5-0 Stunner! Manchester United gallops impressively past Bayer Leverkusen, into Champions League knockout stage

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A sluggish start to the David Moyes era at Manchester United keeps gaining speed. Another mighty puff of steam was acquired Wednesday as the fabled English club qualified in highest possible style for Champions League knockout stages, with a full match to spare.

United are now unbeaten in 11 consecutive contests across all competitions. Despite last weekend’s meek draw with Cardiff, Moyes’ men have crept to within sniffing distance of the Premier League’s top spot – and now they can focus on closing the gap, Champions League advancement secured thanks to a dominant 5-0 win Wednesday over a humbled Bayer Leverkusen.

Wayne Rooney assisted on Antonio Valencia’s early goal and then provided the stinging free kick that turned into an own goal and a 2-0 lead after just 30 minutes at the BayArena. Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Nani provided United’s second half goals in what must surely be the most impressive win yet under Moyes.

It was United’s biggest winning margin yet in a Champions League road contest.

Claiming victory on the road in Champions League is always an achievement. Winning by a five-spot at Bayer Leverkusen is worth an extra pat on the back; Sami Hyypia’s club, currently second in Bundesliga matters, had won its previous eight home matches in Champions League.

Manchester United meanwhile, with Spurs, Everton and Newcastle all ahead in league play before a Dec. 10 Champions League group stage closer against Shakhtar Donetsk, can surely use the relief. Wednesday’s display was as sharp as the score indicates, especially impressive considering Moyes’ team played without Marouane Fellaini (suspended) and Robin van Persie and Michael Carrick (both injured).

The subplot here was Ryan Giggs, who was starting in the world’s top club competition two days before his 40th birthday, a remarkable feat for any high-level athlete, much less one still performing at top-rev for one of the globe’s glamour clubs.

Shinji Kagawa took full advantage of his turn in Moyes’ starting 11, beginning his team’s first strike with a gritty win in midfield. From there it went to birthday boy Giggs and then to Rooney, whose ball across from the left was probably tougher than he made it look. Either way, Valencia was running hard to the far post to give his club a lead after 22 mins.

Kakawa provided so much of the push out of the midfield and the quality linking for the visitors Wednesday. And that link-up play with Rooney allowed the England international to do his thing, too.

Eight minutes later, Rooney was again the provider, this time whipping in a free kick from the left. His curler rocketing toward the far post with a menace, Bayer’s Emir Spahić did his best, but rose only high enough to help Rooney’s ball find the top corner for a 2-0 lead.

Despite the showpiece win, Manchester United could not officially claim the group’s top spot; Shakhtar Donetsk’s win over Real Sociedad means the group title remains in dispute, although United needs just a draw at home on Dec. 10 to finish in first. By claiming first in Group A, the Red Devils can help themselves avoid current champion Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and those bedeviling sides from Spain, Barcelona and Real Madrid, in the next round.

Petkovic: Time to “take Switzerland seriously” after Brazil draw

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While much of the talk about Sunday’s 1-1 draw between Brazil and Switzerland will focus on the former, the Swiss would like their share of credit for frustrating — and matching — one of a handful of favorites to win the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

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Switzerland manager Vladimir Petkovic is chief among those who believe it’s time those on the outside “start taking notice of us and taking us seriously.” As for the insinuations that his side roughed up Neymar, who suffered 10 of the 19 fouls committed by Switzerland, most of them were “very clean” — quotes from the BBC:

“Sometimes if there is a lack of recognition that is a pity because we have played very well. We showed and demonstrated that this team always believes in itself and can achieve results.

“Most of the duels (with Neymar) were won in a very clean way. It was one of the key ingredients to neutralize Neymar.”

“I’m very proud and pleased with the discipline with the way we played. We worked collectively and cohesively.”

“When we are able to play forward and press higher up we were able to do it well and it is an excellent starting position for the rest of our group matches.

“We had real difficulties in the first 40 minutes, I said ‘let’s remain calm, focused and believe in ourselves, push up higher up the pitch and create opportunities to score.'”

Having secured a point in far and away their toughest group game, Switzerland now have eminently winnable games against Serbia (Friday) and Costa Rica (Wednesday, June 27) remaining. Four points from those two games would just about guarantee progression to the knockout rounds.

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 2

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Layla Anna-Lee has a new show and, well, it’s unbiased. At least occasionally…

In the second episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, Layla Anna-Lee looks at the best moments from the first set of matches in the 2018 World Cup.

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There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

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

Brazil waste Coutinho’s stunner, draw Switzerland in opener

AP Photo/Themba Hadebe
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Brazil started brilliantly and raced out to an early lead, but the five-time World Cup winners — and one of a handful of favorites in 2018 — disappointed in the end as they settled for a 1-1 draw with Switzerland in the two sides’ Group E opener.

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Philippe Coutinho opened the scoring after 20 minutes, turning home a stunning strike from distance, off the inside of the post, to settle any early nerves and give Tite’s Selecao a 1-0 lead (WATCH HERE).

It wasn’t Brazil’s first golden scoring chance of the game, though, as Coutinho and Neymar combined down the left wing to send the latter into space inside the penalty area. Neymar played a first-time cross into the six-yard box, but Paulinho‘s scuffed effort from close range was tipped around the post by Yann Sommer.

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

A bit of complacency and real lack of urgency washed over Brazil as soon as they went ahead, affording Switzerland every opportunity to get back in the game.

Vladimir Petkovic’s side needed just five second-half minutes to draw level, thanks to some shoddy set-piece defending by Brazil. Steven Zuber took up a spot at the near post, virtually unmarked inside the six-yard box, and headed past Alisson.

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The game’s most controversial moment came just after the 70-minute mark, when Gabriel Jesus was bear-hugged inside the penalty area. Wrapped up from behind, the Manchester City forward was blatantly prevented from getting to the ball after a quick passage of smooth build-up, but referee Cesar Arturo Ramos Palazuelos was unmoved and no video review was enacted.

By the full-time whistle, Brazil had piled up 21 shots (just four on target) compared to just six from Switzerland (two). Despite on-target efforts from Neymar and Renato Augusto inside the game’s final five minutes, a winner wasn’t on the cards and the sides were forced to split the points.

Up next for Brazil is a clash with Costa Rica on Friday, while Switzerland will face Serbia the same day. The Serbs topped the Costa Ricans in Sunday’s first game, putting them top of the group after after the first of three rounds in Group E.

Video: Coutinho’s curler has Brazil flying early

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It took 20 minutes for the Selecao to get on the board, but Brazil looks every bit as good as advertised.

Tite’s side struck nearly halfway through the opening stanza when Barcelona star Philippe Coutinho curled his shot from distance off the inside of the post against Switzerland.

The Brazilians came close on several occasions prior to Coutinho’s opener, but the 26-year-old made good on the misses with his first career World Cup tally.