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.

Report: Mourinho to get bumper $89 million extension at Man Utd

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Jose Mourinho is in the third month of his second season in charge of Manchester United, and may join Antonio Conte as men to get a second contract early in his term.

Goal.com says Paris Saint-Germain’s interest in Mourinho will spur United chairman Ed Woodward into action.

Unlike Conte, who received improved terms and the same length at Chelsea, the report says Mourinho will get a new five-year deal.

[ MORE: Yaya Toure to NYCFC? ]

The report says Mourinho’s terms would be worth almost $89 million over the length of the deal, close to $18 million per season.

The 54-year-old has never spent more than four years at a club, his longest stay as an assistant as Barcelona. Last season, he won the Europa League and League Cup for United while finishing sixth in the Premier League.

This season, United is off to a second-place start, leading Spurs on goal differential following a first loss of the season Saturday at Huddersfield Town.

This is about money and security for Mourinho who, let’s face it, probably won’t stay at United for five seasons. It would go against his record, and it’s difficult to imagine he’ll buck his career trend and make it five years. The new deal would be a raise, keep him from PSG for now, and probably will do the trick.

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Report: Yaya Toure lined up by New York City FC

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There are few details, but a report tabbed as exclusive by The Manchester Evening News says a new midfield force could be headed to Major League Soccer.

Yaya Toure’s resurgent 2016-17 has not been followed by a busy 2017-18, at least not yet, as the report says Yaya is set to head to New York City FC following the departure of Andrea Pirlo.

[ MORE: Koeman fired | Who’s in line? ]

Toure, who turns 35 in May, has regularly been on the subs bench for Pep Guardiola this season after signing a one-year contract. He’s played 29 minutes as a sub over the last two Premier League matches, and his lone start came in a League Cup win over West Brom, where he captained City.

Toure has 59 goals and 33 assists in 222 Premier League matches.

The Ivorian is not a pace monger, but neither were Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard and both were effective when healthy in MLS. Toure’s powerful presence in the midfield could be worth the wage packet and headache, but we’d pay a penny for Patrick Vieira’s thoughts.

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Italy’s once-vaunted ‘BBC’ defense is showing its age

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ROME (AP) With a combined age of 99, Italy’s once vaunted “BBC” defensive trio is showing its years.

The Azzurri will still rely on Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini in a World Cup playoff against Sweden next month but the signs in Serie A lately have not been encouraging.

[ MORE: Koeman fired | Who’s in line? ]

Bonucci’s red card with AC Milan over the weekend was the latest in a series of poor performances after his high-profile transfer from Juventus made him the highest-paid player in Italy.

Chiellini and Barzagli were beaten for goals twice by Ciro Immobile in Juventus’ 2-1 home loss to Lazio less than 10 days ago, and Chiellini was again off form in the Bianconeri’s 6-2 victory over Udinese on Sunday.

Chiellini was fooled by Stipe Perica for Udinese’s first goal and then left Danilo unmarked to head in another as he appealed for an offside call that never came.

Bonucci is 30, Chiellini is 33 and Barzagli is 36.

While Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura has shown interest in developing new talent, he has shown no indication that he plans to cast aside the “BBC” when it counts.

After all, Italy has historically been slow to incorporate younger players, especially defenders.

[ MORE: MLS Playoff Bracket set ]

That means the likes of Daniele Rugani (who plays for Juventus), Alessio Romagnoli (Milan) or Mattia Caldara (Atalanta) – who are all in their 20s – may have to wait for their chances with the Azzurri.

But Ventura would do well to remember how Marcello Lippi kept Fabio Cannavaro and other veterans in the lineup at the 2010 World Cup only to acknowledge after the first-round exit that he made a mistake and was overly influenced by the older players’ performance en route to the title four years earlier.

From Franco Baresi to Giuseppe Bergomi to Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta, Cannavaro and the “BBC,” strong center backs have been a source of uninterrupted pride for the Azzurri for decades.

Gianluigi Buffon in goal has also provided a security blanket for nearly 20 years but he, too, is approaching the end of his career and will likely retire after this season – or after his record sixth World Cup if Italy qualifies.

Italy’s hopes of avoiding the playoffs were dashed with a debilitating 3-0 loss in Spain last month that offered a first hint of defensive problems. The defeat ended Italy’s 11-year unbeaten run in qualifiers for World Cups and European Championships.

[ MORE: Mbappe named Golden Boy ]

The Azzurri attributed the loss to Spain on Sept. 2 to a lack of physical condition so early in the season.

Bonucci, it was figured, just needed some time to adapt to his new surroundings at Milan.

In July, Bonucci completed a surprise transfer from Juventus, where he clashed with coach Massimiliano Allegri last season and was memorably left in the tribune for a Champions League match at Porto.

The transfer fee topped 40 million euros (nearly $50 million) and Bonucci signed a five-year contract worth up to 10 million euros (nearly $12 million) per season. He was also made captain before he ever wore a Milan shirt.

When Milan started to falter a month ago, physical trainer Emanuele Marra was fired – reportedly in large part because Bonucci demanded better fitness preparation.

But Bonucci was out run by Mauro Icardi on Inter Milan’s first goal when the striker scored a hat trick in a 3-2 derby win eight days ago. He was also to blame for the second, failing to mark Icardi in the area.

Things got even worse for Bonucci when he was sent off in the first half of Milan’s 0-0 draw at home with Genoa on Sunday for elbowing a defender in the head as he jostled for position on a free kick.

[ LIGUE 1: Neymar sent off ]

Bonucci will likely be given a multiple-match ban, which would exclude him from facing Juventus next Sunday and could affect his form for the Nov. 10 and 13 playoffs.

“Leo is a champion,” Buffon said. “He’ll become decisive again. But it makes me feel calmer knowing that we won’t have to face him on Saturday.”

More AP Serie A coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

MLS Playoff bracket, dates set: Chicago, Vancouver host Tues.

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Major League Soccer’s playoff bracket is set. Our staff predictions are coming Tuesday before the first round match-ups, but here’s what we’ll be watching…

[ MORE: Mbappe named Golden Boy ]

The chase begins with Chicago and the Red Bulls, and San Jose heading to Vancouver. The Quakes drew the ‘Caps just over a week ago, on Oct. 15.

First round
(E3) Chicago vs. (E6) New York Red Bulls — 8:30 p.m. ET Tuesday
(W3) Vancouver vs. (W6) San Jose — 10:30 p.m. ET Tuesday
(E4) Atlanta vs. (E5) Columbus — 7 p.m. ET Wednesday
(W4) Houston vs. (W5) Sporting KC — 9:30 p.m. ET Wednesday

Conference semifinals
(W1) Portland vs.  San Jose, Houston, or Sporting KC
(W2) Seattle vs. Houston, Sporting KC, or Vancouver
(E1) Toronto vs. New York Red Bulls, Atlanta, or Columbus
(E2) New York City vs. Atlanta, Columbus, or Chicago

Conference finals
Eastern Conference — Nov. 21 and Nov. 28 or 29
Western Conference — Nov. 21 and Nov. 30

MLS Cup Final
At finalist with best record — 4 p.m. ET Dec. 9

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