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.

LIVE – Europa League group stage finale: Saints, Man United in crucial deciders

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 03:  Virgil van Dijk of Southampton celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and FC Internazionale Milano at St Mary's Stadium on November 3, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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This is it, don’t get scared now.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

Premier League duo Southampton and Manchester United both go into their final group game of the UEFA Europa League needing to avoid defeat if their going to make the knockout rounds.

For United, their task is simple. Jose Mourinho’s men need just a point from their trip to Ukraine to play Zorya Luhansk to advance to the Round of 32, while a win could see them finish top depending on the result of the Feyenoord vs. Fenerbache game.

As for Southampton, it’s a little bit more complicated.

A win for Claude Puel‘s side at home against Hapoel Be’er Sheva at a sold out St Mary’s would see them safely through to the knockout rounds of the Europa League for the first time in club history. A 0-0 draw would also do the trick but a score draw (1-1, 2-2, 3-3 etc) would send the reigning Israeli champions through instead as they’d have the advantage in head-to-head away goals after the duo drew 0-0 in Israel back in October. Making the knockout rounds of this competition would be a huge deal for Southampton and would keep their cup momentum going after they reached the semifinals of the EFL Cup last week.

[ MORE: Europa League standings ]   

Elsewhere there is plenty on the line across the 12 groups, with the standings page in the link above very handy to work out the permutations as the top two teams from each group (first place team is seeded, the second unseeded) advance to the Round of 32 and will be joined by the eight teams who finished third in their respective groups in the UEFA Champions League group stage.

Below is the full schedule for Thursday’s game which kick off in three separate time slots, while you can follow live commentary and stats on the games by clicking on the link above.


Full Europa League schedule, Thursday Dec. 8

11 a.m. ET
Konyarspor vs. Gent
Qarabag vs. Fiorentina
Osmanlispor vs. Zurich
Braga vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Villarreal vs. Steaua Bucuresti
PAOK vs. Liberece

1 p.m. ET
Vikrotia Plzen vs. Austria Wien
Apoel Nicosia vs. Olympiacos
Sassuolo vs. Genk
Anderlecht vs. Saint-Etienne
Zorya Luhansk vs. Manchester United
Rapid Wien vs. Athletic Bilbao
Young Boys vs. Astana
AZ Alkmaar vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg
Feyenoord vs. Fenerbahce
Maccabi Tel-Aviv vs. Dundalk
Mainz vs. Gabala
Astra Giurgiu vs. Roma

3:05 p.m. ET
Panathinaikos vs. Celta Vigo
Standard Liege vs. Ajax
Inter Milan vs. Sparta Prague
Southampton vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva
RB Salzburg vs. Schalke
Nice vs. Krasnodar

Bob Bradley will remain in charge, says Swansea chairman

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With reports circulating in the British press that American coach Bob Bradley could be fired after just seven games in charge of Swansea City, their chairman has publicly backed the former U.S. national team head coach.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

Bradley, 58, has just one win in his opening seven games in charge of the Swans who currently sit bottom of the Premier League table on nine points, three points off safety.

That poor form, coupled with many other issues at the club, has reportedly prompted new American owners Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien (they took over as majority owners in July) to conduct an extensive review of every department at the club.

However, chairman Huw Jenkins has moved to quell rumors about Bradley becoming the second Swansea manager to be fired through the opening 14 games of the season.

“I don’t know where that story came from, but it’s natural in football that everyone wants and needs results. But the last thing we need at this moment of time is a continual change in manager. We need stability first and foremost,” Jenkins told talkSPORT. “Take a team like Fulham, they changed managers three times in the season they tried to stave off relegation and we’re in a similar position now.”

“Perhaps in the summer I could have made a better decision – from pre-season onwards I don’t think things were right, it was too flat at the club. That had a knock-on effect and obviously it’s taken us a while to work through it. But we’re with Bob now to try and turn that corner – that’s what we’re working towards. We look at the January window as a chance to reinforce things. There are players not hitting the form levels they have done in the past and we have to find out why that is and get that right as well.”

So, it seems that sense is prevailing after all.

Jenkins took the blame for Swansea’s poor start to the season in media interviews on Wednesday and now the long-time chairman is backing his manager.

The south Wales businessman was part of a consortium which saved Swansea in 2004 and then led them on an incredible journey up from the fourth-tier to the Premier League, plus winning the League Cup and getting to the group stages of the Europa League. He and other directors have come in for some serious stick from Swansea’s fans for selling their stake to the new American owners and Jenkins is believed to have made just over $10 million from selling 8.2 percent of his 13.2 percent stake in the club.

On the pitch, it’s difficult to blame Bradley for the current situation Swansea finds itself in.

After some woeful moves in the transfer window last summer (Jenkins has admitted they weren’t great with Ashley Williams and Andre Ayew allowed to leave for big profits but their replacements just haven’t been good enough) the American coach needs at least one transfer window to bring in better players and the Swans are only three points off safety with a pivotal stretch of six games to come in the Premier League.

Home games against Sunderland, West Ham and Bournemouth, plus trips to West Brom, Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace will see the Swans go up against direct relegation rivals between now and Jan. 3.

The next four weeks will be huge not only for Swansea’s future but also for Bradley and ahead of their crunch home game against Sunderland on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) the American coach is eager to cut out defensive mistakes as the Swans have now conceded 19 goals in his seven games in charge.

“When you are a manager it (the pressure) goes with the territory,” Bradley said. “It is work as usual, knowing from the beginning when I got here that it would be a big challenge, and it is. When you see a scoreline like that it is easy to jump on us. We are not going to survive if we keep on conceding goals like this.”

Man United’s Europa League clash in doubt over frozen pitch

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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Manchester United and Jose Mourinho may not play their UEFA Europa League game against Zorya Luhansk on Thursday.

[ MORE: Ozil, Sanchez leaving Arsenal? ]

Amid freezing conditions in the Ukrainian city of Odessa (Zorya cannot play their games at home due to the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine) the pitch underwent an inspection on Thursday and with covers and heaters on the playing surface overnight, there is hope the game should go ahead.

However, Jose Mourinho has already talked about the state of the pitch as not being ideal, while the likes of Daley Blind and Paul Pogba looked far from impressed when they went out for a training session on Wednesday in freezing conditions.

Remember, United only needs a point from the game against Zorya to qualify for the Europa League Round of 32 and Mourinho has selected a strong 19-man squad for the trip. 

A statement from Zorya said the following on Thursday morning, as they remain hopeful of the game going ahead.

“Everything depends on the weather. The pitch is not brilliant at the moment. We are expecting temperatures of two or three degrees and everything should be okay.”

Below was the scene in Odessa yesterday for United’s training session, via Simon Peach of the Press Association.


Yep, the pitch doesn’t look great.

Barcelona invites Chapecoense to play friendly

CHAPECO, BRAZIL - OCTOBER 22: Supporters of Chapecoense cheer their team during the match between Chapecoense and Sao Paulo for the Brazilian Series A 2014 at Arena Conda on October 22, 2014 in Chapeco, Brazil. (Photo by Alan Pedro/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has extended an invitation to host a friendly match against the Brazilian soccer club involved in last week’s plane crash.

Chapecoense was on its way to the final of the Copa Sudamericana, one of South America’s most prestigious club tournaments, when its flight went down in Colombia, killing all but six of the 77 players, officials and journalists on board.

The match would be played in August. The friendly, called the Joan Gamper trophy, is used as Barcelona’s traditional curtain raiser for the new season.

Barcelona says it sent a formal invitation to Chapecoense on Thursday.

Barcelona says it wants to “pay homage to the 71 people who died in the accident as well as their families.”