Willian signs, so will José Mourinho’s “false nine” experiment vanish?

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On Wednesday, as expected, Chelsea wrapped up the signing of Brazilian winger Willian from Anzhi Makhachkala for $45 million.

The 25-year-old winger signed a five-year deal at Stamford Bridge following a successful work permit hearing, after he turned down advances from both Liverpool and Tottenham to link up with José Mourinho.

Mourinho is delighted with the capture of a speedy winger who likes to attack down the flanks and cut balls back to his fellow attackers. But will Willian have plenty of Chelsea men alongside him when he makes those foraging runs during his Blues career?

(MORE: Chelsea move in to scupper Tottenham’s Willian bid)

On Monday night at Old Trafford, Mourinho sprung a huge surprise against Manchester United as he didn’t start with a recognized striker. Looks of disbelief and intrigue filled the press box in Manchester as Mourinho played more mind games.

Was he trying to confuse Moyes or putting pressure on Russian owner Roman Abramovich to give him more cash to buy a top striker before the end of the transfer window? Whatever he was playing at, the gameplan worked and Chelsea left the home of the reigning champions with a valuable point after not being tested defensively for much of the 90 minutes.

That said, it wasn’t like they carved United open either. A midfield battle ensued as Mourinho deployed a 4-2-4 formation that stopped United’s full-backs, Phil Jones and Patrice Evra, getting involved from the flanks and stifled any attacking creativity the Red Devils tried to get going.

(MORE: Official; Chelsea agree Willian deal. What can we expect?)

Yet, this decision to play Andre Schurrle in the “false nine” role could have just been a one-off especially now that Willian has joined. In order to get the best out of his expensive new attacker, Mourinho needs to revert to a more rigid 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 formation. However with Fernando Torres on the bench alongside Romelu Lukaku on Monday and Demba Ba left in London, do those three players possess the required firepower to bring trophies to Stamford Bridge?

Mourinho doesn’t think so. That’s why he allowed Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Schurrle to interchange as the game went on and the flexibility amongst his attackers was crucial to the success of this Barcelona-esque shape. Okay, Chelsea set up an extremely defensive version of the “false nine” made famous in Catalonia but Mourinho was making a point: he wants a new striker and he wants one now.

(MORE: Mourinho praises Chelsea’s “kids” after defensive masterclass)

So where does Willian fit into all this?

Well, he will be the main supply line from the flanks for whoever Mourinho decides to play in the central role. But the Brazilian attacker can also defend and play a similar role to De Bruyne against United, which will leave Moruinho with plenty of options out wide. The chances of Wayne Rooney joining Chelsea between now and Monday are pretty slim and if that fails Samuel Eto’o is lined up as plan B, to join Willian in an Anzhi to Chelsea convoy.

Yet Eto’o may not be able to play the lone forward role Mourinho would have favored in the past during his first-spell at Chelsea. Didier Drogba held the ball up and brought others into play before spreading the ball wide and finishing off crosses. The second incarnation of Mourinho’s Chelsea is a more subtle version, a side that caresses the ball with great care and intricacy around the box before slotting home from central areas. Oscar, Ramires, Hazard and De Bruyne love to weave forward and entice defenders into making mistakes in and around the box.

Willian will fit in very well with that style at Chelsea but he needs a target man to aim for in the box and Chelsea need a focal point of their attack. Will Mourinho decide to go with one of the three strikers he has? Buy a new one? Or deploy a “false striker” to confuse the opposition?

The “false nine” worked for Chelsea from a defensive standpoint and in terms of keeping the ball. But will it be Chelsea’s go-to formation this season?

Maybe the “false nine” will work as the kinks are worked out over the season, or maybe it should be shelved. Either way, Mourinho has got us guessing. Once again.

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.