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Can Solskjaer succeed long-term at Manchester United?

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has Manchester United fans over the moon, and he’s earned the permanent job earlier than anticipated as a result. Yet the club still has a long way to go to return to the heights of old, and while many have tabbed the results of the past three months as a sign of things to come, there are still plenty of unknowns as the 2018/19 season heads down the home stretch.

The decision to officially hand Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the keys to Manchester United was essentially a foregone conclusion given the immediate and spectacular turnaround of the club in the wake of Jose Mourinho’s departure. Few have passed a trial phase with such flying colors as the Norwegian, masterminding the first six-game league winning streak in club history to start a managerial career. Yet somehow, despite all the fanfare and accolades, the timing of the announcement still comes with a twinge of perplexity.

[ MORE: Official Solskjaer announcement ]

Solskjaer is in the midst of his first losing streak as manager, falling 2-0 to Arsenal in a vitally critical game that saw the club fall back out of the top four, before dropping 2-1 to Wolves in the FA Cup quarterfinals. With those two losses, the honeymoon phase is finally over for the Norwegian, and yet Manchester United didn’t wait to find out how he and the club respond to their first true bout with adversity together.

Manchester United still has plenty of business to take care of this season as the campaign rockets towards the finish line. With his first Manchester derby plus a date with Chelsea and a rematch against Wolves all still left on the docket, not only does Solskjaer have plenty still to prove but Manchester United still sits outside the Premier League’s top four, the loss to Arsenal a major setback in the quest for a Champions League place. There’s also still this season’s Champions League to take care of, with the high from the PSG comeback quickly drowned out by a quarterfinal draw against runaway La Liga leaders Barcelona. An exit against the Spanish giants would be a blast of cold air to the face, a reminder that this season still potentially leaves so much on the table.

[ MORE: Bayern sets Bundesliga transfer record with Hernandez ]

Ultimately, Solskjaer’s time in charge has been about calming the Mourinho chaos. He’s successfully quieted the noise around the Old Trafford locker room, made sound tactical decisions and adjustments on the pitch, and brought a friendly smile back to the postgame interview room. He’s reignited the spark in the club’s best players like Paul Pogba, a fatal flaw of Mourinho’s time in charge. He’s rekindled the club’s feeling of pride in its past and stature in the English game, something the three previous post-Sir Alex managers had critically let slip. He’s steered the ship like he has nothing to lose, an accurate approach given he took over with the Red Devils seemingly out of league contention and barreling aimlessly towards Premier League obscurity under his predecessor. Suddenly, that no longer seems the case, and with hope comes expectation. Should the Red Devils fall short on all fronts, nobody would blame Solskjaer for the club coming up empty, but there would be an empty feeling given the serious return of the chase.

At the time Solskjaer was named caretaker manager in December, the club stated he would remain in charge until the summer when a decision on a permanent replacement for Mourinho would be made. That stake in the ground gave the Red Devils a free pass through to the summer, with the club able to point back to its original announcement even in the face of increasing pressure to make a decision. Instead, Ed Woodward chose to change course and end the speculation early to put Ole at the wheel. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with confirming a decision many felt was overdue, it’s nonetheless a true statement of intent, one Woodward must own if it ultimately proves to be rash.

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.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

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.

Serie A: Napoli rout Inter, leaving UCL race wide open heading into final week

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The race for the third and four places in Serie A, and with it, a berth in the UEFA Champions League next season, remain open heading into the final week of the season, thanks to a stellar performance from Napoli.

Playing at home in the Stadio San Paolo, Napoli thrashed Inter Milan, 4-1, to keep Inter in fourth place in the table on 66 points. That’s just one point ahead of AC Milan in fifth place, which jumped up after a 2-0 win over Frosinone, and three points ahead of AS Roma, which succumbed to a scoreless draw with Sassuolo this weekend. Atalanta meanwhile came ten minutes from beating Juventus in Turin, and even with a point in a 1-1 draw, Atalanta is still only in third place by 66 points.

[READ: Bayern Munich still too good for the rest this season]

Piotr Zielinski made a statement with a 30-yard blast past Samir Handanovic in the 16th minute to put Napoli up 1-0 and then Dries Mertens and a pair of goals from Fabian Ruiz gave the Neapolitans a massive lead, while leaving Inter in a precarious position. Mauro Icardi scored late to give Inter a small reprieve, but the defeat was set and it leaves Inter essentially needing to win in the final week of the season to secure a place in the Champions League next year.

Elsewhere, Josip Ilicic scored his 12th league goal of the season as Atalanta took Juventus down to the wire in Juve’s final home match of the season. Juventus fans serenaded Andrea Barzagli, playing his final game for the Bianconeri, and even had a message of support for Daniele De Rossi.

Gianluigi Buffon was even in attendance.

Also in action in Serie A, Parma beat Fiorentina, 1-0 and Empoli defeated Torino, 4-1.

Report: Former Chelsea great Clarke set to be new Scotland manager

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The Scotland FA is set to appoint a former Chelsea star as its new men’s national team manager.

Former Chelsea midfielder, and West Bromwich Albion and Reading manager Steve Clarke is reportedly in talks with the Scotland FA to take over the national team. Clarke has a difficult job ahead, with Scotland already having lost, 3-0, at Kazakhstan in UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying.

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Although Scotland finished top of their group in Level C of the UEFA Nations League and earned promotion to League B, the team’s play was very up and down under Alex McLeish, back in the job after a one-year spell in 2017. McLeish eventually lost the federation’s support after the 3-0 defeat at Kazakhstan, ranked then 117th in the world, made Scotland look like Europe’s whipping boy. Though Scotland saved some face with a 2-0 win over San Marino, the damage was done.

Clarke, after disappointing tenures at West Bromwich and Reading in his first full managerial roles, has since found success in Scotland. He’s led Kilmarnock this season to third place in the table and a spot in the Europa League, an impressive feat considering the club’s budget is dwarfed by Celtic and Rangers. Aberdeen have impressed, while both Hibernian and Hearts of Midlothain have also recently spent big on new signings, yet Kilmarnock finished above them this season.

Clarke, who only played a half dozen times for Scotland during his playing career, will now have to galvanize the squad ahead of two crucial qualifications in June and quickly imprint his tactical ideas and plan in a short amount of time. During his time at Chelsea, Clarke won the FA Cup, League Cup, and UEFA Cup Winners Cup between 1987 and 1998. He was also assistant coach under Jose Mourinho and played a key role in some of their most successful seasons.