LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11: Gareth Barry of Everton celebrates his goal with Phil Jagielka during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Norwich City at Goodison Park on January 11, 2014 in Liverpool, England.

Everton 2-0 Norwich: Canaries make it easy for Everton (video)

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Norwich are inching ever closer to the danger zone after a rather lackluster display at Goodison Park. Everton had a rather easy time of it, running out 2-0 winners and putting themselves back in to the top four – at least, until the end of the weekend.

It all kicked off at Goodison Park before the whistle even blew, with the hosts revealing a surprising new signing: the Toffees secured Aiden McGeady from Spartak Moscow, securing the former Celtic man’s signature on a four and a half year contract.

Practically as soon as the whistle blew, Everton looked to have the game in hand. The hosts’ first chance came with less than five minutes played, when Seamus Coleman forced a save from John Ruddy.

Next up was Romelu Lukaku, but, as in recent weeks, the big forward just couldn’t get his shot on target, his poor finish going wide of the Norwich goal.

However, the Belgian redeemed himself in the 23rd minute, when his holdup play provided the impetus for Gareth Barry’s opening goal. Lukaku held off the Norwich defenders to nudge the ball over to Barry, positioned just outside the area. The midfielder fired his shot into the far corner, an excellent strike to mark his 50th Premier League goal.

The goal seemed to shake the Canaries up a bit, and a fine counter provided the returning Ricky van Wolfswinkel the opportunity to score once more against Everton. Tim Howard’s alert reaction, however, prevented the equalizer, and Norwich went into halftime trailing.

Despite needing to get themselves back into the match, the Canaries just couldn’t get off the ground. Only van Wolfswinkel looked likely to find a goal, although his 56th minute shot went well high.

Norwich soon regretted the miss, when Everton doubled their lead two minutes later. Leighton Baines earned his side a free kick but, somewhat surprisingly, it was Kevin Mirallas that stepped up to take. The Belgian proved himself worthy, however, placing his shot just inside the near post. Ruddy was able to get a finger on it, but could do nothing to keep it out.

With fifteen minutes left to play, Norwich suddenly came to life. Howard was finally called into action once more, keeping out a shot from Nathan Redmond. Robert Snodgrass hit the post in the 79th minute, then followed it up with a blocked attempt. Van Wolfswinkel got one more look in, putting his attempt on 85 minutes just wide.

Everton: Howard, Coleman, Jagielka, Stones, Baines, McCarthy, Barry, Mirallas, Osman (Heitinga 69), Pienaar (Naismith 71), Lukaku

Subs: Robles, Hibbert, Heitinga, Oviedo, Naismith, Gueye, Vellios

Goals: Barry 23′; Mirallas 59′

Norwich: Ruddy, Whittaker, Ryan Bennett, Bassong, Olsson, Snodgrass, Fer, Johnson, Garrido (Redmond 66), Hooper, van Wolfswinkel (Josh Murphy 88)

FOLLOW LIVE: 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round

Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer, center, is congratulated by teammates, including midfielder Roger Espinoza (27), following his goal during the first half of an MLS soccer match against the Houston Dynamo in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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The knockout round of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs concludes on Thursday, as four teams vie for the final two places — one in the Eastern Conference, one in the Western Conference — in the conference semifinals, which begin on Sunday.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round ]

Up first, the East’s fourth-seeded D.C. United welcome the five-seed Montreal Impact to RFK Stadium for the two sides’ third meeting of the 2016 season. Each of the year’s first two clashes finished a 1-1 draw, in July and August. Didier Drogba is expected to be unavailable for the win-or-go-home tie. United finished the regular season with four wins in the last five games, while the Impact won just two of their last eight.

[ MORE: Preivewing Thursday night’s knockout-round games ]

In the nightcap, the West’s fourth-seeded Seattle Sounders will take on the five-side, Sporting Kansas City, at CenturyLink Field. Sporting were victorious in both regular-season meetings this year — 1-0 on opening day, and 3-0 in late-July, the day the Sounders essentially quit on Sigi Schmid. Since that blistering hot day in KC, the Soudners have lost just twice in 14 games (eight wins, four draws).

Thursday’s MLS Cup Playoffs schedule

D.C. United vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting KC — 10 p.m. ET

Cristiano Ronaldo says Ashley Cole is the toughest player he faced

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Cristiano Ronaldo has faced the best defenders in the world during his time with Manchester United, Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team.

He has also caused fits for most of those defenders with goal after goal for club and country. But, there have been some players who have at least made it difficult for the all-time leading goal scorer in Real Madrid and Champions League history.

According to Ronaldo, former Chelsea and Arsenal defender Ashley Cole was the toughest player he has faced in his career.

[ MORE: VIDEO: Incredible Pelle goal in China ]

“Over the years I had some great battles with Ashley Cole, he does not give you a second to breathe,” Ronaldo told Coach Mag. “He was such a tenacious player when he was at his peak, quick, tough in the tackle. You knew it would never be an easy game.”

During his time with Manchester United, Ronaldo faced Cole on numerous occasions while Cole was with Arsenal and Chelsea. The two have also faced off in international competition between Ronaldo’s Portugal and Cole’s England.

It’s certainly high praise for Cole, who now plays in MLS for the LA Galaxy. At the age of 35, Cole has started 25 matches for the Galaxy this season, scoring one goal.

Phil Neville praises Juan Mata’s play to Manchester United

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Juan Mata has appeared in 116 matches for Manchester United since moving to Old Trafford in 2014. In that time, Mata has scored 29 goals and recorded 18 assists.

Despite his performance for the team, some thought Mata would be moved when Jose Mourinho came to town, including former United player and assistant coach Phil Neville.

Neville told Sky Sports, “I actually thought he would be the first out of the door when Jose came, but he’s actually becoming one of the most important players.”

Neville praised Mata’s contributions and versatility for United. “He is never injured, he provides a lot of assists, he plays in two or three different positions, and he scores important goals.”

Manchester United has lacked an identity under Mourinho and recently faltered in the Premier League as the team is winless in its last three matches.

[ MORE: Mourinho gets FA charge ]

Could Mata be the answer to some of United’s problems?

The Spaniard is a classic No. 10 with the ability to dictate his team’s attack and create scoring opportunities for his teammates. Mata can also put the ball in the back of the net as evidenced by his winner against Manchester City in the EFL Cup.

Mourinho has options in the center midfield with the likes of Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick in addition to Mata on the roster.

However, given the team’s Premier League struggles, it could be worth giving Mata a chance as the team’s No. 10.

David Moyes faces FA charges after being sent off during EFL Cup

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David Moyes and Sunderland have gotten off to one of the worst starts in Premier League history.

If they fail to earn a point against Arsenal this weekend, they will tie the 1995-96 Manchester City team for the worst start ever through 10 matches with two points.

It appears those frustrations carried over to the EFL Cup for Moyes. On Wednesday, the manager was forced to leave the dugout toward the end of Sunderland’s 1-0 loss to Southampton after he protested a no-call from referee Chris Kavanagh.

Moyes was charged by the FA for his protests, saying the manager “used abusive and/or insulting words towards a match official”.

It’s just another thing to add to Moyes’ plate as he looks to keep Sunderland’s hopes of safety alive in the Premier League.