowed striker Moussa Dembele to take it, but Lafont saved Dembele’s attempt.

Two minuter later, Cherki threaded the ball down the right to Dembele, who slotted in, and the irrepressible Cherki set up another chance for Terrier.

Lyon’s defense remains vulnerable and Simon set up Imran Louza’s goal before heading in late on to ensure a tense finish.

Saint-Pierroise had caused an upset in the previous round by knocking out second-division Niort and the players again traveled 6,000 miles (around 9,700 kilometers) from the small island in the Indian Ocean, located off the east coast of Africa.

Saint-Pierroise, the former club of France midfielder Dimitri Payet, was looking to become the first club from the Reunion Islands to reach the last 16 and almost forced a penalty shootout, despite having forward Jean-Michel Fontaine sent off in the 15th minute.

But substitute Adel Berkane rifled home a half-volley for fourth-tier Epinal with two minutes left in extra time.

Also, there were wins for first-division sides Nice, Lille, Saint-Etienne and Strasbourg.

Lille won 2-0 at fifth-division Gonfreville thanks to goals from forwards Loic Remy and Victor Osimhen, while coach Patrick Vieira’s Nice side held on to beat third-tier Red Star 2-1.

Saint-Etienne won 3-2 at Paris FC, a team fighting relegation in the second division.

Paris FC led 2-1 with goals from former Paris Saint-Germain forward Jeremy Menez and ex-Rennes winger Jonathan Pitroipa. Teen forward Charles Abi equalized for Saint-Etienne with 20 minutes left before veteran right back Mathieu Debuchy netted the winner.

Strasbourg won 5-1 at fourth-tier Angouleme.

On Sunday, Rennes plays at fifth-tier Athletico Marseille and PSG travels to face second division league leader Lorient.

Rennes beats PSG in last year’s final.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports