Mourinho on Zlatan’s future, Mkhitaryan wonder goal, Rooney injury

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Jose Mourinho will be a happy man on Boxing Day.

[ RECAP: United win 3-1

His Manchester United side is now just one point off the top four in the Premier League as they continued to gel and look threatening in attack.

Goals from Daley Blind, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and a sublime strike from Henrikh Mkhitaryan eased United to a 3-1 victory as Mourinho’s boys have now won four-straight games in the Premier League and have lost just once in their last 10 outings.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Speaking after the game, Mourinho confirmed that there was some bad news as captain Wayne Rooney missed the game through injury and is unlikely to feature against Middlesbrough on Dec. 31 at Old Trafford.

“Let’s see if it is possible. I am not so sure about it,” Mourinho said of Rooney’s injury. “I hope so but I have my doubts. Muscle injury. Deep muscle.”

On the performance itself, United’s manager wasn’t too impressed with the first half display but was pleased with a fourth-straight win.

“I think we did not play well first half. David [Moyes] and Sunderland deserved credit for our bad first half,” Mourinho told Sky Sports. “I wasn’t happy with the way we were playing. We were a bit lucky to be 1-0 in front. In the second half we were strong. The second goal arrived late because we did more than enough to score the second and third goal and kill the game. Three important points. Four matches and 12 points, that’s what we need.”

As for Mkhitaryan, he delivered a moment of sheer genius in the second half as the Armenian playmaker marked his return from injury with a mind-blowing back heel goal at full stretch.

Mourinho was impressed.

“It was beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. It was a pity it was the third goal in a game and not a phenomenal goal in a game to win a great match. That would be in Man United history,” Mourinho said. “It is good for him. He was playing really well. He had that injury that stopped his evolution but then he comes back and I think he plays 25 minutes and well and shows that he is ready to be back to the level that himself he creates expectations for all of us because we expect great things.”

With Zlatan playing the ball behind him, Mkhitaryan launched himself towards goal and flicked the ball into the top corner with his back heel. Here’s what he thought about it as he confirmed he has is feeling fit and ready to contribute even more.

“I was expecting the ball in front of me but I was already in front so I go the ball behind me. The only thing I could do was the chance to hit with the back heel. I did. And I succeed,” Mkhitaryan said, modestly.

Mourinho also confirmed that a deal basically been agreed for Ibrahimovic to stay at United for another season (Zlatan’s agent has suggested as much earlier in the day) as the Swedish striker scored eight goals in his last seven PL games and took his tally to 17 goals in 26 games in a United shirt.

“It is activated in his brain and in my decisions and in the owners and the board, no problem,” Mourinho said.

All in all, a very merry Christmas for Mourinho and Co.

Chelsea signs Tomori to new 5-year deal

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Chelsea center back Fikayo Tomori earned a new five-year contract with the club.

The 21-year-old has a goal and an assist in 16 matches across all competitions, though he’s spent the past two Premier League outings on the bench.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Tomori joined Chelsea at age 7, and made his Premier League debut in the 2016 season finale versus Leicester City.

He averages 2.3 tackles per game, with 1.7 interceptions, and 2.6 clearances in Premier League action this season.

From ChelseaFC.com:

“The club has been so good to me, looking after and developing me during that time into the player and the person I am today. It’s a dream come true to sign a new five-year contract. I’m really happy the club have shown this faith in me and I’m just excited to carry on.”

The 21-year-old Tomori became a full England international after loan stints to Brighton and Hove Albion, Hull City, and Derby County. The latter stop found him under Frank Lampard, which certainly didn’t hurt his opportunity to shine at the parent club this season.

Chelsea has four strong, young center backs in Tomori, Kurt Zouma (25), Andreas Christensen (23), and Antonio Rudiger (26). Christensen and Rudiger are signed through the 2021/22 season, while Zouma’s deal goes one season longer than the duo.

Jota takes super sub to new level in Wolves win

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Sometimes the phrase “game changer” is used a bit too loosely, but there’s no debating Diogo Jota fit the bill to a ‘t’ on Thursday.

Wolves scored four times in 11 minutes, three coming courtesy Jota, as the Premier League side buried Besiktas 4-0 in Europa League play on Thursday.

Jota entered in the 56th minute, scored in the 57th, and completed his hat trick in the 68th.

[ MORE: Who can Wolves draw in UEL? ]

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men had already clinched a place in the knockout rounds before the match day, and finish one point below Braga in Group K.

Jota has five goals in five days after scoring twice against Brighton on Sunday. The 23-year-old had an up-and-down season to start but has been mostly good over the past half-dozen games.

He has 37 goals in 107 matches with Wolves, including nine in all competitions this season. He scored nine times last season after a 17-goal campaign in the Championship.

Leander Dendoncker had Wolves’ other goal, with the day’s assists going to Oskar Buur, Joao Moutinho, and Pedro Neto.

 

Who can Premier League clubs draw in Europa League?

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Group winners Arsenal and Manchester United will avoid a loaded batch of seeded teams, while runners-up Wolves can draw a bevy of powerful teams in the Europa League Round of 32.

Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo can find himself drawn against former club Porto, but also could have to match wits with Ajax’s Erik ten Hag, Inter Milan’s Antonio Conte, or Red Bull Salzburg’s Jesse Marsch.

[ MORE: Man Utd pounds AZ ]

Speaking of Marsch, the Salzburg boss could go from meeting Liverpool to squaring off with Steven Gerrard and Rangers.

Gerrard could also, of course, go up against hated playing days’ rival Manchester United.

Seeded teams
Ajax
Arsenal
Basel
Benfica
Braga
Celtic
Espanyol
Gent
Inter Milan
Istanbul Basaksehir
LASK
Malmo
Manchester United
Porto
Red Bull Salzburg
Sevilla

Unseeded teams
APOEL Nicosia
AZ Alkmaar
Bayer Leverkusen
Club Brugge
Copenhagen
CFR Cluj
Eintracht Frankfurt
Ludogorets Razgrad
Olympiacos
Rangers
Roma
Wolfsburg
Wolves
Shakhtar Donetsk
Sporting Lisbon

Who can Premier League teams draw in the Round of 32?

Arsenal: APOEL Nicosia, AZ Alkmaar, Bayer Leverkusen, Club Brugge, Copenhagen, CFR Cluj, Ludogorets Razgrad, Olympiacos, Rangers, Roma, Wolfsburg, Shakhtar Donetsk, Sporting Lisbon

Manchester United: APOEL Nicosia, Bayer Leverkusen, Club Brugge, Copenhagen, CFR Cluj, Eintracht Frankfurt, Ludogorets Razgrad, Olympiacos, Rangers, Roma, Wolfsburg, Shakhtar Donetsk, Sporting Lisbon

Wolves: Ajax, Basel, Benfica, Celtic, Espanyol, Gent, Inter Milan, Istanbul Basaksehir, LASK, Malmo, Porto, Red Bull Salzburg, Sevilla

Four-star Manchester United wins Europa League group

Manchester United Mata Greenwood
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Manchester United is in fine feather and showing it, smashing AZ Alkmaar in a stylish 4-0 win at Old Trafford in Europa League play on Thursday.

Juan Mata had a goal and set up two others, while Mason Greenwood scored twice after Ashley Young opened the scoring in a group-claiming victory.

[ MORE: Saka leads Arsenal comeback ]

United wins the group with 13 points, conceding just twice in six matches.

The Red Devils have won three-straight matches, as AZ joins Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur in the loss column. Up next is a Sunday visit from Everton in the Premier League before Wednesday’s League Cup quarterfinal visit from Colchester United.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer handed starts to James Garner, Brandon Williams, and Axel Tuanzebe, bringing youngsters Ethan Laird and Tahith Chong off the bench.

Greenwood, 18, now has six goals in 22 senior appearances, while Mata, 31, gets on the score sheet for the first time this season.

For his career, the award-winning Spaniard is doing okay, though: 125 goals and 149 assists in 542 senior appearances.