El Tigre was the final piece of the jigsaw in United's record-breaking shopping spree.

Taking inventory of José Mourinho’s Chelsea wish list

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Toward the end of April, outlets in Europe started reporting that Jose Mourinho to Chelsea was a done deal. Well, it was mostly Sky Italia, but since Mou-to-Chelsea is accepted as inevitable, we should give somebody credit, especially when that outlet later reported the wish list – four expensive, high profile players Mourinho had requested Chelsea pursue this summer.

At the time, the names made sense, whether based on Chelsea’s needs or Mourinho’s assumed preferences. Now, just over three weeks later, there’s reason to doubt Santa will deliver anything from Mourinho’s list, possibly a hint he’s been a bad boy this season.

Regardless, the players Mourinho’s requesting give us some insight on how he sees Chelsea’s current squad. Each of these players can be seen as addressing a perceived need. The fact the Chelsea presumably (according to this fable) agreed to pursue them hints the Blues are ready for another summer spending spree.

1. RADAMEL FALCAO, F, ATLETICO MADRID

There was a time when the 27-year-old Colombian wasn’t linked to Monaco. That was three weeks ago. Back then, Falcao winding up at Chelsea made perfect sense, not only because a.) they need a striker, b.) are one of the few clubs that can afford him, c.) Mourinho’s faced him and apparently likes him, and d.) Falcao’s really, really good, but the Blues could use current Atletico goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois (on loan from Chelsea) as a makeweight.

But if we assume Falcao’s agent may steer the striker to Monaco, Mourinho has to turn to Plan B, because it’s hard to conceive a scenario where Mourinho rides into next season with Fernando Torres, Demba Ba, and Romelu Lukaku.

source: Reuters2. ÁNGEL DI MARÍA, W, REAL MADRID

When you watch Chelsea play, this one doesn’t initially make sense, given how much talent the Blues have behind their striker in their current 4-2-3-1 formation. But once you pencil in Eden Hazard on the left and Juan Mata in the middle, who are Chelsea’s best options on the right? The answer: Nobody who is as good as Ángel Di María.

They have Oscar – a great talent poorly suited to play wide in Mourinho’s system. There’s also Victor Moses, who would be a valuable option off the bench. Ramires can fill in, and maybe Marko Marin finds a role. But none of these options are as good as Di María.

A Hazard-Mata-Di Maria attacking midfield would be gruesome for opponents, Di Maria’s speed and work rate a great complement to Hazard and Mata. But given the way the Real Madrid dressing room has coalesced in the face of Mourinho’s departure, it’s difficult to see a Real player making the move to Stamford Bridge (though who knows what Di María’s personal thoughts are on the conflict).

3. JOAO MOUTINHO, M, FC PORTO

Nearly a Spur, having come oh so close to a move to White Hart Lane last fall, Moutinho may end up a not-so-nearly Blue, with the Portuguese international also tied up in the Monaco rumors. It’s too bad, because there are a number of small connections that make you think Moutinho might be a perfect fit: Portuguese international; Porto player (a former Mourinho club); willingness to move to England; and fits a huge need for Chelsea.

Or maybe all those links could be reason to think Moutinho may still find his way to Stamford Bridge.

source:  4. PEPE, D, REAL MADRID

This is the one that won’t happen and probably never should have, given Chelsea have David Luiz, Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill and John Terry in central defense. Yet there was the feeling, all those weeks ago, that Pepe was surplus at Real Madrid, and although Mourinho had made the decision to promote Raphael Varane over him, perhaps the Portuguese international would have an impact at Stamford Bridge.

Since, however, Pepe has been outspoken against Mourinho. Once thought to be the leader of Real Madrid’s pro-Mourinho Portuguese guard, now the defender is leading their revolt. Unless the two make up, Mourinho’s going to have to look elsewhere for his defensive’s reinforcements.

 

So let’s play a game, if even in our own heads. If Jose thinks these are areas of need at Chelsea (not certain, but let’s make that assumption) and these players aren’t available (see previous parenthetical), then who would Mourinho add to his new wishlist? Because with the other thin news around the soccer world hinting this list is now useless, Mourinho may need some backup plans.

EFL Cup Final preview: Saints aim to deny Manchester United, Mourinho

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 28:  Vincent Kompany of Manchester City and team mate Pablo Zabaleta celebrate victory with the trophy after the Capital One Cup Final match between Liverpool and Manchester City at Wembley Stadium on February 28, 2016 in London, England. Manchester City win 3-1 on penalties.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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With the Community Shield in tow, Jose Mourinho aims for his first full tournament trophy as Manchester United boss when his Red Devils meet Southampton at 11:30 a.m. EDT Sunday.

Wembley Stadium is the venue for the EFL Cup Final, a trophy United has claimed four times. The last one came in 2010, as the Red Devils clinched their third League Cup in five seasons.

[ JPW: Southampton comes full circle ]

Sunday marks Southampton’s first final since 1979, when Saints fell 3-2 to Nottingham Forest.

Saints continue to make due without Virgil Van Dijk and Charlie Austin, but newcomers Manolo Gabbiadini, Sofiane Boufal, and Martin Caceres could all feature on Friday.

Gabbiadini almost certainly will, and he’s been a difference maker for Saints since arriving from Napoli. The 25-year-old has three goals in two Premier League matches.

[ MORE: Projected lineups for EFL Cup final ] 

United will not have Henrikh Mkhitaryan back after the Armenian midfielder limped off the pitch midweek, but fellow walking wounded star Michael Carrick will be back for the Red Devils. Wayne Rooney, Ander Herrera, and Eric Bailly will be available.

The Red Devils won the FA Cup last season and the league in 2012-13. Mourinho has three League Cups from his time at Chelsea.

But Antonio Valencia says that United has to act like this is a chance for a new era. From ManUtd.com:

“We have to forget about the fact that we might have won there three, four or five times,” he added. “We have to put that to one side. This is another final, and a totally different story. We cannot afford to make one single mistake, this is a final and we cannot lose our concentration for even one minute.”

Saints will be underdogs for this one, but this trophy isn’t alien to avoiding the hands of the big boys as we’ve seen with Birmingham City, Middlesbrough, and Swansea City since the turn of the century.

Claudio Ranieri issues classy goodbye to Leicester City

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Claudio Ranieri has issued a statement on his somewhat surprising firing from Leicester City, less than 10 months after winning the Premier League title.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Swans preview ]

The Italian manager with a knack of word play pulls on the heart-strings in discussing his exit from Leicester, a club he did not plan to leave any time soon.

From the Leicester Mercury:

Yesterday my dream died.

After the euphoria of last season and being crowned Premier League champions all I dreamed of was staying with Leicester city, the club I love, for always.

Sadly, this was not to be.

He went on to thank his family, Leicester City, saving the kindest words for the Foxes’ supporters.

No one can ever take away what we together have achieved, and I hope you think about it and smile every day the way I always will.

It has been a pleasure and an honour to be a champion with all of you.

No surprise to read class from Claudio. Read the full statement here.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Swansea City

SWANSEA, WALES - SEPTEMBER 11:  Chelsea manager Antonio Conte battles to get the ball back with Cesar Apilicueta (r) from Swansea forward Modou Barrow during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Chelsea at Liberty Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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  • Chelsea leads all-time 14W-11D-7L
  • Sides drew 2-2 in September
  • Swans unbeaten vs Blues since Jan ’15

Premier League leaders Chelsea face a resurgent Swansea City side which has given it fits (Watch live at 10 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Blues have dropped points in two of their last three Premier League matches, and also have two draws and a loss to Swans in the past three match-ups.

Swansea has won three of four in Premier League play, the lone setback a 2-1 loss to Manchester City. New manager Paul Clement has led Swans from deep in the relegation zone to four points clear of the drop zone.

To succeed, Swans will have to avoid conceding often and early. According to Chelsea’s club statistician:

Conte’s players have scored the opening goal more times than any other Premier League team this season (19) and have yet to lose (16 wins, three draws).

What they’re saying

Antonio Conte on former Chelsea assistant Clement“He has had a great impact on the team. Also, with the transfer window, they reinforced the team, and we must pay great attention. If you watch their games against Liverpool, against Man City, you understand the difficulty of the game. I am sure my players understand this. They have worked very well to face them in the right way.”

Clement on staring down Chelsea“I have said to the players that yes we have put ourselves in a good position, but how hard are we willing to work to make sure we continue to improve? How much do we want to avoid suffering at the end of the season? Because unless we keep winning games and progressing up the table, we are going to find ourselves in a position where we need, say, four points from the last two games of the season.”

Prediction

Stamford Bridge will be the difference here, as Chelsea keeps it tight against Swans. 2-0.

PREVIEW: Tottenham Hotspur’s “To Dare Is To Do”

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The latest Premier League Download makes its debut on Sunday, as we dive deep into Tottenham Hotspur.

With a brand new stadium under construction and a solid look at perennial top-end pushes, Spurs are among the more intriguing stories in the Premier League.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League Picks ]

Spurs host Stoke City on Sunday at 8:30 a.m. EDT on NBCSN, and “Tottenham Hotspur: To Dare Is To Do” debuts at 11 a.m. EDT, right after the match.