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.

Rio prosecutors launch probe into soccer final violence

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro launched an investigation Thursday into the fan violence surrounding the Copa Sudamericana final between local club Flamengo and Argentine team Independiente.

[ SOURCE: LAFC close to signing third DP, Geraldes of Sporting CP ]

Clashes broke out on the night before Wednesday’s match at Maracana Stadium, and continued throughout the day. There was vandalism inside the stadium during the match and violence afterward, with more than 50 Flamengo supporters being detained over the two days.

The Rio prosecutor’s office said in a statement it would be questioning officials at Brazil’s football confederation, South American soccer’s ruling body, CONMEBOL, and local police about the incidents.

The statement added that “a profound investigation of the facts is needed so we can identify and punish the criminals that disguised as fans to spread chaos, fear and disorder in society.”

Major Silvio Luiz, head of policing for the final, criticized Flamengo’s handling of ticket sales.

Flamengo drew the second-leg match 1-1, and lost the final 3-2 on aggregate. The Copa is the second most prestigious club competition in South American soccer.

Ligue 1 set to use VAR starting in 2018/19 season

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With video replay technology becoming more and more prevalent in soccer across the globe, another major European league has revealed it too will join those ranks.

[ SOURCE: LAFC set to sign third DP with Sporting CP’s Geraldes ]

Ligue 1 has announced that the French top flight will begin to utilize video replay and have a video assistant referee (VAR) starting in the 2018/19 season.

Major League Soccer and the German Bundesliga are just two of the major global leagues to implement the system thus far. In MLS, the technology can be used in four instances; when goals are scored, during penalty situations, when a straight red card is given and during cases of mistaken identity.

French outlet L’Equipe wrote on Thursday that Ligue 1 would also follow a similar structure in what decisions VAR officials will be reviewable.

Spain has also announced that it will introduce VAR in 2018, ahead of the next La Liga season.

Top Premier League storylines — Week 17

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The title is looking more and more like it’s heading to Manchester, so will Tottenham be able to slow the Premier League leaders on Saturday?

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

 

Here are the four biggest storylines ahead of this weekend’s action.

Can anyone stop the Cityzens?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

Nobody has found a way to halt Pep Guardiola‘s side yet this season in PL play, so why would that change this weekend? City remain unbeaten through 17 matches, and while Spurs enter the weekend unbeaten in its last four, Mauricio Pochettino and Co. have their work cut out. The City attack, which has scored 52 goals this season, has shown no signs slowing down during the first four-and-a-half months of play, giving Tottenham a big test defensively. Harry Kane and his 12 goals will surely have a say in the get together, but Spurs has been lacking thus far in another go-to finisher.

Will the Toffees keep rolling under Big Sam?

Everton vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

It’s been quite the turnaround recently at Goodison Park, and Everton has the chance to extend its unbeaten streak to six games on Monday. Sam Allardyce has brought life to the Toffees as of late, with Everton scoring 11 goals over the last five matches.

Foxes aim to climb higher, while Palace shoots for safety

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Foxes have found their footing this season, and dare I say there are some glimpses of the team that won the title two years ago? Since Leicester’s 2-0 defeat to Man City, the Foxes have looked the part of a top-tier PL side, winning four of five matches, including victories over Tottenham and Burnley. Meanwhile, Palace has made the relegation battle a very intriguing one, as Roy Hodgson and Co. sit just a point inside the bottom three. Amazingly, Palace is unbeaten in seven of its last eight matches, but the club remains in 18th place.

Clarets aim for third consecutive victory

Brighton vs. Burnley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Clarets don’t boast a bonafide goalscorer, but Burnley looks like a well-oiled machine as Sean Dyche‘s side sits on the edge of the top four. Although the side likely won’t be pulling off a Leicester-sided feat in 2017/18, what the Clarets are accomplishing is quite amazing given the squad currently in place. Brighton has gone through its share of struggles recently, going winless in its last six matches, and scoring just three goals in that span. They’ll likely have a hard time breaking past Burnley’s tough backline.

NYCFC busy on Thursday with Abdul-Salaam, Stuver additions

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New York City FC is moving on from the club’s first-ever MLS SuperDraft selection, but they’ll be acquiring a solid defensive piece as the team continues to rebuild at the back.

[ SOURCE: LAFC finalizing deal to make Sporting CP’s Geraldes third DP ]

On Thursday, NYCFC announced a trade sending former 2015 first-round pick Khiry Shelton to Sporting KC in exchange for defender Saad Abdul-Salaam.

Shelton, who spent three seasons with NYCFC, struggled to find playing time under manager Patrick Vieira, particularly once the organization drafted England youth international Jack Harrison in 2016.

Vieira and Co. will be getting back a player also selected in the 2015 SuperDraft in Abdul-Salaam.

With the departures of Ethan White, RJ Allen and Andraz Struna this offseason, the move certainly makes sense for NYCFC, who were severely lacking at the right back position heading into this week.

NYCFC signed Malmo defender Anton Tinnerholm on Wednesday to help improve the backline.

The Eastern Conference side also added goalkeeper Brad Stuver from the Columbus Crew on Thursday, with the 26-year-old presumably serving as the backup to Sean Johnson in 2018.