18-year-old James Wilson debuted with a brace at Old Trafford, leading the Red Devils to a 3-1 win over visiting Hull. (Photo: Getty Images.)

Manchester United 3-1 Hull City: 18-year-old James Wilson scores twice in debut (video)

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James Wilson, one of two Manchester United academy products making their Premier League debut, scored in the 31st and 61st minutes, stealing his share of the headlines from two Red Devils stars who may have taken their final bows at the Theatre of Dreams dreams. Going on to defeat visiting Hull City 3-1, Manchester United moved within three points of England’s final Europa League spot. The club also saw two legends leave Old Trafford’s pitch for what may have been the final time.

Nemanja Vidic, out of contract at the end of the season. took the place of an injured Phil Jones early in the first half, and with 20 minutes left, interim manager Ryan Giggs handed in his own number. Vidic has already confirmed he will move to Italy’s Inter Milan next season, while may suspect Giggs will call en end to his 24-year career after the season.

If it is the end of Giggs’ playing days, it was only appropriate he left the field a winner, with an 18-year-old the manager handed his first cap repaying the interim boss’s faith. In the 31st minute, Wilson beat David Meyler and Nelson Figueroa to a ball knocked down by Marouane Fellaini, volleying home his first top-flight goal. Thirty minutes later, it was Martin cleaning up after Fellaini again, this time putting back the rebound of his teammate’s shot to put United up 2-0.

Two minutes later, Hull’s Matty Fryatt beat David de Gea to pull Steve Bruce’s team within one, the closest the visitors would come. With Robin Van Persie providing late insurance, the Red Devils claimed their second win in three games under Giggs, moving within three points of sixth place Tottenham Hotspur.

source: Getty Images
18-year-old James Wilson debuted with a brace at Old Trafford, leading the Red Devils to a 3-1 win over visiting Hull. (Photo: Getty Images.)

With a huge advantage in goal difference, United maintains hope of qualifying for Europe. A win on Sunday at Southampton combined with a Spurs loss against visiting Aston Villa would leave the Red Devils in sixth place, earning the club the Premier League’s last Europa League spot.

Manchester United controlled play from the opening kickoff, producing a chance for Wilson in the third minute. With Adnan Januzaj crossing to Fellaini, the home side was intent on taking advantage of the Belgian’s height, having put the midfielder in a similar position to that which he occupied at Everton. Though the move didn’t pay off in the opening minutes, a nearly identical attack just past the half-hour mark put United in front.

In the 31st minute, off a cross from Januzaj, Fellaini jumped over Curtis Davies to head back across the top of the six-yard box. Beating Meyler and Figueroa to the ball, Martin put a left-footed volley past Eldin Jakupovic for the game’s opening goal, giving United the one-goal lead they’d take into halftime.

Just past the hour mark, Martin struck again. Running onto a rebound after Fellaini was saved at close range, the England U-19 international doubled his club’s lead, giving the striker a dream debut to his Manchester United career.

Two minutes later, with their first shot of the game, Hull halved that led, with Matty Fyatt’s right-footed shot from outside the penalty area finding de Gea’s right corner. Despite that response, Hull would go on to be out-shot 18-2, with a 86th minute finish from Van Persie into the left of goal restoring Manchester United’s two-goal lead.

With the result, the Red Devils maintain a hope of playing European soccer next season, though the night will likely be remembered for other reasons. With their team’s win, the Old Trafford faithful are able to celebrate the departure of two of the club’s biggest names – player swho’ve contributed to so much of the club’s success in the Premier League era. And with an academy product’s debut double, fans were given reason to believe new stars are waiting to help their team back up the table.

LINEUPS

Manchester United: De Gea, Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Büttner, Carrick, Fellaini, Kagawa, Januzaj, Lawrence, Wilson

Goals: Wilson (31′, 61′), van Persie (86′)

Hull City: Jakupovic, Rosenior, Figueroa, Bruce, Davies, Meyler, Koren, Boyd, Quinn, Elmohamady, Long

Goals: Fryatt (63′)

Barcelona tops Levante, ties club record with 28 unbeaten

VALENCIA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 07:  Jordi Alba of Barcelona celebrates scoring his team's first goal with his teammate Andres Iniesta during the La Liga match between Levante UD and FC Barcelona at Ciutat de Valencia on February 07, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
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Sir Alex Ferguson described the 2010/11 Barcelona team as the best team he ever faced.

This year’s Barcelona side has matched them.

With a 2-0 victory over La Liga basement-dwellers Levante on an own-goal forced by Jordi Alba plus a late score from Luis Suarez, Barcelona has gone 28 matches unbeaten in all competitions, without a loss since a 2-1 defeat to Sevilla on October 28.

Manager Luis Enrique, though, is unmoved. “What matters to me are the team’s objectives,” said Enrique after the win. “These are nice numbers, if they help us win titles at the end of the season, fantastic. We are in good position, but there is still a lot left.”

The Levante victory marked Luis Enrique’s 100th game in charge of Barcelona.

That 2010/11 season, led by Pep Guardiola, Barcelona came a Copa del Rey finals loss to Real Madrid from a quadruple, winning the league, Champions League, and Supercopa de Espana. This time around, they’ve already secured the Supercopa, sit atop the league table by three points over Atletico Madrid and seven above Real Madrid, have yet to lose a game in the Champions League, and the second leg of their Copa del Rey semifinal against Valencia is a complete formality. What’s more, the numbers from this streak are eerily similar to that wildly successful squad five years ago.

That campaign, Lionel Messi scored 31 league goals and 53 overall. An injury sapped him of time in this go around, but Suarez and Neymar have picked up the slack. There has been just one league game in which all three of Messi, Neymar, and Suarez has been held scoreless this season, and to find it you have to travel all the way back to the second game of the year, a 1-0 win over Malaga that saw Thomas Vermaelen score the winner. Those three have combined for 48 league goals this year, more than every team in the Spanish top flight save Real Madrid.

Paris Saint-Germain has a similar streak going at the moment, currently unbeaten in league play throughout the entire season, but their 1-0 loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League on November 3 means their streak across all competitions sits at 19 games.

Watch Live: Bournemouth vs Arsenal (Lineups & Live Stream)

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28: Mesut Ozil of Arsenal and Adam Smith of Bournemouth compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Emirates Stadium on December 28, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Arsenal is hoping to break its four-game winless streak as it travels to Vitality Stadium to take on Bournemouth, live on NBCSN at 8:30 a.m. ET or live online at NBC Sports Live Extra.

The Gunners have drawn three and lost one over its last four matches, leaving them unable to keep pace with Leicester City at the top of the table. With Leicester again winning this week and a matchup with the Foxes looming next time out for Arsenal, this match seems a must-win for Arsene Wenger and company if they wish to remain serious title contenders.

[ WATCH LIVE: Bournemouth vs Arsenal live online at NBC Sports Live Extra ]

Wenger has chosen to leave veteran defender Per Mertesacker on the bench in favor of Gabriel. Francis Coquelin also remains among the substitutes for the second straight match, meaning either Wenger prefers Mathieu Flamini in midfield, or Coquelin remains unfit for a full 90 minutes. Tomas Rosicky was injured last weekend and will be out up to three months, which could end his season.

Eddie Howe has named an unchanged starting lineup from their 2-1 away win at Crystal Palace last week. Winger Junior Stanislas is back on the bench after missing last week. In contrast to Arsenal, the Cherries are unbeaten in four and have won four of their last six, a stretch which has propelled them five points off the relegation zone and the same distance away from the top half of the table.

[ MORE: Premier League Sunday Preview ]

There are no new injury concerns for either side. Both have long-term absentees who are on the mend but still not close to a return. Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere, and Santi Cazorla are all out for the Gunners, while Bournemouth duo Max Gradel and Callum Wilson are also sidelined for a while but could return before the end of the season.

LINEUPS

Bournemouth: Boruc; Smith, Francis, Cook, Daniels; Surman, Gosling; Ritchie, Arter, Pugh; Afobe.
Subs: Federici, Distin, Stanislas, O’Kane, Iturbe, King, Grabban.

Arsenal: Cech; Bellerin, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monreal; Flamini, Ramsey; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sánchez, Özil; Giroud.
Subs: Ospina, Gibbs, Mertesacker, Walcott, Campbell, Coquelin, Iwobi.

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”

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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.