How Jose Mourinho’s master plan dented Chelsea’s title bid

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MANCHESTER — Jose Mourinho not only lives for these kind of backs-to-the-walls situations. He usually delivers in them.

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He did it again on Sunday as his Manchester United side out-thought and outfought Chelsea, a team he often led to thrive in this type of situations over two spells in charge in west London.

With a UEFA Europa League quarterfinal sandwiched either side of the clash against Chelsea, Mourinho shocked many by having Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan on the bench. Such has been United’s wastefulness in front of goal in recent months, securing a place in the UEFA Champions League by winning Europe’s second-tier title has all of a sudden become more attainable than finishing in the top four of the Premier League. At least it did before United’s huge victory against Chelsea as they’re only four points behind fourth-placed Manchester City with a game in hand.

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Mourinho’s gameplan involved playing two up front with Jesse Lingard partnering the excellent Marcus Rashford who gave Chelsea a horrendous afternoon, plus he ordered a textbook man-marking job to shut down Eden Hazard.

His gameplan worked perfectly and Mourinho was a happy man for many reasons when talking about the victory which not only blew the title race wide-open but also reignited United’s top four hopes.

“The satisfaction is for different reasons. The first with Liverpool and Man City victories if we don’t win, goodbye Premier League. These three points were phenomenal,” Mourinho beamed. “The second is they are the leader. When you beat the leader it is obviously a very good feeling. For me, from my perspective as a manager that prepares the team and the gameplan I had the feeling before this match but now totally convinced, with 11 players at Stamford Bridge in the second game [1-0 FA Cup defeat in March] we would be playing against Tottenham at Wembley this weekend.”

In that FA Cup game Mourinho referenced, Herrera was sent off in the first half for two cynical fouls as he, and most of United’s players, got too close to Hazard.

Mourinho deployed Herrera on Hazard in a man-marking job on Sunday and it worked perfectly with the Spaniard also having an assist and a goal, even if the latter looked to have come courtesy of an interception with his hand.

Asked if other teams have simply accepted Chelsea were superior in recent months, Mourinho is happy with how his team stuck to the gameplan he devised and revealed exactly where he targeted the team who cast him aside last season after also doing so in 2007 with this three PL titles in west London not enough to save him.

“I don’t know what to say. We have different teams different players, maybe it is difficult for some managers to find Ander Herrera to do the job he did today. Maybe it is difficult for some to find Matteo Darmian to play the role he played,” Mourinho said. “I want to say I was convinced even before the cup that controlling the two players that play behind Diego, Hazard and sometimes Pedro or Willian, and controlling the full-backs because they go really deep with two wide men would create lots of problems and I repeat the same. They are phenomenal in counter-attack. When they tried to play counter attack we were always in control of these two link positions. We did that at Stamford Bridge when we played with 11. Today we control.”

United had total control throughout this encounter as Chelsea failed to have a shot on target and Mourinho’s old team started to show that cracks are appearing as Tottenham hunt them down in the Premier League title race.

Far from vintage for most of this season, it is easy to forgot Mourinho’s United are now 22 games unbeaten in the league.

That’s the best current unbeaten run in Europe’s top five leagues as their character is building, even if some pieces of the jigsaw are yet to slot perfectly into place.

“Normally you win the title if you are 22 matches unbeaten and we are struggling to finish top four,” Mourinho laughed. “Everybody knows why because we drew too many matches at home and we are paying the price. It is a great feeling to know it is difficult for us to lose a match. We fight until the end. We score last minute here against Everton and Liverpool and away at Stoke. We need a little more quality and different qualities in some positions to make the squad stronger but in terms of character and the human side I have one of the best groups ever.”

Kane scores early and late, England narrowly top Tunisia

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England’s 2018 World Cup debut began brilliantly, then appeared headed for a disappointingly familiar outcome, but was ultimately saved by Harry Kane who scored both goals in the Three Lions’ 2-1 victory over Tunisia in Volgograd on Monday.

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England came sprinting out of the starting blocks — so quickly they nearly took flight — and taking an early lead through Harry Kane in the 11th minute (WATCH HERE). John Stones‘ header was spectacularly saved by Mouez Hassen, but Kane was in the right place at the right time and swept home the rebound for his first World Cup goal (on his World Cup debut).

The opening half-hour was all England, with the likes of Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling cutting through the Tunisian midfield and defense with very little resistance and creating a half-dozen golden scoring chances. Unfortunately for Gareth Southgate‘s side, they couldn’t capitalize, and they were made to pay for it.

Kyle Walker caught Fakhreddine Ben Youssef with a raised arm as an innocuous cross came into the box, prompting referee Wilmar Roldan to blow his whistle and point to the penalty spot immediately. Ferjani Sassi stepped up and converted, just out of reach of Jordan Pickford, who perhaps got a fingertip on the ball (WATCH HERE), to make it 1-1 and negate an otherwise dominant first-half performance by England. It would be Tunisia’s only shot on goal for the game.

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England’s best chance to re-establish a lead came during a six-yard-box scramble just seconds before halftime. Alli’s header hit the crossbar and Stones badly scuffed — nearly whiffed — on the follow-up. Kane was dragged to the ground during the rest of the commotion, to no interest of Roldan.

It took far longer than anyone back home in England would have liked, but Kane grabbed the winner in the 91st minute, heading home from acres of space at the back post. Jordan Henderson got the first crack at heading the corner kick, but it was blocked and bound high into the air. Somehow, some way, Kane was unmarked and snuck his redirect just inside the post.

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Up next for England is a meeting with Panama on Sunday, a day after Tunisia take on Belgium, who thrashed the Panamanians, 3-0, on Monday.

VIDEO: Tunisia equalizes on controversial penalty kick

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England centerback Kyle Walker put his arm up to halt the forward progress of Fakhreddine Ben Youssef. Unfortunately for Walker, Ben Youssef was in the box and Walker’s elbow caught Ben Youssef’s face.

Referee Wilmar Roldan quickly whistled for a penalty kick and despite the protests from a half-dozen of England players and a check from the VAR, the called stood. Ferjani Sassi’stepped up to the spot and found the lower-left corner, just barely beating Jordan Pickford to tie the game in the 35th minute.

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How will England respond?

VIDEO: Captain Kane puts England on the board early

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It may be the easiest goal-scoring opportunity Harry Kane‘s ever had in an international competition, and he finished it as easy as you’d like.

Kane side-footed home after Tunisia goalkeeper Mouez Hassen made a terrific save on John Stone’s header off a corner, but the save was directed right into a wide-open Kane who was standing ready inside the six yard box. The 11th minute goal will surely settle some of the Three Lions’ nerves as they open their World Cup bid in Russia.

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After slow start, Belgium takes care of business against feisty Panama

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All it took was one goal to bring Belgium to life.

Following a frustrating first 45 minutes, in which Belgium put a pair of shots into the side netting and forced saves from Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, Dries Mertens 47th minute goal opened the floodgates, as Belgium went on to defeat Panama, 3-0, Monday afternoon in Sochi.

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But Panama never made it easy for the Belgians. From the opening whistle the CONCACAF nation showed its incredible spirit, chasing down Belgium all across the field and making life incredibly difficult for Belgium attackers Romelu Lukaku, Mertens and Eden Hazard. Hazard was hacked down all over the field, and while he did earn fouls and a few yellow cards were issued to Panamanian players, it was enough to get in Hazard’s head.

Two minutes into the second half, everything changed. A wonderstrike from Mertens opened the game, and forced Panama to attack and try and tie the match, which gave Hazard, de Bruyne and Lukaku more space to operate.

In the heat and humidity of the Sochi summer, Panama’s veteran defense began to tire, allowing de Bruyne the space to deliver a terrific assist to Lukaku in the box, putting Belgium up 2-0 in the 69th minute.

 

Six minutes later, Lukaku was put through on the break, chipping over Penedo to confirm the victory.

With the win, Belgium moves to the top of Group G. Up next for Belgium is Tunisia on Saturday, while Panama takes on England on Sunday.