Jose Mourinho desperate to scupper Liverpool’s title charge

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Sunday’s game between Liverpool and Chelsea (Watch live on NBCSN, 9:05 a.m. ET and online via Live Extra) was meant to be a title decider. Now, after Chelsea hit a sticky patch, it has become a shot at redemption for Jose Mourinho and his team.

Their mission: ruin Liverpool’s title hopes.

Even if Chelsea beat Liverpool it won’t do much for their faint title hopes; but this could be about revenge for Mourinho.

Cast your minds back to 2005. Almost exactly nine years ago Chelsea was at the height of their power under Mourinho, winning Premier League titles back-to-back and a force to be reckoned with in Europe. On May 3 they faced the second leg of their UEFA Champions League semifinal away at Anfield, in a winner takes all battle after drawing the first leg 0-0 at Stamford Bridge. Luis Garcia hooked the ball towards the goal at the Kop end. William Gallas hooked the ball off the line. Yet somehow, a goal was given and Liverpool advanced to the final of the UCL, where they eventually beat AC Milan in one of the most memorable finals in living memory.

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That was meant to be Mourinho’s Chelsea lifting the UCL trophy in Istanbul. That was meant to be his parade. Almost a decade on, the only trophy the ‘Special One’ hasn’t won as Chelsea’s boss is the Champions League. What followed was Mourinho starting a feud with then Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez and there’s been a mutual disdain between the Portuguese boss and Liverpool ever since. That has spread to the fans, as Sunday’s game is eagerly anticipated both on and off the pitch, especially after Mourinho accused Liverpool’s star man Luis Suarez of diving and believes he could injure his only fit goalkeeper, Mark Schwarzer. Oh, Jose.

Ahead of Sunday’s clash, Mourinho has been playing down the importance of it as it is sandwiched in between Chelsea’s two UCL semifinals with Atletico Madrid. They drew 0-0 in Madrid last Tuesday and have the second leg at home on Wednesday with a whole host of injury problems ravaging Mourinho’s squad. It is clear where the 50-year-old Portuguese bosses priorities lie. He is likely to play a ‘B squad’ against Liverpool on Sunday, with Mourinho complaining about Chelsea not getting help from the English FA.

“We represent English football and are the only team in European competitions,” Mourinho explained after the 0-0 draw with Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals of the Champions League. “Spain has four and gave them all the conditions to try to have success, so I know what I would do. But I’m not the club. I have to speak to them. I would play with the players who are not going to play Wednesday.”

“The fact that the (Liverpool) match is on Sunday, I think puts the problem not in my hands but in the hands of those who decide the game should be on Sunday and not Saturday or Friday.”

Yet, we shouldn’t underestimate how badly Mourinho wants to win on Sunday. Not for the glory of his squad, or that a victory will likely hand Manchester City the initiative in the title race, but because he is a stubborn man of principle, who never forgets when he is wronged like he was back at Anfield nine years ago. Yes, the referee looked to have made an incorrect decision back then, but Mourinho’s record at Anfield has been poor over the years.

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Mourinho and Rodgers worked together at Chelsea, now they will be enemies on the sidelines.

In eight games at Anfield as Chelsea boss, Mourinho won the first two games in 2005 but in the last six he has recorded just one win against the Reds.

Now, emphatically, he has a glorious chance to change that fortune around.

Add into the fact Mourinho’s manic outburst at referees following Chelsea’s shock defeat to Sunderland last Saturday, which cost him a third fine of the season from the FA, plus his request to play the ‘B squad’ during the week, and you have a man creating a staunch ‘us against them’ mentality at the Bridge.

Further fueling the fire is the fact that Mourinho’s former academy and reserve team manager during his first stint in charge of Chelsea was… Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers. Intertwining storylines have entangled Sunday’s clash as Mourinho and Chelsea aim to upset Anfield, Merseyside and neutrals around the world who want to see Liverpool win their first league title in 24 years.

Can Mourinho play the role of home-wrecker against Liverpool?

You bet your bottom dollar he’ll be trying his hardest to throw a spanner in the works of Liverpool’s ominous title machine. That knowledge alone will spur his Chelsea players on, as the master of the dark arts aims to conjure up a dastardly spell to dispatch an old demon which has been haunting him for quite some time.

Liverpool fans be warned, Jose is aiming to turn his track record at Anfield around. Starting this Sunday in Liverpool’s biggest game of the campaign.

New York Red Bulls introduce space at RBA for autistic families

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HARRISON, N.J. (AP) The Red Bulls have announced plans for a permanent sensory-friendly space at their stadium for families impacted by autism.

Formerly executive offices, the space overlooking midfield is a calm area that is free from the crowds and the noise of Red Bull Arena during matches. Families can use it for free.

The team announced the new space on Saturday before the Red Bulls were set to host the Chicago Fire. It was Autism Awareness Night at the stadium.

“Families deserve to feel welcome and comfortable each time they step foot into Red Bull Arena, not just one night a year,” Red Bulls GM Marc de Grandpre said in a statement released by the club. “We hope all sports teams and entertainment venues are inspired to take similar action to provide comfort for families with loved ones on the autism spectrum.”

League Two game restarted in empty stadium after fans storm field

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LONDON (AP) An English soccer game restarted in an empty stadium after a pitch invasion led to the crowd being told the fixture had been abandoned.

There were five minutes remaining in Leyton Orient’s fourth-tier game against Colchester on Saturday when a sit-down protest was staged on the pitch by Orient fans against Italian owner Francesco Becchetti.

It forced the referee to take the players off the field. The protests lasted for more than an hour before the crowd was told the game had been abandoned and the stadium eventually cleared. The teams came out and finished the game.

Leyton Orient lost 3-1 a week after its relegation from the English Football League was confirmed after 112 years.

“A decision was taken with the police to announce that the game had been abandoned as it was felt this would help clear the pitch, which proved correct,” the EFL said in a statement. “However, it was deemed appropriate that the game needed to be played to a conclusion in order to maintain the integrity of the competition.”

La Liga: Barcelona, Real Madrid hold serve in tight title race

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Super-duper Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of top 7 ]

Espanyol 0-3 Barcelona

Barcelona are doing all they can do — win — in their bid to usurp Real Madrid in the race for the title. While they entered the weekend — and still are — ahead of their El Clasico rivals based on head-to-head results this season, Los Blancos still have a game in hand which will surely decide whether Madrid claim their 33rd top-division title, or a 25th for Barca.

On Saturday, Luis Enrique’s side had more than just the title at stake — also at stake: the Derbi Barceloni, against fellow Catalan side Espanyol.

For 45 minutes, the home side held firm and refused to break, but once Luis Suarez put the Blaugrana ahead in the 50th minute, that was all she wrote. Ivan Rakitic doubled the advantage in the 76th minute, and Suarez completed the scoring 11 minutes later.

Real Madrid 2-1 Valencia

By the time the derby kicked off, Madrid had already applied the pressure and gone three points clear with a 2-1 victory that was a whole lot closer than the final score indicates.

Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark, and Zinedine Zidane’s side was well on its way to victory. Ronaldo followed up his opening goal with a missed penalty kick 10 minutes into the second half, and Daniel Parejo pulled the visitors level with a sensational free kick just eight minutes before the end of regular time. Points looked sure to be dropped, and the door opened wider for Barca, but Marcelo was prepared to play the part of hero on the day, and the Brazilian left back bagged one of the season’s more improbable goals, a right-footed strike from the top of the box, in the 86th minute.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Las Palmas 0-5 Atletico Madrid
Real Sociedad 2-1 Granada

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Osasuna vs. Deportivo La Coruña — 6 a.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Alaves — 10:15 a.m. ET
Eibar vs. Leganes — 12:30 p.m. ET
Celta Vigo vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:45 p.m. ET

Monday’s La Liga schedule

Malaga vs. Sevilla — 3 p.m. ET

Championship Focus: It’s all about the playoff places now

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With Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United having already clinched the Championship’s two automatic promotion places, all eyes turn to the four teams behind them still jockeying for playoff positioning…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s coverage of the Championship ]

3rd — Reading — 82 points, +2 GD
4th — Sheffield Wednesday — 81 points, +16 GD
5th — Huddersfield Town — 81 points, +1 GD
6th — Fulham — 77 points, +27 GD

First of all, the Championship remains the least sensible league in the world. Disagree? Just try to explain the above wildly varying points totals and the corresponding goal differentials. Go ahead, I’ll wait

As for the weekend’s results, Reading and Wednesday did themselves major favors in the race for third with victories over Wigan Athletic (1-0) and Ipswich Town (1-0), respectively, while Huddersfield, who entered the weekend in that top playoff place, played 67 minutes with a man advantage against Birmingham City, and lost 2-0. All three of Reading, Wednesday and Huddersfield have clinched their place in the promotion playoffs, which begin two weeks from Saturday, on May 13.

[ MORE: PL Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of the top 7 play ]

Given Leeds United’s 3-3 draw with Norwich City, a win would have clinched the fourth and final playoff place for Fulham, but the Cottagers dropped a pair of points themselves in a 1-1 draw with Brentford at Craven Cottage. Still, Fulham are all but into the playoffs with a three-point lead on Leeds, and a goal differential that’s 13 goals better.