Robbie Earle on Man United’s title hopes under Mourinho

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Robbie Earle believes Manchester United is slowing getting back to where they belong and Jose Mourinho will be given plenty of time to build a title-winning team.

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Speaking to Pro Soccer Talk at Old Trafford ahead of United’s big win against Chelsea last weekend, Earle reflects on his time playing against the Red Devils, plus what lies in store for the current team for the rest of this season and beyond under Mourinho.

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Here are Earle’s answers while we tucked into some lunch in the NBC Winnebago as the rain pounded down in Manchester.


Do you have fond memories of Old Trafford?

I’ve had good experiences where I’ve won and scored. I’ve had bad experiences where we’ve been hammered five one time and [Andy] Cole and [Dwight] Yorke were up front and absolutely on fire. They were pulling out overs and one twos and we were delirious. I was fortunate to know them both as obviously Yorkey was playing for Trinidad and Tobago and I was playing for Jamaica and Cole I got to know each other. I want to wish Cole well as unfortunately he’s having some issues and has had a kidney transplant recently, so I wish him a speedy recovery. One of the things we used to get against United, and I’m going back to the likes of Mark Hughes too, [Ryan] Giggs has been there but you think of Cole and Yorke, [Teddy] Sheringham, [Ole Gunnar] Solskjaer, [Ruud] van Nistelrooy, some great footballers which could win you games and be a difference maker. That’s what they had here and they’re all good players but the front four have been so good over time, just to win games and paper over the cracks defensively if you let one or two in.

Do they have those kind of players now?

No. And I would probably say it’s one of the things which is the big difference. They don’t have that, or those people. Zlatan has proved to be successful but I think the team has to play a certain way for Zlatan to get a goal and I’m not sure that’s conducive to the rest of the group. When Manchester United were at their best that front four was unbelievable, you had [Roy] Keane, Giggs, [Paul] Scholes who all had their special roles playing into that too. Recently Jose [Mourinho] has made a big deal about the lack of those goals a little too publicly for me and I always think with forwards you have to be careful. Many are cocky and arrogant but underneath there’s a little bit of an insecurity and if you hit that too hard you stifle some creativity, bravery, chance taking, which is what forward play is about. When I look at United in the final third right now and if they can be unpredictable, you kind of know what is coming and where it’s coming from. That helps other teams plug the gaps and is backed up by the 12 draws they’ve had this season.

Can Paul Pogba help provide that extra cutting-edge in the final third?

He can become that player in time. It will take a year or two for him to settle and become a great Manchester United player. No doubt he has got the potential. Looking at the past, David Beckham had good players around him when he came into the team. Ryan Giggs had good teams around him with McClair, Bruce and Schmeichel, good pros around him. Pogba needs those kind of players but the same sort players who are playing in this Manchester United team are struggling themselves, so they can’t really sort out Pogba because they’re thinking ‘I’ve got to keep my place in the team and look after myself.’ That would be something that’s the difference between United of the past and United now. People are still fighting for their own future at the football club and in some respects it feels a little bit like everybody for yourself at this point and that’s the way the dressing room is. You just have to get on with your job and make sure you are okay.

How much would not qualifying for the UEFA Champions League impact recruitment this summer and bringing in those top attacking players?

Hugely. It’s still Manchester United and still Jose Mourinho and there’s still an attraction but you’re talking about four or five teams now who can put in a different argument, maybe a better argument. They could say no only do you get the money and the stadium, there’s an argument now that if you’re a big player and both Man United and Spurs came in for you, and you’re getting similar money, there’s an argument that people may end up going to Spurs. You’re in London, playing for a great club, young manager, forward-thinking and Champions League football. That’s something new when it comes to United and we wouldn’t have experienced that for a long, long time.

If they do get the recruitment right, what can Mourinho achieve here?

He can win a title here. He knows how to win a title but he needs the right tools and the right people around him. Whether or not he will be given the time… I tend to think he’ll be given more time than people think. But he has the capabilities and understands what is required to win the title. I think he will get it right.

Money from Wembley replay will “support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years”

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Worst-case scenario for Tottenham Hotspur: drawing League One side Rochdale in Sunday’s FA Cup fifth-round clash; best-case scenario for the Dale: drawing the Premier League giants and forcing a replay at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

For a club the size of Rochdale — 10,200-seat stadium, and never been above the third tier of English soccer — the financial impact of raking in half of the game’s gate receipts “will support the club for the next two or three years,” according to manager Keith Hill — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t know how much it is worth but a lot of money has gone into the new pitch. That was a heavy investment for us. Hopefully the money we make will support the club for the next two or three years. We will cut our cloth accordingly and we won’t be in debt.”

As for Steve Davies’ 93rd-minute equalizer, Hill was adamant that it was nothing short of what they “deserved”:

“It was a feeling of reward, not relief, because the performance deserved at least the opportunity for us to go to Wembley for a replay. I’ve always wanted to do that against a Premier League team and manager. Why not take them on and try to win? It could have been football suicide but I thought we gained their respect and to score the goal we did was tremendous. The players were magnificent.”

Tottenham Hotspur, soccer philanthropists.

Try, try again: Messi seeks 1st goal vs. Chelsea in 9th attempt

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LONDON (AP) As unlikely as it sounds, Lionel Messi is still waiting to score his first goal against Chelsea after drawing a blank in eight previous Champions League matches.

The five-time World Player of the Year is likely to get another chance to break his duck this week and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte believes the past will count for little when Barcelona visits Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

“I hope we maintain this tradition but we are speaking about a fantastic player,” Conte said ahead of the last-16, first-leg Champions League game. “The most important thing is the present.

“We must have great respect but at the same time we must be excited to play this type of game and take on this type of challenge. It won’t be easy because we know very well this player, we are talking about one of the best in the world.”

The teams have produced some epic games in the past although they have not met in the Champions League since Chelsea pulled off a remarkable backs-to-the-wall semifinal victory over Barcelona on the way to winning the trophy in 2012.

Messi missed a penalty in the second leg at the Nou Camp as the London club overcame the first-half dismissal of captain John Terry, and a 2-0 deficit, to draw the game 2-2 and secure an unforgettable 3-2 aggregate win.

Bayern Munich hosts Besiktas in Tuesday’s other game while the following day sees Manchester United traveling to Sevilla, and Shakhtar Donetsk playing host to Roma.

Two weeks ago, the prospect of a Chelsea win over Barca would have been unthinkable after Conte’s men had slumped to successive defeats by two of the Premier League’s lesser lights.

The London club was still smarting from a 3-0 home loss against Bournemouth when it traveled to Watford and succumbed to an embarrassing 4-1 reverse.

Chelsea has got back on track since then, though, easing past West Bromwich Albion 3-0 in the league last Monday before swatting aside second-tier Hull 4-0 in the FA Cup four days later.

Conte has several selection dilemmas. He must choose between captain Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger for a place at the back, and between Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud up front.

Cesc Fabregas will also be desperate to play against his former team but may have to settle for a spot on the bench.

Barca has lost only once in 38 matches this season since falling in the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid in August. It has a seven-point lead at the top of La Liga and has reached the final of the Copa del Rey.

Messi is having another stellar campaign, scoring 27 times in all competitions, and he helped set up two goals in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Eibar.

Philippe Coutinho is ineligible for Barca following his move from Liverpool.

Mourinho claiming injury crisis ahead of CL showdown

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The next three weeks will go a long way toward defining Jose Mourinho’s second season at Manchester United, with the Red Devils facing not only fellow top-four aspirers Chelsea and Liverpool, but also contesting their Champions League round-of-16 tie with Sevilla.

[ MORE: VAR provider admits incorrect graphic displayed on TV ]

Thus, it’s not exactly the most convenient time for the words “injury crisis” to rear their ugly heads yet again, but that’s the challenge Mourinho claims he faces ahead of Wednesday’s CL clash.

Paul Pogba missed Saturday’s FA Cup victory with a last-minute illness; Marcus Rashford is dealing with a leg injury and remains questionable, as are Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Marouane Fellaini are all but officially out, according to Mourinho — quotes from ESPN.co.uk:

“I didn’t rest one single player so we had today every player available here. I didn’t rest anyone. I brought two kids that played on Friday 90 minutes [for the under-23s] because I don’t have another player, so we arrive at this crucial moment with some problems.”

“Can we recover some of them to Wednesday? I believe so. I think Rashford, Herrera, Valencia — I think they have a chance.

“Paul, I don’t know. Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Marouane, Zlatan — I don’t think they have any chance.”

Mourinho dealt with a similar rash of injuries very late on last season, as his side barreled its way into, and eventually won, the Europa League final, securing a place in the CL this season. With a top-four finish all but out of reach at the time, Mourinho opted to rest his bare-bones group of first-team regulars in Premier League action and prioritize Europe’s “other” competition.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

This time around, United sit second in the PL table, just four points clear of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur, and the path to winning the CL will prove far more difficult than taking on the likes of Saint-Etienne, Rostov, Anderlecht, Celta Vigo and Ajax.

Serie A: Napoli, Juve hold serve in 1-point title race

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona now 31 games unbeaten | Real Madrid 17 points behind ]

Napoli 1-0 SPAL 2013

The battle for Serie A supremacy isn’t ending anytime soon, as Napoli and Juventus continue to match one another (nine straight wins for each side) in Europe’s only remaining major title race.

On Sunday, they even traded 1-0 victories — Napoli at home to SPAL 2013, with Juve triumphing over Torino in the Turin derby.

Brazilian midfielder Allan bagged the only goal for Napoli after just six minutes, finishing off a mesmerizing, free-flowing move that’s become synonymous with Napoli this season. The video-assisting referee came into play just after the hour mark, when Marek Hamsik headed home to make it 2-0 before the VAR wiped it away for offside.

Napoli’s current nine-game winning streak is the longest in club history.

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Juve’s victory came at something of a cost, though, as star striker Gonzalo Higuain was lost to an ankle injury after just a quarter-hour (the injury occurred after just three minutes), followed by a potentially serious knee injury for Federico Bernardeschi, who replaced Higuain, in second-half stoppage time. Higuain isn’t expected to miss significant time, with the club calling it a twisted ankle.

In between the injuries came Alex Sandro‘s 33rd-minute winner, a tap-in from close range masterfully set up by Bernardeschi. One additional positive for Juve: Sunday also saw Paulo Dybala return after missing five weeks with a hamstring injury. The Argentine star entered as a second-half substitute.

“Paulo played 30 minutes at a good level,” Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri said. “I’m pleased with his and everyone else’s performance. This is a good result against a well-organized Torino side.”

Elsewhere in Serie A

AC Milan 1-0 Sampdoria
Atalanta 1-1 Fiorentina
Bologna 2-1 Sassuolo
Benevento 3-2 Crotone