Chelsea Training Session and Press Conference

José Mourinho’s ‘like to cry’ gibe strikes a patronizing, xenophobic note

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After a Monday stalemate in which many of referee Mike Dean’s decisions went Chelsea’s way, Blues’ boss José Mourinho has hit out at Arsenal for complaints about the officiating. According to the Blues’ boss, Arsene Wenger’s team “like to cry,” with Mourinho labeling the Gunners’ complaints as part of a club “tradition.”

In the process, however, Mourinho may have reached beyond his typical, distracting stance, dancing along the lines of xenophobia by evoking an England versus foreign comparison. Hinting Arsenal’s lack of English players make them more apt to complain, Mourinho tries playing to the old, base instincts or British media. In the process, however, he threatens to make mountains out of mole hills.

The manager’s comments appeared in various English outlets in the wake of Chelsea’s 0-0 draw at the Emirates, a match that had all the characteristics of a Mourinho team playing on the road to a contender. Chelsea sat back and invited Arsenal on to them, testing whether the Gunners could break them down. Strong in midfield in front of the defense, the Blues rarely let Arsenal through, the methods of Cesar Azpilicueta (16th minute challenge on Aaron Ramsey), John Obi Mikel (breaking Mikel Arteta’s shin pad), and Willian (potential penalty) leaving the match wrapped in controversy.

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

Also important: Chelsea were probably the better side over the course of 90 minutes. It wasn’t pretty, and it certainly was a bit cynical, but the Blues’ approach left them with a number of chances to take the lead before Arsenal had even register their first shot on goal. The result vindicated Chelsea’s  approach.

But with Mourinho, it’ doesn’t stop with the results. For man whose media prestige has always rivaled his managerial accomplishments, there was another battle to win.

“You know, they like to cry,” Mourinho said. “That’s tradition. But I prefer to say, and I was telling it to the fourth official, that English people – Frank Lampard, for example – would never provoke a situation like that.”

Interesting note: José Mourinho is not English.

“Players from other countries, especially some countries, have that in their blood,” Mourinho continued. “So, if there is contact or an opponent is aggressive, they don’t keep going.”

Breaking: Ashley Young is apparently no longer English.

“But this is English football. Foreign players are bringing lots of good things … But I prefer English blood in football. English blood in this situation is: ‘Come on, let’s go.’ Mikel’s tackle is hard and aggressive but football is for men or for women with fantastic attitude. It’s true.”

Also breaking: John Obi-Mikel has no “English blood.”

I know the word xenophobia is in the headline, because yes, this kind of ‘England is good, foreigners are bad’ language is a form of low-grade (if entirely out-dated) xenophobia. But Mourinho’s words are more a clumsy type of pandering than anything intended to be divisive. In evoking Arsenal’s lack of stereotypical English qualities, he’s playing to the English press’s willingness to buy into such story lines, trying to use Fleet Street as a type of propaganda machine.

If he can turn Arsenal’s complaints to a debate about their lack of Englishness — about the soft nature that comes with importing all their key talent — Mourinho can deflect criticism. Whatever people want to say about Chelsea’s approach, at least it’s not foreign! Nevermind that the tact’s extremely insulting to the England’s press and public. Throw out Frank Lampard’s name, allude to the namby-pambiness of foreigners, and people will surely bite, right?

For Mourinho, it’s all about the deflection – not that he needs to, in this case. Chelsea plays like this when they’re facing tough competition away from home. We saw it at Old Trafford, we saw it at The Emirates, and we saw it throughout Mourinho’s first spell with the Blues. We’re so far beyond debating its merits that we’ve accepted it as inherent to Mourinho’s approach.

The issue surrounding Monday’s game is less about that than Mike Dean’s willingness to let Chelsea overdo it. Azpilicueta’s tackle on Ramsey sees yellow nine out of 10 times. Thirty seconds later, Frank Lampard slid through Bacary Sagna from behind on while playing the ball out for a throw. Later in the half, Mikel breaks Arteta’s shin pad on a dangerous (red card-worthy) tackle, while Arsenal fans were left lamenting a Willian challenge that failed to concede a penalty kick. It’s not that Dean was necessarily pro-Chelsea; it’s just that his style perfectly played into Mourinho’s approach.

Mourinho doesn’t have to defend that. He doesn’t need to deflect the criticism, because the criticism isn’t coming. This is about poor officiating, not tactical choices.

There’s no need to bring out the foreign diver, English pride, soft player lines for this non-issue. There’s no need for Mourinho to play the xenophobe.

“Sorry to kill your stories”: Klopp not seeking new Liverpool GK

during the UEFA Europa League Group B match between Liverpool FC and FC Girondins de Bordeaux at Anfield on November 26, 2015 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.
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The topic of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet is a lightning rod for a certain subset of Liverpool fans, but you can count Jurgen Klopp in the group that likes him just fine, thank you.

[ MORE: USMNT back Alvarado on Club America’s transfer list? ]

The 27-year-old Belgian has been the man between the sticks for Klopp since the manager took over at Anfield, and Klopp is already tiring of the rumors that he’s looking for better in the goalkeeping department.

From the BBC:

“I’m absolutely satisfied with our goalkeeper situation.

“I’m sorry to kill your stories about German goalkeepers and different goalkeepers from Stoke – we are not looking for another goalkeeper.”

Pretty clear cut there. Jack Butland would be nice and all, but Klopp’s fine with Mignolet and ex-Bolton man Adam Bogdan.

Do you think they need better?

Klinsmann backs Altidore ahead of busy 2016; USMNT star “back on board”

Jurgen Klinsmann, Jozy Altidore
AP Photo/Matt Dunham
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Jurgen Klinsmann thinks Jozy Altidore‘s tumultuous year ended on an upswing, and expects it to continued into an important 2016.

The Toronto FC hitman had plenty of ups and downs for club, and just as many for country. Whether injuries or form, Altidore wasn’t often the player USMNT fans remember from years past.

[ MORE: USMNT back Alvarado on Club America’s transfer list? ]

But the recently-turned 26-year-old scored six times in his last nine games with TFC to give him 13 on the season, and Klinsmann seems to think his big striker is out of the woods.

From US Soccer:

“Everybody saw that 2015 for Jozy Altidore has been very difficult, a tricky year, but it has become a year toward the end of it where it got stronger and stronger. He had some injury issues and some fitness issues in the beginning of the year. Obviously we had the episode in the Gold Cup where he was not in the shape he needed to be. In then towards July, August, September, he got more and more into the flow. He started to score goals for Toronto, and he got stronger and stronger for the national team as well. This is a very positive sign for us to have Jozy back on board, to plan with Jozy into a very busy 2016, obviously the biggest highlight is the Copa America in June.”

It’s great for the coach to have faith in the United States’ fourth all-time leading scorer, who should catch Eric Wynalda for third this season. Whether Klinsmann will be rewarded for his faith in the striker is another thing altogether, especially in that pivotal, U.S. hosted tournament this summer.

The tricky thing for Altidore, in the run up to the 2018 World Cup, will be for him to prove his merit if players like Bobby Wood, Aron Johannsson and Jordan Morris continue their rises as scoring options.

Manchester City defeat a “cruel” reminder for Hull City’s Bruce

BRISTOL, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 21: Hull City Manager Steve Bruce during the Sky Bet Championship match between Bristol City and Hull City at Ashton Gate on November 21, 2015 in Bristol, England.  (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)
Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images
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For nearly 90 percent of Hull City’s League Cup quarterfinal against Manchester City, the Tigers hung tough.

A 1-0 deficit made dreams of an Etihad equalizer far from absurd, and Hull had to be thinking about the possibility of another extended Cup run after making it to the 2014 FA Cup Final.

[ MORE: League Cup roundup sees Man City, Stoke, Everton advance ]

Then, the 80th minute hit Hull. Seven minutes later, it was 4-0 Man City. Boom. It finished 4-1.

From the BBC:

“If we needed a reminder how cruel it was to play against the big boys, we just had one.

“After 80 minutes we just had our best spell of the match and after 87 minutes it was 4-0. It was never a 4-1.”

Hull is three points off the lead in the Championship after being relegated from the Premier League last season. Their only loss since Sept. 12 came Saturday against Derby County, so the gifts of Man City were likely a surprise.

With loads of genuine respect to Bruce and complete understanding of what he’s inferring, it did feel more like a 4-1 than the 1-0 his Tigers faced for 68 minutes after Wilfried Bony‘s 12th minute tally.

What would it mean for MLS if Portland wins it all on Sunday?

Fanendo Adi, Portland Timbers
AP Photo/The Oregonian, Randy Rasmussen
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It’s a tricky question, isn’t it? Would there be an underlying thread, a lesson, or a copycat inspiration inside of Portland scoring a minor upset of Columbus at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday?

Here are some thoughts on the storylines from a post-Timbers title.

1) Stick with the boss

Caleb Porter’s reputation is rather “hate or love”, and people (including this “perhaps still bitter from the Olympics” writer) were expecting his days to be numbered after a rough start to this season.

In his first year in PDX, Porter engineered a 20-point upgrade to the West’s No. 1 slot, but Year Two featured no playoffs and it looked headed that way for much of this year.

[ MORE: USMNT back Alvarado on Club America’s transfer list? ]

But after leaping into control of its playoff destiny with a game to play, Porter now has a Conference Final and an MLS Cup Final (at least) on his resume inside of three seasons.

Where other teams have gone through coaches like candy, Portland keeps going with Porter. Perhaps there’s a lesson there, as in 102 games he’s posted 41 wins and 36 draws to go with just 25 losses (and he was missing Will Johnson and Diego Valeri for the critical moments of his bum season).

2) Spend* at the back, and spread it out

Portland spent the league’s 10th highest total dollars on players when including Designated Players, but that total leaps to sixth if you discount the big money guys (Liam Ridgewell, Lucas Melano, Diego Valeri).

You have to get to 19th on the list of top MLS salaries to find Portland’s first entrant (Ridgewell), and you don’t hit another until No. 33 (Fanendo Adi).

[ MLS: Impact to sign 96-times capped Ivorian defender? ]

But Portland has six players in the Top 100, compared to Columbus’ four. High-end spenders NYC (five players), Toronto (four), and L.A. (four) all don’t hit that figure inside of the Top 100 (and to be specific, Portland does in 98).

They also rank ninth in spending on forwards, 14th on midfielders, and third in defenders. Of the 15 players making more than 100k in base salary, four are defenders and one is goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey.

All numbers come from Spotrac*

3) Get Darlington Nagbe

This will be harder to copycat, seeing as there’s only one Darlington Nagbe, but the Timbers’ midfielder is versatile and helps Porter challenge opposing coaches because of the unpredictable nature of how he can be deployed on the pitch.

In fact, when you run numbers on advanced statistics site Squawka, you’ll see something quite interesting. Among players who hit the pitch in at least 2/3 of their teams’ games this season, Nagbe is fourth in MLS in combined score. More intriguing? Besides Michael Bradley, he’s the most complete contributor (offense, defense, possession) of any top scorer.

[ MORE:  Who is the favorite for MLS Cup 2015? ]

Nagbe stats4) Parity continues to reign

For the same reason people barely celebrate the NHL’s Presidents Trophy, the MLS Supporters Shield is a bit of a fallback party for fan bases who fail to capitalize on a season’s worth of solid play.

In much of world soccer, the season-long title matter more than a tournament, but North America is about the playoffs. The fact of the matter is that only one team in MLS this season finished more than four wins out of a playoff spot (Chicago), and most teams that missed the playoffs by a bunch (New York City, Colorado, Real Salt Lake, Houston), earned their gaps off the playoff pace by losing a lot once they were officially eliminated.

Even Chicago, who was awful, had a shot at the playoffs when August ended, only to lose seven of eight to finish the season. MLS, for better or worse, literally is anyone’s ball game at nearly any time.