Mourinho and Chelsea happy to thwart Arsenal, as title race tightens

Leave a comment

LONDON — This season the Premier League will be defined by fine margins.

Arsenal’s stalemate with Chelsea at a rain-soaked Emirates Stadium on Monday night personified that tightness, as both London clubs failed to strike in an edgy affair. The Gunners are joint-top of the league at Christmas but failed to win for the third-straight league match, as Chelsea are now just two points behind them in fourth.

With just eight points separating first spot from eighth in the PL, there’s so much to gain with every three point haul… but there’s also too much to lose. That made for an edgy encounter with both sides reluctant to go for broke.

“We came here with the aim not to win the game” Chelsea’s captain and man of the match John Terry said. “But its Arsenal’s home game so it’s down to them to bring it to us. I think with five minutes to go, you have to say, it’s not a bad point away from home.”

As Terry’s comments prove, both Chelsea and Arsenal left it to each other to see who would make a positive move to try and win the game. That never came.

Two of the league’s top attacking teams battled it out in a nervy, and often rambunctious, 0-0 draw which suited the away side better than Arsene Wenger’s men who now haven’t won in their last three league games. Late on Jose Mourinho brought on David Luiz for Fernando Torres to see out the game. Chants of “Boring, Boring Chelsea!” rang out from the home fans, who were frustrated by their own sides lack of ingenuity to break down a typically stubborn Mourinho side.

(MORE: Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea – Stalemate at the Emirates on night of heavy weather, refereeing controversy)

Cheslea’s eccentric manager was happy with the point and he believes both sides were more eager to not lose the game, than go ahead and win it.

“I would say I’m not unhappy, we come to win, we want to win… but we don’t want to lose,” Mourinho said. “Very important not to lose. If we lose we are five points behind the leader, now we are only two points behind the leaders, so that’s a different picture completely. We tried to win but we are not unhappy with a point.”

source:
A rambunctious affair played out at the Emirates, as both sides cancelled each other out in a top of the table clash.

As for that “Boring, Boring Chelsea” chant, Mourinho had the last laugh as he’s now 10 games unbeaten against Arsene Wenger, plus his team have not lost in tricky away games at Manchester United, Tottenham and now Arsenal.

“I play against them [Arsenal] 10 times and I’ve never lost,” Mourinho laughed. “They should say, ‘funny, funny, Jose’ ten times and they don’t win once. What do you want them to call me?”

In fairness, both sides were slightly, well, boring, as Wenger claimed his players were “nervous and a little edgy” following their defensive relapse in a 6-3 defeat to Manchester City last weekend. There were just six shots on target the entire game and neither ‘keeper had to make a save of note.

Both teams struggled to create on a night when the wind howled and festive cheer was on short supply as meaty tackles flew in, no season greetings in this blood and thunder clash. Frank Lampard smashed the bar with a rasping effort in the 33rd minute for Chelsea, while Olivier Giroud’s close-range effort was deflected over Petr Cech’s crossbar with barely five minutes left in Arsenal’s best effort of the game.

(MORE: Latest Premier League Standings)

The cagey affair threatened to boil over in the second half as a plethora of bookings saw both sides walking the tightrope. Arsenal weren’t happy with a few challenges, especially John Obi Mikel’s on Mikel Arteta in the first half and Wenger thought Theo Walcott should’ve had a penalty.

Mourinho? He laughed the bad challenges off and belittled Arsenal’s qualms over the officiating.

“They like to cry, that’s tradition,” Mourinho said. “I prefer to say that, and I told this to the official, English people, Frank Lampard for example, would never provocate situations like that. Players from some countries, they have that in their blood. This is English football, foreign players are bringing lots of good things and are talented. But I prefer English blood in football and these situation. The English players say come on lets go, let’s get on with it!”

As for the title race both Arsenal and Chelsea find themselves in the thick of it, Wenger and Mourinho are happy with the position they’re in. The players are also relishing a tight and cagey second half of the season, as the festive period ushers in the halfway point with everything still to play for.

“It’s wide open, great for the neutral but not so good for our own fans,” Terry said. “It is exciting because the lower sides are really putting on a show and upped their game. They’ve seen us, Manchester City and Manchester United in the last couple of years run away with the league. That’s not the case this year.”

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.