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

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”