Rejuvenated Mourinho delivers on Tottenham debut

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LONDON — The circus which follows Jose Mourinho rolled into the London Stadium on Saturday.

The Special One is back.

Everyone has an opinion on Mourinho and on the way to the game all of chatter in the pubs and on tube in London was about what formation and players Mourinho would use. There were laughs about his first press conference, as this kind of analysis for an unveiling is reserved only for Jose.

His shock return to the Premier League, replacing Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham, divided opinion among Spurs’ fanbase as they didn’t sing his name until after the game, once their 3-2 victory had been secured. There is still some trepidation around Mourinho’s arrival at Tottenham, and he knows it.

The game itself was a resounding success for the legendary Portuguese coach as he guided Spurs to their first Premier League away win since January.

The 3-2 scoreline flattered West Ham as Spurs were lively in attack with Harry Kane holding the ball up as Heung-Min Son, Lucas Moura and Dele Alli causing havoc behind him. Mourinho’s celebrations were wild on the sidelines as he sunk to his knees when they went 2-0 up but the knee slid didn’t work out. Still, he was feeling it.

Eric Dier and Harry Winks brought a pragmatic approach to the midfield in a 4-2-3-1 formation and Spurs should have won by a more comfortable margin. At the final whistle he waited on the pitch to congratulated all of his players one at a time.

He then reserved special praise for Dele Alli as the Amazon documentary cameras circled around his press conference.

“I think it was the old Dele Alli, the one from a couple of years ago who impressed not just England but the world,” Mourinho said. “He did exactly what I wanted him to do, with two days of work. Important selection of information, tried to make clear to him the spaces where we wanted him to play offensively and defensively. Very important for the team. Intelligent football player to understand what we wanted and really, really important for the team. He can be pleased with his performance.”

But this was mostly about Mourinho.

Photographers flanked his position in the dugout before the game. West Ham fans posed for selfies with the now manager of their bitter rivals. Cameras followed his walk into the stadium as he greeted the ball kids in the tunnel area with a high five and a smile, and a fist bump for some.

“The thing for me that was the most weird where I was going to football stadiums and I felt to myself ‘what am I doing here?’ In a box or in the TV studio, what am I doing here?,” Mourinho said when asked about his 11 months without a managerial job. “I belong there, that is where I belong. Today the feeling was I was where I belong. It is my natural habitat. Was I extra emotional? No. Was I nervous before the game? No. I just love it. Especially when things go in your direction. Of course, it is the best thing in football to win matches.”

Tottenham’s fans still have a mixed feeling about Mourinho arriving and Pochettino in a wild 12-hour period on Tuesday to Wednesday. There is a sense that things will unravel spectacularly under Mourinho with Chairman Daniel Levy a tough operator. Will Mourinho blow his lid during the upcoming transfer windows? Over the summer during preseason? Lose it with players who are trying to run down their contracts?

All of that fun will have to wait for another day because if anybody watched Spurs pummel a poor West Ham on Saturday, you could see there was more structure and direction to their play.

This win will help Spurs’ fans take to Mourinho, and if they beat Olympiakos on Tuesday to reach the UEFA Champions League last 16, he will be rocking and rolling. At Spurs he is in a more familiar territory, managing a team which is seen as an underdog and simply wants to win a trophy.

Mourinho is the right man for that, as his incredible success proves.

He played the humble card when referencing the fact that in his first game in charge he had led Spurs to their first away win since January.

“I’m not worried about my Tottenham career. I am worried about Tottenham and the players,” Mourinho said. “It was very, very important. 11 months without music in the away dressing room, without a smile, without happiness, they did it. I’m very happy with them, I’m very happy for them.”

Mourinho and Tottenham aren’t in love with one another yet, but there are signs that the Special One is just happy to get another opportunity in the Premier League and is eager to make the most of it. The way he celebrated and the fire in his eyes late on as he helped his team get over the line proved it.

And, whether people like him or not, the soccer world is happy to have him back.

Live, UCL last 16: Spurs v. RB Leipzig, Atalanta v. Valencia

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One Premier League has already found life in the Champions League knockout stage tougher than anticipated. Now, another takes the field hoping to fare better.

Spurs take the field looking to earn a hard-fought result against Bundesliga title contenders RB Leipzig at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium at 3:00 p.m. ET. Jose Mourinho has spent much of the week reminding everyone how many obstacles the Spurs squad has faced after the news that Heung-Min Son could potentially miss the rest of the season with a broken arm, joining Harry Kane on the injured list.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 

Mourinho’s men have won three Premier League matches in a row, in good form coming into this match. They take on an RB Leipzig squad that sits just a point back of Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga title race but has won just once in its last four league games, a 3-0 victory over Werder Bremen last time out. Striker Timo Werner, who is rumored to be of interest to Liverpool, has not scored since January 18, a five-match drought across all competitions. Leipzig is also struggling with missing players as Dayot Upamecano is suspended and both Ibrahima Konate and Willi Orban are injured, so Chelsea loanee Ethan Ampadu is selected.

Meanwhile, Atalanta makes its Champions League knockout stage debut as the Italian side “hosts” Spanish club Valencia. The Serie A side was not allowed to play in its home Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia as it does not pass UEFA regulations, so they are playing all Champions League home games at the San Siro.

Chelsea loanee Mario Pasalic starts for Atalanta in midfield with rumors of a permanent move this summer to help fund the Hakim Ziyech deal. Since December 22, the Italian side has won five while losing just one in Serie A play, including a 2-1 win over Roma last time out that saw Pasalic score the winner.

Valencia counters with Uruguayan striker Maxi Gomez up front supported by Ferran Torres and Goncalo Guedes. The Spaniards are without Ezequiel Garay, Francis Coquelin, and Gabriel Paulista all through injury. Still, they managed a 2-2 draw with Atletico Madrid last time out in La Liga play on a 59th minute equalizer by Geoffrey Kondogbia’s first goal of the season.


Wednesday Champions League action

Tottenham Hotspur v. RB Leipzig
Atalanta v. Valencia

LINEUPS

Tottenham: Lloris, Aurier, Alderweireld, Sanchez, Davies, Winks, Fernandes, Lo Celso, Alli, Bergwijn, Lucas Moura.

RB Leipzig: Gulacsi, Mukiele, Klostermann, Halstenberg, Angelino, Laimer, Ampadu, Sabitzer, Nkunku, Schick, Werner.

Atalanta: Gollini; Toloi, Palomino, Djimsiti, Hateboer, de Roon, Freuler, Gosens, Pasalic, Ilicic, Gomez.

Valencia: Domenech; Wass, Diakhaby, Mangala, Gaya, Kondogbia, Parejo, Soler, Torres, Goncalo Guedes, Gomez.

Watch Live: Man City v. West Ham

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Manchester City looks for a reaction in its first match after the UEFA sanctions were announced as they host West Ham at the Etihad on Wednesday (Watch live at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Citizens will want to finish this season strong given the future uncertainty surrounding the club, and with Leicester City nipping at their heels, a strong performance will be imperative. Man City sits just a single point above the third-placed Foxes and a poor result could leave them vulnerable for when the two meet on Saturday.

[ STREAM LIVE: Man City v. West Ham ]

Man City’s lineup sees John Stones, Ilkay Gundogan, and Fernandinho all sat on the bench. Nicolas Otamendi partners with Aymeric Laporte at the back with Rodri covering them in midfield. Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva start in the middle with Bernardo Silva in the attacking midfield role, while Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero both start up front.

The match is massively important for West Ham as well, with the Hammers sitting 18th in the Premier League table a point off safety. The Hammers counter Man City’s attacking lineup with three at the back as Declan Rice provides cover per usual and captain Mark Noble partners with Tomas Soucek in midfield.

LINEUPS

Man City: Ederson; Walker, Otamendi, Laporte, Mendy; Rodri, De Bruyne, Silva; Bernardo, Jesus, Aguero.

West Ham: Fabianski; Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Masuaku; Rice, Soucek, Noble; Snodgrass, Antonio.

Solskjaer admits Rashford’s season may be over, Euros in jeopardy

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted Wednesday that Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford suffered a setback in his recovery from a stress fracture in his back, and that he may not return before the end of the Premier League season. In addition, Solskjaer admitted there is a chance that Rashford’s availability for England in this summer’s Euro 2020 tournament could be in jeopardy.

Speaking ahead of United’s visit tomorrow to Club Brugge in Europa League action, Solskjaer said that he hopes Rashford can make a return, but that it’s certainly in question as he will be out “another few months definitely.”

[ MORE: McTominay, Lindelof back fit ]

“It will just be touch and go towards the end [of the season],” Solskjaer said. “Hopefully we can get through this tournament and prolong the season. It takes time, I’m not a doctor. I was hoping he would recover quicker than what it looks like he’s going to be out for.”

When asked about his potential availability for selection at the Euros this summer, Solskjaer said, “If he’s not fit enough he won’t go.”

It seems that Manchester United expected Rashford to be back “He had a scan and it was maybe more severe, that fracture, than what we hoped for and expected, he felt fine the few days before that. And I’ve never had anatomy in school, so I didn’t know it just takes that time to recover.”

[ MORE: Neymar upset with PSG for extra rest ]

News of a potential injury to Rashford cropped up during the Premier League match against Norwich City game on January 11, when he was withdrawn after 59 minutes. Solskjaer admitted later that Rashford needed rest, but decided to risk the 22-year-old England international anyways against Wolverhampton Wanderers in an FA Cup replay four days later, a decision he later came to publicly regret. Rashford came off after just 16 minutes and it was later announced that he had aggravated his injury from a single stress fracture to a double stress fracture.

After the Wolves match, Manchester United announced a 2-3 month timetable for Rashford’s return, meaning he could be back by late March or early April. Now it seems he could be done for the year, and England’s Euro adventure may suffer as well.

Braithwaite to Barcelona imminent, could debut Saturday

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Barcelona is taking the controversial step of signing Leganes striker Martin Braithwaite outside the January transfer window, reportedly set to trigger his $19.4 million release clause. According to a report by ESPN, Braithwaite has already agreed to terms and will join the club immediately, possibly soon enough to make his debut on Saturday against Eibar.

The Catalan club was given an exception by La Liga after Ousmane Dembele was ruled out for the season, leaving the squad with just three healthy first-team forwards in Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, and 17-year-old Ansu Fati. The injury to Dembele, which follows a long-term injury spell for Luis Suarez, led La Liga to allow Barcelona 15 days to sign a forward outside the window, provided it was either a free agent or a player already registered in the Spanish top flight.

Reports from all over Europe state that Barcelona attempted to negotiate with Leganes, but they held out for Braithwaite’s full release clause and Barcelona had little choice but to relent. The ESPN report states that Barcelona had come to an agreement with Getafe for Angel Rodriguez but Barcelona manager Quique Setien stepped in with a preference for Braithwaite due to his positional flexibility.

The controversial part of the situation is that Barcelona somewhat put itself in this spot by offloading forwards Abel Ruiz and Carles Perez in the January window without replacing them, and now have been saddled with an injury crisis. Many are upset that a big club like Barcelona is being bailed out by La Liga while Leganes suffers the loss of its leading scorer having already seen  Youssef En-Nesyri depart in the January window. Guillem Ballague reports that Leganes will appeal to La Liga for its own exception to sign an emergency player but as the rules stand, they cannot add a replacement for Braithwaite. The league office can authorize exceptions on a case-by-case basis, which they did for Barcelona, although policy has been to grant exceptions for long-term injuries.

The 28-year-old has scored eight goals across all competitions this season while Leganes has struggled at the bottom of the table all year long. They currently sit 19th in the La Liga table, two points clear of safety.