Manchester United edges Shakhtar to stop the bleeding, finish atop Champions League Group A

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When is a technically “meaningless” game something far less than meaningless? When mighty Manchester United is attempting to deliver itself from the unthinkable: losing three in a row at home.

To the rescue has come a less likely figure in Phil Jones, who has finally turned the valve, releasing the enormous pressure that was continuing to build around an atypically wandering season at Manchester United. His 67th minute goal was the difference as Manchester United rediscovered something to smile about, rolling out a ? win Tuesday over Shakhtar Donetsk in Champions League.

So United finish first in its group, a big benefit to a club that now gets to dodge the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona and perhaps some other biggies in the next round of tournament play, the first knockout round. But there was surely more afoot at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

This game had big impact around the storied club far beyond its effect on the lucrative competition. In fact, there was almost zero potential influence on the Champions League for David Moyes’ staggering lot. But having lost twice in the past week at Old Trafford, United and Moyes were craving something positive, and most desperate to dodge a third loss at home in a matter of days.

source:  Still, Shakhtar was the more desperate of the two in terms of Champions League, and easily so. It showed early as the Ukrainians managed to turn up repeatedly with something dangerous.

Fred, Luiz Adriano and Alex Teixeira – Shakhtar has quite a collection of talented, young Brazilians – zipped comfortably around a wobbly United back line, creating several good chances. One moment told the story of the first half: Aging center back Rio Ferdinand was stripped of the ball, then provided futile chase as a quick sequence ended with Fred flubbing what should have been 1-0 lead for the visitors.

Playing through Shinji Kagawa – stationed centrally for United in his favored, but rarely seen role – Manchester United managed to create a bit here and there before the break. The best came in the 37th minute when Ashley Young broke in and had every opportunity to chip over a goalkeeper ranging out of position. Rather, he pushed his looping little volley wide past the far post.

A few minutes later, Kagawa arranged beautifully for Wayne Rooney, but the England international couldn’t manage to uncork from 15 yards.

Jones finally broke through when he confidently cleaned up a corner kick scramble with a technical volley from about 15 yards.

Shakhtar applied pressure sporadically, but the output from Moyes’ men was greatly improved after those first 30 minutes, and the lift around Old Trafford from Jones’ goal was somewhat palpable.

Shakhtar finished third in the group and will move into Europa League when the pair of continental tournaments resume in February.

Lineups

Shakhtar: Pyatov, Srna, Kucher, Rakitskiy, Shevchuk, Fred, Stepanenko, Douglas Costa, Alex Teixeira, Taison, Luiz Adriano.

Manchester United: De Gea, Rafael Da Silva, Ferdinand, Evans, Buttner, Jones, Giggs, Young, Kagawa, Januzaj, Rooney.

Report: Ola Kamara wanted by mid-table La Liga outfit

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Columbus Crew star Ola Kamara is ready to leave the side, but he may not be moving inside of Major League Soccer.

[ MORE: FA Cup replay roundup ]

Metro.Us reporter Kristian Dyer says the Norwegian star is subject to a bid from a mid-table La Liga club. He’d been linked with a trade to Colorado as well.

Kamara, 28, came to MLS from Austria Wien and has since scored 34 goals in two seasons, a year after bagging 21 goals on loan for Molde in Norway.

Seventh place and 15th are separated by just four points in Spain’s top flight. Leganes and Espanyol are having the hardest time scoring goals, in terms of mildly educated speculation.

Transfer rumor roundup: Fred to Man City; Aubameyang wanted

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Could this January transfer window rival last season’s in terms of activity?

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Last season saw Crystal Palace save its season and Hull City nearly do the same, Morgan Schneiderlin head to Everton, Leicester find a decent N'Golo Kante replacement, and much, much more.

This season has been less active, though Ross Barkley has headed to Chelsea while former club Everton nabbed Cenk Tosun and Liverpool added Virgil Van Dijk.

The BBC has news involving Napoli which could affect two Premier League clubs. The Neapolitans apparently want Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who wants to be an every week starter, to be a prime part of their push to end Juventus’ Serie A stranglehold.

That would unseat Pepe Reina, who’s been long linked with a reunion with former boss Pepe Reina at Newcastle United. Napoli currently has Luigi Sepe as a No. 2 to Reina, though UEFA Europa League fixtures mean it’s no guarantee Mignolet’s arrival would allow Reina to leave town.

Sky Sports says Manchester City would like to see Fred as a long-term replacement for Fernandinho. Fred went 90 minutes for Shakhtar Donetsk in a pair of UEFA Champions League contests against City, including the 2-1 home win over the Premier League leaders’ B-squad on Dec. 6. The 24-year-old has two goals and two assists in league play, and could cost more than $25 million.

Don Balon proffers news that could unsettle Arsenal fans, as Real Madrid is apparently entering the bidding for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Florentino Perez would like an upgrade to Karim Benzema for his struggling La Liga super powers, and goodness knows Real will tempt Borussia Dortmund’s bank account.

One liners:

— The BBC also says Besiktas want Islam Slimani to join the club from Leicester City.

— Ola Kamara’s move from Columbus to another MLS team may be hijacked by La Liga.

Mourinho reportedly close to Man Utd contract extension

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Jose Mourinho is scheduling an extended stay at Manchester United.

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The 54-year-old has a contract through the end of next season, the dreaded third at a club for Mourinho, but reports say United is keen to keep him around through 2021.

Mourinho has not tasted a fourth season with a club despite winning league titles at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan, and Real Madrid.

The 2019-20 season at Old Trafford would be Mourinho’s fourth. According to the BBC:

Talks have progressed well and it is now just a matter of time before Mourinho commits to remain at Old Trafford beyond the expiry of his present deal in 2019.

Somehow, this feels it should be deemed another loss for Antonio Conte.

Barkley ineligible to make Chelsea debut in FA Cup replay

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Ross Barkley was expected — and himself expected — to make his Chelsea debut on Wednesday, when the Blues host Championship side Norwich City in a third-round FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge.

Alas, the 24-year-old English midfielder has been ruled ineligible due to a lesser-known and -applied rules surrounding transfers and player registration.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup | Wednesday preview ]

Barkley completed his move from Everton to Chelsea, for $20 million, on Jan. 5, the day before Chelsea and Norwich drew 0-0 at Carrow Road. In order to be eligible for Wednesday’s replay, Barkley is required to have completed his transfer prior to the noon cut-off the day prior to the original tie. While the time of official approval is unknown, Barkley’s move wasn’t announced by the club until after 5 p.m. in the UK.

As such, Chelsea will attempt to set up a behind-closed-doors friendly this week, in order to provide Barkley a bit of game action as he builds fitness and sharpness ahead of a potential debut against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). Barkley hasn’t seen a single minute of first-team action this season after suffering a serious hamstring injury in the summer.