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Lucky Man United, Mourinho begin trophy haul

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LONDON — Pure and simple, Manchester United got out of jail to win the League Cup on Sunday at Wembley.

Southampton deserved to win. United did not.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

But they did, as Jose Mourinho found a way to win his first major trophy as a Red Devil and begin what could be another golden era in their history. With the trophy win they’ve know equaled Liverpool’s 41 major titles and the team Mourinho is building suggests there could be many more, maybe even this season, as they’re still alive in the FA Cup and UEFA Europa League.

[ MORE: United win EFL Cup

United beat Southampton 3-2 thanks to Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s late header, as they threw away an undeserved 2-0 lead as Saints fought back to make it 2-2 thanks to goals from Manolo Gabbiadini and then they hit the post through Oriol Romeu right on the hour mark as United were hanging on for dear life. Saints also had a perfectly good goal chalked off in the first half for offside with the score locked at 0-0.

[ MORE: Zlatan reacts to win ]

However it went in United’s favor and they got it done. There’s an invincibility returning with just one defeat in their last 27 games in all competitions. This win was far from convincing but they found a way.

Mourinho knew his team had got away with one, praising Claude Puel‘s Southampton who deserved more, but his incredible knack of winning trophies continues.

“Honestly, Ibrahimovic won the game for us because he was outstanding. I can see a couple of performances – Pogba similar level – but he was outstanding,” Mourinho told Sky Sports. “In a match where the opponent was better than us for long periods – they deserved to go to extra time – he made the difference and he gave us the cup.

“I’m a bit emotional yes. It’s not easy to win titles and so many times. It’s not easy to cope with the pressure I put myself under. It was a game I was feeling the difficulty. I want to pay homage to Southampton and what they deserve. We have the cup in our hands and probably should be in extra time. Winning is always special. The day I don’t get emotional when I win is the day to go home.”

Throughout the final Mourinho’s side were undone out wide with full backs Antonio Valencia and Marcos Rojo given a torrid time by Southampton’s wingers and especially full backs Cedric Soares and Ryan Bertrand. So many time crosses were whipped in or pulled back and a Southampton player couldn’t get on the end of it.

Mourinho’s United resembled a fighter on the ropes in the second half, clinging on for a points decision with the occasional flurry of hope. Apart from Jesse Lingard‘s volley at the back post and a low shot from Marcus Rashford, there was nothing for United in the second half. They looked like a team who had played four games in 11 days, while Saints had two weeks off.

Then Zlatan arrived.

“This is a team effort. This is what I came for – to win and I am winning. The more I win the more satisfied I get,” Ibrahimovic said. “You appreciate it more the older you get. Wherever I have gone I have won. I think this is trophy number 32 for me. This is what I predicted. To many I could not do it. My friend, I keep doing it. I’m enjoying it in England.”

Zlatan’s character, along with Mourinho’s guidance, explains why United could now go on and win the FA Cup and Europa League and also finish in the top four in the Premier League. Zlatan is a winner. It may not be pretty and sometimes, like Sunday, it may not be deserved, but class and experience counts for so much.

Mourinho’s trophy haul is why he is still the most coveted manager in the world, despite the debacle at Chelsea last season and his much-maligned sideline antics. On Sunday he become just the third manager (after Sir Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough) to win four League Cups. At Chelsea he won the trophy three times in the past, gaining momentum from all three of those successes as he built a ruthless winning machine. Mourinho will be given the money to buy the best players on the planet this summer and things will improve as his overhaul at United continues.

It’s not a well-oiled machine yet but it’s getting there. Winning trophies like this will help United get back to the top quicker. Mourinho said he side “had a bit of luck because the 3-2 came for us at a moment when it was difficult for them to react.”

He also reflected on how important this trophy win was for his team.

“I am very happy, as I was saying before it is important for the club, fans, players, I always try to put myself in a secondary position,” Mourinho said. “It is also important for me. I put a lot of pressure on myself. I wanted very much to win a major trophy with every club. By doing that with Manchester United it is quite a sense of relief. It was a big target for me to win a trophy at Manchester United. The reality is that we want more and more. My contract is long. I have two more years plus this one. Hopefully I can win something. This season, I know it is difficult, but the reality is that we have to try to fight for more.”

This may just be the start of another special era for Mourinho and Manchester United.

Timbers sign Peruvian winger Andy Polo from Liga MX’s Morelia

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have acquired winger Andy Polo on loan from Liga MX club Monarcas Morelia for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old native of Peru played in 25 matches last year for Morelia and made six starts with two goals.

He’s also World Cup-bound, having appeared in Peru’s two-legged playoff against New Zealand in November. Peru won 2-0 on aggregate. Overall, he’s appeared with the Peruvian national team 15 times since his senior debut in 2016.

“Andy is a versatile, young player who will add another element to our attack, and we believe that he has further upside to his development,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said in a statement.

The Timbers used targeted allocation money and have a purchase option. Polo’s arrival is pending a physical and receipt of a visa.

He will occupy an international roster spot.

Can Man United still sign Sanchez without Mkhitaryan swap?

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The answer to the (first) titled question is, undoubtedly, yes.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

The latter question — the “will they?” — remains a relative unknown at this point, but if reports out of the UK are to be believed, Manchester United are just as likely to send $40 million (or so) Arsenal’s way in exchange for Alexis Sanchez, should Henrikh Mkhitaryan refuse the move by declining any contract offers from the Gunners.

[ MORE: Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies ]

The thinking, at least for the last few days since Man United somewhat unexpectedly entered the Sanchez sweepstakes, was that swapping the Armenian for the Chilean was the obvious — and, perhaps only — way forward. Call it special circumstances or an obvious audible, but that’s not necessarily the case — from the Guardian:

“It is understood that if Mkhitaryan does not leave Mourinho believes that, given the club’s robust finances, [Man United executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward could still sanction a move for a player who would potentially vastly improve United.”

By the time Sanchez is signed, sealed and delivered, United will have also paid Sanchez and his agent, Fernando Felicevich, massive signing-on fees that could total another $30 million. No matter the order in which the Sanchez-Mkhitaryan saga plays out, United will come out ahead with a superior player at a massively discounted price — should Sanchez ultimately move to Old Trafford, of course.

Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies

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If the FA, English football’s governing body, is insistent upon testing video-assistant refereeing (VAR) as they have done in recent FA Cup and League Cup fixtures, Antonio Conte believes they should darn well use it.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Following his Chelsea side’s penalty-shootout victory over Norwich City in an FA Cup third-round replay on Wednesday, Conte was equal parts frustrated and confused by the fact that video-referee Mike Jones failed to prompt referee Graham Scott to consult the on-trial system on multiple occasions.

Most notably, Chelsea’s 92nd-minute (extra-time) penalty shout following Timm Klose‘s tackle on Willian. Scott, instead, booked the Brazilian for diving — one of three cards, all shown to Chelsea players, for simulation on the night — and that was that.

“If you watch the replay you see very clearly it is a penalty,” said Conte after the game — quotes from the BBC:

“I think that there was a penalty but not on [Alvaro] Morata — on Willian.

“With Willian, the referee heard what the other referee watched and decided to continue to play. If we want to try to use this new system, it is important for the referee to wait, especially in this incident that is not so clear.

“And then when the referee that is watching had a doubt, he has to call the referee to watch and he can make a decision. The referee on the pitch has to make the decision, not one off the pitch.

“We can improve it for sure but we need to try to take the best solution. The final decision is for the ref on the pitch. Otherwise, why is there this ref?

“The mistake wasn’t of the ref on the pitch but the person watching. When you see this, you have to call the referee.”

VAR was used in another third-round replay, on Tuesday, and helped to correctly rule Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho as being in an onside position when he scored his side’s second goal. While offside/onside calls are much clearer, cut-and-dry decisions to make — and with the aid of a natural stoppage in play — clearly much work lies ahead with regard to the process of determining whether the referee has made a “clear and obvious error,” which remains the threshold for using VAR, in instances of fouls/diving.

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.