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Manchester United complete £31 million signing of Lindelof

June 16, 2017 by · 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.

Man City complete move for goalkeeper Ederson

June 8, 2017 by · 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.

Moyes resigns after Sunderland relegation

May 23, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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David Moyes has resigned as Sunderland manager following their relegation from the Premier League, the club announced on Monday.

Moyes

The 54-year-old Scot succeeded Sam Allardyce last July and oversaw a desperate season that saw Sunderland finish 16 points adrift of safety at the foot of the table.

“I would like to thank (chairman) Ellis Short and the board for giving me the opportunity to manage Sunderland and the fans for always being so passionately supportive of their club,” Moyes said in a statement.

“I wish the players and my successor well in their efforts towards promotion back to the Premier League.”

Sunderland’s relegation to the Championship after 10 years in the top flight was confirmed following a 1-0 home defeat by Bournemouth last month.

Moyes informed Sunderland officials of his decision to leave at a meeting in London on Monday.

His departure completes a sorry few weeks for the former Everton manager, who has been charged by the Football Association after jokily threatening to “slap” a female reporter.

It is his third successive short-lived stint at a club, following previous disappointments at Manchester United, where he lasted just 10 months, and Real Sociedad.

“I pursued the services of David Moyes for a considerable period prior to his appointment last summer, which makes the announcement of his departure difficult for everyone concerned,” said Sunderland chairman Ellis Short.

“Having worked tirelessly throughout the campaign to avoid relegation from the Premier League, David has chosen to leave the club without compensation, which is testament to his character.

“In the days ahead we will take some time for reflection and then focus on recruitment and pre-season as we prepare for our Championship campaign. We wish David well in the future.”

Moyes was dissatisfied with Sunderland’s close-season transfer dealings and set the tone for their campaign early in the season when he said he was preparing for a relegation battle.

Sunderland sank into the bottom three in September and did not move off the foot of the table from January onwards, finishing the campaign with only six wins to their name.

An incident involving Moyes and BBC radio reporter Vicki Sparks occurred after a 0-0 draw against Burnley on March 18, but only came to light last month.

After taking exception to a question, Moyes waited until the interview had ended before telling Sparks: “It was getting a wee bit naughty at the end there, so just watch yourself.

“You still might get a slap even though you’re a woman. Careful the next time you come in.”

He subsequently apologised, but was charged by the FA on April 26.

Four-goal Kane eyes golden boot after crushing Leicester

May 19, 2017 by · 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 by · 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 by · 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 by · 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.”

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

May 8, 2017 by · 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 by · 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 by · 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.

Man Utd’s Ibrahimovic ‘fixed’ by knee surgery

May 3, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Manchester United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been “fixed” and feels “stronger” after undergoing knee surgery in the United States, he said on Tuesday.

Zlatan

“Fixed, done and stronger,” Ibrahimovic posted on his official Instagram account, accompanied by a photograph showing white medical wristbands around his two wrists.

“Once again thank you for the support. We will enjoy my game together soon.”

Ibrahimovic, 35, faces a long period of rehabilitation after sustaining ligament damage in his right knee during United’s Europa League quarter-final win against Anderlecht last month.

With his United contract due to expire at the end of the season, his future at the club is in doubt.

United wrote on Twitter: “Good news from Zlatan’s team that he has undergone successful knee surgery.”

In a statement released late on Monday, Ibrahimovic’s agent Mino Raiola said surgery in Pittsburgh had been “successful”.

Raiola added: “He will make a full recovery AND HAS NOT SUFFERED A CAREER-ENDING INJURY.”

Ibrahimovic was a stunning success in his first season at United, scoring 28 goals in 46 appearances and inspiring the team to victory over Southampton in the League Cup final.

Spurs keep pressure on Chelsea, Manchester misery

May 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Chelsea took a significant step towards the Premier League title on Sunday with victory at Everton but Tottenham ensured the champagne will stay on ice for a bit longer with an impressive 2-0 win over Arsenal.

FBL-ENG-PR-TOTTENHAM-ARSENAL

As well as the engrossing fight for the title the battle for the two remaining Champions League places has become a real dogfight — Arsenal missing a chance to make up ground on the two Manchester clubs, who both stumbled on Sunday.

Second-half goals by Dele Alli and Harry Kane, from the penalty spot, sealed the three points and ensured that Spurs will finish above their North London rivals Arsenal for the first time in 22 years.

But whether they will ever hunt down relentless Chelsea is another matter, with just four games left and Chelsea still four points clear, and with an easier run-in.

A superb second-half strike by Pedro and late goals from Gary Cahill and Willian ended Everton’s run of eight successive home wins.

Chelsea took time to settle but once Pedro scored their opener — his first goal in nine matches — the floodgates opened and they ran out 3-0 winners.

“This gives us lots of confidence,” manager Antonio Conte told Sky Sports. “Now it is important to prepare the final rush.

“If in the next game against Middlesbrough you don’t win, you lose this victory. We must look step by step.”

Cahill’s eighth goal of the season and Willian’s beautifully worked third inflicted only Everton’s second home defeat of the season.

“It was convincing but we had to work hard for it,” Cahill told Sky Sports, sensing this might be the win that delivers the title in Conte’s first season at Chelsea.

“Pedro’s goal was special, at times you need a bit of class to open up a team, that’s what he did today. I’m buzzing with that, it’s a huge result for us.” City had to come from behind twice to draw 2-2 at Middlesbrough and United drew 1-1 at home to Swansea on a bad day for the Manchester giants against relegation candidates.

City relied on 20-year-old striker Gabriel Jesus to secure them a point in the final five minutes of their game against a Boro side scenting back-to-back wins in the Premier League for the first time since May 2008.

Jesus’s vastly more experienced strike partner Sergio Aguero had pulled City level at 1-1 with a penalty before Calum Chambers restored the hosts’ lead.

“We controlled the game and missed so many chances,” Jesus told Premier League Productions.

“Today’s result is disappointing but at least we have a point.”

Arsenal’s defeat in the last North London derby at White Hart Lane leaves manager Arsene Wenger’s proud record of qualifying for the Champions League in real trouble.

They are sixth, five points behind United and six behind City in fourth, although the Londoners have a game in hand on both.

Only the top four get into the Champions League.

A sublime free-kick by Icelandic international Gylfi Sigurdsson gained Swansea a deserved point against United at Old Trafford.

Sigurdsson’s 10th goal of the season, but first in 11 matches, cancelled out veteran Wayne Rooney’s contentious penalty in time added on in the first half when Marcus Rashford made the most out of minimal contact with Swans goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski.

It will be of little consolation to manager Jose Mourinho that it extended United’s unbeaten run to 25 and they have not been defeated at Old Trafford since September 10 last year.

Mourinho saw two more defenders depart injured in the impressive Eric Bailly on the hour mark and Luke Shaw in just the eighth minute.

“We lost players and we lost points, so yes, today was a bad day,” Mourinho told the BBC.

“We did not look tired and exhausted, we are tired and exhausted.

“You cannot isolate the performance out of the context. This is the ninth match of April, it is not human.”

Man Utd boss Mourinho sets sights on Liverpool and Arsenal

April 28, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Jose Mourinho identified Liverpool and Arsenal as Manchester United’s chief rivals for Champions League qualification following his side’s 0-0 draw at fellow top-four contenders Manchester City.

Mourinho

Thursday’s stalemate at the Etihad Stadium left United just a point below local foes City, who occupy the Premier League’s fourth and final Champions League qualifying berth.

But Mourinho believes Liverpool, two points above United in third having played a game more, and Arsenal, four points below them having played a game less, are now their principal rivals.

“I think Man City is going to finish top four,” the United manager said.

“The matches they have to play, I see them doing that. I think it’s between us, Arsenal and Liverpool.”

While United’s run-in features successive trips to Arsenal and second-place Tottenham Hotspur, City’s is more benign, a home game with eighth-place West Bromwich Albion their most arduous test.

United are also besieged by injuries and will now be without midfielder Marouane Fellaini for three games after he was shown an 84th-minute red card for headbutting Sergio Aguero.

Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, Paul Pogba, Juan Mata and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are all sidelined and Timothy Fosu-Mensah picked up an injury after coming on in place of Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

With a two-legged Europa League semi-final against Celta Vigo also looming on United’s horizon, Mourinho admitted his squad is being stretched to its limits.

“We have played 18 more matches than Liverpool,” said the Portuguese, who side equalled the club record of 24 successive top-flight games without defeat.

“Eighteen more matches is like half of a Premier League, almost. Eighteen matches are many miles in the players’ legs. So if you can say that, it’s an unfair fight.

“But we are going for that. We have the semi-final on Thursday. We have a match (at home to Swansea City) Sunday, 12 o’clock.

“We lost two more players today, Fellaini and Timo Mensah, because he has also an important injury in the last action of the game.

“I don’t think we (will) recover any of the others. But we go for it, we fight.

“Twenty-four matches in the Premier League is a lot. The guys have an amazing spirit and here we go again, Sunday.”

Mourinho suggested Aguero’s exaggerated reaction to Fellaini’s lowered forehead had influenced referee Martin Atkinson’s decision to send him off.

“I saw Aguero in the tunnel and no broken nose, no broken head,” Mourinho said.

“His face is nice as always. If Sergio doesn’t go to the floor, for sure it’s not a red card.”

City manager Pep Guardiola refused to be drawn on the incident, saying: “Next question. I don’t want to talk about the decisions of the referee.”

City dominated the game, with Aguero volleying against the post in the ninth minute and fit-again substitute Gabriel Jesus seeing a stoppage-time header ruled out for offside.

Guardiola said City’s ongoing struggles in front of goal meant their run-in would be far from straightforward.

“The battle’s always to win the game and be third,” he said.

“But it’s still in our hands. We have five games left — three at home, two away — when every game will be a battle like today.

“Because considering our average in chances created and chances scored, it’s lower all the season. That’s why we have to fight a lot to win the game.

“Now Middlesbrough’s playing for relegation. Then Leicester, Crystal Palace, able to win at Anfield, at Stamford Bridge, easy (win) against Arsenal at home.

“West Bromwich Albion, I admire a person like Tony Pulis. It will be tough to the last moment, but I want to assure we are going to try to play the way we’ve played all season.”

City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo is due to undergo tests on Friday after being stretchered off with a calf injury late in the second half.

Guardiola expects him to miss Sunday’s home game with second-bottom Middlesbrough.

Fellaini sent off as Manchester United, Manchester City draw blank

April 28, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Marouane Fellaini was sent off for brainlessly headbutting Sergio Aguero in an otherwise forgettable 0-0 draw between Champions League qualification rivals Manchester United and Manchester City on Thursday.

Manchester United's Marouane Fellaini is shown a red card by referee Martin Atkinson

Booked for tripping Aguero in the 84th minute, Fellaini fouled him again seconds later and then blatantly butted the Argentinian, leaving referee Martin Atkinson no option but to send the Belgian off.

City remain fourth, a point behind third-place Liverpool with a game in hand, with United — who also have a game in hand on Jurgen Klopp’s side — a point further back in fifth place.

“We were the better team in the first half, they were the better team in the second half,” said United manager Jose Mourinho.

“They had more of the ball, more chances, but my players were amazing the way they fought.

“Marouane Fellaini is frustrated. He says that with another player, it would probably not be a red card.”

While United are now unbeaten in 24 Premier League games, equalling the club record, the Etihad Stadium stalemate means City retain the upper hand in the push for a top-four finish.

But despite controlling the game, City came no closer to scoring than an early Aguero effort that hit the post, while substitute Gabriel Jesus had an injury-time header disallowed for offside.

City also lost goalkeeper Claudio Bravo to an apparent calf injury, sustained as he caught a high ball, with Willy Caballero taking his place for the last 14 minutes after Bravo was stretchered off.

“They created two clear chances and I am satisfied,” City manager Pep Guardiola told BBC Sport.

“We all have tough games coming up now and we know it’s not an option to not win these games.”

City remain on course for a top-four finish, their last remaining objective after last weekend’s FA Cup semi-final loss to Arsenal consigned Guardiola to his first trophy-less season as a coach.

United could yet qualify for the Champions League by winning the Europa League.

But in the main, Thursday’s drab derby served to illustrate why the Manchester rivals are squabbling over fourth place rather than fighting for the title.

With Paul Pogba injured, Mourinho aligned a conservative midfield trio of Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera and Fellaini, setting the tone for a tetchy, attritional contest.

Marcus Rashford returned in one of four changes and while his lightning pace enabled him to leave Nicolas Otamendi for dead repeatedly, the teenager cut an isolated figure.

The football that managed to emerge above the midfield melee was almost all City’s.

The hosts hit the woodwork in the ninth minute, Aguero cushioning a volley against the base of the right-hand post from Kevin De Bruyne’s right-wing cross.

United goalkeeper David de Gea fielded curlers from De Bruyne and Aguero and saved at his near post from Aleksandar Kolarov, while Aguero and Raheem Sterling arrowed shots over the bar.

But there were two moments of unease in the hosts’ box, the first when Bravo clawed Anthony Martial’s cross into the path of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, whose shot he was then obliged to block.

Shortly before half-time, Rashford’s free-kick from the left found Herrera unmarked at the back post, but the Spaniard headed wide.

City continued to force the issue after the break, but United, expertly marshalled by Eric Bailly and Daley Blind, kept them at bay.

De Gea comfortably saved from Sterling, twice, and Aguero, while De Bruyne ruffled the side-netting with a low drive after cutting in from the left.

Otamendi looked poised to break the deadlock when he rose to meet Kolarov’s corner, but Bailly diverted his header over the bar.

Fellaini’s dismissal gave City the edge and Guardiola immediately introduced Jesus, back from a broken foot sustained in February.

The Etihad erupted when the Brazilian headed in Aguero’s cross, but an offside flag silenced the home fans and a stretching Aguero could only volley wide from De Bruyne’s cross moments later.

Man Utd drumbeat booms for flagging Guardiola

April 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Jose Mourinho has an opportunity to score a seismic victory over his old foe Pep Guardiola when his Manchester United side visit misfiring Manchester City on Thursday.

Manchester-United

Guardiola oversaw a one-sided 2-1 win when he and Mourinho resumed hostilities in September and was generally felt to have made a bigger impact than the Portuguese in the season’s early months.

But having been condemned to a trophy-free first campaign at City by Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final loss to Arsenal, Guardiola will lose his hold on a top-four place if United prevail at the Etihad Stadium.

“If we finish fifth and they finish sixth and we are above them, it means nothing,” Mourinho said on Wednesday.

“If they finish third and we finish fourth, they are above us, but it means a lot.

“This is not about Pep, this is not about City; it is about fighting for objectives. We want to play Champions League football and we still have two doors open.”

Mourinho was alluding to the fact United can also qualify for the Champions League by winning the Europa League, ahead of their two-legged semi-final against Celta Vigo next month.

But victory on Thursday would help to shut off City’s only path to Europe’s top club competition.

It would also raise the prospect of United finishing above City for the first time since 2013 and provide proof that Mourinho has made a quicker start to life in Manchester than Guardiola.

United have struggled for fluency this season, drawing no fewer than 12 games, and spent four months grimly locked in sixth place in the table.

As the days grow longer, however, the prospects of a successful end to the season appear to be getting brighter.

Their stunning 2-0 ambush of league leaders Chelsea showed they are a match for anyone and they are seeking to equal a club record by going 24 top-flight games unbeaten.

Fatigue aside, the only dark cloud on United’s horizon is injuries.

Marcos Rojo and top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic have been ruled out for the rest of the season, while Paul Pogba will miss Thursday’s game with a muscular problem sustained during Sunday’s 2-0 win at Burnley.

Centre-backs Chris Smalling and Phil Jones remain sidelined, along with Juan Mata, who scored the winner when the teams met at Old Trafford in the League Cup fourth round in October.

Ibrahimovic’s injury has opened the door for Marcus Rashford, who netted the game’s only goal when United last visited the Etihad in March 2016.

Anthony Martial will also hope to start after scoring one goal and making the other for Wayne Rooney at Burnley.

Mourinho and Guardiola had a sulphurous rivalry during their time at the helms of Real Madrid and Barcelona, but Guardiola says their relationship is a courteous one.

“We are neighbours, but no,” the Catalan said when asked if he and Mourinho had ever bumped into each other in Salford, where they both live.

“When we see each other, (it’s) ‘Hi, hi.'”

Guardiola says David Silva is a “real, real doubt” after the Spanish schemer sustaining a hamstring injury during City’s 2-1 loss to Arsenal at Wembley.

But he had more positive news about Sergio Aguero, who trained on Wednesday after picking up a knock against Arsenal.

John Stones, Bacary Sagna and Fernandinho are also injury doubts, but January signing Gabriel Jesus could feature following his return from a broken foot.

Mourinho said it would be “naive” for any rival to think United will be unduly diminished by their injuries and Guardiola concurred.

“Ibra is a great player, but they also have lots of good players like Jesse Lingard, Ashley Young and Marcus Rashford and they find spaces between the lines,” he said.

“They are good rivals, with good quality, in good form and have a big series without defeat in the Premier League. I’m looking forward to the game.”

Revenge for Mourinho as Man Utd stun Chelsea

April 17, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho masterminded a brilliant and unexpected 2-0 home victory over former club Chelsea on Sunday to breathe new life into the Premier League title race.

Manchester United

Mourinho gambled by resting Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera’s goals gave United a win that leaves Chelsea just four points above Tottenham Hotspur with six games to play.

Victory at Old Trafford also lifted United to within four points of fourth-place Manchester City, on whom they have a game in hand, ahead of the derby at the Etihad Stadium on April 27.

It was a personal triumph for Mourinho, who saw his side thrashed 4-0 at Chelsea in October and was branded “Judas” by fans of his old club during last month’s FA Cup defeat at Stamford Bridge.

A wet, cold Manchester afternoon was the setting for United to end a run of 12 games without victory against Chelsea, stretching back to a 3-2 away win in October 2012.

Chelsea have now lost twice in four games, having gone down 2-1 at home to Crystal Palace earlier this month, which will give in-form Spurs fresh hope that the Blues may yet collapse as the finishing line nears.

The top two meet at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-finals next weekend in what now looks a significant test of Chelsea’s mettle.

United, meanwhile, will approach Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final second leg at home to Anderlecht, which is poised at 1-1, on the back of their best display under Mourinho.

Chelsea were without goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois due to an ankle problem, while Marcos Alonso succumbed to a virus, bringing Asmir Begovic and Kurt Zouma into their usual first XI.

Mourinho set United up to stop Chelsea, with Herrera and Matteo Darmian tasked with the responsibility of tracking dangermen Eden Hazard and Pedro wherever they went.

But despite Herrera’s chief role as a stifler, he created United’s seventh-minute opener, albeit in contentious circumstances.

He seemed to block Nemanja Matic’s pass with his right hand, but referee Robert Madley played on, enabling Herrera to split the Chelsea defence with a sublime through ball for Rashford.

The 19-year-old raced in behind David Luiz before clipping a shot past Begovic for his ninth goal of the season.

With Chelsea striker Diego Costa spending more time provoking his opponents than taking shots at goal, David de Gea was a virtual spectator between the posts for United.

Costa became embroiled in penalty-box tangles with United centre-backs Eric Bailly and Marcos Rojo and was booked for a late challenge on Paul Pogba.

With the willing Jesse Lingard in support of Rashford, United looked far more lively going forward.

Ashley Young twice spurned presentable shooting opportunities from the edge of the box, while Rashford saw a cross headed onto the roof of the net by Gary Cahill.

Short of a 25-yard drive by Costa that flashed wide in stoppage time, the half-time whistle sounded without Chelsea having offered anything in attack.

Any hopes the visitors had of masterminding a turnaround vanished within four minutes of kick-off in the second half as Herrera doubled United’s lead.

Zouma’s tackle on the burrowing Young sent the ball rolling into Herrera’s path and his drilled effort flicked off Zouma to fly past the grounded Begovic.

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte sent on Cesc Fabregas for Victor Moses, with Pedro moving to wing-back, but still the league leaders toiled, Pedro twice curling shots over De Gea’s bar.

At the other end Rashford remained a constant menace, teeing up Lingard to bend a shot over and twice going close himself, ruffling the side-netting and testing Begovic at his near post.

When he departed in the 82nd minute, with Ibrahimovic taking his place, he was accorded a richly deserved standing ovation.

Wenger faces new quit calls after Palace loss

April 11, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Arsene Wenger faces renewed calls to resign after Arsenal’s miserable season spiralled out of control with furious fans turning on his flops during their humiliating 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace.

Crystal Palace

Wenger’s side hit a new low on a chastening evening in south London as struggling Palace condemned the shambolic Gunners to their heaviest Premier League defeat of the season.

Wenger’s side have lost four successive away league games for the first time in his 21-year reign as manager.

Goals from Andros Townsend, Yohan Cabaye and Luka Milivojevic gave Palace their first home win over Arsenal since 1979 and left Wenger in turmoil after his team’s fifth defeat in their last eight league games.

With many Arsenal supporters again demanding Wenger resign, the toxic atmosphere around the north Londoners boiled over as fans refused to give the ball back to Gunners right-back Hector Bellerin when it went into the away section in the second half.

Instead, they berated Bellerin and his team-mates with chants of “you’re not fit to wear the shirt”, with the Spaniard having to be consoled by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain when he was jeered again at the final whistle.

Wenger and his squad were targeted for more abuse when they made their way from the dressing room to the team bus. Arsenal’s shocking surrender leaves them in sixth place, lagging seven points behind fourth placed Manchester City.

With Wenger’s record of leading Arsenal into the Champions League for 19 consecutive years in severe danger, the beleaguered Frenchman acknowledged he has to find a way to avoid the mutinous mood wrecking what may yet prove to be his final season in charge.

“I want the fans to support the team, but I can understand they are extremely frustrated, like we all are,” Wenger said.

“We came with the desire to win the game, but in the decisive moments of the game Palace were sharper.

“To see us lose in that way is disappointing. It’s part of my job to build the confidence. We have a week to do it. it’s our job. we will try to do it.”

Faced with the prospect of missing out on the Champions League for the first time since 1997, Wenger has hardly helped his cause by refusing to confirm if he will sign an extension to the contract which runs out at the end of the season.

The uncertainty over his future has been a major distraction for a team lacking the fighting spirit required to cope with adversity.

Wenger conceded Arsenal’s chances of making the Champions League via a top-four finish look bleak, but he refused to be drawn on whether or not he will stay.

“I think it will be very difficult certainly,” he said. “I don’t want to speak about me tonight. I’m not in the mood.

“At the moment I pay more respect to the fact we had a disappointing result.”

Looking shell-shocked and far less defiant than he often is at such downbeat moments, Wenger must have been devastated by the way the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott went missing when he needed them most.

Arsenal legend Ian Wright claimed Wenger has lost the support of his players and even the Gunners boss admitted Palace had shown more passion.

“They were sharper and more decisive than us,” he said. “In the second half they came out strong and scored again.

“After that it was more difficult. “I don’t say the players gave up. For a long time we were unbeaten away but since we lost a few we don’t have the confidence. “You could sense it had an impact on us after the second goal.”

Palace moved six points clear of the bottom three and boss Sam Allardyce hailed a magical 10 days that also included a win at leaders Chelsea.

“One or two more results and we should be safe, but it’s a massive night for everybody, and a huge week for us all,” he said.

Mourinho’s top four bid in jeopardy

April 8, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Jose Mourinho suggested last weekend that he had considered abandoning a push for the Premier League’s top four to focus on European competition and failure to beat Sunderland on Sunday may see that pledge become a reality.

Jose Mourinho

United’s best hope of qualifying for next season’s Champions League increasingly appears to be by winning the Europa League, with the first leg of their quarter-final against Anderlecht in Belgium on Thursday.

Mourinho’s team face a congested fixture list — the visit to Sunderland will be their third of nine matches during April.

The first two ended in disappointing home draws against West Bromwich Albion and Everton, leaving United four points adrift of the top four with a game in hand.

At least, Mourinho has his leading scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic back.

The former Paris Saint-Germain striker was not at his best against Everton on his return from a three-match domestic ban, but showed the calmness required to convert the 94th-minute penalty that secured United a point.

Ibrahimovic, with 27 goals in all competitions for United this season, is a reassuring presence in an attack that is otherwise struggling.

Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marcus Rashford have scored 21 goals between them this season, but only nine of those have come in the league.

Rashford’s last league goal was on September 24, and he has looked desperately short of confidence lately.

A failure to convert chances is certainly a factor in United’s inability to close on the top four.

In the two matches against West Brom and Everton, they managed a total of 36 efforts on goal, yet scored only once.

“Looking to next season, I think it’s a good feeling to know we haven’t lost many matches,” Mourinho said.

“It’s good to know we’re 20 matches undefeated in the Premier League. Ten draws in 10 matches is 10 points; five victories and five defeats in 10 matches is 15 points. But the points are the reality.”

Mourinho is hopeful that Paul Pogba’s return to fitness will help in that respect.

The France midfielder, recovered from a hamstring problem, hit the bar after coming on at half-time against Everton, and is likely to start at Sunderland.

Luke Shaw, who also returned as a substitute on Wednesday after a long spell out of favour, is set to be on the bench again.

Sunderland manager David Moyes has predicted a major summer upheaval as the Wearside club prepare for life in the Championship.

The Scot insists the fight to remain in the Premier League will go on until survival is mathematically impossible, but concedes his rock bottom side require a miracle in order to bridge the 10-point gap to safety with eight games remaining.

Despite imminent relegation, Moyes has been backed to remain at the helm in the hope the former Manchester United manager can lead a successful promotion campaign next season.

The 53-year-old concedes that will involve another massive shake-up in personnel at a club that has become accustomed to huge changes in the wake of fighting four successive successful relegation battles.

Top scorer Jermain Defoe is set to leave on a free, and Sunderland will part-finance their spending by cashing-in on England Under-21 goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, who is a target for several Premier League clubs.

Record signing Didier N’Dong, Lamine Kone, Wahbi Khazri and Jan Kirchhoff are also set to leave if the Wearsiders’ 10-year stay in the top-flight comes to an end in May.

“There will be a change around of players again. Lots of players came in on loan or free transfers last summer and there will be a big turn around of players again,” Moyes said.

“We were short of players at the start of last season so I’d be surprised if it was much different going into the next season.”

Conte warns Chelsea to forget about Spurs

April 8, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Antonio Conte has warned his Chelsea stars not to worry about Tottenham’s results as the Premier League title race hots up this weekend.

Chelsea

With just eight games remaining Chelsea are clinging to a precious seven-point lead over second-placed Tottenham, but the Blues are showing a few glimpses of vulnerability.

Conte’s side ground out a barely deserved 2-1 win over Manchester City on Wednesday just days after crashing to a shock 2-1 home defeat against struggling Crystal Palace.

Meanwhile, Tottenham have reeled off five successive victories, including an incredible escape act at Swansea on Wednesday when they scored three times in the final minutes to clinch a 3-1 success.

With Chelsea playing on Saturday evening at Bournemouth, Tottenham have the chance to turn up the pressure again by temporarily trimming the lead to four points with a win against Watford at White Hart Lane a few hours earlier.

But Conte is adamant his players must forget about Tottenham’s form because Chelsea have their fate in their own hands.

“This race is open. I think now I can see two teams, Chelsea and Tottenham, in this race,” Conte said.

“There’s always pressure. If they win, if they lose, if they draw. It’s the same.

“It’s very important for us to look at ourselves and not the others. Tottenham’s result is important, but our results are the most important things.”

The Premier League era is littered with epic collapses from teams who thought the title was theirs and, with Chelsea needing 18 points to be certain of top spot, Blues midfielder Cesc Fabregas isn’t getting carried away yet.

“We’ve been saying it since the beginning of the season: it’s one game at a time,” he said.

“We have to worry about ourselves, not what the others are doing. As long as we keep winning then we don’t have to worry.”

Tottenham’s title hopes looked over until Dele Alli equalised in the 88th minute before Son Heung-Min and Christian Eriksen struck in stoppage time to kill off Swansea.

The wild celebrations from boss Mauricio Pochettino, his coaching staff and Tottenham’s players and fans underlined their relief at a result that allows them to continue dreaming of a first English title since 1961.

Having choked last season when they failed to catch champions Leicester in the closing weeks, Pochettino’s side are back in the hunt and Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen said: “Chelsea look very strong but we can’t stop pushing and dreaming of the league.

“They have a couple of difficult games coming up. We have to keep winning and hopefully they get a bit stressed.

“I don’t know what is necessary to win the league, maybe a bit of luck, but I think this group has massive quality and is very special.”

The battle for Champions League qualification via the top four seems certain to go down to the wire.

Third-placed Liverpool, six points above fifth-placed Arsenal, can’t afford another slip when they face Stoke after allowing Bournemouth a late equaliser in a midweek 2-2 draw.

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp urged his team to emulate Chelsea’s steely streak when points are on the line.

“Probably if it was Chelsea, for example, the opponent would not have the ball three times in the last 20 minutes, I think. We don’t have this experience,” Klopp said.

Fourth-placed Manchester City, who host Hull, are without a win in four games and sit only four points above Arsenal, who have a game in hand and travel to Crystal Palace on Monday.

Manchester United are sixth and head to bottom-of-the-table Sunderland aiming to add to their former manager David Moyes’s problems.

Home draws against West Bromwich Albion and Everton have damaged United’s chances of making the top four and a win at the Stadium of Light is essential.

Jose Mourinho’s side can also push Sunderland — a hefty 10 points from safety — closer to the Championship at the end of a week in which Moyes was forced to apologise after threating to “slap” a female reporter.

Misfiring Manchester United get Ibrahimovic boost

April 3, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s return from suspension may be just the lift that Manchester United need as they attempt to improve their Premier League home form against Everton on Tuesday.

Zlatan

The former Paris Saint-Germain striker, United’s leading scorer this season, has missed three domestic matches through suspension – in which time Jose Mourinho’s team have been knocked out of the FA Cup and lost ground in the race for a top-four finish.

Ibrahimovic was certainly missed on Saturday as United drew at home in the league for the eighth time this season, as they were held 0-0 by West Bromwich Albion.

Time after time, Mourinho’s men have dominated possession at Old Trafford against visiting teams, yet failed to make their superiority count.

So it was at the weekend, as United enjoying 75 per cent of the possession yet managed only three shots on target.

In United’s defence, they were without not only Ibrahimovic, but also Ander Herrera, who was suspended too, plus injury victims Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, yet it was still a hugely disappointing display.

Mourinho was particularly angry with his front four of Jesse Lingard, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, and may make changes beyond bringing back Ibrahimovic.

This is a busy period for United, who are scheduled to play nine matches during April.

If there is no sign of improvement in Premier League form against Everton or at Sunderland this coming Sunday, Mourinho has indicated that he will put his focus on winning the Europa League, and securing a Champions League place that way.

“After Sunderland, the Europa League comes, and then I don’t know,” he said.

“Then, it’s possible that you see me play in the Premier League with a team where I’m going to protect the players that I consider fundamental for the Europa League.

“But only, only if the results in the next matches put us in a situation where mathematically, it becomes almost impossible to do it.”

- Heavy criticism -

France midfielder Pogba should return against Everton, having been able to take part in a training session on the pitch after Saturday’s match.

He was left out of the squad against West Brom as a precaution because of the hamstring injury that kept him out of France’s matches against Luxembourg and Spain during the recent international break.

Herrera is also available after his ban, but Mata, Smalling and Jones will be longer-term absentees; the Spanish winger is expected to miss the remainder of the season following groin surgery last week.

Everton are seeking improvement themselves, having performed poorly in losing 3-1 at Liverpool in Saturday’s Merseyside derby.

Ross Barkley has come in for particularly heavy criticism in the media, having been very fortunate not to be sent off at Anfield for a dangerous challenge on Dejan Lovren when already on a booking.

Everton manager Ronald Koeman did say in public after the game that he was proud of his team’s performance.

But they have played much better than that over the last three months, losing just two of their last 13 league matches and looking comfortable in seventh place.

Koeman is short of defensive options, with Seamus Coleman recovering from a broken leg and Ramiro Funes Mori set to miss the final weeks of the season after suffering a knee injury while playing for Argentina.

A back three of Matthew Pennington, Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka did not work too well at Anfield, but Koeman may have to stick with that set-up.

“We won’t be taking too many positives from Saturday, but we’ve got a big game on Tuesday,” said Jagielka.

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