Manchester United's Kagawa celebrates his goal against Fulham during their English Premier League soccer match in Manchester

Offshore Drilling, England: Manchester United 3, Fulham 2

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Man of the Match: Leaving the match after 68 minutes gave this teammates a chance to catch up to Shinji Kagawa. It didn’t happen. After Kagawa left, United lost their nous in the final third, having sacrificed the man who’d been their main creative force. Kagawa was even rewarded for his work in the 35th minute when a spilt Tom Cleverley shot left the former Borussia Dortmund star with a tap in for his first United goal. The Red Devils’ best player for the second match in a row, Kagawa may be forcing a subtle but important shift in how United’s organized, a shift emphasized by their assumed leading man starting on the bench.

NBC Sports: Man United beats Fulham 3-2 in Premier League

Packaged for takeaway:

  • That’s right: Wayne Rooney was out at the start of this one, though he did come on in the 68th minute (for Kagawa). Coming off a terrible performance Monday night, Rooney’s benching has already been interpreted as him losing favor with United. That’s far too hasty. At worst, this as a message – a warning shot, of sorts. There’s no reason to believe Ferguson’s doing more than instituting a policy that will keep his stars fresh.
  • Robin van Persie also came into the team, a move that paid off early. After poor set piece defending had allowed Damien Duff to give Fulham a 1-0 lead, van Persie half-volleyed a Patrice Evra cross into the right side of Mark Schwarzer’s goal from 14 yards out. The play was defended decently by Brede Hangeland, who was only a half-step away from running onto the cross himself, but an athletic play by van Persie got the shot away with his first touch, leaving Fulham little chance to prevent the equalizer.
  • The goal started a United onslaught, the type of attacking pressure most expect to see all season from the Red Devils. Constant runs behind the line kept turning a Fulham defense that lacked the speed to come pressure United (and expose space at the back). The packed in defense was a partial factor in Kagawa and Rafael da Silva’s goals (35′ and 41′).
  • Fulham got a fortunate own goal from Nemanja Vidic in the second, one that made the final score closer than the actual play. The goal will spark more unfair criticism of David de Gea, though. Vidic bumped Mladen Petric into de Gea in the 65th minute, with Matthew Briggs‘ cross left to deflect off the defender’s heel and into goal. The immediate reaction from the commentators recycled last year’s trope: David de Gea is a problem. On this play, though, the problem was a collision to which any goalkeeper is susceptible.
  • The end result was a good United performance against an underrated Fulham team, even if that team played more conservatively than they probably should. Martin Jol’s XI played with two holding midfielders in a 4-4-2, leaving tons of space for Kagawa, Tom Cleverley, and Anderson to control the game. For much of it, United had near 70 percent (Opta) possession, thanks in part to Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia cutting in, augmenting the midfield advantage while da Silva and Evra kept Fulham’s wingers wide.
  • Cleverley, playing without Paul Scholes, was much better than Monday. The theory then was Scholes and Cleverley were redundant. Without his teammates deferring to Scholes’ experience, Cleverley was able to have an impact in proportion to his talents.
  • The bright spot for Fulham was Moussa Dembele, playing along side Mohamadou Diarra in midfield. After a quiet first half where he was marginalized by United’s possession, Dembele was the second half’s best player.
  • Did Fulham miss Clint Dempsey? They still scored twice, but they weren’t exactly manufactured goals. The first came from a set piece where Diarra probably should have been called for a foul (throwing an NBA-style pick on Young), while the second was manifest randomness. Though Petric played well, he’s not the type of player you roll a ball to and say “make something happen.” Neither is Bryan Ruiz, though Demebele seems relatively close, provided some targets. Dempsey was that player for Fulham, the type of player you typically call on when chasing a goal late.
  • Late in the match, Rooney had to be stretched off after Hugo Rodallega, following through on a shot from 26 yards, stepped on Rooney’s right thigh. A gash opened up, creating a scene reminiscent of Nani’s sliced open shin at the boot of Jamie Carragher two years ago. Rooney was wrapped on the field, carried off, and will probably be out for while stitched seal the wound. (More from NBC Sports: Rooney could be out 4 weeks)
  • Ultimately, this was exactly the match we expected. United rebounds with a performance that flashes their attacking potential, while Fulham leaves empty handed from a match where they expected nothing.

Report: Ola Kamara wanted by mid-table La Liga outfit

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Columbus Crew star Ola Kamara is ready to leave the side, but he may not be moving inside of Major League Soccer.

[ MORE: FA Cup replay roundup ]

Metro.Us reporter Kristian Dyer says the Norwegian star is subject to a bid from a mid-table La Liga club. He’d been linked with a trade to Colorado as well.

Kamara, 28, came to MLS from Austria Wien and has since scored 34 goals in two seasons, a year after bagging 21 goals on loan for Molde in Norway.

Seventh place and 15th are separated by just four points in Spain’s top flight. Leganes and Espanyol are having the hardest time scoring goals, in terms of mildly educated speculation.

Transfer rumor roundup: Fred to Man City; Aubameyang wanted

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Could this January transfer window rival last season’s in terms of activity?

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Last season saw Crystal Palace save its season and Hull City nearly do the same, Morgan Schneiderlin head to Everton, Leicester find a decent N'Golo Kante replacement, and much, much more.

This season has been less active, though Ross Barkley has headed to Chelsea while former club Everton nabbed Cenk Tosun and Liverpool added Virgil Van Dijk.

The BBC has news involving Napoli which could affect two Premier League clubs. The Neapolitans apparently want Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who wants to be an every week starter, to be a prime part of their push to end Juventus’ Serie A stranglehold.

That would unseat Pepe Reina, who’s been long linked with a reunion with former boss Pepe Reina at Newcastle United. Napoli currently has Luigi Sepe as a No. 2 to Reina, though UEFA Europa League fixtures mean it’s no guarantee Mignolet’s arrival would allow Reina to leave town.

Sky Sports says Manchester City would like to see Fred as a long-term replacement for Fernandinho. Fred went 90 minutes for Shakhtar Donetsk in a pair of UEFA Champions League contests against City, including the 2-1 home win over the Premier League leaders’ B-squad on Dec. 6. The 24-year-old has two goals and two assists in league play, and could cost more than $25 million.

Don Balon proffers news that could unsettle Arsenal fans, as Real Madrid is apparently entering the bidding for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Florentino Perez would like an upgrade to Karim Benzema for his struggling La Liga super powers, and goodness knows Real will tempt Borussia Dortmund’s bank account.

One liners:

— The BBC also says Besiktas want Islam Slimani to join the club from Leicester City.

— Ola Kamara’s move from Columbus to another MLS team may be hijacked by La Liga.

Mourinho reportedly close to Man Utd contract extension

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Jose Mourinho is scheduling an extended stay at Manchester United.

[ MORE: Donovan unveiled by Leon ]

The 54-year-old has a contract through the end of next season, the dreaded third at a club for Mourinho, but reports say United is keen to keep him around through 2021.

Mourinho has not tasted a fourth season with a club despite winning league titles at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan, and Real Madrid.

The 2019-20 season at Old Trafford would be Mourinho’s fourth. According to the BBC:

Talks have progressed well and it is now just a matter of time before Mourinho commits to remain at Old Trafford beyond the expiry of his present deal in 2019.

Somehow, this feels it should be deemed another loss for Antonio Conte.

Barkley ineligible to make Chelsea debut in FA Cup replay

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Ross Barkley was expected — and himself expected — to make his Chelsea debut on Wednesday, when the Blues host Championship side Norwich City in a third-round FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge.

Alas, the 24-year-old English midfielder has been ruled ineligible due to a lesser-known and -applied rules surrounding transfers and player registration.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup | Wednesday preview ]

Barkley completed his move from Everton to Chelsea, for $20 million, on Jan. 5, the day before Chelsea and Norwich drew 0-0 at Carrow Road. In order to be eligible for Wednesday’s replay, Barkley is required to have completed his transfer prior to the noon cut-off the day prior to the original tie. While the time of official approval is unknown, Barkley’s move wasn’t announced by the club until after 5 p.m. in the UK.

As such, Chelsea will attempt to set up a behind-closed-doors friendly this week, in order to provide Barkley a bit of game action as he builds fitness and sharpness ahead of a potential debut against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). Barkley hasn’t seen a single minute of first-team action this season after suffering a serious hamstring injury in the summer.