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.

Barcelona, Neymar make it formal: Signed into 2021

BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 19: Neymar of Barcelona holds off pressure from Raheem Sterling of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League group C match between FC Barcelona and Manchester City FC at Camp Nou on October 19, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
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T’s are crossed and i’s dotted on Neymar’s new contract, keeping him at the club through the 2020-21 season.

Neymar, 24, will make his 100th La Liga appearance with his next step onto the pitch.

Lionel Messi’s deal runs through 2017-18, and Luis Suarez’s goes through 2018-19.

[ MORE: Guardiola on Aguero omission ]

He’s scored 59 goals in league play, and has 91 total when you include all 150 of his matches in a Barca kit.

Neymar is on a similar scoring rate to last season, when he netted 31 times. The Brazilian also has 49 international goals in 73 caps.

Guardiola seethes at reports Aguero unwanted at Man City

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14: Sergio Aguero of Manchester City is congratulated by Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League match between Manchester City FC and VfL Borussia Moenchengladbach at Etihad Stadium on September 14, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
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Pep Guardiola is seething with reports that claim star striker Sergio Aguero is not in his plans for Manchester City’s future.

Aguero started on the bench for Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League loss at Barcelona, inspiring talk that the Argentine star wasn’t long for the Emirates Stadium.

[ MORE: Conte on Mourinho, Pogba ]

Guardiola says that’s garbage, and that he simply needed more midfielders for his attack. Next time, just ask.

From the BBC:

“It was a tactical decision. I wanted one more midfielder, I tried to keep the ball in the Camp Nou and when you have the ball, Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez don’t.

“I spoke with Sergio and he was understanding, I thought in the last 30 minutes, with the Barcelona centre-halves tiring, he could help a lot from the bench. When Sergio decides to leave it will be his decision. Next time before you (the media) decide he is not in my plans you can call me.”

Still, not using Aguero is risky business.

The striker believes, rightly, that he’s among the most dangerous players in the world. Guardiola has said as much, too.

While few would put him in the class of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s difficult to imagine either being sat for tactical reasons against one of the best teams in the world.

Chelsea: Conte expects warm reception for Mourinho; Terry is fit

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26:  A fan wears a Chelsea scarf with the image of the club's former manager, Jose Mourinho before the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Watford at Stamford Bridge on December 26, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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The managers are meeting the media ahead of this week’s Premier League matches, and many eyes are trained on one specific match-up.

Chelsea and Manchester United meet on Sunday, the first time Jose Mourinho will manage against his old side since his unceremonious exit last winger.

[ USWNT: Holiday has tumor removed ]

Mourinho, of course, led Chelsea to the 2014-15 title only to see a miserable start to the following campaign. He was hired at Manchester United this summer, but Conte thinks Mourinho’s Chelsea laurels have earned him some love from Stamford Bridge.

“I have great respect for Mourinho. He deserves a good reception. He was an important man for Chelsea and wrote part of the club’s story.”

Conte also touched on Paul Pogba‘s decision to head back to Old Trafford. Pogba is coming off a starring role in United’s 4-1 win over Fenerbahce, and Conte guided the French midfielder during their time at Juventus.

“It was Paul Pogba’s dream was to return to Manchester United. I wish him well, but only after this game.”

Conte said John Terry is available to return for Chelsea, and that could be invaluable against a big, strong forward like United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic. With the Red Devils having played Thursday, Conte will like his chances a bit more than usual.

Canada vs. U.S. among top-notch CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals

VANCOUVER, CANADA - JUNE 20:  Gershon Koffie #28 of the Vancouver Whitecaps brings the ball up field against Dax McCarty #11 of the New York Red Bulls at B.C. Place on June 20, 2012 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jessica Haydahl/Getty Images)
Photo by Jessica Haydahl/Getty Images
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The bracket is set for the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, and ensures that at least one MLS vs. Liga MX semifinal will happen next Spring.

No. 1 seed New York Red Bulls will cross the continent to meet No. 8 Vancouver Whitecaps, with the winner moving on to face the victor of Mexico’s Tigres UANL vs. Pumas UNAM.

[ VIDEO: Previewing all 10 PL matches ]

The possibility of an all-Liga MX or all-MLS final still exists, with Pachuca and FC Dallas on opposite sides of the bracket. Arabe Unido gives Panama hope for its first CCL semifinalist, while Saprissa can be Costa Rica’s first semifinalist since 2011.

Of the remaining teams, only Pachuca has won a title in the CCL era (2008-present). Tigres lost in the 2016 final, the only other team to make it that far.

Full schedule
New York Red Bulls (1) vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (8)
Tigres UANL (4) vs. Pumas UNAM (5)
Arabe Unido (2) vs. FC Dallas (7)
Pachuca (3) vs. Saprissa (4)

The first legs will be played in late February, and the bright side to the intra-league quarters will be one MLS side waiting a round before facing a more in-form club playing a traditional season schedule (though that’s an overblown excuse at this point).

Some fans don’t care much for the tournament, while others — myself included — are extremely keen to see an MLS team win the CCL and represent North America in the Club World Cup, where it can get a high profile litmus test in a serious competition (Real Madrid beat Cruz Azul 4-0 in a 2014 semifinal).