Mourinho wins tactical battle, calls out “defensive” Liverpool

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LIVERPOOL — Jose Mourinho went to Anfield to get at least a point. In true form, he got it.

[ MORE: 3 things learned ]

Despite most seeing it otherwise, Mourinho thought that Liverpool set themselves up for a draw on Monday night in the 0-0 draw, even though Jurgen Klopp‘s side had 65 percent of the possession and three very good chances in the second half.

[ MORE: Klopp reacts ]

Speaking to the media after the game, Mourinho wasn’t in a mood to mince his words when referring to United’s bitter rivals Liverpool and had a subtle dig at their overly defensive display.

“They are a very good team. You like to say that they are the last wonder of the world in attacking football but they are also a team that defends and thinks defensively,” Mourinho said. “I think the fact that they played Can and Henderson together to control the position where Paul should be more in control. We thought they were going to play with only one player there but they played with two.”

Okay, Jose.

There was no doubt United’s manager and fans would have been the happier with the draw as Klopp and Liverpool (the top scorers in the Premier League in 2016 and this season) were left frustrated. Liverpool’s manager spoke of his disappointment about being drawn into a “hectic” game and not being better when they had the ball.

They payed into United hands and Mourinho thought his side put in a mature display.

“We controlled the game tactically. We controlled the game emotionally. It is not easy to do both things. The result is acceptable,” Mourinho said. “We wanted more. For long periods in the game we thought that could be possible but we didn’t score. You don’t score you don’t win. I think it was a very positive performance. We stopped them to play but they also did very well on the defensive point of view. They played Can and Henderson for some reason and they did that for 90 minutes. They normally present more players in attack. They were very cautious. I think it was their intention to try and control this, which they also did well.”

As for United’s defensive display, which was very good as Antonio Valencia and Daley Blind shut down the flanks and Daniel Sturridge was a virtual spectator up front, we’ve seen this so many times before.

Remember two years ago at Anfield when Mourinho’s Chelsea side sat back and beat Liverpool 2-0 with two counter attacks (aided by that slip from Steven Gerrard)? Yep, we all remember Mourinho pounding his chest in glee at full time as Chelsea dashed Liverpool’s title hopes.

This was another classic Mourinho away day display as his team sat back, harassed opponents into rushing their play and then waited for one or two chances to pounce. A glorious chance arrived early in the second half in this game as Paul Pogba crossed for Zlatan Ibrahimovic but he should’ve done better with a tame header across goal.

Mourinho admitted Zlatan’s header was “a great chance” but also praised Pogba, and his entire team, for their defensive work.

“I think like everybody else the defensive side of the game I think it was perfect, even the goalkeeper who was on holiday for 90 minutes. He had two big saves to do and he did,” Mourinho said. “When we recovered the ball I was expecting the team to be more dangerous in spite of us having a couple of dangerous chances.”

There was no doubt that Ander Herrera was United’s man of the match. He epitomized this stingy defensive display, if not walking a fine line with some of his fouls, especially in the first half. The Spanish midfielder was the key man in midfield, clogging things up and stopping Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino getting on the ball.

ProSoccerTalk asked Mourinho for his thoughts on Herrera.

“Ander played well but he was surrounded by people who played well. Fellaini played well. Ashley Young played well. Marcus Rashford played well. We closed the sides so well,” Mourinho told ProSoccerTalk. “Ander was completely on the job on Coutinho. He played very well, recovered a lot of balls, gave always a way to get out of their pressing and was very calm in possession.”

So, with United only having 35 percent of the play (Mourinho later came back into the press room to argue his side had 42 percent of the ball) and seemingly focused more on restricting Liverpool than attacking, is this a style we will see deployed by United away from home under Mourinho? He didn’t miss a chance to have another subtle dig at Liverpool.

“You have to be critical of Liverpool not us,” Mourinho said, sharply. “65 percent possession and two shots is there problem. Not our problem.”

Same old Mourinho. Then again, what did we expect?

James says he was not knocked unconscious in Wales draw

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Head injury awareness again rose to the forefront in the 1-1 draw between Wales and Croatia in Cardiff when Daniel James went down after colliding with a pair of opponents.

The Manchester United winger looked to almost sure have been knocked unconscious when Domagoj Vida’s knee appeared to tap the back of his head while challenging for a ball in the air. Vida went toppling over the back of teammate Borna Barisic who ducked out of the way, but it was James who many were concerned for as he lay motionless on his back with his eyes closed.

Yet James was allowed to come back onto the field and completed the full 90 minutes, sparking criticism from injury advocates and fans who were concerned for James’ safety on the field, at potential risk for even more serious consequences should he indeed have suffered a concussion.

After the game however, despite what fans saw as James lie on the turf, the 21-year-old insisted he was not knocked unconscious. “I’m fine,” James claimed after the match, speaking to Sky Sports. “I think he just caught me in the head but I didn’t get knocked out fortunately.”

Wales boss Ryan Giggs backed up the decision as well, calling James’ motionless display “a bit of acting.”

“The medical staff went over, he was compos mentis and we did all the checks at half-time and he was fine,” Giggs said, referring to the latin phrase for “of sound mind.”

ESPN broadcaster Taylor Twellman, who has been outspoken over the past few years advocating for head injury awareness after his career was cut short by concussions, took to Twitter to criticize Wales for allowing James back into the game. Twellman, who was on the ESPN call of the broadcast with Ian Darke, said more needs to be done to prevent players from being able to force their way back onto the field, lest someone be killed by second impact syndrome.

Former Hull City player Ryan Mason, who was forced to retire after a serious skull fracture saw him fighting for his life, was also seriously concerned about the incident.

Interestingly enough, later in the match just seconds after the second half restart, young Wales midfielder Ethan Ampadu was whalloped from behind by Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic in a wild and reckless aerial challenge. Petkovic’s elbow went clattering into the back of Ampadu’s head, and the was left writhing on the ground holding his head. The Chelsea youngster was taken off the field and immediately replaced by Joe Morrell, while Petkovic was lucky to escape with just a yellow card.

Kane reflects on Tottenham, England struggles

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Harry Kane keeps finding the back of the net, but his teams keep losing.

The 26-year-old striker has bagged five Premier League goals in eight games for Spurs thus far, plus another seven goals for England in five Euro 2020 qualifiers this cycle. Yet Tottenham sits ninth in the table after three losses already this season, while England slumped to its first Euro defeat last time out, putting its seeding at the Euro finals next summer in jeopardy.

Kane is hoping to be a leader through the tough times for both club and country, wearing the armband for both as it currently stands.

“I think you need to lead by example,” Kane said ahead of England’s visit to Bulgaria on Monday. “Not getting too down when you lose a game, not getting too high when you win games. It is a long, old season for club and country ahead – a lot of games to be played so there are going to be tough periods.”

Kane has taken over the England captaincy on a permanent basis, and is filling in for the injured Hugo Lloris at Tottenham. “I am still the same person,” he said. “I still try and lead by example on and off the pitch and I will continue to do that. I have been in high pressure situations before in my career, whether that is going through goal droughts, playing in high-pressure games or not playing well as a team. It is something I will take in my stride and improve on.”

Leading by example includes finding the back of the net, while also supporting teammates both on and off the pitch. He knows even if he’s in good personal form on the stat sheet, there’s always ways to improve and help the squads through tough times.

“I am scoring goals but can I get more assists, create more chances? So yeah, I always look at little things I can get better at. Yes, the England form has been good but as ever, it can be better. We will see if I can continue scoring. It has been a good campaign but important I do not stop now.”

Euro qualifying: Gundogan saves 10-man Germany, Bale earns Wales draw

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Germany played for much of its visit to Estonia with 10 men as Emre Can was sent off for a bad last-man tackle just 14 minutes in, but Ilkay Gundogan‘s second-half brace saw Germany slide through with all three points on a 3-0 win to jump back on top of Group C. The all-important first came on a deflected effort from just outside the box to the right of center, while his second came minutes later with a shot from nearly the same place but just inside the area. Timo Werner added the third with under 20 minutes to go.

Wales secured a 1-1 draw at home against Croatia, but both sides will have greivences with the refereeing. Daniel James was taken out by Dejan Lovren on the edge of the box eight minutes in and likely should have been a penalty kick as the Liverpool defender barged James over without playing the ball. After Nikola Vlasic put Croatia ahead moments later, Gareth Bale would equalize just before halftime one a silky play through the Croatian defense, but a foul in the buildup wasn’t called that would have stopped play before the goalscoring moment.

There were also a pair of scary moments that involved nasty-looking head injuries. James came together with a pair of Croatians in the first half, and while it looked initially like Borna Barisic and Domagoj Vida had taken the brunt of the clash, James appeared to lose consciousness thanks to a knee in the back of his head. Despite the appearance of a clear distressing head injury, James was allowed to continue. Just second after the halftime break, Ethan Ampadu settled under the ball for a header until Bruno Petkovic blasted through his torso from behind, sending the Welsh midfielder to the ground awkwardly, holding his head in agony. Petkovic came in so hard that he earned a yellow card and maybe could have even seen red on another day. Ampadu was not allowed to continue, replaced immediately by Joe Morrell. Also notable in the match, Mateo Kovacic was taken off at halftime after appearing to pick up a muscle problem.

Austria held on for a 1-0 victory over Slovenia to temporarily jump into the lead in Group G, ahead of Poland on goal differential. Hoffenheim defender Stefan Posch scored the game’s only goal, a 21st minute effort off a corner. The back line did the rest, holding the hosts to just two shots on target in Ljubljana.

Poland secured qualification to the finals with a 2-0 win over North Macedonia behind goals from Przemyslaw Frankowski and Arkadiusz Milik, both which came in the final 20 minutes. The first was a messy finish from Chicago Fire winger Frankowski, collecting a flubbed Robert Lewandowski shot and poking it through past goakeeper Stole Dimitrievski. The second goal was much prettier, with the referee playing advantage after Lewandowski was fouled, and Milik delivered a delicious looper into the far corner.

Click here to see a roundup of the action from the early slate of games, including wins by Belgium, the Netherlands, and Russia.

Full Sunday Euro 2020 qualification scoreboard:

Kazakhstan 0-2 Belgium
Belarus 1-2 Netherlands
Cyprus 0-5 Russia
Hungary 1-0 Azerbaijan
Scotland 6-0 San Marino
Estonia 0-3 Germany
Poland 2-0 North Macedonia
Slovenia 0-1 Austria
Wales 1-1 Croatia

Teams who have secured guaranteed Euro 2020 qualification:

Italy
Belgium
Russia
Poland

Report: Alexis Sanchez out until 2020 with ankle injury

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Alexis Sanchez has targeted a return to form at Inter, but that may be shelved for some time as an ankle injury picked up on international duty could keep him out of action for months.

The Chilean federation confirmed that Sanchez suffered a “dislocation of the ligaments” in his left ankle in the 0-0 friendly draw with Argentina over the weekend, but did not specify a timeframe for his recovery. However, Italian journalist Tancredi Palmeri tweeted that Sanchez will not return until the calendar flips to 2020.

The injury is poorly timed for Sanchez who just broke into the Inter squad after being loaned from Manchester United. He scored his first goal in a 3-1 win over Sampdoria in late September before being sent off and suspended a match. The 30-year-old was also quality in the Champions League defeat to Barcelona, assisting Inter’s only goal.

At worst, a three-month injury layoff would see Sanchez return in mid-January, meaning he would miss the rest of the Champions League group stage as well as a host of Serie A matches. A Milan derby in early February would likely be a significant possibility for a late return.