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Have the real Manchester United arrived? Offensive masterclass brings hope

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BIRMINGHAM — It’s taken almost half a season… but the real Manchester United have finally shown up.

In the Red Devils 3-0 win at Aston Villa on Sunday, David Moyes’ men put in a majestic display of attacking power, creativity and desire to dispatch the Villans comfortably and grab their first victory in five Premier League games.

Danny Welbeck smashed home his first-two PL goals since the opening day of the season in the first half and much-maligned midfielder Tom Cleverley grabbed his first league goal since Boxing Day 2012 after the break, as ‘redemption’ and ‘revival’ were the buzz words circling around United’s dazzling display in the Villa Park drizzle.

Under-fire for most of the season due to his sides lethargic and often predictable displays going forward, afterwards United boss David Moyes was delighted with his sides attacking performance against a Villa side they vastly outclassed.

“Getting the goal gave us a chance to keep the ball better,” Moyes said. “To be fair to Aston Villa they had a couple of shots in the first five minutes or so but after that we played well. Getting the early goal made a big difference.”

Welbeck stole the headlines for his goals but wingers Adnan Januzaj and Antonio Valencia were a constant thorn in Villa’s side as they ran at pace, whipped in top-quality deliveries and hassled Villa’s back-line into numerous giveaways. Welbeck’s predatory strikes were exactly what Moyes’ side needed, especially as the England international was given his chance to start after injuries to RVP and Javier Hernandez.

(MORE: Aston Villa 0-3 Manchester United – Welbeck double kick-starts United’s season)

The 23-year-olds two strikes were his first league goals since a double on the opening day of the campaign against Swansea and his manager hopes getting on the score sheet will give Welbeck confidence.

“For Danny it’s really important because he’s a forward and he needs to get himself goals and he’s always had that labelled at him,” Moyes said. “Today he got two poacher type goals and he could have had another one. All round he played well for the team, he was a threat running in behind, so I was pleased with him today. When you have injuries like Robin and Chicho out, he came up to the mark and that’s what happens when you get opportunities. You show what you can do. Danny certainly did that today.”

Wayne Rooney, who is taking the lead role once again — United’s other leading striker Robin van Persie is sidelined for at least a month with a thigh injury — was sublime in the no. 10 position as he destroyed Villa with delicate through-balls all game. United’s relentless pressing displayed their desire to get back to winning ways as they brushed off the unwanted record of suffering three-straight PL defeats for the first time since December 2001.

source: Getty Images
Welbeck celebrates as his strikes saw United race into an early 2-0 lead at Villa Park

Moyes was pleased with his sides reaction to their recent lackluster displays and believes United are edging towards the form he wants from them.

“We are getting closer to it. We have to be more consistent and I’m still looking for that to improve again,” Moyes said. “We could have scored more goals but I think generally the all round performance was much more like us. I’m pleased with that.”

With RVP missing, expect to see Welbeck as the target man, Valencia and Januzaj out wide and Rooney sitting in the hole for the foreseeable future.

United were clinical, sharp and out to prove a point against Villa on Sunday and certainly quietened some of their doubters with their ruthless finishing. It certainly helps when you have Rooney quarterbacking proceedings from a deep-lying role as he often sat back to spray maverick long-range passes at ease to link the Red Devils midfield and attack.

Rooney was frighteningly good at Villa Park as his exquisite spectrum of passes drew ‘ohhs’ and ‘ahhs’ from the crowd. His ball through to Cleverley for United’s third looked simple but for the England international to judge that weight so precisely was sublime.

The Red Devils played as if they’re hell bent on dragging themselves back into the title race by the start of the New Year and now they’re only 10 points behind leaders Arsenal with games against West Ham, Hull and Norwich coming up.

The perfect opportunity to mount a title challenge?

“I can only look at the next game” Moyes said coyly. “At Manchester United we’re expected to win and I’ll try and win the next game. That’s always the case and I’ll see where we can end up.”

When we look back at the end of the season, this rampant attacking display on a miserably rainy day in England’s heartland could be a defining moment in Moyes’ first season in charge. This victory could have a big say in where ‘they end up’ in May, as the Scotsman put it.

In the post game presser, Moyes had a smile on his face and calmness about him that’s been missing in recent weeks.

His offense finally sparked into life on Sunday, and the rest of the Premier League were sent a timely reminder of the age old adage: never rule out the Red Devils.

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs. Swansea City

SWANSEA, WALES - MAY 01:  Jefferson Montero of Swansea City is challenged by Nathaniel Clyne of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at The Liberty Stadium on May 1, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images
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  • Liverpool leads all-time 22W-8D-10L
  • Swans lost five-straight at Anfield
  • Reds unbeaten in 7 PL matches

One of the Premier League’s top attacks hosts the division’s leakiest defense, as Liverpool may be licking its chops ahead of a visit from struggling Swansea City on Saturday (Watch live at 7:30 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Liverpool has drawn at Sunderland and Manchester United in its last two Premier League outings, and sits seven points back of leaders Chelsea.

Swansea City has allowed multiple goals in five of six PL matches since beating Sunderland 3-0 on Dec. 10. It’s no surprise that they’ve lost those five (the sixth being a 2-1 win at struggling Crystal Palace).

What they’re saying

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp on the match“We’re really looking forward to this game. I don’t know when it happened but in England every game now is like a final. Swansea are trying to survive. I don’t know when the title run-in will start, maybe now and we’re in the race. I hope for a special atmosphere tomorrow.”

Swansea City back Federico Fernandez on Liverpool“They are a team that is very strong going forward and that is shown by the number of goals they have scored. If you lose a little bit of focus against these teams then they have the players that will punish you every time. But it’s not only defending strongly when they are attacking, it is also how we keep hold of the ball and how we use it when in possession.”

Prediction

Swansea boss Paul Clement has his hands full, and is grabbing reinforcements in the transfer window (Luciano Narsingh, Martin Olsson, Tom Carroll). That won’t be enough to handle what Liverpool will dish out Saturday, as the Reds break free with a 3-0 win.

Saints’ Fonte moves to West Ham for $10 million

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West Ham has been linked with big name strikers since the summer, but the Irons’ big January transfer to date is a center back.

EURO champion and Southampton mainstay Jose Fonte is moving to London.

[ MORE: West Brom finally sells Berahino ]

Fonte, 33, makes an approximately $10 million move from the South Coast, where the Portuguese back will better Slaven Bilic‘s back line while forcing Southampton to find an answer alongside Virgil Van Dijk.

It’s been a strange trip to London for Fonte and Southampton, detailed by our own Joe Prince-Wright here. Fonte joined Saints during the 2009-10 season, and became a cult hero at St. Mary’s in helping the club move from League One to the Europa League in just over a half-decade.

Something won’t feel right about seeing Fonte in claret and blue, and Saints host West Ham on Feb. 4. Should be quite interesting.

Saga over: Saido Berahino finally has a new home (video)

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What in the world is the transfer rumor mill going to do without Saido Berahino?

Linked with a move away from West Brom for the better part of two years, the English striker has been freed from the bad graces of Tony Pulis and has joined Stoke City on a five-and-a-half year deal.

[ MORE: Liverpool hires Steven Gerrard ]

Berahino, 23, was sold for $15 million, a fee that could rise as high as $19 million. West Brom has previously rejected bids from Spurs amongst others that reached as high as $31 million.

It’s a smart, calculated risk for Mark Hughes and Stoke, who have not been able to get over the mid-table hump and encroach on European competition. Berahino scored 14 PL goals in 2014-15, a figure that rose to 20 when including all competitions.

Now could this mean Bojan Krkic is indeed off to Middlesbrough? We’ll wait to see if it’s a domino move for the Potters, and also if we one day yearn for the dulcet tones of Pulis screaming, “Saido!”, again and again, on the West Brom touch line.

Moyes says new Sunderland buys won’t be big difference makers

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - JANUARY 17: David Moyes, Manager of Sunderland (L) speaks to Jermain Defoe of Sunderland (R) before he comes on during the Emirates FA Cup third round replay between Burnley and Sunderland at Turf Moor on January 17, 2017 in Burnley, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
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Sunderland boss David Moyes isn’t expressing the emotions of an optimistic man.

The former Everton, Manchester United, and Real Sociedad manager says his transfer budget is “limited with a big L” and that any names in the transfer market are not the players he’s allowed to pursue.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks ]

Sunderland has been linked with Phil Jagielka, Leonardo Ulloa, Robbie Brady, The Chronicle did report that free agent Joleon Lescott has been training with the team.

Even worse, Sunderland’s two most impactful players, Jermain Defoe and Patrick Van Aanholt, have been reported as targets for other PL sides and may prefer to leave the Northeast.

From The Chronicle:

“I’d be kidding you on if I said the players we are going to bring in in January are going to massively make a big difference because first of all, we probably couldn’t get that level of player and secondly, we probably wouldn’t have the finances to do that.

“To suggest that the player we bring in would be making a big difference, I think, wouldn’t be correct.”

Woof. That’s a tough pill for already beleaguered Sunderland supporters to swallow, and will only cause more unrest from a fan base that has been to know to leave a match early. Sunderland are far from dead in the water, but Swansea, Hull, and Palace are all making moves as it looks more and more like a four team race for 17th. Is Sunderland doomed?