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Early returns from England’s offseason tell a tale of two Manchesters

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How much is Alex Ferguson worth in the standings? Or, more specifically, what will the difference between Ferguson and his replacement, David Moyes, mean to the Red Devils? Because if Ferguson was half as influential as his prodigious reputation implied, Manchester United’s going to take a step back. The big question is how much.

On one hand, trying to determine exactly how much Ferguson means over Moyes is a pointless exercise. We’ll never be able to verify our conclusion. On the other hand, it may be the most important evaluation United makes all summer. Before assessing their needs relative to Manchester City and Chelsea — before determining the financial commitment they need to make to maintain their English standing while improving in Europe — the Red Devils need to decide what they’ve lost. That may not result in a precise number of points they feel they’ve given back to their competition, but it will lead to a general plan of what they’d like to accomplish this summer.

I say “will lead” as if England’s champions haven’t already done this. Undoubtedly they’ve made their assessments and picked their targets, players that will go beyond the project right back they acquired last week. The Red Devils continue to have a need in central midfield. There are concerns wide, where their high-priced talents failed to produce last season. Unless they address those needs, either by getting more out of their players or acquiring new talent, the 11-point gap between them and Manchester City will prove smaller than it seems.

That’s why the relative silence from United should concern Red Devils’ supporters. While links to Marouane Fellaini, Robert Lewandowski, Leighton Baines and (even) Gareth Bale persist, most of those players have been linked elsewhere, with United’s place in the rumors serving as the normal “everybody sounds out Manchester United” part of most high-level gossip. Coming off a season in which they accumulated 89 points, it would be easy for the club to justify a stay-the-course approach.

Meanwhile, in the blue half of Manchester, United’s rivals have already made a number of significant changes. The acquisition of Jesus Navas from Sevilla may not be a huge upgrade on Samir Nasri’s talent, but stylistically, he offers City a significant difference from the two wide-to-in playmakers they played as winger last season. On the opposite flank of David Silva, Navas gives City a needed alternative – somebody who have beat a man one-on-one, pick out City’s snipers from wide, as well as open up the middle of the field.

Through the middle, that means more space for Silva to cut in and orchestrate. It gives Sergio Agüero and Carlos Tévez more room to play beneath the back line. It gives Fernandinho and Yaya Touré space to get forward without the side effects that come with keeping Nasri and Silva wide. With Navas, a natural wide player, the team’s balance improves.

The biggest upgrade, though, may be on the sideline, with Manuel Pellegrini replacing Roberto Mancini. Il Mancho is a well-decorated coach, but Pellegrini’s on a different level. Throughout his career, Pellegrini’s never failed to improve the teams he’s joined, be those teams big or small, ambitious or recovering.

Particularly with the acquisition of Fernandinho, City is starting to look like a very Manuel Pellegrini team. The midfield duo will be able to confidently use a possession-based game to dictate play without making compromises defensively. They’ll be able to play patiently, using their variety in attack to test their opposition, with Pellegrini uses the depth assured by City’s finances to mix-and-match over the course of a season.

The bigger concern with Pellegrini is the fact he hasn’t won a title at this level; that he may not know the buttons that need to be pushed to transcend that 11-point gap. But if the early summer moves from Manchestern United’s rivals mean anything, that 11-point reference is far less meaningful than it was at season’s end. With Ferguson gone, Pellegrini on scene, and City having already made two huge moves, surely the quality difference between the two sides is a much more manageable number.

The better part of the summer’s still to play out, but based on initial returns, the offseason’s been a tale of two Manchesters. The blue side has acted quickly to address their needs, while their red rivals are taking a more deliberate approach.

And of course, we can’t forget that resurgent power in West London.

Bob Bradley gaining momentum at Swans; has plans for MLS Cup

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It has been a good day for the Bradley family.

And it could get even better.

[ VIDEO: Swans batter Sunderland ]

Bob Bradley‘s Swansea City beat Sunderland 3-0 at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday to get things going, with the American coach sealing his second Premier League win in his eight matches in charge and lifting them from bottom place in the table.

Later on Saturday Bob’s son, Michael, will captain Toronto FC in the MLS Cup final against Seattle at BMO Field as he aims to lead TFC to its first-ever MLS title and cap off one of the most memorable days in the history of the Bradley family.

Speaking to Sky Sports after the win against Sunderland, Bob was delighted not only with Swansea’s win but also with their clean sheet, just the second since he’s been in charge and Swansea’s third of the season through 15 games.

“It’s good work. We’re proud of it. The response this week has been excellent,” Bradley said. “We’ve talked about how we need to be good at the Liberty. There’s continued work. The clean sheet was essential. We’ve conceded too many goals. The focus throughout was quite good.”

Bradley also told reporters that he plans to sit up late on Saturday (the games kicks off at 1 a.m. UK time on Sunday morning) to watch MLS Cup with a glass of wine as he cheers on his son with close friends and family.

As for his own exploits ts at Swansea, Bradley has silenced plenty of critics who have been becoming more vocal over the past week with the Swans losing 5-0 at Tottenham to make it 19 goals conceded in his opening seven games in charge. Yes, Bradley knows that he has plenty of work to do defensively with his side but he’s obviously getting something right as they looked very solid and dependable in a big relegation battle against David Moyes‘ Sunderland.

At the other end, as long as he has Gylfi Sigurdsson, Jefferon Montero, Modou Barrow and now Fernando Llorente (four goals in his last two home games for Swansea) his team will score goals and they look dangerous.

With reports of internal reviews ongoing at Swansea City due to the poor form of the club this season, plus some questioning if Bradley will lose his job in January, the American coach continues to prove doubters wrong. He has been backed by Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins in the press and Bradley also hit back at some criticizing him from day one just because he has an American accent.

The New Jersey native has always been a man who will speak his mind and he is slowly making his mark at the Liberty Stadium.

Without his own players to work with (the January transfer window will help him make some key additions in defense) he has now gained eight points from a possible 24 but there are signs of improvement for the Swans, especially at home. With five very winnable games against relegation rivals coming up between now and Jan. 3 (West Brom, Middlesbrough, West Ham, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace) Bradley knows this is a critical period for Swansea’s survival hopes.

Getting their biggest win of the season and a shutout kicks off a pivotal few weeks rather nicely.

It also starts the day off right for the Bradley family who will be hoping U.S. national team captain Michael will be getting his hands on his first piece of silverware with Toronto FC in a few hours time.

Somewhere in Swansea, Bob will be proudly raising a glass of fine wine to his son and his teammates if Toronto can pull off the win.

No kidding: Leicester throttling Man City 3-0 before HALF (Stream link)

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John Stones and Claudio Bravo‘s heads are turning like “The Exorcist”, as Jamie Vardy and Leicester City are battering Manchester City at King Power Stadium on Saturday.

Vardy has a pair of goals, the second off a crazy assist from Riyad Mahrez (above), and Andy King has also scored as Leicester built a 3-0 lead at the break.

[ STREAM: Every PL game on NBC Sports ]

Manchester City was in a horrible spot in two blinks, as Vardy and Islam Slimani took advantage of John Stones and Aleksandar Kolarov before the latter beat Claudio Bravo to make it 1-0 in the third minute.

Less than two minutes later, it was time for another. Andy King let loose with a shot from outside the 18 that a flying Bravo could only touch into his goal. 2-0 at the King Power. Scenes.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

And Leicester saved its best for the third goal, as Riyad Mahrez made an otherworldly first touch assist on a diagonal ball over Stones’ head, and Vardy touched around Bravo to score it. Wow (See top of page for goal).

Follow @NicholasMendola

VIDEO: Wilfried Zaha scores stunner in Crystal Palace’s wild draw

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Wilfried Zaha is currently at the center of an international tug of war between the English national team and the Ivory Coast.

When he scores goals like this you can understand why.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live

Zaha, 24, dribbled free of Hull’s defenders and smashed home an unstoppable shot to put the Eagles 2-1 up in a crazy game which ended up finishing 3-3.

Hit play on the video about to see Wilf score a goal of the month contender.

Burnley 3-2 Bournemouth: Clarets win thriller

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  • Burnley have 16 of 17 points from home games
  • Bournemouth conceded 6 in last 2 games
  • Hendrick scores stunner 
  • Burnley’s 5th home win in PL

Burnley beat Bournemouth 3-2 at Turf Moor on Saturday in a vital victory for Sean Dyche‘s Clarets. Trailing 3-1 late on and dominating plenty of the play, there wasn’t going to be another fairytale 4-3 comeback win like last week against Liverpool for Eddie Howe‘s side.

Burnley went 2-0 up in the first half with a stunning Jeff Hendrick goal and Stephen Ward tapping home, but just before the break Benif Afobe made it 2-1. George Boyd made it 3-1 in the second half and then Charlie Daniels pulled one back in stoppage time to set up a nervy finish but Burnley held on for the three points.

With the win Burnley move on to 17 points, while Bournemouth stay on 18 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

There was an end-to-end start to the game with Burnley under pressure as Bournemouth’s Benik Afobe forced Tom Heaton into a fine save and Dan Gosling then sent an effort just over.

A long ball forward was flicked on to Hendrick and he took a stunning first touch to tee himself and then settled himself before spanking a volley into the top corner.

Three minutes later Burnley went 2-0 up as a corner caused mayhem in the box with Artur Boruc only parrying the effort and Ward was on hand to make to hammer home.

Somehow, Bournemouth were 2-0 down despite impressing.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Before half time Bournemouth went close as Adam Smith’s free kick was brilliantly saved by Heaton and eventually their pressure paid off. Afobe steered the ball past Heaton after some lovely build up play from the Cherries and they were back in the game. 2-1.

In the second half Bournemouth almost equalized with a very similar move to their first goal. The ball came down the left but Afobe couldn’t get enough on his finish as the chance came and went.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

At the other end Ashley Barnes flashed a shot just over with the Clarets quite comfortable to sit back and soak up pressure before trying to hit Bournemouth on the break. Andre Gray then wasted a huge chance for Burnley as the ball dropped to him in the center of the box but he put his volley straight at Boruc, however the Clarets soon extended their lead.

Boyd picked up the ball on the left side of the box and drilled in a low shot which found the far corner of the net to put Burnley 3-1 up.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

Afobe then had the ball in the back of the net thanks to substitute Jack Wilshere setting him up wonderfully but the strike was chalked off for a handball by the former Arsenal striker. Bournemouth did pull one back in stoppage time as Daniels smashed home to make it 3-2 but it was too little too late as they couldn’t pull off another stunning comeback from 3-1 down.