Mata showed glimpses of what's to come in a United shirt, after a steady debut

Juan Mata’s debut provides hope, leaves questions unanswered for Manchester United

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Had Manchester United kept their $61 million and left Juan Mata on Chelsea’s bench, today’s match against Cardiff may have played out the same way. At least, 2-0 sounds about right. You had the Premier League’s seventh placed team hosting its bottom dwellers, with one of the league’s best goal scorers returning to the home team’s lineup. A two-goal victory is par for the course in these situations.

Mata still made an impression, though. As a focal point above midfield, he provided a level of composure we’re not used to seeing from a Red Devils playmaker. We’re used to the energy of Wayne Rooney, who has excelled this season in that role. Lately, we’re used to the potential of Adnan Januzaj – talent that hints he mat yet be better as a wide-to-in player. With Mata, however, the Red Devils have a number 10 with the patience to let a play develop, something that should mesh well with Rooney’s bombast and Robin Van Persie’s movement.

That patience was evident mid-way through the first half, when the Spanish international pulled up along the right flank and let his runners fly into the box. Moments later, he found Ashley Young attacking the far post for a should-have-been goal.

To a lesser extent, that patience was also evident on his team’s first goal, with Mata electing to chip a ball wide left rather than force something through on the right. Patrice Evra and Ashley Young eventually created the goal Van Persie would score, with Mata having flooded the box to help overwhelm United’s opposition.

Expect to hear the phrase “foot on the ball” a lot over the next few days, because that’s exactly the impression Mata gave. With his acquisition, United finally have a guy who can control plays as well as make them – somebody who can take advantage of the movement he’ll get from his two star forwards.

We knew this about Mata when he arrived, but after half a season languishing at Chelsea, it was nice be reminded. It was refreshing to have somebody so important to the last two years of Premier League soccer back on the field. He didn’t get shipped back to Spain. He didn’t stay packed away in the Chelsea dressing room. The same guy who posted 30 assists over the last two league seasons has been saved – by Manchester United, no less.

Red Devils’ supporters have to be fired up. This is the high point of their season. After five months of middling results and fight amongst themselves about whether David Moyes is okay, bad, or horrible, there’s now another focus. Maybe there’ll be no title race this year, but the team’s Champions League hopes are still alive. And promising to play a more creative brand of soccer than has been offered since May, United may yet again be fun to watch. It wasn’t quite there on Tuesday, but the promise was.

source: AP
Mata’s 52 passes led Manchester United on Tuesday, his four “key passes” (Opta) tying for the team lead in the Red Devils’ 2-0 victory over Cardiff. (Source: AP.)

That promise is dependent on Mata playing well with both Van Persie and Rooney, something we didn’t get a chance to see against Cardiff. Van Persie started, Rooney relieved him, leaving Mata without an opportunity to provide for both scorers at once. That big reveal still awaits, leaving Manchester United with some important unanswered questions.

The way the Red Devils set up today, it was still unclear how they’ll deploy Mata with Van Persie and Rooney. On Tuesday, they played with two forwards – Mata playing behind Van Persie. With a setup not dissimilar to what United’s used all season, Moyes provided a small hint he may not change the formation for Mata’s arrival. After all, he hasn’t changed his approach much since moving from Liverpool to Stretford.

It’s a small hint, one that we shouldn’t read much into, but as NBC Sports analyst Kyle Martino said before the game, there’s a chance Mata ends up wide, playing the position he excelled in before arriving in the Premier League. If that happens — if Moyes does try to make Mata bend to him, rather than adapting to his talent — questions about United’s new manager will grow.

That’s not to say the set up can’t work. Right now, it’s one of a number of ways to get United’s three stars in the same lineup, but until that happens, Mata’s promise will be balanced against unanswered questions about how his new team will ultimately use him.

VIDEO: Gary Cahill scores shocking own goal to give Man City lead

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Gary Cahill, sort your feet out.

As Jesus Navas’ right wing cross came into the box, Chelsea’s captain for the day got his feet all wrong. Instead of clearing the ball with his left foot, he took a swipe at a clearance with his right and the ball hooked off his right and into the far corner of his net.

1-0 to Manchester City right on half time.

A nightmare end to a promising first half for Chelsea, and for Cahill…

Click play on the video above to see the horror own goal go in.

Watch Live: Manchester City vs. Chelsea (Lineups, Live Stream)

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 20:  Cesc Fabregas of Chelsea celebrates victory after the EFL Cup Third Round match between Leicester City and Chelsea at The King Power Stadium on September 20, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Manchester City welcome Chelsea to the Etihad Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as two Premier League title contenders collide.

On the sidelines Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte lock horns for the first time in England and in fact, the first-ever time as opposition managers as two of the great minds in the game today.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

On the pitch Diego Costa and Sergio Aguero are joint-top goalscorers in the PL and it should be an intriguing tactical battle with Conte playing a 3-4-3 and Guardiola able to mix-and-match his formations and a gesture or whistle.

It is still early days in both of their projects but plenty of promising signs have already emerged with Chelsea currently on a seven-game winning streak which sees them sit to of the table, while Man City sit one point behind them in third place.

In team news for this clash, Guardiola starts with a very attacking lineup and three men in defense.

Chelsea bring in Cesc Fabregas for Nemanja Matic in central midfield in their only change to the lineup for their last seven games. Fabregas last played in September in the defeat at Arsenal.

LINEUPS

Manchester City: Bravo; Otamendi, Stones, Kolarov; Fernandinho, Gundogan, Navas, Sane; De Bruyne, Silva, Aguero. Subs: Caballero, Sagna, Zabaleta, Clichy, Fernando, Toure, Iheanacho

Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill; Moses, Kante, Fabregas, Alonso; Pedro, Diego Costa, Hazard. Subs: Begovic, Ivanovic, Aina, Chalobah, Oscar, Willian, Batshuayi

Peru extradites ex-soccer boss to US on bribery charges

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - OCTOBER 13: A FIFA logo next to the entrance during part I of the FIFA Council Meeting 2016 at the FIFA headquarters on October 13, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)
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LIMA, Peru (AP) Peru has extradited the country’s former soccer boss to the United States for his alleged involvement in a multibillion-dollar FIFA bribery scandal involving marketing and broadcasting rights.

Manuel Burga was sent to New York on a commercial flight before dawn on Friday.

He has been in jail since December 2015 as part of the investigation. Peru’s Supreme Court in June cleared the way for his extradition and President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski signed a decree authorizing the move a week ago.

Burga oversaw Peru’s football federation for more than a decade until 2014. He has denied any wrongdoing.

San Jose Earthquakes release Clarence Goodson, eight others

San Jose Earthquakes forward Quincy Amarikwa (25) is mobbed by teammates after scoring against the Portland Timbers during the first half of an MLS soccer match Sunday, March 13, 2016, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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While the battle for MLS Cup 2016 has been dwindled down to two sides, the rest of the league continues to make roster transactions in preparation for next season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The San Jose Earthquakes announced on Friday that the club has exercised options on six players, including goalkeeper David Bingham, Fatai Alashe, Kip Colvey and Victor Bernardez.

Additionally, the Earthquakes have released nine players, including U.S. Men’s National Team defender Clarence Goodson, Marc Pelosi and Tommy Thompson, however, the latter two are reportedly in talks to return to the club in 2017.