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.

Napoli takes commanding Serie A lead after Juventus loss

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Six-time Serie A defending champions Juventus are in trouble. Not a lot, but the heat has been turned up.

A wild 3-2 loss to Sampdoria means the Italian giants are now four points back of Napoli in the Serie A table, and heading into their Champions League matchup with Barcelona, there is plenty of soul-searching to do in Turin.

Juventus nearly mounted what would have been a monumental comeback, down 3-0 heading into stoppage-time but posting goals by Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala in the first and fourth minutes of injury time. It was not to be, and the four-point deficit through 13 games not only leaves Juventus looking at Napoli more than a game in front of them, but also over their shoulders at Roma and Inter Milan both a point behind in third and fourth.

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was kept out of the lineup as he continues to deal emotionally with the World Cup miss, and it showed. After a scoreless first half at Stadio Luigi Ferraris, Duzan Zapata beat Stephan Lichtensteiner in the air and sent a looping header over a flatfooted Wojciech Szczesny for the opening goal.

With 20 minutes to go, Sampdoria struck again as former Premier League creator Gaston Ramirez fed 21-year-old Lucas Torreira at the top of the box, and with nobody closing him down, he fired into the bottom-left corner of the net. They got the eventual winner nine minutes later after an embarrassing defensive breakdown by the visitors. A free-kick saw two attackers in front of net against five defenders, but somehow Gianmarco Ferrari was completely unmarked in front of the net for a tap-in.

Higuain struck from the penalty spot and Dybala hit on the counter to beat Emiliano Vivaldo at his near post, but it wasn’t enough for Juventus. The defensive frailty will need to be corrected moving forward, as they face a vital match at Napoli on December 1st, and a loss there could spell disaster for their title charge.

American right back Moore makes first La Liga start

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La Liga saw an American amongst its Starting XIs on Sunday.

Shaquell Moore made his first La Liga start in Levante’s 2-0 win at Las Palmas on Sunday.

According to WhoScored, Moore completed 71 percent of his passes, had three interceptions and four tackles won. He was credited with one key pass and three crosses.

[ MORE: McKennie impresses again ]

The right back turned 21 earlier this month, and our primitive research shows him as the first U.S. player to make a La Liga start since Oguchi Onyewu at Malaga in 2013.

Oddly enough, Sunday’s opposition had an American on the books last season with Emmanuel Sabbi skipped college soccer to join Las Palmas. Sabbi joined Danish side Hobro this summer, and made his first start on Friday.

Jozy Altidore spent time with Villarreal and Kasey Keller played for Rayo Vallecano.

Levante’s next match is Sunday at Real Sociedad.

Spurs reportedly have right to match any Bale bid

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What’s Gareth Bale worth these days? And how much higher than that figure is Manchester United willing to go?

Those are the two main questions that arise from the idea that Tottenham Hotspur may have a contractual privilege to match any offer made to Real Madrid for the ex-Spurs star.

[ MORE: McKennie impresses again ]

Bale, 28, was worth $112 million in today’s dollars when Real bought him in 2013. He has 70 goals and 55 assists in 159 matches for the Spanish outfit.

How much is he worth now? Certainly nothing near the same figure, as Romelu Lukaku went for $99 million this summer and Alvaro Morata went for $80 million.

The Express says Real expects $112 million right back for Bale, which seems insane. Bale has three goals and four assists in nine matches for Real this summer, and had nine and five in 27 outings last season.

Bale did, however, scored 19 goals in 23 La Liga matches two seasons ago, but he’s dealt with significant injuries on a near-annual basis.

Spurs transfer record is the $48 million it spent on Davinson Sanchez this summer. Whatever Manchester United, or anything suitor, will bid for Bale will likely be higher than that figure.

At one point would it make sense for Spurs to smash their record and wage structure to line up Bale, Dele Alli, Harry Kane, and Christian Eriksen in the same attack (I mean, holy smoke, just close your eyes and visualize that!).

Real reportedly wants to make the move happen in January, while United wants to do it in the summer.

Moyes: West Ham mentality, confidence is shaky

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David Moyes needed to see his charges in action, and didn’t love the mental side of West Ham’s 2-0 loss to Watford on Sunday at Vicarage Road.

The Irons had plenty of chances on the day, with Cheikhou Kouyate seeing one shot saved before missing another in perhaps the two best of the day.

[ RECAP: Watford 2-0 West Ham ]

And Watford’s first goal was pretty unlucky, as Andre Gray bungled a shot that went right to Will Hughes for his first Premier League goal.

Moyes’ Irons also lost Marko Arnautovic with what he thinks is a broken thumb, but is more worried about the club’s poise. From the BBC:

“I was only ever going to find out what the players were like by working with them and seeing them play today. When the opportunities didn’t go for us, the confidence went away.

“We have to try to find a way of winning. The important thing is to be in the game, and when we lost the second goal, it became difficult.”