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Manchester United complete £31 million signing of Lindelof

June 16, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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

Lindelof

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 23, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Fellaini sent off as Manchester United, Manchester City draw blank

April 28, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man Utd drumbeat booms for flagging Guardiola

April 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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

Manchester-United

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revenge for Mourinho as Man Utd stun Chelsea

April 17, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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

Manchester United

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Schweinsteiger signs for Chicago Fire: Man Utd

March 21, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Former Germany captain Bastian Schweinsteiger has signed for Major League Soccer side the Chicago Fire from Premier League giants Manchester United, the English club confirmed on Tuesday.

Schweinsteiger

Schweinsteiger, a key member of Germany’s 2014 World Cup-winning team, heads to the United States after an unhappy stint with Manchester United, where he has been frozen out by manager Jose Mourinho.

The 32-year-old, who scored 24 goals in 121 appearances for Germany, will join Chicago subject to a medical and a visa being obtained.

“I am sad to leave so many friends at Manchester United,” Schweinsteiger told the Manchester United website.

“But I am grateful to the club for allowing me the chance to take up the challenge at Chicago Fire.”

Schweinsteiger, who is married to now retired former women’s tennis world number one Ana Ivanovic, expressed his thanks to Mourinho and his team-mates.

“I have enjoyed working with the manager, the players and staff here and wish them all the best in the future,” he said.

“But I have to reserve special thanks to the United fans –- whose support has been a very special part of my time in Manchester.

“I was delighted to be part of the squad that won the FA Cup for them last season and will always remember their energy and their passion. Now is the right time for me to start a new chapter in Chicago and I am looking forward to it.”

United kept their tribute to one line with no comment from Mourinho.

“Everybody at United would like to wish Bastian the very best of luck in his new career in the United States,” the club said on its website.

On Monday Chicago Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez said the signing of Schweinsteiger brought added responsibilities and expectations for the team’s performance.

“We’re adding someone who has won at every level, including the very highest levels, and has done so in a way that is consistent with our values,” Rodriguez was quoted as saying by the Chicago Tribune.

“We as a club will now be forced to hold ourselves to a higher standard, an accountability level.

“Previously, I think we could satisfy ourselves with what is known domestically. Now we need to rise to a standard that is set more internationally.”

- ‘I’m convinced by the club’s vision’ -

Schweinsteiger played his entire club career with German giant Bayern Munich before joining Manchester United in 2015.

The Tribune cited an unidentified club source as saying that Schweinsteiger had signed a one-year deal worth $4.5 million, a salary that makes him one of the highest-paid players in the MLS.

“Throughout my career, I’ve always sought opportunities where I hoped to make a positive impact and to help make something great,” Schweinsteiger said in a statement quoted by the Tribune.

“My move to Chicago Fire is no different. Through my conversations with Nelson and (head coach Veljko Paunovic), I’m convinced by the club’s vision and philosophy and I want to help them with this project.”

Paunovic said the seeds of Schweinsteiger’s move had been sown by a lunch with the German star in Manchester last year.

“The conversation was so spontaneous, so natural and so inspiring for both sides,” Paunovic said.

“At one point it became a very personal conversation. I think that also helped for both sides to understand how we can help each other and how much value we can get from this for both sides.”

The Chicago team has endured a mixed start to the new MLS season, taking four points from their opening two games before suffering a 4-0 thumping by expansion side Atlanta last weekend.

Chicago’s lone success in the MLS Cup came in 1998 and for the past four seasons the team has failed to reach the playoffs.

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.

Rooney returns to Man Utd training

February 22, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Manchester United’s record goalscorer Wayne Rooney returned to training on Tuesday having missed the last four matches with a muscular injury.

Rooney

The 31-year-old forward — who became United’s all-time goalscorer passing Bobby Charlton’s tally of 249 when he scored against Stoke on January 21 — took part in the squad’s last session before they fly to France for Wednesday’s Europa League last 32 second leg clash with St Etienne.

United — who will be without suspended midfielder Ander Herrera and the injured defender Phil Jones — won the first leg 3-0 part of a four match winning streak coinciding with Rooney’s absence.

Rooney — whom United manager Jose Mourinho said would not be sold despite reported interest from China as the club chases three Cups — trained in front of the media in a group also comprising Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Ibrahimovic treble downs Saint-Etienne in Europa League

February 18, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic resumed his torment of Saint-Etienne with a hat-trick as Manchester United claimed a 3-0 victory in their Europa League last 32 first-leg encounter on Thursday.

Zlatan

Saint-Etienne were the Swede’s favoured prey during his time with Paris Saint-Germain and his treble took his tally against the French side to 17 goals in 14 games, and 23 for the season.

Victory gives Jose Mourinho’s side one foot in the last 16 ahead of Wednesday’s return leg, although things would have been very different had Nolan Roux not spurned a chance just before United’s second goal.

As it is, United are unlikely to miss Ander Herrera at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard after he received a booking for handball that will incur a one-game suspension.

The win meant United star Paul Pogba came out on top in his first competitive appearance against his elder brother, Florentin, and he came close to scoring with a header that hit the bar.

“We created good chances. It was important to get a good win at home. It was a good game but I think we can do better,” Ibrahimovic told BT Sport.

“We are winning but in a short time everything can change. It’s important to keep getting the wins we need. Everything can change but we’re happy at the moment.”

Prior to kick-off, Saint-Etienne’s fans lit up Old Trafford’s East Stand with a mass of red and green flares.

Smoke hung above the pitch at kick-off and there was a distinct fogginess to Eric Bailly’s first contribution, with his careless back-pass almost letting in Romain Hamouma.

But after Anthony Martial had warmed Stephane Ruffier’s palms from 25 yards, United went ahead in the 15th minute in doubly soft fashion.

Ibrahimovic was awarded a free-kick despite minimal apparent contact from Jordan Veretout and the Swede’s shot struck Vincent Pajot in the wall before rolling tamely past the grounded Ruffier.

United had two good chances to extend their lead, with Juan Mata seeing a volley saved by Ruffier from Pogba’s clever lofted pass.

Martial then tore through the visiting defence before dispatching a low shot that Ruffier blocked with his left foot.

- Perrin dazed -

Ibrahimovic instinctively scuffed the rebound goal-wards, but over the bar.

Saint-Etienne began to exploit pockets of space in United’s half as the first period wore on, however, and Hamouma in particular gave them some uncomfortable moments.

Mourinho sent on Jesse Lingard for Marouane Fellaini at the break in a bid to keep the play in Saint-Etienne’s half.

But while the early skirmishes all took place in and around the visitors’ box, they had more to do with flailing limbs than dashing football.

Martial was booked after catching Kevin Malcuit with his left forearm, which left the Saint-Etienne right-back spitting blood.

A clash of heads between Chris Smalling and Loic Perrin, the two captains, left both on the turf, but although Perrin in particular seemed dazed, both men stayed on.

Saint-Etienne were beginning to live dangerously, with Ruffier blocking from Martial and Antonio Valencia and Pogba shooting inches wide.

Pogba’s influence continued to grow and he came within inches of doubling United’s lead by slamming a header against the bar from Daley Blind’s free-kick.

Four minutes later Saint-Etienne squandered a huge chance to level as Ole Selnaes picked out fellow substitute Roux, only for the former Lille man to loft his shot onto the roof of the net.

It was a miss they quickly came to rue as United substitute Marcus Rashford darted to the byline on the left and centred for Ibrahimovic to tap in his second in the 75th minute.

The United number nine had the last say with two minutes left, steering a low penalty past Ruffier after he had been caught on the heel by Kevin Theophile-Catherine.

Martial makes point as Man Utd close on City

February 12, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Juan Mata and Anthony Martial helped Manchester United extend their brilliant Premier League form as they outclassed Watford in a comfortable 2-0 victory at Old Trafford on Saturday.

Mata

Jose Mourinho may have a reputation as a defensive manager, but that accusation could not be made during this contest as United were wonderfully entertaining from start to finish.

With an attack containing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitayran and both goalscorers, United had class to spare and Walter Mazzarri’s Watford had no real answers.

Mourinho will be particularly pleased with the return to form of Martial, a player who has blown hot and cold recently following speculation about his future.

United’s impressive league form has seen them go unbeaten since their humiliating 4-0 reverse at leaders Chelsea on October 23.

They now trail fourth-place Manchester City by just a point ahead of their derby rivals’ trip to Bournemouth on Monday.

Watford arrived in Manchester confident, however, after consecutive wins over Arsenal and Burnley.

United had the best of the opening moments, but clear-cut chances were a rarity early on. That was to change.

Antonio Valencia’s deflected cross fell to Ibrahimovic 12 yards out after 60 seconds, but he mishit his volley, while a jinking run from Martial had Watford worried until his shot deflected wide.

Watford were clearly up for the fight as Jose Holebas and M’Baye Niang targeted Valencia on United’s right flank and repeatedly ran through on David de Gea’s goal, but could not make it count.

After 17 minutes, Paul Pogba nearly opened the scoring with a fine effort from 25 yards that Heurelho Gomes managed to brilliantly claw away at full stretch.

United slowly turned up the tempo and had three brilliant opportunities as Watford began to sit back, a tactic that can prove fatal at Old Trafford.

Firstly Ibrahimovic volleyed over following a fine ball from Pogba before the Frenchman almost scored himself, volleying Valencia’s low cross goalwards, only for Gomes to produce another smart save.

The best opportunity, though, fell to Mkhitaryan, who blasted over from Mata’s intelligent pass, much to Mourinho’s dismay.

It felt like Watford’s resistance had to break and so it proved.

With Mourinho imploring the home crowd to chant more loudly in support of his side, Gomes produced a stunning close-range block from Ibrahimovic before Mata broke the deadlock in the 32nd minute.

Martial ran Watford ragged down the left and his pinpoint pass gave Mata an easy tap-in from four yards out for his ninth goal of the season.

Watford somehow reached half-time just a goal down, but Mourinho’s men continued where they had left off after the interval as a Martial effort just went wide of the far post 60 seconds into the second half.

Martial did a little better on the hour, grabbing his side’s second goal as United twisted the knife.

In the blink of an eye, Ibrahimovic fed Martial near the halfway line and he ran through on goal, took his time and then beat Gomes at his near post through a thicket of defenders.

After the goal Watford actually improved as they chased the match and Daryl Janmaat should have halved the deficit with 20 minutes to go, only to blast wastefully over from 12 yards out.

It summed up Watford’s afternoon as United closed up at the back and ran down the clock with ease.

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.

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