Mourinho wields axe: Pogba, other stars to leave Man United

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Manchester United are reportedly ready to let Paul Pogba leave this summer.

According to multiple reports the French midfielder will be sold after this season as he continues to clash with manager Jose Mourinho.

Pogba, 25, has only completed 90 minutes in four of his last 11 games for United and was subbed in the second half of their shock home defeat against West Brom on Sunday, although Mourinho insisted that was because he was on a yellow card and he didn’t want to go down to 10-men.

Yet this situation between Pogba and Mourinho has been unraveling for some time as the former was left out of plenty of United squads, then Pep Guardiola revealed recently that Man City were offered the chance to buy Pogba in January, around the same time he was dropped by Mourinho in place of youngster Scott McTominay.

Things have deteriorated quickly for the club-record $130 million signing as he started the season superbly but then injury and a loss of form derailed his campaign. It now seems like Mourinho is ready to move on from Pogba.

As for some of United’s other stars, it is believed that Anthony Martial, Daley Blind and Matteo Darmian will all be sold this summer as Mourinho wants a huge clearance as he tries to close the gap on Manchester City who wrapped up the PL title on Sunday.

Looking ahead to United’s clash at Bournemouth on Wednesday (Watch live, 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as their battle for second place rumbles on — United are four points ahead of fourth-place Tottenham and one point ahead of third-place Liverpool — Mourinho said it is an audition for players to be starters for their huge FA Cup semifinal against Spurs at Wembley on Saturday.

“If I play someone against Bournemouth and he is phenomenal, he plays the semi-final,” Mourinho said. “The word is not rotation. This is an opportunity for some people to play and to try to get a place in the team. Some of the guys who played [against West Brom], they don’t have a place in that team. I only know one criteria [for choosing the team]. It is the way you play. This is the only way I can select players. Do you want me to go for the price they cost? Or their salary? Or their beautiful face? The only way is to go with performance.”

It seems like it’s not only Pogba who will be playing for his Manchester United in the final weeks of the season, with the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Ander Herrera also at risk of losing their starting spot.

Mourinho is on the war-path ahead of a key semifinal clash. If United finish second in the PL and win the FA Cup, that’s not a bad season, but if they finish in fourth and don’t win the FA Cup, it’s not a great season at all despite some progression.

PL Sunday preview: Man Utd to delay City’s party another week?

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Manchester United are the last hurdle standing between Manchester City and the Premier League title, a race which could come to its rather anti-climactic end on Sunday, while Arsenal continue battling for Champions League Europa League qualification…

[ MORE: Man City on the brink of PL title ]

Newcastle United vs. Arsenal — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

10th-place Newcastle entered the weekend every bit as hot as sixth-place Arsenal, with both sides having won three straight PL games ahead of Sunday’s clash at St. James’ Park. The Magpies have clawed their way back following a disastrous start to the season (just four wins from their first 18 games, including a run of one point from nine games from October to December) and are all but mathematically safe from relegation after knocking off fellow relegation battlers Southampton and Huddersfield Town, as well as eighth-place Leicester City. Rafa Benitez will surely feel this is one of the best coaching jobs of his illustrious career, given the (lack of) resources at his disposal in the summer.

For Arsenal, the top-four is no longer a possibility (they sit 13 points behind north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur), and even fifth appears a big ask with just five games to go (six points separate them from Chelsea). In short, Arsene Wenger is all-in on the Europa League, which will see them face Atletico Madrid in the semifinals beginning next week. Similarly to Newcastle, their three-game streak has come against sides all currently 12th or lower in the table (12th, 18th and 19th). After a late scare away to CSKA Moscow in Thursday’s quarterfinals second leg, expect a heavily rotated lineup on Sunday.

INJURIES: Newcastle — OUT: Jesus Gamez (ankle) | Arsenal — OUT: Henrikh Mkhitaryan (knee), David Ospina (ankle), Santi Cazorla (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Granit Xhaka (flu)

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Man City’s win over Spurs ]

Manchester United vs. West Brom — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Jose Mourinho’s Man United already delayed Man City’s PL title-winning party one week, and they have the chance to do it again on Sunday. City breezed past Tottenham on Saturday, leaving them three points from the title, which could also be achieved by a United loss to last-place West Brom at Old Trafford — an unlikely outcome, in all honesty.

“During the week I was trying to fight that result (the win over Man City) by working hard and trying to make the players understand that it’s not enough to deserve to finish second, we need the points to finish second,” Mourinho said this week. “Obviously to finish top-four we need four or five points, but to finish second we need much more than that and after three important points last weekend, we have to try to … be closer to the second position, which is, in this moment, our ambition.”

As for West Brom, their fate as a Championship side next season could be sealed as soon as next weekend. A loss on Sunday would mean the only way to avoid relegation is to win their final four games and Swansea City would have to lose all of their final five while overturning a minor goal-differential disadvantage (-19 to -26). An even more unlikely sequence of extraordinary events.

“From my discussions with the owners already, I know there is a genuine desire to build a team with greater goal power and attacking threat which can capture the fans’ imagination,” chief executive Mark Jenkins said this week. “In the event of our losing Premier League status, it will be a squad we will want to compete strongly for promotion back to the top tier.”

INJURIES: Man United — OUT: Phil Jones (fitness), Daley Blind (fitness), Sergio Romero (knee) | West Brom — OUT: Gareth Barry (knee), Hal Robson-Kanu (concussion), James Morrison (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Daniel Sturridge (hamstring), Nacer Chadli (thigh), Jonny Evans (knee)

PL Preview: Crystal Palace v. Man United

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  • Palace have never beaten United in 17 PL games
  • Crystal Palace have lost all eight PL games without Zaha this season
  • United haven’t lost three-straight PL away games since 1996

Crystal Palace host Manchester United on Monday at Selhurst Park (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Eagles hoping to cause a huge upset and drag themselves out of the bottom three.

As for Jose Mourinho and United, they will be hoping to move back into second place with a win and close the gap on runaway PL leaders Man City to 16 points. A victory would also see United move nine points clear of fifth-place Chelsea with nine games to go.

In team news Palace will once again be without start attacker Wilfried Zaha, but Martin Kelly and Jeffrey Schlupp are fit. United have Ander Herrera, Daley Blind, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo all out injured.


What they’re saying

Roy Hodgson on relegation battle: “There is no alternative but to keep your nerve. The secret is accepting you have no alternatives and to remain as calm as you can — and to never lose sight of the fact that the team will only survive if the team is good enough, works hard enough and does well enough on the field to get the necessary number of points.”

Jose Mourinho hits out at media criticism: “We have very good matches and we have very good periods of matches. Sometimes the media are a bit unfair with all of us, with myself, with the players. We are better than you say.”

Prediction

Even without Zaha, Palace will be a tough test for United. Roy Hodgson’s men drew against Man City at home and lost late on against Tottenham and there’s no doubting they’ll look to spring counter attacks and defend deep. I’m going for a 1-1 draw.

PL Preview: Burnley vs. Manchester United

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  • Burnley has 1 win vs. Man United in last 23 meetings
  • Manchester United has not conceded a goal in 2018
  • Paul Pogba is joint-top of the league with 9 assists

A critical top of the table battle comes our way from Turf Moor (!!) on Saturday as Manchester United travels to Burnley live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

WATCH LIVE, HERE

Since losing at Chelsea back in early November, Manchester United in unbeaten away from home and has won four of the five road matches. Burnley, meanwhile, has lost three matches in a row to start the new year and has not won in Premier League play since December 12th against Stoke City.

The goalscoring form of each team is also in stark contrast. Manchester United has not allowed a goal in any competition in 2018, and last conceded back on Boxing Day in a 2-2 draw with this Burnley side. The Clarets, meanwhile, have just one goal in their last three Premier League games and just three goals in their last six.

INJURIES: Burnley – OUT: Chris Wood (knee), Stephen Ward (knee), Jonathan Walters (knee). QUESTIONABLE: Chris Taylor (ribs). Manchester United – OUT: Daley Blind (undisclosed), Eric Bailly (ankle), Michael Carrick (heart), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee). QUESTIONABLE: Marouane Fellaini, Antonio Valencia.

What they’re saying

Burnley manager Sean Dyche on the gap in riches between clubs: “I don’t think any of us are surprised by the gap in the Premier League – I think it’s been there a long time and it’s getting harder year on year since the business model of football has changed.”

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho on focusing despite transfer rumors: “In this moment, [Henrikh] Mkhitaryan our player, [Alexis] Sanchez an Arsenal player and with a match tomorrow, I want to switch off and focus on the most important thing, which is the match.”

Prediction

Burnley may be coming back down to Earth, but they are still a formidable team with great organization, and Manchester United will be once again held to a draw, this time 1-1.

Mourinho: Willing to play Ibrahimovic behind Lukaku

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Jose Mourinho didn’t hate how Romelu Lukaku and Zlatan Ibrahimovic looked together despite Manchester United’s late loss at Bristol City in the League Cup on Wednesday.

So he may turn to the pairing again on Saturday when his Red Devils visit Leicester City for a 2:45 p.m. ET meeting at King Power Stadium (Watch live on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: El Clasico preview ]

Mourinho would use Ibrahimovic as a No. 10 with Lukaku, sitting just behind his fellow big striker. Ibrahimovic is not alien to playing a bit deeper in the formation, and in less structured systems like Paris Saint-Germain would drift into something more akin to “No.10” than center forward. From ManUtd.com:

“He played the last match [against Bristol City] in that period in the second half where we replaced Daley Blind with Lukaku and Lukaku played no.9 and Zlatan played no.10.”

“I know that was in the period where his energy was going down but, obviously, there are spaces where a no.10 plays and spaces where Ibrahimovic, even when he was clearly a no.9, feels comfortable to play. So, yes, why not?”

Why not, indeed? I like it more for the possibilities of changing the pace against a defense. Go from Martial-Lukaku-Rashford as a trident to twin towers atop a 4-4-2? Yes, please.