Flawed and fabulous, Manchester United gives up three goals in Boxing Day win

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The defending remained terrible, which made the outcome foreseeably dramatic. In hindsight, it was foolish to dismiss any Manchester United game (including today’s) as being predictable. With the firepower to overcome any foolishness at the back, the Premier League’s leaders will forever have to out-shoot their opponents, something that’s lead them to the top of an entertaining if highly flawed Premier League.

Today was no different. David de Gea deserved an assist on Newcastle’s opener, his poor block pushing a long range shot right into the path of James Perch (the only onrushing attacker). A 29th minute Jonny Evans’ own goal restored the Magpies’ lead shortly after the Red Devils’ defender had equalized. After new goal scoring machine Patrice Evra (up to four goals on the season) pulled United back, Papiss Demba Cisse put Newcastle in front with 22 minutes left.

But then Manchester United did Manchester United things. Robin van Persie hit his league-leading 13th goal three minutes later, bringing the Red Devils back for the third time. Then as regulation time ended, Javier Hernández beat Tim Krul low to deliver full points, giving United a seven-point lead and one more point than they had at the same juncture last year.

If any 4-3 result was predictable, this was it.

MORE: Wayne Rooney left out of Boxing Day squad

There’s no more entertaining team in the world right now than Manchester United, adulation which serves as a double edged sword. If they don’t have the best set of attackers in the world, they certainly have the most clinical, the team posting an amazing conversion rate throughout their campaign. But their defense is nowhere near good enough to sustain their style of play, particularly on days when Michael Carrick is asked to carry Paul Scholes in midfield.

Not good enough to hold leads, Manchester United provides opponents no reason to revere them the way Barcelona and Bayern Munich are esteemed. If you go after them, you will score on the Red Devils. Your best chance to win is to hope they’ll sit on a lead (as they did against Manchester City) or fail to convert the chances they create (as they did against Everton and Norwich).

MORE: Hart, Mancini failings on display for City

They’re the perfect leaders of a league that has proved enticing if extremely flawed. As the league’s performances in Champions League showed, there are no great teams in England, but there are a number (like Liverpool, Fulham, Southampton, and even Chelsea) whose entertainment value transcends their results.

Were those clubs (or Manchester United) in Spain or Germany, they would sit lower in the standings. But England doesn’t have to be the highest quality competition every year. Let leagues ebb and flow, especially if they’re going to offset their drops with fun factor that augments the best talent in the world.

And no doubt, today’s game at Old Trafford wasn’t the highest quality soccer. But it was fun. It was exactly why the Premier League is the most popular league in the world, if not necessarily the best.

Barcelona GM: “We’re close to signing Coutinho, Dembele”

Philippe Coutinho
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Barcelona did not post a magical comeback versus Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup second leg, instead losing 5-1 on aggregate after Wednesday’s 2-0 loss at the Bernabeu.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

But perhaps the celebrated La Liga club has worked some wizardry in the transfer market, with not one but two big targets “close” to the Camp Nou.

Barca general manager Josep “Pep” Segura was on television after the match, and noted Spanish football expert Sid Lowe relays his words: Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho and Borussia Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembele are coming to Barca, “but until it’s closed I can’t say anything.”

Well, you just said something about it, so what gives.

Now before anyone freaks out at Anfield or Westfalenstadion, this is a man speaking after a relatively embarrassing performance for one of the biggest clubs in the world. Segura could simply be treading water for new manager Ernesto Valverde after his club was simply worked over in 120 minutes versus its El Clasico rivals.

VIDEO: Asensio, Real Madrid outclass out-of-sorts Barca; PSG trolls?

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This one wasn’t even close, and is going to instantly have many Barcelona fans wondering if the loss of Neymar is going to be too much for Ernesto Valverde to handle.

Real Madrid rode a stunning Marco Asensio strike to a 2-0 first half lead at the Bernabeu on Wednesday en route to a 5-1 aggregate win over Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup.

It’s Real’s 10th Spanish Super Cup, and first since 2012.

[ MORE: Bacca to Villarreal ]

Karim Benzema also scored in the opening frame, which saw Barca looking out of sorts and rudderless.

As in the first leg in Barcelona, the Blaugranas had their moments but failed to show sharpness and class against the reigning La Liga and UEFA Champions League winners.

Lionel Messi hit the crossbar, Luis Suarez headed off the post. The second half wasn’t producing a magic comeback.

Both teams kick off their La Liga seasons on Sunday, with Barca hosting Real Betis and Real off to Deportivo de la Coruna.

Meanwhile, it seems like PSG spent the afternoon trolling Barca, first posting a shot of ex-Blaugranas stars Dani Alves and Neymar training, and then an incredulous Neymar accompanied by a laughing emoji.

Carlos Bacca joins Villarreal, Boateng leaves Las Palmas

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MADRID (AP) Colombia striker Carlos Bacca joined Spanish club Villarreal on loan from AC Milan on Wednesday.

Villarreal said the one-season loan agreement includes the option to buy the player at the end of the season.

Bacca returns to a Spanish league where the 30-year-old forward flourished in two seasons at Sevilla before joining Milan in 2015.

[ MORE: UCL Wednesday wrap ]

Bacca has made 39 appearances for Colombia, scoring 13 goals. According to Villarreal, he has scored 165 career goals in 336 matches. He scored 14 goals for Milan last season.

Elsewhere in Spain, Las Palmas announced that Kevin-Prince Boateng was leaving the club after both sides agreed to end his contract two days before its season opener.

Las Palmas said that Boateng was leaving due to “personal reasons of an irreversible nature.” The club thanked the former AC Milan standout for his “professionalism” that he displayed during his single season on the Canary Islands.

Las Palmas opens the Spanish league season on Friday at Valencia.

Man City has $23 million Evans bid shot down by WBA

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Could Jonny Evans be the latest player to cross Manchester’s red and blue divide, albeit with a stop in between?

Reports Wednesday say West Bromwich Albion has rejected a $23 million Manchester City bid for the Northern Irish center back.

[ MORE: UCL Wednesday wrap ]

$23 million? That’s like 40 percent of a Kyle Walker!

Evans, 29, is the Baggies captain and a key piece of the club’s aims to continue its long stay in the Premier League.

He joined Manchester United’s academy at age 16 and stayed at Old Trafford through 2015, taking loan opportunities at Royal Antwerp and Sunderland on the way.

At United, Evans won three Premier League titles and two League Cups, and also has a Championship win from one of his two stints at Sunderland.

The 61-times capped Belfast native would give City a key component for Premier League play along with a center back corps of Nicolas Otamendi, Vincent Kompany, and John Stones. Eliaquim Mangala completes their veteran depth, and is certainly City’s weakest position.

Would West Brom sell at any reasonable price? The Baggies are not deep at center back, either — not too many clubs are — and will be in a boatload of trouble without Evans. And given the transfer market, finding a proper replacement at under $30 million is going to be difficult (Reread that sentence. What a summer).

It’s another argument for the transfer window closing before the start of the season.