Manchester United v Everton - Premier League

Offshore drilling, England: at Manchester United 2, Everton 0

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Avoiding the type of undo drama that usually defined their matches, Manchester United gave one of their most impressive performances of the season, a controlled effort that saw the Premier League leaders post a 2-0 win over sixth place Everton.

With a strong start followed by their trademark passive governance, United was never in danger of dropping points. Ryan Giggs’ 13th minute goal gave the Red Devils the lead, and although Everton controlled possession for most of the next half-hour, United doubled their lead through Robin van Persie in first half stoppage time.

Massaging play throughout the second half, the closest United came to conceding was a mid-period chance for substitute Nikica Jelavic. It was one of the few instances that stressed goalkeeper David de Gea. For much of the match, he enjoyed the scenery behind a suddenly solidifying Red Devil defense.

For most of the season, the defense has been a weakness, though nothing that’s prevented United from establishing a 12-point lead in England. With the domestic race firmly under control, the Red Devils can shift focus to Champions League, where their renewed defense will face Real Madrid Wednesday at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Man of the Match: With apologies to Nemanja Vidic (strong defensively) and Rafael (who contributed to both goals), when you play the key part of both goals of a 2-0 win, it’s going to be difficult to take Man of the Match honors away from you. On the opener, Robin van Persie won his one-on-one with John Heitinga to set up Giggs’ goal. On the second, he timed his run correctly and beat a poorly executed Everton trap, running onto a Rafael ball and rounding Tim Howard to score United’s insurance.

He could have had more. In the 10th minute, van Persie failed to take advantage of an exposed goal, shooting into the right side netting. In the 81st minute, van Persie had both posts to choose from at 12 yards out before pulling his shot wide right. On another day, the normally clinical striker would have had at least one more goal.

But even with misgivings, van Persie’s contributions to the game’s only goals make him the Man of the Match.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Nemanja Vidic’s returning to his former self – You can’t blame the Manchester United captain for taking a little time to round into form. Making his 11th appearance after missing most of the 2011-12 campaign, Vidic looked close to his former elite self. He dominated his physical battle with Everton striker Victor Anichebe, handled the responsibility of marking Marouane Fellaini on set pieces, and made some astute first half reads during the half-hour stretch where Everton dominated possession. If Vidic and Rio Ferdinand continue to round into form, United’s biggest problem is solved.

Marouane Fellaini needs, gets special attention – Phil Jones hasn’t been given many starts in midfield this season. Most of that comes down to injuries, but Michael Carrick’s performances, Anderson’s health, and a full season of Paul Scholes have also played into it. With Fellaini set to occupy the space in front of United’s defense, Alex Ferguson brought Jones into midfield and tasked him with marking the big Belgian.

The results were mixed, though the scoreboard speaks for itself. Fellaini’s life was made more difficult, but he still saw a lot of the ball. Jones’ assignment allowed him to be pulled out of position, leaving more space in front of Vidic and Jonny Evans. Thanks to the awareness of Tom Cleverley, Ryan Giggs, and Wayne Rooney (who covered the space between midfield and the left flank), United was never punished for the tactic.

The approached highlighted Fellaini’s importance. He’s so key to Everton’s success that Ferguson elected to essential man-mark him. As Gary Neville noted on broadcast, it’s something Ferguson’s rarely done.

Everton’s defense just not good enough – On the first goal, you saw why John Heitinga’s no longer a regular starter. Phil Neville and Phil Jagielka each contributed to the second. Tim Howard made a number of bad reads (with poor execution) coming off his line. Everton’s defense wasn’t near good enough to contain a United team who, while they don’t generate a ton of chances, are the most clinical team in the league.

Packaged for takeaway

  • Ryan Giggs looked like he has another year in him. He scored for the 21st consecutive season, showed good flexibility and awareness in defense, and created what should have been a second van Persie goal. 
  • The two teams set up nearly identically, both in 4-4-2 formations with a forward withdrawn. A big tactical difference was how the defenses dealt with that withdrawn forward. United marked Fellaini with Jones. Everton did nothing special for Rooney.
  • Rafael had a very good day at right back. He started the movement for the first goal, assisted on the second, and make a number of good defensive plays, including a key first half clearance on a Kevin Mirallas ball sent through the six-yard box.
  • Everton flipped their wings to start the game, putting Steven Pienaar on the right with Kevin Mirallas on the left. It worked so well Moyes reversed his decision after 15 minutes.
  • For the third straight match, Nikica Jelavic started on the bench for Everton. Victor Anichebe again got the call up top.
  • Social media conversation noticed the off day from Tim Howard and compared it to the performance Brad Guzan gave against West Ham. Whether it’s being replicated within the national team, there’s a conversation starting about the U.S.’s No. 1. (More on Guzan’s strong season at Aston Villa.)

AEK Athens beats Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) AEK Athens defeated Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0 in an ill-tempered game on Sunday that saw 12 yellow cards and two dismissals.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win of season ]

Astrit Ajdarevic scored the only goal in the 34th minute with a free kick that deflected off Olympiakos defender Manuel da Costa.

Olympiakos’ athletic director Francois Modesto was sent to the stands for protesting about the lead-up to AEK’s goal. His team’s central defender Alberto Botia was dismissed after a second yellow card in the 75th for pulling an advancing AEK forward’s jersey.

Despite the defeat, its second of the season, Olympiakos has a 10-point cushion over second-place Panionios, which beat 10-man Iraklis 1-0.

PAOK, a 4-0 winner over Veria, remains in third place, one point ahead of Panathinaikos, which beat Asteras 5-0 on Saturday. AEK is joint fifth with Xanthi.

PSG drops points against Toulouse days after massive UCL win

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 14:  Julian Draxler of Paris Saint-Germain looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Paris Saint-Germain and FC Barcelona at Parc des Princes on February 14, 2017 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Just days after its massive (and somewhat unexpected) beatdown of Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain failed to close the gap on league leaders Monaco.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win ]

PSG settled for a 0-0 draw on Sunday at the Parc des Princes against eighth-place Toulouse, leaving the Parisian side three points behind Monaco through 26 rounds of action.

[ MORE: Bielsa returns to Ligue 1 with Lille ]

Despite holding the visitors to just three shots (one on target), Toulouse managed to contain a rampant PSG attack, which posted four goals midweek in their rout of the Blaugrana.

PSG’s first strong chance came in the 14th minute when Lucas Moura’s effort was saved in the bottom corner by goalkeeper Alban Lafont.

Meanwhile, Edinson Cavani may have had the game’s best opportunity to break the deadlock when the Uruguayan attacker struck the post from inside the penalty area.

Unai Emery’s group will be back in action on Feb. 26 when PSG travels to Dimitri Payet and Marseille.

Wenger worried over Sutton’s pitch heading Monday’s clash

SUTTON, GREATER LONDON - FEBRUARY 16:  Pundits Paul Merson (4L) and Matt Le Tissier (2L) take part in a training session alongside Paul Doswell manager of Sutton United (L) and players during a Sutton United FA Cup media day on February 16, 2017 at the Borough Sports Ground in Sutton, Greater London. Sutton United are due to face Arsenal in the Emirates FA Cup Fifth round on 20 February.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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The story of Monday’s encounter between Arsenal and fifth-division Sutton United will be whether the minnows can overcome the mighty Gunners.

[ MORE: Mourinho pleased with United’s “attitude” against Blackburn ]

However, Arsene Wenger already fears a bigger challenge within the game, one that concerns his players’ safety.

Sutton’s 5,000-seat Gander Green Lane features an artificial surface, which is largely uncommon for English and most European venues regardless of club standing.

“First of all the pitch. Secondly their enthusiasm. Thirdly that we are not ready mentally for a big fight and think subconsciously that it doesn’t matter,” Wenger said ahead of Monday’s FA Cup meeting in South London.

In preparation for their meeting with the U’s, Wenger had his side train on their own indoor artificial field on Friday.

“Look, ideally we would like to play on a normal pitch. Competition is as well to deal with what you face, and we’ll face an unusual pitch and we’ll have to deal with it,” he said.

“We practice inside [on Friday] because we have an artificial pitch. It’s not the same as it’s a dry pitch, and at Sutton I’ve heard that’s a wet pitch, they water it before the game. So it will be much quicker than what we have.”

Leipzig beats ‘Gladbach 2-1, cuts Bayern’s Bundesliga lead

Leipzig's scorer Willi Orban, center, and his teammates celebrate their side's 2nd goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between RB Leipzig and Hertha BSC Berlin in Leipzig, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
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BERLIN (AP) Leipzig held on for a 2-1 win at Borussia Moenchengladbach to cut Bayern Munich’s lead in the Bundesliga to five points on Sunday.

[ MORE: Messi rescues Barca, Pescara wins second Serie A match ]

Emil Forsberg scored one and set up another for the promoted side to end its two-game losing streak and stay on course for Champions League qualification with its 14th win of the season.

[ MORE: Bielsa makes Ligue 1 return, joins Lille as new manager ]

`Gladbach `keeper Yann Sommer pulled off a brilliant fingertip save to deny Marcel Sabitzer early on, but he was powerless to stop Forsberg from breaking the deadlock after half an hour played.

Sabitzer and Timo Werner played their way through the static `Gladbach defense and Werner laid the ball off for the Sweden midfielder to fire inside the bottom left corner.

The home side was given a lifeline when Marvin Compper brought down Lars Stindl and referee Felix Zwayer pointed to the spot, but Peter Gulacsi saved Thorgan Hazard‘s penalty before the break.

More poor defending allowed Werner grab the second 10 minutes after the break, firing inside the far post after Forsberg played him through.

Jannik Vestergaard pulled one back with a powerful header from a corner to set up an exciting finale. However, six minutes of injury time were not enough for an equalizer.

Leipzig had kicked off to a chorus of whistles from the home fans, who then mostly stayed silent till the 19th minute in protest against the visiting side. Huge banners in the north stand said “Traditional club since 1900” – an apparent protest against Leipzig, founded in 2009 when Austrian energy-drink billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz rebranded a fifth-tier team with his company’s livery before financing its steady promotion through the lower leagues.

COLOGNE 1, SCHALKE 1

Cologne stopped Schalke’s progress but the point was enough for the visiting side to overtake `Gladbach on goal difference in 10th.

Alessandro Schoepf got the visitors off to a flying start in the second minute with the help of the left post, and Leon Goretzka hit the post after half an hour with the home side still struggling to get into the game.

But Anthony Modeste equalized before the break with a fine strike inside the far post, and might even have scored again just minutes later, when his hesitation allowed Benedikt Hoewedes get back and clear.

Guido Burgstaller came closest to a winner for Schalke in the second half, his shot just wide of the far post after beating the goalkeeper.