How Jose Mourinho’s master plan dented Chelsea’s title bid

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MANCHESTER — Jose Mourinho not only lives for these kind of backs-to-the-walls situations. He usually delivers in them.

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He did it again on Sunday as his Manchester United side out-thought and outfought Chelsea, a team he often led to thrive in this type of situations over two spells in charge in west London.

With a UEFA Europa League quarterfinal sandwiched either side of the clash against Chelsea, Mourinho shocked many by having Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan on the bench. Such has been United’s wastefulness in front of goal in recent months, securing a place in the UEFA Champions League by winning Europe’s second-tier title has all of a sudden become more attainable than finishing in the top four of the Premier League. At least it did before United’s huge victory against Chelsea as they’re only four points behind fourth-placed Manchester City with a game in hand.

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Mourinho’s gameplan involved playing two up front with Jesse Lingard partnering the excellent Marcus Rashford who gave Chelsea a horrendous afternoon, plus he ordered a textbook man-marking job to shut down Eden Hazard.

His gameplan worked perfectly and Mourinho was a happy man for many reasons when talking about the victory which not only blew the title race wide-open but also reignited United’s top four hopes.

“The satisfaction is for different reasons. The first with Liverpool and Man City victories if we don’t win, goodbye Premier League. These three points were phenomenal,” Mourinho beamed. “The second is they are the leader. When you beat the leader it is obviously a very good feeling. For me, from my perspective as a manager that prepares the team and the gameplan I had the feeling before this match but now totally convinced, with 11 players at Stamford Bridge in the second game [1-0 FA Cup defeat in March] we would be playing against Tottenham at Wembley this weekend.”

In that FA Cup game Mourinho referenced, Herrera was sent off in the first half for two cynical fouls as he, and most of United’s players, got too close to Hazard.

Mourinho deployed Herrera on Hazard in a man-marking job on Sunday and it worked perfectly with the Spaniard also having an assist and a goal, even if the latter looked to have come courtesy of an interception with his hand.

Asked if other teams have simply accepted Chelsea were superior in recent months, Mourinho is happy with how his team stuck to the gameplan he devised and revealed exactly where he targeted the team who cast him aside last season after also doing so in 2007 with this three PL titles in west London not enough to save him.

“I don’t know what to say. We have different teams different players, maybe it is difficult for some managers to find Ander Herrera to do the job he did today. Maybe it is difficult for some to find Matteo Darmian to play the role he played,” Mourinho said. “I want to say I was convinced even before the cup that controlling the two players that play behind Diego, Hazard and sometimes Pedro or Willian, and controlling the full-backs because they go really deep with two wide men would create lots of problems and I repeat the same. They are phenomenal in counter-attack. When they tried to play counter attack we were always in control of these two link positions. We did that at Stamford Bridge when we played with 11. Today we control.”

United had total control throughout this encounter as Chelsea failed to have a shot on target and Mourinho’s old team started to show that cracks are appearing as Tottenham hunt them down in the Premier League title race.

Far from vintage for most of this season, it is easy to forgot Mourinho’s United are now 22 games unbeaten in the league.

That’s the best current unbeaten run in Europe’s top five leagues as their character is building, even if some pieces of the jigsaw are yet to slot perfectly into place.

“Normally you win the title if you are 22 matches unbeaten and we are struggling to finish top four,” Mourinho laughed. “Everybody knows why because we drew too many matches at home and we are paying the price. It is a great feeling to know it is difficult for us to lose a match. We fight until the end. We score last minute here against Everton and Liverpool and away at Stoke. We need a little more quality and different qualities in some positions to make the squad stronger but in terms of character and the human side I have one of the best groups ever.”

Premier League TV, streaming schedule

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More midweek action is coming up in the Premier League. Let the festive fun continue.

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The full TV schedule for this weekend is below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at for all the goals as they go in. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

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If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Tuesday
2:45 p.m. ET: Burnley vs. Stoke City – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
2:45 p.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: Huddersfield Town vs. Chelsea – NBCSN [STREAM

Wednesday
2:45 p.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Manchester City – NBCSN [STREAM]
2:45.m. ET: Southampton vs. Leicester City – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
2:45 p.m. ET: Newcastle United vs. Everton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: West Ham United vs. Arsenal – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: Liverpool vs. West Brom – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: Manchester United vs. Bournemouth – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Brighton & Hove Albion – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Premier League notes: Wanyama, Bolasie return after long layoffs, Sakho injured

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Two Premier League clubs saw a pair of players return to the field after long spells on the sidelines.

Tottenham revealed that Victor Wanyama took part in training on Monday for the first time since suffering a knee injury in late August, which has kept him off the field since then. Wanyama started in both of Tottenham’s first two fixtures of the season before the injury.

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At the same time in the northwest of England, Yannick Bolasie returned to the field for Everton’s reserves for the first time since suffering a torn ACL last December against Manchester United. Everton manager Sam Allardyce hinted recently that Bolasie could even make the first team subs bench before the end of the calendar year as he continues his rehab.

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Report: Sporting KC on verge of signing French midfielder Croizet

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Sporting Kansas City could be adding some European flair to its midfield this offseason.

According to multiple reports, the MLS club is in negotiations to sign French midfielder Yohan Croizet, who currently plays for Belgian first division side KV Mechelen. Croizet, who reportedly cost Mechelen a transfer fee worth more than $1 million, has started all 15 games he’s played for his side this season but has been substituted off on seven occasions and Mechelen are currently struggling in the league, sitting in 13th place with 18 points from 18 games.

Croizet hasn’t played since November 17, and appears on his way out.

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Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes, a Hungarian-American, is no stranger to the European market and has brought over plenty of diamonds in the rough from Europe to star with Sporting KC. Some previous examples, though in different positions from Croizet, include current winger Gerso, Krisztián Németh, Uri Rosell, and Aurelien Collin.

It will be interesting to see where Croizet plays in the Sporting KC side should it sign him, and how he works with Benny Feilhaber, who is turning 33-years old in January.

Arsenal lands Ostersunds in Europa League draw

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Arsenal will face a team with an English connection in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32.

The Gunners were paired with Swedish side Ostersunds in the Europa League knockout stage draw Monday, with matches set to be played on February 15 and February 22. Ostersund are managed by Englishman Graham Potter, who played in the Championship and lower in England before starting his managerial career with Ostersunds in 2010 in the fourth tier of Swedish soccer.

[READ: UCL draw+analysis]

Ostersunds surprised many earlier this year winning the Swedish Cup to qualify for the Europa League, and then advanced out of a group that included Hertha Berlin and Athletic Bilbao.

It represents an interesting draw for Arsenal, which will have to balance the squad during a tough February. The weekend prior to the first-leg match is the second leg of the North London derby against Tottenham, and following the second match with Ostersunds is a showdown with Manchester City.

Here’s a look at how the rest of the draw shook out: