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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.

Report: Chelsea making first waves in $88m Bernardo chase

MONACO - NOVEMBER 22:  Bernardo Silva of Monaco  during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between AS Monaco FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC  at Louis II Stadium on November 22, 2016 in Monaco, .  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Monaco has slapped a massive price tag on Bernardo Silva, and The Times says that isn’t stopping Chelsea.

Antonio Conte is trying to land the 22-year-old Portuguese attacker according to the report, which says that the Blues are already chatting up the Ligue 1 outfit.

[ MORE: Wenger’s Sutton pitch worry ]

Silva has six goals and seven assists in France’s top flight this season, adding another three in the UEFA Champions League. He did not appear at EURO 2016 thanks to a hamstring injury, as Portugal won the Henri Delaunay Trophy.

Chelsea is ready to spend $88 million on the right winger, who can also play in a attacking center mid role. From The Times:

Monaco would like to secure a minimum of €80m (£68.4m) for Bernardo, who is comfortable operating on either the left or right wing or as a number 10. With Barcelona, Real Madrid and both Manchester clubs also expressing their interest Monaco, who play Manchester City in the Champions League on Tuesday, believe a money-spinning auction may develop.

Transfer prices can be hard to predict, but is Silva the sort of talent that will tempt nine figures? We’ve been surprised before, and at his age it’s possible, but color us skeptical.

AEK Athens beats Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) AEK Athens defeated Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0 in an ill-tempered game on Sunday that saw 12 yellow cards and two dismissals.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win of season ]

Astrit Ajdarevic scored the only goal in the 34th minute with a free kick that deflected off Olympiakos defender Manuel da Costa.

Olympiakos’ athletic director Francois Modesto was sent to the stands for protesting about the lead-up to AEK’s goal. His team’s central defender Alberto Botia was dismissed after a second yellow card in the 75th for pulling an advancing AEK forward’s jersey.

Despite the defeat, its second of the season, Olympiakos has a 10-point cushion over second-place Panionios, which beat 10-man Iraklis 1-0.

PAOK, a 4-0 winner over Veria, remains in third place, one point ahead of Panathinaikos, which beat Asteras 5-0 on Saturday. AEK is joint fifth with Xanthi.

PSG drops points against Toulouse days after massive UCL win

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 14:  Julian Draxler of Paris Saint-Germain looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Paris Saint-Germain and FC Barcelona at Parc des Princes on February 14, 2017 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Just days after its massive (and somewhat unexpected) beatdown of Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain failed to close the gap on league leaders Monaco.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win ]

PSG settled for a 0-0 draw on Sunday at the Parc des Princes against eighth-place Toulouse, leaving the Parisian side three points behind Monaco through 26 rounds of action.

[ MORE: Bielsa returns to Ligue 1 with Lille ]

Despite holding the visitors to just three shots (one on target), Toulouse managed to contain a rampant PSG attack, which posted four goals midweek in their rout of the Blaugrana.

PSG’s first strong chance came in the 14th minute when Lucas Moura’s effort was saved in the bottom corner by goalkeeper Alban Lafont.

Meanwhile, Edinson Cavani may have had the game’s best opportunity to break the deadlock when the Uruguayan attacker struck the post from inside the penalty area.

Unai Emery’s group will be back in action on Feb. 26 when PSG travels to Dimitri Payet and Marseille.

Wenger worried over Sutton’s pitch heading Monday’s clash

SUTTON, GREATER LONDON - FEBRUARY 16:  Pundits Paul Merson (4L) and Matt Le Tissier (2L) take part in a training session alongside Paul Doswell manager of Sutton United (L) and players during a Sutton United FA Cup media day on February 16, 2017 at the Borough Sports Ground in Sutton, Greater London. Sutton United are due to face Arsenal in the Emirates FA Cup Fifth round on 20 February.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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The story of Monday’s encounter between Arsenal and fifth-division Sutton United will be whether the minnows can overcome the mighty Gunners.

[ MORE: Mourinho pleased with United’s “attitude” against Blackburn ]

However, Arsene Wenger already fears a bigger challenge within the game, one that concerns his players’ safety.

Sutton’s 5,000-seat Gander Green Lane features an artificial surface, which is largely uncommon for English and most European venues regardless of club standing.

“First of all the pitch. Secondly their enthusiasm. Thirdly that we are not ready mentally for a big fight and think subconsciously that it doesn’t matter,” Wenger said ahead of Monday’s FA Cup meeting in South London.

In preparation for their meeting with the U’s, Wenger had his side train on their own indoor artificial field on Friday.

“Look, ideally we would like to play on a normal pitch. Competition is as well to deal with what you face, and we’ll face an unusual pitch and we’ll have to deal with it,” he said.

“We practice inside [on Friday] because we have an artificial pitch. It’s not the same as it’s a dry pitch, and at Sutton I’ve heard that’s a wet pitch, they water it before the game. So it will be much quicker than what we have.”