Jose Mourinho desperate to scupper Liverpool’s title charge


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.


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.

Allow England defender Alfie Mawson to charm you

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Swansea City’s Alfie Mawson is at England national team camp, and the young man is conducting himself in downright adorable fashion.

It seems the 24-year-old London defender cannot quite believe Gareth Southgate called his name for the Three Lions.

[ MORE: Key newcomers for USMNT friendly ]

“A lot of people wouldn’t have even heard my name until this call up,” Mawson told the BBC. “You know it’s down to performing well at certain times, it’s down to doing the right things and sometimes it’s down to being a nice person.”

Mawson has played every minute for Swans this season, picking up two goals and an assist. More importantly, he’s won 3.3 aerial battles per game and 6.3 clearances.

While this won’t necessarily serve him well against the Netherlands and Italy in this week’s friendlies — they don’t put a lot of hopeful balls into aerial or clearing positions — it’s kept Mawson on the England radar for this summer’s World Cup.

Mawson is two seasons removed from playing in the Championship, and was loaned to lower league clubs like Maidenhead United and Welling United. At the time, he was going to “car boot sales with my girlfriend” which from my limited Googling seems the English equivalent of a yard sale and flea market combined.

“We are in a good position now where we don’t really have to do the car boots unless she wants a bit of excitement on a Sunday morning.”

Pretty good position, yeah.

FIFA urges Russia to hasten work on delayed World Cup arena

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SAMARA, Russia (AP) FIFA has urged Russia to speed up World Cup preparations at a stadium which needs “a huge amount of work” to be ready on time.

With less than three months to go until the World Cup, the 45,000-seat Samara Arena is the only one of 12 stadiums which doesn’t yet have a pitch installed.

The stadium in the Volga River city of Samara was already badly delayed due to a complex roof design, but now cold weather in the Russian spring is causing further problems. The pitch can’t be installed until the weather warms up.

“Obviously we would expect further progress than this,” FIFA’s chief competitions official Colin Smith said on a visit to the arena Wednesday. “We don’t yet have a pitch, and obviously we need to wait for some warmer weather conditions in order to get this pitch installed.”

As of Tuesday, instead of a field, there was an area covered with tarpaulins and snow. Temperatures are forecast to stay slightly below freezing for the rest of the week.

“There’s a huge amount of work still to be done,” Smith added. “From the information we’ve received there’s nothing stopping all these areas being completed on time. It just requires commitment and more manpower to get it done on time, and when we talk about on time, we’re talking about the commissioning date of the end of April.”

If that date passes, it could restrict FIFA’s ability to test the stadium with Russian league games and install World Cup equipment. Outside the arena, deep snowdrifts cover much of an area that is due to be landscaped for the tournament and will host some facilities for fans.

Alexander Fetisov, deputy governor of the Samara region, said the stadium will be ready.

“I’d like to avoid unnecessary dramatization of the situation,” he said. “Everything is being done so that the stadium is commissioned in the time required.”

Samara isn’t the only World Cup field which has drawn attention in recent weeks. The stadium in Kazan has been widely criticized by Russian fans after a brown, muddy surface was used for league games after the winter break.

Smith said FIFA was offering Russia help to get its fields ready, adding, “We’re doing everything possible and we’re convinced that we’re going to have a very, very high standard of pitches at this tournament.”

Key newcomers for USMNT friendly

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While the excitement potential is high amongst big club USMNT call-ups like PSG’s Tim Weah and Everton’s Antonee Robinson, there are several other relative newcomers who are facing a more acute focus.

So yes, of course, we’re most excited to see the young guns fire away, but a few others will be under the microscope for different reasons.

[ MORE: Best PL summer buys ]

Paraguay is leaving some big names behind — Dario Lezcano, Jesus Medina, Edgar Benítez — but won’t be using as “B” or “C” of a squad as the USMNT. Key defenders Junior Alonso (Lille) and Gustavo Gomez (AC Milan) will be staring down the U.S. attack, while Atlanta United star Miguel Almiron will try his luck against the Yanks’ backs.

  1. The goalkeepers — With full respect to Bill Hamid and his five caps, the trio of backstops who could play against Paraguay are unknown entities on the senior international level. There are reasons to be excited about Alex Bono (Toronto FC) and Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew) going against Los Guaraníes — and Hamid, too — and standing behind a young and untested group of center backs should give plenty of chances to make a name for whoever is chosen (If Sarachan is more “woke” this go-round, it’ll be multiple keepers).
  2. Andriya Novakovich — The Telstar striker is checking all the boxes: 6-foot-4, productive on the youth level, and now succeeding overseas. The 21-year-old has 17 goals on loan from Reading in the Dutch second tier. While that’s far from a “Woah” figure considering the top-tier in the Netherlands isn’t exactly a defensive hot bed, it’s intriguing for Tuesday in North Carolina.
  3. Rubio Rubin — We’re hopeful Sarachan goes with a 4-4-2, which would allow both Rubin and Novakovich to get runs next to Bobby Wood. Rubin is seeing some time at Liga MX side Club Tijuana after his European adventure stalled following a hot start for Utrecht. He had an assist in CONCACAF Champions League play against Red Bulls this month.
  4. Tyler Adams — Speaking of that match, the Red Bulls got a goal from Adams. It’s fair to say he’s got the chance to be as special a player as Schalke youngster Weston McKennie (and would apparently like to join his USMNT teammate overseas). Adams and McKennie together could legit be an engine room for years. Will that begin on Tuesday?
  5. Cameron Carter-Vickers — The 20-year-old center back has shown resilience in England. His hot start to life at Sheffield United, on loan from Tottenham, cooled enough to have him sent back to North London, but Carter-Vickers has rebounded to become a key part of Ipswich Town’s back line. With 22-year-old Matt Miazga the only clear center back on the roster and older than him, CCV can quiet a lot of doubters.
  6. Kenny Saief — This guy has excited at nearly every turn since bursting onto the scene with Gent via the Israeli national team, and an injury cost him some momentum with the USMNT. Now healthy and on loan with Anderlecht, the same side which refined the fire of Sacha Kljestan, the once-capped Florida-born man is as intriguing as ever.

Season strugglers: Some ignominious PL performances

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Tuesday found us breaking ties on our “Most Impactful Premier League Summer Buys” rankings by digging through some advanced statistics sites.

In doing so, something struck us: We rarely if ever check out which players are faring the worst when it comes to those next level numbers.

Ah, the international break: Good for off-the-wall posts.

[ MORE: Alonso, Pedro have Morata’s back]

At the risk of kicking a player while he’s down, here are some negative numbers that stand out from the pack.

Of the 358 players who’ve played at least 10 Premier League matches, Joe Hart is having the worst season of the bunch according to Squawka. That’s a bit misleading due to how the site’s metrics operate, considering eight of the bottom 20 players are goalkeepers (and several, like Jonas Lossl and Jordan Pickford, are having outstanding campaigns).

So the unfortunate honor goes to Swansea defender Martin Olsson, who edges James McClean of West Brom for the infamy. Since the site does heap numbers on players by action accumulated, perhaps it’s better to single out the per-game and per-90 strugglers. Olsson and McClean are still very much near the bottom, but surprisingly Yannick Bolasie is the worst per game, and Swansea’s Wayne Routledge is having the least effective season per 90 minutes.

As for WhoScored, its metrics are hammering forwards, with Lys Mousset, Andre Gray, and Benik Afobe at the back of the back (ahead of McClean, again, who is a multi-site struggler).

These stats aren’t perfect, of course, and I like the idea of having McClean on my squad. But there are some other odds stats in the pack.

 These players might want to pass their next opportunity to the keeper. Of players with 10 or more shot attempts this season, Adam Lallana (11), Renato Sanches (12), Lewis Cook (14), and Dale Stephens (15) have failed to put a single shot on target.

— Of the 81 players who’ve tried their luck 30 times or more, these are the worst accuracy rates

— For perspective, Harry Kane has put 56 percent of his league-leading 162 shots on target, while second place man Mohamed Salah is 61 percent of 118.

— Defensive errors also can be increased significantly by the times a player is put under pressure by his team, which is why goalkeepers are high on Squawka’s list. Take them out, and you get a list with Spurs’ Eric Dier up top. Two of his six errors have led to goals against Tottenham, with Zanka (Huddersfield Town), Alfie Mawson (Swans), Andreas Christensen (Chelsea), and Shane Duffy (Brighton) next with four errors.