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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.

Seven unheralded stars of this Premier League season

during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur at Vitality Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.
Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images
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Look, it’s been a crazy year in the Premier League. Leicester City is top by five points, Chelsea is a bottom-half side, and not one of the league’s top three scorers hails from a team in last season’s Top Four.

So it follows that among the league’s other statistical leaders — advanced and traditional — are some surprisingly shining stars.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Or at least they aren’t mentioned a ton. We plan to rectify that here. By no means do we claim these statistical leaders without fault this season, but hats off to the good they’ve done (or, in some cases, the pain they’ve felt).

Most saves in a starring role

You wouldn’t know it from the goal totals these past few weeks, but Stoke City’s Jack Butland has been playing otherworldly between the sticks. His 87 saves lead the Premier League, and the Potters would be in the thick of a relegation battle if he hadn’t shone as brightly.

Ironman

Eleven players have played every minute of their side’s Premier League campaign this season (a 12th, Gareth Barry, has played all but one). Four of those 11 are goalkeepers, and six more are defenders. The only midfielder? Bournemouth’s South African standout Andrew Surman (above).

Top thief, too

Surman is also the league leader in interceptions with 92. The next seven players on the list, headed by Chris Smalling, are all defenders.

The most under-appreciated of the underdogs

Kante (Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

Leicester City has been fantastic, and people are quick to name Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy as big parts of the table-topping effort at King Power Stadium. Then, perhaps they’ll say something about goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel or defender Wes Morgan.

But how about the Premier League’s leader in tackles. Midfielder N'Golo Kante (right) has 115 tackles, 12 more than second-best Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace.

An all-expense paid journey to the massage parlor for…

Five players have been fouled more than 50 times this year, and you need to be around the ball a lot for that to happen. The four also-rans are Southampton’s Sadio Mane, Swansea City’s Andre Ayew, Everton’s Ross Barkley and Mahrez, but the man who deserved to skip to the head of the ice bath line is from Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha has been fouled 59 times. And that’s the amount of times the foulers were caught in the act.

Let Newcastle United’s captain climb in second, though; Fabricio Coloccini‘s 47 blocked shots are eight more than runners-up Neil Taylor (Swans) and Christian Fuchs (Leicester).

A man possessed

He hasn’t been heralded like a year ago, and most witnesses would tell you the midfielder’s been playing much worse. No, touches don’t equal success, but Cesc Fabregas‘ 2,027 credited touches are 74 more than the next player despite the fact that he’s the only player in the top four to have started less than 25 matches. He’s also completed 83 more passes than the closest competitor (Surman).

All-around stars

Advanced stats site Squawka uses an algorithm to generate statistics on who just might be the most complete player in the Premier League.

It’s certainly not foolproof, but the best player per-90 minutes would likely surprise you: Mousa Dembele of Spurs (Minimum 15 matches).

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As for who’s produced the most when numbers are averaged out over the entire game, one man rises to the top: Ross Barkley.

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Oft-targeted in the Premier League, Carvalho extends deal at Lisbon

Christian Hofer / Getty Images Sport
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William Carvalho has been running through the rumor mill for ages, and Sporting Lisbon has made sure they’ll get their due if he ever stops somewhere else.

The Angola-born Portuguese defensive midfielder with 15 caps has extended his contract with Sporting through 2020, a date that carries him through his 28th birthday.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Carvalho is 23 now, and has been linked with loads of big name clubs from Manchester United to Chelsea, Arsenal to PSG.

His new buyout clause is said to be as high as $53 million, and Carvalho hopes his commitment calms his supporters.

“Sportinguistas, I say to you that I am very happy with the deal which I signed up to 2020 and that you will have total effort on my part to be champions.”

Sporting is tied with Benfica atop the Portuguese table, second on goal differential. The club leads third-place Porto by six points, and is still alive in the Europa League. Bayer Leverkusen is up next.

Klinsmann hints at Euro-heavy roster for World Cup qualifiers

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Danny Williams #14 of the United States looks on before an international friendly against Brazil at Gillette Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images
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If your favorite Major League Soccer players don’t make the cut for Jurgen Klinsmann’s next roster, don’t think you won’t see them in the red, white and blue this summer.

[ JPW: What’s the best XI for USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers? ]

Perhaps it’ll be different for the players who were a part of January camp — stars Lee Nguyen and Steve Birnbaum chief among them — but Klinsmann says the late start of the MLS season can affect fitness for the critical qualifiers home and away to Guatemala.

That means there’s a better chance to see in-form Championship midfielder Danny Williams (above) or Pachuca’s Omar Gonzalez then, say, Orlando City’s Brek Shea or Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman.

From USSoccer.com:

“We are basically looking all over the place. We monitor all the players in Europe. We monitor all the players in Mexico, and obviously we can’t wait until MLS starts as well. It’s really kind of crucial that we see everybody getting in the best shape possible, everybody getting into a rhythm and making statements.

“Then you say, ‘Is the roster you see at the end of March the same one as Copa America?’ Probably not. The end of March comes early for MLS players. The European players are in the full swing, and also Mexican players because they started already a month ago with Liga MX. So we’ll be monitoring everyone.”

We’ve already covered the obstacle that is the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL Olympic qualifying playoff occurring at the same time as the Guatemala matches, but this is still good news for players in England, Germany and other European locales seeking caps in March.

Klopp on struggling Benteke: “He wants to score and we need him to score”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Christian Benteke of Liverpool reacts as he foiled by goalkeeper Darren Randolph of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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Jurgen Klopp had his appendix removed this weekend, but it’s doubtful he’s feeling as sore as his big Belgian striker.

Christian Benteke had the opportunity to put himself in the good graces of Liverpool fans with a number of decent chances in Tuesday’s FA Cup loss to West Ham, but couldn’t get the job done.

[ MORE: Match recap | Watch Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

In one case, Benteke put himself in a prime spot only to lash his shot wide of the post. Instead, he’s now at 11 appearances without a goal (despite ripping nine shots against the Irons).

From the BBC:

“I don’t believe in the easy goal. He has to carry on like this. It’s not the nicest moment in his career but he has to work hard. He wants to score and we need him to score. We will work on it in the days, weeks and months.”

Klopp maintained that Liverpool was “the better team” on the night — counterpart Slaven Bilic disagreed — despite conceding a pair of very similar looking goals.

The game could’ve avoided extra time through Benteke’s boots and body, but he couldn’t find his finish again.

The 25-year-old has seen his goal production drop by nearly half since joining from Aston Villa in the summer, and it’s sure to return… just maybe not under Klopp.