Manchester United v Swansea City - Premier League

What we learned from Manchester United’s win over Swansea

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Saturday’s win for Manchester United was anything but perfect, especially in a first half sorely lacking in energy, ambition, ideas … well, it lacked pretty much everything as Swansea more or less ran the show.

But United did manage to quiet the growing unrest around the fabled ground, and right quickly past the break. Here are some of the take-aways:

More of the “missing midfield” from Manchester United

What does it say about the state of mighty Manchester United when the best central midfielder in a game between these two clubs – something of a meeting of “haves” and “have-nots” isn’t it? – belongs to Swansea?

ProSoccerTalk’s Richard Farley sank his teeth into this issue earlier this week, dissecting the ongoing issue around Old Trafford: since Paul Scholes began losing tread on the tire, the failure to find a worthwhile center midfielder to partner Michael Carrick. Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but Swansea’s Jonjo Shelvey was the game’s most effective central midfielder for long stretches Saturday.

Twenty minutes into the match, Swansea had 60 percent of the possession, and much of that was about Shelvey’s talent and willingness to do the work on either side of the ball.

First corner kick … at the hour mark?

United didn’t take its first corner kick until almost an hour gone in the game. That’s how tilted the game was at times, with Swansea keeping the ball over long periods, not always doing so with menace and danger but managing to make the home players chase the game.

The final result will mitigate concern over this lack of attacking push from United. Still, it will be recorded in the minds of critics, sure to be trotted out during the next losing spell, or even after the next loss.

More desire in second half for Manchester United

The crowd was getting restless … and then some! About the time Darren Fletcher launched a directionless ball down the field to no one in particular, after about 30 minutes, the irritation around the ground began reverberating with some real teeth. More of the same about 10 minutes later as United simply could not gain and maintain possession against the visitors. It was really beginning to look like an awful match during a real stretch of them for David Moyes’ men.

But he must have said something at halftime, or a switch was flipped for some of the proud men or something. Because the second half was a world apart in performance and desire.

A lot came down the left, where Adnan Januzaj and Patrice Evra were tearing the Swans apart. Danny Welbeck was becoming more a factor, too.

Evra’s crosses weren’t always the best, but his constant pressure was an inspiration (and that pressure had a lot to do with Welbeck’s goal, which more or less finished this one off.)

Januzaj was the game-changer

His first-half free kick nearly changed the game before the break, a ball off the cross bar that would have been something of a classic “goal against the run of play.”

He was on the job after the break, too, whipping in the cross that led to his team’s breakthrough goal. A few minutes later, he intercepted a throw from Swansea’s keeper, then supplied another cross that would eventually become Welbeck’s goal.

A clever tactical tweak was surely involved, too; Moyes moved Januzaj out wide to the left and Shinji Kagawa shifted into the center, behind Welbeck. Both players looked better at that point.

Januzaj is still young and lacking in some consistency, but the Belgian up-and-comer proved his enormous worth on this day, providing the extra spark Moyes’ team so badly needed, and just in time.

Welbeck can’t miss many more like this

OK, this isn’t exactly stunning news, but Moyes’ men have missed, do miss and will continue to badly miss Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie in those goal scoring positions. Perfect case in point:

Around the 30-minute mark, Januzaj released Antonio Valencia down the right. The sequence found its way to Rafael, who arranged one beautifully for Welbeck.

With only the goalkeeper to beat, Welbeck somehow pulled his first-timer wide left. The young England man helped make up later, but this was the kind of opportunity that Welbeck simply cannot miss, not if he wants to help United challenge for a top four spot, and not if he wants to make his mark when Rooney and van Persie are not available.

Premier League AT HALF: Arsenal fights back, Hull City on top

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10:  Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal (L) and Francis Coquelin of Arsenal (R) celebrate after Theo Walcott of Arsenal (not pictured) scored Arsenals first goal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Stoke City at the Emirates Stadium on December 10, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Goals and controversial penalty decisions are a big part of Saturday morning’s quartet of Premier League matches, all of which are at the break.

[ STREAM: Every PL game on NBC Sports ]

Arsenal 1-1 Stoke City

Joe Allen took an elbow from Granit Xhaka inside the 18, and Lee Mason awarded a PK that Charlie Adam converted to give the visitors an early lead. But Theo Walcott scored his 100th goal as a Gunner off a classy Hector Bellerin cross to make it 1-1 before the break.

Burnley 2-1 Bournemouth

The Cherries will have to dig out of another hole this week, and it all began with Jeff Hendrick‘s phenomenal opener. Fellow Irishman Steven Ward scored an economical to goal to double the lead.

But Ryan Fraser continued his fine December with an assist on Benik Afobe‘s goal before halftime.

Hull City 1-0 Crystal Palace

Robert Snodgrass drew a penalty with a pretty easy grass grab, and the Tigers have a

Swansea City 0-0 Sunderland

Not much cooking at the Liberty Stadium.

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Koeman: “Nervous” Everton has a problem after another loss

WATFORD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10:  Ronald Koeman manager of Everton arrives prior to the Premier League match between Watford and Everton at Vicarage Road on December 10, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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One win in 10 for Ronald Koeman‘s Everton has the Dutchman on the hot seat.

Koeman seems to be clawing for air after the Toffees’ latest setback, a 3-2 loss at Watford.

The loss puts the Hornets ahead of Everton on the PL table, and — while unlikely — it’s a mathematical possibility that the Toffees could be a bottom half team by the end of the weekend.

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That’s a brutal development for a club expected to challenge for a European place this season.

Here’s Koeman:

“I see a lot of similar problems in the team. The team is too much reactive. Of course it’s maybe a lack of confidence, but if you start the game well, 1-0 up, you need a bigger belief in the team and not going back and defending, and nervous, and not enough ball possession. In my opinion that’s a problem.”

A big problem with that? It can be put down to the manager. Is Koeman in trouble already?

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VIDEO: Hendrick scores incredible volley from distance

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Jeff Hendrick, take a bow.

Burnley’s Republic of Ireland international midfielder pulled off a stunning piece of skill on Saturday to put the Clarets ahead against Bournemouth.

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A long ball forward was flicked on to Hendrick and he took a stunning first touch to tee himself and then settled himself before spanking a volley into the top corner.

Sensational goal from Burnley’s club-record signing.

Click play on the video above to watch it.

Messi’s latest goal dares you to count the touches (video)

PAMPLONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 10:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the La Liga match between CA Osasuna and FC Barcelona at Sadar stadium on December 10, 2016 in Pamplona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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There’s a danger in observing Lionel Messi on a week-by-week basis, and it has a lot to do with how he makes greatness look routine.

So while it’s easy to dismiss yet another mazy dribble through a defense, one of those “Frogger” style with calm-but-vicious cutbacks, try to consider everything that goes into Messi’s second goal against Osasuna early Saturday.

[ MORE: Watford 3-2 Everton ]

On first look, you might count 9 touches for Messi starting with his right-footed collection of the ball. But move to the slow motion replays, and recognize the truth: Often Messi is letting the ball do the work for him, essentially moving the duo closer to goal while he used his preferred left foot as a must-respect threat.

That he does it in such traffic and at full speed is incredible. It’s literally one of those goals in which a linguistic luminary like Ray Hudson would have trouble over-emphasizing the greatness.

Messi now has 11 La Liga goals in 12 matches, and 22 in 19 overall.

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