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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.

Mkhitaryan stars as United pile on misery for Leicester

February 6, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s masterclass left Leicester fighting for their Premier League survival as Manchester United cruised to a 3-0 victory over the troubled champions on Sunday.

Mkhitaryan

Jose Mourinho’s side condemned dismal Leicester to a fourth successive league defeat thanks in large part to Mkhitaryan’s dynamic contribution at the King Power Stadium.

The Armenian playmaker opened the scoring with a cool solo strike just before half-time and then teed up Juan Mata for United’s third goal after Zlatan Ibrahimovic had doubled the lead.

United’s first win in four league games extended their unbeaten run to 15 and lifted them to within two points of fourth-placed Arsenal in the race to qualify for the Champions League.

“I think we played like we normally play. We played well and tried to win,” Mourinho said.

“We are still in the same position but we are closer to the others so we keep fighting.”

Just nine months after their fairytale title triumph, Leicester are firmly embroiled in a battle to avoid relegation after winning only one of their last nine league games.

Claudio Ranieri’s team are a shadow of the relentless unit that ground opponents into submission last term and have yet to score a league goal in 2017.

They sit one point above the relegation zone and face a crucial clash at fellow strugglers Swansea next weekend.

“Last season everything was right and the players got confidence, now they are anxious. We have to stay together and keep fighting,” Ranieri said.

Given both sides’ recent struggles, it was little surprise that anxiety was the prevailing emotion in an error-strewn opening most notable for Jamie Vardy’s tetchy response to a touchline collision with Eric Bailly.

Riyad Mahrez, such a poised and inspired figure last season, summed up the malaise gripping Leicester when the Algeria winger responded to an early sight of goal with a woeful strike that flew well wide.

Marcus Rashford hadn’t scored in the league since netting against Leicester in September and the United striker, unmarked 10 yards from goal, squandered a good opportunity to end that barren run when he blazed over from Mkhitaryan’s pinpoint cross.

Mata could consider himself fortunate to escape with only a yellow card after the United midfielder lunged into a crude challenge on Vardy.

But, aided by Mourinho’s decision to switch Mkhitaryan into a more central role, United began to monopolise possession and finally forced Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel into action after 35 minutes.

Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba combined to work the ball into Rashford and the youngster’s quickly-taken low strike carried enough power to force a fine save by Schmeichel.

It was a warning Leicester failed to heed and United took the lead in the 42nd minute when Mkhitaryan punished a mistake from Robert Huth.

When Chris Smalling won a header in midfield, there should have been no danger but Huth made a rash and unsuccessful attempt to win the ball in the centre circle, giving Mkhitaryan space to nudge it past the defender and race clear of the Leicester defence before firing beyond Schmeichel.

Just 88 seconds later, Leicester shot themselves in the foot again when Antonio Valencia was allowed to run unchecked down the right before crossing towards Ibrahimovic.

Despite three Leicester defenders surrounding Ibrahimovic, the trio were all flat-footed as the United forward pounced to slot home his 20th goal of the season.

Ranieri sent on Demarai Gray and Andy King at half-time, but Leicester’s gloom deepened when Mata put the result beyond doubt in the 49th minute.

Mkhitaryan was tormenting Leicester with his clever passing and when the United playmaker deftly clipped the ball to Mata, the Spaniard was played onside by Morgan and guided his shot past Schmeichel from close-range.

Rashford and Mata couldn’t take chances to rub salt into Leicester’s wounds, but the damage had already been done.

Ranieri will hope it doesn’t prove fatal.

Mourinho vexed by Man United scoring problems

February 3, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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

Mourinho

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man United thwarted by Hull’s Jakupovic

February 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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

Ibrahimovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Former outcast Schweinsteiger scores as United cruise

January 30, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Headers from Marouane Fellaini and Chris Smalling, and second half efforts from Henrkih Mkhitaryan and Bastian Schweinsteiger ensured holders Manchester United enjoyed a comfortable 4-0 fourth round FA Cup victory against Wigan on Sunday.

Smalling

For German World Cup winner Schweinsteiger it was a rare sweet moment since Jose Mourinho took over — he banished him at one point to train away from the first team before welcoming him back into the fold at the end of October — scoring on his first start in 385 days.

The scoreline flattered Jose Mourinho’s side slightly as his much-changed starting XI struggled to break down the Championship visitors for nearly all of the first half.

But ultimately, United still have a chance of becoming just the sixth team to retain the trophy following a routine win.

Fellaini struck in the 43rd minute of a first half in which the Premier League side failed to play with any real rhythm or pace.

That was probably not surprising given Mourinho had made nine changes from the side that advanced to the final of the League Cup despite losing at Hull in last Thursday’s semi-final second leg.

United spent most of that first half looking like a team that had never played together before and, when the opening goal did finally come, it was from a very direct approach.

At the end of a long passage of play, which had United supporters showing their impatience, the ball was worked to Schweinsteiger on the right and his high, deep cross was met by the Belgian who beat marker Callum Connolly and headed powerfully into the goal.

It was Fellaini’s second goal of the season, the midfielder having also scored an important cup goal in the first leg semi-final win over Hull.

Not until Smalling struck, in the 58th minute, could Mourinho relax after Wigan failed to clear a Wayne Rooney corner and Anthony Martial darted into the Wigan penalty area.

His perfect chip into the six-yard area was met by Smalling, still in position following the set-piece, and the England international made no mistake from close range.

Wigan began to wilt under the United pressure, especially when they pressed forward in search of a route back into the tie, and fell to a devastating counter-attack after 73 minutes.

Man of the match Mkhitaryan and Martial exchanged passes as they galloped into Wigan territory, leaving the former with the opportunity to practically walk the ball past Jakob Haugaard into the Wigan goal.

Another Rooney corner caused problems with nine minutes remaining and was headed goalwards by United substitute Ander Herrera for Schweinsteiger to swivel and force the ball home from six yards.

Man Utd survive Hull scare to reach League Cup final

January 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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

Pogba

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I congratulated the players in the dressing room.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one will beat Rooney’s United record, says Ferguson

January 25, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson believes no one will ever beat Wayne Rooney’s record of 250 goals for the club.

Ferguson, who signed Rooney as an 18-year-old in 2004, said surpassing Bobby Charlton’s 249-goal mark by scoring against Stoke City last Saturday was “an achievement par excellence”.

“In the present-day game, it is difficult to see any club having players who can stay with them for 10 years,” he told the BBC on Tuesday.

“Jose (Mourinho) has mentioned Marcus Rashford and there is an opportunity for that young lad, if he stays at United, and develops his potential the way that Wayne has. But it is a very big target to hit.”

Ferguson also saluted the way Mourinho has turned round the club’s season after an uncertain start.

“I think he has done a great job,” said Ferguson of the third manager to be tried by the club since the Scot’s retirement in 2013.

“The first team weren’t doing great and you have to find solutions to correct that. I think Jose is finding solutions now. There was a period earlier in the season when he wasn’t getting the decisions and his emotions boiled over. You see him now — he is calm and in control.

“You can see he has got to grips with the club. The team is playing really well and he has been very unlucky. He has had six 1-1 draws and in every game he has battered the opposition.

“If they hadn’t had all these draws, they would be there challenging Chelsea. That is the unfortunate part but he is going to have to live with that.”

United, sixth in the Premier League, have the chance to reach Wembley under Mourinho for the first time on Thursday when they take a 2-0 lead into the League Cup semi-final second leg against Hull City.

Rooney breaks United record, City denied by Spurs fightback

January 22, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Wayne Rooney became Manchester United’s all-time leading scorer as his last-ditch wonder goal rescued a 1-1 draw at Stoke, while Pep Guardiola’s problems mounted as Tottenham came from two down to force a 2-2 draw at Manchester City on Saturday.

Rooney

Rooney surpassed Bobby Charlton’s tally of 249 goals for United when he struck with a superb effort deep into stoppage-time at the Britannia Stadium.

The 250th goal of Rooney’s glittering United career was just the 31-year-old’s fifth of a difficult season and came as a timely reminder of the striker’s class after he was relegated to the role of a fringe player for long periods this term.

It was also much needed by United, who had fallen behind in the 19th minute when Juan Mata deflected Erik Pieters’ shot into his own net.

Jose Mourinho sent on Rooney in the 67th minute and the England star, who had gone two games without a goal since equalling Charlton’s record in an FA Cup win over Reading on January 7, wasted his first chance to make history when he headed wide from six yards.

But Rooney refused to be denied and, with Charlton watching from the stands, his magic moment arrived four minutes into stoppage-time when he curled a superb free-kick past Stoke goalkeeper Lee Grant and into the top corner.

Rooney’s gem extended United’s unbeaten run in the league to 13 matches, but lost in the euphoria of his landmark strike was a disappointing result that leaves his team three points adrift of the top four.

“It means a hell of a lot. It is a great honour and I’m very proud,” said Rooney, who signed for United from Everton in 2004.

“It is not something I expected when I joined. The players who have played for this club have been world class.

“To be all-time top goalscorer is a huge honour.”

Charlton saluted Rooney’s achievement, saying: “I can honestly say I’m delighted for Wayne. He deserves his place in the history books.

“He is a true great for club and country.”

Mourinho added: “Before him the record belonged to a legend of English football. Now Wayne becomes a legend of Manchester United.”

At Eastlands, City took the lead in the 49th minute when Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris raced off his line in a failed bid to intercept Kevin de Bruyne’s pass, allowing Leroy Sane to steer his shot into the empty net.

- Chastening -

Lloris was culpable again five minutes later as the France international spilled Raheem Sterling’s cross and De Bruyne punished the mistake with a simple finish.

But Dele Alli sparked Tottenham’s revival with a close-range header in the 58th minute and, after Sterling had a penalty appeal controversially turned down, South Korea’s Son Heung-Min swept home to complete the comeback in the 77th minute.

It was another chastening experience for City boss Guardiola, who suffered the heaviest league defeat of his managerial career last weekend in a 4-0 loss at Everton.

“It was an outstanding performance, but it’s a pity what happened,” Guardiola said.

“We created more chances but were not able to win and again the right decisions were against us.”

Fifth placed City are languishing nine points adrift of leaders Chelsea, while second placed Tottenham lie six points behind the table toppers, who host Hull on Sunday.

Liverpool’s title challenge suffered a major blow as lowly Swansea enjoyed a shock 3-2 victory at Anfield.

Fernando Llorente put Swansea ahead in the 48th minute and struck again in the 52nd minute before Roberto Firmino scored for Liverpool three minutes later.

Firmino drew Liverpool level with a fine finish in the 69th minute, but Gylfi Sigurdsson struck in the 74th minute after more sloppy play from the Reds rearguard.

Swansea had started the day at the bottom of the table, but their first ever league win at Anfield lifted them out of the relegation zone and condemned Liverpool, seven points behind Chelsea, to their first home league defeat for 12 months.

“The defending around all three goals wasn’t good enough, 100 percent. Their third is a big mistake,” Reds boss Jurgen Klopp said.

Seamus Coleman’s 87th minute strike gave Everton 1-0 win at Crystal Palace that plunged the hosts into the relegation zone.

Andy Carroll showed West Ham can thrive without want-away star Dimitri Payet as his brace inspired a 3-1 victory at Middlesbrough.

Sunderland slumped to the bottom of the table after a 2-0 defeat at West Bromwich Albion, while Bournemouth drew 2-2 with Watford.

Manchester United brace for Liverpool crunch, Chelsea eye recovery

January 14, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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

MArtial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rooney equals record, Giroud late show saves Arsenal

January 8, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Wayne Rooney equalled Bobby Charlton’s Manchester United scoring record as the FA Cup holders cruised into round four with a 4-0 win over Reading on Saturday.

Rooney

Rooney scored his 249th United goal in front of the watching Charlton as Jose Mourinho’s men strolled to victory, but Arsenal had to come from behind to win 2-1 at second-tier Preston North End.

Third-tier Millwall pulled off the day’s biggest shock by beating top-flight Bournemouth 3-0, while Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion both fell to Championship opposition.

“It’s a proud moment, to do it at a massive club like Manchester United,” Rooney, 31, said after matching Charlton’s mark on his 543rd United appearance.

“To be up there with Sir Bobby in terms of goals is a huge honour. Hopefully I’ll be up there on my own soon.”

It was to prove a sorry return to Old Trafford for Reading manager Jaap Stam, the former United centre-back.

Rooney broke the deadlock in the seventh minute when he used his right knee to steer Juan Mata’s dinked cross past Reading goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi.

He created United’s second goal in the 15th minute by playing a one-two with Anthony Martial, who stroked a cool effort into the bottom-right corner.

Marcus Rashford made the game safe with a late brace, his second goal stemming from an embarrassing miskick by Al Habsi.

United, who host Hull City in the first leg of their League Cup semi-final on Tuesday, have won eight successive games for the first time since 2009.

Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, FA Cup winners in 2014 and 2015, needed an 89th-minute Olivier Giroud goal to see off valiant Championship team Preston at a misty Deepdale.

Arsenal manager Wenger rested several players, including star forward Alexis Sanchez, and saw his side fall behind in the seventh minute.

Aiden McGeady beat his man with a dainty pirouette before sliding a pass into Jordan Hugill and despite the Preston forward stumbling, Callum Robinson was on hand to sweep home.

Hugill came within inches of tapping in Robinson’s low cross from the right, before Sam Gallagher’s lob had to be cleared off the line by Arsenal left-back Nacho Monreal.

Arsenal equalised within a minute of kick-off in the second half, Aaron Ramsey drilling home from the edge of the box after good work by Alex Iwobi.

Danny Welbeck made his Arsenal return as a late substitute after eight months out with a knee injury and he was on the pitch to see Giroud slam in the winner from Lucas Perez’s clever back-heel.

It was Giroud’s fourth goal in four games and followed his late equaliser at Bournemouth and acclaimed scorpion kick volley against Crystal Palace.

“Someone reminded me yesterday that I have never been out in the third round in 21 years, but tonight, in the first half, it was close,” Wenger conceded.

“I believe that we have a togetherness and fighting spirit and that is why we have these comebacks.”

Steve Morison, Shaun Cummings and Shane Ferguson scored as London side Millwall won 3-0 at home to Bournemouth, whose manager Eddie Howe made 11 changes.

“It was a solid, all-round team performance today,” said Millwall manager Neil Harris. “I am delighted because I know what defeating Bournemouth means to our fans.”

West Brom lost 2-1 at home to Championship promotion-chasers Derby County, while Stoke lost 2-0 at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Ahmed Musa scored twice in five minutes as misfiring Premier League champions Leicester City — currently 15th in the top flight — came from behind to win 2-1 at Everton, who had gone ahead through Romelu Lukaku.

Marco Silva won the battle of the new Premier League managers, late goals by Abel Hernandez and Josh Tymon giving Hull a 2-0 victory over Paul Clement’s Swansea City.

Palace and Southampton face replays against Bolton Wanderers and Norwich City respectively, while Burnley drew 0-0 at top-tier rivals Sunderland.

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