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.

Watch Live: Swansea City vs. Liverpool

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Swansea City’s bid to slow down steamrolling Liverpool begins at 3 p.m. ET Monday at the Liberty Stadium (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The rampaging Reds are coming off a 4-3 win that ended Manchester City’s unbeaten Premier League season, and will hope to avoid a let down against desperate Swans.

The Welsh hosts are six points adrift in the race for Premier League safety, and look set for a 5-4-1 with Jordan Ayew the only forward. Wilfried Bony and Oliver McBurnie are on the bench along with attack-minded Luciano Narsingh.

LINEUPS

Swansea City: Fabianski, Naughton, Van der Hoorn, Fernandez, Mawson, Olsson, Ki, Fer, Clucas, Dyer, Ayew. Subs: Nordfeldt, Bartley, Roque Mesa, Carroll, Narsingh, McBurnie, Bony.

Liverpool: Karius, Gomez, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson, Can, Wijnaldum, Salah, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mane, Firmino. Subs: Mignolet, Milner, Klavan, Lallana, Ings, Solanke, Alexander-Arnold.

Kevin De Bruyne commits to Man City through 2022-23

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Kevin De Bruyne is one of the best players in the world, and he’s committing his prime to the club which has taken him to the next level.

[ MORE: How will Arsenal, Man Utd line up? ]

Manchester City announced a new deal for the Belgian wizard, keeping him at the Etihad Stadium through 2023.

De Bruyne, 26, has posted 31 goals and 38 assists for Pep Guardiola‘s men since returning to England from the Bundesliga, and appreciates being given a lot more money. From ManCity.com:

“As I’ve said previously, my intention has always been to stay here at City, where I’ve felt at home from day one. Not only are we winning – we are playing great football. It’s a pleasure to be a part of and I’m really excited about what we can achieve in the coming years.”

De Bruyne is in the discussion for a Ballon d’Or finalist spot this year, along with Lionel Messi, Neymar, Gareth Bale, Harry Kane, and others (Hot take: This does seem to be year Ronaldo possibly knocked off, barring a remarkable run in the Champions League or World Cup).

After the swap: Alexis, Mkhi-infused XIs for Man Utd, Arsenal

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The deal is done: Henrikh Mkhitaryan has moved to Arsenal with Alexis Sanchez going the other way in a monumental January move.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

How will it look for each side once the shape’s settled?

Arsenal

When Henrikh Mkhitaryan was at his very best — for Borussia Dortmund in 2014-15 — he was deployed as a left or right wing. He contributed 23 goals and 32 assists in 52 matches during his final season at the Westfalenstadion, and predictably saw those numbers drop as Jose Mourinho consistently moved him toward an attacking center midfield role.

He’ll get the chance to go out wide again at the Emirates Stadium, though perhaps not always to the extreme flanks. Expect Alexandre Lacazette‘s numbers to explode with this move.

Arsene Wenger used a 4-3-3 to batter Crystal Palace 4-1 at the weekend, with Ozil on the right wing and Alex Iwobi on the left. The club still needs better at center defensive mid while Aaron Ramsey is out, so that will likely keep the lineup similar until he returns (at a minimum):

Cech

Bellerin — Mustafi — Koscielny — Montreal

Elneny (Ramsey, eventually)

Xhaka — Wilshere

Ozil — Lacazette — Mkhitaryan

By the way, a lot of Arsenal supporters aren’t feeling great about this (understatement alert):

Manchester United

Alexis Sanchez prefers left wing, too, and Mourinho has a trio of in-form players who like that side of the field. Anthony Martial is red hot but plays wider than Jesse Lingard, and it seems one of them will take the slot of Juan Mata to the right of Paul Pogba in a 4-1-4-1. Marcus Rashford could also see the far right positioning.

But against top competition — continued apologies to Burnley — it’s usually a 4-2-3-1 for Mourinho with Pogba dropping next to Nemanja Matic a little deeper in the formation. Lingard has been getting the run as CAM here, usually to the detriment of Juan Mata. With Alexis as the clear-cut left wing in this formation, it causes real combat for the two other slots between Mata, Lingard, Rashford, and Martial.

So while it’s likely we’d see something like this in a big game for Manchester United…

De Gea

Young — Jones — Smalling — Valencia

Matic — Pogba

Martial — Lingard —  Sanchez

Lukaku

… We’d love to see something more like this:

De Gea

Young — Jones — Smalling — Valencia

Matic — Herrera

Pogba

Martial — Lukaku — Sanchez

How do you think Wenger and Mou will run ’em out?

Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap official (video)

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Arsenal and Manchester United have completed their American-style trade, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan joining the Gunners and Alexis Sanchez on board the Red Devils’ train.

Both 29 years old, the playmakers arrive at their new homes with plenty to prove.

More to come…