Manchester United's Van Persie celebrates his goal against Manchester City during their English Premier League soccer match at Etihad Stadium in Manchester,

Offshore drilling, England: at Manchester United 2, Liverpool 1

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For 55 minutes, the imperious version of Manchester United gave one of their most controlling performances of the season, but a defensive breakdown near the hour mark sent England’s leaders into a shell, the tentative giants left to bleed out a what could have been a decisive 2-1 win over Liverpool.

Ultimately, there was little chance the Red Devils would lose. Sublime buildup ending with a one-touch goal from Robin van Persie put the hosts up early, with a perfectly executed second half set piece giving United their winning goal. It was only then that a moment of complacency made the match a contest, though after Daniel Sturridge put home the rebound of a Steven Gerrard shot, Manchester United were never seriously threatened. Second half improvement from an impotent start still cast the Reds as incapable of matching their rivals.

It’s tempting to see this performance as emblematic of a flawed but ultimately successful United team, but the one-goal win understates their quality. While the final third of the match provided fuel for their doubters, the first two-thirds showed why Alex Ferguson’s side is temporarily 10 points clear at the top of the league.

No, it wasn’t a perfect showing, but it was worthy of a title-winner, even if the scoreline tries to say otherwise.

Man of the Match: Robin van Persie was absent for long periods of the match. In the second half he was a non-factor, and when the more constant performances of Michael Carrick and Shinji Kagawa helped pin Liverpool in their defensive third, van Persie was given very little space to operate. You could argue Carrick, particularly with some strong defensive play to open the match, should get this honor.

But goals matter. Execution in the final third really matters, and nobody is better at that right now than Robin van Persie. His touch on Patrice Evra’s first half cross (after a nice, subtle move away from Daniel Agger) left little chance for Pepe Reina to stop the opener. A beautifully swung-in restart just after half time was the key part in United’s winner.

When Daniel Sturridge went well over the crossbar from 10 yards out late in the match, we were reminded of van Persie’s value. He would have buried that chance and equalized, just as he took advantage of a small, 19th-minute window to give United their lead.

It’s a sport of moments, and Robin van Persie’s mastered them.

Threesome of knowledge

1. Show of respect from United – We’ve become accustomed to the inconsistent, mercurial version of Manchester United, but with the exception of their loss to Tottenham earlier this year, the Red Devils consistently played well against the Premier League’s top teams. They come out witha  clear plan and execute it to perfection, whether that plan being their ball-hogging ways against Arsenal or the intent to counter they showed at Chelsea.

In that way, the preparation and focus United showed against Liverpool was a compliment. While that may patronized a talented Reds’ squad, Liverpool’s performances against the Premier League’s elite would justify Ferguson taking a less intent approach. United’ boss could have rotated players or put out a team which, like many other matches, didn’t play with the intensity we saw on Sunday.

But the rivalry won out. Ferguson’s respect for Liverpool had him put out a full and prepared side. And it paid off.

2. United able to transcend their gap; Liverpool can’t – The key part of this match was the first 55 minutes. Nemanja Vidic’s second half header changed team’s approach, the game’s second goal making Liverpool chasers while United parried.

Until that point, despite the fact the teams were playing different formations (United’s 4-4-2 versus Liverpool’s 4-3-3), each side was tasked with the same concern: How effectively could they move the ball from their deep distributor (Carrick, Gerrard) into attack given the lack of a presence high in midfield.

For United, the formation left them with a hole in front of Carrick and Tom Cleverley. For Liverpool, an ineffective Joe Allen left the team looking for other ways to find Luis Suárez.

Thanks to Carrick, United ended up finding their answers first. The holder’s range of passing and connections with Shinji Kagawa (left) and Ashley Young (right) allowed him to manage the game. Setting up just inside Liverpool’s half when United established possession, Carrick served as the outlet the Red Devils needed, a role most evident when he helped recycle the ball ahead of the first goal.

For Liverpool, Gerrard was given all the time in the world to have an influence on this match but couldn’t. It wasn’t until he lumbered forward in the 57th minute that his impact was felt. By then, his team was down two goals.

Mostly ineffective with a flash of influence, Gerrard’s game served as a snapshot of where his career’s evolved.

3. Ferdinand and Vidic: Together again – It’s been nearly three years since Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were simultaneously healthy, and on Sunday, that only lasted 80 minutes. But before Vidic came off for Chris Smalling after landing heavily on his right knee, the long-time United partnership gave Red Devils’ fans reason to think the team’s defensive problems could be solved. Their strong marking and confident handling of set pieces harkened back to when United’s defense was the cornerstone of a Champions League contender.

Even the goal couldn’t be put on the duo, with the midfield breaking down to allow a long shot ahead of Rafael falling asleep on the rebound.

(MORE: Scholes says United-Liverpool remains EPL’s top rivalry)

Packaged for takeaway

  • Whenever Danny Welbeck gets the start ahead of Javier Hernandez, you wonder why the young England international is ever out of the team. His enviable combination of athleticism, speed, and technical ability makes him seem like an obvious choice. But then you remember Hernandez’s goal poaching and realize not even he’s assured a spot when Wayne Rooney’s healthy. The attacking talent on this United team is absurd.
  • Wayne Rooney didn’t make it back for today’s match. The United star has been out for three weeks with a knee injury. The original timeline for his recovery had him back close to this derby; however, there was no hint he was close to making today’s 18.
  • The match took some time to settle down, with both teams searching for ways to transcend their gaps in midfield. United didn’t hold their first sustained spell of possession until the 18th minute (eventually scoring). Liverpool first set up in United’s end in the 28th minute, a span that ended with Joe Allen playing a ball out for a goal kick.
  • Liverpool needs a better midfield, which makes you wonder why they couldn’t make room for somebody like Nuri Sahin. The Turkey international moved back to Borussia Dortmund this week.
  • After the opener, United looked like they had a formula for a second and set about targeting the channel to the right of Martin Skrtel. Near chances for van Persie and Welbeck didn’t come off, but in the second half, a long pass from Evra over Skrtel led to a foul when Welbeck had to be pulled down. The resulting free kick led to United’s winning goal.
  • Ashley Young was hurt near the end of the first half and had to come off. Antonio Valencia was brought on at halftime.
  • Liverpool switched to a 4-4-2 to start the second half, Brendan Rodgers bringing on Daniel Sturridge for Lucas Leiva. Though the combination seemed ready to provide the Reds with a lifeline, Liverpool ended the match with only three shots on goal.

Calum Chambers joins Middlesbrough on loan

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 30: Calum Chambers of Arsenal and Scott Arfield of Burnley compete for the ball  during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round match between Arsenal and Burnley at Emirates Stadium on January 30, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Middlesbrough has impressed at times during its return to the Premier League this season, and now the club looks to bolster its backline as the transfer window closes.

[ MORE: Aguero could miss Manchester derby after FA charge ]

The club announced the loan signing of Arsenal defender Calum Chambers on Tuesday, providing the Boro with a promising young player to contribute in the back.

Chambers, 21, has made 58 appearances in the PL with both the Gunners and Southampton, while also earning three caps for England.

Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka revaled his excitement over the signing, while also stating that the player addresses a big need on the backline.

“I’m really pleased,” said Karanka. “It’s a position where we’ve been working towards bringing the right player in. We haven’t been in a hurry because Calum was the player we were waiting for, and he’s going to help us a lot.”

Arsenal adds defensive depth, signs Mustafi from Valencia

GETAFE, SPAIN - APRIL 24:  Shkodran Mustafi of Valencia applauds fans after Valencia drew 2-2 with Getafe CF during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Valencia CF at Coliseum Alfonso Perez on April 24, 2016 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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The Gunners have been heavily criticized for not spending enough during the transfer season, however, Arsene Wenger has gotten the man he wanted to help out defensively.

[ MORE: Rooney retiring from England after 2018 World Cup ]

Arsenal announced the signing of Valencia defender Shkodran Mustafi on Tuesday, after the German centerback had been previously been linked to the club for some time as their top transfer target.

Mustafi will likely figure immediately into the Arsenal defense, which has also added Rob Holding this summer. The 24-year-old made over 64 appearances for Valencia while in La Liga after beginning his academy career in England with Everton.

Hope Solo reveals she won’t play in NWSL for rest of 2016

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 09:  Hope Solo #1 of the United States kicks the ball up the field as she posts her100th career shut-out against South Africa in a friendly match at Soldier Field on July 9, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The United States defeated South Africa 1-0.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Hope Solo hasn’t had the best couple of weeks since the U.S. Women’s National Team bailed out of the 2016 Olympics.

On Tuesday, the U.S. keeper announced her decision to take a step back from her club team as well after receiving a six-month ban from U.S. Soccer.

The veteran American shot stopper took to Twitter to make her decision known, leaving her status unknown with the Seattle Reign in the future. Solo remains under contract until the end of the current campaign, however, it is not known as to how her decision to sit out will affect her financially.

Solo wil be eligible to return to the USWNT in February, but it will be up to head coach Jill Ellis to reintroduce the 35-year-old into the fold.

Gyasi Zardes to miss the remainder of MLS regular season

CARSON, CA - FEBRUARY 09:  Gyasi Zardes #11 of Los Angeles Galaxy attemps to break away from Leiton Jimenez #30 of Club Tijuana at StubHub Center on February 9, 2016 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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U.S. Men’s National Team and LA Galaxy forward Gyasi Zardes will miss the rest of the MLS regular season with a broken bone in his right foot.

It was initially believed on Monday that the U.S. attacker could be out until the end of 2016 after suffering the injury in Saturday’s 0-0 draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Zardes was taken down by Whitecaps defender Kendall Waston during the latter stages of the match, with the Costa Rican apparently catching the inside of the 24-year-old’s foot, ultimately causing the injury.

Because of his extended absence, Zardes was ruled out of consideration for the USMNT squad ahead of their upcoming CONCACAF World Cup qualifying matches vs. St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago.