Young’s blast, Evra’s insurance see Manchester United into League Cup semifinals

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Second half goals from Ashley Young and Patrice Evra completed a surprisingly easy day at the Britannia Stadium for Manchester United, the Red Devils’ 2-0 victory over Stoke City putting David Moyes’ team into the League Cup semifinals. Holding their opponents without a shot on goal, United move one step closer to their first major piece of silverware under their new boss, with the Potters providing little opposition to a team that only sits five places above them in the Premier League.

On Wednesday, however, the divide may as well have been that which existed between last year’s league winners and a relegation battler, with a slow start from the visitors giving way to a comfortable victory. Though Manchester United’s early control produced few good chances, the favorites eventually adjusted to their host’s passive if dogged play, the game’s final goal the result of the Red Devils having finally figured out Mark Hughes’s side.

As a result, Manchester United move into the League Cup semifinals, where they were drawn against Sunderland, the Black Cats having eliminated Chelsea on Tuesday. In the other half of the draw, Manchester City, 3-1 winners on Tuesday at Leicester City, will face West Ham United, who won at White Hart Lane on Wednesday.

[MORE: Late Jarvis, Maiga goals see West Ham past Tottenham, into League Cup semifinals]

[MORE: League Cup draw: Manchester rivals stay on course to meet in final]

The game started with a much-changed United team in a slightly unfamiliar formation, David Moyes choosing a three-man midfield to play behind Danny Welbeck, who was alone up top. With Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia flanking the young England international, United nearly took an early lead, Welbeck’s play wide right to Young ending with the winger’s fourth minute shot into outside netting.

Initial troubles with surprise, high pressure from Stoke devolved into United holding more of the ball as the Potters regressed into a more passive posture. But without Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, or Shinji Kagawa in the team, the Red Devils lacked a way to unlock their hosts, a better safe than sorry save from Thomas Sørensen in the 22nd minute the closest thing United had mustered to a threat on target.

source: AP
Near the half-hour mark at the Britannia, Mark Clattenburg pulled Stoke and Manchester United players from the field as a momentary hailstorm halted the game. (Photo: AP)

As the half-hour mark approached, Stoke-on-Trent became Istanbul, with referee Mark Clattenburg pulling the teams off the field as the Brittania came under a flash hailstorm. While the storm fell short of the weather that forced the cancellation of last week’s Galatasaray-Juventus Champions League match in Turkey, visibility had begun to be impaired by the density of the falling pellets. Amid objections from a few players, including Stoke’s Jon Walters, the players retreated to their dressing room, returning five minutes later once the storm had passed.

The 15 minutes before halftime saw Manchester United resume a somewhat benign control of the ball, possession they were able to hold above the penalty area rarely bothering Sørenson. Stoke were able to create as many problems for United going back the other way, though their crosses in transition were equally tepid. Come minute 45, the players were again returning to the locker rooms scoreless, United left ruing a stoppage time misplay by Jonny Evans that should have converted a corner kick into a goal.

Seven minutes into the second half, a sudden blast off the right boot of Ashley Young cut through all of United’s middling efforts, firing the Red Devils in front. Off a restart just inside the Stoke half, Young played a long one-two with recent substitute Javier Hernández, a connection that was more a missed touch from the Mexican international than the product of clear intent. Regardless, Young was able to run onto a ball at 20 yards out just before ‘Chicharito’ had a chance to make amends, the winger’s blast giving Sørensen little chance before rocketing past the Stoke keeper into goal.

For Young, it was the culmination of one of his most active days of the year, though the shot was still a surprisingly strong one. Occasionally, soccer gives a moment that causes a collective pause – stadium, announcers, and players momentarily hesitating to consider what they’d just seen. On a play that looked broken because of Hernández’s poor touch, Young nailed that pausing-giving rocket, leaving Sorensen no time to react to a ball few imagined would head toward goal. Instead, the shot burst off the winger’s laces and into the back of the net, the large space between ball and left post rendered meaningless by the sure speed of the blast.

In the 78th minute, Evra provided insurance, though Stoke’s defending played the bigger part in Manchester United’s second goal. Circulating at the edge of their attacking third, much as they’d done throughout much of the first half, United eventually worked the ball left to Young, who carried it toward the flag, dragging two defenders with him. This gave Evra room to cut toward the penalty area, and when Young’s return pass failed to draw a defender, the France international had a surprisingly easy opportunity from the middle of the box. Twelve minutes before full time, the match was effectively over, Stoke having allowed United a 2-0 lead.

Holding the Potters without a shot on target, it was an unexpectedly easy day for the Red Devils, one that was reflected in the lack of urgency they showed throughout the match. But given the changes Moyes made to the team, one that was playing without many of their most creative players, the victory could also be seen as a confident, assured one. Although the first half was pointless and the weather threatened to end the spectators’ misery, the second half was a telling one, with Manchester United easing into the League Cup’s semifinals.

Report: Guardiola to take manager’s job at Man City next season

Pep Guardiola, Bayern Munich

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Manchester City desperately want to lure Pep Guardiola away from Bayern Munich and pay the Spaniard tactician lots and lots of money to come manage in the Premier League.

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Of course we’ve all heard it before — a number of times, in fact. So, what’s different about the latest report, hitting the headlines very late Thursday night in Europe, linking the 44-year-old to Man City?

Well, apparently, we’ve moved past “Man City will offer Guardiola whatever he wants to come to the Etihad Stadium,” and arrived at “Guardiola has agreed terms to become manager at Man City.”

However, the respected Spanish radio station Cadena COPE is reporting that Guardiola has already decided he would like “a change of scenery” and will succeed Manuel Pellegrini at the Etihad Stadium.

“Pep Guardiola will leave Bayern Munich at the end of this season and will train Manchester City next season,” read the report.

“Guardiola has decided on a change of scenery. He considers his time in Germany will end on 30 June after three seasons and, therefore, fulfil one of his wishes: to coach in England.”

With all due respect to every player Man City have signed in the last decade, the acquisition of Guardiola would be, by far, their greatest coup to date — a manager with a clear ethos, a clear plan of action and a track record of having succeeded and won in the UEFA Champions League, which remains the most elusive trophy to City’s cabinet.

Mourinho-Costa feud could mean January transfer activity for Chelsea

Diego Costa & Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC
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Perhaps no man in the footballing world has been embroiled in more controversy this season than Jose Mourinho, who remains in charge of Chelsea despite a horrid start to the club’s 2015-16 Premier League campaign.

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The Portuguese mastermind has fallen out with a number of his own players and staff this season, so why not add another name to the growing list? Come on down, Diego Costa, you’re Mourinho’s next combatant.

The two reportedly got into a heated locker-room exchange following Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv. Given Costa’s increasingly poor form all the way back to the final weeks and months of the 2014-15 season — just seven goals scored in the last 10 months — Mourinho is reportedly less and less sure the Brazilian-turned-Spaniard is the right man to lead the line for the reigning PL champions.

The details of Mourinho and Costa’s halftime spat, from the Guardian:

Mourinho, just as he did after a similar situation against Norwich on Saturday, made his frustrations clear at the forward’s lack of anticipation over an Eden Hazard pass, which would have provided the striker with a tap-in had he been on the move. Costa returned his manager’s remonstrations in kind. Oscar and John Terry tried to calm him down only to be pushed aside. The manager subsequently suggested there had been “a few kisses, a few cuddles” in the dressing room at the interval, and “no problem,” though the public show of dissent was notable.

The club’s hierarchy is reportedly considering dipping into the transfer market in January — something they’re extremely loath to do — to replace the misfiring Costa. The names of Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin Van Persie and Saido Berahino are the biggest currently linked with the Blues, given the lack of elite players typically available — as well as not being cup-tied in the Champions League — during the January window.

Chelsea, who currently sit 15th in the PL, return to league action on Sunday when they visit Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane (Watch live at 6:30 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra).

Wenger expects “hunting lion” Sanchez to be fit for Norwich clash

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC
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Alexis Sanchez is, by regular human standards, questionable for Arsenal’s Premier League clash with Norwich City on Sunday (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on Live Extra), thanks to a tweak to his hamstring during Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb.

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There’s just one problem with the above premise: Sanchez, according to manager Arsene Wenger, isn’t exactly human; he’s more like a lion, says Wenger — a hunting lion chasing after and feasting on its prey.

Wenger, on Sanchez’s ability to recover quickly and star for the Gunners — quotes from the Guardian:

“When he does something, he does it 100%. He finishes and you think: ‘He’s dead now.’ But then he recovers and gives 100% again. You always see signs of exhaustion but it’s not [that], because two days later, he’s fine.

“His style is very explosive, it’s a very committed style. Jamie Vardy is a bit similar. When they go, they go. They are like the lion. He has to catch the animal in the first 200 metres. If he doesn’t get there, he’s dead [on his feet] afterwards. They are these kind of killers. When they go, it is to kill and after, they have to stop.”

“I take information, especially from the medical people who know him and treat him everyday and after, we look at his overall recovery as well. When there are alarming signs, we want to make the right decision at the right moment but as long as the guys are confident, they score goals – it is always difficult to rest them.”

Sanchez’s production this season — 9 goals, 4 assists in 17 appearances – all competitions — is right on par with his spectacular debut in the PL last season. “What is also remarkable is that he goes to South America to play,” Wenger went on to say. “He comes back on Thursday night and on Saturday he can play without a problem, even if he’s jet-lagged.”

Expect Sanchez to feature on Sunday, and probably to score a goal or two, as well.

“Unprofessional” Grealish banished to U-21s after nightclub incident

Jack Grealish, Aston Villa FC
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2015 has been an eventful calendar year for Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish, to say the least.

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First, there was his emergence as a prominent first-team player for his boyhood club; followed by the Villans’ run to the FA Cup final in May; then came the England-versus-Ireland tug-of-war for his international services; a forgettable vacation to Spain for the 20-year-old; and another managerial change at Villa Park. After yet another off-field incident last weekend, in which Grealish was photographed in a nightclub hours after a 4-0 defeat to Everton, his new manager, Remi Garde, has labeled Grealish “unprofessional” and sent him away to train with the club’s U-21 side.

Garde, on Grealish’s actions and subsequent punishment — quotes from the Guardian:

“This is not professional. It is not what is expected from my players. That is why now Jack is training with the under-21 team for the moment. He won’t be included in the squad for Watford. At this stage he is not playing this weekend and he is training with the under-21 team. That is all I can say for the moment.”

“Sometimes players in every country ask to stay in the city we have played in and this is not a problem for me, it happens one or two times a season. The problem with Jack was not that he wasn’t on the bus. The problem was elsewhere.”

Villa, who will welcome 13th-place Watford to Villa Park on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on Live Extra), currently sit rock bottom in the Premier League (5 points from 13 games), five points away from climbing out of the relegation zone.