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.

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”