David Silvas slow-motion grace proves far too much for Manchester United | Barney Ronay

In midfield or as an oddball centre-forward, Manchester Citys key man was brilliant in a win that could be decisive for his teams title aspirations

With half an hour to go in this taut, thrilling, at times spiky Manchester derby, David Silva could be seen chugging around at the point of the Manchester City assault , not so much pressing the red-shirted defenders as growling between them with a stately various kinds of grandeur, like a royal frigate in shallow waters.

With Gabriel Jesus off and City leading 2-1 it was Silva, the most false of false No9s, who found himself shunted into that forward role. He has cut a more rotund, slightly more ponderous figure in the last year and a half, but remains a beautifully pure footballer. Here Silva is not merely the slowest, least athletic, least physically imposing footballer on either squad- he was also the best player on the pitch, so unhurried, so well informed the shifting aircrafts and currents around him that at times he resembled a colts coach mixing in with the under-1 2s in training, be permitted to peer above the heads, direct the play, call the next pass two steps ahead.

In a match that considered Manchester United’s own PS90m centre forward Romelu Lukaku fight- all ham-footed lay-offs and an inadvertent assistance for both of City’s goals- Silva was a striking phase of contrast. An oddball centre-forward perhaps, but also the vie oddball centre-forward. At one point in that second half Silva surged down the left channel, held the ball for Leroy Sane’s run and played a beautiful nudged reverse pass, a pass so gentle it seemed to belong in an altogether different game, to be startled to find itself out here surrounded by all this frenzy. Moments afterward Silva even took it on himself to make a curving, decoy run, Ian Rush-style, freeing space for Kevin De Bruyne behind him to surge forward and shoot at goal.

If this victory does end up a decisive step towards the league title it was entirely fitting Silva should decorate its best moments. More than any other player, and even as an inherited portion, Silva personifies Pep Guardiola’s obsession with pass and move, with making a fetish of the ball, of trying to win every moment in the match.

And yet Silva would perhaps struggle to find a role in the opposition here, a Manchester United team packed with speed and athleticism, but sent out at the start to defend deep and then break with speed.

And what a start it was from United, who spent the opening half hour defiantly silencing their own mob. This wasn’t just assault versus defense during those wasted opening 43 minutes, it was deep, maniacal, utterly paranoid defence. For long periods Old Trafford seemed to be staging a pub game on a windy day, the ball skirling inexorably towards the United goal, every clearance boomeranging back in the sleet.

Even United’s method of moving the ball forward from the back was extraordinary, something from the Wimbledon playbook under Egil Olsen, “clearing out” the midfield and sending swirling long passes towards the front three, 42 of them in the opening hour. The contrast was, of course, striking. With 20 minutes gone, Vincent Kompany varied the angle for City, skimming a long pass that flew straight-out through to David De Gea, while in his rectangle Guardiola ran berserk, puffing out the wings of his shiny black bomber jacket as he signalled for more patience, more care, more of the same old Pep style.

United were, of course, faced with a ticklish balance of assaulting intentions, teased by some obvious imperfections in City’s defence, tortured by the prospect of being torn apart by the rapiers at the other aim should they overcommit to seeking out those tender spots. But this was something else, as demonstrated by the fact United scored from their first concerted assault in first-half trauma time, Marcus Rashford finishing expertly after Fabian Delph had failed to cut out a diagonal pass.

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Manchester City deserved derby win over United, says Pep Guardiola- video

By that stage United were already chasing the game. Later Nicolas Otamendi’s neat finish would take it away again. Fittingly, it was Silva who had scored the opener, albeit in the most unexpected route, scissoring home a loose ball after a corner. Up to that phase Silva had been majestic in his more accustomed role, maintaining the ball, directing City’s assaults, introducing importance where required, and skipping away from Ander Herrera, with a decisive slow-motion grace. Some players have an extra yard in their head. Silva appears to have an entire practice pitching up there, with the whole game playing on fast-forward on a series of big screens.

At one point, as his legs began to slow towards the end, he could be seen calling out to Raheem Sterling and pointing, telling him where to run to take De Bruyne’s pass, trundling around the pitching like an auxiliary brain in a jar, stimulating every part of the play he touched just that bit better; the most fitting of key portions on a day that assured City take a giant leap forward.

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MLS Cup: Five things we learned from Toronto’s cathartic, legacy-sealing win

Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore enjoyed sweet vindication as Toronto FC built their most compelling pitch for Major League Soccers best squad ever

This was catharsis for Altidore and Bradley

The spirit of blamed has been bouncing around US soccer circles since the USA’s World Cup elimination- but over the course of these MLS playoffs far more than the market share has settled on Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore. Both men were booed by resisting fans every time they touched the ball during the course of its playoffs, and both had their struggles- Bradley was nullified by Tyler Adams in the home playoff loss to the Red Bulls, while Altidore considered red in the same game and missed the first leg against Columbus.

There’s no doubt that the fallout for “the member states national” team will continue for some time to come, but on Saturday evening, the pair at least got to put an emphatic full stop on the other tale of their year- the obsessive drive to put right what went wrong when Toronto lost a home MLS Cup final last year.

Altidore, as he did in leg two against Columbus, burst through the core of the oppose defense to open the scoring, ensuring that the three goals he managed in these playoffs will be remembered long after the six he scored last year are forgotten. And Bradley was immense in the holding role- dropping deep to coordinate his defense in possession, and tigerish in his pursuit of the ball every time Seattle had the temerity to try and possess it in his half. In many styles, if Altidore’s exuberant goalscoring kind was the story of the 2016 playoff run, Bradley’s bloody-minded determination was the story of 2017, as first New York, then Crew SC, tried and ultimately failed to knocking Toronto off their stride.

Vanney won the battle of the coaches

It’s a measure of how nervy the last month or so has been, as free-scoring attacking soccer has given route to a slog in the playoffs, that when Toronto’s Greg Vanney made the switch to a 4-4-2 diamond for the final, the first instinct of neutrals was not to credit his tactical nous, but to wonder if he’d second-guessed himself into trouble.

Toronto have played the diamond with some success at moments this season, notably in wresting control of the Eastern Conference final back from Crew SC in the second half of the second leg. But their usual 3-5-2 had utterly stifled Seattle last season, and while this was a more attacking Sounders team than 2016, the onus should in theory have been on Brian Schmetzer to figure out a route past Toronto.

Instead Schmetzer’s team played into Toronto’s hands, by pushing into the spaces they were invited into and failing to cover the spaces they’d left. Combined with Toronto’s mix of tenacity and creativity, there was little time or space for Seattle at any stage of the game, and by the end Vanney’s tweaks had find off Schmetzer’s relaxed inclination to keep things simple and trust the players. That had worked in the playoff run, when limited opponent gifted Seattle the time and space to have patience and transgres opponents down. But in the final, Seattle fulfilled the class of the league, and in the post-game press conference a dejected Schmetzer could only lament the duels his players had lost. He’d lost one too.

The best ever?

In the Toronto locker room after the game, several of the players took time out from soaking one another to offer a series of short, excitable toasts. At one point Drew Moor, the defender who’d been part of the cohort of MLS veterans brought in to assist engineer last year’s great leap forward, jumped on a locker seat and silenced the room, to yell out,” This debate on’ Are we the best team ever ?’ It’s fucking over !”

Canadian Champions, Supporters Shield Winners, and now MLS Cup winners. Toronto won everything they could win this year, and violated multiple league records in doing so. If they aren’t the best ever, we’re into the deeply subjective realm of style points to say that they’re not.

Even the scrappy periods of the playoff wins were a perverse kind of tribute to how good they are. None of their foes could hope to impose themselves on Toronto, they could only hope to live with them or stop them, with intermittent but ultimately futile success.

It may be too that Toronto has not been quite so sparkling since the last month of the regular season, as the various finish line described near. But they were so far ahead for so long, that some dip was perhaps inevitable. And when it mattered most they were back to their best to secure their legacy. The best ever? For now.

Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco vies for the ball with Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan. Photo: Networ/ Sipa USA/ REX/ Shutterstock

Frei and Dempsey add unwanted chapters to their own MLS history

Spare a thought for Clint Dempsey and Stefan Frei. After his recovery from a season-ending heart ailment maintained him out of last year’s MLS Cup triumph, Dempsey was billed as the player who could help his squad achieve much more than another smash-and-grab raid this year. But like all of his squad mates he aimed up as a peripheral presence watching red shirts swarm around him at every glimpse of objective. He’d get a shot on target- more than his squad mates managed last year. But it was a tamed shooting scuffing along the ground into Alex Bono’s limbs and that was as dangerous as Deuce got. Three finals for him now, and three losses.

Stefan Frei meanwhile, deserved so much more than being on the losing side of this game, and it will be little consolation to him that there was a instead perfect symmetry in Jozy Altidore being the man to finally get the ball past him on Saturday evening, after his miraculous save against the same striker last year. Frei was outstanding again, beating away shooting after shot as he racked up 186 unbeaten minutes against Toronto in these last two MLS Cups. Near the end of that running, one save from Giovinco looked like it might just tip Toronto into the type of fatal self-doubt that would again haunt them in a penalty shootout, but a few minutes later Giovinco fed the ball to the onrushing Altidore, and from then on, Frei had to settle for a great legacy in MLS Cup folklore, but one less trophy than his performance deserved.

Sebastian Giovinco shares playmaking spotlight with Victor Vazquez

Sebastian Giovinco arrived in MLS with all of the game-changing impact of a cheat code in 2015- at times making Toronto look like a one-man team with his single-handed interventions. Since then his stock has remained high, but the improving roster around him has perhaps muted an appreciation of his qualities- or we’ve just come to take him for awarded. Like Toronto’s other high-profile players the playoffs had been a mixed bag for Giovinco before the final. A sublime free kick to beat the Red Bulls; a needless yellow to hold him out of the first Columbus game; significant impact without dominance.

Giovinco opened the final with a one-on-one miss against Stefan Frei, hit the wall with his first free kick and generally looked a little anonymous by his own criteria, until the moment where he hooked the ball perfectly into the path of Altidore for the winning goal, and in doing so reminded us what a sublime talent he is in the context of this league- a player defenders can never switch off on.

But it was also fitting that Giovinco should share creative top billing with Victor Vazquez, who has been the single player to have most improved Toronto this season. Vazquez’s cool in the final one-third and his motion and distribution into that ares, has had knock on effects in the freedom afforded to Giovinco and Altidore in front of him, and taken a lot of visionary duties off the laundry list of duties Michael Bradley has to attend to behind him. Vazquez had defined the tone for the final early as his switches in play rocked Seattle off balance repeatedly. By the time he bundled in aim number two in trauma day it only corroborated what we already knew: every one of Toronto’s key quartet had indicated up when it mattered most.

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Ayoze Prezs own goal gives Leicester City victory at Newcastle United

Ayoze Perzs own aim proved decisive as Leicester City won 3-2 against Newcastle United at St James Park

There were moments when Newcastle United showcased commendable resilience and resolve but Ayoze Perez’s agonising late own objective means they have now collected only one point from their last seven games.

As Claude Puel’s quietly effective “velvet” Leicester revolution continued with a third straight win and the home side’s 125 th birthday party was ruined, Rafa Benitez had every right to appear frets. Newcastle’s manager knows that simply holding their own necessitates his players to perform at maximum capacity.

At periods his squad resembled the driver of a modest city run-about pressing their foot flat to the floor as they struggle to overtake lorries on a motorway. Togetherness and perseverance can only take a squad now hovering only above the relegation zone so far.

“I’m really disappointed,” said Benitez.” The players, they put in an effort, but still we have to improve if we want to get points in these various kinds of games. We’ve pay money easy mistakes. We have to learn speedily .”

After a highly evocative preamble, which ensure the 125 th anniversary of Newcastle’s formation marked by home supporters waving a multitude of flags, raising numerous flags and generally turning the stands into a ocean of black and white, Joselu opened the scoring.

Newcastle’s fifth-minute objective began with Dwight Gayle pulling broad, dodging Danny Simpson and haring down the left. He then cut the ball back for the onrushing, and unmarked, Joselu to beat Kasper Schmeichel with a first-time, right-foot shot.

When Gayle subsequently fired fractionally broad, Benitez’s tactical gamble in fielding two strikers in a 4-4-2 formation seemed vindicated. The downside was that it left Leicester with an extra human in midfield, along with additional counterattacking scope.

Sure enough Puel was soon celebrating a stunning, crowd-silencing equaliser from Riyad Mahrez. It originated in central midfield where Mikel Merino, once again preferred to Jonjo Shelvey, forfeited possession to the influential Wilfred Ndidi.

That slapdash loss of concentration liberated Mahrez to run at the heart of Newcastle’s defence before eluding Karl Darlow’s grasp politenes of a left-footed, 25 -yard shot which the goalkeeper touched but could not hold as it arrowed into the top corner.

It was an eye-catching finish from a rejuvenated playmaker but Darlow, preferred to Rob Elliot, looked disappointed not to have held it. Tellingly, Benitez was left profoundly frustrated when Newcastle’s owner, Mike Ashley, thwarted his attempts to sign an experienced keeper last summer.

Joselu celebrates after scoring the opening objective for Newcastle with only four minutes run. Photo: Serena Taylor/ Newcastle Utd via Getty Images

Merino’s recruitment was sanctioned and, overall, he seems a very good buy but, remarkably, the Basque midfielder fought here, looking ruffled whenever the exhaustively menacing Demarai Gray entered his realm. By half-time the increasingly elusive Gray had, tantalisingly, curled got a couple of shots inches wide.

With Matt Ritchie’s own travails suggesting Newcastle’s right winger has hit a bit of a wall and needs a remainder, Benitez could do with making a couple of signings next month with a Gray-esque capacity for stimulating things happen. Unfortunately, with negotiations progressing slowly as Ashley and Amanda Staveley haggle over the terms of the latter’s mooted takeover, he remains unsure if he will be equipped with the funds needed to avert a relegation skirmish.

Although Schmeichel saved smartly from Jacob Murphy, the trio of Gray, Mahrez and Ndidi were all in such impressive kind that Leicester- who had a penalty appeal rejected when Jamie Vardy crumpled under DeAndre Yedlin’s challenge- appeared comfortably in control.

An intensifying Arctic chill ensured spectators lost feeling in their thumbs and toes, and early evening Geordie optimism ebbed away.

Such fears were realised in the 60 th minute. Granted, Gray deserved a goal but after gratifying Marc Albrighton’s adroit pass, a little luck entered the equation when his shoot swerved past a wrong-footed Darlow after deflecting off Florian Lejeune. That said, Mahrez’s glorious crossfield pass which prefaced Albrighton’s assist merited proper reward.

Hearteningly for Benitez, Newcastle refused to fold and, in the fallout from Merino’s panic-provoking header following a corner, Gayle’s left-footed shot deflected off Harry Maguire before whizzing past Schmeichel.

With the game thrillingly open, Gayle shot marginally broad but Leicester’s counterattacking ability won it. Their decisive breach end with Vardy riding Lejeune’s tackle before crossing, Shinji Okazaki shaping to shoot and Perez’s desperate attempt to clear diverting the ball into his own net.

The Japan striker was duly rewarded for playing on despite a head wound leaving him swathed in bandages.” Shinji’s kamikaze ,” said the often inscrutable Puel.” He’s fantastic, he dedicates his body for the team .”

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West Hams Marko Arnautovic sinks Chelsea to delight of David Moyes

A sixth-minute objective from Marko Arnautovic demonstrated enough to give David Moyes his first win as West Ham United manager, 1-0 against Chelsea

It might not be the most popular opinion but a performance like this been shown that, for West Ham United, David Moyes is the right man at exactly the best time. Three points against a Chelsea side in such convincing kind were as invaluable as they were unexpected; most encouraging of all is that the victory was thoroughly deserved, West Ham scoring early through Marko Arnautovic and then taking their lack of possession on the chin, merely suffering sporadic moments of genuine alarm and demonstrating a certain degree of rigour that had seemed beyond this set of players only a few weeks previously.

The fact that Arnautovic, an expensive summer signing who had failed to score since his arrival from Stoke City, attained the decisive contribution may be seen as a success for Moyes, too. Arnautovic was consigned to the bench for Sunday night’s narrow defeat at Manchester City, a demonstrating whose battling nature now seems to have defined the template for West Ham’s effort to escape relegation. Recalled to the starting lineup in a bid for more attacking thrust at home he was excellent here, posing a danger from the off and capitalising on a flat-footed start from Chelsea to score a slickly-worked winner.

The sides’ contrasting tempos during the early moments had suggested this would be an opportune time to catch Chelsea out. After a couple of promising incursions West Ham did so and Arnautovic’s goal was, from their point of view, a beauty. There was little immediate peril when Michael Antonio popped a low pass his way on the edge of the box; the subsequent give-and-go with Manuel Lanzini carved Chelsea’s defence apart, though, affording enough space for Arnautovic to work the ball on to his left foot and pick his spot in the far corner.

Chelsea might wonder whether Andreas Christensen had got too tight to Arnautovic, allowing the forward to spin him too easily and then observing himself ill disposed to make a legal challenge. It was an isolated, but significant, example of the sloppiness that characterised their start. At various hours in his career Arnautovic could be accused of absence the” sacred flame” that Antonio Conte believes top players are guided by; here he and his team-mates set a shining tempo and Chelsea could not get a foothold. When Arthur Masuaku bamboozled Davide Zappacosta with a delicate pirouette there was the distinct impression that West Ham, often so disconsolate, were enjoying themselves.

Arnautovic had Christensen on toast again before the half-hour, wriggling away on the right flank but this time letting the centre-back recover. By then Chelsea had, in fact, cleared their heads and begun to have a run. Eden Hazard’s volley across aim and a blocked Tiemoue Bakayoko drive hinted at improvement; they came closer still when Adrian, retaining his place in goal while Joe Hart appeared on from the bench, attained sharp stops to his left from N’Golo Kante and Zappacosta in quick succession.

When Alvaro Morata, who had earlier been spared a yellow card by Anthony Taylor despite throwing himself to the ground in criminal penalties region, hooked over there was the sense West Ham were being forced into the various kinds of rearguard action that proved insufficient against City. But by the interval it had not quite worked out that style; the first half’s final action was a spell of possession that emboldened the home support to break out into “Oles” and Moyes’s team deserved the result for their superior application.

David Moyes celebrates after Marko Arnautovic’s goal. Photograph: Sean Ryan/ IPS/ Rex/ Shutterstock

Bakayoko had watched another shoot deflected merely wide during that spell of Chelsea pressure but was sacrificed for Pedro when the teams re-emerged. The replace hoicked a speculative volley off target within minutes and then seemed on as Aaron Cresswell diverted a Cesc Fabregas centre away from Zappacosta. Shortly afterwards Fabregas flung a header on to the unwitting Angelo Ogbonna and the specific characteristics now seemed defined along the lines of that second-half siege at the Etihad.

West Ham’s best hope of attacking respite was to set Arnautovic off against Christensen, who was the subject of a penalty appeal when the Austrian’s flick deflected off his hand. It appeared a fair holler even if Christensen’s agency was questionable: Arnautovic would have had another clear shooting chance were it not for his intervention.

Adrian’s second yellow card for time-wasting of the week summarised West Ham’s priorities, although “the worlds largest” frustration for Conte was his team’s inability to turn territory into genuine chances. He constructed his remaining changes by the 64 th minute but the lack of sharpness was endemic; a home defense wonderfully marshalled by Winston Reid was not for turning around and too many final balls, particularly from broad, felt speculative.

They did not pick a style through until seven minutes from time when Morata, played onside by Masuaku after Kante’s nudged pass, flashed broad the kind of opportunity he has routinely interred. Hazard and Fabregas, the latter in added hour, both missed the target as Chelsea became increasingly flustered. West Ham held out in a triumph of organisation and perspiration; a victory in their manager’s image and the kind that can change a season.

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Benevento win first Serie A point after keeper’s injury-time header stuns Milan

Benevento gained their first ever point in Serie A thanks to an injury-time header from goalkeeper Alberto Brignoli, to earn a 2-2 draw against Milan

Benevento to gain access to first ever phase in Serie A thanks to an injury-time header from goalkeeper Alberto Brignoli, to earn a 2-2 draw in Gennaro Gattuso’s first game as Milan manager.

The club are playing in their first ever season in the Italian top flight but had lost each of their previous 14 games, and seemed to be on their style to a 15 th defeat with Milan leading in the 95 th minute.

But Brignoli, the goalkeeper on loan at Benevento from Juventus, came up into the box for a Danilo Cataldi free-kick, and rose above the Milan defence to glance a header into the bottom corner.

“It’s difficult to describe,” said Brignoli.” I was supposing:’ It’s 2-1, the 95 th minute, we have nothing to lose .’ I ran up there, closed my eyes and jumped. It would have been terrible to lose this, as we’ve lost so many at the last second that we really didn’t deserve to. Today we got some of that[ luck] back. We’ve shown that we can play against anyone and just need the incidents to go our way .” Brignoli became the first goalkeeper to score in Serie A since Massimo Taibi for Reggina in 2001.

Milan, playing their first match since Gattuso replaced Vincenzo Montella as coach-and-four last Monday, twice resulted but were pegged back after Alessio Romagnoli was sent off for a second booking in the 75 th minute.

Giacomo Bonaventura and Nikola Kalinic scored for Milan while George Puscas scored Benevento’s other goal.

” We conceded a strange objective and at the moment that’s just what our luck is ,” said Gattuso.” We have a long way to go and a lot to improve.” It hurts. A stabbing would have been better than this goal. We’re Milan and we need to be better, because this isn’t enough .”

BT Sport Football (@ btsportfootball)

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David de Gea brings greatness to bear for Manchester United amid Arsenal onslaught | Barney Ronay

Arsne Wenger might feel his side should have defeated Jos Mourinhos side, rather than succumb to a 3-1 home Premier League defeat, but that would be to deny the unadulterated magnificence of David de Gea in the Manchester United goal

How did Arsenal not win this match? Actually scratch that. How did Arsenal not win this match 6-3, or at the very least end up drawing it? This is not a rhetorical question. There is an answer. The main reason this didn’t happen and why instead Manchester United were able to extract a stir, ruthlessly executed 3-1 away win is because David de Gea rendered a performance of relentless grandeur in goal.

For an hour at the Emirates, as Arsenal surged back from the indignity of confessing a 2-0 deficit, De Gea was a one-man spider’s web, leaping and tumbling and spreading his limbs with startling grace and agility to keep Arsenal at bay.

Most notably there was a mind-boggling double-save 11 minutes into the second half, De Gea plunging with whip-crack velocity to get a hand to Alexandre Lacazette’s low shot, then leaping up to deflect Alexis Sanchez’s follow-up over the bar.

This was goalkeeping that seemed to bend the normal physical regulations, that defied any sense of reasonable cause and impact. As De Gea ambled off to retrieve the ball Arsenal’s players seemed genuinely pained not to have scored, ready to appeal, fruitlessly, to the referee, or the fourth official, or God.

Except at the Emirates God wore a turquoise shirt and playing in objective for the visitors. With United 2-0 up early on, there was a brilliant first-half save from Lacazette that almost got lost in the scramble, De Gea depicting courage and outstanding reflexes to deflect the ball up on to the bar from point-blank range.

Shortly afterwards he made something just as hair-raising. Romelu Lukaku, defending in extremis at the back post, propelled the ball towards his own goal off a shin. De Gea leapt, adjusted in mid air and clawed it away with the spatial awareness of an Olympic diver.

Afterwards Arsene Wenger mused on fairness in football, but was honest enough to put the blame for defeat on his own players’ lack of ruthlessness. Plus, of course, goalkeepers have always been the most deceptive of random elements in football. A good or bad goalkeeper skews and remakes the narrative, just as here De Gea’s grandeur helped turn a dominant performance from Arsenal into a home squad picked off with surgical grandeur on the break.

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Wenger ‘angry and disappointed’ after Manchester United win at Arsenal- video

Make no mistake, this was a tide that for long periods seemed to surge only one way. Arsenal induced 562 pass to United’s 147. Arsenal had 12 corners to United’s one, 75% of possession, and 33 shoots to United’s eight. Operating under all this like a constant riff, De Gea built 14 saves across 90 minutes.

It is hard to remember a routine one. Some were almost throwaway moments of brilliance, an everyday plunge down to palm away, a bog-standard last-ditch block with the legs. De Gea has an endearing habit after each save of simply standing up and mooching off back into stance, while lesser goalkeepers might be up on their feet punching the air, roaring with triumph, high-fiving the nearest team-mate.

But then he plays so well so often that the idea of goalkeepers altering the style a game should or would have gone starts to fall apart. Goalkeepers are, after all, part of the team too, in many ways the most important point bit. Every great team tends to have a great goalie.

As do some almost-there teams, like this evolving Mourinho United, who were also thrillingly decisive in attack when the moments came. It was that various kinds of game. For the opening 10 minutes United were viciously efficient in taking a 2-0 result. For an hour the latter are reliant on the maniac in the gloves to keep Arsenal to only the one in response from Lacazette. Ultimately United were dogged and depleted, Paul Pogba having capped an otherwise fine performance by get himself sent off for a stamp on Hector Bellerin.

For all that, the opening goal arrived with disarming ease as Arsenal’s defence collapsed at the first clue of pressure like a fine-milled wafer biscuit dunked in a mug of boiling tea. Pogba gave the scoring pass, but the author of the goal was Laurent Koscielny, whose horrible cross-field waft was intercepted by Antonio Valencia.

Pogba paused, drew three defenders and played a perfect little back-spun nudge to Valencia. His low shot went through first Nacho Monreal’s leg and then those of Petr Cech for a double Ecuadorian nutmeg- always a popular thing at this time of year in the coffee chains of north London.

Seven minutes later Jesse Lingard added a second, helped by Anthony Martial’s wonderful reverse pass. In the second half there was another for Lingard after a fine break. In between it was over to De Gea who just maintained plunging and comprehending and clawing away, always with a bit of a shrug, creating in the process surely one of the great Premier League goalkeeping performances.

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Fates and Diego Maradona hand England a World Cup group of hope | Barney Ronay

Tunisia and Panama devote Gareth Southgates humen a winnable start in the World Cup before they face Belgiums galaxy of Premier League stars

Welcome, is again, to the world. The balls have been cracked, the teams grouped off, the dates and venues parcelled out. After a glossy, agreeably fast-paced draw rite on the lighted stage of the Kremlin, Russia 2018 is run, the 21 st Fifa World Cup officially a lockdown.

The draw itself was a grand affair, with luminaries from Diego Maradona to Gordon Banks ranged behind their glitter punch bowls. From the opening moments there was a familiar hurry-up of intrigue as Group B threw up Portugal against Spain in Sochi, an authentically mouthwatering World Cup prospect.

As for England, well, the balls were kind. Maradona refused to produce an easy headline, pulling out Croatia when it might have been England to face Argentina in Group D. Diego also spared England a group-stage meeting with Germany, putting Mexico in with the holders.

Finally England were placed in Group G, with Belgium an intriguing opponent given the powerful Belgian presence in the Premier League , not to mention the recent transformation in footballing power between the two nations. Bring us your golden generation. And yes. We have been here before.

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The World Cup 2018 draw

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Group A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay
Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran
Group C: France, Australia, Peru, Denmark
Group D : Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria
Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia
Group F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea
Group G: Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England
Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia Japan

Photograph: Alexander Zemlianichenko/ AP

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As Panama and Tunisia joined England in Group G, the Fifa host Gary Lineker didn’t miss the chance to make a droll statement about Diego” always being good with his hands”, which stimulated sense if you have England v Argentina 1986 on memory speed-dial, but might have voiced a little odd elsewhere.

But Lineker was right. The balls were operating hot for Gareth Southgate. And England will expect to beat Tunisia and Panama, their first two opponents. Not that this has been much of a convenience in the past, as Iceland, Costa Rica and the USA will witness. But Southgate could not have hoped for much more , not least as the final fixture will be the Belgium game, a moment of kindness from the hands of Carles Puyol that might leave both teams already qualified or in the position- whispering it- to attempt a slight moment of 1982 -style Anschluss .

First England will fulfill Tunisia in Volgograd, previously Stalingrad, and a place not usually associated with the tourist road unless you happen to be a military historian. These days Volgograd is an industrial city, still shadowed in its artefacts and monuments by its bloody 20 th-century history. England will travel 900 miles to get there from their St Petersburg base. It should at the very least be pleasantly warm.

England travel

This is a match England will have good hopes of winning. Tunisia are ranked 27 th in the world, 12 spots below England. They do not have any obvious starring players- although Wahbi Khazri might have a point to prove- and have lost to Senegal, Burkina Faso and Cameroon this year and drawn at home to Libya. The veteran Nabil Maaloul was reappointed as manager in April. It could be tight, never a good thing with England, who tend to respond to tournament pressure with all the resilience of a succumbing sea anemone left to cook in the summer sun.

From there England travel 560 miles to Nizhny, home city of Maxim Gorky. Here, in a few moments of classic World Cup culture weirdness, they will play Panama, a nation of 4. 4 million people, with an economy built around canal tolls and international tax evasion.

These are grizzled World Cup first-timers, with five players on more than a hundred caps and two in the squad with 43 international aims. Panama will have nothing to lose and a shrewd coach in Hernan Dario” the Baton” Gomez, veteran of three World Cups. The anxiety is England could find themselves with another Costa Rica on their hands, a well-drilled emerging power with seven months to prepare the defensive masterplan. In reality they really should win this one. And so on to Belgium in Kaliningrad, another round trip of more than 1,000 miles. This is the jewel of England’s group, a game against a team who should on paper- and were they not called Belgium- is just one of the favourites to win the tournament. It is also a session of the most familial of footballing enemies.

The Premier League has been good to Belgium, just as it was good to Iceland in the buildup to their breakthrough tournament, proving the perfect road into elite-tier club football for products of a hugely successful development structure. As it stands Belgium have 21 recent call-ups who have played or currently play in England. In Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku they have three of the best attacking players in the league. Indeed, in every department except perhaps full-back Belgium have a stronger Premier League XI than England. It promises to be a fascinating occasion, by the end of which both teams will have travelled 4,000 miles of the working group stage.

There is, of course, an entire world of footballing intrigue beyond Group G. Russia versus Saudi Arabia is a wild-looking World Cup opener, albeit for reasons that have almost nothing to do with football. These two nations are in effect at war in Syria right now, or war at one remove. Both will also play Egypt, currently striking a enter into negotiations with Russia to house planes bombing Saudi forces-out on the ground. Uruguay, the fourth team of the working group, might be best just looking the other way and biding out of all this.

Brazil have a fairly easy run in Group E, but could then face Germany in the second round if one or the other contrives not to win their group. The Group of Death- more a group of mild peril- is Group D. Argentina, Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria is a powerful lineup, with farther tournament joy for Iceland in getting to face Lionel Messi.

As for England, hopes will remain energetically stifled. Past group evidence suggests England tend to raise their game against superior foes and may benefit from that 28 June date against a genuinely classy Belgium team. On the other hand Italy and Uruguay knocked England out of the last World Cup in the space of six days.

There is no real tendency to follow here , no pattern of accomplishment. England either turn out with a serviceable squad and muddle their route to a grudging knockout exit. Or, as at the last two tournaments, they arrive in a state of make-do and fall apart against the first decent team that intersects their route. Concerned as ever with deflating the national mood, Southgate even described travelling to the draw as” a learning experience “. With a hospitable group ahead of them England will be happiest travelling in hope, if not much expectation.

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Who can win ?

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Andr Villas-Boas quits as manager of Shanghai SIPG to drive in Dakar Rally

The former Chelsea and Tottenham manager Andr Villas-Boas will contest the Dakar Rally in 2018 after quitting as manager of Chinese side Shanghai SIPG

The former Chelsea and Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas will contest the Dakar Rally in 2018 after ceasing as manager of Chinese side Shanghai SIPG.

Villas-Boas, whose uncle took part in the event in 1982, will drive a Toyota Hilux in the 15 -day rally which starts in Peru on 6 January and travellings through Bolivia before finishing in Argentina on 20 January.

The 40 -year-old motorsport enthusiast deemed address the gruelling race on a motorbike, but was persuaded to switch to the Hilux pick-up and will have fellow Portuguese Ruben Faria as his co-driver.

” I spoke with my friend Alex Doringer, the manager of the KTM team, who told him that I would still need a full year’s preparation to get there and that it was better to hold doing it with a car ,” Villas-Boas said.

” So I get in touch with Team Overdrive and here I am !”

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Sadio Man and Mohamed Salah see Liverpool past limited Stoke

A goal in the first half from Sadio Man and two from Mohamed Salah in the second find Jrgen Klopps team to an untroubled away win over Stoke City

This will not rank alongside Liverpool’s most memorable wins of the season. Some of their victories have been devastating showings of assaulting football, the sort that make you glad to be a fan. This 3-0 victory against a desperate Stoke City side was not much more than efficient, earned by goals from Sadio Mane and a bracing from the substitute Mohamed Salah, but it might end up being among their most satisfying three points.

” It was well deserved, but it was hard work ,” said Jurgen Klopp after video games, which might be a little charitable to their foes, who hardly presented the most fearsome and doughty foes. But it will nonetheless be encouraging for Liverpool that they appeared pretty comfortable throughout against a team that set out to frustrate them.

It could have been different had the referee Martin Atkinson sent off Simon Mignolet in the first half, though. Mignolet rushed out of his aim and hacked down Mame Biram Diouf as the forward tried to round the keeper just outside the area but, as the whole stadium prepared themselves for the sight of a red card, merely a yellow emerged.

The rules around sendings-off in those circumstances were relaxed last year, entailing not all such pollutes should be automatically considered as red cards. But even though Diouf’s run was angled somewhat away from objective and there were defenders roughly in the same postcode, had Mignolet’s boot not intervened he would have had an open goal.

Predictably enough, Klopp had few objections, but Mark Hughes did.” That’s the key moment in the game ,” the Stoke manager said.” I only don’t understand why the officials didn’t see it for what it was. At that point it would’ve been 1-1 and game on. Usually in those situations the home team gets the benefit of the doubt, but we didn’t get that many times this evening .”

Hughes’s complaints might have carried a bit more weight if his team had not been so poor, and he should probably have been more irked about their defending than the officials, but Stoke undoubtedly had the rough objective of things.

Liverpool’s opening goal was not without disagreement, either. The Stoke fans were already unhappy that Alberto Moreno had not been penalised for a challenge on Xherdan Shaqiri, but their ire was raised further when the referee’s assistant ruled that Joe Gomez had kept the ball in on the right byline. Replays suggested at least 9/10 ths of the ball had intersected the line, so they may have had a point, but they should be more angry with the way their defense stood still when Solanke neatly laid off the cross to Mane, who exquisitely lifted it over Lee Grant and into the net.” The one thing you want is for the referee to get the key decisions right, and in my opinion he didn’t ,” Hughes said.

Ultimately any refereeing dispute was rendered moot by Stoke’s profligacy and Liverpool’s ruthlessness. Joe Allen missed two fine chances in the second half, one perhaps unluckily deflected broad but the second hoofed route over the bar from around 10 yards out.

Aside from those chances Liverpool were broadly in control , not inevitably because of their own brilliance( afterwards Klopp said they should have done more with the ball and been tighter at the back ), but more due to Stoke’s inadequacies.

With 13 minutes remaining, Liverpool scored again. Mane built Ryan Shawcross look foolish on the right side of the area, zipping around him like a speedboat circling an oil tanker, before clipping a cross to the replace Salah, who defined himself perfectly and hammered an unstoppable volley into the roof of the net.

It was 3-0 a few minutes later. More deeply questionable defending saw Erik Pieters woefully misjudges a header back to Grant, then Salah leapt on the ball and tucked it home with the confidence of a human in the form of his life. Which, as it happens, he is.

All that was left to do was for Hughes to bring on Charlie Adam, as if to remind Liverpool that their team have not always been about lightning fast, dynamic young colts. The away fans expended the remainder of the game merrily singing Christmas sungs and is recommended that relegation is on the cards for Stoke. On this evidence, they might be right.

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Sam Allardyce back in contention to be the next Everton manager

Everton are considering fresh discussions with Sam Allardyce regarding his becoming their new administrator, after initial talks with the 63 -year-old previously broke down when he was approached earlier this month

Everton are deeming fresh discussions with Sam Allardyce regarding him becoming their new manager, after initial talks with the 63 -year-old previously broke down when he was first approached earlier this month.

Allardyce’s status as a selected candidate once more indicates how desperate Everton have become to find a permanent successor to Ronald Koeman after the first contact with him is thought to have broken down due to the duration and terms of the contract he was offered.

Five weeks have passed since the Dutchman was sacked on 23 October and David Unsworth, the Everton Under-2 3 manager, was appointed as caretaker. Yet the team’s form has continued the downward spiraling that led to Koeman’s removal.

Unsworth has overseen five defeats in his seven games in charge in all competitions, managing only one win. Sunday’s 4-1 loss at Southampton left Everton with 12 phases, two above the relegation zone, after 13 matches.

After the first round of talks broke down it is understood Allardyce was minded to repudiate any further overtures from Everton. So if the club is to try and engage with him again, Fahad Moshiri, the owner, may have to offer far better words for him to reconsider.

The move would also signal that Everton have given up on trying to prise Marco Silva from Watford. The Hertfordshire club have made it clear they are not minded to allow the Portuguese to depart, which has narrowed Everton’s options.

Should Allardyce be open to any Everton approach he may also ask for a level of control over transfers following what has proved to be the disastrous policy of the summer window, which was overseen by Steve Walsh, the director of football. Walsh joined from Leicester City in what was viewed as takeover for the Merseyside club. But following Romelu Lukaku’s PS7 5m sale to Manchester United, Walsh failed to sign a centre-forward to replace a striker whose tally of 88 Premier League objectives since 2012 was second only to Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero.

After Everton saw their interest in buying Olivier Giroud from Arsenal rebuffed, three players who are natural No10s were instead signed- Wayne Rooney from Manchester United, Gylfi Sigurdsson from Swansea City, and Ajax’s Davy Klaassen.

This resulted in Koeman being forced into playing Oumar Niasse on occasion, a No9 who had been out of the first-team picture last year. While the Senegalese has scored six times in nine appearances in all competitions, Everton have just been managed 13 league goals this term.

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