Jose Mourinho desperate to scupper Liverpool’s title charge

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Sunday’s game between Liverpool and Chelsea (Watch live on NBCSN, 9:05 a.m. ET and online via Live Extra) was meant to be a title decider. Now, after Chelsea hit a sticky patch, it has become a shot at redemption for Jose Mourinho and his team.

Their mission: ruin Liverpool’s title hopes.

Even if Chelsea beat Liverpool it won’t do much for their faint title hopes; but this could be about revenge for Mourinho.

Cast your minds back to 2005. Almost exactly nine years ago Chelsea was at the height of their power under Mourinho, winning Premier League titles back-to-back and a force to be reckoned with in Europe. On May 3 they faced the second leg of their UEFA Champions League semifinal away at Anfield, in a winner takes all battle after drawing the first leg 0-0 at Stamford Bridge. Luis Garcia hooked the ball towards the goal at the Kop end. William Gallas hooked the ball off the line. Yet somehow, a goal was given and Liverpool advanced to the final of the UCL, where they eventually beat AC Milan in one of the most memorable finals in living memory.

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That was meant to be Mourinho’s Chelsea lifting the UCL trophy in Istanbul. That was meant to be his parade. Almost a decade on, the only trophy the ‘Special One’ hasn’t won as Chelsea’s boss is the Champions League. What followed was Mourinho starting a feud with then Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez and there’s been a mutual disdain between the Portuguese boss and Liverpool ever since. That has spread to the fans, as Sunday’s game is eagerly anticipated both on and off the pitch, especially after Mourinho accused Liverpool’s star man Luis Suarez of diving and believes he could injure his only fit goalkeeper, Mark Schwarzer. Oh, Jose.

Ahead of Sunday’s clash, Mourinho has been playing down the importance of it as it is sandwiched in between Chelsea’s two UCL semifinals with Atletico Madrid. They drew 0-0 in Madrid last Tuesday and have the second leg at home on Wednesday with a whole host of injury problems ravaging Mourinho’s squad. It is clear where the 50-year-old Portuguese bosses priorities lie. He is likely to play a ‘B squad’ against Liverpool on Sunday, with Mourinho complaining about Chelsea not getting help from the English FA.

“We represent English football and are the only team in European competitions,” Mourinho explained after the 0-0 draw with Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals of the Champions League. “Spain has four and gave them all the conditions to try to have success, so I know what I would do. But I’m not the club. I have to speak to them. I would play with the players who are not going to play Wednesday.”

“The fact that the (Liverpool) match is on Sunday, I think puts the problem not in my hands but in the hands of those who decide the game should be on Sunday and not Saturday or Friday.”

Yet, we shouldn’t underestimate how badly Mourinho wants to win on Sunday. Not for the glory of his squad, or that a victory will likely hand Manchester City the initiative in the title race, but because he is a stubborn man of principle, who never forgets when he is wronged like he was back at Anfield nine years ago. Yes, the referee looked to have made an incorrect decision back then, but Mourinho’s record at Anfield has been poor over the years.

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Mourinho and Rodgers worked together at Chelsea, now they will be enemies on the sidelines.

In eight games at Anfield as Chelsea boss, Mourinho won the first two games in 2005 but in the last six he has recorded just one win against the Reds.

Now, emphatically, he has a glorious chance to change that fortune around.

Add into the fact Mourinho’s manic outburst at referees following Chelsea’s shock defeat to Sunderland last Saturday, which cost him a third fine of the season from the FA, plus his request to play the ‘B squad’ during the week, and you have a man creating a staunch ‘us against them’ mentality at the Bridge.

Further fueling the fire is the fact that Mourinho’s former academy and reserve team manager during his first stint in charge of Chelsea was… Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers. Intertwining storylines have entangled Sunday’s clash as Mourinho and Chelsea aim to upset Anfield, Merseyside and neutrals around the world who want to see Liverpool win their first league title in 24 years.

Can Mourinho play the role of home-wrecker against Liverpool?

You bet your bottom dollar he’ll be trying his hardest to throw a spanner in the works of Liverpool’s ominous title machine. That knowledge alone will spur his Chelsea players on, as the master of the dark arts aims to conjure up a dastardly spell to dispatch an old demon which has been haunting him for quite some time.

Liverpool fans be warned, Jose is aiming to turn his track record at Anfield around. Starting this Sunday in Liverpool’s biggest game of the campaign.

Chicharito says Mexican team “always feels welcome” in the United States

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Mexico will take on Wales on Monday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA as they warm up for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Playing in the United States is nothing new for the USMNT’s southern neighbors, and it doesn’t phase them. In fact, they love it.

Star striker Chicharito told reporters that he and the rest of the squad is more than happy playing north of the border, because according to him, apart from a pair of venues, they can’t even tell they’re on the road.

“We always feel welcome here,” Chicharito said. “It’s like our second country, if we can say that, apart from Columbus [Ohio] and apart from the stadium in Miami when we played Colombia…those two stadiums, that’s the only time I’ve felt that we were the away team.”

Chicharito knows that the high population of his countrymen and women in the United States helps the Mexican team feel close to home when they play over the border. He’s all for the melting pot of the US.

“We feel at home [in the United States],” Chicharito said. “We have plenty of Mexicans here, so I don’t know what else to tell you, we feel welcome, we feel glad, happy to be in touch with those people here. They are sacrificing a lot of things, and they are all enjoying their lives that they decide to live in the USA…it’s great. It’s great when you come to another country and you feel like you are home. You see all the stadium green, shouting and screaming your names, screaming your goals, so yeah, it’s great.”

Mexico will play Wales on Monday at 9:00 p.m. ET, and will return home to take on Scotland at Azteca on Saturday at 8:00 p.m. ET.

England international Delph expecting child in middle of World Cup

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England international Fabian Delph could face quite the dilemma if England advances past the group stage of the World Cup.

Delph’s wife Natalie is expecting the couple’s third child on June 30, which is two days after their pivotal group stage match against Belgium, and two days before the squad would take the field July 1 for its Round of 16 game should they win Group G. If they finish second in the group, they would play their Round of 16 game on July 3.

When asked what his plans are, Delph joked that his wife would manage on her own. “She’s tough, she’s a Yorkshire lass so she’ll deal with it,” Delph said with a smile.

He then coughed up the truth: they’re not quite sure what the plan is.

“We’re not 100% certain, with a game on the 28th there might be an opportunity to fly back and then get back fast,” he said. “[England manager] Gareth [Southgate] has been fantastic. There’s nothing more important than family to me – family always comes first and always will.”

There’s another dilemma that Southgate must navigate involving Delph. The 28-year-old is a natural winger, but played wing-back in Pep Guardiola‘s title-winning system for much of the year and saw a massive uptick in form in the new role, playing in place of the injured Benjamin Mendy. Southgate must decide where he wants to deploy Delph – if at all – and if he wishes to fit his formation and tactics to mold Delph’s season under Guardiola.

Authorities drop assault charges against Hope Solo

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KIRKLAND, Wash. (AP) — Prosecutors in Washington state have dropped domestic violence charges against former U.S. national team star goalkeeper Hope Solo.

Solo was charged with two counts of fourth-degree assault in 2014 after police said she assaulted two family members at a home in Kirkland, east of Seattle. The case was delayed by appeals.

KING-TV reports that city prosecutors dropped the charges Wednesday, saying the witnesses in the case wanted to move on with their lives and did not want to participate in a trial. An attorney for Kirkland, Melissa Osman, wrote in court documents that the circumstances were unlikely to be repeated.

The longtime national team goalkeeper and two-time Olympic gold medalist recently ran unsuccessfully for president of the U.S. Soccer Federation. She has called for equal pay and equal treatment for the U.S. women’s team.

Mark Hughes signs new long-term contract at Southampton

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Mark Hughes has gone from Stoke City outcast to Southampton savior in little under six months time.

The Welsh boss was let go from Stoke City with the Potters 18th in the table and headed towards eventual relegation, but he was picked up by fellow relegation candidates Southampton after the departure of Mauricio Pellegrino. He steered the club to safety, finishing three points above the drop in 17th.

With the Saints in the top flight for another season, the club has announced the signing of Hughes to a new three-year contract.

“Mark, Eddie and I are thrilled to have signed long-term contracts with the club. It was the only option we considered, having spent the last eight weeks with the club,” Hughes said of himself and his assistant coaches Mark Bowen and Eddie Niedzwiecki. “Now it is vital that we take the unbelievable support we received from the fans during the last few games into next season. The staff and the players will work hard every day to deliver the success this club deserves, and with everyone pulling together we will achieve our goals.”

Hughes guided Stoke City to three consecutive ninth-placed finishes, the highest the club had ever finished in the English top flight, but they finished 13th last year and regressed even further this campaign. The sale of playmaker Marko Arnautovic was particularly damaging, and the club scored just 35 goals in 38 games as a result.

At Southampton, Hughes took over a club that sat in 17th with just eight matches to go. He lost three Premier League games in a row to start his tenure and only won two league matches with Saints the rest of the way, but managed to keep the club barely afloat.