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.

Robertson signs new long-term Liverpool contract

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Andrew Robertson will remain a hero at Anfield for a very long time.

The Scottish left back, 24, committed his future to Liverpool Thursday, as he signed a new long-term deal which will reportedly run until 2024.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Robertson arrived from Hull City in the summer of 2017 and was expected to be the back-up left back behind Alberto Moreno. Instead he has become one of the top left backs in Europe, with his marauding runs down the flank a focal point of Jurgen Klopp‘s side.

Speaking about his new contract, the captain of the Scottish national team revealed how easy a decision it was to make.

“As soon as the club came to me, it was a no-brainer for me – I want to stay here, so as soon as they put an offer on the table it was signed as quickly as that,” Robertson said. “It was a pretty easy contract for me and I’m sure for the club as well. We both agreed very quickly, that’s why it’s been done so quickly. Getting to know the lads and working with all the staff at Melwood has been a pleasure. The best thing about work is when you love coming in every day – and that’s what I do here. I am glad I have extended my stay and hopefully we have a lot of good days ahead.”

Robertson’s rise to the top of the game has been quite sensational.

He started off in the lower leagues of Scottish soccer before landing at Hull and then having a decent season in the Premier League in 2016-17, although the Tigers were relegated.

Liverpool snapped him up for $10 million and he has gone from strength to strength with his incredible energy down the left making him a firm fans favorite. Off the pitch he does a lot in the community and he just seems like one of the good guys.

Klopp added that “he might be from Glasgow originally, but everything about him screams Liverpool” and hailed Robertson’s quality on the pitch as well as off it.

“Everyone knows about his personality, on and off the pitch, but maybe we are guilty at times of overlooking his quality,” Klopp said. “Ask those who play against him – be it matchday or training – and they speak about his technical and tactical qualities, just as much as his character and heart. Our supporters have fallen in love with him, he has fallen in love with them – and both he and his amazing young family are very much at home in Liverpool.

Robertson’s rise deserved to be rewarded as he was a regular at Liverpool for most of last season and his performances in Europe helped the Reds reach the UEFA Champions League final.

His target is clear: to win trophies at Liverpool.

“I hope to achieve success as a team over the course of this new deal,” Robertson added. “This club demands trophies and too long has probably passed without trophies. So I hope to help bring another couple of trophies to this club and help push in that direction because the fans demand it and the club demands it, so that’s what we aim to give. We came close, of course we have with the Champions League and things like that, but it’s about taking that next step and hopefully getting a winner’s medal around your neck, whatever competition it is. That is the main aim for us.”

Premier League TV, streaming schedule

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Week 23 of the Premier League season is almost here as a big London derby between Arsenal and Chelsea takes center stage.

MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

The full TV schedule for the games this weekend are below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” for all the goals as they go in around the grounds. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Wolves v. Leicester City – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Liverpool v. Crystal Palace – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Man United v. Brighton – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth v. West Ham – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Newcastle United v. Cardiff City – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Southampton v. Everton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Watford v. Burnley – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM
12:30 p.m. ET: Arsenal v. Chelsea – NBC [STREAM]

Sunday
9:15 a.m. ET: Huddersfield v. Man City – NBCSN [STREAM]
11 a.m. ET: Fulham v. Tottenham – NBCSN [STREAM]

Madrid enduring its worst struggles in decades

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MADRID (AP) The first season without Cristiano Ronaldo is proving to be a difficult one for Real Madrid.

The Spanish powerhouse hasn’t been this bad in more than two decades.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule

Not since 1996 had Madrid lost 10 matches at this point of the season. That team, led by Raul Gonzalez, lost 12 times by the end of January. Madrid’s team coached by Guus Hiddink three years later also struggled, losing 10 of its first 32 matches in all competitions, exactly like this season.

But all had gone mostly well for Madrid since then, especially after Ronaldo arrived in 2009 and led the club to a trove of trophies.

“The last few years have been some of the best in the history of Real Madrid,” defender Nacho Fernandez says. “It’s going to be difficult to match or surpass that.”

Madrid’s latest loss was at Leganes in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday. It still advanced to the quarterfinals after having won the first leg 3-0, but the defeat again exposed some of the team’s problems since Ronaldo departed to join Juventus:

COACHING WOES

Zinedine Zidane left just before Ronaldo and his absence has been felt just as badly.

Madrid replaced the France great with Julen Lopetegui, but the former Spain coach lasted only about three months before he was sacked.

Former player Santiago Solari arrived as an interim coach and was given the full-time job after a good start, but confidence in him has quickly eroded as the team continues to be inconsistent.

He has struggled to manage some of his players, including Francisco “Isco” Alarcon, who could be on his way out because of his lack of playing minutes. He was substituted in the second half against Leganes on Wednesday.

Calls for another coaching change have been getting louder, adding to the team’s instability on the field.

BETTING ON YOUTH

Madrid did not make any blockbuster signing to try to replace Ronaldo, betting instead on youngsters such as Vinicius Junior, who is only 18.

The Brazilian has shown signs he could be a star, but still lacks the experience to lead the squad.

Mariano Diaz was given the No. 7 jersey when Ronaldo left, but his season has been marred by injuries and he hasn’t been able to contribute much so far.

SLUGGISH VETERANS

Madrid hoped veterans Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema could take over the leadership role that Ronaldo used to carry, but that never happened even though their numbers improved significantly after the Portuguese star left.

They each have scored more goals, but haven’t been consistent enough to also notch victories.

DEFENSIVE STRUGGLES

The club has conceded more than 30 goals and has one of the worst defenses among the teams in the top half of the Spanish league standings.

It lost 3-0 to Sevilla, Eibar, and CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, and was demoralized by Barcelona 5-1 in the league at Camp Nou Stadium.

“We know that we have to get better,” midfielder Casemiro says.

INJURIES

It hasn’t helped coach Solari that he lost Bale, Marcelo, Toni Kroos and Diaz to lengthy injuries. Benzema is the latest concern for Solari because of a broken hand.

“It’s been an atypical season with all the injuries,” Fernandez says. “We haven’t been playing our best soccer, but there is a lot of season left.”

Madrid’s next match is on Saturday at home against Sevilla in the Spanish league. Madrid is fourth in the standings, 10 points behind leader Barcelona after 19 matches.

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

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

Humble Jose Mourinho: “I belong to top level”

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Jose Mourinho is back in the public eye a month after being fired as Manchester United’s manager.

Did he every really leave?

Mourinho is working as a pundit for beIN Sports in the Middle East and will give analysis of the huge Arsenal v. Chelsea clash on Saturday.

Speaking with huge passion to the outlet about a multitude of topics, Mourinho revealed he isn’t considering retirement and has his eyes on a top job.

“I want to coach. I am too young. I am in football for a long, long time but I will be 56 in a couple of weeks. I am too young. Where I am going to stay is where I belong. I belong top level football and that is where I am going to be,” Mourinho said.

We see that Mourinho’s famed confidence hasn’t taken a battering from losing his job at United…

[ STREAM: Every PL match live

On a serious note, he did have some interesting things to say about his two-and-half seasons in charge of the Red Devils.

Mourinho said that the second-place finish he achieved at United in 2017-18 was one of his greatest achievements as a manager, and added that “some people don’t know what is going on behind-the-scenes” at the club.

And he added that the structure of the club has to be set up in a way for the manager to not focus on everything the modern day player is involved with, while several times he pointed to the fact that players now have a huge amount of power.

“A club must be very well organised, where the manager is only the manager and not the man that is trying to keep the discipline or educate the players,” Mourinho said.

Hmmm. I wonder who he could have on his mind there…

The former Chelsea, United, Real Madrid and Inter Milan coach also tried to put plenty of wrongs right (his words) about him, as he talked about the results versus style of play debate — he is obviously a fan of the former — and stated that he didn’t sell Mohamed Salah while he was in charge of Chelsea.

“People try to identify me as the coach who sold Salah. I am the coach that bought Salah,” Mourinho said. “It is completely the wrong idea. I played against Basel in the Champions League. Salah was a kid in Basel. When I play against a team I analyze the team and the players for quite a long time and I fell in love with that kid. I bought the kid. I pushed the club to buy him. At that time we already had fantastic attacking players… He was a lost kid in London. He was a lost kid in a new world. When the club decided to sell him, it was not me.”

It safe to say that Mourinho will be absorbing to watch as an analyst, and he plans to do that for a little while as he added that he wants to learn more about what goes on behind the camera in order to learn more about the modern game.

All of this talk taught us one thing: Mourinho really is struggling with how the game has changed and he needs to adapt to the modern game if he’s going to continue to be successful and last longer than a few years at one club.