Getty Images

Mourinho praises Pogba; talks Pep, Raiola spat

Leave a comment

MANCHESTER — Jose Mourinho and Manchester United spoiled Manchester City’s party on Saturday and Paul Pogba was the main party pooper in the astonishing 3-2 comeback win.

With Man City needing a win in the Manchester Derby to seal the earliest title win in top-flight history, things were going swimmingly for Pep Guardiola as the runaway league leaders were 2-0 up at half time and it could have been more.

Then Pogba took over.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

United’s club-record signing scored twice in the space of three minutes to turn the game on its head in what has been a testing week for him off the pitch. Guardiola claimed on Friday that Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, offered the French midfielder to Man City in January along with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, suggesting Mourinho and United were ready to offload their $130 million star a few months ago.

Asked about Pogba’s reaction to Guardiola’s comments, here’s what Mourinho told reporters after the game.

“I was impressed but I don’t know because I didn’t even speak with him about what Pep said or what Raiola said. I didn’t speak. I’m not interested if it was Pep or Mino was right. I am not interested in that,” Mourinho said. “I know that Paul played well against Swansea and Paul had a very good week of work, especially Tuesday and Wednesday, he had two fantastic training sessions. This game comes in that segment. Of course, two goals, for a midfield player, especially in a big match like this one, stays in the memory of the people. Especially for the fans. It stays and he needs that confidence because he knows, I know, everybody knows, he had some performances not at the level of expectations we have from Paul. But he’s improving. Against Swansea I was happy and today he, Matic and Herrera, I think they were phenomenal for 90 minutes.”

Pogba was struggling, like all of United’s players, in the first half as an under strength City (Pep rested Kyle Walker, Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and others with one eye on the UCL quarterfinal second leg against Liverpool on Tuesday) turned on the class and tore them to shreds. Raheem Sterling missed two sitters when City lead 2-0 and they should have been out of sight by half time.

Yet the way Pogba helped United get back into the game with his forward runs and clinical finishing, plus grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck with his powerful tackling and aggression, proved he still has plenty left in the tank. Maybe Pep’s words were the final kick up the backside Pogba needed after talk of a rift with Mourinho and being benched several times since the turn of the year for lackluster performances had threatened to derail his United return.

This was the Pogba who turned it on for Juventus in the Champions League at City in the past to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win for Juve. This was the Pogba United paid all of that money for and were supposed to build their team around.

So, what sparked his second half resurgence?

Mourinho was asked what he told his players at half time to inspire such an incredible turnaround.

“I told my midfield players that they didn’t need to improve because they were playing very well, even in the first half. All of them. I think it is very difficult to be a midfield player against Manchester City,” Mourinho said. “Paul, Ander [Herrera] and [Nemanja] Matic were playing really well but I needed more from [Jesse] Lingard and Alexis [Sanchez]. I need them to connect our good football in midfield and especially I need my defenders to be a little more confident. With just a little bit of pressure from City they were kicking the ball, they were nervous, they were not bringing the ball with quality to my midfielders.”

With the win United cut the gap to PL leaders Man City to 13 points and although they aren’t going to catch them and stop City winning the title, they did at least stop them on Saturday.

City’s fans dreamed of winning the title on their home patch against their bitter rivals and rubbing Mourinho face in it.

That didn’t happen as United’s players, led by Pogba, stood tall just when City threatened to embarrass them.

CONCACAF postpones Nations League finals, Gold Cup qualification

Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images
Leave a comment

CONCACAF announced on Friday that the 2019-20 Nations League finals and the opening rounds of 2021 Gold Cup qualification have been postponed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

[ MORE: UEFA threatens Belgian league with European expulsion ]

The Nations League finals — featuring the U.S. men’s national team, Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras — were previously scheduled to take place in Houston and Dallas in early June. CONCACAF says the semifinals and final will be rescheduled for a later date.

The seconds round of Gold Cup qualifying was previously scheduled to be made up in June — following their postponement in March, with four two-leg ties featuring largely Caribbean and Central American nations. Those, too, will be rescheduled for a later date.

Given the ongoing public health situation, and following consultation with FIFA regarding the international football calendar, we have made the decision to suspend the CONCACAF Nations League finals, which was scheduled for June 4-7, 2020 in the Houston and Dallas areas.

The event, which includes the Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico and USA men’s national teams, will be rescheduled to take place at a later date in venues to be determined. This will be confirmed following further discussions with FIFA regarding the remaining international windows in the football calendar, and will obviously be subject to public health authorities deeming it safe for professional sports events to resume.

FIFA extends men’s age limit for Tokyo Olympics due to virus

Photo by Stuart Franklin - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images
Leave a comment

GENEVA — FIFA has extended the age limit for the men’s soccer tournament at the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics due to the coronavirus pandemic.

[ MORE: UEFA threatens Belgian league with European expulsion ]

The amended Olympic rule on Friday retains the “players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997” standard for the Tokyo Games following a one-year postponement agreed last week by the International Olympic Committee and Japanese authorities.

It means players eligible for the intended under-23 tournament in 2020 can still play in Japan at age 24 next year. Men’s soccer kicks off ahead of the July 23, 2021 opening ceremony in Tokyo.

FIFA also postponed two women’s age-group World Cups due this year in Central America and India, and confirmed no international games for men and women will be played in the early June dates protected for national team call-ups.

Soccer’s world body said “health must always be the first priority and the main criteria in any decision-making process, especially in these challenging times.”

The Olympic decision was made by a FIFA panel of soccer officials worldwide, created to address the soccer shutdown during the health crisis.

The 16 men’s teams at the Tokyo Olympics next year can also select three over-age players in their rosters. A stellar lineup includes Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Spain.

Two women’s World Cup tournaments — the Under-20s hosted by Panama and Costa Rica in August and September, and the Under-17s in India in November — are postponed. No new dates were announced.

[ MORE: Report: Serie A could resume training May 2, games late in month ]

Until the COVID-19 outbreak, national team games scheduled in June included the 2020 European Championship, World Cup qualifying games in South America and Asia, and qualifiers for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.

After Euro 2020 was postponed for one year, UEFA hoped to schedule playoff games in June to confirm the last four places in a 24-nation lineup. Those playoffs were postponed indefinitely this week.

World Cup qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar now face uncertain scheduling in a congested calendar in Europe, South America and Asia.

FIFA said on Friday it would “organize bilateral discussions” with continental governing bodies “to finalize a revised match schedule pending health and safety developments.”

FIFA plans to direct hundreds of millions of dollars from its cash reserves to support a global emergency fund, and has agreed to appoint one official from each of the six soccer continents to coordinate the work.

Arsenal want season completed ‘to maintain integrity’ of PL

Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsenal remain in support of finishing the 2019-20 season in order to “to maintain the integrity” of the competition, despite Friday’s unanimous vote that the Premier League cannot resume at the start of May as previously hoped due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

[ MORE: UEFA threatens Belgian league with European expulsion ]

The Gunners, who currently sit ninth in the PL table with 10 games left to play (one more than the majority of clubs around them), were five points back of fifth-place Manchester United for qualification to next season’s UEFA Champions League thanks to Manchester City’s two-year European ban.

In a statement released on Friday, Arsenal reiterated their stance that the current season should be played to completion rather than called to completion at things stand or abandoned altogether.

We are in full support of the objective for all remaining domestic league and cup matches from the 2019-20 season to be played, in order to maintain the integrity of each competition.

We also fully agree with the principle that any return to action will only be with the full backing of government and when medical guidance allows.

The restart date is under constant review as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic develops and we continue to work together with all stakeholders through this very challenging time

Premier League rivalries: The Merseyside derby

Leave a comment

While the Merseyside derby has been dominated by one side of late, that has not detracted from the spectacle of the most historic matchup in English top flight history.

Uninterrupted in top flight play since 1962/63, the two sides are situated less than a mile apart, with the proximity feeding an already intense matchup.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Despite the incredibly close geographic proximity, the derby is sometimes known as the “Friendly Derby” as there are often families with split allegiances. Still, the matchup has the most red cards in Premier League history with 21, including 17 of those in the especially heated timeframe between 1997 and 2008.

Unfortunately for Everton, the rivalry has become one-sided over the past decade, with the Toffees failing to win since October of 2010. Liverpool has won 11 of the 21 games, with the other 10 ending in a draw. That has somewhat deescalated the vicious nature of the matchup, especially since Liverpool has gone on to become one of the most formidable sides in Europe over the past few years while Everton continues to challenge for a top-half place in the league.

Still, the 228 all-time matches between the clubs continues to fuel one of the great matchups in the English domestic landscape, and sooner or later this rivalry will regain its venom to bring the bite back to this matchup.