Making a case for Mourinho (regardless of the Newcastle comeback)

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International breaks, they bring out the wild posts. Bear with me.

Fine margins.

Liverpool was 3W-3D-2L in the Premier League when it replaced Brendan Rodgers with Jurgen Klopp in 2015. It had needed penalty kicks to outlast Carlisle United in the League Cup, and drew Bordeaux and Sion 1-1 in an uninspiring start to life in the Europa League. A 1-1 draw against Romelu Lukaku and rivals Everton was too much, and Rodgers was out.

[ PL ROUNDTABLE: The story so far ]

The managerial change happened this time three seasons ago, and certainly would’ve had some parallels if Manchester United did not rebound from its 2-0 deficit to beat Newcastle United on Saturday. United now has 13 points (Rodgers’ Reds had 12), and did not survive the League Cup penalty kicks against a lower division side (Derby County). Its win over Young Boys in the Champions League was solid, the home draw to Valencia disappointing.

Shoot, when Klopp was hired he called himself The Normal One, so of course there are differences. Liverpool spent wildly in the previous summer, acquiring pieces which remain a part of their successful squad. Roberto Firmino, Joe Gomez and James Milner as highlights, with Nathaniel Clyne, Christian Benteke, and Danny Ings something else.

United didn’t really back Mourinho this summer. Fred, Diogo Dalot, and Lee Grant the only arrivals. But Mourinho also hasn’t really given United what Klopp has given Liverpool: A consistently affable manager who plays the PR game better than most.

This isn’t to argue that anyone would or should choose Mourinho over Klopp at this stage of the game, but the numbers alone don’t really scream out, “Smell ya later, Jose!”

Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool: 166 matches, 88W-46D-32L, +157 GD, 1.87 ppm
FA Cup final loss, Europa League final loss, UCL final loss

Jose Mourinho at Man Utd: 131 matches, 79W-27D-25L, +121 GD, 2.02 ppm
League Cup win, Europa League win, FA Cup final loss

And head-to-head, Mourinho’s Man Utd has one win and three draws in four against Klopp’s Reds.

(AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

Now, of course, Liverpool rivals Everton didn’t go and rewrite the Premier League record books during that time like Man City did, and the Europa League is not the Champions League. So that matters.

Really Mourinho is reaping what he’s sown in terms of not giving a rat’s behind about what he says to the media (while also caring very much about his public perception).

We know he’s much better to the players than his reputation suggests, still it gets labeled “throwing players under the bus” when he calls them out. For others, it’s no problem (Klopp rightly laid blame at Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino after the loss to Napoli, but got the benefit of the doubt).

Maybe in the time of Brian Clough, being something like the Special One was much more forgivable. But like players in the pre-Internet era, managers were far less replaceable.

The fine margins of wins and losses are a little less fine when you’ve curried some favor with the fans and, well, anyone. If and when Klopp hits the skids at Liverpool, he’s going to be fine. Again, deservedly so. Because he’s got a better handle on life than Mourinho, who just hasn’t read that infamous bumper sticker: Don’t be a jerk (I changed a word).

I’m pretty sure this post was a long and perhaps convoluted way to argue that it isn’t necessarily the time to move on from Mourinho. The Red Devils haven’t done him any favors in terms of selling players he doesn’t want around, which certainly cannot help but amplify the tumult in the room.

Theoretically, maybe Paul Pogba‘s gripes fall on deaf ears if those ears don’t belong to an Anthony Martial that Mourinho almost certainly wanted to move.

And maybe this is just the early downswing of a long season that will move upward once Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku start firing.

This is United’s next six matches, and Mourinho’s going to get the proverbial ink to write his own obituary or laudatory plaque. Sacking him now asks the interim man or new boss to sink or swim. Giving Mourinho two weeks to prepare for the run makes a lot more sense given his history in manufacturing results.

Chelsea away

Juve home (Ronaldo to boot!)

Everton home

Bournemouth away

Juve away

Man City away

Here goes everything.

Champions League score predictions: Round of 16

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The 2019-20 UEFA Champions League is finally back as the Round of 16 kicks off this week and two of the four Premier League clubs are in action.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, the two finalists from last season, are first up and both will be happy enough with their draws in the last 16.

That said, Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool know that Diego Simeone’s Atleti are a very dangerous team to play as they will scrap and battle for every ball against the reigning European champions. As for Spurs and Jose Mourinho, the news that Heung-min Son has broken his arm and could be out for the rest of the season is a huge blow but they host an inconsistent RB Leipzig.

Borussia Dortmund host Paris Saint-Germain and Atalanta host Valencia in the other last 16 ties this week and both should be cracking encounters between two very evenly-matched teams.

[ MORE: Which Premier League team(s) will reach last eight? ]

Next week the other four last 16 first legs take place as Man City and Chelsea are in action against Real Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively. Out of the four Premier League teams still in the competition, Liverpool and Spurs will be the most confident of advancing.

Below we predict the scores for the UCL round of 16 games taking place over the next two days. Feel free to make your own predictions in the comments section below, too.


Tuesday
Atletico Madrid 1-2 Liverpool
Borussia Dortmund 3-2 PSG

Wednesday
Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 RB Leipzig
Atalanta 2-1 Valencia

Lampard issues Chelsea injury update; Pulisic remains out

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Chelsea boss Frank Lampard issued a lengthy injury update after their 2-0 defeat against Man United and USMNT fans will not be happy to hear that Christian Pulisic remains out.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Ahead of Chelsea’s pivotal top four clash at home against bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), Lampard could be without as many as five key players.

Andreas Christensen broke his nose and came off at half time against United, while N’Golo Kante was subbed off early after yet another leg injury for the French superstar.

“Callum, no. Pulisic, no. N’Golo, no, from that today. Tammy is a maybe. It is not going our way with injuries at the moment but the players who come in they have to show that. That is what the squad is there for. It is frustrating,” Lampard told Chelsea TV when asked about availability for Saturday.

Lampard then gave an extra update on Kante, who walked through the mixed zone after the game looking okay and told the French journalists who were assembled that it wasn’t too bad.

“It is an adductor injury,” Lampard confirmed. “We will have to assess it and scan it. It doesn’t look great. It is on the same leg [as he injured before].”

With four wins in their last 14 Premier League games Chelsea are not in good form and are just one point ahead of fifth-place Tottenham ahead of their game this weekend.

They also have a nasty habit of dominating matches but are failing to put multiple chances away and with these injuries piling up it certainly makes Chelsea’s decision to not spend in the January window to strengthen their squad, especially in terms of strikers, very surprising.

With Bayern Munich coming up in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League last 16 tie next week, Lampard will hope Chelsea’s luck turns and plenty of players return from injury.

FC Cincinnati coach Jans resigns amid investigation over remarks

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CINCINNATI — FC Cincinnati coach Ron Jans resigned amid an investigation by Major League Soccer of his use of a racial slur in the locker room.

Jans resigned late Monday, FC Cincinnati President Jeff Berding said: “The club had suspended Jans pending the investigation, which was prompted by a complaint from the MLS Players Association.

“As Major League Soccer’s investigation unfolded and some themes emerged, Ron offered his resignation and we agreed that it was the best course of action for everyone involved with FC Cincinnati,” Berding said.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The club designated Yoann Damet as interim head coach while the team conducts a search. Cincinnati is training in Florida for its second season in MLS.

Cincinnati has been through two head coaches during its brief stay in the league. It fired Alan Koch after its 11th first-tier match, which left the expansion club with two wins, seven losses and two draws.

Damet also was the interim head coach while the team conducted a search that resulted in Jans’ hiring last August.

Cincinnati finished with the worst record in MLS in its inaugural season, with six wins, six draws and 22 losses. It scored a league-low 31 goals in 34 matches.

Cincinnati gained entry into MLS after a successful debut under Koch, who led the team to the semifinals of the United Soccer League’s playoffs in both 2017 and 2018.

German fans turn on fellow supporter for racist abuse

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BERLIN — The fans of German soccer club Preußen Münster showed how racist abuse can be handled, shouting “Nazis out! Nazis out!” after one of their own fans targeted a visiting player with monkey chants.

The perpetrator was a 29-year-old man who was forced out of the stadium. And the player, Würzburger Kickers defender Leroy Kwadwo, thanked the opposing fans their “exemplary” reaction.

“I was racially abused by one single spectator. It just makes me sad,” Kwadwo wrote on Saturday, a day after the match. “I indeed have a different skin color, but I was born here in this wonderful land that has given my family and I so much and made so much possible. I am one of you. I live here and can live my calling as a professional with the Würzburger Kickers.

“Something like yesterday just makes me sad and angry because everyone has to know, racism does not belong in OUR world. We all have the opportunity to oppose it and stop it if it happens.”

The incident occurred during a third-division match in Münster.

On Monday, Münster said it would seek to ban the suspect from all German stadiums for three years, the toughest possible sanction permitted under current regulations.

“The least we an do is ensure that this person is no longer allowed in our stadium,” Münster president Christoph Strässer said. “We will not tolerate racism or any form of discrimination. The issue of integration is naturally important to us as a sports club, and Article 1 of the constitution applies primarily, namely: Human dignity is sacrosanct. That goes for everyone in this country.”

The perpetrator also faces legal consequences. Local police said the man would be charged with incitement, which can lead to financial penalties and a jail term of three months to five years if convicted.

Referee Katrin Rafalski stopped the 0-0 draw in the 88th minute after being informed of the racist abuse by Kwadwo. It was followed by a stadium announcement against the abuse and the “Nazis out!” chants from the fans.

The German soccer federation praised the fans’ reaction on Twitter on Saturday.

“So sad and shameful as the racist incident against Leroy Kwadwo was, so exemplary was the immediate reaction to it,” the federation said. “The third division stands together and says, no to racism and discrimination!”

The incident occurred only days after Bundesliga club Schalke was fined 50,000 euros ($54,600) after some of its fans subjected Hertha Berlin player Jordan Torunarigha to racist abuse during a German Cup game on Feb. 4.

Torunarigha, the son of former Nigerian player Ojokojo Torunarigha, was targeted with monkey chants and was eventually sent off in extra time when he picked up a second yellow card after appearing increasingly upset as the game went on. The 22-year-old German defender was consoled by Schalke’s Amine Harit.

Numerous other racist incidents have tarnished European soccer this season.

On Sunday in Portugal, Porto striker Moussa Marega was visibly angered by monkey noises targeting him after he scored his team’s second goal in a 2-1 win at Guimarães. Several Porto and opposition players attempted to dissuade him from walking off the field in the 71st minute, when he demanded to be substituted.