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Swansea 1 – Manchester United 4: A brace apiece from Van Persie and Welbeck (Video)

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(Watch full replay of the game above)

Manchester United just may have quelled the fears of the majority of its fanbase with an emphatic 4-1 victory against Swansea in their opening match of the season. Robin Van Persie and Danny Welbeck each scored a brace, while Wayne Rooney was instrumental in the two second half goals. Meanwhile the hosts had to be content with a consolation goal from new boy Wilfried Bony.

Manchester United may have been the ones defending the title, but for the majority of the first half, Swansea looked the better side. The Swans had more of the possession and their passing was crisper and more accurate. Yet it was the visitors that went into the break with a 2-0 lead, thanks to two goals inside two minutes.

A pass up the middle from Ryan Giggs found Van Persie lurking in front of goal. The Dutchman chested the ball down toward his right foot before volleying past Michel Vorm and into the top right corner. It was a beautiful goal and a magnificent start to Van Persie’s second season with United, but it’s quite possible David Moyes was even more ecstatic than the goalscorer.

The new Manchester United manager was even more thrilled, then, when two minutes later Welbeck scored his side’s second. Van Persie couldn’t quite direct his header toward goal, but was successful in knocking it down for Antonio Valencia. The winger sent the ball across the face of goal, where Welbeck was waiting to tap in from close range.

Despite a sudden downpour, Swansea got off to a bright start after play resumed. Record signing Wilfried Bony came on at the start of the second half, as did Pablo Hernandez, while Leon Britton and Wayne Routledge gave way. Just five minutes after the restart, Michu set about troubling the United defense, with a sharp kick forcing De Gea into a save. The United keeper managed to recover the spilled shot before Nathan Dyer could latch on to the ball.

(WATCH: Highlights of Manchester United’s win over Swansea)

With around 30 minutes to play, it was time for Wayne Rooney to step on to the pitch, replacing the venerable Giggs. A few boos rang out around Liberty Stadium, but there’s no telling, really, if any of those were emanating from the away support. But just a few minutes after Rooney stepped on to the pitch, the United supporters may have been justified in throwing a few insults at the forward. Welbeck broke free with plenty of space in the Swansea area, and had the option of picking out Van Persie or Rooney with his pass. Alas, he choose Rooney, who’d put his head into the clouds and drifted into a clearly offside position.

But Rooney redeemed himself in the 72nd minute. Van Persie picked up the ball near the halfway line and took it toward goal himself, picking his way through the Swans players. Yet it was Rooney’s crucial run, which pulled away the Swansea defense, that allowed Van Persie plenty of space to snap a left-footed shot into the top left corner, giving United the 3-0 lead. That move stopped the snide remarks and had the away support chanting Rooney’s name.

Swansea did manage to pick up a consolation prize in the 82nd minute when Wilfried Bony scored in his league debut. Pablo Hernandez, on at halftime, took advantage of some confusion in the United defense, slipping through the red shirts to steal the ball. Hernanez slid his pass over to Bony, who slotted it neatly past David de Gea to put the Swans on the board.

Yet Manchester United refused to stop until they claimed the spot at the top of the table. Danny Welbeck scored his second in extra time, with the help of Wayne Rooney once again. Rooney executed a lovely little turn before slipping the ball toward Welbeck, who was racing up the right. Welbeck almost made it look too easy, dinking the ball over the head of Vorm and into the back of the net for a 4-1 United win.

Lineups

Swansea: Michel Vorm, Ben Davies, Ashley Williams, Chico Flores, Angel Rangel, Leon Britton (Wilfried Bony 46), Jose Canas (Ki Sung-Yueng 77), Wayne Routledge (Pablo Hernández 46), Jonjo Shelvey, Nathan Dyer, Michu

Substitutes not used: Gerhard Tremmel, Jordi Amat, Neil Taylor, Alejandro Pozuelo

Manchester United: David de Gea, Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Phil Jones, Ryan Giggs (Wayne Rooney 62), Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck, Robin van Persie (Anderson 86), Antonio Valencia

Substitutes not used: Anders Lindegaard, Chris Smalling, Fabio, Shinji Kagawa, Wilfried Zaha

Seven unheralded stars of this Premier League season

during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur at Vitality Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.
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Look, it’s been a crazy year in the Premier League. Leicester City is top by five points, Chelsea is a bottom-half side, and not one of the league’s top three scorers hails from a team in last season’s Top Four.

So it follows that among the league’s other statistical leaders — advanced and traditional — are some surprisingly shining stars.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Or at least they aren’t mentioned a ton. We plan to rectify that here. By no means do we claim these statistical leaders without fault this season, but hats off to the good they’ve done (or, in some cases, the pain they’ve felt).

Most saves in a starring role

You wouldn’t know it from the goal totals these past few weeks, but Stoke City’s Jack Butland has been playing otherworldly between the sticks. His 87 saves lead the Premier League, and the Potters would be in the thick of a relegation battle if he hadn’t shone as brightly.

Ironman

Eleven players have played every minute of their side’s Premier League campaign this season (a 12th, Gareth Barry, has played all but one). Four of those 11 are goalkeepers, and six more are defenders. The only midfielder? Bournemouth’s South African standout Andrew Surman (above).

Top thief, too

Surman is also the league leader in interceptions with 92. The next seven players on the list, headed by Chris Smalling, are all defenders.

The most under-appreciated of the underdogs

Kante (Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

Leicester City has been fantastic, and people are quick to name Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy as big parts of the table-topping effort at King Power Stadium. Then, perhaps they’ll say something about goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel or defender Wes Morgan.

But how about the Premier League’s leader in tackles. Midfielder N'Golo Kante (right) has 115 tackles, 12 more than second-best Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace.

An all-expense paid journey to the massage parlor for…

Five players have been fouled more than 50 times this year, and you need to be around the ball a lot for that to happen. The four also-rans are Southampton’s Sadio Mane, Swansea City’s Andre Ayew, Everton’s Ross Barkley and Mahrez, but the man who deserved to skip to the head of the ice bath line is from Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha has been fouled 59 times. And that’s the amount of times the foulers were caught in the act.

Let Newcastle United’s captain climb in second, though; Fabricio Coloccini‘s 47 blocked shots are eight more than runners-up Neil Taylor (Swans) and Christian Fuchs (Leicester).

A man possessed

He hasn’t been heralded like a year ago, and most witnesses would tell you the midfielder’s been playing much worse. No, touches don’t equal success, but Cesc Fabregas‘ 2,027 credited touches are 74 more than the next player despite the fact that he’s the only player in the top four to have started less than 25 matches. He’s also completed 83 more passes than the closest competitor (Surman).

All-around stars

Advanced stats site Squawka uses an algorithm to generate statistics on who just might be the most complete player in the Premier League.

It’s certainly not foolproof, but the best player per-90 minutes would likely surprise you: Mousa Dembele of Spurs (Minimum 15 matches).

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As for who’s produced the most when numbers are averaged out over the entire game, one man rises to the top: Ross Barkley.

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Oft-targeted in the Premier League, Carvalho extends deal at Lisbon

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William Carvalho has been running through the rumor mill for ages, and Sporting Lisbon has made sure they’ll get their due if he ever stops somewhere else.

The Angola-born Portuguese defensive midfielder with 15 caps has extended his contract with Sporting through 2020, a date that carries him through his 28th birthday.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Carvalho is 23 now, and has been linked with loads of big name clubs from Manchester United to Chelsea, Arsenal to PSG.

His new buyout clause is said to be as high as $53 million, and Carvalho hopes his commitment calms his supporters.

“Sportinguistas, I say to you that I am very happy with the deal which I signed up to 2020 and that you will have total effort on my part to be champions.”

Sporting is tied with Benfica atop the Portuguese table, second on goal differential. The club leads third-place Porto by six points, and is still alive in the Europa League. Bayer Leverkusen is up next.

Klinsmann hints at Euro-heavy roster for World Cup qualifiers

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Danny Williams #14 of the United States looks on before an international friendly against Brazil at Gillette Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
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If your favorite Major League Soccer players don’t make the cut for Jurgen Klinsmann’s next roster, don’t think you won’t see them in the red, white and blue this summer.

[ JPW: What’s the best XI for USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers? ]

Perhaps it’ll be different for the players who were a part of January camp — stars Lee Nguyen and Steve Birnbaum chief among them — but Klinsmann says the late start of the MLS season can affect fitness for the critical qualifiers home and away to Guatemala.

That means there’s a better chance to see in-form Championship midfielder Danny Williams (above) or Pachuca’s Omar Gonzalez then, say, Orlando City’s Brek Shea or Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman.

From USSoccer.com:

“We are basically looking all over the place. We monitor all the players in Europe. We monitor all the players in Mexico, and obviously we can’t wait until MLS starts as well. It’s really kind of crucial that we see everybody getting in the best shape possible, everybody getting into a rhythm and making statements.

“Then you say, ‘Is the roster you see at the end of March the same one as Copa America?’ Probably not. The end of March comes early for MLS players. The European players are in the full swing, and also Mexican players because they started already a month ago with Liga MX. So we’ll be monitoring everyone.”

We’ve already covered the obstacle that is the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL Olympic qualifying playoff occurring at the same time as the Guatemala matches, but this is still good news for players in England, Germany and other European locales seeking caps in March.

Klopp on struggling Benteke: “He wants to score and we need him to score”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Christian Benteke of Liverpool reacts as he foiled by goalkeeper Darren Randolph of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Jurgen Klopp had his appendix removed this weekend, but it’s doubtful he’s feeling as sore as his big Belgian striker.

Christian Benteke had the opportunity to put himself in the good graces of Liverpool fans with a number of decent chances in Tuesday’s FA Cup loss to West Ham, but couldn’t get the job done.

[ MORE: Match recap | Watch Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

In one case, Benteke put himself in a prime spot only to lash his shot wide of the post. Instead, he’s now at 11 appearances without a goal (despite ripping nine shots against the Irons).

From the BBC:

“I don’t believe in the easy goal. He has to carry on like this. It’s not the nicest moment in his career but he has to work hard. He wants to score and we need him to score. We will work on it in the days, weeks and months.”

Klopp maintained that Liverpool was “the better team” on the night — counterpart Slaven Bilic disagreed — despite conceding a pair of very similar looking goals.

The game could’ve avoided extra time through Benteke’s boots and body, but he couldn’t find his finish again.

The 25-year-old has seen his goal production drop by nearly half since joining from Aston Villa in the summer, and it’s sure to return… just maybe not under Klopp.