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Who is in the right: Mourinho or Pogba?

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The relationship between Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba has hit a new low and it is hard to believe there will be a winner in this battle.

As the frosty welcome Mourinho gave Pogba at the training ground on Wednesday showed — an Instagram post by Pogba during the League Cup defeat to Derby County, while he was in the stand and out of the squad seems to have been questioned — United’s manager has had enough of Pogba’s attitude and the latest public shaming of his superstar midfielder suggests an end game is near. But for who?

It all depends who can win this battle: Mourinho or Pogba?

Mourinho has told Pogba, 25, he will not captain Manchester United again due to concerns over his attitude after the French international was handed the armband on several occasions this season. This situation has been festering and Pogba’s comments after United’s draw at home against Wolves at the weekend were the final straw for Mourinho.

Pogba saying United should “attack, attack, attack” during home games seemingly undermined Mourinho’s ability as a coach and the fact that the Frenchman approached journalists in the mixed zone at Old Trafford, something he rarely did before this season, suggests he had something he wanted to get off his chest.

Mourinho had to make a stand and just like Sir Alex Ferguson would have, he decided to make an example of Pogba and let his squad know that nobody is bigger than the club. We don’t know exactly what Pogba has done (probably not much), other than his comments after the Wolves draw, but it is quite right for Mourinho to punish his player for publicly undermining him.

For that reason, Mourinho was right to discipline Pogba and axe him from being the vice captain. No question. But is Pogba correct to feel a little miffed about seemingly becoming the scapegoat for United’s poor start to the season?

On the pitch this campaign, Pogba has had more shots than any other United player, completed more passes and covered the most distance as well as scoring four goals and adding two assists. Only Alexis Sanchez has created more chances for United than Pogba, but it is safe to say since his $120 million transfer in the summer of 2016 his form for the Red Devils has been inconsistent and often erratic. Mourinho benching him last season was questioned, but it was hardly surprising given Pogba’s displays.

Off the pitch, it seems as though Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, has been agitating for a move for his player ever since he won the 2018 World Cup with France this summer. Unlike at United, Pogba is a key and dependable cog for Didier Deschamps’ France and he starred in key games at the World Cup in Russia. His stock, on a global stage, has perhaps never been higher and his commercial value off the pitch obviously comes into play too with his social media persona, outgoing character and style.

With Barcelona and Juventus suggested as potential destinations for Pogba in January and next summer, will United now cash in on Pogba before this standoff turns into a full-blown feud? Even if Mourinho denies a big issues with Pogba, it’s clear to see there isn’t much respect between the duo. Pogba’s reaction to being given the cold shoulder by Mourinho ahead of training spoke volumes and he chipped back at his boss and give him plenty of ugly looks.

That points to Pogba, an influential figure in the dressing room, being ready to check out at Old Trafford, if he didn’t do that a few months ago already. Keeping an unhappy Pogba around runs the risk of the rest of the squad turning against Mourinho which wouldn’t be tough to imagine given that many have an axe to grind with the combative Portuguese coach.

United’s Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward reiterated Mourinho’s credentials in a call to investors earlier this week, but now he has a big decision to make.

Does he sell Pogba in January and run the risk of him flourishing at Barca or Juve to the detriment of United? Or does he question Mourinho’s decision to throw Pogba under the bus for United’s indifferent start to the season and then, ultimately, undermine the management style of his manager?

Now, it’s all about who will last longer: Mourinho or Pogba.

For now, Mourinho is correct to have called out Pogba. His performances haven’t been up to scratch and his attitude obviously isn’t pleasing his manager. With United off the pace in the Premier League, Mourinho needed to do something to shake up his squad and shaming a star player and big personality may have the desired effect.

It could also prove to be the beginning of the end for Mourinho at United. This is much more than just a spat between manager and player. A struggle for power within United’s squad is now well and truly on and Mourinho simply has to win this.

Real Madrid on brink of La Liga title; record ninth-straight win

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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid is on the verge of reclaiming the Spanish league title, after its ninth straight win following the pandemic break.

Madrid defeated Granada 2-1 on Monday to move within two points of winning the La Liga title.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule

Ferland Mendy and Karim Benzema scored first-half goals to keep Madrid four points ahead of second-placed Barcelona with two rounds to go.

Madrid can clinch its first title since 2017 on Thursday with a win at Villarreal, or if Barcelona loses points when it hosts Osasuna. Two draws in the final two rounds will also be enough to secure Madrid a record 34th league trophy.

“We are a step closer but we can’t relax, we haven’t won anything yet,” Madrid captain Sergio Ramos said. “There are still points to be won. We depend on ourselves and we have a game at home coming up, hopefully we can win it and celebrate the league title.”

Madrid was in control early in Granada and Mendy’s first goal since joining the Spanish club this season came from a beautiful angled shot into the top corner after getting past a defender inside the area in the 10th minute.

Benzema added to the lead six minutes later by scoring his 19th league goal with a right-footed strike into the far corner.

Granada, which was 10th in the standings, got on the board with a goal by Darwin Machis in the 50th and pressured to the end.

The hosts came closest to the equalizer with about five minutes left, when Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois had to make a difficult save and Ramos cleared a shot at the goal line.

Madrid had not conceded a goal in its last five league matches.

Sevilla secured the final Champions League spot after Villarreal lost to Real Sociedad 2-1.

The loss left Villarreal nine points behind fourth-placed Sevilla with two rounds to go. Sevilla beat Mallorca 2-0 on Sunday for its fourth straight win.

Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid have the other berths in the Champions League.

Sevilla last featured in the Champions League in 2018 when it was eliminated by Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals. It played in the Europa League in 2018-19 and this season, where it will face Roma in the round of 16.

Villarreal needed a win to keep alive its hopes of making it to the Champions League. It has won six of its nine matches following the pandemic break, but the home setback against Sociedad ended its chances of qualifying. It remains in good position to grab a Europa League spot, though, as it kept fifth place.

Sociedad also stayed in contention for the Europa League with its third win since the break, moving to seventh place. Willian Jose scored in the 61st minute and Diego Llorente in the 75th, while the hosts pulled closer through Santi Cazorla in the 85th.

Getafe stayed in sixth place after drawing at relegation-threatened Alaves 0-0.

A late goal disallowed by video review kept Getafe from earning its second win since the league resumed after the pandemic stoppage.

Alaves has also won only once since the break and is winless in seven straight league matches. It is four points above the relegation zone.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Man United: ‘We will put it right’ and not feeling pressure in top 4 race

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Manchester United insist they will put their draw against Southampton right and the reaction from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his players was clear that they aren’t feeling the pressure of the top four race.

Leading 2-1 in the 96th minute at home against Southampton, they conceded a late equalizer from a corner and Solskjaer looked understandably frustrated with two points dropped.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Within a few seconds they went from moving up to third with three games to now sitting in fifth, behind both Leicester City and Chelsea in the top four race.

Speaking to reporters via Zoom after the game, Solskjaer was asked if he believes in the mentality of his players to put things right.

“I have to say the mentality of the boys has been absolutely brilliant. We’ve had a few setbacks and this is another challenge for us. I’m very confident in the mentality of them,” Solskjaer said. “Very disappointed, of course, but you have to take the disappointments as well as the positives when you win games. Disappointment because one of the last kicks of the ball you concede a goal and you lose two points, that’s just part of football. We’ve learned a hard lesson today, hopefully. We will make it right and put it right. The boys, I trust them in that respect.”

[ MORE: Maguire reacts to draw ]

Solskjaer was then asked if the pressure of the situation, watching Chelsea and Leicester both get hammered at the weekend and giving them the chance to jump up to third, played on the mind of his players.

“Absolutely not,” was Solskjaer’s reaction. “I don’t think any of our players have been thinking what have Chelsea done this weekend. Not at all. It is just the way the games go. We all play against the same teams and we all have 38 games to go through. It will even itself out during a long season and you will deserve the position you get in the end.”

That position for Manchester United will still probably be in the top four but they have made it harder for themselves now.

From the start they looked sluggish against Saints, with Paul Pogba giving the ball away on the first goal, then they sat back and looked tired in the second half.

Although Solskjaer said tiredness wasn’t an issue, it looked like midtable Southampton were chasing third place and not Manchester United. Maybe a busy few weeks caught up with United but they now have an FA Cup semifinal and huge games against Crystal Palace, West Ham and Leicester City to finish the season.

Going forward they looked slick and they should have just about enough in the tank to finish in the top four. However, this will be tight and could go to the final game of the season at Leicester.

WATCH: Akinfewa’s inspires after verbal abuse, Wycombe promotion

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Adebayo Akinfenwa is living the life right now.

The 38-year-old striker has helped Wycombe Wanderers into the Football League Championship for the first time in their existence after the club beat Oxford United 2-1 in the League One playoff final on Monday.

If Akinfenwa’s name sounds familiar, it should. The muscular 38-year-old “Beast” shot into the spotlight when he used Wimbledon’s promotion to broadcast that managers should “hit him up on Whatsapp” because he wasn’t done playing the game.

[ MORE: Maguire, Solskjaer rue late Man Utd draw ]

The striker mentioned Whatsapp again on Monday, saying “The only person who can WhatsApp me tonight is Klopp so we can celebrate together. ”

He was recently in the news for vile reasons, reporting that he had been called a “fat water buffalo” in Wycombe’s semifinal win over Fleetwood Town. Akinfenwa says that if the barb wasn’t intended as racial abuse, then his opponents need to be educated on racism.

He didn’t want to speak about that on Monday.

“Today is about, listen, for me, life in football is all about opinions. Four years ago someone gave an opinion about me and that was their opinion. I hope my story shows that the only opinion that matters is the opinion you have about yourself. I was lucky and blessed to find a manager and players who believed in me. I’ll say it for the people in the back: Wycombe is in the Championship. Wait, wait, I’ll say it one more time. Wycombe’s in the Championsh- WAIT! The people in the back didn’t hear me: Wycombe is in the Championship.”

Akinfewa played the final 28 minutes of Monday’s win and his next league appearance will be the first above League One in his long career that started with Watford’s academy in 2000.

He scored 10 goals and added six assists this season, giving him 200 professional goals in more than 650 appearances.

Solskjaer, Maguire react to disappointing Manchester United draw

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The 18th game of Manchester United’s unbeaten streak isn’t going to leave a good taste in the Red Devils’ mouths.

United threw away a late lead and third place on Monday, drawing Southampton 2-2 on a stoppage time goal from Michael Obafemi that came after Red Devils defender Brandon Williams left United with 10 men thanks to a head injury.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

“Well it’s the worst time to concede a goal but that happens in football,” said United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

“You’ve gotta be strong and take it because we’ve won so many games that way. It’s part of learning for this team to be sat there really disappointed after you thought you’ve got the three points in the bag. We probably didn’t deserve the three points today. … They’re a physical, very very fit side. We never got the rhythm in our passing today especially after we got 2-1.”

Solksjaer was baffled that United didn’t play half the match up a man after Oriol Romeu clattered into Mason Greenwood.

“I know my ankle wouldn’t take that challenge. It’s a nasty one, but we’ve said enough about VAR.”

United failed to claim a top four place for the first time since September and remains behind fourth-place Leicester City on goal differential. Both sides trail Chelsea by one point with three to play.

Red Devils center back Harry Maguire was upset at the failed opportunity to pass his former side.

“Playing at Old Trafford you want to win every game you play for Manchester United. We go for three points. We didn’t get three. We’re disappointed at the moment but we know we’ve gotta dust ourselves down tomorrow. We’ve got some big games coming up and we’ve gotta go get three points.”

United has Crystal Palace, West Ham, and Leicester City on the schedule in its bid for a top four spot.