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Three things we learned: Chelsea v. Man United

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Chelsea beat Manchester United 1-0 in the FA Cup Final at Wembley on Saturday, with Antonio Conte picking up his second domestic trophy in England in just his second season in charge of the Blues.

[ MORE: Mourinho defends United ]

Eden Hazard‘s first half penalty kick put Chelsea ahead and the Blues weathered a severe second half storm from Jose Mourinho’s United to secure the silverware.

Here’s what we learned from a tense final at sunny Wembley.


MOURINHO’S MAN-MARKING GOES WRONG

It was clear from the first whistle that Jose Mourinho’s plan was to thwart Chelsea’s flair players. It didn’t work and he lost for just the third time in 15 major finals as a manager. Usually being solid and tough to break down has worked well for Mourinho in the past who had never lost a cup final in England before Saturday.

Hazard got on the ball time and time again early on as Ander Herrera couldn’t lock him down with the Belgian wizard twisting and turning past Phil Jones on multiple occasions as he isolated United’s cumbersome center backs all too easily. Olivier Giroud bullied Chris Smalling and Paul Pogba failed to dominate in midfield with Cesc Fabregas and N'Golo Kante winning the battle against Nemanja Matic.

Mourinho is known as a pragmatist and there’s no doubt that Romelu Lukaku being unfit to start in the final played its part in his team selection, but showing Chelsea the kind of respect they did straight from the kick off handed the initiative to Conte’s side. And they took it early and sat back, soaked up pressure and rather easily handled a rigid, predictable attacking display from United.

In the second half Mourinho ditched his man-to-man approach across the pitch (Herrera stopped being a second right back after failing to snuff out Hazard) and United looked like a different team with Marcus Rashford twice denied by Thibaut Courtois and Alexis Sanchez having a goal ruled out, correctly, for being offside. Such was the dominance of United in the second half, it begged a serious question as to why Mourinho handed Conte and Chelsea, his former club, the initiative from the start.

The Special One managed liked the Scared One.


HAZARD ON ANOTHER PLANET AS CONTE ENDS ON A HIGH

Hazard was the match-winner in the FA Cup final and the Belgian magician shrugged off the man-marking exploits of Herrera with ease to lead Chelsea, and Conte, to FA Cup glory.

With rumors swirling, once again, about his future at Chelsea this summer as Conte is almost certain to leave, Hazard, 27, reminded everyone just how good he can be. When he’s on, he’s unplayable. His scampering around the pitch left Mourinho incensed as his team were chasing shadows all game long.

In both the FA Cup semifinal and final Hazard has turned it on to lead Chelsea to another trophy, and the way in which he glides around the pitch, commits defenders into making tackles and leads counter attacks, he is at the perfect club for his style of play.

Whether or not Hazard thinks his future is at Chelsea remains to be seen but in this form a big summer for him with the Belgium national team may well prompt the likes of Real Madrid and PSG to grab him in his prime with just two years left on his current deal at Chelsea.

A man of the match display from Hazard was the main difference between the two teams at Wembley.


PIVOTAL MOMENT SPOT ON FROM REFEREE

When Jones slid in and took out Hazard to give away the pivotal penalty kick midway through the first half, there were calls from many that Jones should’ve been sent off by referee Michael Oliver.

Those calls were wrong and Oliver was spot on to rubber stamp his status as the top referee in the Premier League.

Jones made a genuine attempt to play the ball and due to the rule changes from two years ago, his challenge inside the box should only have yielded a yellow card rather than a red despite denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity.

The International Football Associations Board (IFAB) announced plenty of subtle changes in the summer of 2016, with the most impactful the removal of the so-called ‘triple-punishment law’ which would see a defender sent off for giving away a penalty kick.

“When a denial of a goalscoring opportunity offense is committed by a defender in the penalty area, the penalty kick effectively restores the goalscoring opportunity so the punishment for the player should be less strong (e.g. a yellow card) than when the offense is committed outside the penalty area. However, when the offense is handball or clearly not a genuine attempt to play or challenge for the ball, the player will be sent off.”

Despite Conte’s uproar on the sidelines, Oliver got the call spot on and the relatively new rules of the game were refereed correctly.

It has to be said that a handball decision against Ashley Young wasn’t given via VAR as the ball looked to have struck his arm and handed Chelsea another penalty kick in the second, but with the United defender so close to the ball when it struck him it wasn’t a terrible call from Oliver and his crew.

They got the pivotal calls correct.

Watch Live: Arsenal v. Leicester City

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Arsenal host Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Gunners aim for a tenth-straight win in all competitions.

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Leicester have never won at Arsenal in the Premier League with the Gunners winning each of their last 11 encounters at home against the Foxes.

Unai Emery‘s men have been flying in recent weeks with six wins on the spin in the PL and the likes of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring goals galore in attack.

In team news Arsenal bring in Shkodran Mustafi for the injured Sokratis Papastathopoulos with Stephane Lichtsteiner in at left back.

Leicester make one change with Jonny Evans coming in for the suspended Wes Morgan in central defense.


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Cristiano Ronaldo discusses rape allegations against him

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Cristiano Ronaldo has been speaking publicly for the first time about accusations made by American Kathryn Mayorga, who says she was raped by the Portuguese superstar in Las Vegas back in 2009.

Ronaldo, 33, issued a statement via his lawyers about the allegations after he had originally called Mayorga’s claims “fake news” on his social media account.

Lawyers for Ronaldo claim they will sue Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine who first published the claims from Mayorga but the German publication stand by their reporting. Juventus were heavily criticized for the statement they released in support of Ronaldo, while his main sponsor Nike have revealed they are “deeply concerned” about the allegations.

Speaking ahead of his return to Old Trafford with Juventus on Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League, the former Manchester United star addressed the speculation, although the BBC are reporting that no English journalist was allowed to ask questions at the press conference.

“I know I am an example, 100%. In the pitch and outside the pitch. I am a happy man, I smile, I play in a fantastic club, I have four kids, I am healthy, the rest doesn’t interfere on me so I am very glad. I am a happy man. We have done a statement two weeks ago and I am glad,” Ronaldo said. “Of course I am not going to lie in this situation, my lawyers are confident and I am too. I enjoy the football, my life and the rest people take care of my life. The truth always comes in first position. I am good.”

Ronaldo was then asked about his return to United, the club he played for from 2003-2009 and where he won three Premier League titles and a UEFA Champions League trophy under Sir Alex Ferguson before leaving for Real Madrid.

“It is emotional for me. I can remember I won lots here. Cups and leagues,” Ronaldo said. “The support was fantastic and my best possible wishes to Sir Alex Ferguson. He gave me a huge lift in my career.”

List of top 25 selling MLS jerseys released

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Ahead of the final week of the 2018 Major League Soccer season, a list of the top player jerseys have been released.

Some will surprise you. Others won’t.

[ MORE: Rooney, Zlatan to PL on loan?

LA Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic sits top of the pile, while LAFC’s Carlos Vela is in second and Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez is third. Wayne Rooney has only been in MLS for half a season but the D.C. United star is in fourth, while Atlanta’s Paraguayan star Miguel Almiron is fifth.

Some surprising names high up on the list include Diego Rossi, Darlington Nagbe and  Dom Dwyer.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

Below is the full list of the top 25 best-selling jerseys in Major League Soccer.


1. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
2. Carlos Vela
3. Josef Martinez
4. Wayne Rooney
5. Miguel Almiron
6. Bastian Schweinsteiger
7. David Villa
8. Sebastian Giovinco
9. Clint Dempsey
10. Ezequiel Barco
11. Diego Valeri
12. Diego Rossi
13. Bradley Wright-Phillips
14. Giovani dos Santos
15. Darlington Nagbe
16. Jozy Altidore
17. Alphonso Davies
18. Hector Villalba
19. Dom Dwyer
20. Luciano Acosta
21. Graham Zusi
22. Cristian Roldan
23. Darwin Quintero Jr.
24. Paul Arriola
25. Diego Chara

Premier League loans for Rooney, Zlatan?

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This is something which happened a lot in the past but loan deals from Major League Soccer to the Premier League seem to have died down slightly in recent years.

[ MORE: Rooney, DC make playoffs ]

I’m talking Robbie Keane to Aston Villa and Thierry Henry to Arsenal in 2012. Landon Donovan to Everton in 2010 and 2012. David Beckham to AC Milan in 2009 and 2010. That kind of deal. Not quite Frank Lampard from New York City FC to Manchester City, because we all know how that worked out…

But could Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic be the latest MLS stars to head back to Europe for an offseason loan stint?

Given Zlatan’s incredible form in his debut campaign in MLS with 22 goals in 26 games at the ripe age of 37, plus Rooney’s huge impact at D.C. United (12 goals and 10 assists in 19 games) which has dragged them from last place in the East to playoff qualification, surely they could help out a few PL clubs right now?

Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson recently said Rooney, 32, left England too soon, and with the Eagles having goalscoring issues, maybe they could an option if the Manchester United captain fancied a stint back in England in January?

While Zlatan’s former club Man United could certainly use a little help given their poor start to the season and with a busy festive season coming up with PL and European action. It has even been suggested by the Spanish media that Real Madrid would be willing to sign Zlatan on a short-term loan. Now, wouldn’t that be something…

But lets think about this. Would D.C. United and the LA Galaxy really want their star players heading overseas to risk injury and burnout after a gruelling MLS campaign?

In Zlatan’s case, probably not. The Galaxy would be correct to be concerned about Zlatan’s injury record and the fact that the Swedish superstar has four years on Rooney suggests he could probably do with a rest. Plus, Zlatan has played an entire MLS season whereas Rooney arrived at the halfway point.

As for Rooney, it seems like December-February would be better spent getting to known the D.C. area better with his family after his move during the season to MLS.

But, as we know with top players, they want to play at the best level possible for as long as possible and both Rooney and Ibrahimovic will no doubt have offers on the table for loan moves in January. It’s not about the money with these two veterans. It is more about proving to everyone than can still do it. And their form in MLS proves they can.

You can scoff at MLS all you want but if you tell me that 15 out of the 20 current Premier League teams wouldn’t jump at the chance to take Rooney and Zlatan on loan in January, then I’d call you a liar right to your face.