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Offshore drilling, England: Manchester United 3, at Newcastle United 0

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Man of the match: Wayne Rooney may have started one of his good spells. We see it once or twice a year – a span where the Manchester United attacker looks like one of the best players in the world. He wasn’t quite up to that standard on Sunday, but at this rate, Rooney might be at that level for next week’s match against Stoke City. Still, in recording two assists while serving as the link between United’s midfield and attack, Rooney was the best of a strong Red Devil squad.

The two assists are a bit of misleading, though. One came on a corner kick. The other was a simple ball ahead of a remarkable goal. But even without the assists, Rooney was United’s most impressive player. His play behind the forwards in United’s 4-3-1-2 formation hinted Alex Ferguson may figuring out the right deployment for his wealth of attacking talent.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Manchester United is so inconsistent, you never want to make judgments based on the lineups. Newcastle’s XI, though – particularly their back five – looked like they were going to be in trouble:
    • The Magpies had second choice `keeper Steven Harper in goal. He’s not bad, but he’s a clear step back from the Tim Krul, out injured.
    • Under normal circumstances, the difference between Krul and Harper wouldn’t be noticed, particularly over a mere 90 minutes, but with a 21-year-old Shane Ferguson starting to the left of a James Perch-Mike Williamson pair, Harper looked likely to be tested often. Either that or defensive midfielder Chiek Tiote was going to have to have a huge day.
    • United started a very attack-oriented team (no surprise): Danny Welbeck and Robin van Persie up top, Rooney behind them, with Shinji Kagawa and Tom Cleverley playing the wide midfielders in a 4-3-1-2.
  • Eight minutes in, Manchester United had 89 percent of the Opta possession. That’s also when they opened the scoring, a near post corner from van Persie finding Jonny Evans, who out-jumped Williamson to make it 1-0.
  • Eight minutes later (in the 16th minute), United were up two, Patrice Evra beating Demba Ba to head home a corner from Rooney.
  • Whether it was Newcastle’s awakening or Manchester United letting up, the game evened out after the second goal. United wouldn’t register a shot for the rest of the half, their possession going from 80 percent (at the time of Evra’s goal) to 60 percent (at halftime). Each of Newcastle’s eight first half shots came after the second goal, though none of them tested David de Gea.
  • The match also saw five yellow cards handed out in the 24-minute period after the Evra goal. Howard Webb would go on to book eight players overall.
  • The second half avoided the first’s bipolarity, leveling off into a match United was destined to win. After Cleverley made it 3-0 with a great, curling goal inside the right post from 25 yards out, the Red Devils started taking off their stars.
  • And most of the time, that’s a good shorthand for how a match has gone. If all you were told about this match were United’s subs – Kagawa, Rooney, then van Persie – you’d know United won big.
  • For Newcastle, it was a match they were destined to lose. They weren’t set up to beat United in midfield, which would have left a second choice defense sitting ducks even without the early corner kick conversions.
  • For United, the performance showed continued improvement, which is all Ferguson wants at this time of year. It’s half fable, half fact: Ferguson tries to get his team clicking by the new year. With that in mind, he’ll spend the next three months tweaking, hoping United will be at their best when the stakes escalate. Today was a good tweak.

Robbie Keane still entertaining offers ahead of return

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 12:  Soccer Player Robbie Keane arrives at the Premiere of IFC Films' "Pele: Birth Of A Legend" at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
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Robbie Keane is still sorting out his future, and it seems unlikely he’s heading back to the past.

Keane is training in Dublin ahead of a return to the pitch. The 36-year-old striker left the LA Galaxy this offseason, and says he’s had several offers from Championship squads in England as well as a few clubs abroad.

[ MORE: Top Premier League story lines ]

Although he’s starred for Wolverhampton and Leeds, destinations where fans would welcome his arrival, Keane says not to hold your breath.

From TalkSport.com:

“I’ve had a lot of people asking me about coming back to Leeds and Wolves, and they’re great clubs I’ve played for, but you can’t go somewhere if people actually don’t offer you anything.

“Until it’s actually in writing to me I can’t comment much on it, but I definitely haven’t heard from Leeds or Wolves.”

Whether Stateside or in England, Keane can still have an impact on a team’s fortunes. We look forward to seeing him back on the field, and to hear some more quips as well.

Consider his answer to whether he’d entertain an offer from China:

“If they gave the money Diego Costa was offered, I’d walk there now,” Keane said.

Galaxy adds center mid from Portuguese top flight

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LA Galaxy’s roster reformation continues with the addition of Joao Pedro, a day after formalizing a deal with USMNT midfielder Jermaine Jones.

The 23-year-old center midfielder was with Vitoria Guimaraes in Portugal’s top flight, and comes to the club as a “Special Discovery Player” with Targeted Allocation Money.

[ MORE: Top Premier League story lines ]

Pedro has a goal in 17 appearances this season, as Vitoria Guimaraes sits fifth in the Primeira Liga.

From LAGalaxy.com:

“Joao is an extremely talented midfielder who has experience playing at a high level in Portugal,” said Galaxy general manager Peter Vagenas in a written statement released by the club.

“He is only 23 years old and has the best years of his career front of him. We identified him as a top target this offseason and we think he can immediately help strengthen our midfield. We look forward to welcoming Joao to Los Angeles as we continue to prepare for the upcoming season.”

Pedro was a regular for Vitoria Guimaraes but is far from a certainty to star for the Galaxy. We do know that Vagenas has probably done his research as to whether Pedro fits with Jermaine Jones.

AFCON wrap: Senegal clinches first knockout round slot

Senegal's, Sadio Mane, right, is challenged by Zimbabwe's, Willard Katsande, left, during the African Cup of Nations Group B soccer match between Senegal and Zimbabwe at, Stade de Franceville Stadium, in Franceville, Gabon Thursday Jan. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
AP Photo/Sunday Alamba
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Senegal has advanced to the knockout rounds of the Africa Cup of Nations, leaving three teams to work for the second Group B slot come the final day.

[ MORE: Top Premier League story lines ]

Senegal 2-0 Zimbabwe

Sadio Mane (Liverpool) and Henri Saivet (Saint-Etienne) scored within the first 13 minutes as Senegal clinched Group B with a win over Zimbabwe. There were 48 shots between the two teams, 24 for Senegal, in a fairly open affair. As for the Warriors, they’ll need to beat Tunisia on Monday.

Algeria 1-2 Tunisia

Tunisia rebounded from a loss to Senegal without scoring from the run of play. Lille mid Naim Sliti scored a penalty after an Algeria own goal made it 1-0. Anderlecht midfielder Sofiane Hanni scored for Algeria.

Friday’s matches
Ivory Coast vs. DR Congo — 11 a.m. ET
Morocco vs. Togo — 11 a.m. ET

Wenger concerned Chinese wages become benchmark for players

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 15:  Arsene Wenger manager of Arsenal looks on during an Arsenal press conference ahead of their UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match against Barcelona at Camp Nou on March 15, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
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LONDON (AP) Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is hoping the high quality of competition in Europe will keep players from leaving for the financial gain in China.

Wenger is facing regular questions about the future of both Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, and the big money on offer in the Chinese league can complicate negotiations.

[ MORE: Top Premier League story lines ]

Argentine striker Carlos Tevez joined Shanghai Shenhua last month in a deal worth $40 million over two years.

“The danger (is) that the Chinese offers become the benchmark for Europe,” Wenger said Thursday. “You cannot compete with that, but I still think that, when you’re a footballer, the first thing is that you want to play against the best players in the best teams.”

Wenger said players that want the best compensation for playing in the best quality league need not look to Asia.

“I think that combination is the best in England at the moment, so I don’t see why the players should leave the English Premier League,” Wenger said.

Wenger, whose team is fourth in the standings, has made only one signing in the January transfer window, picking up defender Cohen Bramall from non-league club Hednesford.

Arsenal has also decided to keep captain Per Mertesacker for another season. Wenger announced Thursday that the club has taken up a one-year option to extend the contract of the 32-year-old German, who has not played this season because of a knee injury sustained during a friendly in July.

Mertesacker faces a fight to get back into the team because Shkodran Mustafi, an offseason signing from Valencia, has built a strong partrnership with vice captain Laurent Koscielny at the heart of Wenger’s defense.