Romelu Lukaku

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

PL Sunday preview: Can Man United, Liverpool keep pace?

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Highly unlikely to overcome 14- and 21-point deficits in the title race, respectively, Manchester United and Liverpool — along with the rest of the Premier League’s top-six — are merely in a race for second. West Bromwich Albion and Bournemouth — their opponents on Sunday, respectively — fear relegation.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Man City untouchable; Chelsea, Arsenal win narrowly ]

West Brom vs. Manchester United — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Try telling Jose Mourinho, the only man in the PL still refusing to concede the title to Manchester City, that the title race is over. The performances have often been ugly and ground out until the final whistle — especially in the absence of Paul Pogba, who’ll once again be unavailable through suspension — but Mourinho’s men have won five of their last six (the only defeat coming last weekend, to Man City) as they head into Sunday’s annual trip to the Hawthorns, where they’ll face 19th-place West Brom. The Baggies haven’t won in their last 15 PL outings (eight draws), a woeful run which dates back to the second week of the 2017-18 season.

While United have been nearly impenetrable defensively (11 goals conceded in 17 games), a pair of costly errors — each committed by star striker Romelu Lukaku — cost the Red Devils dearly against City, as did their recurring inability (against the PL’s top teams) to control the game through possession and create scoring chances with consistency. The same struggles reared their ugly heads in a 1-0 victory over Bournemouth on Wednesday.

As poor as the results have been over the course of four months, West Brom can hang their hat on a decent defensive record — just 22 goals conceded in 17 games, which puts them squarely in the middle of the table. If Alan Pardew‘s side sets out to defend for 90 minutes, the Baggies might just get something out of Sunday’s clash. Pardew was quite pleased by the improvements he saw during Wednesday’s 0-0 draw with Liverpool, and he’s hoping for a repeat performance against United.

“We kept them very quiet and created on transition better moments, in the limited number that we had, than we did at Swansea,” he said. “That’s an improvement, but still an area to work on. We had some really strong performances — and if you get four or five ‘eights’ in your team that normally constitutes points.”

INJURIES: West Brom — OUT: Nacer Chadli (hip), Matt Phillips (hamstring), Craig Dawson (knee), James Morrison (achilles); RETURNING: Gareth Barry (thigh)| Man United — OUT: Paul Pogba (suspension), Eric Bailly (ankle), Marouane Fellaini (knee), Michael Carrick (heart)


Bournemouth vs. Liverpool — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Every time Liverpool take a step or two forward, they take a step or two right back to where they began. Case in point: back-to-back wins over Stoke City and Bright & Hove Albion, by a combined score of 8-1, which briefly vaulted them ahead of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur in the race for the top-four; followed by back-to-back draws against bottom-half sides Everton and West Brom.

With that side, Jurgen Klopp‘s side is unbeaten in its last eight league games and boasts one of the league’s most potent attacking records (34 goals conceded in 17 games — third-most behind the two Manchester clubs).

Cherries boss Eddie Howe was encouraged by his side’s performances in that narrow loss to United, and the 40-year-old can sense that better days are on the near horizon.

“We’re disappointed because we’ve been beaten, but I’m really pleased with the performance,” he said. “I thought we were very good today and were very disciplined out of possession. We were also very good with the ball and created numerous chances. We really did establish ourselves in the game very early and there were some really good individual performances today. The team functioned very well.”

INJURIES: Bournemouth — OUT: Tyrone Mings (back), Brad Smith (hip), Adam Federici (knee) | Liverpool — OUT: Alberto Moreno (ankle), Adam Lallana (fitness), Joel Matip (thigh), Nathaniel Clyne (back), Emre Can (suspensions); QUESTIONABLE: Daniel Sturridge (hamstring)

Mourinho: Derby defeat didn’t help, but United overcame fatigue

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Jose Mourinho said the Manchester Derby nearly caught up to his men in Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Bournemouth at Old Trafford.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 1-0 Bournemouth ]

The Manchester United manager says that’s not on account of emotions or let down, but simply the volume of matches his Red Devils have played and the extra rest afford the visitors.

Romelu Lukaku climbed Nathan Ake to find United its opener, and the hosts were defending plenty in the second half. But United was able to endure on a soggy night at home, and maintain its place second on the Premier League table.

From the BBC:

“Fatigue, yes, but hangover – no. The game was a big one, and a defeat does not help in your recovery – victories help, defeats don’t. They were difficult opponents and difficult conditions. If we had scored the second it would have been a calm night for us.”

That said, this felt like one of the matches United would’ve drawn last season, and Lukaku was a difference maker as were David De Gea and Phil Jones at the back.

And Mourinho would not mail in the title race despite Man City’s 11-point advantage and continued league dominance.

“It is only over in May, if it is over now I go on holiday to Brazil or Los Angeles.”

Manchester United 1-0 Bournemouth: Lukaku nets winner

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  • Early Lukaku goal stands up
  • Cherries outshoot hosts 14-9
  • United three clear of Chelsea

Manchester United remains second in the Premier League following a 1-0 win over Bournemouth at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Romelu Lukaku headed home in the 25th minute to move United to 38 points, 11 behind Man City and three ahead of Chelsea.

Bournemouth remains 14th with 16 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

A bit of sloppiness plagued United, who was well in control of the early proceedings apart from the less than ideal passes.

Anthony Martial tried a clever cross from outside the 18 that missed both Romelu Lukaku and Juan Mata at the back post.

At the other end, Phil Jones cut out a Callum Wilson left-footed rip for a throw. David De Gea then made two interventions including a stop on Charlie Daniels.

You’d think Lukaku was a former Cherry the way he mildly celebrated his opener, nodding a Mata cross past Asmir Begovic.

De Gea managed typical heroics when he got went low to stop a slippery bounding Wilson should through traffic.

Martial missed a sitter as the second half wore on, with Lukaku’s cut back going for naught.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

PL AT HALF: Man City, Leicester rolling; Everton leads away

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Seven Premier League matches are rioting through Wednesday, with five Top Four contenders in play.

[ LIVE: Stream every Premier League game ]

Swansea City 0-2 Manchester City

David Silva made it 1-0 before a seeing-eye free kick from Kevin De Bruyne (above) doubled the advantage.

Southampton 0-3 Leicester City

Riyad Mahrez, Shinji Okazaki, and Andy King have all scored as Claude Puel‘s Foxes are helping him extract revenge from his former side.

Manchester United 1-0 Bournemouth

It’s a rainy, rainy night at Old Trafford, where Romelu Lukaku has headed a Juan Mata cross past Asmir Begovic.

Liverpool 0-0 West Bromwich Albion

The Reds haven’t found too many ways past the packed-in Baggies.

Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Brighton and Hove Albion

Unlikely goal scorer Serge Aurier‘s 40th minute goal has Spurs ahead at Wembley, as the Ivorian’s cross drifted over the keeper and into the upper 90.

West Ham United 0-0 Arsenal

Not much cooking at the London Stadium.

Newcastle United 0-1 Everton

Matt Ritchie and Mikel Merino have struck the wood work for Newcastle, whose goalkeeper helped Wayne Rooney nab another Toffees goal.

 

Mourinho slams “lucky” City as Guardiola digs deeper under his skin

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MANCHESTER — The defining moment of the soccer renaissance in Manchester arrived on Sunday.

[ MORE: Three things we learned

Manchester City won the battle, 2-1, and they’re clearly winning the war with Pep Guardiola not only leading a swashbuckling side towards the Premier League title at a canter, but also exposing the weaknesses of Manchester United and Jose Mourinho in the process.

Throughout the game City’s fans jeered long balls up to Romelu Lukaku by United as Mourinho’s side badly missed the dynamism of Paul Pogba in midfield.

“Park the bus, park the bus Man United! Playing football the Mourinho way!” was the chant from the City fans. They echoed the thoughts of those watching on across the globe.

Mourinho and Guardiola’s soccer ideologies are from different planets and City are currently in another world when it comes to their form in the Premier League following a record-breaking 14-straight win. Guardiola is running away with the head-to-head battle.

As expected, his old sparring partner didn’t take the defeat well as United lost for the first time at home in 24 Premier League games (their last defeat came against City last September) and also fell 11 points behind the Premier League leaders in the process.

Speaking to media outlets after the game, Mourinho admitted that United’s title hopes are “probably” over before hitting out at referee Michael Oliver about not awarding a penalty kick in the second half when Ander Herrera went down in the box and was booked for simulation.

“Manchester City are a very good team and they are protected by the luck, and the gods of football are behind them,” Mourinho told the BBC.

It was a case of clear deflection from Mourinho as Herrera clearly went down easily and was looking for the penalty kick.

After lambasting Man City for being lucky, Mourinho went into more depth in his press conference after the game about the decision to not award his team a penalty.

“It was like last season. Exactly the same,” Mourinho said. “We can speak about anything you want. You can bring any football theory, you can bring the stats, the possession, everything you want, but like last season it was a huge penalty in a crucial moment of the game. But I also say I feel sorry for Michael Oliver because I think he had a very good game with the intention to have the perfect work, which he almost did.”

Guardiola was having none of it.

City dominated possession, had 14 shots and were in total control of the game throughout. What did Guardiola make about Mourinho calling City “lucky” in their derby win?

“Last season was the same. We won because we were better in all departments. We were better,” Guardiola said. “I don’t know the plan for my opponent but we came here to try to win the game. We did it the same at Stamford Bridge and here again, on two big stages. At half time I said to my players, I am not going to talk about tactics, just the substitution. But we didn’t make any comments about the tactics… We came here like we did in Stamford Bridge and all the games since I came here, to try to win. I’m so happy. The people say in England you can’t play in that way in England, but we can play in that way as well.”

He’s right.

After his first full season in the Premier League in 2016-17, many scoffed at Guardiola, the soccer idealist who had been proved wrong with his supposed arrogance that he could blow the English top-flight apart playing champagne soccer. Yes, he’s been handed a huge amount of cash to overhaul his squad, but Mourinho hasn’t been short of funds at United either.

Both have improved their respective clubs dramatically over the past 18 months but Guardiola seems to be building something more sustainable and impressive than Mourinho.

As for this encounter, where United hung in there but never truly looked like beating City, did Mourinho feel his rivals dominated the 175th Manchester derby?

“It depends on how you analyze it,” Mourinho said. “It depends on what we want to let them do. But I think when you see Man City play you expect Man City to score great goals, not to score two disgraceful goals. Those are the last goals you expect to concede against a top quality team. Two very bad goals with one corner and one free kick with rebounds. Incredibly unlucky from the defending perspective. Yes, they had much more of the ball. Yes, they had that apparent control of the game, but the biggest save of the game is the double save by their goalkeeper and the biggest decision of the game is an unlucky decision of Michael [Oliver].”

Can United claw back the deficit?

“It is a significant distance,” Mourinho said. “I don’t know. I know we can win next Wednesday. Win, or lose, or draw. I know that we can win next Wednesday and we are going to work and fight for it, match after match,  and every match we are going to give everything with our qualities, with our problems, that is what we do all the time.”

The only problem is, Sunday proved that Manchester City’s quality is far superior to Manchester United in all departments and there’s little Mourinho can do about it.

Just like in his Real Madrid days, he is being dominated by Guardiola who is, once again, managing a bitter rival.

The Special One is seething as he looks on enviously across Manchester with Guardiola’s brand of play revered across the globe while his is ridiculed by opposition fans and neutrals alike.

Nothing will get under Mourinho’s skin more.