Flawed and fabulous, Manchester United gives up three goals in Boxing Day win

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The defending remained terrible, which made the outcome foreseeably dramatic. In hindsight, it was foolish to dismiss any Manchester United game (including today’s) as being predictable. With the firepower to overcome any foolishness at the back, the Premier League’s leaders will forever have to out-shoot their opponents, something that’s lead them to the top of an entertaining if highly flawed Premier League.

Today was no different. David de Gea deserved an assist on Newcastle’s opener, his poor block pushing a long range shot right into the path of James Perch (the only onrushing attacker). A 29th minute Jonny Evans’ own goal restored the Magpies’ lead shortly after the Red Devils’ defender had equalized. After new goal scoring machine Patrice Evra (up to four goals on the season) pulled United back, Papiss Demba Cisse put Newcastle in front with 22 minutes left.

But then Manchester United did Manchester United things. Robin van Persie hit his league-leading 13th goal three minutes later, bringing the Red Devils back for the third time. Then as regulation time ended, Javier Hernández beat Tim Krul low to deliver full points, giving United a seven-point lead and one more point than they had at the same juncture last year.

If any 4-3 result was predictable, this was it.

MORE: Wayne Rooney left out of Boxing Day squad

There’s no more entertaining team in the world right now than Manchester United, adulation which serves as a double edged sword. If they don’t have the best set of attackers in the world, they certainly have the most clinical, the team posting an amazing conversion rate throughout their campaign. But their defense is nowhere near good enough to sustain their style of play, particularly on days when Michael Carrick is asked to carry Paul Scholes in midfield.

Not good enough to hold leads, Manchester United provides opponents no reason to revere them the way Barcelona and Bayern Munich are esteemed. If you go after them, you will score on the Red Devils. Your best chance to win is to hope they’ll sit on a lead (as they did against Manchester City) or fail to convert the chances they create (as they did against Everton and Norwich).

MORE: Hart, Mancini failings on display for City

They’re the perfect leaders of a league that has proved enticing if extremely flawed. As the league’s performances in Champions League showed, there are no great teams in England, but there are a number (like Liverpool, Fulham, Southampton, and even Chelsea) whose entertainment value transcends their results.

Were those clubs (or Manchester United) in Spain or Germany, they would sit lower in the standings. But England doesn’t have to be the highest quality competition every year. Let leagues ebb and flow, especially if they’re going to offset their drops with fun factor that augments the best talent in the world.

And no doubt, today’s game at Old Trafford wasn’t the highest quality soccer. But it was fun. It was exactly why the Premier League is the most popular league in the world, if not necessarily the best.

VIDEO: Portugal lead Iran at HT; Spain 1-1 Morocco

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We’re through the first 45 minutes of Monday’s Group B finales at the 2018 World Cup, and things are happening. A quick rundown…

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos combined to commit a disastrous gaffe at midfield, resulting in a goal for Khalid Boutaib in the 14th minute. At this point, Spain would have finished second, behind Portugal, and headed to the far more difficult side of the knockout bracket.

Five minutes later, it was Iniesta who, with a little help from some slightly lesser geniuses, unlocked the Moroccan defense to set up Isco for an emphatic finish. La Furia Roja moved back to the top of the group, on goals scored.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

In the afternoon’s other game, Portugal and Iran appeared destined for a 0-0 scoreline at halftime, until Ricardo Quaresma unleashed a stunning, outside-of-the-foot curler from outside the box to beat the goalkeeper and put Portugal ahead — both on the day, and in the table. As things currently stand, Portugal would win the group and Spain would finish second.

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 4

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In the fourth episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England players have been preparing for their next match in an unusual way, Argentina has a huge meltdown, and more.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

Click play on the video above to watch the fourth episode in full.

Atlanta leads way with six All-Star Fan XI selections

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It may be hard to believe with all the World Cup festivities going on, but the Major League Soccer season is nearly halfway over.

[ MORE: Toronto FC’s 2018 has been far from their cup-winning 2017 ]

And that means it’s almost All-Star time.

The MLS All-Stars will continue their recent tradition of facing a European superpower in August, with Juventus being welcomed to the United States in early August.

But, which players from MLS will we see in action?

Last season’s expansion sweetheart Atlanta United leads the way in the fan voting with six players from the Eastern Conference side voted into the Fan XI, including attackers Miguel Almiron, Ezequiel Barco, Darlington Nagbe and Josef Martinez.

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan and defender/captain Michael Parkhurst also made the team from Atlanta.

In all, only five clubs were represented based on the Fan XI, with the LA Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Los Angeles FC’s Carlos Vela and Laurent Ciman, Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi and Portland Timbers star Diego Valeri each rounding out the squad.


Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United)

Defenders: Michael Parkhurst (Atlanta United), Laurent Ciman (Los Angeles Football Club), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Miguel Almirón (Atlanta United), Ezequiel Barco (Atlanta United), Darlington Nagbe (Atlanta United), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers)

Forwards: Josef Martínez (Atlanta United), Zlatan Ibrahimović (LA Galaxy), Carlos Vela (Los Angeles Football Club – EA SPORTS™ “More Than a Vote” Challenge)

Saudi Arabia steals late win over Egypt in Group A finale

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Saudi Arabia pulled off a late 2-1 win against Egypt on Monday in their Group A finale, as the two nations ended their 2018 World Cup run in the group stage.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Salem Al Sawsari scored in the fifth minute of second half stoppage time to give the Saudis a late winner in the match, as the attacker struck the post in the dying moments before the ball crossed the line.

The Pharaohs took the lead in the 22nd minute, after a tremendous run from Mohamed Salah and lob over the Saudi Arabia goalkeeper.

Salah has two goals at the World Cup for Egypt, who were already eliminated heading into Monday’s match.

Saudi Arabia was granted a chance to equalize prior to halftime, however, goalkeeper Essam El Hadary brilliantly stopped Hattan Bahebri’s penalty kick in the 41st minute to preserve the Egypt advantage.

El Hadary became the oldest player in World Cup history to appear in a match at the age of 45.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

The Egypt keeper wasn’t as lucky the second time around though, with Salmon Al Faraj converting a penalty kick in the 51st minute.

Saudi Arabia finishes group play in third place on three points, while Egypt goes winless in its three matches.