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.

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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.

Mourinho blames fatigue for Swansea collapse

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Following a 1-1 draw with Swansea City, Jose Mourinho has begged Manchester United fans to give his players their full support as they navigate a period of serious fixture congestion.

The Red Devils have gone unbeaten in a whopping 25 straight Premier League matches, but still remain outside the top four due to a plague of draws that has befallen the squad, again failing to secure a lead after a late Gylfi Sigurdsson free-kick pegged them back at Old Trafford.

“Did the supporters know it [that the players are struggling]?” Mourinho said in his post-match press conference. “Because if they know it, and they think about it, they would be more supportive of the players who give everything, deserve everything and are at their limits. The team is in trouble, the boys are in trouble. But when you give everything I cannot demand more. I’m not happy with the result. I’m very happy with the boys.”

United is suffering from a host of injuries, particularly to the defense. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones were both unavailable for the Swansea match Sunday, and both Luke Shaw and Eric Bailly both left the field injured during the 90 minutes

[ RECAP: Swansea City salvages 1-1 draw with Manchester United ]

“Luke has to be a big injury, when you’re out after 10 minutes, it has to be a big injury,” Mourinho said. “Eric, maybe he is injured but, at the same time, maybe it’s in relation to him being the guy who’s played 800 minutes of football in April.”

In addition, midfielders Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini were unavailable for the match, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s season is over thanks to a double ACL/PCL tear.

Mourinho went on to explain his team’s schedule in further detail, and the issues behind it. “You cannot be punished because we play the League Cup final, you play the final and then you have to play a game in midweek. Why don’t you stop the competition [the Premier League] when you play the final?

“You are punished for doing well and if we beat Celta, we have the final — in this moment that is obviously hypothetical — but the Europa League final is on the Wednesday and then we play against Crystal Palace on the Sunday. We play Southampton away two days before the final. So they want us to play the final, and we would be playing in disaster consequences.”

Matt Miazga, Vitesse win Dutch League Cup

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USMNT youngster Matt Miazga started and played the full 90 minutes as Vitesse Arnhem defeated AZ Alkmaar 2-0 to win the KNVB Beker. The trophy is the club’s first in its entire 125 year history.

Former Norwich City striker Ricky Van Wolfswinkel scored the winner in the 81st minute, crashing in a header past lazy AZ defenders on a pinpoint cross by 20-year-old Kosovo international Milot Rashica. The former Premier League striker struck again in the 88th minute to put the game away.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned in the North London derby ]

Miazga has been a fixture for Vitesse this season, making 21 Eredivisie appearances this season and seeing the field in every Cup game. Vitesse conceded just four goals throughout the entire Cup run, and just one over the final four games. They shut out Feyenoord in the quarterfinals, a game which Miazga was a late substitute. Vitesse also kept clean sheets against lower league opponents in Jodan Boys in the Round of 16, and again in the finals, games that Miazga saw the entire 90 minutes.

The 21-year-old American is on loan from Chelsea, and after a slow start, has earned a significant place in the side. In the latest 10 league matches for Vitesse, Miazga has played the full 90 minutes in eight of them, with five wins and two clean sheets in that span. Vitesse sits in ninth position in the Eredivisie table, but their problems have come more so up front, as they’ve conceded just 38 goals in 34 matches, better than all but the top two teams in the table.

Another Chelsea loanee, central midfielder Lewis Baker, finished the competition as its top scorer, bagging five goals in Cup games. The 22-year-old England youth international had a brace in the 2-1 semifinal win over Sparta Rotterdam. Chelsea is known for its loan relationship with Vitesse, with four players currently loaned to the Dutch club.

Player ratings from North London Derby

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LONDON — Tottenham beat Arsenal 2-0 at White Hart Lane on Sunday as Spurs remained four points behind Chelsea in the title race and also ensured they will finish about their north London rivals for the first time in 22 years.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

There were some incredible individual displays throughout as Spurs dominated for vast swathes.

Here’s how each player marked out of 10.


TOTTENHAM

Hugo Lloris – 7 – Didn’t have too much to do but calm on the ball and quick off his line as ever.

Kieran Trippier – 7 – Picked ahead of Walker and didn’t let Pochettino down. Few loose balls but great defensively.

Toby Alderweireld – 8 – Fine display from the Belgian who oozed class.

Jan Vertonghen – 8 – Almost scored twice and an inspiration at the other end. Went down injured early on but battled hard.

Ben Davies – 7 – Solid and steady at left wing back.

Eric Dier – 8 – Fine display in center of midfield. Pochettino always looks to him to get info to the team. A leader.

Victor Wanyama – 9 – Dominant display from the Kenyan. Bossed midfield and even poured forward in attack.

Christian Eriksen – 7 – His shot was parried to Dele for Spurs’ first goal and always looked lively. Missed a good chance early.

Dele Alli – 7 – Finished well for his goal but missed a sitter early on. Popped up with another big goal.

Heung-Min Son – 7 – Launched some great counters in the first half but faded in the second.

Harry Kane – 8 – Won the penalty kick and slotted it home. Denied by Cech and bullied Arsenal’s defense. 6 in 5 NLD’s in the PL.

Subs
Kyle Walker on for Kieran Trippier – 6 – Did a solid job.
Mousa Dembele on for Heung-min Son – 6 – Steadied the ship in midfield late on.
Moussa Sissoko on for Dele Alli – N/A


ARSENAL

Petr Cech – 8 – Without Cech it could have been five or six. Three fines stops in the second half kept the score down.

Gabriel – 5 – Gave away the penalty kick and had a torrid game.

Laurent Koscielny – 6 – Tried to hold a shaky defense together but never looked comfortable. Looked like he was carrying a knock.

Nacho Monreal – 6 – Did okay on the ball but failed to give defensive solidity.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – 5 – Picked ahead of Bellerin at right wing back but showed little going forward.

Granit Xhaka – 4 – Poor display. Gave away silly free kicks and was subbed off.

Aaron Ramsey – 6 – One of Arsenal’s best players, especially in first half with his midfield runs.

Kieran Gibbs – 5 – Saw plenty of the ball but didn’t do much with it.

Mesut Ozil – 5 – Went missing in a big game again. Seemed to be carrying a knock. Last NLD for Ozil?

Alexis Sanchez – 6 – Last NLD for Sanchez? Had moments of class in the first half but seems to be on another page to his teammates.

Olivier Giroud – 5 – Barely touched the ball and had a snapshot he rifled over in the second half.

Subs
Hector Bellerin for Gabriel – 5 – Didn’t get too involved in his 15 minutes on the pitch.
Danny Welbeck on for Granit Xhaka – 6 – Put himself about and got in-behind Spurs’ defense on a couple of occasions.
Theo Walcott on for Olivier Giroud – 5 – Hardly touched the ball to make an impact.

Tottenham 2-0 Arsenal: Spurs quick pair wins North London derby

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For the first time in 22 years, Tottenham will finish above Arsenal in the league table.

The North London derby finished 2-0 in favor of the home side at White Hart Lane, and the last visit there for Arsene Wenger & company confirms they cannot catch Spurs. Dele Alli scored and Harry Kane struck from the spot just two minutes later as a quickfire double soon after halftime sent Tottenham through.

With White Hart Lane at full throat, Tottenham was the more dangerous side out of the gate. Harry Kane tested Petr Cech with a tight-angled shot inside the opening minute, and Toby Alderweireld had a set-piece header go just over the bar also from a difficult position. The Gunners also spent a bit of time in the opposition area as Kieran Gibbs forced Hugo Lloris off the line to challenge a ball near the end line.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Spurs had the best pair of chances of the opening half on 21 minutes back-to-back. Harry Kane delivered a ball towards the six-yard box, and with a deflection it came to the head of Dele Alli, who should have scored, but put it over the bar from right on the doorstep. Minutes later, Heung-Min Son sliced up Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the left flank and burst into the box, and while his shot was deflected, it fell to Christian Eriksen who also should have scored with the goal gaping, but didn’t hit the volley cleanly and skied it over.

Aaron Ramsey worked Hugo Lloris as the Frenchman was forced into a low save to his left on the midfielder’s shot seven minutes before halftime.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

The hosts had the best chance straight out of halftime as Victor Wanyama charged down a loose ball and unleashed a howitzer on net that was just tipped over the bar by Petr Cech.

The breakthrough came in the 56th minute as Spurs went in front. Kane held the ball up brilliantly and found Alli, and under pressure Christian Eriksen latched onto it, and while his shot was saved, it fell back to Alli and he crashed it home. Immediately after, Spurs doubled their lead as Gabriel caught Kane’s foot in the penalty area, causing the England international to go to ground. Referee Michael Oliver gave the penalty, and Kane slotted it in off the left post.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Arsenal, suddenly down 2-0, looked to push forward to find a way back in. Olivier Giroud forced an easy scoop save from Lloris and then Gibbs fired over past the hour mark. The Gunners seemed shell-shocked at their sudden deficit, and by the time they truly worked themselves onto the ball, they were faced with a bunkered-in Spurs defense.

Tottenham saw the game out with little threat from the visitors, and the three points keeps pace with Chelsea, closing the gap back to four points with their ninth straight win. Arsenal, meanwhile, failed to capitalize on the opportunity brought on by Manchester United and Manchester City both dropping points earlier in the day.