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FA Cup: Brighton beats Crystal Palace on Murray winner

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Glenn Murray played hero again as he claimed an 88th minute winner in a 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup.

The 34-year-old came on in the 81st minute and scored just seven minutes later, claiming a slight touch off Uwe Hünemeier’s outstanding header to the far post. It’s the seventh goal for Murrah this season and fifth FA Cup goal in his career.

28-year-old Dale Stephens bagged his first goal of the season 25 minutes in to open the scoring as he touched brilliantly near the top of the box to skip by a defender and struck just under the armpit of Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey from a tight angle, a fully deserved lead for the Seagulls after holding nearly 70% of possession through the opening half-hour. It’s the first goal for Stephens in any competition for over a year, most recently finding the back of the net in Championship play against Blackburn Rovers last December.

Despite their possessional disadvantage, the Palace midfield continued to muck up the game, but the visitors to Falmer Stadium couldn’t manage a decent spell on the ball. After the break, however, the visitors looked more involved, and with 20 minutes to go Bakary Sakho brought Palace back level with a knuckler that bent away from a diving Tim Krul and into the back of the net.

The goal invigorated the visitors, and Sakho nearly had another from the same spot just minutes later, but he went for the near post and hit the side netting. Brighton, working with just two substitutions for much of the game due to an injury to Izzy Brown in just the sixth minute, still held a significant shot advantage and nearly went back in front down the other end as Hennessey saved a powerful effort by the substitute Sam Baldock, while Beram Kayal skied over the bar despite all day to shoot in the middle of the box. Baldock also launched over the bar on a one-on-one breakaway in the 82nd minute.

Brighton grabbed the winner with just two minutes until full-time as Hünemeier got his head to a free-kick, directing it perfectly to the inside of the far post. It likely would have gone in either way, but Murray charged it down to make sure the ball went in, and replays showed the ball grazed his knee on its way in.

Crystal Palace wouldn’t go down without a fight, as they pushed one more attack, but the hosts kept the ball out somehow as the final whistle went. With a way to the 4th round, Brighton will take on Middlesbrough at Riverside Stadium.

The 2 Robbies: Man City comeback, Liverpool stalemate, VAR debate

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle discuss another busy week for Premier League teams in domestic and European cup competitions. Liverpool played out an interesting no score draw against Bayern Munich while Man City came from behind to win away from home. With controversial decisions leading to a 2 Robbies rant on VAR and the handball law. Wrapping up with a chat on Arsenal & Chelsea advancing to the next stage in the Europa league and looking ahead to two massive games, Manchester United vs Liverpool in the league and Chelsea vs Man City in the League Cup Final.

To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Comparing Sarri’s first Premier League campaign to Guardiola

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The prevailing narrative surrounding Chelsea this season is that Maurizio Sarri is in over his head, and he appears one or two more defeats away from losing his job.

But in this case, the narrative may not really align with the facts. According to Opta, Maurizio Sarri’s record through 43 competitive games in England is actually better than Pep Guardiola‘s was in that time span. Due to Manchester City’s utter dominance last season and pretty dominant play overall this season, Guardiola’s been discussed as one of the world’s greatest living coaches.

[READ: Arsenal, Chelsea advance in Europa League]

Chelsea had hired the Italian former banker to help the Blues get back into the top four. Sarri’s legend grew over the past few years, after he led Napoli back into the elite echelon in Italy before coming to London this summer. Sarri’s arrival at Stamford Bridge came with his star playmaker Jorginho making the move to England as well.

However, things haven’t exactly gone as planned for Chelsea this season. While it appeared this season could be a transition year, with Thibaut Courtois gone and other players learning new roles – hello, N'Golo Kante – the team’s results have not been up to par for the fans. In addition, it appears that Sarri’s tactical inflexibility has only ratcheted up the narrative that he is on the hot seat. Playing Kante as a box-to-box midfielder and not providing more protection for Jorginho, who is defensively challenged in a key place on the field, is at times head scratching. So is sticking with the 4-3-3 formation, and using many of the same substitutions regardless of the result. Mateo Kovacic for Ross Barkley or vice versa. Pedro for Willian, or vice versa.

And yet, Sarri’s record to this point is still better than Guardiola’s was during his first 43 games in Manchester. It’s easy to forget now, after a record-setting season for Manchester City, but Guardiola had to work his way through some early troubles at the Etihad Stadium. Manchester City actually went about a month without a win:

  • Draw with Celtic
  • Defeat to Tottenham
  • Draw with Everton
  • Defeat to Barcelona
  • Draw with Southampton
  • Defeat to Manchester United

Since then, Guardiola’s experienced defeats or draws here or there, but he’s proved that his team can respond after a disappointing result.

Chelsea’s form meanwhile includes five demoralizing defeats this calendar year, including an inexplicable 4-0 defeat to Bournemouth.

Luckily for Sarri, he may have a few more weeks on the job, if not more. With Chelsea’s 3-0 (5-1 on aggregate) win over Malmo, Sarri’s job is safe for now, until Chelsea finds out its next European opponent. If Sarri can win the Europa League and get Chelsea back into the Premier League, he’ll surely keep his job for at least another season. And perhaps, with some perspective, people will see that Sarri’s actually been pretty decent this season. Maybe, it just not up to sky-high expectations.

Late bloomer Zerboni eyes the Women’s World Cup

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McCall Zerboni is so dedicated to her soccer career that she once hawked random products to beachgoers in Southern California to make ends meet.

While Zerboni’s worst job ever paints a depressing picture of what some pro athletes must do to support themselves just to play the sport they love, it also shows how determined she has always been.

[READ: Premier League sets opening day for 2019-2020 season]

Now 32, the savvy midfielder is getting her shot at the U.S. national team and a chance to make the roster for the World Cup this summer. She was named this week to the 23-player roster for the upcoming SheBelieves Cup tournament that kicks off Wednesday in Chester, Pennsylvania.

She’s come a long way from the days of having to work multiple jobs – including that one dreadful offseason she spent wandering the beaches back home while trying to sell stuff to strangers – all to support her playing career.

“I’m just sort of one of those people where I wake up every day and just say that I want to maximize the day and my potential,” she said. “Just to live a day at a time and step by step. I think it’s easier to persevere through 24 hours – and then that turns into a week, a month and a year.”

Zerboni got her first call-up to the national team as an injury replacement in October 2017 and became the oldest player – at 30 – to earn her first international cap. She became something of a regular last year, playing in five matches before fracturing a bone in her elbow.

It was a devastating blow in Zerboni’s mind, to come so far and then to suddenly be sidelined. But she refused to wallow in misfortune and returned to the team for January training camp, playing in the team’s 1-0 victory over Spain as a sub for Julie Ertz.

Naturally it makes sense to ask Zerboni if she considers herself a late bloomer.

“Yeah, of course, when you look at the number 32, it’s like `Wow, that’s old,”‘ she said, laughing. “But honestly, I don’t feel old. In some ways I feel like I’m just hitting my stride, and that goes back to perseverance and the desire and will to challenge myself every day.”

Zerboni currently plays professionally for the North Carolina Courage, which won the National Women’s Soccer League championship last season.

After playing college soccer at UCLA, Zerboni began her professional soccer career with Women’s Professional Soccer, a league that existed for three seasons between 2009 and 2011.

Her last team in WPS, the Western New York Flash, joined the NWSL for its inaugural season in 2013 and brought Zerboni along. She also played for the Portland Thorns and the Boston Breakers before returning to the Flash in 2016. That team became the Courage the next year.

Last season, she became the first NWSL player to play 10,000 regular-season minutes.

“To see her on the verge of her first World Cup is just fantastic. She has followed a long and winding path but that process has made her the player and person she has become,” Courage coach Paul Riley said. “If you do enough small things right, big things can happen. She has been relentless and when she steps out on the greatest stage in women’s soccer it will signify what work ethic, determination, natural ability, never-say-die attitude can do.”

Zerboni has not been an allocated player for the U.S. national team, meaning her NWSL salary has not been paid by the U.S. Soccer Federation. That has limited her earning potential in the league, where the top salary is $44,000. The league minimum is $15,750 a season.

Because at times she hasn’t been paid a living wage, Zerboni has had to borrow from family and work part time at other jobs to make ends meet, something she says has humbled her.

“I’ve thought about quitting numerous times, mostly because of the heartbreak I’ve experienced, whether it’s teams folding, or leagues folding, or all the things you miss, the important things like birthdays, weddings, graduations, births of nieces and nephews. And getting paid pennies,” she said. “You’re constantly evaluating the sacrifice. Is it outweighing the satisfaction from playing football to miss out on all those things?

“So yeah, I’ve thrown my hands up and said `What am I doing?’ But there was always something still stirring in my heart to keep going. Now that I’m at the top level and on the biggest stage, all of those pieces are starting to come together for me. Something inside my spirit said, `Don’t stop. Don’t quit.”‘

Zerboni is hoping for call-ups to the remaining exhibition matches the United States will play heading into the game’s premier tournament, which opens in France in June.

The U.S. team is the defending World Cup champion and is loaded from top to bottom, but Zerboni hopes there’s room for her.

“Of course I’m hopeful. If we lose hope what do we have?” she said. “Right now I have everything. I’m full of hope, I’m full of desire, I’m full of passion. I want to be on that squad and get in there and help.”

Leeds defender Jansson joins Malmo fans outside Stamford Bridge

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Sometimes, soccer players can be accused of being too disconnected from the fans who travel across their country to support their side. But not Pontus Jansson.

The Leeds defender traveled to London Thursday evening to join Malmo fans as they marched, sang, and chanted outside Stamford Bridge. It’s unclear if Jansson actually went into the stadium for the Europa League match, but what is clear is that he’s never lost his affection for his boyhood club. He even led some supporters in one of the Swedish club’s chants.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Jansson joined Malmo’s youth academy in 2006 and made his professional debut for his hometown side in 2009, playing in Sweden until 2014. Jansson has been a regular for Leeds each of the last three seasons since joining from Torino.

Like thousands of other Malmo fans, he probably figured this was his best chance to see a European away game of his favorite club close by. So there he went from Leeds to London to join the Malmo fans.