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Ronaldo’s Portugal held by Mexico at Confed Cup

June 19, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Cristiano Ronaldo brushed off speculation about his Real Madrid future, although Portugal conceded a late equaliser in a 2-2 draw with Mexico at the Confederations Cup on Sunday.

Mexico

Ronaldo teed up Ricardo Quaresma to fire Portugal ahead in the first half in Kazan, but the goal was cancelled out before the break by Mexico striker Javier Hernandez’s bullet header.

Cedric Soares restored Portugal’s lead on 86 minutes, but Hector Moreno’s stoppage-time header salvaged a point for Mexico in their Group A opener.

“We could have killed off the match but it didn’t happen. The draw is a fair result without doubt,” said Portugal coach Fernando Santos, whose side wore black armbands in honour of the victims of a deadly forest fire back home.

“I would like to say something on behalf of my players. People are very sad in Portugal and the players are thinking of all those who are suffering from what’s happened.”

Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio said his team deserved their point but admitted there was work to be done going forward.

“Hector Moreno’s goal handed Mexican football a huge result,” he said.

“We still need to work on our finishing, we’re not efficient enough in the final third of the pitch.

“The next match will be very tough because New Zealand will give it their all.”

Ronaldo, 32, is reportedly furious over a tax probe into the off-shore accounts dealing with his image rights, and has reportedly vowed to leave Spain.

According to Spanish paper Marca on Sunday, Real Madrid’s coach Zinedine Zidane even broke off his holiday to call Ronaldo to try to persuade his star not to quit the club.

But Portugal’s talisman was at his best in an action-packed first half in his team’s opening match, with hosts Russia and New Zealand still to come in the group.

Ronaldo’s superb volley looked to have helped Portugal take the lead, but the video assistant referee came to Mexico’s rescue after Nani had put the ball in the net.

When Ronaldo’s volley thumped the crossbar, Nani pounced on the rebound, but the video ref spotted that four players were offside.

However, Portugal, and Ronaldo, were not to be denied.

The Euro 2016 winners took the lead on 34 minutes when Ronaldo sprinted into the box and his beautifully-timed pass found Quaresma unmarked in the area.

The Besiktas winger drew Mexico’s goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa and tapped home the opening goal.

But Mexico responded with Hernandez testing Portugal keeper Rui Patricio, before putting his side level.

Mexico’s all-time top scorer grabbed his 48th international goal from 93 appearances after some dreadful defending by Portugal.

Borussia Dortmund midfielder Raphael Guerreiro failed to deal with a cross into the box and Carlos Vela teed up Hernandez, who met the cross with a diving header.

After an explosive opening period, the second was a much tamer affair as both teams squandered half chances as the tempo dropped.

With time running out, Southampton right-back Cedric pounced on a loose ball and slammed home Portugal’s second goal.

But with the 90 minutes up, Mexican defender Moreno rose highest from the final corner of the game to head in the equaliser.

Manchester United complete £31 million signing of Lindelof

June 16, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Manchester United on Wednesday completed the signing of Swedish international centre-back Victor Lindelof from Benfica for a fee believed to be £31 million (35m euros, $39.6m), the English Premier League side announced.

Lindelof

“I am thrilled to be joining Manchester United,” said the 22-year-old after penning a four-year deal.

“I have enjoyed my time at Benfica enormously and I have learned a lot there. But I’m looking forward to playing in the Premier League at Old Trafford and for Jose Mourinho.”

Lindelof joined Benfica from home-town club Vasteras SK in 2012 and won three Portuguese league titles and two Portuguese Cups during his time in Lisbon.

Lindelof is the second centre-back signed by United manager Mourinho following last year’s capture of Ivory Coast international Eric Bailly from Villarreal.

Mourinho also has England pair Chris Smalling and Phil Jones at his disposal, along with Argentina international Marcos Rojo, while Dutch utility man Daley Blind has slotted into central defence on occasion.

“Victor is a very talented young player, who has a great future ahead of him at United,” said Mourinho on Wednesday.

“Our season last year showed us that we need options and quality to add depth to the squad and Victor is the first to join us this summer. I know that our fantastic group of players will welcome him as one of us.”

Lindelof is United’s first new signing of the summer as they build up towards a Champions League campaign next season.

He told MUTV that he was ready to fight for his place in the team.

“Of course there are some great players here in my position,” said the Swede.

“I’m here to do my best to try to help the team as much as I can and it’s always good to have other good players around you. When you have that, you get better as well.

“I think every move means you have to adapt to a new environment but I feel comfortable in myself. I trust myself and it’s going to be tough but I’m looking forward to it.

“I always had a dream of coming here to play in the Premier League so, for me, it’s a dream come true.”

United are also in the market for a striker, having included Zlatan Ibrahimovic, currently sidelined by a serious knee injury, on their list of players to be released.

Real Madrid striker Alvaro Morata is one name linked with a move to Old Trafford.

His agent said earlier this week that United had lodged a “very important offer” with the Spanish giants to try to bring him to Manchester.

Lionel Messi pledges ‘fight’ as Argentina eye World Cup

June 16, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Lionel Messi vowed to “keep fighting” as Argentina attempt to overcome their World Cup qualifying struggles and seal their place in next year’s tournament in Russia.

Argentina

The two-time world champions are fifth in South American qualifying, with only the top four teams guaranteed a place in the 2018 World Cup.

“365 days left to Russia, let’s keep fighting for the dream!” Messi wrote on his Facebook page on Thursday, as Argentina bid to avoid missing the finals for the first time since 1970.

Arch-rivals Brazil became the first side to qualify for Russia in March, but Argentina trail fourth-placed Chile by a point with four matches left to play.

Jorge Sampaoli’s side would face a two-legged play-off against the winners of the Oceania region — New Zealand or Solomon Islands — should they finish fifth.

Argentina, without the suspended Messi, crashed to a 2-0 defeat in Bolivia in their most recent qualifier, but the Barcelona star’s four-match ban for swearing at an assistant referee has since been overturned by FIFA.

He can now return when qualifying resumes in August with a clash against Uruguay, followed by matches against Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador.

Argentina have won only one of eight World Cup 2018 qualifiers played without Messi, compared to five out of six won with him on the pitch.

Tite ponders Brazil changes after Argentina loss

June 10, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Brazil manager Tite says he is considering changes for Tuesday’s game against Australia after blasting his side’s poor finishing in the loss to Argentina in Melbourne.

Brazil

The world’s number one ranked team wasted several scoring opportunities as Argentina hung on for a 1-0 win in their Superclasico at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Friday.

A goal from Sevilla defender Gabriel Mercado just before half-time proved the eventual winner as Argentina gained a morale-boosting victory under new manager Jorge Sampaoli.

The two-time world champions and second ranked team are struggling outside the automatic qualifying positions in fifth spot in the South American group with four games left while Brazil have already qualified for the World Cup finals in Russia next year.

Tite looked on as Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus hit the woodwork with the goal at his mercy before Chelsea’s Willian fired into the opposite post with the rebound midway through the second half.

“They (Argentina) were not that superior, but we needed more precision in our finishing to take our opportunities,” Tite told reporters after the match through an interpreter.

“We have a lot of things to assess and I might need to make some changes so that we play with better coherence and in a more organized way.

“Even in the match against Uruguay (4-1 win in Montevideo in March) we had to make some adjustments, but in the end what we really have to find is some goals.”

The Brazilians are staying on in Australia to play a second match in Melbourne on Tuesday against the Socceroos, who are tuning up for this month’s Confederations Cup in Russia.

Tite said he was looking for his side to be more clinical against the Australians, who downed Saudi Arabia 3-2 in a crucial home qualifier for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

“The team played well, but we had some trouble marking their (Argentina’s) top players in the first half, and they were playing faster than us,” he said.

“In the second half, we had more possession and played better.

“We had the effort and the formation we wanted but we need more of the players performing at a higher level.

“We didn’t deserve the victory. We need to be more aggressive and we have to neutralise the other team so that we can get the game more on our terms.”

Tite said Brazil had to make better use of their “technical power.”

“We have to be better prepared. We have to look at the game as a whole: the way we want to play, the technical power that we have, and we have to look at the competition,” he said.

“We want to get to the level that we can dominate the game. That way we can get the performance and the results we want.”

Tite said he would assess the condition of Jesus, who was carried off after he collected an elbow in the face in an aerial challenge with Manchester City team-mate Nicolas Otamendi in the final minutes and taken to hospital for observation.

But Brazil’s team coordinator Edu Gaspar said Jesus had been given the all clear.

“Jesus is fine,” Edu told reporters. “I spoke to the doctor, he said he is OK. He did the exam to see if it (his jaw) is broken or not but nothing has happened.”

Argentina will stop off and play in Singapore on Tuesday, but will be without Lionel Messi and defender Otamendi, who will skip the game to prepare for their weddings later this month.

Barcelona superstar Messi will marry his girlfriend Antonella Roccuzzo on June 30, with Otamendi’s wedding scheduled for June 16.

Spurs’ Kane ready for England captaincy

June 8, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane says he is ready to succeed Wayne Rooney as England’s long-term captain.

Harry Kane

England manager Gareth Southgate has eased Manchester United forward Rooney, 31, out of the picture and says he will decide who captains his side on a match-by-match basis.

He has praised Kane’s “leadership qualities” and despite only being 23, the Spurs hotshot says he is ready to carry the responsibility that comes with the armband.

Asked if he thought it might be too soon for him to take on the captaincy, Kane replied: “For me personally, I don’t think so.

“I’ve been captain for Spurs a few times. You wear an armband and it gets built up a lot to be a captain.

“It is a fantastic thing, but in this team — and in this day and age — there should be more than just one leader out there.

“For me, I don’t think it would (be too early), but that is a matter of opinion really.”

On Southgate’s praise, he added: “It’s fantastic to hear. Any player growing up as a footballer dreams of being England captain one day and I am no different.”

Injuries mean Kane has not played for England since the 1-0 win in Slovakia last September that was to prove the one and only game of Sam Allardyce’s ill-fated reign as manager.

Having sat out England’s last six games, he is due to make his first appearance under Southgate in Saturday’s World Cup qualifier against Scotland in Glasgow.

Kane scored 29 goals to win the Premier League’s Golden Boot for the second year running, but he is desperate to improve an England record of five goals in 17 games.

“Club football, you are in a rhythm all the time,” said Kane, who scored seven goals in his last two games of the season for Spurs.

“You are playing week in, week out, but for your country, it’s not like that. You meet up every now and then. But it’s something I have got to get used to.

“I want to get back playing, hopefully get back scoring. If I score maybe a hat-trick at the weekend and a couple in the next game (against France on Tuesday), the ratio might not look so bad.

“As a striker, you can always change that. Five in 17 isn’t a terrible record, but it is something I want to improve. Hopefully that can start at the weekend.”

Man City complete move for goalkeeper Ederson

June 8, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Manchester City have completed the signing of Brazilian goalkeeper Ederson from Benfica, the Premier League club announced on Thursday.

Ederson

The announcement came a week after Benfica said they had agreed to sell the 23-year-old to City for 40 million euros ($45 million, £34.7 million), making him the second most expensive goalkeeper ever.

Ederson will officially become a City player on July 1. City did not disclose the length of his contract.

“I like everything about Manchester City,” Ederson said in quotes published on the City website.

“This is a great club, they have amazing fans and they play splendid football. I have always had the dream to play in English football and now I’m going to make it true.

“With Pep Guardiola, City are growing more and more. He is putting in place a young team for the future. Those were important factors in making my decision.”

In signing Ederson, City manager Guardiola hopes to have put an end to the goalkeeping saga that plagued his first season at the Etihad Stadium.

Guardiola allowed Joe Hart to join Torino on loan, but Hart’s replacement, Claudio Bravo, proved inadequate and back-up goalkeeper Willy Caballero ended the campaign as City’s number one.

Ederson becomes the most expensive goalkeeper since Gianluigi Buffon joined Juventus from Parma for 53 million euros in 2001.

He began his career with home-town club Sao Paulo and spent time in Benfica’s youth system before launching his senior career with Portuguese club Ribeirao.

After a three-year spell with Rio Ave, he returned to Benfica in 2015.

Ederson only became Benfica’s first-choice goalkeeper last season and helped the club to a league and Portuguese Cup double.

He is uncapped at senior level, but was named in Brazil’s squad for their upcoming friendlies against Argentina and Australia in Melbourne.

“We are delighted to bring Ederson to Manchester City,” said City’s director of football Txiki Begiristain.

“He is one of the best young goalkeepers in Europe and he is an important addition to the squad for next season and the coming seasons.”

Ederson is City’s second major signing of the close season following the £43 million ($55.7 million, 49.6 million euros) capture of Portuguese playmaker Bernardo Silva from French champions Monaco.

Caballero, Pablo Zabaleta, Bacary Sagna, Gael Clichy and Jesus Navas have all been allowed to leave as Guardiola reshapes a squad that finished 15 points below champions Chelsea in third place.

Two-goal Ronaldo keeps Madrid kings of Europe

June 5, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice as Real Madrid crushed Juventus 4-1 in Cardiff on Saturday to become the first team to retain the European Cup in the Champions League era.

Ronaldo

The Portugal superstar’s opener was cancelled out by an astonishing Mario Mandzukic strike, but goals from Casemiro, Ronaldo and Marco Asensio secured Madrid’s third Champions League triumph in four years and 12th in total.

Now a four-time Champions League winner, Ronaldo finished as the competition’s top scorer for the fifth season running, substantially enhancing his chances of matching fierce rival Lionel Messi’s tally of five Ballon d’Or crowns.

“We’re very happy to be the first team to win the Champions League in two consecutive years,” said Ronaldo, who has now scored exactly 600 goals for club and country in his extraordinary career.

“I finished the season very well. It is another record, a record that these players deserve and we are delighted.”

Zinedine Zidane, a head coach for only 17 months, became the first boss to oversee back-to-back European Cup successes since Arrigo Sacchi’s fabled AC Milan team won the tournament in 1989 and 1990.

“It’s a tremendous joy for the players and for this immense club,” Zidane told beIN Sports Spain.

“I am happy because it is not easy to win things like La Liga and the Champions League, and this year we did it with hard work and desire.”

Victory crowned a glorious season for Madrid, who have pulled off a La Liga and European Cup double for the first time since 1958, having also won the Club World Cup and European Super Cup.

Zidane’s joy was his former club Juve’s despair, Massimiliano Allegri’s side crashing to a fifth successive defeat in Champions League finals and seventh in total, extending their own desperately unwanted record.

The first Champions League final to be played beneath a closed roof saw Juve hit their heads against a familiar ceiling as they missed out on a chance to complete the first Treble in their history.

The Italian champions had substitute Juan Cuadrado sent off after he was shown a second yellow card for a gentle push on Sergio Ramos that drew a lamentable overreaction from the Madrid skipper.

“We thought we had enough to win the game. I cannot explain why we played like we did in the second half,” said Juve captain Gianluigi Buffon, now a three-time beaten finalist.

“Real Madrid deserved to win in the second half. They showed their class and the attitude needed to play in this kind of game.”

Following an elaborate pre-match ceremony involving American pop act Black Eyed Peas at the Principality Stadium, Juve settled first.

Gonzalo Higuain worked Keylor Navas twice, while Miralem Pjanic’s snappy half-volley forced the Madrid goalkeeper into a smart one-handed save.

Madrid drew first blood in the 20th minute when Ronaldo flicked the ball wide to Dani Carvajal before artfully sweeping the Spaniard’s return pass into the bottom-left corner via a nick off Leonardo Bonucci.

It was a fine strike, and it made Ronaldo the first player to have scored in three finals in the post-1992 Champions League age, but it was quickly cancelled out by Mandzukic’s masterpiece.

Bonucci’s flighted pass from deep was volleyed into the box by Alex Sandro and Higuain chested the ball down before teeing it up for Mandzukic.

The Croatian forward took a touch with his chest and then, as he fell, hooked a sublime volley over Navas’s despairing dive and beneath the crossbar.

But after the break, it was Zidane’s men who set the tempo and in the 61st minute Casemiro put them ahead.

The Brazilian midfielder unleashed a shot from 25 yards that flicked off the heels of Madrid old boy Sami Khedira before spinning past the helpless Buffon.

Three minutes later it was game over as Ronaldo netted his 12th goal in this season’s tournament, moving him a goal clear of Messi, and 105th overall.

Luka Modric sped to the byline on the right and crossed as Ronaldo darted ahead of Bonucci at the near post to guide a shot past Buffon.

Cardiff native Gareth Bale made an appearance as a late replacement for Karim Benzema, having been out since April 23 with a calf injury.

Sandro headed wide from a Dani Alves free-kick, but Juve’s fire went out when Cuadrado was given his marching orders and substitute Asensio added to their misery with a late tap-in from Marcelo’s cut-back.

Juventus bar Zidane’s path to history with Madrid

June 3, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Only Zinedine Zidane’s former club Juventus stand between the Real Madrid coach and football history in Saturday’s star-studded Champions League final in Cardiff.

Real Madrid

A head coach for only 17 months, the former France playmaker can become the first manager to win back-to-back European Cups since AC Milan’s Arrigo Sacchi in 1989 and 1990 and the first in the Champions League era.

Zidane had a hand in Madrid’s ninth, 10th and 11th European triumphs — as a player, assistant coach and head coach — and the quest for the ‘Duodecima’ (12th) brings him up against an old flame.

“If you’d said I was going to live all this when I was a child, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Zidane told Friday’s pre-game press conference at the Principality Stadium.

“But I’m living it and I’m enjoying it. I’m enjoying what’s happening to all of us. I’m just the coach.

“It’s really beautiful to be able to play the final again, like we did in Milan (in 2016). We’re ready to play.”

Victorious against city rivals Atletico Madrid in the 2014 and 2016 finals, Real are chasing a third success in four seasons.

It would allow them to proclaim European dominance with a conviction they last possessed during Alfredo Di Stefano’s five consecutive wins of the late 1950s.

Zidane, 44, has already led his team to glory in La Liga, ending a five-year league title drought, as well as the Club World Cup and European Super Cup.

Cristiano Ronaldo, meanwhile, can claim a fourth European crown, which would only enhance his chances of matching fierce rival Lionel Messi’s haul of five Ballon d’Or successes.

The 32-year-old Portuguese has exploded reports of his demise with stunning hat-tricks against Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals and Atletico in the last four.

With 10 goals to his name, he needs one more to equal Messi’s tally in this season’s competition and become a Champions League top scorer for the fifth season running.

The final could prove a glorious homecoming for Madrid’s Cardiff native Gareth Bale, although the Wales star is expected to start on the bench due to a calf injury, with the in-form Isco due to continue in his place.

While Zidane, Ronaldo and Bale hope their good fortune in the competition continues, Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is praying for a turning of the tide.

A beaten finalist in 2003 and 2015, the 39-year-old Italy great dreams of adding the ultimate club honour to the World Cup winner’s medal he collected in 2006.

“Real Madrid are used to winning finals,” Buffon said.

“We’ve lost a number of finals. So maybe it’s a good match in that sense. We’re going to try and overturn our record in history.”

Juve must shed their status of perennial Champions League bridesmaids, having finished runners-up on a record six occasions and lost their last four finals.

Italian champions for the sixth year running and Coppa Italia winners, the Turin giants are also aiming to become only the eighth club to complete the European Treble.

They were pursuing the same milestone in 2015, when they lost 3-1 to Barcelona in Berlin, but coach Massimiliano Allegri says his streetwise side are now ready to take the final step.

“In 2015 we got to the final and deserved it, but we perhaps were not strongly motivated,” he told reporters on Friday.

“We didn’t feel confident enough because we’d had struggles in the Champions League for a number of years.

“We didn’t get to the final by chance, but we didn’t expect to win. This year it’s completely different. We’ve been growing gradually. Juventus have improved a lot.”

While Madrid possess the competition’s sharpest attack, Juve boast its meanest defence, having successively shut down the sparkling attacks of Barcelona and Monaco en route to Cardiff.

Beneath a closed roof at the Principality Stadium — a first for a Champions League final — a classic contest beckons.

La Liga win is bigger than World Cup for Zidane

May 25, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Zinedine Zidane claimed winning La Liga as Real Madrid coach on Sunday surpasses his stellar achievements as a player and even lifting the Champions League in his debut season as coach last year.

Real Madrid

Madrid claimed the Spanish title for a 33rd time as Cristiano Ronaldo struck his 40th goal of the season and Karim Benzema slotted home early in the second-half to secure a 2-0 win at Malaga.

“It is the happiest day of my professional life by a distance,” Zidane said after landing Madrid’s first title in five years.

“Right now I would like to stand up here and dance,” he added in a press conference interrupted by Marcelo, Danilo, Casemiro, Lucas Vazquez and Alvaro Morata drowning their boss in champagne.

Zidane won the World Cup, European Championships and Champions League as one of the greatest players of his generation, but said the extra responsibility that comes with being coach made his achievements all the greater.

“As coach of Real Madrid you know what the expectations are,” he added.

“I have experienced it as a player and that is why I say it is the happiest day of my professional life because being a coach changes everything.

“I have won everything with this club, this shirt but to win La Liga is the best of all.

“I live what I am doing with passion and what I have enjoyed the most is today because after nine or 10 months we have won La Liga.”

Zidane’s role in restoring Madrid to the top of Spanish football was hailed by Ronaldo as the Portuguese claimed just his second league winners’ medal in eight seasons since joining the Spanish giants.

“He has managed things very intelligently along with his assistants,” said Ronaldo.

“The proof is there, we have won a very difficult league against one of the best teams in the world in Barca and for me Zidane has done a phenomenal job.”

Madrid could go onto complete a first La Liga and Champions League double for 59 years when they face Juventus in the Champions League final on June 3.

And Real’s run to the title was most certainly a squad effort with Ronaldo sidelined or rested for nine games — all of which they won.

“On a collective level I think it is my best season at Real Madrid,” added Ronaldo.

“Everyone has played minutes and all the squad have contributed.”

Madrid edged out reigning champions Barcelona by just three points after the Catalans came from 2-0 down to beat Eibar 4-2 on Sunday.

And Zidane highlighted his side’s response from losing a thrilling El Clasico 3-2 to Barca with the last kick of the ball last month by winning their last six league games as the key to the title.

“The last six games, but for sure the last three have been key,” added the Frenchman.

“To win 4-1 at home (against Sevilla), 4-1 away (at Celta) and then 2-0 today is spectacular.”

Pogba sends grieving Man Utd to emotional Europa triumph

May 25, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Paul Pogba dedicated victory to the victims of this week’s Manchester terror attack after propelling Manchester United towards a 2-0 victory over Ajax in Wednesday’s Europa League final.

Manchester United

A night that began with a moment of silence, then applause, in memory of the 22 people who died at Manchester Arena on Monday ended with United completing their trophy collection through goals from Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Reminders of the attack were everywhere at Stockholm’s Friends Arena, from United’s black armbands to the chants of “Manchester!” from their fans, while Pogba, too, was grieving, following the recent death of his father.

“We played for the people who died,” Pogba told BT Sport.

“These things are terrible all over the world, in London and in Paris. We went out focused to win and we won for Manchester and the country.”

Victory enabled United manager Jose Mourinho, who said prior to the game that he and his players were struggling not to think about the tragedy, to bring his maiden Old Trafford season to a successful conclusion.

He had already guided United to glory in the League Cup and despite a sixth-place finish in the Premier League, success in the Europa League means his side will return to the Champions League next season.

“It is the end of a very difficult season. But a very very good season,” Mourinho said.

“There are lots of poets in football, but poets don’t win many titles. We knew where we were better than them and we exploited their weaknesses.”

United became only the fifth club — after Juventus, Ajax, Bayern Munich and Chelsea — to have won the Champions League, the Europa League and the now defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup.

Mourinho, a UEFA Cup winner with Porto in 2003 and two-time European champion, has now won all four of the major European finals he has contested.

Ajax were appearing in their first continental showpiece match since the 1996 Champions League decider and fielded a team with an average age of 22 years and 282 days — the youngest to have ever started a major European final.

Peter Bosz’s effervescent team caused United some uncomfortable moments, but without ever threatening to pull off an upset.

“Obviously both sides were affected (by the attack in Manchester), but once you play the final, for that moment you forget it,” said Bosz.

“I’m disappointed because you play finals to win them. We didn’t. I haven’t see the Ajax that I’m used to, which means good football, high pressing and being dominant.

“High pressing was difficult because Man United only played long balls and didn’t take any risks in the build-up. I think it was a boring game.”

Denied a glorious homecoming by a serious knee injury, United’s Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic was present instead as a spectator to see his current side take on the team where he made his name.

Pogba put a volley fractionally wide in the first minute and in the 18th minute he found the target, albeit with a helping hand.

From Marouane Fellaini’s lay-off, the French midfielder let fly with a left-foot shot that flicked off Davinson Sanchez’s left foot and looped past Ajax’s helplessly wrong-footed goalkeeper Andre Onana.

It was the biggest return yet on United’s world-record £89.3 million ($115.8 million, 103.2 million euros) investment in Pogba, who celebrated by pointing to the sky.

Moments later, Antonio Valencia stung Onana’s palms after a raid down the United right.

The English side then took their foot off the pedal, enabling Ajax to start finding space in dangerous areas, but within three minutes of kick-off in the second half they had tightened their grip on the game.

Juan Mata’s corner from the right was headed down by Chris Smalling and with his back to goal, Mkhitaryan held off Joel Veltman to flick the bouncing ball past Onana and claim his sixth goal in the competition.

Onana was called upon to field a header from Fellaini and United goalkeeper Sergio Romero saved from substitute Donny van de Beek.

But there was little to worry United’s fans, who continued to defiantly chant the name of their grief-stricken city as the final whistle neared.

Mourinho says Manchester attack victims in United’s ‘minds and hearts’

May 23, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Jose Mourinho said the victims of a deadly bomb attack in Manchester were in the “minds and hearts” of his squad as Man United prepared for Wednesday’s Europa League final against Ajax in Stockholm.

Manchester United players and staff stand for a minute of silence during training honouring the people killed and wounded in an explosion at Manchester Arena

Britain’s deadliest attack for 12 years saw 22 people killed, including children, and 59 injured when a bomb went off at a concert by US pop star Ariana Grande at the Manchester Arena on Monday.

“We’re all very sad about the tragic events last night; we can’t take out of our minds & hearts the victims & their families,” said Mourinho in comments posted on United’s Twitter feed on Tuesday.

“We have a job to do & will fly to Sweden to do that job. It’s a pity we cannot fly with the happiness we always have before a big game.”

Mourinho, who only joined United last year, added: “I know, even during my short time here, that the people of Manchester will pull together as one.”

The Portuguese boss’s Twitter comments were set to be his only public statement of the day after United had earlier announced they were cancelling Tuesday’s scheduled pre-match press conference in Stockholm.

“Due to the tragic events in Manchester last night and the effect that this has had on everyone here at our club and within our city, we have decided to cancel this evening’s pre-match press conference in Stockholm,” United said in a statement.

“We are sure that, in the circumstances, you will all understand our position on this matter.

“Our thoughts are with the victims at this terribly difficult time.”

Four-goal Kane eyes golden boot after crushing Leicester

May 19, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Harry Kane staked his claim to finish as the Premier League’s top scorer with a scintillating four-goal blast in Tottenham’s 6-1 demolition of Leicester on Thursday.

Kane

Although Tottenham were unable to overhaul champions Chelsea in the title race, Mauricio Pochettino’s vibrant young side look certain to make a renewed challenge next term and Kane is the figurehead of that bright future.

Kane is hunting the league’s golden boot and the England striker was at his predatory best as he plundered the Leicester defence four times to move to the top of the scoring charts with 26 goals.

Everton’s Romelu Lukaku is second on 24 goals but Kane is well on course to nail down the goalscoring prize heading into Tottenham’s final fixture at Hull on Sunday.

South Korea’s Son Heung-Min scored twice for Tottenham, who swept to their 11th win in their last 12 league games after Leicester’s Ben Chilwell briefly reduced the deficit in the second half.

Tottenham, already guaranteed to finish second, now have more points than Leicester won the league with last season, but if Pochettino’s players were frustrated at falling short in the title race, they haven’t let it show.

Foreshadowing their imminent goal spree, Tottenham started with a swagger and nearly took the lead when Kane’s pass picked out Son, only for Chilwell to deny him with a last-ditch block.

Son’s movement was too clever for Leicester again moments later as he turned quickly and shot over.

Despite Tottenham’s pressure, they were lucky not to fall behind when Jamie Vardy scythed through their defence.

Accelerating onto Riyad Mahrez’s deft pass, Vardy had only Hugo Lloris to beat, yet he wastefully blasted straight at the Tottenham goalkeeper.

Unfazed, Pochettino’s team should have taken the lead when Son collected Dele Alli’s defence-splitting pass and blazed over with just Kasper Schmeichel to beat.

Kane was a constant menace and he went close with a curling effort before underlining his predatory excellence in the 25th minute.

Jan Vertonghen’s long pass targeted a penetrating run from Son and, with Leicester caught flat-footed, the South Korean quickly picked out Kane, who arrived on cue to guide a clinical finish past Schmeichel from close-range.

Although Leicester had a penalty appeal rejected after Toby Alderweireld collided with Vardy, Tottenham were proving impossible to subdue and the visitors doubled their lead in the 36th minute.

Alli was the catalyst, taking possession on the edge of the area and impudently bypassing the Leicester defence with a sublime chipped pass to Son, whose half-volley lacked power but still had enough accuracy to beat Schmeichel.

Son’s 20th goal of the season was just reward for Tottenham’s dominance, but Leicester got one back in 59th minute.

Despite replays showing he was marginally offside, Vardy was allowed to sprint onto a through ball, prompting Lloris to rashly race well outside his area in a failed attempt to clear.

When Daniel Amartey poked the ball to Chilwell, the Leicester defender steadied himself before firing home via Eric Dier’s out-stretched foot.

Even that needless setback couldn’t ruffle Tottenham and they responded with a well-worked third goal four minutes later.

Alderweireld looped a cross into the Leicester area and Victor Wanyama nodded back towards Kane, who reacted quickest to head in from close-range.

Kane turned provider for Tottenham’s fourth goal in the 71st minute as his pass teed up Son to flash a fine finish past Schmeichel.

With Leicester’s minds turning to their post-season holidays, Kane had acres of space to pilage the hosts’ defence and he completed his hat-trick with a superb 20-yard strike in the 89th minute.

Kane wasn’t finished yet and he produced a carbon copy of his third goal in stoppage-time, driving home from the edge of the area to put the seal on his goalscoring masterclass.

Manchester City eye top four boost to mark Zabaleta farewell

May 15, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Pablo Zabaleta’s farewell is likely to garner much of the attention as Manchester City host West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday, but Pep Guardiola’s side still have work to do to secure a Champions League place.

Zabaleta

It was confirmed on Saturday that full-back Zabaleta will leave City at the end of this season after nine years at the club, with West Ham his likely destination.

The Premier League match against Albion will mark his final home appearance, and the club are planning tributes to mark the occasion.

Guardiola believes City need more players with Zabaleta’s commitment if they are to succeed in the future.

“It’s important to have players like Pablo in the team,” Guardiola said.

“Pablo is a real legend in what he has done in the club, he has helped with his team-mates at the club to make a step forward, to try to compete to qualify for the Champions League, sometimes to win the Premier League.

“That’s why Pablo Zabaleta, in these kind of things, is so, so important.”

Victory would just about ensure a top-four finish for Guardiola’s side, and may even make it mathematically certain if Arsenal fail to beat Sunderland on the same night.

Guardiola is in the process of shaping his squad for next season, and while Zabaleta’s future has been decided, those of City’s six other out-of-contract players remain in the balance.

The most high-profile of those players is midfielder Yaya Toure, who looked certain to leave after being dropped from the first-team squad earlier this season because of a fall-out with the manager.

Since resolving the dispute and being recalled in December, Toure has proved himself a valuable player for City, and even though he turned 34 on Saturday, it is clear that he still has plenty to offer.

City go into Tuesday’s match on the back of two successive wins, beating Crystal Palace 5-0 but following that up with a far less convincing 2-1 victory over Leicester on Saturday.

Guardiola must decide whether to recall his 31-goal leading scorer Sergio Aguero to the starting line-up, having caused something of a surprise by naming him only as a substitute on Saturday.

Aguero, who made the squad after recovering from a groin injury, did come on for the last 12 minutes, but Gabriel Jesus, signed in January from Palmeiras, is clearly the first-choice striker.

West Brom will head for Eastlands with some discouraging memories, having shipped 23 goals in their last seven visits.

But despite losing 1-0 to Chelsea on Friday in the game that saw the London club crowned champions, West Brom boss Tony Pulis believes optimism is high at The Hawthorns.

His side have two games to clinch the eighth place they have held for much of the season.

“It was a slow start to the season but we picked up and it’s been a fantastic journey and a fantastic ride,” said Pulis.

“What we’ve got to do now is try to get something from these two away games.

“The club had got a buzz about it that it hasn’t had for a long time, at least not since I’ve been at the club.

“There is much more optimism that the club hasn’t had since I’ve been here and people want to feel that and be part of it.

“And I’m hoping we can get maybe one or two players in that can give us a lift for next season because that’s important.”

Spurs await ‘special’ White Hart Lane farewell against United

May 14, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino expects a “special” day on Sunday when his side play Manchester United in the last game at White Hart Lane.

Spurs

With Chelsea having wrapped up the Premier League title by winning at West Bromwich Albion on Friday, Spurs’ farewell to their home of 118 years will now be the central focus of Sunday’s game.

“I hope Sunday will be the most special day in the last three seasons. It will be special for our fans, staff, players, people who love Tottenham,” Pochettino said.

“At the same time I am excited about the new stadium because the soul and the smell of White Hart Lane will keep there.

“When the new era and stadium arrive there will be different expectations, but, most important, always in our memory will be White Hart Lane, the soul and the smell.

“When you move to another area it’s so difficult, but now we are changing nothing because the new stadium will be in the same place as White Hart Lane and that is fantastic.”

Whatever the outcome, Sunday will be a deeply poignant occasion as Spurs say goodbye to a ground graced by such club greats as Jimmy Greaves, Danny Blanchflower, Steve Perryman, Glenn Hoddle and Paul Gascoigne.

A ceremony featuring figures from the club’s past will take place after the game and fans have been offered the chance to buy their seats for £50 ($64.40, 59 euros).

Demolition work on the Lane, Spurs’ home since 1899, will begin on Monday to make way for the club’s new 61,559-seater stadium, which will be completed in time for the 2018-19 campaign.

Spurs had hoped to bow out at the atmospheric old ground with a first league title since 1961, but although that objective has now disappeared, they still have a chance to make history.

Pochettino’s side are gunning for a 14th successive home league win, which would equal the club record, set over two seasons in 1987, and establish a new mark for consecutive home victories within the same campaign.

They can also go unbeaten at home in a league season for the first time since 1964-65.

United have unhappy recent memories of a farewell match at a venerable London venue.

Their Champions League hopes went up in smoke last season after they lost 3-2 to West Ham United in the final game at Upton Park.

United went 14 games without defeat at the Lane before last season’s 3-0 loss, but gone are the days when their former manager Alex Ferguson could dismiss Spurs’ threat with a disdainful: “Lads, it’s Tottenham.”

Spurs will finish above United this term for the third time in four seasons and Jose Mourinho’s side have little motivation to spoil the farewell party.

Four points off the top four, Mourinho has abandoned hope of qualifying for the Champions League via the league and is likely to rest players after Thursday’s Europa League semi-final success against Celta Vigo.

“In the Premier League we can only finish fifth or sixth, I think,” said Mourinho, whose team’s 25-game unbeaten run came to an end in north London last weekend following a 2-0 defeat at Arsenal.

“But obviously, like we did against Arsenal, we didn’t throw the match away. We played, we tried to win, we gave a difficult match to our opponent.

“That’s what we’re going to do. We’re not going to say that matches are not important.

“But we have one (the Europa League final) that is more important than others. The match on Sunday is important for us too.”

Marouane Fellaini, whose goal helped United secure a 2-1 aggregate win over Celta Vigo that set up a meeting with Ajax in the May 24 final, is unavailable due to a domestic suspension.

Pochettino has no new injuries concerns. Danny Rose is not yet match-fit despite having returned to training after injury, so Ben Davies is expected to continue at left-back.

Conte brushes aside Inter talk as Chelsea eye title

May 11, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Chelsea boss Antonio Conte dismissed persistent rumours linking him with a move to Inter Milan as his side prepared for a match at West Bromwich Albion on Friday that could give the Blues the Premier League title.

Chelsea

Victory at The Hawthorns will see Chelsea crowned champions in former Italy manager Conte’s first season in charge of the London club and leave them halfway to a domestic ‘Double’ ahead of their FA Cup final against capital rivals Arsenal.

Chelsea are seven points clear of second-placed Tottenham Hotspur, another London club, and need just three points from their final three league games this season to be sure of lifting the Premier League trophy.

Yet despite Conte’s excellent start at Stamford Bridge, there has been continued speculation he could return to his native Italy.

He has been linked with a move to Inter ever since the Italian giants sacked Stefano Pioli earlier this season.

“I have two years (remaining under) contract with Chelsea,” Conte said Thursday. “It’s logical when you start the work in a new club the will is to continue to work, to try to improve your work in many years. For sure, this is my will.

“In this moment for me or for my players, the most important thing is to be focused on the moment.”

He added: “Now the most important thing is to reach our target. The most important thing is to write the history of the club. It’s important now, don’t lose the concentration, be focused.

“My players are totally focused on the moment. We mustn’t forget that we must take three points to reach this target.”

Chelsea announced they had appointed Conte on a three-year contract in April 2016 and he took up his post at Stamford Bridge in July after managing Italy at Euro 2016.

The 47-year-old Conte is now on the verge of winning his fourth domestic title after capturing three successive Serie A crowns with Juventus before moving on to the Italy job.

He is widely credited with reviving Chelsea after the then champions suffered a dramatic slump in form during the 2015/16 that led the Blues, owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, to sack Jose Mourinho, now the manager of Manchester United.

Chelsea eventually recovered to finish tenth as 5,000/1 pre-season outsiders Leicester City completed a remarkable title triumph.

“This could be another big, big step for me,” Conte said. “In my career I enjoy to have this type of big challenge. I need to have this type of situation where you arrive and you have to work a lot and also to transform the situation in the right way.

“At the start of the season it wasn’t easy. We faced a lot of problems and we had to solve a lot of problems.

“When you finish 10th in the league it means that the problem is not only one, but there are a lot of problems. The problem is not only one person.

“I have to say thanks to my players because it’s not easy to adapt to a new method, new philosophy and also to work very hard, to change totally your work, if you compare the work this season to the past.”

Chelsea beat Middlesbrough on Monday to move seven points clear after Tottenham suffered a major slip-up in losing to West Ham on Friday.

Even if West Brom deny Chelsea victory on Friday, it will likely merely delay the inevitable given the Blues remaining league games are at home to mid-table Watford on Monday and against relegated Sunderland on May 21.

“It’s not important where you win, it’s important to win,” said Conte. “Then you will have the time to celebrate the win where you want.

“Tomorrow’s game is the most important game for us. It’s a final.

“I like to repeat: this is a good season. We want to become a great season.”

Atletico comeback falls short as Real reach final

May 11, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Real Madrid inflicted a fourth Champions League elimination on Atletico Madrid in as many years on Wednesday, losing their semi-final second leg 2-1 but progressing to the final 4-2 on aggregate.

Real Madrid

Atletico had threatened an incredible comeback, Saul Niguez’s powerful header and Antoine Griezmann’s penalty inside 16 minutes cutting Real’s aggregate lead to a solitary goal.

The hosts fed off a ferocious atmosphere for their final Champions League match at the Vicente Calderon before moving to the Wanda Metropolitano next season.

However, Isco’s away goal just before half-time settled Real’s nerves and left Atletico with too much to do to progress.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s first leg hat-trick ultimately proved decisive and Real will seek to become the first side to defend the trophy in the Champions League era when they face Juventus in the final in Cardiff on May 3.

“I am delighted to reach the final,” said Real boss Zinedine Zidane.

“It is a long road to get there and to do so two years in a row, you have to congratulate the squad.”

An already fierce rivalry between the Spanish giants has intensified in recent years by Real’s three Champions League victories over Atletico, including in the 2014 and 2016 finals.

However, Atletico’s players went a long way towards making amends for their meek display in the first leg eight days ago in a thrilling opening.

“The team showed once more why they have been competing at this level for so many years,” said Atletico coach Diego Simeone.

“Those first 20, 25 minutes will be in the history of the club.

“The atmosphere was one of those magical moments in the Calderon that will live in people’s memories forever.”

Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas denied Koke from close range and Fernando Torres headed over, before at the other end Jan Oblak made a brilliant save from Casemiro’s header.

Atletico got the goal they needed to get back into the tie 12 minutes in when Koke’s outswinging corner was met powerfully by Saul for his fourth Champions League goal of the season.

Just three minutes later Atletico truly believed they could pull off the most unlikely of comebacks when Fernando Torres was upended by Raphael Varane inside the box.

Griezmann had missed his previous two penalties against Real, including in last year’s Champions League final.

This time the French international found the net, albeit with a bit of fortune as Navas got a hand to his mishit spot-kick but couldn’t keep it out.

Fierce challenges then rained in from both sides as Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakır struggled to keep control, with five players booked inside the opening 37 minutes.

However, Real regained their composure to get the vital away goal they needed for some extra breathing space just before half-time.

Karim Benzema somehow escaped the attention of three Atletico defenders on the by-line and cut the ball back for Toni Kroos.

Oblak made another brilliant stop to deny the German, but Isco followed up from close range to bundle the ball home.

Ronaldo had scored eight times in his previous three Champions League appearances, however, the closest the World Player of the Year came to adding to his record 21 goals against Atletico was a driven free-kick at the start of the second half that was beaten away by Oblak.

Atletico had their chances to put the tie back on a knife-edge as Navas produced an incredible double save from Yannick Carrasco and Kevin Gameiro.

The Costa Rican then got down low to his right to turn behind Griezmann’s low volley and Gameiro failed to turn home another great opportunity from point-blank range.

A torrential thunder storm disrupted the final stages, but lightning has now struck four times for Atletico against Real and Zidane’s side will head to Cardiff seeking a 12th European Cup against his former club.

Herrera says fans can fire Manchester United to Europa League final

May 10, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Ander Herrera wants Manchester United’s supporters to turn Old Trafford into a cauldron when his side look to complete victory over Celta Vigo in Thursday’s Europa League semi-final return leg.

Herrera

Marcus Rashford’s sweet second-half free-kick brought United a 1-0 win in last week’s first leg, putting Jose Mourinho’s side within touching distance of the final in Stockholm on May 24.

But although United have gone 17 European home games without defeat, Celta have scored in all six of their Europa League away matches this season and Herrera says everyone in United red will have to be on their game.

“They have scored away in every game they’ve played in the competition so we have to be aware of that,” the Spanish midfielder said.

“They are a very good team, very dangerous when they play away and we will need our fans at home.

“I tell them we really need them to create a good atmosphere, a difficult atmosphere for the opponents, who can push us to be in the final. It’s not going to be easy.”

United have never won the Europa League and are bidding to reach a first continental final since their 3-1 loss to Barcelona at Wembley in the deciding match of the 2010-11 Champions League.

But while success in Europe’s second-tier competition will complete United’s collection of trophies, what motivates them above all is the place in next season’s Champions League that Europa League success will yield.

Mourinho has openly abandoned United’s hopes of securing the top-four finish in the Premier League that would open the door to the Champions League.

He made eight changes to his starting XI for last Sunday’s 2-0 defeat at Arsenal, which brought an end to United’s 25-game unbeaten run in the league and left them four points below fourth-place Manchester City.

Eric Bailly, Daley Blind, Antonio Valencia, Paul Pogba and Rashford are among the players expected to return for United on Thursday.

Celta need not look far for inspiration, having overcome a 1-0 home defeat against Shakhtar Donetsk to prevail 2-1 on aggregate in the last 32.

They can also call upon cup pedigree that saw them overcome Real Madrid in the quarter-finals of this season’s Copa del Rey, a year after they had accounted for Atletico Madrid at the same stage of the tournament.

“It is still close,” said Celta striker John Guidetti, who was formerly on the books of United’s cross-town rivals City.

“It is half-time. They are leading 1-0 and we have to go out and make the second half count.

“At the end of the day, if we go to Old Trafford and score the first goal, we are in the driving seat because if we score another one, they have to score two.”

Celta’s Europa League commitments have had a striking impact on their league form, largely due to coach Eduardo Berizzo’s determination to rest players.

Their 3-0 defeat at Malaga last weekend was their sixth loss in seven La Liga outings and they have won only two of their last 10 games in all competitions.

Peter Bosz’s dazzling young Ajax team are likely to be awaiting the victors in the final, having beat Lyon 4-1 in the home leg of their semi-final.

But Lyon have averaged over four goals per game in their Europa League home matches and coach Bruno Genesio believes his side’s 3-2 victory over Nantes on Sunday showed they are capable of pulling off a famous comeback.

“There’s an hour and a half to overcome our deficit,” he said.

“We’ll have to create chances and take them, but also remain calm and organised when we lose the ball.

“We have to remember that we scored three goals. And if we score three on Thursday, we could go through.”

Arsenal sink United to revive top-four bid, Liverpool held

May 8, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Arsenal are back in the hunt to qualify for the Champions League after Arsene Wenger finally got the better of Jose Mourinho in a 2-0 win over Manchester United, while Liverpool were held to a 0-0 draw by Southampton on Sunday.

Arsenal

Wenger had failed to win any of his previous 14 competitive clashes against Mourinho dating back to 2004, with his only victory over his old rival coming in the 2015 Community Shield when the Portuguese coach was in charge of Chelsea.

The Gunners boss brought an end to that frustrating streak at just the right time as goals from Granit Xhaka and Danny Welbeck improved Arsenal’s chances of salvaging a troubled season by finishing in the top four.

Sixth-placed Arsenal are now six points behind fourth-placed Manchester City with four games to play, while Pep Guardiola’s side have only three matches remaining.

Downplaying his rivalry with Mourinho, Wenger said: “It is not manager against manager.

“It was a patiently built win where in the first half you could see we were a bit nervous, but in the second half we took the edge off and scored the goals.”

Fifth-placed United remain four points behind City with three games left.

“Of course, we knew we were not coming in our maximum power. That’s a decision,” Mourinho said.

“We want to try to win the Europa League. It’s more important than finishing fourth.”

With Mourinho prioritising the Europa League semi-final second leg against Celta Vigo in midweek, United, who hold a 1-0 first-leg lead, fielded a much-changed side in north London.

United can qualify for the Champions League by winning the Europa League and they may well need to do exactly that after surrendering their 25-match unbeaten run in the Premier League.

The Gunners’ only route back into Europe’s elite club competition is via a top-four finish, so it wasn’t surprising that they played with more hunger than United.

Even so, they still needed a stroke of luck to open the scoring in the 54th minute.

Xhaka blasted a long-range strike that slammed into the back of United midfielder Ander Herrera, looping high in the air before dropping into the net just out of the reach of goalkeeper David de Gea.

If that was a fortuitous way to take the lead, Arsenal had no need to apologise for their superb second goal three minutes later.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain whipped over a teasing cross and when United defender Chris Smalling misjudged the flight of the ball, former United forward Welbeck was perfectly placed to bury his header past De Gea for just his second league goal this season.

Infamously labelled “a voyeur” and “a specialist in failure” by Mourinho in the past, this was a sweet moment for Wenger, but it won’t mean much unless Arsenal find a way to catch City.

At Anfield, Liverpool’s James Milner saw his penalty saved by Fraser Forster as his side wasted a chance to bolster their Champions League bid.

It was Milner’s first missed penalty since November 2009.

Liverpool’s second-half penalty arrived when Jack Stephens elbowed away the ball inside the area.

It was well spotted by referee Bobby Madley and although Milner’s spot-kick was right in the corner, Forster did well to get down and palm the effort away.

Liverpool are up to third, five points ahead of United, who have a game in hand.

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp had a curious excuse for Liverpool’s woes as he blamed the poor quality of the Anfield pitch.

“Nobody wants to hear it but the pitch was really dry today,” Klopp said.

“We gave all the water we had and after 15 minutes it was really dry – a lot of passes you could say why are they playing this?”

City boost top four bid, Hull remain in trouble

May 6, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Manchester City improved their prospects of qualifying for the Champions League with a 5-0 demolition of Crystal Palace, while relegation-threatened Hull suffered a damaging 2-0 defeat against Sunderland on Saturday.

Manchester City

Frustrated by damaging draws in their previous two games, City got back on track and climbed to third in the table after a stylish display inspired by David Silva’s return from injury at Eastlands.

Silva, out for a fortnight after suffering a blow to his knee during the FA Cup semi-final defeat by Arsenal, opened the scoring after two minutes.

Vincent Kompany doubled City’s lead in the 49th minute before Kevin De Bruyne’s long-range strike made it three 10 minutes later.

Raheem Sterling’s cool finish in the 82nd minute was followed by Nicolas Otamendi’s diving header in stoppage-time as City leapfrogged Liverpool on goal difference.

Pep Guardiola’s side also moved four points clear of fifth placed Manchester United as the battle to finish in the top four heats up.

United, who travel to Arsenal, and Liverpool, who host Southampton, are both in action on Sunday.

Palace’s third successive defeat left them six points above the relegation zone and still not certain to stay up.

At the KCOM Stadium, already relegated Sunderland won for the first time in 11 games to leave fourth bottom Hull just two points above the relegation zone.

Hull boss Marco Silva had been unbeaten in his previous 41 home league games, a record dating back to his time in charge of Portuguese side Estoril in 2014 and encompassing spells with Sporting Lisbon and Olympiakos.

Having taken 19 points from a possible 21 at home during his four months as Hull boss, it was a shock to the Portuguese coach when his side fell behind in the 69th minute.

John O’Shea flicked on a corner and Billy Jones launched into a diving header that flashed past Eldin Jakupovic.

Abel Hernandez was denied an equaliser by Jordan Pickford’s superb save and Jermain Defoe steered in from an offside position to add to Hull’s misery two minutes into stoppage-time.

If third bottom Swansea beat Everton later on Saturday, then Hull will drop into the bottom three with only two games remaining.

Bournemouth secured their top-flight status for another year after a 2-2 draw against Stoke at Dean Court.

When a Stoke corner curled into the penalty area in the 33rd minute, Bournemouth’s France Under-20 international Lys Mousset, making his first Premier League start, glanced the ball into his own net, giving the visitors their first away league goal in more than 10 hours.

Junior Stanislas equalised for Bournemouth in the 62nd minute before Stoke’s Mame Biram Diouf bundled in his first goal for 12 months in the 73rd minute.

Eddie Howe’s side rescued their priceless point thanks to an 81st minute own goal from Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross.

Burnley were made to wait to confirm their survival after being held to a 2-2 draw by West Bromwich Albion at Turf Moor.

The hosts, seven points above the bottom three, went ahead after 56 minutes when Wales forward Sam Vokes swept home.

Albion striker Salomon Rondon equalised 10 minutes later and Craig Dawson, on his 27th birthday, headed the visitors in front in the 78th minute.

Vokes struck again with just four minutes left, heading in after Albion goalkeeper Ben Foster misjudged Robbie Brady’s cross.

Leicester piled pressure on under-fire Watford manager Walter Mazzarri with a 3-0 win at the King Power Stadium.

Mazzarri is reportedly fighting to save his job after a disappointing first season in charge and Leicester took the lead in the 38th minute through Nigeria midfielder Wilfred Ndidi.

Riyad Mahrez doubled Leicester’s advantage in the 58th minute and Marc Albrighton’s stoppage-time strike condemned 15th placed Watford to a third defeat in their last four games.

Wenger ready to make peace with Mourinho

May 4, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger says he is prepared to bury the hatchet with old foe Jose Mourinho ahead of Sunday’s home game with Manchester United.

Jose Mourinho

Wenger regularly clashed with Mourinho during the Portuguese’s two stints as Chelsea manager, the rivalry spilling over into a touchline shoving match during an October 2014 game at Stamford Bridge.

The pair resume hostilities at the Emirates Stadium with their sides competing for a place in the Premier League top four.

Asked if peace could be made with United manager Mourinho, Wenger told reporters: “I am open always in life for everything, you know, for peace.

“But what is important when you are a competitor is that you give absolutely everything to win the next game.”

Wenger, who has never beaten Mourinho in the league, was reminded of his relationship with former United manager Alex Ferguson, which shed its initial spikiness to become corial.

“My relationship with Ferguson mellowed, yes. We have respect,” Wenger said.

“I think I try to respect everybody and I do not want to make a case of any person. I think it is important that I focus on my own team, the performance of my team and forget all the rest.”

Arsenal approach the weekend in sixth place in the table, five points below United and six behind Manchester City, with a game in hand on both.

“It just shows that everybody has moved up,” said Wenger, whose side will face Chelsea in the FA Cup final.

“The number of clubs that can fight at the top is bigger this season and the difference between the teams is smaller. As soon as you are not at your best, you can lose.”

With Sunday’s game sandwiched between the two legs of United’s Europa League semi-final against Celta Vigo, Mourinho has indicated he will rest players for the trip to north London.

Wenger said that if Arsenal fail to qualify for next season’s Champions League he will follow Mourinho’s lead by making the Europa League a priority.

“I take every competition seriously,” he said during Thursday’s pre-game press conference at Arsenal’s London Colney training base.

“The only thing I always did over the years was to use the League Cup to give chances to young players. We always treated all the other competitions seriously.”

Wenger is still to announce what he will do at the end of the season and has faced calls to stand down from disgruntled supporters.

United’s struggles in the post-Ferguson era have been held up as a warning to fans calling for Wenger to go, but he says his departure could prove to be a good thing.

“It can as well go better from when I leave one day,” said the Frenchman, who has been in charge at Arsenal since 1996.

“You know, when you are such a long time at a club like I am, like Ferguson was, it is a little bit like when you have children. You want them to be happy.

“Even when you are not there anymore, you want them to be happy.”

Reminded that he had vowed to make an announcement on his future in March or April, Wenger joked: “That means I was wrong!”

He added: “I don’t want to speak about my personal case any more.”

Wenger revealed midfielder Granit Xhaka is likely to miss Sunday’s game after taking a kick to the calf in last weekend’s 2-0 defeat at derby rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

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