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.

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”