Jose Mourinho: Chelsea had Manchester United’s stars “in our pockets.” Is he right?

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LONDON — Jose Mourinho is the best in the business at grinding out a win.

On Saturday his Chelsea side increased their lead at the top of the Premier League table to 10 points after they beat Manchester United 1-0 at Stamford Bridge following a resolute, composed and ultra-defensive display.

[ RELATED: Three things we learned ]

Yes, Chelsea were out-played for most of the game and sat back to invite pressure from United but Mourinho insisted in his post-game press conference that letting United play the lead role was the plan all along. Then Eden Hazard delivered the moment of magic which sealed the victory.

“I think the team was fantastic and I am the one who knows how fantastic it was,” Mourinho said. “The game was exactly what we want and when you manage to play the game we want to play, it is fantastic. The game was exactly what we were working for the game to be. The players were magnificent and on top of that Eden [Hazard] had that magic that the top ones have, especially in the big matches. Obviously it was fundamental for us.”

Mourinho also added that “we prepared for it to be like this. It was the game we wanted and expected,” and the went on to claim that Chelsea’s gameplan had work perfectly and wasn’t as difficult as they’d expected it to be.

“It was difficult, but less than you think,” Mourinho said. “Control their direct football to Marouane Fellaini and control the wingers from making crosses on the inside foot. When we know Wayne Rooney plays in midfield, we control his progression into the box. Control set-pieces and don’t give away direct free-kicks as they have three specialists. Wait for a mistake and score a goal. We were able to make their important players disappear. Nobody saw them. They were in our pockets.”

[ RELATED: Van Gaal hails United’s “best match of season” ]

United had 70 percent of possession, 15 shots to Chelsea’s seven and hit the woodwork through Radamel Falcao. Falcao, Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney all went close after a mixture of slack shooting and brave blocks from Chelsea’s defense. Mourinho set up his side to thwart United’s attacking impetus and the likes of Fellaini and Mata were certainly nowhere near as influential as they’d been in previous games as the Red Devils’ six-game winning streak came to and end.

Mourinho — who worked under Louis van Gaal at Barcelona from 1997-2000 and considers the Dutchman a close friend — got one over the master, as the apprentice showed that he can shuffle his team and stifle opponents masterfully whenever he wants to. It might not win many plaudits or get people waxing lyrical about the Chelsea side of 2014-15 — even if in the early parts of the season Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa and others were ripping it up and playing sensational soccer before the trials and tribulations of fighting for four trophies took its toll on the squad — but these tactics get results. Will any Chelsea fan celebrating their inevitable PL title success on the Kings Road in late May when Mourinho and Co. are waving the trophy off an open top bus really stand there and say “well, this doesn’t feel great. We should have played more attractive soccer.” Of course not.

With Kurt Zouma deployed in the holding role alongside Nemanja Matic, Chelsea completley shut off the area in front of their back four and Fellaini had to drift wider and wider as the game wore on to try and see the ball. Mata was subbed off due to his ineffective display and even though van Gaal believed it was United’s “best match of the season,” they failed to score and Chelsea looked solid and steady to grind out their fourth one-goal win in a row.

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Chelsea’s players celebrated their win over United like they had won the PL.

It isn’t pretty, but it is championship form. Wins like Saturday, against a top team who are riding high and will no doubt continue their rebuild over the summer and challenge for the PL title next season, are exactly why the Blues will win the league.

Mourinho isn’t letting an air of complacency settle in at Stamford Bridge. That was evident when he was told that captain John Terry had said the league was all but Chelsea’s in a separate interview.

“No, and I am not happy if John said that,” Mourinho barked. “We need eight points to be champion. Football is not about if, it is not about almost. It is about mathematics and when mathematically it is done we celebrate. Until that moment, we need two victories and two draws to be champions.”

Mourinho insisted that despite a lengthy and incredibly jovial celebration from his players at the end of the game, he has not lost focus and will be “ready to work again next week and make the players feel there is still a long way to go.”

Same old Mourinho. Boring or not, his tactical masterclasses get results and away at Arsenal next week expect another stifling display from his side. If every manager could pull off his meticulous attention to defensive detail, then they would have no hesitation in doing so. The dark arts of defending first at all costs continue to get Mourinho and Chelsea results.

La Liga roundup: Griezmann shines in Barcelona’s 5-2 drubbing of Betis

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Wins from Barcelona and Atletico Madrid highlight La Liga’s Sunday action.

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Barcelona 5-2 Real Betis

Antoine Griezmann’s Camp Nou debut was one for the books.

With Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez sidelined with injuries, the floor was all Griezmann’s. He didn’t disappoint.

Down 1-0, Griezmann, sneaking past his markers inside the box, acrobatically tapped a lofting ball from Sergi Roberto into the back of the net.

The best was yet to come, however.

In the second half, as Barcelona pinned Real Betis back in their defensive third, the Frenchman’s magic came to life.

Soon after, the floodgates opened – Barcelona’s skill effortlessly began to pick apart a weaker Betis side. Just 30 minutes after the 28-year-old’s second goal, Ernesto Valverde’s side posed a 5-1 lead.

Loren Moron’s superb strike gave Betis a second, but the defending champions had already done the damage behind goals from Carles Perez, Jordi Alba, Arturo Vidal and Griezmann.

With Sunday’s performance in mind, how will Barcelona function with Messi, Suarez and Griezmann spearheading the attack?

Osasuna may soon find that out firsthand as they host the Catalonians next. Elsewhere, looking for their first points of the season, Betis host Leganes.

Leganes 0-1 Atletico Madrid 

With a goal in the 70th minute, Vitolo played the unlikely hero for Atletico Madrid in their 1-0 win over Leganes.

Following a smooth lay-off from Joao Felix, the 29-year-old calmly slotted the ball past Juan Soriano, ten minutes after replacing Mario Hermoso.

The goal certainly meant a lot to Vitolo and Atletico Madrid, who along with Sevilla, are one of two teams to start the season with six points after two matchweeks.

Although not entirely dominant throughout the course of the match, the home side was inches from stripping two points from Los Colchoneros with Jonathan Silva’s free-kick hitting the crossbar.

Despite having a pair of clear-cut opportunities on Sunday, Atletico’s $142 million summer signing is yet to celebrate his first La Liga goal. Alvaro Morata, too, is waiting to catch fire.

With Atletico hosting an underperforming Eibar next, the narrative that Simeone’s side is lacking efficiency in the attack can soon fall flat. On the other hand, no points to their name, will look to exploit a confidence-battered Real Betis.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Alaves 0-0 Espanyol

RCD Mallorca 0-1 Real Sociedad

Rapids name Robin Fraser as head coach

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) The Colorado Rapids have named former Major League Soccer player and longtime assistant Robin Fraser as their head coach.

Fraser steps in for Conor Casey, who’s been the interim coach since the team fired Anthony Hudson in May. Colorado is 7-14-6 and at the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Fraser’s first match in charge will be Saturday at the New York Red Bulls.

The 52-year-old Fraser has served as an assistant coach at Toronto FC since 2015.

Fraser was the fourth overall pick in the 1996 MLS player draft by the Los Angeles Galaxy. Over his career, Fraser suited up for the Galaxy, the Rapids and the Columbus Crew. He said in a statement Sunday he considers Colorado home because he’s so familiar with the soccer community.

Rapids general manager Padraig Smith said Fraser has a “deep knowledge of what it takes to be successful in MLS.”

Pochettino upset with attacking stars, speaks on Eriksen status

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Mauricio Pochettino might’ve understood Tottenham Hotspur dropping points last week at Man City, but he didn’t plan on not taking anything from Newcastle United on Sunday at home.

“You need the capacity to step up in this type of situation but we didn’t show that quality today,” Pochettino said. “When the ball arrives in the last third you need something from the talent and quality we have there and today we didn’t have that.”

[ RECAP: Spurs 0-1 Newcastle | Bruce reacts ]

So that’s pretty straight forward, but Pochettino was less happy to answer the question of why he didn’t start Christian Eriksen. Some (read: this writer) have questioned the philosophy of putting a man you may sell for $50 million on the bench. Either put him in the Starting XI and risk him, or leave him off the 18.

“When you lose, the players who don’t play are the best. With Christian we win and we lose a lot of games. I accept that situation is like this. If we won 3-0 today no one talks about different names.

“I cannot find excuses about the transfer window being open to justify that performance or the result. We cannot find the way to be solid and to have consistency for different reasons. I am going to be happy in 10 days after we play Arsenal when the transfer window closes in Europe and to have the player involved until the transfer window again in January.”

We’re not gonna read too much into it, but it does sound a bit like Pochettino is daring teams to bid for Eriksen. Would it make sense for him to hold onto Eriksen until January before cashing in?

Newcastle’s Bruce heard criticism, happy to beat Spurs

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Steve Bruce heard a lot of the criticism from fans upon his hiring at Newcastle United, and it rang out louder after the Magpies started 0-2 including a loss at newly-promoted Norwich City.

[ RECAP: Spurs 0-1 Newcastle ]

He may well hear plenty more down the road, but the childhood Newcastle supporter was feeling relieved and maybe redeemed after a fortunate and wonderful 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday. From the BBC:

“We came to this fantastic stadium, this fantastic club and we performed. I mean, to say I ‘cannot even do a warm up’ is mad. I have managed 900-odd games and over the years you would think there would be some sort of respect but I go back to the fact that whoever took over from Rafa Benitez was going to get the abuse.”

Newcastle faces struggling Watford at St. James’ Park next week, and another result will ease a lot of nerves (though certainly not all of them.