Mourinho on Zlatan’s future, Mkhitaryan wonder goal, Rooney injury

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Jose Mourinho will be a happy man on Boxing Day.

[ RECAP: United win 3-1

His Manchester United side is now just one point off the top four in the Premier League as they continued to gel and look threatening in attack.

Goals from Daley Blind, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and a sublime strike from Henrikh Mkhitaryan eased United to a 3-1 victory as Mourinho’s boys have now won four-straight games in the Premier League and have lost just once in their last 10 outings.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Speaking after the game, Mourinho confirmed that there was some bad news as captain Wayne Rooney missed the game through injury and is unlikely to feature against Middlesbrough on Dec. 31 at Old Trafford.

“Let’s see if it is possible. I am not so sure about it,” Mourinho said of Rooney’s injury. “I hope so but I have my doubts. Muscle injury. Deep muscle.”

On the performance itself, United’s manager wasn’t too impressed with the first half display but was pleased with a fourth-straight win.

“I think we did not play well first half. David [Moyes] and Sunderland deserved credit for our bad first half,” Mourinho told Sky Sports. “I wasn’t happy with the way we were playing. We were a bit lucky to be 1-0 in front. In the second half we were strong. The second goal arrived late because we did more than enough to score the second and third goal and kill the game. Three important points. Four matches and 12 points, that’s what we need.”

As for Mkhitaryan, he delivered a moment of sheer genius in the second half as the Armenian playmaker marked his return from injury with a mind-blowing back heel goal at full stretch.

Mourinho was impressed.

“It was beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. It was a pity it was the third goal in a game and not a phenomenal goal in a game to win a great match. That would be in Man United history,” Mourinho said. “It is good for him. He was playing really well. He had that injury that stopped his evolution but then he comes back and I think he plays 25 minutes and well and shows that he is ready to be back to the level that himself he creates expectations for all of us because we expect great things.”

With Zlatan playing the ball behind him, Mkhitaryan launched himself towards goal and flicked the ball into the top corner with his back heel. Here’s what he thought about it as he confirmed he has is feeling fit and ready to contribute even more.

“I was expecting the ball in front of me but I was already in front so I go the ball behind me. The only thing I could do was the chance to hit with the back heel. I did. And I succeed,” Mkhitaryan said, modestly.

Mourinho also confirmed that a deal basically been agreed for Ibrahimovic to stay at United for another season (Zlatan’s agent has suggested as much earlier in the day) as the Swedish striker scored eight goals in his last seven PL games and took his tally to 17 goals in 26 games in a United shirt.

“It is activated in his brain and in my decisions and in the owners and the board, no problem,” Mourinho said.

All in all, a very merry Christmas for Mourinho and Co.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Watford

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  • Chelsea are without N'Golo Kante, Victor Moses (both hamstring) and Danny Drinkwater (calf) is still absent.
  • Watford remain without Younes Kaboul and Sebastian Prodl (both thigh), plus long-term absentees Craig Cathcart, Nathaniel Chalobah and Isaac Success (all knee).
  • Watford have not won against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge since 1986, but the Hornets have won 10 points of a possible 12 on the road. 
  • Chelsea have lost three of their first eight matches this season. No team has ever lost this many of their opening eight matches and still won the Premier League title.

Watford heads south for another London derby with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday at 7:30 a.m. (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

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The Hornets have had an amazing start to the season and currently occupy fourth place on 15 points, two points ahead of fifth-place Chelsea, which has lost two-straight Premier League games. The Blues have struggled without N’Golo Kante and Alvaro Morata and there have been reports of grumbles from the squad about dissatisfaction with Antonio Conte‘s training methods, but the Chelsea coach has brushed those rumors off.

Meanwhile Watford is coming off a confidence-boosting win last weekend against fellow Londoners Arsenal, and the club is looking to take down another big club for a second-straight week.

What they’re saying

Watford manager Marco Silva on his team’s start“I want everybody to be really calm. We did really in the first eight matches but it’s too early. We want to continue to work hard every day. Everything changes fast and you need to keep going and treat the next game as the most important. But of course I feel proud.”

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte on being under pressure: “‘Do I feel the pressure? Every manager feels pressure, but I try to give all of myself into my job, so I’m happy when I go home because I know in every moment I give all of myself for the fans, the players and the club. In football you know anything can happen, but the most important thing is to work.”

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Prediction

Chelsea has its back against the wall but the team’s overall quality should be enough to see them through with all three points against Watford. The Hornets luck runs out in Stamford Bridge as Chelsea hold on for a late win. Chelsea 2-1 Watford

Leicester City record massive earnings from UEFA Champions League

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Leicester City’s UEFA Champions League campaign may have ended without a trophy, but the Premier League side pipped the European champions in the bank account.

UEFA announced on Friday that Leicester City earned $96,167,125 during the Champions League run that ended in the quarterfinals, the farthest of any Premier League club. Real Madrid, the back-to-back champions, earned a slightly less $95,385,679. Much of the difference comes from TV rights deals in England, which pays out more to teams compared to the TV rights deal in Spain.

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Juventus, the Italian giant, earned the most of any club in last year’s Champions League, making a whopping $129,965,357, mostly thanks to the TV rights again.

Mourinho: Ibrahimovic could return in December

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Dare to Zlatan? It could be only a couple of months away.

That’s according to Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, who said the veteran striker could return from his torn ACL before the end of the calendar year.

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“Zlatan is here, he’s working here and under our control,” Mourinho told reporters. “He’s working as you would expect so, so, so hard. But he’s not to be back in the next week or next couple of weeks. Do I believe he’ll be back in 2017? Yes, I do. But it’s just a feeling.”

The big Swede scored 28 goals for Man United last year in all competitions, proving that he’s still got it at the age of 36, but it’s going to be tough for him to find his old form coming off an ACL injury at such an old age. After suffering the injury last April, it’s been a long road to recovery for Ibrahimovic.

However, with the play of Romelu Lukaku up top, Ibrahimovic would only play from time to time, which could help in his recovery both from the knee injury and just the general recovery between games.

Manchester City quartet called up by Brazil for friendlies

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Brazilian National Team coach Tite has decided on calling up a full-strength squad for November’s upcoming friendly matches in Europe, including four Manchester City players in his 25-man squad.

Gabriel Jesus, Fernandinho, Danilo and Ederson all made the squad as Tite looks to develop more chemistry among his side ahead of the 2018 World Cup, which Brazil breezed into after Tite took over in 2016.

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Luckily for Manchester City and the other European-based players in the squad, Brazil’s friendly matches will be played in Western Europe. The Selecao first faces Japan in Lille, France on November 10 before taking on England at Wembley Stadium on November 14.

The call-ups may be a tough pill for Guardiola to swallow though. As of Friday, Manchester City has 17 games remaining in the calendar year, and surely he would prefer for some of his starters to get a two-week break in November to preserve some energy instead of play in friendly matches.