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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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 have a golden opportunity to haul themselves into the Premier League title race at the expense of bitter rivals Liverpool this weekend.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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 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.
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.
Paul Pogba scored twice as Manchester United crushed Fenerbahce in the Europa League on Thursday, while their Premier League rivals Southampton went down to Inter Milan.
Paul Pogba scored twice in the first half as Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United thumped Fenerbahce 4-1 at Old Trafford.
Pogba’s opener came from the penalty spot just after the half-hour mark, and his fellow Frenchman Anthony Martial also scored from the spot shortly after. The world’s most expensive player netted his second and the hosts’ third in first-half stoppage time with a stunner, before a sweet Jesse Lingard strike made it four just after the break.
Robin van Persie pulled one back against his old club late on, his close-range effort being met with applause from all around his old stomping ground.
It was a second straight win for United in Group A, and they are level at the top of the group with Feyenoord, who beat Zorhya Luhansk 1-0 with Nicolai Jorgensen netting the only goal.
Under-pressure Frank de Boer saw his Inter side hold on with 10 men to beat Southampton 1-0 in at San Siro.
Antonio Candreva got the only goal of the game midway through the second half for the Serie A club, coming across Virgil van Dijk to meet a Davide Santon ball and finish emphatically past Fraser Forster. Inter held on after Croatian midfielder Marcelo Brozovic was sent off for a second yellow 13 minutes from time.
It was a cruel result for Southampton, who had been the better side and saw Jay Rodriguez have a goal disallowed early in the second half.
The result sees Saints remain on four points in Group K, two points behind Sparta Prague, who beat Hapoel Beer-Sheva 1-0 in Israel. “We should have had the game dead and buried in the first half but that is what happens if you don’t take your chances,” said Van Dijk.
Inter are off the mark after losing their first two games and De Boer needed a positive result with his side also struggling domestically.
It has been a fairytale run in Europe this season for Ireland’s champions-elect Dundalk, but they suffered a first defeat in Group D as they went down 2-1 at home to former UEFA Cup winners Zenit St Petersburg in Dublin.
At the Tallaght Stadium home of Shamrock Rovers, Robbie Benson fired Dundalk in front early in the second half.
However, Zenit drew level when a spooned kick out by goalkeeper Gabriel Sava put the home defence in trouble. Domenico Criscito then teed up Robert Mak to score. And the Russians went ahead on 77 minutes, a lovely move ending with Axel Witsel setting up Brazilian Giuliano.
Zenit might have added another at the death, but Mauricio’s penalty was saved after he had been fouled by Brian Gartland in the area. Zenit have won three out of three, but Dundalk remain second on four points.
On the night Francesco Totti made his 100th European appearance, Roma seemed to be heading for a routine three points at home to Austria Vienna only to blow a two-goal lead and end up drawing 3-3 at the Stadio Olimpico.
Stephan El Shaarawy’s brace turned the game around for Roma after Raphael Holzhauser had given the visitors the lead early on.
Alessandro Florenzi then made it 3-1 midway through the second half, but goals in the last eight minutes from Dominik Prokop and Nigerian Olarenwaju Kayode allowed the Austrians to escape with a draw in the Group E clash.
Enjoying a fine start to the season in La Liga, where they sit fifth, level on points with Barcelona and two points behind leaders Atletico Madrid, Villarreal remain unbeaten in Group L but only after battling back from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Osmanlispor in Turkey.
Two goals in as many minutes from Raul Rusescu had the hosts in control in Ankara, but Alfred N’Diaye pulled one back before Alexandre Pato levelled on 74 minutes.
Jose Mourinho will always have a place in the hearts of Chelsea’s faithful but his former charges are hoping to make him suffer when he returns to Stamford Bridge as manager of Manchester United on Sunday.
Two days before being sacked in December a doomed Mourinho spoke of a “betrayal” of his work by some of the players who had propelled Chelsea to the Premier League title the previous season.
Fingers were pointed at Diego Costa, among others, and the Spain striker’s huge dip in form was a contributing factor to the Portuguese tactician’s bitter exit.
Costa has started this season like the marauding forward Mourinho signed from Atletico Madrid, scoring seven goals in eight Premier League games, and he will be relishing the highly-charged atmosphere expected on Sunday.
The visit to Stamford Bridge could hardly have come at a worse time for a United side who have won only one of their last five Premier League games to stall what had been a promising beginning to the Mourinho reign.
Fifth-placed Chelsea have also had a whole week to prepare following their demolition of champions Leicester City last weekend while United have been working overtime.
Mourinho’s new team drew 0-0 at Liverpool on Monday and will play Turkish club Fenerbahce in the Europa League on Thursday before they can fully focus on the visit to west London.
No wonder Mourinho, whose side are seventh in the table, said it was a time for digging in.
“This is not the week where we were expecting to close the distances to the top of the league. This is the week we have to keep contact with them,” he told the club’s website (www.manutd.com).
“Then we will arrive at the moment where we win three, four or five matches in a row and we will be there fighting with almost everybody for the title.”
It is not the first time Mourinho, who won two Premier League titles for Chelsea before his first sacking in 2007, will sit in the away dugout at Stamford Bridge.
He masterminded a 1-0 win for Inter Milan over Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea in 2010 on the way to winning the Champions League.
Former Italy coach Antonio Conte, the man now sitting in Mourinho’s old office, has made a steady enough start and the victory over Leicester was the ideal confidence-booster after defeats by Liverpool and Arsenal had lowered expectations.
North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal have the chance to leapfrog leaders Manchester City on Saturday.
Tottenham will go top if they win at Bournemouth in Saturday’s early kickoff although Arsenal can respond later at home to Middlesbrough.
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho claimed that his team had exposed Liverpool’s shortcomings after holding Jurgen Klopp’s well-regarded team to a 0-0 draw.
Liverpool went into Monday’s game at Anfield seeking a sixth successive win in all competitions and bidding to draw level on points with Premier League leaders Manchester City and second-place Arsenal.
But United restricted them to few chances, with visiting goalkeeper David de Gea largely untroubled apart from a pair of eye-catching second-half saves to deny Emre Can andPhilippe Coutinho.
“The goalkeeper (De Gea) was on holiday for 90 minutes, but he had two big saves to do and he did,” said Mourinho, whose side remain seventh in the table.
“When we recover the ball I was expecting the team to be more dangerous, (although) we had two good chances, but Liverpool did too.
“They are not the last wonder of the world like you (the media) say they are, but they are a very good team so we had to adapt a little to them.”
Premier League statisticians Opta said United had only had 35 percent of possession — their lowest tally for a league fixture since such statistics started being gathered in the 2003-04 season.
But Mourinho returned to the press conference room after he had finished addressing reporters to say the club’s own statisticians thought United had seen more of the ball.
“My guy did it — 42 (percent), not 35,” he said, having re-emerged through a side door.
“I thought it was crazy. We do it ourselves with better people than them.”
He had earlier dismissed the importance of statistics, pointing out that United had won 1-0 at Anfield under his predecessor Louis van Gaal last season despite being largely outplayed.
“Last season United won here, Liverpool had 14 shots on target and United had one,” he said.
“How many shots on target did Liverpool have on target today? Two. Two shots on target with 65 percent of possession.
“You have to be critical of Liverpool. It is their problem, not our problem.”
United largely succeeded in stifling Liverpool, with wide players Marcus Rashford andAshley Young notably dropping deep to create a six-man defence at times.
The visitors procured a clear sight of goal early in the second half when Paul Pogba, playing in a more advanced role, picked out Zlatan Ibrahimovic, only for the Swede to miscue his header.
Liverpool improved following the 59th-minute introduction of Adam Lallana, either side of which De Gea showed characteristically snappy reactions to foil Can and Coutinho.
“We lost patience far too early and our passing game was not good,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, whose side trail City by two points.
“We had 65 percent possession, but we have to do better. I didn’t expect we would have 10 to 15 chances. Second half we had chances, but De Gea was finally warm and he made brilliant saves.
“They had that chance with Ibrahimovic. The best news tonight is we have one point more and a clean sheet, nothing else.
“We can do much better and we must do much better. We have to stay cool. When they want to chase us, we have to use counter-movements.
“Really good attitude of my side. They tried everything, only with the wrong tools.”
Klopp dismissed suggestions his players had been affected by being saddled with the pre-match favourites tag.
“Maybe it is very important for the rest of the world what you all write, but for us it is not important,” he said.
“We were not favourites in the dressing room. Tonight nobody thought about this.
“You could see Man United is physically stronger than we are. We couldn’t get rid of the hectic (mindset) — that was the problem.
“When you have the ball you have to calm down immediately and that is what we didn’t do.”
Former Manchester United great Eric Cantona has backed Jose Mourinho’s squad to get back to challenging for top honours, three years since they last won the Premier League.
“It’s just the beginning. Manchester can still be champions. Jose Mourinho is a successful manager at a successful club which this year has succesful players,” the former French international said in an interview published Wednesday in Portuguese daily newspaper Publico.
“But this is an extremely difficult championship, full of great teams and great managers like (Manchester City coach) Pep Guardiola,” he added.
Since Alex Ferguson retired after winning the league in 2013, Manchester United have finished seventh, fourth and fifth, their only major trophy during that time being last season’s FA Cup.
The club kicked off their league campaign this season with three straight wins under Mourinho, but slumped to back-to-back defeats against Manchester City and Watford.
They are in sixth place in the English Premier League table with 12 points after seven matches.
After the international break, Manchester United travel to Liverpool on October 17.
Cantona, 50, won four league titles with united prior to retiring in 1997 at the end of a colourful career in which he became a cult figure at Old Trafford. He now lives in Lisbon.
Manchester United forward Memphis Depay is unhappy at being relegated to a bit-part role under new manager Jose Mourinho and has demanded more playing time after failing to start a Premier League game this season.
The 22-year-old has dropped down the pecking order behind Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard at Old Trafford, making just three appearances from the bench in the current league campaign.
The Dutch international, who joined from PSV Eindhoven in June last year, also endured a difficult debut season under former boss Louis van Gaal, scoring twice in 29 league appearances, 13 of which came as a substitute.
“I am the same person and I know what I want. A supporting role is not for me,” Memphis, who scored 22 league goals to fire PSV to the Dutch championship in the 2014-15 season, told Dutch newspaper Metro Nieuws.
“I’m not a player who is happy with the fact that he is under contract with Manchester United. This is my dream club, but I want to play.”
Memphis said United had made progress following Mourinho’s arrival in May, adding that the former Chelsea boss has expressed his faith in his abilities.
“The training sessions are going well, I’m sharp and fit, but that applies to everyone. The level has become higher. Jose Mourinho is a top coach,” he added.
United, sixth in the league after seven games, next travel to Liverpool on Oct. 17.
Manchester United appear to averted the crisis that was developing in the wake of a recent run of three successive defeats, but there is still plenty of room for improvement at Old Trafford.
Jose Mourinho questioned the personality of his players after they lost 3-1 at Watford two weekends ago and the Portuguese displayed some of the haunted look that characterised his fateful last few months at Chelsea.
However, three straight wins across three competitions since have gone some way to lightening the mood and last Saturday’s 4-1 Premier League win over champions Leicester was particularly emphatic, and means that United sit in the top six as they prepare to host winless Stoke on Sunday.
Thursday’s 1-0 Europa League group-stage win over Ukrainian minnows Zorya Luhansk was rather less impressive, but it did at least demonstrate that Mourinho’s ability to dig out scrappy victories appears to have returned following his troubles at Chelsea last season.
An ability to grind out positive results under pressure may be vital, given that United have testing league trips to Liverpool and Chelsea during October, as well as a Europa League meeting with Turkish club Fenerbahce.
“Every game is massive,” Mourinho said. “Watford was massive. We lost three points against Watford. No different to the three points we lost against Manchester City. So every game for me is important. You’re right, we have some big opponents in October. But that’s also a motivation.”
The biggest question Mourinho has faced since taking charge at Old Trafford in May is what to do about Wayne Rooney.
There is little doubt that the England captain’s powers are on the wane and his performances this season have been poor.
Mourinho has responded by using Rooney only as a substitute for the last two matches. The forward was given just seven minutes against Leicester, but had slightly longer on Thursday and did at least claim an inadvertent assist, with his mis-hit shot bouncing up forZlatan Ibrahimovic to head in.
Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford have taken the three attacking roles behind Ibrahimovic for the last two matches, and may well be selected again to face Stoke, although Anthony Martial is another contender.
Midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan is back in training after a thigh problem, although defender Luke Shaw will be assessed after missing Thursday’s match because of illness.
With a relatively stable squad to pick from, Mourinho’s concern is ensuring that Stoke do not catch his team by surprise.
He said: “I’m sure that in the end of May, they will be in the ‘Stoke area’ in the table. They will be there. The table is just a moment, just a period, and they will get over it for sure.”
Stoke are still looking for a first victory of the season while their captain, Ryan Shawcross, will come face to face with the man who wrecked his one chance in international football.
Ibrahimovic scored four goals for Sweden against England in 2012 including three during Shawcross’s 15-minute appearance as a substitute.
That was the defender’s only international appearance to date and Stoke manager Mark Hughes has called on his skipper to prove a point at Old Trafford.
“He’s had to carry those moments for a very long time,” said Hughes.
“Clearly it’s affected people’s view of him as a potential international on a more regular basis.
“It’s an opportunity to maybe put to bed a few issues and ghosts from the past — let’s hope he has a good performance.
“There’s no reason why he shouldn’t, he’s getting back to form.
“But clearly Zlatan is an outstanding player who’s come to these shores late in his career but it doesn’t look like any of his talent has waned.
“Ryan’s a big personality and a big player. I think he’ll relish the opportunity. Why wouldn’t he?”
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