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Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho masterminded a brilliant and unexpected 2-0 home victory over former club Chelsea on Sunday to breathe new life into the Premier League title race.
Mourinho gambled by resting Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera’s goals gave United a win that leaves Chelsea just four points above Tottenham Hotspur with six games to play.
Victory at Old Trafford also lifted United to within four points of fourth-place Manchester City, on whom they have a game in hand, ahead of the derby at the Etihad Stadium on April 27.
It was a personal triumph for Mourinho, who saw his side thrashed 4-0 at Chelsea in October and was branded “Judas” by fans of his old club during last month’s FA Cup defeat at Stamford Bridge.
A wet, cold Manchester afternoon was the setting for United to end a run of 12 games without victory against Chelsea, stretching back to a 3-2 away win in October 2012.
Chelsea have now lost twice in four games, having gone down 2-1 at home to Crystal Palace earlier this month, which will give in-form Spurs fresh hope that the Blues may yet collapse as the finishing line nears.
The top two meet at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-finals next weekend in what now looks a significant test of Chelsea’s mettle.
United, meanwhile, will approach Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final second leg at home to Anderlecht, which is poised at 1-1, on the back of their best display under Mourinho.
Chelsea were without goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois due to an ankle problem, while Marcos Alonso succumbed to a virus, bringing Asmir Begovic and Kurt Zouma into their usual first XI.
Mourinho set United up to stop Chelsea, with Herrera and Matteo Darmian tasked with the responsibility of tracking dangermen Eden Hazard and Pedro wherever they went.
But despite Herrera’s chief role as a stifler, he created United’s seventh-minute opener, albeit in contentious circumstances.
He seemed to block Nemanja Matic’s pass with his right hand, but referee Robert Madley played on, enabling Herrera to split the Chelsea defence with a sublime through ball for Rashford.
The 19-year-old raced in behind David Luiz before clipping a shot past Begovic for his ninth goal of the season.
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.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte sent on Cesc Fabregas for Victor Moses, with Pedro moving to wing-back, but still the league leaders toiled, Pedro twice curling shots over De Gea’s bar.
At the other end Rashford remained a constant menace, teeing up Lingard to bend a shot over and twice going close himself, ruffling the side-netting and testing Begovic at his near post.
When he departed in the 82nd minute, with Ibrahimovic taking his place, he was accorded a richly deserved standing ovation.
Jose Mourinho fears Manchester United’s bid to qualify for the Champions League will fail because of their inability to kill off inferior opponents at Old Trafford.
United had most of the possession and chances against struggling Bournemouth on Saturday, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s penalty miss forced them to settle for a 1-1 draw.
Mourinho’s side have dropped home points against a number of sides below them in the table this season, with Stoke, Burnley and Hull all picking up draws when second best.
The United manager believes if his team had been more ruthless, they could even be challenging Chelsea for the title, but instead they are three points adrift of the top four.
“I don’t speak about the Manchester City match at home that we lost, because everybody knows what happens, the penalty (we should have had) and the red card (that should have been shown) to (goalkeeper Claudio) Bravo,” Mourinho said.
“But if you look at the points we lost at home, all the other matches we drew. If you accumulate those points, you are talking another 10 or 12.
“Then you are not just talking about top four, but top two or maybe even top one. There are matches to play, points to win and points to lose, but the reality is that we are losing too many points at home.”
The match was dominated by three flash-points just before half-time, first when Tyrone Mings escaped punishment for stamping on Ibrahimovic’s head, then when the United striker elbowed the Bournemouth defender in the face.
Referee Kevin Friend did not penalise either player, but did then send off Bournemouth captain Andrew Surman for a second bookable offence as he pushed over Ibrahimovic in the aftermath of the elbow incident.
Friend than also sent Bournemouth assistant manager Jason Tindall to the stand for making his protests too forcefully at half-time.
That all came after Josh King’s penalty had cancelled out Marcos Rojo’s first league goal for United, and before Ibrahimovic’s second-half spot-kick was saved by Artur Boruc.
Mourinho refused to criticise Friend or Mings, saying: “Zlatan is a big man, who has had too many years in football, like me. We are not the generation who goes to the media and complains.
“We are from that generation of street football and football for big guys. What happens, happens.”
Asked about the confrontation between Ibrahimovic and Mings, Mourinho said: “I don’t comment. I comment on the football, I comment on the game, I comment on the big decisions of the game.
“I think Kevin Friend was very good, the penalty against Phil Jones was a clear penalty, the penalty against Adam Smith was a clear penalty so the two big decisions of the game were good.
“The assistant referees were also good so for me good performance by the referee.”
Tindall took on post-match media duties because Eddie Howe was suffering with illness, although the Bournemouth manager was well enough to stand on the touchline during the game.
“Unfortunately I have not had the opportunity to see any of the decisions back again,” Tindall said.
“The only thing I did see was the first yellow card for Surman, which I did think was very harsh.
“My players felt it was an elbow by Ibrahimovic. I am sure there was some kind of communication with the officials which ended up with Andrew being sent off.
“I got sent to the stands. I let my frustrations get the better of me at half-time but that was for the reason of Surman getting his first yellow card, which I thought was harsh.”
(Reuters) – Sporting have agreed to sell Argentina’s World Cup left back Marcos Rojo to Manchester United while Nani will move the other way as he joins the Portuguese side on loan.
Sporting said in a statement to Portugal’s Market Securities Commission that the Premier League side would pay 20 million euros(16.03 million pounds)for the 24-year-old and the Portuguese side would not pay anything for a one-year loan for Nani.
If Rojo is sold on in the future for more than 23 million euros, Sporting will receive 20 percent of that fee, the club added.
Last week, Sporting ordered Rojo to train with the reserve team after club president Bruno de Carvalho complained he was trying to force the move and threatened to make him see out the remaining two years of his four-year contract.
Rojo had an excellent World Cup, part of an Argentina defence that conceded only four goals in seven games as they finished runners-up to Germany.
Raised at Estudiantes in La Plata, near Buenos Aires, he helped the club win their fourth South American Libertadores Cup and an Argentine league title in 2010.
He was drafted into the Argentina side in 2011 under Alejandro Sabella, who was also his coach at Estudiantes, and has been a regular since then.
“Manchester United is delighted to announce it has reached an agreement with Sporting Lisbon to sign defender Marcos Rojo, subject to a medical and agreeing personal terms,” United said in a statement.
“A further announcement will be made when the process is complete.”
Nani, 27, will return to the club he left seven years ago to join United.
He had a disappointing last season with United and also under-performed for Portugal at the World Cup, despite scoring against the United States.