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


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.

Spain’s Lopetegui open to recalling all-time scorer David Villa

David Villa, New York City FC
AP Photo/Seth Wenig
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For all the glossing of Major League Soccer as a retirement league for European stars, David Villa’s performance in MLS may’ve rebirthed his international career.

Villa, 34, has 97 caps and 59 goals for Spain but has not played for La Furia Roja since scoring against Australia in his only appearance of World Cup 2014.

[ MLS: Conference semis schedule set ]

He retired after the tournament, but that doesn’t mean new coach Julen Lopetegui won’t be trying to call him back into the fold.

From The Daily Mail:

“The truth is that I saw him very well and playing with a lot of intensity,” Lopetegui told Onda Cero.

“Villa continues to play at a very good level and in the future we will see if he can return. We don’t close the door to any player and we always have consideration for players that can help the national team.”

He’s Spain’s all-time leading scorer by a 15-goal margin, and Villa’s prolific rate .6 goals per national team game is second only to Alfredo di Stefano amongst the nation’s Top Ten scorers.

Would he be interested? We like to think so, and Villa has been dominant for NYCFC in a potential MVP season. NYCFC faces Toronto FC in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks – Week 10

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Week 10 of the Premier League is here as we are a quarter of the way into the season. It’s still ridiculously tight across the league.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Click play on the videos below to hear my score prediction and preview of each game.

[ VIDEOS: Preview all 10 games ]

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


Sunderland 0-2 Arsenal – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Man United 3-0 Burnley – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Crystal Palace 1-3 Liverpool – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]


West Brom 1-2 Man City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Everton 2-2 West Ham – (Sunday, 9:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Tottenham 2-1 Leicester City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM]

Stoke City 2-1 Swansea City – (Monday, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Watford 3-2 Hull City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]


Middlesbrough 1-0 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Southampton 1-1 Chelsea – (Sunday, 12 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]


Man City’s Guardiola says he needs “time to learn, to improve”

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: Manchester City manger Pep Guardiola reacts on the side line during the UEFA Champions League match between Celtic FC and Manchester City FC at Celtic Park on September 28, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
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Pep Guardiola hasn’t been humbled by Manchester City’s tough run, mostly because he’s kept his expectations grounded.

The celebrated manager, 45, has overseen three losses and three draws since his red-hot start to life in the Premier League.

[ MLS: Conference semis schedule set ]

Those matches have come against strong competition, not a lower table team in the bunch. Losses to Barcelona, Manchester United, and Spurs join draws against Southampton, Everton, and Celtic.

Not a lot of shame in that. And Guardiola knows it’s a process, albeit one his players may not understand right now.

“For the players, they don’t deserve this,” says the City boss. “We are in this period like it is but it will make us stronger in the future, I am sure about that.

“There are many things that have changed. I need time to learn, to improve. I’m still in that process.”

Up next: West Brom and newly-extended manager Tony Pulis, followed by a return leg with Barcelona.

WATCH, STREAM: Premier League TV schedule – Week 10

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Week 10 of the 2016-17 Premier League season as the games continue to come thick and fast. And remember, the clocks go back in England on Sunday morning so there are a few tweaks to kick off times.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ]

It all kicks off with Sunderland hosting Arsenal (7:30 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC at the Stadium of Light as David Moyes‘ side look to grab their first win of the season. Meanwhile Arsenal is seven games unbeaten and Arsene Wenger‘s sit joint-top after six wins in the last season.

Then Manchester United host Bunrley (10 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC with Jose Mourinho aiming to get back to winning ways after a heavy defeat at Chelsea last time out. Burnley is yet to pick up any points on the road in the PL this season. At the same time Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City clash at White Hart Lane  (10 a.m. ET live CNBC and online via NBC as two title contenders from last season collide. Should be an epic encounter.

[ VIDEOS: Preview all 10 games

Rounding things off on Saturday, Crystal Palace welcome Liverpool to Selhurst Park (12:30 p.m. ET live NBC and online via NBC with Christian Benteke aiming to show his former club exactly what they’re missing.

On Sunday Everton host West Ham United at Goodison Park (9:30 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC with Ronald Koeman‘s Everton looking to bounce back from three games without a win in the PL against a West Ham side who is now four unbeaten and buoyed by two-straight PL wins. Later on Sunday there’s an intriguing clash at St Mary’s as in-form Southampton and Chelsea collide (12 p.m. ET live NBC and online via NBC Will Conte or Puel prevail?

Next Monday Stoke City host Swansea City at the bet 365 Stadium (4 p.m. ET live on NBCSN and online via NBC with Swans boss Bob Bradley still waiting for his first win as a Premier League manager. Stoke has won two on the spin and are four games unbeaten, so it will be a tough ask for Swansea.

You can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC and the NBC Sports App, plus you can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at 10 a.m. ET for all the goals as they go in. Goal Rush is available via NBC and the NBC Sports App,

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here. They are available soon after the final whistle, but rights limit us to a certain number each week. Looking for game highlights? Try this. Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.



7:30 a.m. ET: Sunderland vs. Arsenal – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Manchester United vs. Burnley – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Tottenham vs. Leicester City – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Middlesbrough vs. Bournemouth  – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Watford vs. Hull City – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Brom vs. Manchester City – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool – NBC [STREAM]


9:30 a.m. ET: Everton vs. West Ham United – NBCSN [STREAM]
12 p.m. ET: Southampton vs. Chelsea – NBC [STREAM]


4 p.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Swansea City – NBCSN [STREAM]