Belgium clinch trip to Brazil with win over Croatia

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Belgium only needed a draw to clinch their spot in the 2014 World Cup. Instead, they took no chances, with Romelu Lukaku scoring two before the halftime whistle. Croatia managed to pull one back in the 83rd minute, but with less than ten minutes left to play, getting two more proved too much. Now, with one game still left to play, the victory in Zagreb solidifies the standings of Group A, putting Belgium in Brazil and Croatia into the playoff round.

Belgium’s first goal, just fifteen minutes into the match, was almost too easy. Ivan Peresic executed a fine pass in midfield — unfortunately for the Croatian, it was a pass directly to Belgian midfielder Steven Defour. Defour quickly sent the ball on to Lukaku, who easily outstripped the Croatian defense. Stipe Pletikosa came out to try and stop the forward, but Lukaku neatly rounded the goalkeeper to put the ball in the back of the net. From the noise that ensued, you’d have thought it was Belgium playing at home rather than Croatia.

Lukaku’s second, too, was just as easy. A free kick to the home side came to absolutely nothing, with Belgium quickly regaining possession in their own half. A few neat passes got the ball to Lukaku in midfield. Again, he simply outran the Croatian defenders, leaving Mateo Kovecic panting in his wake. Again, Pletikosa came out to save, but was unable to smother the ball. Unimpeded, Lukaku simply took the ball again and tapped into an empty net.

Igor Stimac made a couple wise substitutions in the second half, choices so good you almost wondered why, exactly, the players hadn’t been handed starts. Nikola Kalinic came on for the disgraced Peresic to start the second half, Ogejen Vukojevic took the place of Kovacic for the final 25 minutes, and Niko Kranjcar took over for Ivan Rakitic ten minutes later. The substitutes certainly made a difference, but it was too little, too late.

Croatia’s goal didn’t come until the 83rd minute. Domagoj Vida, racing up the right, sent in a lovely cross. It was Kalinic that got in the first shot, but young Thibaut Courtois managed to save. A Belgian defender knocked away the ball, but it fell to Kranjcar, who caught it on the volley to knock in the goal.

Croatia: Pletikosa; Lovren, Corluka, Vida; Strinic, Kovacic (Vukojevic 65), Modric, Vrsaljko; Rakitic (Kranjcar 76), Perisic (Kalinic 46); Mandzukic

Goals: Kranjcar 83′

Belgium: Courtois; Vertonghen, Lombaerts, Van Buyten, Alderweireld; Defour (Dembélé 84), Witsel; De Bruyne (Mirallas 65), Fellaini, Hazard; Lukaku (Chadli 69)

Goals: Lukaku 15′, 38′

Mourinho praises Chelsea, his defense after Man Utd win

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Jose Mourinho had a better game plan, better substitutions, and perhaps most critically the better of luck as Manchester United came back to defeat Chelsea 2-1 at Old Trafford on Sunday.

[ MORE: Recap | 3 things ]

Romelu Lukaku had a goal and an assist, and both Jesse Lingard and Eric Bailly were good off the bench in the win.

United reaped the rewards of a razor-thin offside call denying a late Cesc Fabregas goal as well as Alvaro Morata blasting the ball off the cross bar early and Andreas Christensen‘s head injury going unseen by the official in the lead-up to the Lukaku goal.

But make no mistake: after coming back from a slow start against an in-form opponent, United deserves the three points that split the season series.

Mourinho deferred to his players for the performance, mostly, and was effusive in his praise of Chelsea.

“They started very well. It’s as simple as that. When they hit the post, I was looking to my players and I was thinking, “What can we do? Who can I blame?” It was so well-played, so beautifully played, there is nothing to say. They have a very good team. They have a fantastic dynamic. I was trying to find a way for my players to be dangerous in the interior because through the sides they are very strong, so we found a way to play against them where we didn’t concede much.”

He did, however, note that the Red Devils had Eden Hazard in his their pocket for a second-straight match:

“We had control of Eden. Willian, of course, is an amazing player and in that action he killed us but with the production of the game we had more and more control of the game. That’s the way I was expecting the game (to go).”

Considering the way Hazard disappeared in Mourinho’s final year at Stamford Bridge, it’s little surprise the ex-Chelsea boss relishes the opportunity to dismiss the player in a quote.

United moves five points clear of fifth place Chelsea.

Three things from Man Utd 2-1 Chelsea

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Antonio Conte‘s was outdone by Jose Mourinho, only just, as the artist formerly known as “The Special One” had the plan and got the required bounces for a big Premier League win on Sunday.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 2-1 Chelsea ]

Manchester United beat Chelsea 2-1 at Old Trafford, and here are our main takeaways.

Mourinho turns back the hands of tactical time

Manchester United’s boss has rightly been judged for his tactical acumen and organization this year, and not just for perceived parking of proverbial buses.

But Mourinho outfoxed his old nemesis Sunday with a series of changes that weren’t always about the flow of the game as much as keeping Conte’s Chelsea off balance.

Already prepared to play more than usual, United showed inspired work through the middle of the pitch and Paul Pogba was given a bit more freedom and responded by doing a lot of little things right.

The Jesse Lingard sub obviously worked out for the best as the Englishman scored the go-ahead goal, and the introduction of Eric Bailly for his first extended run since Halloween turned out to be an inspired risk.

Lukaku delivers (and delivers)

The big Belgian striker had a dozen goals but none against the Top Six sides of the Premier League before Sunday’s match at Old Trafford.

Lukaku started and finished the equalizer, and then worked well down the right flank before hitting a pinpoint cross for Lingard to head home. That was the one, really, that turned the story line in his favor.

That it came against his old club will feel wonderful.

It’s worth noting that Lukaku did have an assist against Spurs and a goal against Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup, but he entered the match with just those numbers and a 2-2-2 record against Spurs, Liverpool, Chelsea, Man City, and Arsenal.

Conte unlucky, not rewarded by Morata

Spanish forward Alvaro Morata got the start in place of in-form Pedro, as Antonio Conte decided against the so-called “false 9” which has served his club well in recent week.

It has to be said: Morata’s hard early volley off the cross bar makes Conte’s choice look better if it gets the Charlie Conway “quarter of an inch the other way” treatment, but Hollywood wasn’t on the scene here.

Pedro did provide some love off the bench, but it was not enough as Manchester United’s big man ultimately delivered what Chelsea’s target man could not.

Some of Conte’s choices did work out fine: Antonio Rudiger had some key moments, and who knows what happens had play been stopped when Andreas Christensen went head-to-head with Lukaku ahead of the Belgian’s goal.

And it’s worth noting that Conte’s sub of Fabregas had a chance to match Mourinho’s perceived brilliance with Lingard but was ruled just offside.

Conte didn’t necessarily lose this game of inches, but Mourinho made the moves that won it. It could simply be that some matches are just not to be.

LIVE, League Cup final: Arsenal v. Man City

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Arsenal and Manchester City clash at Wembley on Sunday (kick off, 11:30 a.m. ET) for the League Cup trophy — known as the Carabao Cup for sponsorship reasons — as Arsene Wenger looks to win the tournament for the first time, while Pep Guardiola is aiming to secure his first piece of silverware as City’s manager.

[ LIVE: Updates from Wembely

The Gunners lost won this trophy in 1993, while Man City have been in this final in three of the last five years, winning it in 2014 and 2016.

In team news Arsenal start with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang up front in a 3-4-3 formation with Mesut Ozil supporting Aubameyang and Aaron Ramsey returning from injury to start.

[ LIVE: League Cup final stats ]

Man City start with Claudio Bravo in goal, while Vincent Kompany starts in central defense alongside Nicolas Otamendi. Gabriel Jesus returns to the bench after a long spell out with injury.

Click on the link above to follow the action live, while we are on site at Wembley to provide you with analysis and reaction from what promises to be a classic encounter.

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Ospina; Bellerin, Chambers, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Xhaka, Wilshere, Ramsey; Ozil, Aubameyang. Subs: Cech, Mertesacker, Kolasinac, Elneny, Maitland-Niles, Iwobi, Welbeck

Manchester City: Bravo; Walker, Kompany, Otamendi, Danilo; Fernandinho, Silva, Gundogan; De Bruyne, Sane, Aguero. Subs: Ederson, Stones, Laporte, Bernardo, Zinchenko, Foden, Jesus

Man Utd 2-1 Chelsea: Lukaku on point

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  • Lukaku the star
  • Assists Lingard winner
  • Willian gave Chelsea lead
  • Sides split season series

Romelu Lukaku scored and set up Jesse Lingard for the winner as Manchester United came back to beat Chelsea 2-1 at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Willian scored the Blues’ opener.

The win moves Manchester United back into second place with 59 points. Chelsea now sits fifth with 54 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The visitors were nearly in front when Morata belted Marcos Alonso‘s cross off the bar, and the rebound popped over the goal.

The 10th minute saw Paul Pogba win a free kick off Morata at the corner of the 18.

Anthony Martial broke up a long spell of Chelsea possession with a dribble and cross that failed to meet a receiver in the 25th minute.

Antonio Rudiger blocked a Lukaku chance moments later, then Courtois stopped Alexis Sanchez.

A yellow card came N'Golo Kante‘s way after the Frenchman chopped down countryman Pogba following a nifty move in the 30th minute.

Willian broke up a cross and then was there at the other end to finish his move and start the scoring. There was a rare David De Gea mistake on the finish, but Willian hammered his effort.

Lukaku then defied critics of his big match record in starting and finishing a terrific team goal with Nemanja Matic, Sanchez, and Martial.

Andreas Christensen was stunned after head-to-head contact with Lukaku just before the goal, but play was not stopped.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

A slow first stanza of the second half hoped for change with Jesse Lingard’s entry for Martial.

Courtois made a fantastic tip save of a Lukaku side volley in the 68th, off a Sanchez cross.

Lukaku did his best Lingard in a role reversal with the wide man, working the right to send a cross inside for the Englishman to head home.

Willian tried to answer back within a minute, but De Gea went low to collect the shot.

Fabregas was offside by a razor-thin margin when his clean finish slid inside the far post with five minutes to play.

Lukaku effectively killed the game with a 60-yard dribble and shot, blocked out for a throw, deep into stoppage time.