Jose Mourinho lauds Chelsea’s defensive solidity, as title charge will come from the back

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LONDON — Deep into stoppage time on Saturday, Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho stood on the edge of his technical area gesticulating more in hope than anything else.

His Chelsea side had battled hard against an extremely talented Everton team, and with 92 minutes gone the score was locked at 0-0.

Then Frank Lampard swung in a dipping free kick that John Terry looked to have got a touch on, as U.S. international Tim Howard saw the ball ricochet off his leg and into the back of the net to break Everton’s hearts. Stamford Bridge erupted, Terry and Chelsea’s players wheeled away in jubilation and Mourinho punched the air with delight.

Moments like those win you the Premier League title.

More than that, consistently excellent defensive displays will get you over the line as Chelsea continued to grind out wins and stay top of the standings.

(RECAP: Chelsea 1-0 Everton – Late goal seals crucial win to keep Blues top)

Saturday’s late 1-0 win was Chelsea’s fifth clean sheet in their last six games and stretched Mourinho’s unbeaten home record in the PL to 74 games. While failing to play up the confidence boost a last-minute strike will give his side in the title race, Mourinho lauded yet another top defensive display.

“The team showed big stability, it was another great defensive performance by the whole team,” Mourinho said. “It was the work of everybody, the team is strong defensively. The defensive organization is really strong.”

Chelsea skipper Terry returned to the team after missing three games through injury, and the crucial goal was later awarded to Terry, although it is likely to be examined by the dubious goals panel, as the fans favorite came up with the goods at both ends of the field.

Throughout the match Terry and his central defensive partner Gary Cahill look composed and solid. They both blocked superbly in the first half, as Chelsea’s league best defense looked impenetrable for most of the match as Cech only had one top save to make from Osman’s rasping long-range effort in the first half. Across the board Chelsea’s defense threw themselves into the action and really rolled up their sleeves, as they have done for much of the season.

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Captain John Terry has been sublime all season, as Chelsea have the best defensive record in the PL.

Chelsea’s captain has been instrumental for a team that’s only conceded 21 goals all season but Mourinho waxed lyrical about his entire defense.

“It is not just about John Terry, because the back four all defended superbly,” Mourinho said. “When you have your captain, your voice, he brings complete stability. Terry has a good partnership with Cahill. It was good, we missed him after he has been out for three games.”

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So, what does this late win mean for Chelsea’s title charge?

Mourinho is adamant his team will keep fighting to stay top, and believes every slip up will be punished by those the chasing pack. This is far from over.

“Today if we only have one point, if the teams behind us win, we lose that position,” Mourinho said. “The difference is very small, you win the game you keep the position. You lose the game you lose your position. This is the reality. We just want to try to keep the position. Not to give anything for free to our opponents, the position that is our position. We have to fight, we have to play. To me the better feeling was that the players did everything, the team wanted to win. We were the team that was really trying to win. A point for us is not good. I think we deserved to win.”

After yet another defiant defensive display and a late surge to score, Chelsea keep getting it done the same way. Grinding out wins is the stuff of Champions.

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.

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“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.”

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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.