Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Three things we learned from Chelsea v Man United

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LONDON — Chelsea beat Manchester United 1-0 at Stamford Bridge on Sunday as the Blues breathed new life into their Premier League campaign.

[ MORE: Rivalry renewed – Conte v Mourinho ]

Alvaro Morata’s second half header was enough to beat Jose Mourinho’s men with United starting the game well but then pinned back by Chelsea after the opening 30 minutes.

The win sees Chelsea move just one point behind second-place United heading into the international break, while Manchester City’s lead at the top of the table has now been increased to eight points.

Here’s what we learned from a lively encounter in west London.


MORATA A MENACE

Even though he was adjudged to have fouled Phil Jones early on as the United center back shanked a clearance into his own net to score a spectacular own goal, Alvaro Morata had set the tone early.

The Spaniard was a menace for United’s defense all afternoon.

After his comments during the week to the Italian media which seemed to suggest he wasn’t enjoying life in London, Morata needed a big display. He delivered.

Morata’s towering header from Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross — the fifth time he and his countryman have linked up this season for a goal and an assist — won the game for Chelsea to lift some of the growing gloom around Antonio Conte‘s side following their 3-0 shellacking at AS Roma on Tuesday in the Champions League.

Morata had missed chances at Roma and at Bournemouth in recent weeks but despite his wastefulness he has eight goals in 15 games for Chelsea. Not a bad ratio for a striker still adjusting to life in the PL.

More impressive than his goal was Morata’s ability to bully United’s defense. In the first half he charged into Jones with a good old fashioned shoulder barge and sent the bustling United center back to the ground.

At times this season Morata’s inability to mix it up in the Premier League has been questioned. As a direct replacement for Diego Costa (a man who “mixed it up” for a living) Morata was said to be soft. On Sunday he was not with the only blot on his copybook getting it all wrong as he raced in on goal in stoppage time when he only had David De Gea to beat.


UNITED TOO CONCERNED WITH CHELSEA

Eden Hazard was a marked man on Sunday with Phil Jones, Ander Herrera and Eric Bailly rotating the man-marking job on Chelsea’s playmaker.

Despite early promise where Romelu Lukaku had a smart turn and shot saved and then Marcus Rashford nodded just over, United were never in the game after the opening 30 minutes. Don’t let the scoreline fool you.

Mourinho was ushering Bailly to step high on Hazard when United had the ball in Chelsea’s half from the very first whistle.

Once again, in a big game, United’s approach was too defensive and this time they didn’t get the result they wanted.

After a 0-0 draw at Liverpool and a 1-0 win against Tottenham Hotspur, Mourinho’s defensive masterclass didn’t work against Chelsea.

Maybe if he focused more on getting the ball to Lukaku and Rashford and involving Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the game they’d have forced the issue more than they did. Lukaku was a spectator for most of this game and will no doubt receive plenty of criticism for once again not delivering in a big game against a top six side, but he had little to no service.

Then again, this was a Mourinho team set up to play away from home in a defensive formation with Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia at wing back, three center backs and two holding midfielders. What else did we expect?


KANTE CONTINUES TO MAKE CHELSEA TICK

The last month has been a long one for Chelsea. That’s because they’ve been without N'Golo Kante.

In the six games Chelsea were without Kante in October, they only kept one clean sheet.

Kante, the reigning PFA Player of the Year, returned from a hamstring injury on Sunday and dominated midfield. The French international was everywhere, snapping at the heels of Lukaku and Rashford whenever they dropped back and stepping into defensive gaps when Gary Cahill or Azpilicueta surged forward.

He also kept Nemanja Matic (who has been a pivotal figure for United since he transfer from Chelsea in the summer) quiet as the diminutive Frenchman dominated in midfield.

We all know how important Kante is but his first lengthy injury spell of the last two seasons since he arrived in the PL proved it.

Chelsea are a completely different team with Kante in midfield and their defensive solidity is down to him. No one player makes a team but one player can make a heck of a difference. See: Kante, N’Golo.

Man United 1-0 Tottenham: Martial wins it late on

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  • Martial scores later winner
  • Lukaku hits post with header
  • United five wins from five at home

Manchester United beat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 at Old Trafford on Saturday as Anthony Martial jumped off the bench to net a late winner.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Jose Mourinho’s side had the better chances throughout with Romelu Lukaku hitting the post and Antonio Valencia fizzing a shot over in the second half, but Martial’s scruffy finish nine minutes from time gave United all three points in a tight battle between title contenders.

With the win United keep their 100 percent record at home and move on to 23 points, while Spurs suffered their first away defeat of the season and stay on 20 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

United started well with Marcus Rashford sending in a free kick which Hugo Lloris palmed wide but as the first half wore on, Spurs grew in confidence and dominated possession.

The best chance fell to Moussa Sissoko as David De Gea dropped a high cross from Ben Davies after Phil Jones backed into him but the French international blazed over from inside the box.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Dele Alli was involved in two major flashpoints as he went head-to-head with Ashley Young and was then on the end of a crunching tackle from Antonio Valencia.

Just before half time Eric Dier volleyed towards goal from a corner but De Gea saved as the teams went in level and scoreless.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ] 

United took the game to Spurs early in the second with Lloris spilling Henrikh Mkhitaryan‘s low shot but Ben Davies bailed him out with a wonderful clearance. Moments later Mkhitaryan flashed an effort across goal which Romelu Lukaku couldn’t get on the end of.

Spurs made a double sub as Fernando Llorente and Mousa Dembele came on, while United brought on Jesse Lingard after his two-goal performance in the League Cup in midweek.

Valencia smashed an effort inches over as United pushed for a winner late in the game as Spurs seemed happy to settle for a draw.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Lukaku raced clear but his shot across goal was palmed away by Lloris and at the other end Christian Eriksen blazed over from the edge of the box after he was left free. Alli then missed a great chance and his poked Eriksen’s cross wide and Spurs were made to rue that missed opportunity.

A long ball forward from De Gea was flicked on by Lukaku and Martial scuffed home the game-winner to send Old Trafford wild as he scored his fourth goal from the bench this season.

United head to Chelsea next week in the Premier League, while Spurs host Crystal Palace.

How will teams line up for Man United v. Tottenham?

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With Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur clashing in a huge battle at Old Trafford on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) there are plenty of lineup possibilities for Jose Mourinho and Mauricio Pochettino.

Rumblings about Harry Kane potentially out with an injury will have Spurs fans sleepless until Saturday, while United’s midfield and defense looks short with injuries to Maraoune Fellaini, Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly impacting their fine early-season form and perhaps a main reason why they lost to Huddersfield Town last time out in the PL.

Below is a look at our suggested lineups for the massive clash on Saturday between two title contenders and the teams many believe are the only ones who can stop Manchester City winning the Premier League this season.


JPW’s lineup selections for Manchester United vs. Tottenham

Manchester United

—– De Gea —–

—- Valencia —- Smalling — Jones —- Darmian —-

—- Matic —- Herrera —-

—- Mata —- Mkhitaryan —- Rashford —-

—– Lukaku —–

Tottenham Hotspur

—– Lloris —–

— Alderweireld — Sanchez — Vertonghen —

—- Aurier —- Dier —- Dembele —- Davies —-

—- Eriksen —- Dele —-

—– Kane —–


Conclusion

United have some defensive issues, as we saw in their defeat at Huddersfield Town. Victor Lindelof is taking time to settle into life in the Premier League and if Phil Jones and Eric Bailly are fit, they are United’s two first-choice center backs. Bailly is out but Jones should make this game but with Marcos Rojo.. Mourinho could slot Daley Blind in at center back, or even play with a 3-4-3 system he used in preseason to try and counteract Spurs’ favored system. In attack United have a plethora of options with Romelu Lukaku set to lead the line and three from Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard behind him.

For Spurs, it’s all about getting Kane fit and on the pitch at Old Trafford on Saturday. Not only would it be a huge blow for Spurs if the red-hot striker isn’t available, it would also be a huge psychological boost for United. Kane leads the PL with eight goals so far this season and has 13 in 12 in all competitions for Tottenham. Fernando Llorente could step in and do a similar job, but Tottenham revolve around Kane and his link-up play with Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen. They aren’t a one-man team, but they’re close to it. Elsewhere on the pitch, Mousa Dembele should make his long-awaited PL return in midfield and that would be a big boost for a game of this magnitude. Pochettino will stick with his 3-4-3 formation despite the shock collapse at home to West Ham in the League Cup in midweek, with a big decision on whether in-form Ben Davies starts over fit-again Danny Rose at left wing-back.

Tactics Session: Inside the mind of Kevin De Bruyne

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If not for Harry Kane‘s prolific scoring of goals during the early days of this season, Kevin De Bruyne would almost certainly be the early runaway favorite for 2017-18 Premier League Player of the Season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup | Sunday preview — Spurs vs. Liverpool ]

Alas, Kane, the one-season wonder that he is, seems hellbent on cracking the century mark in the PL this season, rather than waiting until 2018-19. This sets up what should be a thoroughly exhilarating seven-month battle between two polar opposite players — Kane, the goalscorer; and De Bruyne, the assist machine.

On Saturday, NBC Sports’ Robbie Earle delved into the mind of De Bruyne (above video) in light of last weekend’s 7-2 thrashing of Stoke City, during which De Bruyne notched another pair of assists to take season tally to five through eight games. Later on Saturday, De Bruyne added another in Man City’s 3-0 victory over Burnley.

[ MORE: Matchday experience — behind the scenes at Southampton ]

The first thing pointed out by Earle is the recovery — though deployed as more of a central midfielder on the day, De Bruyne sits wide with City in possession high up the field, just waiting for the opportune moment to surge forward and join the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero (now that he’s back from injury). When Jesus’ ball is too lightly weighted, De Bruyne reacts quickest to make the recovery.

From there, his head is up and scanning the entire field. One touch forward, and he’s already accounted for the positioning of each of his teammates, as well as the Stoke defenders, and every pocket of space into which he’ll either carry or play the ball. He knows the precise spot on the field he must get to in order to pull the defense to him, thus opening the necessary space (and time) for the final man — Sane, in this instance — to make his run in behind.

[ MORE: Mourinho — “We deserved the punishment of defeat” to Huddersfield ]

This is the part of De Bruyne’s game which he does better than anyone else in the world right now; no one can hold a candle KDB’s timing and vision — not Henrikh Mkhitaryan, not Isco, not Mesut Ozil, not even his brilliant teammate (and fellow six-assist man) David Silva. He’s almost operating at peak-Andres Iniesta level right now, which makes KDB and Co. appointment viewing every weekend.

Even now, after creating the passing lane and providing Sane the extra half-second to get level with his man before accelerating past in the blink of an eye. Even then, having seen the pass he has to play, there’s still the (major) matter of threading the needle through and around four defenders. On this occasion, the perfect pass is nearly 15 yards in front of Sane, and far less than that distance in front of the goalkeeper. An inch or two too short, it’s cleared by the right back; and inch or two too long, and the goalkeeper collects it easily.

As usual, no player in the world comes close to matching De Bruyne’s genius.

Rose, Gacinovic to Man United; Alli, Griezmann to Barca?

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It’s nowhere near January 1, but Manchester United (of course) have been linked with moves for two wide players.

Danny Rose continues to be linked with a move away from Tottenham Hotspur with the England international left back still out injured and his comments at the start of the season about wanting to be “paid what he deserves” still rings true.

With Ben Davies filing in ably for Rose over the past six months, that could persuade Daniel Levy to cash in on another full back if United offer over $60 million for the 27-year-old. Italian outlet Tuttomercatoweb say Jose Mourinho will come in with a fresh bid for Rose in January after missing out on him in the summer.

Another wide man United are keeping on eye, according to the Daily Mirror, is Eintracht Frankfurt winger Mijat Gacinovic.

The 22-year-old is regarded as one of the top attacking talents in the Bundesliga and it would explain why Mourinho was spotted in Austria last week wearing a baseball cap as he looked on sheepishly from the stands. Serbia (who have since qualified for the World Cup) lost 3-2 to Austria in a 2018 World Cup qualifier and Mourinho was said to be watching Gacinovic closely.

Gacinovic scored two goals in his first three games for Serbia and comes from the same youth team as Dusan Tadic at Vojvodina. With a deal for Ivan Perisic not coming to fruition following a summer-long chase, Mourinho could well swoop for the promising winger.

Quite why he needs another wide man with Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata all capable of playing those positions is beyond me. But Jose usually gets what he wants.


Tottenham’s Dele Alli has been linked with a move to Barcelona and Real Madrid as Barca turn their attentions away from Philippe Coutinho.

According to Sport, Alli, 21, is a key target for both Barca and Real and Real are also eyeing up a move for Harry Kane. Of course, we would be taking about monstrous transfer fees for both of these Tottenham and England stars but given Alli’s recent dip in form, perhaps Spurs would be more wiling to cash in on him compared to Kane.

Barcelona are said to believe that Spurs cannot keep hold of both of their star attackers and that enticing Alli away from north London, just a few weeks after he changed his agent, could be a lot easier to do.

Another star attacker said to be interesting Barca, according to Mundo Deportivo, is Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann.

The Frenchman decided to stay at Atleti last summer once their transfer ban was confirmed but now that Diego Costa is back at Atleti from January onwards, it is believed Barca will try and swoop in to meet Griezmann’s release clause of $117 million before July 1 when it doubles for the remaining five years of his contract at Atletico.

Griezmann, 26, looked set to move to Manchester United in the summer but Barca will be keen to make him their main man and his record of 86 goals in 167 games for Atleti has seen his star rise over the past three season.

Barca are keen to exploit this loophole in Griezmann’s contract and after all, they now better than most about the risks and rewards of release clauses.