Three points, few answers for Manchester United in Champions League

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Coming into today’s match, the performances was as important as the result. It’s a sentiment David Moyes echoed in his pre-match news conference, explaining his team had trained well in the days leading up to Manchester United’s Champions League meeting with Real Sociedad. The end goal: Translate their best moments into actual goals, hopefully leaving themselves beyond the reach of the type of one-off moments that saw them drop points this weekend to Southampton.

Despite Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Sociedad, United failed to meet that standard. Iñigo Martínez’s second minute own goal ended up deciding the match, even if close calls from Antonio Valencia and Phil Jones almost gave United insurance. Still, as the second half went on and Real Sociedad continued to find room to build through the midfield, this game had the feeling of what’s become a typical Manchester United performance. Had Sociedad played better, we would have seen a repeat of this weekend’s result.

That’s not to say there weren’t positives. Wayne Rooney, except for a poor finish in the second half, was fabulous. It’s a pleasure to see him reclaim this status. Phil Jones and Jonny Evans helped keep a clean sheet, and Antonio Valencia was his typical (if limited) self down the right flank. Nobody ever said Manchester United were a bad team, hence their lead in their Champions League group (up two points on Bayer Leverkusen).

But for Moyes, there seem to be four big problems. First, he’s conceded the team need to be better, thus confirming the problem. Second, looking at the squad he’s inherited, it’s impossible to disagree. United’s is a very talented squad. Third, even if you wanted to nit-pick as to how talented they are, last year’s league title provides some evidence of their quality. But finally,  and perhaps most damning, this team’s playing with the exact same approach Moyes instilled at Everton. This is top-table talent performing with mid-table mentality.

The one caveat when looking at today’s performance is the starting XI. There was no Robin van Persie. Marouane Fellaini was out. Adnan Januzaj was given the day off, and neither Nemanja Vidic nor Rio Ferdinand were in the middle of defense. This wasn’t unlike a team Alex Ferguson, implicitly dismissive of group stage challenges, would have chosen, with a close call result to match.

In that sense, it would be too hard on Moyes if we saw this as the extension of something bigger, though the bottom line remains the same. The United boss wanted a different kind of performance from his team, and he didn’t get. Whether that’s an extension of the manager’s mentality, the team still  failed to meet their goals. We saw progress in the win column but not the performance.

AT THE HALF: Manchester derby scoreless after 45 minutes

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After 45 minutes, the final Manchester derby of the 2016-17 Premier League season — the one that’ll go a long, long way toward deciding which of the city’s sides will finish in the top-four — is scoreless, but not without incident.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

The game’s best chances thus far fell Manchester City’s way, as Sergio Aguero missed a clear-cut chance after 10 minutes — Kevin De Bruyne whipped in the perfect ball to the back post, and Aguero put it wrong side of David De Gea‘s post.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Ander Herrera has, once again, be Manchester United’s danger man, combining well with Marcus Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but Claudio Bravo made the one save he was forced into during the first half. One thing to keep an eye on during the final 45 minutes: Rashford picked up a knock very early on, and struggled to move around the field after that.

STREAM LIVE: The Manchester Derby

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The third Manchester Derby of the season is the first away from Old Trafford, as Manchester United visits Manchester City (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday.

There’s much on the line, as the sides sit just two points apart in the race for the Top Four. Man City would leapfrog third-place Liverpool with a win, while United could join the Reds on 66 points with a match-in-hand.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Sergio Aguero starts for Man City, with Gabriel Jesus on the bench.

On the other side, it’ll be a physical middle-third guarded by Ander Herrera, Michael Carrick, and Marouane Fellaini. Wayne Rooney and Jesse Lingard start on the bench.

LINEUPS

Manchester City: Bravo, Zabaleta, Kompany (C), Otamendi, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Sterling, De Bruyne, Sane, Aguero. Subs: Caballero, Sagna, Fernando, Navas, Clichy, Gabriel Jesus, A. Garcia

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Blind, Darmian; Herrera, Carrick, Fellaini, Mkhitaryan; Rashford, Martial. Subs: Romero, Shaw, Fosu-Mensah, Tuanzebe, Young, Lingard, Rooney.

Ex-Liverpool CEO shares biting story of Suarez transfer

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Ian Ayre’s got jokes.

The former Liverpool CEO lifted the lid on some transfer stories during a Merseyside lecture this week.

Of note, Ayre admitted that the club thought Dele Alli demanded too much given what he had produced when the Reds has the chance to sign him as a 16-year-old, and said that Liverpool could’ve landed Alexis Sanchez but the player wanted to live in London (“We couldn’t move the football club to London, unfortunately,” he quipped).

The best part relayed by Sky Sports had to do with Luis Suarez, and shows the relentless nature of the transfer market. Clearly Barcelona had interest in Suarez before the fiery striker bit Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup, because, well…

“I remember the sporting director of Barcelona calling me during that game, immediately as Suarez bit the player, and he said to me ‘my friend, he’s bitten somebody, how can this be the price?’ I said ‘he’d already bitten somebody when you first bid!'”

We’re sure there’s a certain amount of storytelling in there, but undoubtedly some truth.

Given Barca paid a reported $84 million for the striker, the asking price couldn’t have started that much higher.

Men in Blazers podcast: Chelsea tops Spurs, Top Four predictions

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Rog and Davo return to discuss Chelsea’s FA Cup semifinal victory over Spurs, update their Top Four predictions (again), and dive into the depths of the relegation zone. Plus, the very important movement to change “Hudson Street” to “Ray Hudson Street.”

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