Premier League transfer window grade: Manchester United

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Window Shopping: Skeptics of Manchester United’s chance to qualify for the 2014-15 Champions League saw January as a crucial transfer window for the Red Devils. After much-ballyhooed failures at the summer deadline saw the team miss out on Athletic’s Ander Herrera and Real Madrid’s Fabio Coentrao, the defending champions navigated the fall with multiple areas of need. If they were going to fight back from seventh to fourth, United would need to address both their defense and midfield.

That didn’t happen, though the club did break its record transfer. Juan Mata’s purchase now claims that honor, with the Spanish international liberated from Chelsea’s bench after United shoved $61 million into Roman Abramovich’s pockets. Though Mata’s first two games have produced mixed results (the Red Devils splitting games against Cardiff and Stoke), nobody can say Ed Woodward and David Moyes sat on their hands while United’s top-four hopes faded.

Whether United’s management acted wisely is another matter. The team didn’t heed cries to buy in defense, but given the squad’s options, health (not money) might be the better cure. In midfield, however, the Red Devils have persisted with Alex Ferguson’s policy of neglecting the team’s most biggest flaw. While Mata will surely help Manchester United’s attack, it’s unclear how he’ll address the team’s more glaring holes.

Players In: Juan Mata (Chelsea, $61 million), Jesse Lingard (Birmingham City, return from loan), Michael Keane (Derby County, return from loan)

Players Out: Anderson (Fiorentina, loan), Fabio Da Silva (Cardiff City, undisclosed), Wilfried Zaha (Cardiff City, loan), Federico Macheda (Birmingham City, loan), Thomas Lawrence (Yeovil, loan), Sam Byrne (Carlisle, loan), Ryan Tunnicliffe (Fulham), Samuel Johnstone (Doncaster, loan), Thomas Thorpe (Birmingham City, loan), Larnell Cole (Fulham, undisclosed), Will Keane (QPR, loan), Tyler Blackett (Birmingham, loan), Charni Ekangamene (Carlisle, loan)

RECAP: All the deals on deadline day

Grade: C+

Getting Mata goes a long way toward a good grade, but United overpaid. Based on this weekend’s loss at Stoke, they also seem willing to move the Spaniard out of his best position, casting Mata as an extremely talented but overpriced player for whom United are unable to carve out a position. Mata may excel wide and justify every pounds spent. He may also leave Red Devils’ fans wondering what $61 million could have done in midfield and defense.

It’s still difficult to argue United haven’t gotten better in the winter window, which it why I’ve given them a passing grade. But given their needs, the Champions League stakes, and their resources, the Red Devils could have done more.

VIDEO: Gerrard’s juggle and finish leads Liverpool legends past Real Madrid

AP Photo/Rui Vieira
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Scoring at Anfield doesn’t get old, especially when your name is Steven Gerrard.

The English midfielder was playing in a friendly match between Liverpool and Real Madrid “legends” on Sunday, when he delivered this tasty goal (and assists to Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, and John Aldridge).

[ MORE: Under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

Gerrard redirects a cross over a lunging defender and into a place where he can lash a goal home to put the Reds up 4-0. He dedicated his Man of the Match performance to club legend Ronnie Moran, who died earlier this week.

Real’s comeback came up just short in a 4-3 final, with Fernando Morientes, Ruben de la Red, and Edwin Congo scoring for the visitors.

On a Sunday waiting for the international matches to begin, Gerrard supplies a nice highlight for the rest of us (Extended highlights free on Liverpool’s site).

Ozil bristles at talk of Arsenal selling him

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Mesut Ozil is on international break, and bristling at reports that Arsenal is going to sell him.

The midfielder’s absence from the lineup last week had plenty speculating on his future, even more than usual. His contract expires in 2018, and several reports claimed he’d join Alexis Sanchez as players destined for elsewhere.

[ MORE: Under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

Ozil was not called up by Germany, and has missed four of his last nine Premier League matches. Three of those were for illness, and he missed last week’s loss to West Brom with a hamstring injury.

From Metro:

“And you think Wenger tells the journalist before he tells me? Then I know him differently,” Ozil told German outlet Welt.

“I have a contract until 2018 in London and I feel very comfortable there. We’ll talk soon and then make a decision.”

Metro notes that Ozil also said he wants to win the Champions League, something that can only happen with Arsenal remaining in the Top Four. We suppose you could make snarky inferences from his “comfortable in London” phrasing, but we’ll leave it there.

Sydney FC clinches first place in A-League

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SYDNEY (AP) After clinching first place in Australia’s A-League without taking the field, Sydney FC enhanced its record achievement with a 3-0 win over the Perth Glory on Sunday.

Sydney FC won the Premiers Plate as regular-season champions after the second-place Melbourne Victory lost 1-0 to Brisbane on Saturday, when Sydney had a night off.

The Brisbane win left Sydney with an unassailable 11-point lead in first place with three rounds to play.

[ MORE: An under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

The Sydney side also created some history: it became the only team to have remained in outright first position in the standings for an entire season.

In the other match Sunday, the Wellington Phoenix beat Newcastle 5-0 to remain within five points of sixth-place Western Sydney for the final playoff spot.

Walking Dead? Star fittingly sees Exeter’s implausible comeback (video)

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As Rick Grimes, actor Andrew Lincoln regularly battles the undead on his show “The Walking Dead”.

As a friend of Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale, Lincoln was probably pretty happy to watch a team that would not die.

Exeter went down 3-0 when Yeovil Town broke a scoreless drought with a trio of tallies between the 62nd and 78th minutes.

[ MORE: An under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

But Exeter’s David Wheeler scored in the 88th minute, and Troy Brown and Reuben Reid scored a minute apart at the beginning of stoppage time to earn a point for the League Two playoff hopeful.

Couple things on this video, too:

— Check out the shove on the goalkeeper when trying to collect the ball after the first goal of the fight back.

— Watch the man with his baby behind the net after the third goal. Did Mom know how safe her little one was?