Three things learned from Man United’s win v. Chelsea

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MANCHESTER — Manchester United and Jose Mourinho have thrown an almighty spanner into the works of the Premier League title race.

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Just when is seemed like Chelsea were gliding towards the title with a halfhearted charge from Tottenham Hotspur lingering in the background, now Antonio Conte‘s men have seen their lead cut to four points after a clinical and professional display from Mourinho’s United as they beat Chelsea for the first time since October 2012.

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An early goal in each half from Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera did the damage as United are now unbeaten in 22 games in the PL, the longest unbeaten run in the five major European leagues.

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Here’s what we learned from Old Trafford on a pivotal day in the title race and top four battle.


HERRERA POCKETS HAZARD

It was clear from the very start what Ander Herrera’s job was: stop Eden Hazard. He did.

Lining up as a right back for most of the game, the man who was sent off when these teams met in the FA Cup in March at Stamford Bridge.

Herrera then showed his class on the ball (after he appeared to handle the ball to get the move going but got away with it) to thread through an inch-perfect pass to Rashford who raced past David Luiz and finished calmly and scored the killer second goal. From a man who is dubbed the master tactician around the globe, Mourinho got this spot on and his key antagonizer on the pitch was pivotal to this masterplan.

Mourinho, perhaps more than anybody else, realizes the strengths and weaknesses of Hazard. Hailing him as ready to join Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi among the immortal players on the planet in 2014-15 when the Belgian wizard guided Chelsea to the title under Mourinho, the way in which Hazard struggled last season was a huge factor in Mourinho’s downfall at Stamford Bridge.

It seems like that hasn’t been forgotten as Herrera and Co. hacked Hazard to pieces in United’s 1-0 FA Cup defeat at Chelsea last month, prompting Conte to complain about the targeting of Hazard and saying “this is not football” for him. United did it again on Sunday.

Mourinho is demonized as the “king of anti-football” by most but when he pulls out unpredictable lineups and tactics like this, there are few that can do it better. He’s done it everywhere he’s gone and with United now four points off fourth-place Manchester City with a game in hand their top four hopes remain alive.

From Herrera on Hazard to playing two up front to occupy Chelsea’s back three and then bringing on Michael Carrick to deny Cesc Fabregas who came on as a sub, Mourinho got every single move in his chess game correct. The fact that he did it on Sunday to put a huge dent in Chelsea’s title bid, that’s something which will no doubt make him smirk slightly despite his obvious affinity with the west London club.


TITLE RACE BACK ON

With Chelsea’s second defeat in four games, the title race is well and truly back on.

The gap between second-place Tottenham Hotspur and leaders Chelsea is now just four points with six games remaining for each and Antonio Conte’s men can suddenly feel the pressure. Big time.

It seemed that way on Sunday.

For the first time, Chelsea are facing adversity as Thibaut Courtois went down injured in training this week, while Marcos Alonso hurt his knee in the warm up. Conte had to shuffle his pack with Kurt Zouma coming in and Cesar Azpilicueta moved to right-wing back and Chelsea looked cagey, especially in defense, as the team with the least changes in the PL this season.

During the game Chelsea switched things around to try and recover from a slow start with Victor Moses and Azpilicueta swapping flanks but all of a sudden those wings backs began to look like the square pegs in round holes many thought they were. For most of the season Chelsea have dodged adversity like the plague, with players over-performing and reinventing themselves.

The Blues are still in pole position with six games to go but the manner of their defeat at United, a game where they didn’t have a shot on target, suggests the nerves are starting to show.

When Chelsea face Spurs at Wembley Stadium in the FA Cup semifinal next week there will be more than a place in the FA Cup final at stake.

The momentum is all with Tottenham (seven-straight PL wins) at this point of the season and psychologically Chelsea must respond. With a home game against Southampton and then a trip to Everton, who have won eight in a row at home, coming up in their next two PL outings, Chelsea fans will be feeling anxious no matter how much they sung “we’re top of the league” at Old Trafford to calm their nerves.


RASHFORD COMES OF AGE

It was just over 13 months ago that Marcus Rashford scored his first two goals in the Premier League in a rousing 3-2 win against Arsenal on a Sunday at Old Trafford.

Sometimes we forget just how quick his ascension has been but he gave one of the biggest indicators yet that he is much more than a flash in the pan.

In the past 13 months he’s signed a new contract, scored plenty of important goals for United’s first team, won an FA Cup and EFL Cup, plus went to EURO 2016 with England. It’s been a whirlwind for the 19-year-old and all the time he’s had to handle rising expectations levels as well as Mourinho cajoling him in the press and on the training ground.

He scuffed an early effort wide and nearly got on the end of Jesse Lingard‘s first half cross as his movement was sharp, his pace in-behind worried Chelsea the entire game and with Lingard up top alongside him he had someone to feed off of and had more space to work in. Rashford, who has been wasteful in front of goal in recent weeks, lashed another effort into the side-netting in the second half, plus surged past David Luiz and shrugged off two challenges before Begovic saved. It was his work rate, pace and directness which troubled Chelsea all game long and he got a standing ovation late on as Zlatan Ibrahimovic replaced him.

Ibrahimovic (on the bench for the visit of Chelsea) has stolen the headlines with his 28 goals for United in all competitions this season but his role in Rashford’s development must not be forgotten. Remember that when Rashford takes over Zlatan’s mantle for the next decade at Old Trafford.

Witness: Men accused of bribes negotiated sale to Qataris

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NEW YORK (AP) A sports marketing company whose owners have been charged with bribing top soccer officials tried to negotiate a sale to an entity associated with Paris Saint-Germain team president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, a witness testified Tuesday in federal court.

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Santiago Pena, a former executive of the Argentina-based Full Play Group, testified that he spent a lengthy period of time on secret negotiations called the “New York project,” given the name because the deal for 51 percent of Full Play was valued at $212 million – 212 is a New York City telephone area code.

Pena said the talks with Al-Khelaifi and the sovereign wealth fund Qatar Sports Investments ended on May 27, 2015, when U.S. prosecutors unsealed indictments against Full Play’s controlling principals, the father and son Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, for racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. They were charged for payments to soccer officials in the Americas allegedly made for broadcast and marketing contracts.

Al-Khelaifi and Qatar Sports would have had the right to buy an additional 19 percent at a later date, Pena said.

Al-Khelaifi is a criminal suspect in Switzerland for bribery linked to Qatar-owned BeIN Sports’ broadcast agreements with FIFA for 2026 and 2030 World Cup rights in the Middle East and North Africa. He met on Oct. 25 with Swiss prosecutors in Bern.

Pena said that only he, Hugo and Mariano Jinkis and Full Play accountant Sergio Rabinovich were aware of the negotiations. Pena testified that after the indictments were made public, he deleted emails discussing the potential sale.

“I did it in order to protect the company,” he said.

Hugo and Mariano Jinkis have not been extradited to the U.S., and Pena said they remain in Argentina. Pena reached an agreement this year with U.S. prosecutors to testify in exchange for not being charged.

“I always considered myself a completely small fish in this issue,” he said.

Juan Angel Napout, the ex-president of Paraguay’s soccer federation; Jose Maria Marin, the former president of Brazil’s soccer federation; and Manuel Burga, the ex-head of Peru’s soccer federation, are on trial in federal court in Brooklyn for racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.

Pena, who worked for Full Play from 2009-15, testified about a ledger he kept of payments that the Jinkises directed be made to top soccer officials. He said he knew only of what they told him were amounts owed to soccer officials. Pena said Napout was to be paid in cash, not by wire transfer, so he had no knowledge if any money was received.

“I simply wrote down the commitments based on other negotiations,” Pena said.

Pena completed testimony Tuesday and was followed by the stand by James Haggerty of Bank of America, who explained wire-transfer records, and Daniel Huntley of Hilton Worldwide Holdings, who detailed Napout’s reservation records.

UCL Wrap: Tottenham, Man City clinch groups

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The UEFA Champions League returned to action Tuesday with a bang, with goals flying in across Europe.

Two Premier League clubs secured key victories, with Tottenham winning 2-1 at Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City knocking off Feyenoord, 1-0. Liverpool, after taking a 3-0 lead inside 30 minutes, settled for a draw on the road after allowing three second-half goals.

The wins for Tottenham and Man City clinched them their groups and turned around some bad feelings around Spurs after the North London derby defeat last Saturday.

[MORE: Champions League score picks: Week 5]

Borussia Dortmund 1-2 Tottenham

After sub-par performances over the weekend, Harry Kane and especially Dele Alli looked like the stars they’ve been all season, leading Spurs on a 2-1 comeback victory over host Borussia Dortmund. Alli played provider for both goals in the second half, with Kane scoring the first and Son Heung-min scoring the second. It was a confident performance from Mauricio Pochettino‘s side. With the loss, Borussia Dortmund are eliminated from the Champions League knockout round, but could still drop into the UEFA Europa League.

Sevilla 3-3 Liverpool

A second-half surge from Sevilla helped the Spanish side come back from a three-goal deficit to draw Liverpool, 3-3. But it was Liverpool which was in control early, as Roberto Firmino scored a brace, including a cheeky no-look tap-in in the 30th minute, sandwiching a Sadio Mane strike. With the draw, Sevilla now just needs another point and a Spartak Moscow loss or draw to advance to the next round, while Liverpool missed out on clinching Group E.

Manchester City 1-0 Feyenoord

A late Raheem Sterling goal made it five wins out of five for Manchester City, which clinched Group F in a 1-0 win over Feyenoord. It was looking as if both teams would end up with a point each but Sterling scored his fourth goal in as many Champions League games, looping the ball over Feyenoord goalkeeper Brad Jones for the goal in the 88th minute.

 

APOEL 0-6 Real Madrid

It was a vintage Real Madrid performance as a Cristiano Ronaldo brace led Real Madrid to a 6-0 rout. Luka Modric, and Nacho both scored while Karim Benzema had a brace as well. The win clinches a place in the last 16 for Real Madrid.

Spartak Moscow 1-1 Maribor

A late goal for Jasmin Mesanovic saved a point for Maribor and stunned host Spartak Moscow, which now must beat Liverpool in the final matchday to make it into the Champions League knockout round. The draw wasn’t enough for Maribor, but they’ll take the confidence boost after Mesanovic’s stoppage time goal canceled out Ze Luis’ 82nd minute finish.

Tuesday’s UCL Scores

Group E

Spartak Moscow 1-1 Maribor

Sevilla 3-3 Liverpool

Group F

Manchester City 1-0 Feyenoord

Napoli 3-0 Shakhtar Donetsk

Group G

Besiktas 1-1 FC Porto

Monaco 1-4 RB Leipzig

Group H

APOEL 0-6 Real Madrid

Borussia Dortmund 1-2 Tottenham

Griezmann: “No regrets” rejecting Man United move in summer

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After flirting with the idea of moving to Manchester last summer, Atletico Madrid star Antoine Griezmann is in one of the worst goal-scoring droughts in his career.

It’s been seven games since he last scored and with just three goals total, it’s been an underwhelming season so far for the Frenchman. But Griezmann doesn’t regret turning down the chance to join Manchester United last summer.

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“I don’t regret staying at Atleti,” Griezmann told French TV program Telefoot. “It was my decision and I’m happy with what I chose to do – even if I have gone seven games without scoring”.

Griezmann was booed off the pitch in Atleti’s scoreless draw with city rivals Real Madrid, as both clubs dropped to 10 points behind La Liga leaders Barcelona in the standings. There have been rumors swirling that Griezmann could even leave Atletico in January, with Diego Costa set to join the club.

On his game, with good service from midfield, Griezmann is one of the best attackers on the planet. But with Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and more, Manchester United already has the firepower to compete with the top of the Premier League

LIVE, UCL: Liverpool, Man City in action; Dortmund-Tottenham

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Three Premier League teams are in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday with Liverpool knowing a win at Sevilla will see them qualify for the knockout stage for the first time since 2009.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 

Jurgen Klopp‘s side head to Spain in good form after three consecutive wins in the Premier League and are in a very healthy position in Group E.

Tottenham Hotspur head to Borussia Dortmund with Spurs’ place in the last 16 already secured and Dortmund (Christian Pulisic is out of the squad with an injury) needing a win to keep their faint hopes of reaching the knockout stage alive with Real Madrid heading to APOEL Nicosia in Group H.

Manchester City have also secured their spot in the last 16 and host Feyenoord in Group F. The Dutch side have lost all four of their UCL games so far this season but have taken a huge number of traveling fans to Manchester and they can still qualify for the Europa League via finishing in third spot ahead of Shaktar Donetsk.

Elsewhere Monaco host RB Leipzig in a pivotal clash in Group G.

Click on the link above to follow commentary on all the action, while below is the full schedule as we will have reaction and analysis on all the UCL action on Tuesday.

All games kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET, unless otherwise stated.


Tuesday’s UCL schedule

Group E
Spartak Moscow 1-1 Maribor – FT
Sevilla vs. Liverpool

Group F
Manchester City vs. Feyenoord
Napoli vs. Shakhtar Donetsk

Group G
Monaco vs. RB Leipzig
Besiktas 1-1 FC Porto – FT

Group H
Borussia Dortmund vs. Tottenham Hotspur
APOEL vs. Real Madrid