Overshadowing progress, Mourinho’s Madrid exit becomes increasingly contentious

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When José Mourinho left Porto, he did so triumphantly. Same at Inter Milan, and while the mood was more somber when he left Stamford Bridge, there was still the acknowledgement that Mourinho had been integral to Chelsea becoming a true Premier League power. Everywhere he’s gone, he’s not only won. He’s moved the club forward.

The same is true at Real Madrid, even if Mourinho’s impending departure is becoming more contentious by the moment. When The Special One arrived from Inter Milan after the 2009-10 season, the Merengues were on the wrong side of an ever-growing gap between themselves and Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. They’d also been eliminated in Champions League’s Round of 16 in six straight seasons. In year one, Mourinho got El Real to the semifinals and won the Copa del Rey. In year two, he again reached the semis and added a league title. He had moved another club forward.

That’s not enough at Real Madrid. He was brought in to win Champions League, and with last week’s elimination at the hands of Borussia Dortmund, Mourinho will end his three-year tenure without a European Cup. He ended Real’s second round curse and reversed a trend that was saw the Merengues romped whenever they faced Barça, but bringing to Madrid a bombast that matched his resume, Mourinho knew: No Champions League, no success in the Spanish capital.

They’re ridiculous standards, but they’re ones Mourinho embraced when he moved from Milan. That was part of the challenge – the prospect of being the man who returned El Real to European glory. So as the Portuguese saunters off to Stamford Bridge this summer, don’t waste your time passing judgment. Better to spend your time witnessing the growing carnage being left in his wake as the Spanish season winds down.

Take today’s press conference, an opportunity José Mourinho used to stoke some fires.

source: APOn Iker Casillas (right):

For me I prefer Diego Lopez as a goalkeeper to Iker Casillas. It’s simple. It’s not a personal decision. I like a keeper that is good with his feet, who is dominant in the air and who is a phenomenon between the posts.

I prefer this other profile of keeper. In the same way that Casillas can say that he prefers another type of manager, like Del Bosque or Pellegrini. While I am the coach of Real Madrid, Diego Lopez will play in goal.

Seems rather innocuous, but in the context of Real and the Madrid media, it’s still anathema, despite the fact Casillas hasn’t been the No. 1 in four months. There’s a reason Casillas’s nicknamed “Saint Iker,” and while Mourinho’s winter handling of Casillas and Sergio Ramos can be seen as a step that helped offset the club’s player power culture (and get the team re-focused after a terrible autumn), many see the move as affront to the club. How do you bench the captain for club and country?

It’s a sentiment with which Pepe probably agrees. The Portuguese international was thought to be one of the most pro-Mourinho players in the squad, yet he recently claimed the team’s captain “deserved more respect” from the coach.

To which, Mourinho noted one possible motivation for Pepe’s sudden forthrightness:

It’s very easy to analyze Pepe. His problem has a name, and that name is Raphael Varane. It’s not easy for a man of 31 years of age to be overtaken by a kid of 19.

Regardless of motivation, Mourinho seems to have lost Real’s Portuguese contingent, with Cristiano Ronaldo also offering some off-putting words about Mourinho in the wake of Real’s Champion League exit. Take Diego López and Michael Essien out of the picture, and almost anybody around Real Madrid could be next to kick Mourinho as he’s going out the door.

All of which is a bit silly. Just as Mourinho knew what he was getting into when he moved to Madrid, the club knew who they were getting when they bought him from Inter Milan, and while it’s the media and the players (not the people who hired Mourinho) that are taking these parting shots, there’s still an element of the greater Real Madrid community rushing to condemn a man who moved them forward. Media, fans, players are all trying to get on record before he leaves, as if this type of perverse “say it to his face” logic can mask the underlying dissonance.

To the media, Mourinho is a selfish “I” instead of “we” type of guy, but he’s always been, and while his inability to deliver a “decima” opens him up to second-guessing, critics should be mindful of context. That selfishness has driven more successes than failures, and after mid-May’s Copa del Rey final, Mourinho could leave Madrid with three trophies and three successive trips to Europe’s final four. Given that relative success – achievements that transcend the context into which he was dropped – Madridistas would be better served asking what endemic factors at the club meant Mourinho’s latest successes where ultimately limited ones.

Perhaps Madrid would have never made another Champions League semifinal if Casillas and Ramos hadn’t been checked, leaving the club to continue their autumn descent?

But in the face of a person as combative as Mourinho, counterpunches are inevitable. And it’s hard to begrudge a community’s chance to fire back at a man who seems to have had his bags packed for months. But those countermeasures will be meaningless if Madridistas don’t stop and consider what really went wrong. It would be wrong to use these last, contentious weeks as reason to blame a man who was a relative solution.

Watch Live: Swansea City vs. Liverpool

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Swansea City’s bid to slow down steamrolling Liverpool begins at 3 p.m. ET Monday at the Liberty Stadium (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The rampaging Reds are coming off a 4-3 win that ended Manchester City’s unbeaten Premier League season, and will hope to avoid a let down against desperate Swans.

The Welsh hosts are six points adrift in the race for Premier League safety, and look set for a 5-4-1 with Jordan Ayew the only forward. Wilfried Bony and Oliver McBurnie are on the bench along with attack-minded Luciano Narsingh.

LINEUPS

Swansea City: Fabianski, Naughton, Van der Hoorn, Fernandez, Mawson, Olsson, Ki, Fer, Clucas, Dyer, Ayew. Subs: Nordfeldt, Bartley, Roque Mesa, Carroll, Narsingh, McBurnie, Bony.

Liverpool: Karius, Gomez, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson, Can, Wijnaldum, Salah, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mane, Firmino. Subs: Mignolet, Milner, Klavan, Lallana, Ings, Solanke, Alexander-Arnold.

Kevin De Bruyne commits to Man City through 2022-23

AP Photo/Dave Thompson
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Kevin De Bruyne is one of the best players in the world, and he’s committing his prime to the club which has taken him to the next level.

[ MORE: How will Arsenal, Man Utd line up? ]

Manchester City announced a new deal for the Belgian wizard, keeping him at the Etihad Stadium through 2023.

De Bruyne, 26, has posted 31 goals and 38 assists for Pep Guardiola‘s men since returning to England from the Bundesliga, and appreciates being given a lot more money. From ManCity.com:

“As I’ve said previously, my intention has always been to stay here at City, where I’ve felt at home from day one. Not only are we winning – we are playing great football. It’s a pleasure to be a part of and I’m really excited about what we can achieve in the coming years.”

De Bruyne is in the discussion for a Ballon d’Or finalist spot this year, along with Lionel Messi, Neymar, Gareth Bale, Harry Kane, and others (Hot take: This does seem to be year Ronaldo possibly knocked off, barring a remarkable run in the Champions League or World Cup).

After the swap: Alexis, Mkhi-infused XIs for Man Utd, Arsenal

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The deal is done: Henrikh Mkhitaryan has moved to Arsenal with Alexis Sanchez going the other way in a monumental January move.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

How will it look for each side once the shape’s settled?

Arsenal

When Henrikh Mkhitaryan was at his very best — for Borussia Dortmund in 2014-15 — he was deployed as a left or right wing. He contributed 23 goals and 32 assists in 52 matches during his final season at the Westfalenstadion, and predictably saw those numbers drop as Jose Mourinho consistently moved him toward an attacking center midfield role.

He’ll get the chance to go out wide again at the Emirates Stadium, though perhaps not always to the extreme flanks. Expect Alexandre Lacazette‘s numbers to explode with this move.

Arsene Wenger used a 4-3-3 to batter Crystal Palace 4-1 at the weekend, with Ozil on the right wing and Alex Iwobi on the left. The club still needs better at center defensive mid while Aaron Ramsey is out, so that will likely keep the lineup similar until he returns (at a minimum):

Cech

Bellerin — Mustafi — Koscielny — Montreal

Elneny (Ramsey, eventually)

Xhaka — Wilshere

Ozil — Lacazette — Mkhitaryan

By the way, a lot of Arsenal supporters aren’t feeling great about this (understatement alert):

Manchester United

Alexis Sanchez prefers left wing, too, and Mourinho has a trio of in-form players who like that side of the field. Anthony Martial is red hot but plays wider than Jesse Lingard, and it seems one of them will take the slot of Juan Mata to the right of Paul Pogba in a 4-1-4-1. Marcus Rashford could also see the far right positioning.

But against top competition — continued apologies to Burnley — it’s usually a 4-2-3-1 for Mourinho with Pogba dropping next to Nemanja Matic a little deeper in the formation. Lingard has been getting the run as CAM here, usually to the detriment of Juan Mata. With Alexis as the clear-cut left wing in this formation, it causes real combat for the two other slots between Mata, Lingard, Rashford, and Martial.

So while it’s likely we’d see something like this in a big game for Manchester United…

De Gea

Young — Jones — Smalling — Valencia

Matic — Pogba

Martial — Lingard —  Sanchez

Lukaku

… We’d love to see something more like this:

De Gea

Young — Jones — Smalling — Valencia

Matic — Herrera

Pogba

Martial — Lukaku — Sanchez

How do you think Wenger and Mou will run ’em out?

Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap official (video)

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Arsenal and Manchester United have completed their American-style trade, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan joining the Gunners and Alexis Sanchez on board the Red Devils’ train.

Both 29 years old, the playmakers arrive at their new homes with plenty to prove.

More to come…