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.

Zlatan after Manchester United win: “I expect much more from the team”

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 29:  Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrate following their sides 1-0 victory during the UEFA Europa League group A match between Manchester United FC and FC Zorya Luhansk at Old Trafford on September 29, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Manchester United has gone from a three-match losing streak to a three-match winning streak after Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s second half goal led the Red Devils to a 1-0 win over Zorya Luhansk at Old Trafford on Thursday.

The UEFA Europa League match was heavily titled in United’s favor, as Jose Mourinho’s men controlled the ball but didn’t find a finish outside of their big Swedish striker.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

Ibrahimovic was happy to pick up all three points after losing the group stage opener to Feyenoord, but expects better moving forward.

From the BBC:

“It was not an easy game, we played well, created chances but this is a typical game. When you don’t score in the beginning, the spaces get smaller and smaller. After the goal, we had more space but it was a decent game. We won and that is what counts after losing against Feyenoord.

“If you want to go through, you need to win the game, we did that. We could have done much more though and I expect much more from the team. We did not score as we did against Leicester but it is good for confidence. If we continue this and step it up, we will do good.”

United didn’t look like they’d concede a goal during the match aside from a very brief stretch early in the second half. Next up is an Oct. 20 trip to Fenerbahce.

Europa League: Zlatan leads Manchester United; Dundalk, Zenit win

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 29:  Mikhail Sivakov of Zorya Luhansk and Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United battle for the ball during the UEFA Europa League group A match between Manchester United FC and FC Zorya Luhansk at Old Trafford on September 29, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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  • Rooney assists Zlatan winner
  • Roma, Zenit win big
  • Irish history for Dundalk

A 68th minute Zlatan Ibrahimovic header spurred Manchester United past visiting Ukrainian side Zorya Luhansk X-0 at Old Trafford on Thursday in UEFA Europa League play.

United is a point behind Fenerbahce in Group A, level on points with Feyenoord but would sit behind them on head-to-head tiebreakers.

[ MORE: Early match roundup ]

Marcus Rashford hammered a Paul Pogba flick off the goal post moments after Zlatan Ibrahimovic missed a chance of his own, and Manchester United was rampant.

United was in control all half long, and even strings of passes were rare for Zorya. But the match remained 0-0.

[ MORE: Europa League standings ]

[ MORE: Europa League schedule ]

Funny thing, though, as Zorya really started to find some chances by crossing from wide positions as the second half got moving at Old Trafford.

The Red Devils got back on track with about 35 minutes to go, and it began to feel like the first half, that a goal was inevitable. Timothy Fosu-Mensah cut back for Wayne Rooney, who mishit a side volley directly to the back post. There, Ibrahimovic leapt to take advantage of baffled Zorya keeper Oleksiy Shevchenko, heading it over the line.

The Red Devils gave away a dangerous free kick with 12 minutes to play, but Jaba Lipartia hit his left-footed attempt over the bar.

Dundalk 1–0 Maccabi Tel-Aviv

Semi-pro side Dundalk became the first Irish team to claim a point in European play on the last match day, so it stands to reason the defeat of visiting Maccabi Tel-Aviv is the first win in Irish history. Big striker Ciaran Kilduff scored the goal that kept Dundalk second in Group D, two points behind Zenit Saint Petersburg. Dundalk is off to Zenit on Oct. 20.

Zenit Saint Petersburg 5-0 AZ Alkmaar

Speaking of Zenit, they didn’t just beat AZ, the Russians cruised past their Dutch visitors with five different goal scorers netting in the win.

Elsewhere
Saint-Etienne 1–1 Anderlecht
Genk 3–1 Sassuolo
Olympiacos 0–1 Apoel Nicosia
Fenerbahce 1–0 Feyenoord
Athletic Bilbao 1–0 Rapid Wien
Austria Wien 0–0 Viktoria Plzen
Zenit Saint-Petersburg 5–0 AZ Alkmaar
AS Roma 4–0 Astra Giurgiu

Giovani Dos Santos returns to Mexico team for Panama, New Zealand matches

CARSON, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Jack Jewsbury #13 and Ned Grabavoy #10 of Portland Timbers battle Giovani dos Santos #10 of Los Angeles Galaxy for a loose ball during the first half of their MLS match at StubHub Center on April 10, 2016 in Carson, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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Mexico’s friendly matches against New Zealand and Panama next week will see a return to the fold for in-form LA Galaxy striker Giovani Dos Santos.

The 100-times capped 27-year-old is having an MVP caliber season in MLS, and is one of only three non-Mexico based call-ups for head coach Juan Carlos Osorio.

The other two? Eintracht Frankfurt’s Marco Fabian, who is red-hot in the Bundesliga, and Giovani’s younger brother: Villarreal’s Jonathan Dos Santos.

[ MORE: JPW hangs with USMNT prospect Gooch ]

Mexico plays New Zealand on Saturday in Nashville before heading to Chicago for Tuesday’s match against Panama.

Here’s Mexico’s full list of call-ups:

Moises Munoz – America
Jesus Corona – Cruz Azul
Rodolfo Cota – Guadalajara
Hugo Ayala – Tigres
Hedgardo Marín -Guadalajara
Oswaldo Alanis – Guadalajara
Silva Jordan – Toluca
Jesus Duenas – Tigres
Jorge Torres Nilo – Tigres
Adrian Aldrete – Cruz Azul
Luis Robles – Atlas
Jesus Molina – Santos
Jonathan Dos Santos – Villarreal
Orbelin Pineda – Guadalajara
Erick Gutierrez – Pachuca
Elias Hernandez – Leon
Angel Sepulveda – Querétaro
Hirving Lozano – Pachuca
Isaac Brizuela – Guadalajara
Giovani Dos Santos – LA Galaxy
Marco Fabian – Eintracht Frankfurt
Oribe Peralta – America
Alan Pulido – Guadalajara

Europa League: Saints draw in Israel; Schalke, Fiorentina roll; Inter 0-2

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 25:  Fraser Forster of Southampton catches the ball ahead of Cheikhou Kouyate of West Ham United during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Southampton at London Stadium on September 25, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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An update on the early matches of Europa League play, with Manchester United amongst 20 European teams dealing with 3:05 p.m. ET kickoffs.

Southampton traveled a long way and is coming home with a point.

A shorthanded Saints side without Jose Fonte and Charlie Austin amongst others played Hapoel Be’er Sheva to a 0-0 draw in Israel on Thursday in Europa League play.

[ MORE: JPW hangs with USMNT prospect Gooch ]

“It’s a good result,” said Saints boss Claude Puel. “We played a very good team. When you cannot win a game it’s important to take one point and it’s an important point for the future.”

The Premier League side won its first group stage match, and remains level with Hapoel Be’er Sheva for the Group K lead. Sparta Prague beat Inter Milan 3-1 in the Czech Republic to move into third place, while Inter is dead last at 0-2.

Mario Balotelli scored to open Nice‘s match at Krasnodar, but that was one of the only bright spots in a 5-2 win for the Russian side.

Schalke put aside its poor Bundesliga form to batter Red Bull Salzburg 3-1. Benedikt Howedes’ 58th minute goal gave the Germans a three-goal lead.

Full Europa League scoreboard

Qabala 2-3 Mainz
Astana 0-0 Young Boys
Zurich 2-1 Osmanlispor
Schalke 3-1 Red Bull Salzburg
Slovan Liberec 1-2 PAOK Salonika
Fiorentina 5-1 Qarabag
Steaua Bucuresti 1-1 Villarreal
Krasnodar 5-2 Nice
Ajax 1-0 Standard Liege
Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0 Braga
Celta Vigo 2-0 Panathinaikos
Sparta Prague 3-1 Inter Milan
Gent 2-0 Konyaspor

3:05 p.m. ET kickoffs
Manchester United – Zorya
Saint-Etienne – Anderlecht
Genk – Sassuolo
Olympiacos – Apoel Nicosia
Dundalk – Maccabi Tel-Aviv
Fenerbahce – Feyenoord
Athletic Bilbao – Rapid Wien
Austria Wien – Viktoria Plzen
Zenit Saint-Petersburg – AZ Alkmaar
AS Roma – Astra Giurgiu