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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.

Herrera says fans can fire Manchester United to Europa League final

May 10, 2017 by · 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 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?”

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 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.

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.

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.”

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.

Conte, Mourinho feud boils over after FA Cup clash

March 14, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Antonio Conte slammed Manchester United’s cynical attempts to intimidate Chelsea in his side’s bitter FA Cup quarter-final win, but Jose Mourinho hit back at his rival by insisting he remains the Blues’ best ever manager.

Chelsea

Chelsea boss Conte was furious with United’s aggressive approach after Ander Herrera was sent off for two fouls on Eden Hazard in Monday’s 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge.

Marcos Rojo escaped a red card for a spiteful stamp on Hazard late in the second half at Stamford Bridge, but the United defender is likely to face a ban if the Football Association retrospectively look at the offence.

Conte was so wound up by the constant fouling he became embroiled in a touchline row with United boss Mourinho that ended with the rivals being separated by the fourth official.

Asked what he made of United’s tactics, Conte said: “My players want to play football, but for 25 minutes it was impossible.

“I think only that Eden got a lot of kicks. I don’t think I’m crazy.

“He started the match receiving kicks and he finished it receiving kicks.

“This is the truth and I don’t think one person can say this didn’t happen. It’s not football for me.

“It could be United’s tactic. Sometimes when you play against players with great talent you try to intimidate them.

“The referee must try to protect these type of players because they can go out with a bad injury.”

It was a chastening return to west London for former Chelsea boss Mourinho, who endured his old club’s fans calling him “Judas” and chanting “you’re not special anymore”.

Mourinho responded to the jibes by holding up three fingers to the crowd to remind them how many Premier League titles he won in his two spells with Chelsea.

And, determined to have the last word, Mourinho, sacked by the Blues last season, took the opportunity to remind Conte and Chelsea’s supporters that they have a long way to go to match his achievements at the Bridge.

“They can call me what they want. I’m a professional,” he said.

“I feel responsibilities on Chelsea’s bad Premier League last season, but when I left we were in the Champions League, winning the Champions League group.

“Now they don’t play in Europe. It’s not my fault.

“Until the moment they have a manager that wins four Premier Leagues, I am number one.

“If a manager wins four I become number two. Until then, Judas is number one.”

Although Conte and Mourinho didn’t shake hands at full-time, the Italian insisted he had done nothing wrong in their touchline clash.

“It was hard work for the fourth official but I controlled my emotion very well today,” Conte said.

“It’s normal for the manager to push his players. What happens outside the pitch is just a circus.”

Conte saluted Hazard for refusing to be intimidated by United’s bullying as N’Golo Kante’s superb second-half winner gave the Premier League leaders a Wembley semi-final showdown with London rivals Tottenham next month.

“For sure, he showed strong character. After the first 25 minutes, every player would have a fear of being kicked. It’s very dangerous to receive a kick from the back,” he said.

Inevitably, Mourinho refused to accept blame for his team’s approach and turned the focus on referee Michael Oliver’s decision to send off Herrera for what was one of the less vicious tackles on Hazard.

“Herrera’s second yellow card, compare that with (Marcus) Rashford going to attack the ball in a counter-attacking situation. He was fouled and the referee doesn’t give a booking,” Mourinho said.

“We all saw the game. We can all agree there was one match until Herrera saw the red card and another after that.

“I thought we were going to win because everything was under control, then with 10 men it was very difficult for us.”

Mourinho laments United’s lack of cutting edge

March 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Jose Mourinho fears Manchester United’s bid to qualify for the Champions League will fail because of their inability to kill off inferior opponents at Old Trafford.

Rojo

United had most of the possession and chances against struggling Bournemouth on Saturday, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s penalty miss forced them to settle for a 1-1 draw.

Mourinho’s side have dropped home points against a number of sides below them in the table this season, with Stoke, Burnley and Hull all picking up draws when second best.

The United manager believes if his team had been more ruthless, they could even be challenging Chelsea for the title, but instead they are three points adrift of the top four.

“I don’t speak about the Manchester City match at home that we lost, because everybody knows what happens, the penalty (we should have had) and the red card (that should have been shown) to (goalkeeper Claudio) Bravo,” Mourinho said.

“But if you look at the points we lost at home, all the other matches we drew. If you accumulate those points, you are talking another 10 or 12.

“Then you are not just talking about top four, but top two or maybe even top one. There are matches to play, points to win and points to lose, but the reality is that we are losing too many points at home.”

The match was dominated by three flash-points just before half-time, first when Tyrone Mings escaped punishment for stamping on Ibrahimovic’s head, then when the United striker elbowed the Bournemouth defender in the face.

Referee Kevin Friend did not penalise either player, but did then send off Bournemouth captain Andrew Surman for a second bookable offence as he pushed over Ibrahimovic in the aftermath of the elbow incident.

Friend than also sent Bournemouth assistant manager Jason Tindall to the stand for making his protests too forcefully at half-time.

That all came after Josh King’s penalty had cancelled out Marcos Rojo’s first league goal for United, and before Ibrahimovic’s second-half spot-kick was saved by Artur Boruc.

Mourinho refused to criticise Friend or Mings, saying: “Zlatan is a big man, who has had too many years in football, like me. We are not the generation who goes to the media and complains.

“We are from that generation of street football and football for big guys. What happens, happens.”

Asked about the confrontation between Ibrahimovic and Mings, Mourinho said: “I don’t comment. I comment on the football, I comment on the game, I comment on the big decisions of the game.

“I think Kevin Friend was very good, the penalty against Phil Jones was a clear penalty, the penalty against Adam Smith was a clear penalty so the two big decisions of the game were good.

“The assistant referees were also good so for me good performance by the referee.”

Tindall took on post-match media duties because Eddie Howe was suffering with illness, although the Bournemouth manager was well enough to stand on the touchline during the game.

“Unfortunately I have not had the opportunity to see any of the decisions back again,” Tindall said.

“The only thing I did see was the first yellow card for Surman, which I did think was very harsh.

“My players felt it was an elbow by Ibrahimovic. I am sure there was some kind of communication with the officials which ended up with Andrew being sent off.

“I got sent to the stands. I let my frustrations get the better of me at half-time but that was for the reason of Surman getting his first yellow card, which I thought was harsh.”

Ibrahimovic double downs Saints in Wembley thriller

February 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic sealed the first major silverware of Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United reign and broke Southampton’s hearts as the Swedish star’s late goal clinched a dramatic 3-2 victory in Sunday’s League Cup final.

MAnchester United

Ibrahimovic was one of Mourinho’s marquee signings in the close-season and he repaid his manager’s faith with a typically dominant display on the big occasion at Wembley.

The 35-year-old opened the scoring with a blistering free-kick before Jesse Lingard doubled United’s lead.

Manolo Gabbiadini sparked a thrilling Southampton fightback, scoring just before half-time and again early in the second half.

But Ibrahimovic had the last word as his 87th minute header — his 26th goal of the campaign — ensured Mourinho joined United legend Alex Ferguson and Nottingham Forest great Brian Clough as the only managers to win the League Cup four times.

Mourinho is the first United manager to win a top prize in his maiden season at Old Trafford, a feat not even Ferguson or Matt Busby achieved.

It was also the 54-year-old’s 19th major trophy of his glittering career.

With United trailing well behind Premier League leaders Chelsea, Mourinho needed this success to guarantee players, fans and the club’s hierarchy remain in his corner.

But the serial winner will hope the victory acts as a catalyst to claim bigger prizes in the near future, just as it did when the League Cup was the first silverware of his maiden spell with Chelsea.

“Ibrahimovic won the game for us because he was outstanding,” Mourinho said.

“Our opponents were better than us for long periods of the game and didn’t deserve to lose over 90 minutes.

“Ibrahimovic made the difference. He gave us a cup.”

In the absence of injured playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan and with Wayne Rooney again on the bench, the stage was set for Ibrahimovic to cement his status as United’s talisman and he wasted little time stamping his authority on his first showpiece occasion in England.

Demanding the ball right from the start, Ibrahimovic’s astute pass set up France midfielder Paul Pogba for a fierce long-range effort that stung the palms of Saints goalkeeper Fraser Forster.

Southampton responded with a dangerous raid that should have brought the opening goal in the 11th minute when Cedric Soares crossed low into the six yard box and Gabbiadini side-footed past David de Gea., only to see his celebrations curtailed by a dubious offside decision.

Emboldened by that lucky escape, United swept forward and in the 19th minute Oriol Romeu made a costly error when he try to halt another attack with a crude lunge on Ander Herrera.

Romeu was booked but there was worse punishment to come from the free-kick as Ibrahimovic stepped up to smash his dipping shot over the Southampton wall.

Despite their lead, United still looked alarmingly casual and De Gea was forced to save from James Ward-Prowse and Dusan Tadic.

But Southampton were even more negligent at the back and Mourinho’s men made them pay again in the 38th minute.

Marcos Rojo was given room to pick out Lingard inside the penalty area and the United forward couldn’t believe this luck as the statuesque Saints’ defence allowed him to guide a low finish past Forster.

Yet on the stroke of half-time Southampton were back in it as United were caught napping by Ward-Prowse’s cross and Gabbiadini applied the finishing touch with a cool close-range effort.

With the strangely diffident Pogba offering little protection to United’s defence, Southampton exposed United’s defensive flaws again to draw level in the 48th minute

When a corner was directed back into the United area, Pogba missed a header and Gabbiadini reacted quicker than Chris Smalling to whip his shot past De Gea for his fifth goal in just three appearances since a January move from Napoli.

Romeu almost won it when he headed against a post from Ward-Prowse’s corner.

But, despite a far from convincing display from United, it was Ibrahimovic who delivered the knockout blow with extra-time looming.

He started and finished a United counter, ghosting into the six-yard box to meet Herrera’s cross with a bullet header that added more lustre to both United and Mourinho’s trophy cabinets.

Jose Mourinho ‘convinced’ Zlatan Ibrahimovic will stay at Man Utd

February 10, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho expects Zlatan Ibrahimovic to remain at Old Trafford next season despite speculation linking the Swedish striker with one last big-money transfer, he said on Friday.

Zlatan

Ibrahimovic, 35, has been a revelation in his first season in England, scoring 20 goals, and is expected to trigger the option of extending his contract by a year.

Napoli and clubs in China and the United States have been linked with the former Paris Saint-Germain striker in recent days, but Mourinho is confident he will remain in United red next season.

“I’m totally convinced he is going to stay,” Mourinho told reporters at United’s training base west of Manchester.

“He came with the intention to stay two years, but in the minds of everyone the first year is going better than every expectation.

“He knows we are going to try again to improve next season and try to share with him in a fantastic way probably the last year of his career at the highest level, so I’m convinced that he’s staying.

“He’s adapted to the club, to the situation. I don’t see any problem with his family. I gave him the possibility of a day off to go to Sweden. He doesn’t want (it). So I’m totally convinced he is going to stay.”

The United manager also joked about executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward’s use of the word “churn” during a conference call with investors to discuss the club’s latest financial results on Thursday.

Woodward said he was expecting to see less “churn” — turnover of first-team players — in the close season and Mourinho was in complete agreement with the approach outlined by his superior.

“First of all, yesterday I had to ask a friend about ‘churn’ because I had no idea. It’s a new word for my vocabulary,” Mourinho smiled.

“You have to learn every time you can and I thank Ed for that word because I didn’t have an idea.

“He’s completely right. Of course we speak about it. Of course we speak about what next and we know that we have a squad that like every squad needs changes.

“But we know also that our squad has potential, our squad has good players, many of them in the best age.”

He added: “We prefer to bring two, three or four players, players that feel an idea, a football we try to play, that can improve our squad.

“We are not interested in signing six or seven or selling six or seven. We are not going to play this game.

“We are stable, so we think our market in the summer will be soft, will be natural. Some players to leave, some players to come, but in a very natural way, so I think the word Ed used was a good one.”

While rivals such as Manchester City are expected to make significant moves in the next transfer window, Mourinho says he intends to keep his squad largely as it is.

“You work with the players and you know the players better. You only know the players really when you work with them,” he said.

“Sometimes you get disappointed because you expect more and even in relation to this everything is balanced. I’m not negatively surprised with anyone.

“I didn’t have an incredible impact with some player, so everything is balanced and I think our summer will be quite small.”

United will be without centre-back Phil Jones for Saturday’s home game against Watford due to a foot injury.

But captain Wayne Rooney is back after missing last weekend’s 3-0 win at champions Leicester City due to illness and defender Marcos Rojo is also available despite picking up a knock in that game.

Mourinho vexed by Man United scoring problems

February 3, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Manchester United’s players must give Zlatan Ibrahimovic more support if they are to make a serious challenge for Champions League qualification, manager Jose Mourinho said on Friday.

Mourinho

Ibrahimovic has scored 14 of United’s 33 Premier League goals this season and many of them have been decisive, earning United no fewer than 15 points.

No other player has scored more than four league goals and they were all off-target on Wednesday as relegation-threatened Hull City secured a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford.

“In almost every team the striker is the top scorer,” Mourinho told a press conference at United’s training base west of Manchester prior to Sunday’s trip to Leicester City.

“Unless you have another player with a special feeling to score goals coming from another position, or you have another player scoring six, seven or eight goals from penalties. That is normal to happen.

“But I understand what you are saying. We attack so much and with so many players and so many players have the freedom in our dynamic to reach scoring positions.

“I have to agree with you that we don’t score enough goals and some of our players from these attacking, creative positions, they could — they should — score more goals.

“When you see the number of goals we score, there is not a true relation between our attacking production and the number of players we put in attacking positions and the number of goals we score.”

United are unbeaten in 14 league games as they prepare for the trip to the King Power Stadium, but have drawn seven of those, including each of the last three.

They have not shifted from sixth place since the start of November and currently lie four points off the Champions League qualification spots.

Meanwhile, Mourinho has dismissed the idea of chasing what he calls “impossible” signings during the close season.

Reports in France claim United have agreed terms with Atletico Madrid striker Antoine Griezmann, having brought his France team-mate Paul Pogba to Old Trafford last year.

But Mourinho said: “I think to be speaking about the transfer window when it’s February 3 makes no sense at all.

“The transfer window opens in the summer and until the summer, I think I have nothing to tell you.

“Of course, I know what I want. I’ve worked with my players for seven months or so. I know them better now than six or seven months ago.

“I think what we need I am very realistic (about). I know what the impossible targets are.

“I don’t like my club to participate in impossible deals. It is a waste of time. It is a gift to these impossible players and to their agents to have a club like Manchester United interested in them.

“It just helps them to improve their situation, but it does not help us at all so I am very realistic. I am very objective.

“My board knows what I think our needs are and from now until the summer, I just focus on my players, our competitions, my club, our fans and try to get the (best) possible results.”

Centre-back Phil Jones is likely to miss the trip to Leicester with a bruised foot, but Eric Bailly is available after returning from Africa Cup of Nations duty with the Ivory Coast.

United have recalled back-up goalkeeper Dean Henderson from a loan spell at Grimsby Town to provide cover after Joel Pereira, the club’s third-choice keeper, picked up a knee injury.

Man United thwarted by Hull’s Jakupovic

February 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Manchester United’s push for the Champions League places was frustrated by Hull City as Jose Mourinho’s men were held to a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Ibrahimovic

With Manchester City winning handsomely at West Ham United, their cross-city rivals lost ground in the race for a top-four finish as Hull’s stubborn defending kept them at bay.

The visitors, who showed further signs of improvement under new manager Marco Silva, restricted Mourinho’s side to few clear chances.

And when United did get a sight of goal they were thwarted by Hull goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic, who made some smart saves either side of half-time.

Two dropped points left United four points adrift of fifth-place Manchester City and fourth-place Liverpool.

There was more bad news for Mourinho when defender Phil Jones limped off injured in the second half.

It might have got even worse, but Lazar Markovic struck the United woodwork late on with the best chance of the game.

United sniffed a chance early on when David Meyler presented possession to Paul Pogba and the midfielder angled a clever pass into the path of Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

But the winger’s chances of finding a shot were halted by full-back Andrew Robertson, who covered around to make an important challenge.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic almost put United ahead in the 15th minute with a moment of characteristic confidence, brushing off Tom Huddlestone and hitting a curling shot that was tipped around the post by Jakupovic.

But despite dominating possession, United were finding it difficult to break down the stubborn resistance of Hull, with Mkhitaryan in particular having little success in running at defenders.

Another chance arrived for United 10 minutes before half-time when Pogba helped a pass by Daley Blind into the feet of Ibrahimovic.

However, the Swede was closed down quickly and he snatched at a left-foot shot that flew harmlessly wide.

After lacking the magic to change the game for much of the first half, the home side nearly opened the scoring with a goal of real inspiration three minutes before half-time.

Michael Carrick’s pass was flicked on superbly by Ibrahimovic for Pogba, whose powerful effort was saved well by Jakupovic.

Pogba and Ibrahimovic combined again nine minutes into the second half when the former lofted a clever pass into the latter’s path inside the 18-yard box.

But it was a difficult ball for Ibrahimovic to control and his attempted shot was easy for Jakupovic to claim.

Another raking, diagonal ball by Pogba released Marcus Rashford moments later and this time it was brought under control.

The young forward managed to get a shot away but it went just wide of the target.

Then a cross from the right by Antonio Valencia was helped back across goal by Rashford, but substitute Wayne Rooney failed to connect with a shot on the turn and when Ibrahimovic did make contact, he fired wide.

Hull striker Oumar Niasse was fortunate to stay on the field with 25 minutes remaining when, having already been booked, he committed a high challenge on Blind but escaped without another caution.

The home side ought to have led with 13 minutes remaining, but Jakupovic again came to Hull’s rescue.

He made a superb block on the line to deny substitute Juan Mata from close range after Chris Smalling had headed Ander Herrera’s cross into the Spaniard’s feet.

With 10 minutes remaining Hull’s players were furious with Ibrahimovic when he hung out a leg in the penalty area and waited for contact from Huddlestone before going to ground.

Referee Mike Jones was unimpressed and awarded a free-kick to the visitors.

With three minutes to go, Markovic sidestepped Smalling and saw his cheeky shot strike David De Gea’s right-hand post and rebound to safety.

United were frustrated again in stoppage time when Jakupovic saved a header by Marcos Rojo and then turned away a curling shot from Pogba.

Man Utd survive Hull scare to reach League Cup final

January 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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ManchesterUnited survived a scare to reach the League Cup final after Oumar Niasse’s late goal earned Hull City a 2-1 victory in Thursday’s semi-final second leg.

Pogba

Leading 2-0 from the first leg, United saw their advantage at an ice-cold KCOM Stadium halved by Tom Huddlestone’s 35th-minute penalty and then restored by Paul Pogba’s second-half strike.

Niasse’s goal set up a nervy finish for Jose Mourinho’s men, but they survived to complete a 3-2 aggregate win that sets up a date with Southampton in the final at Wembley on February 26.

“I just want to say congratulations to my players,” said Mourinho, who seemed to be aggrieved about Hull’s penalty.

“It was a difficult road to be in the final and we are in the final.”

It will be United’s first League Cup final since 2010, when they beat Aston Villa 2-1, and with Southampton having cleared Liverpool from their path, they will go into the game as favourites.

Hull once again showed signs of stiffened resolve under new coach Marco Silva and could console themselves with a first win over United since a 2-0 success at the old Boothferry Park in November 1974.

The club also used the occasion to show their support for Ryan Mason, recovering in hospital after fracturing his skull at Chelsea on Sunday, with T-shirts bearing his name and a minute’s applause.

“It was a good win, but not enough for our goal,” said Silva.

“I congratulated the players in the dressing room.”

A paltry home crowd reflected both the significant edge that Marouane Fellaini’s late header had given United in the first leg and ongoing dissent towards Hull’s owner Assem Allam.

Silva’s decision to make seven changes to his starting XI, meanwhile, did not seem to indicate a desperate desire to turn the tie around.

But in the first half the cohesive football all came from Hull and it was United who looked a team of strangers, with centre-backs Phil Jones and Chris Smalling conspicuously unconvincing.

Hull had the first serious attempt of the match, David de Gea boxing away a free-kick from Sam Clucas, and the United goalkeeper was soon involved again.

After allowing Huddlestone’s up-and-under to drift over his head, Smalling had to make a last-ditch block to thwart Michael Dawson and Niasse’s follow-up was fisted away by De Gea.

The hosts duly took the lead on the night 10 minutes before half-time, Huddlestone planting his spot-kick low to De Gea’s right after Marcos Rojo was penalised for tugging Harry Maguire’s shirt.

It took United until the 38th minute to register a shot on target, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s side-foot effort palmed behind by David Marshall.

United had three penalty appeals early in the second half and while the first and third centred on Pogba and Marcus Rashford going to ground too easily, the second was more compelling.

After seizing on a loose ball inside the Hull box, Smalling appeared to be pushed in the chest by Huddlestone, sending him down, but referee Jon Moss shook his head.

If Huddlestone got away with one there, fortune deserted him in the 66th minute.

Having tracked Rashford’s run towards the byline on the United left, he managed to toe the ball away from him, but could only send it into the path of Pogba, who stabbed a low shot past Marshall.

Their nerves eased, United threatened to move out of sight, Ibrahimovic seeing a shot blocked by Dawson after dancing past Huddlestone and Rojo clipping the bar with a header.

But Niasse then headed against the bar at the other end and with five minutes remaining he gave Hull victory in the game if not the tie by tucking away David Meyler’s volleyed cross.

Manchester United brace for Liverpool crunch, Chelsea eye recovery

January 14, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Manchester United have a golden opportunity to haul themselves into the Premier League title race at the expense of bitter rivals Liverpool this weekend.

MArtial

While all is sweetness and light for the moment with United and manager Jose Mourinho, the storm clouds may be gathering over his former side Chelsea, who had soared to the top of the table on the back of a 13 match winning run.

Defeat last time out to Spurs brought that to an end but hopes of bouncing back against ailing champions Leicester have taken a serious hit after leading scorer Diego Costa was dropped for an apparent bust-up with the coaching staff over his fitness.

United go into the Old Trafford showdown in fine fettle after beating Hull in the League Cup semi-final first leg in midweek to extend their winning streak in all competitions to nine matches.

Mourinho’s sixth-placed side still trail Chelsea by 10 points and lag five behind second-placed Liverpool.

But victory on Sunday would be a significant statement of intent and Mourinho promised a far more attacking performance than United delivered in a dour 0-0 draw against Liverpool at Anfield in October.

“You know, at that time I had less time of working together with my players,” Mourinho said.

“Now I have a little bit more, we know each other better, we have a certain way of thinking football, we have a certain way to play football.

“We don’t just have good performances, we have also the happiness of the good results.”

In contrast to United, Liverpool — after emerging as title contenders thanks to a four-match winning run in December — have suffered a dip.

A draw at Sunderland in the league was followed by an FA Cup stalemate against fourth-tier Plymouth and a 1-0 defeat in the League Cup semi-final first leg at Southampton.

Manager Jurgen Klopp will hope the return against Southampton of Brazil forward Philippe Coutinho after seven weeks out with an ankle injury provides a timely boost for his team.

“We will try everything we need to make the difference,” Klopp said.

“Everyone who wants to see a real fight, then yes, watch it. It will be 100 per cent from our side.”

By the time Liverpool kick off at Old Trafford they could be eight points behind Chelsea, who face struggling champions Leicester at the King Power Stadium 24 hours earlier.

“I think the Leicester game is very important. It’s important for us to restart winning,” Chelsea manager Antonio Conte said before the Costa bust-up was revealed.

On the field, midfielder N’Golo Kante will make a first appearance at Leicester since his £30 million pre-season transfer.

Kante was the driving force behind Leicester’s incredible title triumph and his absence has been felt as the Foxes have slumped to within six points of the relegation zone.

Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri called on the club’s fans to salute Kante, but he hopes his side can make it an unhappy return.

“I hope our fans give to Kante a warm welcome as he was our champion. It’s important to remember what he gave to us,” Ranieri said.

“We respect Chelsea a lot but we are ready to fight and ready to try to win.”

Third-placed Tottenham can extend their winning run in the league to six matches when they host West Bromwich Albion, but boss Mauricio Pochettino isn’t getting carried away by that impressive success against Chelsea.

“Today it’s about maturity and learning from this period. It doesn’t mean that we will win every game,” he said.

“It’s important to show that maturity we did against Chelsea, that is important for trying to be more realistic and fighting for a bigger objective.”

Manchester City, in fourth, look to maintain the momentum from their FA Cup thrashing of West Ham when they travel to Everton, while fifth-placed Arsenal, eight points behind Chelsea, can’t afford a slip at second-bottom Swansea.

It will be an emotional day at Vicarage Road as Watford pay their respects to former manager Graham Taylor following his death on Thursday aged 72.

Taylor, who suffered a suspected heart attack, led Watford into the top flight twice in two spells lasting a combined 15 years and the club plan a minute’s applause and other tributes before their home match against Middlesbrough.

Mkhitaryan breaks duck as United go through

December 9, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored his first Manchester United goal to set up a 2-0 win over Zorya Luhansk in Ukraine on Thursday and take Jose Mourinho’s side into the last 32 of the Europa League.

Mkhitaryan

United required only a point to secure progress from Group A but Mkhitaryan’s 48th-minute strike and a late Zlatan Ibrahimovic goal separated the sides and took the Premier League club through in second place behind Fenerbahce, who won 1-0 at Feyenoord thanks to a Moussa Sow effort.

The game went ahead despite concerns about the state of the icy, rock-hard pitch at the Chornomorets Stadium in Odessa, almost 1,000 kilometres away from Luhansk in the conflict-torn east of the country.

After a goalless first half, United broke the deadlock three minutes into the second half as the Armenian Mkhitaryan burst forward from midfield through the middle of the Zorya defence before finishing past goalkeeper Igor Levchenko.

They wrapped up the victory two minutes from the end as a fine one-touch passing move ended with Paul Pogba sending Ibrahimovic away, the Swede running through and finishing coolly.

“I was waiting a long time for this goal. My next goal has to be at Old Trafford because I want to score at home,” Mkhitaryan, who previously played in Ukraine for Shakhtar Donetsk, told BT Sport.

“The first half was a little bit difficult because we couldn’t find the last pass but in the second half we created some space for the wingers and the strikers. The important thing was to win today and go through.”

Mourinho praised the playmaker, who endured a difficult start to his United career but is now starting to show his worth.

“He worked hard physically and tactically — the talent was there, we knew that when we bought him. Now he’s playing good — in the Premier League, Europa League and EFL Cup — and now the goal means a little more happiness for him, so I’m very pleased,” Mourinho said.

United will join Tottenham Hotspur, who drop out of the Champions League, in the last 32, but there was bitter disappointment for fellow Premier League club Southampton.

Claude Puel’s men knew a goalless draw or a win at home to Hapoel Beer-Sheva would see them advance from Group K but instead drew 1-1 with the Israelis and were eliminated.

The visitors went in front in the 79th minute, Yuval Shabtai pouncing on a poor pass by Oriol Romeu and setting up Maor Buzaglo to fire home.

Virgil van Dijk equalised with a deflected shot in stoppage time but they could not get a winner and Hapoel go through instead.

A brilliant late chip by Manuel Trigueros gave Villarreal a nervy 2-1 win over Steaua Bucharest that took the Spanish club into the last 32 from Group L behind the Turkish side Osmanlispor.

Fellow Spaniards Celta Vigo won 2-0 at Panathinaikos and qualify from Group G, while Fiorentina are through as winners of Group J after a 2-1 win over Qarabag in Azerbaijan secured by a 76th-minute goal from 19-year-old Federico Chiesa, son of ex-Italy striker Enrico, who was then sent off shortly after.

PAOK of Greece are also into next week’s draw for the first knockout round thanks to a 2-0 win against Slovan Liberec, while Gent joined Shakhtar Donetsk in advancing from Group H.

Kalifa Coulibaly’s stoppage-time strike clinched a 1-0 win over Konyaspor in Turkey and took the Belgians through at the expense of Braga, who lost 4-2 at home to Shakhtar.

AZ Alkmaar beat Zenit 3-2 in the Netherlands and join the Russians in progressing from Group D.

Dundalk had gone into their final game in the same group away to Maccabi Tel Aviv still in with a chance of going through but a 2-1 reverse in Israel ended the Irish champions’ hopes.

Romanian champions Astra drew 0-0 at home to Roma and go through with the Italians from Group E, while Sassuolo and Genk will try again in Group F on Friday after fog in Italy forced their encounter to be postponed.

Sniping Mourinho says United’s luck will change

November 20, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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His team had been sucker-punched by Arsenal, but Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho could not resist one last dig at his opposite number Arsene Wenger.

Arsenal

“Finally, I lost against Arsene,” Mourinho declared as he left the Old Trafford press conference room following a 1-1 draw he said felt “like a defeat”.

“Finally, I lost against Arsenal.”

Saturday’s result in fact extended Mourinho’s unbeaten run against Wenger’s Arsenal to 12 league games, but that was of little consolation after a contest United dominated.

Juan Mata gave them a deserved 69th-minute lead, but with a minute to go, substitute Olivier Giroud headed in an equaliser with Arsenal’s first effort on target.

It has become a recurring theme for United, who have drawn three consecutive home games in the league for the first time since April 1992.

Maddeningly, in those three games — a 0-0 stalemate with Burnley and 1-1 draws against Stoke City and Arsenal — they have had a total of 74 attempts at goal to their opponents’ 19.

United remain sixth in the table, six points below fourth-place Arsenal and eight points behind Jurgen Klopp’s leaders Liverpool.

Mourinho, though, believes it is only misfortune that is keeping his team from the Champions League places.

“At this moment, we all know internally we are the unlucky team in the Premier League,” said Mourinho, who was missing injured centre-backs Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly and the suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

“We just focus on Burnley, Stoke and Arsenal — nine points, easily. If we have six points more, we are top four and close to the top of the league.

“We have a lot of work to do, we know that. We have lots of kids that are mistake-prone. We also know we have some amazing players that turn 33, 34.

“We know that other teams are prepared with much different conditions.

“How long is Mr Wenger with this team? How long is Mauricio (Pochettino) with Tottenham? How long is Klopp with his team?

“Chelsea and Liverpool don’t play in Europe. They have one week to work, to rest, to prepare.

“If you remember what Brendan Rodgers did with Liverpool two seasons ago, also in a season where Liverpool didn’t have Europe, they’re in a privileged position to improve their teams.

“The level and experience of Man City. We are in a very difficult Premier League. I know, the players know, the board knows, the owners know. By the reaction of the Man United fans, they know.

“We are very confident. We are very, very, very happy with our work and better results will arrive, for sure.”

Mourinho stopped short of naming names, but the “mistake-prone” comment was a reference to Marcus Rashford, left for dead by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the build-up to Arsenal’s equaliser.

Wenger praised Arsenal’s “never-give-up attitude”, but he could not explain why it took them until the 89th minute to threaten David de Gea’s goal.

“Had we a mental block here because for a while it didn’t go well for us?” Wenger said to reporters.

“Was it fatigue or a mental switch-on problem after the international break? Some players came back late on Thursday and we travelled on Friday morning and played on Saturday morning.

“It’s short, but I don’t think it’s an explanation. I felt that Man United defended very well as well.”

The game’s main point of contention arrived in the 35th minute, when Antonio Valencia nutmegged Nacho Monreal and then went down as the Arsenal left-back threw his arm across him.

Referee Andre Marriner waved United’s appeals away and although he made his anger clear on the touchline, Mourinho refused to criticise the official after the game.

“My view was it was not a penalty,” Wenger said.

“You will not be surprised by that. Mourinho’s view is that it was a penalty and you will not be surprised by that.”

Manchester United seek Swansea boost as Mourinho looks on

November 5, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Manchester United are in need of a lift as they travel to Swansea, but must seek it without the presence of their manager Jose Mourinho on the touchline.

Zlatan

Mourinho must watch from the stand at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday, having been given a one-match ban for confronting referee Mark Clattenburg at half-time during last weekend’s goalless draw with Burnley.

These are not happy times for the United manager, who was fined £8,000 ($10,000, 9,000 euros) for that incident, and ordered to pay another £50,000 for comments made about another referee, Anthony Taylor, before the goalless draw at Liverpool on October 17.

Mourinho has become embroiled in controversies off the field as his team labour on it.

In the Premier League, United have dropped to eighth place after going four matches without a win and three without a goal.

In the Europa League, they are in danger of being eliminated at the group stage, falling to third place in their section following Thursday’s 2-1 defeat by Fenerbahce in Istanbul.

The concern for United is that they are not scoring despite dominating the ball; they had 72 percent possession against Burnley, and 70 percent in Turkey.

It does not help that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is going through one of the worst goalscoring spells of his career. He has gone six league matches without scoring for the first time since December 2007.

The one positive attacking note in the last week was Wayne Rooney’s spectacular consolation goal against Fenerbahce, his first since August.

Despite that goal, Mourinho has acknowledged that his forwards are lacking confidence.

“Sometimes teams don’t score goals because of their philosophy, because the team isn’t aggressive enough and doesn’t risk enough,” he said. “That’s not our case, that’s not our case at all.

“It is also easy to see that some players in our attacking areas lack confidence; they’re not sharp and getting the chances that they can,” the Portuguese boss added.

United will definitely be without Ander Herrera at Swansea as he serves a one-match ban incurred for a sending off against Burnley.

They may also be missing his fellow midfielder Paul Pogba, who limped off against Fenerbahce.

Those concerns will not, though, signal a quick return to the team for Bastian Schweinsteiger, who has only just rejoined first-team training this week after being cast aside following Mourinho’s arrival.

“He’s been training with the team for three or four days,” Mourinho said. “He’s not ready to play football at that level yet.”

Bob Bradley’s appointment as Swansea manager has not stopped their slide and the American acknowledged that their performance was not good enough as they were beaten 3-1 at Stoke on Monday.

Swansea have not won since the opening day of the season, collecting just two points from their last nine matches, and sit next to bottom of the table.

Bradley has suggested he may try to sign former Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov, a free agent after leaving Greek club PAOK at the end of last season.

But the immediate priority is to improve an increasingly perilous league position and Swans defender Mike van der Hoorn said: “It has been a very difficult start for us. Results have not gone our way and when you are near the bottom positions you find you often don’t get the luck or the 50/50 decisions.

“A win over Manchester United would give the team a lot more confidence, which in turn gives you more freedom in your play.”

Winger Jefferson Montero has recovered from a calf injury and could make his first league start of the season, while defender Kyle Naughton has overcome illness.

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