Baines gave Everton perfect balance, as Martinez's side impressed once again.

Everton 2-0 Manchester United: Toffees rampant in miserable return for Moyes

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LIVERPOOL — Everton kept their race for a top four spot on track, as the Toffees’ beat Manchester United 2-0 at Goodison Park on Sunday. The victory marked the first-time Everton had beaten United home and away in the league since 1970, as Robert Martinez’s boys continue their excellent campaign.

Former boss David Moyes got a less than hospitable welcome from the home fans on his return to the club he’d managed for over a decade up until last summer. Moyes’ United’ side were sloppy from the get go and found themselves 2-0 at half time. They never recovered.

First Phil Jones inexplicably handled a Romelu Lukaku shot to give away a penalty, which Man United’s summer transfer target Leighton Baines dispatched with ease. Then just before the break an incisive attack down the right hand side — United had a torrid time against Seamus Coleman down that flank all game long — saw Coleman play in Kevin Mirallas to finish superbly across goal.

United offered little going forward with former Evertonian Wayne Rooney cutting a frustrated figure, as Moyes’ men put in yet another tepid display in a season to forget.

With the win Everton keep the heat on Arsenal in fourth place as the Toffees sit one point and one place behind them in fifth on 69 points, while United stay in seventh as any hopes they had of miraculous top four finish are now officially over.

(MORE: Moyes vilified on return to Everton, as Man United nightmare continues)

An even start at Goodison Park saw Everton flying into tackles, as the Blues aimed to go to within one point of Arsenal. The first real chance of the match arrived after eight minutes as Coleman’s right wing cross was only partially cleared by Chris Smalling to the onrushing Ross Barkley, but the Everton youngster skewed his shot horribly over.

Everything that was good about Everton came down their right flank in the early exchanges, as Coleman bombed on to support Mirallas who both ganged up on Alexander Buttner at left back for United. The Red Devils’ narrow midfielders weren’t tracking back, as both Nani and Shinji Kagawa were nonexistent defensively. Soon after, another Everton foray down the right found Steven Naismith in the box who teed up Romelu Lukaku but his powerful shot was blocked square in the face by Phil Jones who didn’t flinch.

source: AP
Mirallas grabbed Everton’s second and was a constant thorn in United’s side down the right flank.

A strong call for a penalty then arrived in the 19th minute, as another Coleman cross found Naismith who steered a volley goalwards but his shot struck Jonny Evans in the arm. Referee Mark Clattenburg waved away shouts from the home crowd, as United seemed to have got away with an early scare. In the 21st minute Naismith was in the thick of things again, as the Scotsman was first to a knockdown from Lukaku but rushed his effort and volleyed way over the bar when he had time to take a touch, then shoot.

(MORE: Martinez revels in Everton’s humbling of Man United)

Moments later Everton were ahead, as another rapid counter-attack saw Naismith set up Lukaku who sent a curling shot towards the bottom corner that Phil Jones clearly handled, after slipping on the greasy Goodison surface. Baines stepped up to send David de Gea the wrong way, as the man Moyes tried to sign over the summer came back to haunt him. United showed little in the first half, as Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa combined masterfully on a few occasions, but Everton’s exuberant defense closed them down before any harm was done. Everton went in 2-0 up at half time thanks to counter-attack down — you guessed it — their right hand side, that saw Coleman play in Mirallas to rifle into the bottom corner.

(MORE: Latest Premier League standings)

At half time Antolin Alcaraz replaced Sylvain Distin at center back and the Paraguayan defender was called into immediate action as Rooney wriggled free of two challenges but Alcaraz made a superb last-ditch tackle to deny the former Everton forward. Moments later Kagawa had a long-range drive comfortably saved by Tim Howard, as United started the second half well.

United tried to prod and probe their way back into the game, with Moyes chucking on Javier Hernandez and Antonio Valencia with 30 minutes to go try and salvage something from the game. Instead the home side looked dangerous every time they went forward, as Barkley’s marauding runs through the center were causing all kinds of problems with Lukaku having a powerful shot well saved by De Gea.

Late on Naismith should’ve grabbed a third for Everton, as Mirallas’ right wing cross found the Scotsman unmarked on the penalty spot but he lashed his volley over the bar in the 75th minute. Naismith was thwarted again in the 80th minute, as a break from the Toffees saw De Gea tip his shot wide.

Despite late United pressure, which saw Howard save Rooney’s effort from point-blank range, Everton held on to record a memorable victory and heap more misery on Moyes.

LINEUPS

Everton – Howard, Baines, Distin (Alcaraz, 45′), Stones, Coleman, McCarthy, Barry, Mirallas (McGeady, 90′), Barkley (Osman, 69′), Naismith, Lukaku.

Goals: Baines (28′), Mirallas (43′)

Manchester United – De Gea, Jones, Smalling, Evans (Hernandez, 61′), Büttner, Carrick, Fletcher, Nani (Valencia, 61′), Kagawa (Welbeck, 74′), Mata, Rooney.

FIFA candidate Prince Ali claims voting pledge from Liberia

Jordan's Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, flanked by school-age soccer players in uniforms, speaks before about 300 guests during an event at a Roman amphitheater in Amman, Jordan, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. The prince is running for FIFA president, saying Wednesday he will fight "deep-seated corruption and political deal-making" and make soccer's scandal-scarred governing body more transparent. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali of Jordan says the Liberia soccer federation has pledged its vote to him.

Liberia follows Egypt as the second African voter claimed by Prince Ali since the Confederation of African Football’s leadership endorsed Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman of Bahrain on Friday.

The CAF executive committee urged the 54 African voters among FIFA’s 209-strong membership to back the sheikh in the Feb. 26 election.

Prince Ali’s campaign team on Saturday published a three-page letter of endorsement signed by Liberia federation president Musa Bility.

Bility writes that Prince Ali “represents real change” while other candidates are “not even prepared to criticize” the FIFA system.

Bility was himself an applicant in the presidential contest, then failed an integrity test judged by FIFA’s election monitoring committee.

LVG says Mourinho speculation is false, calls the whole thing “nonsense”

Chelsea's manager Jose Mourinho, center left, makes his way from the opposition dugout after greeting Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, centre right, during their English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Sunday Oct. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Louis Van Gaal is sick and tired of the media speculating about his employment (or potential lack thereof), as well as reports linking the presently unemployed Jose Mourinho to his job, so what we’re going to do now is speculate on those reports a bit more.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

But first, we’ll give Van Gaal the chance to tell his side of the story. Who better to explain what’s going on at Manchester United than the manager of Man United, right? OK, Louis, take it away, mate — quotes from the Guardian:

“The last two months have been very difficult for my wife, my kids, my grandchildren and my friends to cope with. For me too, but I can cope. In the Netherlands they know I am too arrogant to doubt myself, but I also know that such a nonsense is being created about me. I do not believe that there is already a relationship between José Mourinho and Manchester United.”

“It is logical when you have lost four matches in a row, people are bound to be doubting. … I criticize the media for inventing stories. I never hired security. Never ever. And I am walking on the streets without security and all the people I meet are very positive.”

OK, now that that’s out of the way, Jose Mourinho is definitely talking to Manchester United, or someone is doing so on his behalf. There’s arguably never been a more sitting-duck manager in world football than Van Gaal is right now — not only have the results been extremely “meh” for nearly two seasons now, but he’s also got less than 18 months left on his contract, which means it would cost the club considerably less to make him go away than, say, David Moyes, who still had more than five years(!!!) left on his deal when he was fired in April of his first season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL preview — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

Also, they were totally in for Pep Guardiola, too, and since they didn’t get him, they’ll have to respond thusly, and since Carlo Ancelotti has already been named Guardiola’s successor at Bayern Munich, Mourinho is the last “big name” out there right now. Unless, of course, they wanted to tap up Manuel Pellegrini, who’s on his way out to make room for Guardiola. Could be fun. But not as fun as Jose back in the Premier League, at Man United, in the same city with Pep. Remember the last time those two were employed on opposite sides of a heated rivalry?

As spectacular as this year’s PL season has been — and it’s bordering on the best of all time, still with 13 weeks to go — think about what that means for next season. It’s going to have be even more bonkers, so as not to seem boring by comparison. Louis van Gaal seems like a nice enough guy, but his team’s football isn’t that exciting on the field, and he offers little more off it. Mourinho isn’t the hero we deserve, but he’s certainly the one we need.

Another one: Lavezzi the latest star set for the riches of China

Paris Saint Germain's Ezequiel Lavezzi form Argentina, celebrates the opening goal during a French league one soccer match between Paris-Saint-Germain and Rennes at Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Paris Saint Germain clinhed its second straight French league title on Wednesday after rival Monaco drew 1-1 against French Cup holder Guingamp. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
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The list just keeps growing; Ezequiel Lavezzi, he of Paris Saint-Germain and Argentine national team fame, is the latest star leaving Europe behind with the Chinese Super League his next stop, according to multiple reports Saturday night.

[ MORE: The latest transfer news and gossip ]

Linked with a move to Premier League side Chelsea during the recently completed January transfer window, a move away from PSG never materialized for the 30-year-old. Not on the European continent, at least.

Now, the former Napoli, San Lorenzo and Estudiantes (Argentina) attacker is set for Shanghai Shenhua, where he’ll reportedly take home something in the $11-to-15-million-per-year ballpark. When you can somehow get a raise from your current deal with a Qatar Sports Investments-owned club… well, I guess you’d be dumb not to do it.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

It was already pretty well known Lavezzi would be leaving the French capital in 2016, but when his tenure survived through much of Europe’s winter window, it seemed he would hang around until the expiration of his current contract before moving elsewhere on a free transfer.

Then came the monstrous windfall of cash into and subsequent spending by CSL clubs over the last two weeks; Lavezzi joins the likes of Ramires, Gervinho, Jackson Martinez, Alex Teixeira, Demba Ba and Fredy Guarin, among others, to move to China for massive annual salaries. At Shenhua, Lavezzi will play alongside Ba and Guarin, as well as former Everton and New York Red Bulls man Tim Cahill, who made the move to China last year.

The CSL’s transfer window doesn’t close until Feb. 26, so the spending spree may well go on a little while long.

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Atleti bounce back to keep pressure on Barca

Atletico's Jose Maria Gimenez, right, celebrates after scoring a goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Atletico de Madrid and Eibar at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Atletico Madrid 3-1 Eibar

The race for the La Liga title isn’t over quite yet — though Barcelona are overwhelmingly favorites at the moment — and Atletico Madrid will have to keep winning, with just about no room for error, to keep it that way. On Saturday, they did just that by defending their home turf, to the tune of a 3-1 victory over Eibar.

Keko put the visitors ahead in the 46th minute, but Jose Gimenez quickly opened the scoring for Atleti and equalized on 56 minutes. Saul Niguez made it 2-1 to Atleti seven minutes later, and Fernando Torres’ 100th career goal (below video) gave Los Rojiblancos a bit of insurance in the first minute of second-half stoppage time. With the victory, Atleti are level on 51 points with Barca, but the Catalan giants have two games in hand on Madrid’s “other” team, the first of which they’ll play on Sunday.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Rayo Vallecano 2-0 Las Palmas
Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Villarreal
Sporting Gijon 1-1 Deportivo La Coruña

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Levante vs. Barcelona (6 a.m. ET)
Real Betis vs. Valencia (10 a.m. ET)
Celta Vigo vs. Sevilla (12:15 p.m. ET)
Granada vs. Real Madrid (2:30 p.m. ET)


Bologna 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina have left the door wide open for Inter Milan to re-enter the top three — and UEFA Champions League-qualifying — places with a 1-1 draw away to Bologna. The Viola finished the game with 10 men after Matias Fernandez was sent off for two yellow cards 10 minutes apart either side of halftime.

Their opening goal, which gave them the lead in the 59th minute, was beautifully worked and wonderfully taken by Federico Bernardeschi (below video). It was quickly canceled out, though, as Emanuele Giaccherini equalized four minutes later to earn a point and strengthen Bologna’s hold on 10th place in the league table.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Genoa 0-0 Lazio

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Hellas Verona vs. Inter Milan (6:30 a.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Carpi (9 a.m. ET)
Torino vs. Chievo (9 a.m. ET)
Frosinone vs. Juventus (9 a.m. ET)
Sassuolo vs. Palermo (9 a.m. ET)
AC Milan vs. Udinese (9 a.m. ET)
Atalanta vs. Empoli (12 p.m. ET)
Roma vs. Sampdoria (2:45 p.m. ET)