UEFA Champions League - Bayer Leverkusen v Manchester United

Manchester United’s Moyes: ‘It’s the best we’ve have played in my time here’

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Throughout the season we’ve noted when Manchester United’s approach has been a little too conservative for a Premier League title contending club, analysis that implicitly highlights one of their new manager’s shortcomings. But on a day when David Moyes helped engineer a 5-0 win at Bayer Leverkusen, the Bundesliga‘s second place team, it’s only fair to note that the squad exhibited one of the positive traits of the former Everton boss: an ability to transcend limitations to get results.

[MORE: 5-0 Stunner! Manchester United gallops impressively past Bayer Leverkusen, into Champions League knockout stage]

On Wednesday, those limitations were injuries, fitness issues that cost the Red Devils Robin van Persie, Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini, Nemanja Vidic and Rafael. With the likes of Nani and Shinji Kagawa ready to fill in, there’s only so much we should have cried for Moyes, but his ability to get a hamstrung squad to post a five-goal win in what was supposed to be one of their toughest matches to date is noteworthy. Moyes certainly deserves some of the credit; or, at least, a few idle words on a blog.

“It’s the best we’ve played in my time here and there’s more to come,” Moyes said, the blowout justifying his smugness. Manchester United’s home win over Arsenal (1-0) had previously been considered Moyes’s high point, but whereas that was a score first and protect the lead match, today’s was a romp.

“To score five goals, we haven’t done that, and to do it away is special.”

It was United’s largest away win in their Champions League history. It also extended the team’s unbeaten run to 11 games. While in isolation, performances like this weekend’s draw at Cardiff City may sound some alarms (bells I rang on Sunday, to be fair), within the context of an 11-game unbeaten run, they’re acceptable.

At least, the results show progress from the more uncertain form was saw earlier this year: Flat draw against Chelsea; late goal conceded to Southampton; loss at home to West Brom. Now that we’ve seen this Leverkusen high point, maybe those dips can be seen as needed bumps in the road? Pitfalls that were unavoidable while changing managers.

“I hope I can continue the standards United have set before and the team’s performance tonight has shown that,” Moyes told the press post-match. “It’s what I expected, qualifying for the Champions League and doing well in the league and the cups, and I will try to keep that going.”

Do or do not, Mr. Moyes. The Leverkusen result is phenomenal, but United’s current place in the cups is obligatory. And although the team is doing better in league, the Red Devils are still sixth. Last year, they finished first. Do or do not, Mr. Moyes, but right now, the league season looks like a lot of try.

Wednesday, however, gave United fans reason to think the heights attained last season could be replicated this year. Nobody’s running away with this season’s Premier League, so if the team’s performance in Leverkusen can be replicated against England’s other title contenders, there’s reason for optimism.

That alone is progress. Whereas the seasons first months where filled with doubts, the fall is giving United a reason to believe. Are these the same marauding Red Devils who ran away with last year’s title? No. But as Wednesday’s performance augurs, the dip might not be so big. They may not be title favorites, but they’re still threats.

West Ham United 2-1 Liverpool: Ogbonna strikes after 120 minutes

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Jordon Ibe of Liverpool takes on Pedro Mba Obiang 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)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Angelo Ogbonna is now an FA Cup hero.

Two sides willing to move the ball and attack produced a fine FA Cup tie on Tuesday at the Boleyn Ground, with Ogbonna heading home the match-winner in the 121st minute of play for a 2-1 win.

Michail Antonio scored a first-half goal for West Ham before Philippe Coutinho equalized for the visiting Reds.

[ WATCH: Coutinho’s cheeky free kick ties the score ]

All told, West Ham heads to Ewood Park for a fifth-round date with Blackburn Rovers. Peterborough United hosts West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday to sort out the fourth round’s other replay.

Liverpool played a more second-string set than the home side.

Brilliance met brilliance in the 38th minute, as Dimitri Payet struck a gorgeous dipping free kick over the wall only to see Mignolet get the slightest touch to help the ball crank off the goal post. Cheikhou Kouyate failed to scissor kick the rebound, and Mignolet flew back into the picture to parry Antonio’s header.

Antonio would get his glory next, as Enner Valencia took Payet’s pass and dribbled through the left side of the 18 and toward the end line before crossing the ball. Antonio let the ball sink to hip height before volleying home. 1-0, 45′.

There were three goal posts struck in the first half.

[ MORE: American takeover at Everton update

[ MORE: Recapping Week 25 in the PL ]

Coutinho scored on a clever free kick from the edge of the 18, betting on the wall jumping and cheekily rolling his shot under it and past Hammers keeper Darren Randolph.

Christian Benteke started and nearly finished a 56th minute chance inside the box, but his shot was blocked.

West Ham should’ve been awarded a penalty when Tiago Ilori pulled down Valencia in the box. Roger East didn’t see it that way.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s Courtois says FA Cup or UEFA Champions League final a must ]

The match went to extra time after eight minutes of second-half stoppage time.

Mignolet made a solid flying stop on Mark Noble in the first frame of extra time. At the other end, Benteke struck a low chance wide of the right post. Moments later, Randolph came out to thwart Benteke on a breakaway.

If anyone needed a reminder of Daniel Sturridge‘s skill, the late sub let fly with a 108th minute bullet that missed the goal by inches.

Then Lucas Leiva gave up a free kick just as two minutes of extra time stoppage began, and Ogbonna struck.

LINEUPS

West Ham United: Randolph, O’Brien (Moses, 83′), Reid (Collins, 64′), Ogbonna, Cresswell, Kouyate (Carroll, 76′), Noble, Obiang, Antonio, Valencia, Payet.

Liverpool: Mignolet, Flanagan, Stewart, Tiago Ilori, Smith, Teixeira (Origi, 60′), Lucas, Chirivella (Milner, 102′), Ibe, Benteke, Coutinho (Sturridge, 60′).

WATCH: Liverpool’s Coutinho bewitches West Ham with cheeky free kick

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09: Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool scores from a free-kick 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)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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Philippe Coutinho has some gumption.

Liverpool’s Brazilian wizard tied things up with West Ham United in Tuesday’s FA Cup replay at the Boleyn Ground, and did it in style.

[ MORE: Courtois says FA Cup or Champions League final a must ]

With a free kick from just outside the 18, Coutinho thought West Ham would expect he’d hit a ball that would get up quick before dipping after the wall.

They’d jump, he figured, and he’d roll it under the wall. He was correct (video courtesy Fox Soccer):

USWNT’s Solo says Zika fears could make her skip the Olympics

Hope Solo attends the premiere of "He Named Me Malala" at The Ziegfeld Theatre on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
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As it stands, Hope Solo would skip the Olympics if fears over the Zika virus don’t subside in Brazil.

It’s been speculated that Zika increases the odds of certain birth defects, and Solo said playing in the Olympics is not worth risking future pregnancies.

[ MORE: American takeover at Everton update

With CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying heading to NBC Live Extra at 8:30 p.m. ET Wednesday against Costa Rica (All games of the tournament will be streamed on Live Extra), Solo is set to star between the sticks for the USWNT.

But in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl, the 34-year-old netminder is far from ready to commit to the tournament.

She went as far as to say she wouldn’t go if the tournament was today, elaborating in this story from SI.com:

“I would never take the risk of having an unhealthy child,” said Solo, 34. “I don’t know when that day will come for Jerramy and me, but I personally reserve my right to have a healthy baby. No athlete competing in Rio should be faced with this dilemma. Female professional athletes already face many different considerations and have to make choices that male professional athletes don’t.”

Brazilian officials claim there will be minimal risk by the Summer Games because of the change in season, but that won’t alleviate all the concerns of female athletes. It will certainly be interesting to monitor how the situation develops in the coming months.

Chelsea’s Courtois says FA Cup or Champions League final a must

Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea FC
Brian Westerholt/AP Images for International Champions Cup
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Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is used to big matches, whether at Stamford Bridge, with the Belgian national team or during his loan to Atletico Madrid.

[ SPORTSWORLD: Courtois “standing tall” at Chelsea ]

If he doesn’t get one or two of those contests by the end of this season, a bad season will become an utter failure.

Courtois says it’s a long way to the Top Four, but Chelsea hasn’t given up on that hope. Regardless, he’s targeting wins over Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain in the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League, respectively.

From ChelseaFC.com:

“After that we play in the Champions League and FA Cup against two great sides and we have to try to win those games because the only way to save our season is to reach the final in one or both of them.”

Chelsea’s star has fallen this year, but this is still largely the team that won the Premier League last season. Courtois’ goals are not unreasonable.