Mourinho hits out at ‘injury prone’ Man United; praises Liverpool

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LIVERPOOL — Jose Mourinho insisted he was happy with the effort of his players in their 3-1 defeat at bitter rivals Liverpool on Sunday, but it didn’t take Manchester United’s manager long to start having a dig at his players “physicality”.

Once again.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Mourinho spoke to reporters after the humiliating defeat at Anfield, as the scoreline didn’t tell the story of just how dominant Liverpool were.

United lost Chris Smalling in the warm up and played an injured Eric Bailly, struggling Victor Lindelof and Ashley Young as the likes of Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia were missing amid a string of injuries.

When asked about the style of his team Portuguese coach once again referred to “mad dogs” he had in his previous teams, and once again suggested this United squad do not possess the grit and ability to play through injury that he needs.

“First of all we have lots of problems related with physicality,” Mourinho said. “We have lots of players that I could consider injury prone. Some of our players are always injured. It is not just with me, it is before me. If you look to the stats with Mr. Van Gaal and David [Moyes], in that period we have players that are permanently injured. When you are permanently injured physicality is very hard to get.”

He then went on to describe the qualities his team has, and seemed to go around in circles before lauding Liverpool’s physical, high intensity players.

“Then you have qualities which a player either does or he doesn’t have. You cannot improve, make them have, I give you an example: Robertson, Mane, Salah, Wijnaldum, Keita, Fabinho. They are physical players, on top of that they are good players technically, I also have lots of good players, technically, but we don’t have many players with that intensity, with that physicality,” Mourinho said. “So when the game has high levels of intensity it is difficult for us. First 20 minutes was difficult for us. Then when we had the ball, the tension and intensity went down it was easier for us to be in the game and to bring the game into our side, to play the way we can. Those are our qualities.”

Not content with lauding Liverpool’s intensity and having a pop at the lack of physicality of United’s squad, Mourinho then went on a trip down memory lane, rattling off how great his teams at Porto, Real Madrid and Inter Milan were in different playing systems.

“You look to say some times that it is the managers choice. You can compare my Porto team with Liverpool. The qualities of the players are there,” Mourinho said. “It was my best team in defensive transition. We lose the ball, we bite like mad dogs and recover the ball after two seconds. In Real Madrid I had my best team in direct counter attack because I had young Di Maria, young Ronaldo, young Higuain and young Benzema. We killed everybody in offensive transition. In Inter I had my best team in a defensive low block, Materazzi, Samuel, Lucio, Cordoba in a low block you can be there five hours and you don’t concede a goal. Players make teams play in a certain way.”

Right now, whatever players Mourinho has at his disposal aren’t getting it done as they’re 11 points off the top four and have now lost away at Man City and Liverpool, as well as Brighton and West Ham.

“I believe we are going to make many more points in the second part of the season than we did in the first part,” Mourinho said. “I know we lost some of the other matches, but we played away at Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City, probably the three best teams apart from Tottenham. We played with them away.”

The excuses keep on rolling out of Mourinho’s mouth and with United’s banged up squad, and with star players being left on the bench such as Paul Pogba, the Red Devils look like they have no clear plan and are destined to finish outside of the top four.

One word can sum up United’s season so far under Mourinho: regression.

It is tough to see how he is going to turn this tide around and last beyond the end of the 2018-19 campaign.

Shaqiri, Liverpool overrun Manchester United

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  • Fabinho, Mane team up for terrific opener
  • Alisson gaffe cues up Lingard equalizer
  • Super sub Shaqiri scores two off the bench

Xherdan Shaqiri scored a pair of deflected second-half goals as Liverpool went back into first place with a 3-1 defeat of Manchester United at Anfield on Sunday.

Sadio Mane scored the Reds’ other goal, as the leaders moved to 45 points. Jesse Lingard scored for Manchester United, now 11 points adrift of the Top Four.

Jose Mourinho kept Paul Pogba on the bench for the entire 90 minutes.

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Mohamed Salah dribbled Ashley Young into the grass with a cutback before earning a corner for Liverpool in the second minute.

Romelu Lukaku was pushed offside by Sadio Mane, making a free kick goal offside because the Belgian’s air kick rightly put off Liverpool keeper Alisson Becker.

The first half-dozen minutes were chaotic, with Liverpool claiming for a penalty at one end when Salah hit the deck and Alisson collected a long distance effort from United at the other.

Fabinho rocketed a shot wide with a partial deflection. Young then made a goal line clearance on the ensuing corner as Liverpool ravaged the Manchester United box.

Mane got Liverpool’s much deserved breakthrough when Fabinho sent a sensational ball over the top to meet the Senegalese striker, whose technical work in turning it past De Gea was top notch. It was Liverpool’s 11th shot attempt of the first 25 minutes.

There was such little danger from United, which makes the equalizer all the more stunning in our story. Lingard started a move to Lukaku, and Alisson couldn’t corral an easy ball. Lingard followed it up for 1-1.

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David De Gea made a fine low save and Young blocked Mane’s big at a rebound in the 53rd minute, as Liverpool took advantage of a waylaid Eric Bailly.

Liverpool had a pair of corner kicks around the 62nd minute, including a near miss by Dejan Lovren.

Fabinho stung a 30-yard shot at De Gea in the 71st minute, but the United keeper stayed with the swerve for a difficult catch made to look easy.

Mane then set-up the winner by cooking Ander Herrera on the left flank, cutting his effort toward goal. De Gea kicked it back atop the box, where Shaqiri zipped it off Young, then the cross bar, and finally into the goal.

Shaqiri then put it to bed with a second deflected goal, ripping this 81st minute effort off Bailly’s ankle and past a flying De Gea.

Koulibaly left off CAF award shortlist amid Manchester United rumors

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The African confederation somehow managed to leave Kalidou Koulibaly off its shortlist for African Player of the Year, a head-scratching decision considering the rapidly rising stock of the 27-year-old Senegal international.

The CAF announced its 10-man shortlist for the award early Friday morning, before eventually awarding the distinction to Liverpool attacker Mohamed Salah for the second straight year. While Salah is undoubtedly a deserving winner given his goalscoring prowess over the past year and more, a failure to recognize Koulibaly’s presence in the landscape of African footballers is nothing short of embarrassing.

While Koulibaly was left off, Juventus defender Medhi Benatia was on the list, despite proving second-string behind Italians Leonardo Bonucci and Georgio Chiellini.¬†While Koulibaly logged 3,426 minutes in the 2018 calendar year at the heart of Napoli’s defense, Benatia was just utilized for 1,988 minutes. While Koulibaly was an unused substitute just two times the entire 2018 calendar year across all competitions, Benatia has been left on the Juventus bench 14 times this season alone, and 22 times in the 2018 calendar year.

Also acknowledged on the list was Arsenal youngster Alex Iwobi, and while the 22-year-old is undoubtedly a rising talent on a large Premier League club and is slowly endearing himself to the fanbase, he has still logged just nine starts in Arsenal’s 16 Premier League matches this season and had just three goals and 11 assists across all competitions in the 2018 calendar year.

In the last year or two, Koulibaly has been regarded as one of the best center-backs in all of Europe, and it has resulted in rumors of an expensive move. The London Evening Standard reports that two bids for Koulibaly from Manchester United have already been rejected, while a third is potentially on its way that would make Koulibaly the most expensive defender in history, passing Liverpool’s capture of Virgil Van Dijk. That move would make sense as Manchester United’s defense has often been the team’s downfall this season, and the club is desperate for a big signing to land major success, with recent expensive captures Fred, Romelu Lukaku, and Paul Pogba all receiving plenty of criticism in their Manchester United tenures so far.

The Evening Standard report says that Koulibaly was on Manchester United’s radar last summer, but the team instead focused on attempts at other defenders, naming Toby Alderweireld,¬†Harry Maguire¬†and¬†Jerome Boateng¬†as players Manchester United made runs at instead. Manager Jose Mourinho has been extremely open about his disappointment in United’s failure to bolster its central defensive ranks in recent transfer windows, only adding Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly in the last three years.

While Manchester United certainly won’t be deterred by the CAF’s massive error, the egregious miss still degrades the award’s prestige when clearly deserving players are shunned for bigger names in what has creeped ever closer to becoming nothing more than a popularity contest.

PL Preview: Manchester United vs Fulham

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  • Man United has won 21 of 23 home matches against Fulham
  • Fulham has won just once at Old Trafford in any competition
  • Fulham has lost six straight PL road games

Manchester United returns home a wounded animal as the Red Devils host Fulham on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

The Red Devils have not won in Premier League play in over a month, without victory since a visit to Bournemouth in early November. They are set to take on an opponent they have had much success against in the past, having lost just once at home against Fulham in 23 matches.

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With pressure heaped on Jose Mourinho – needing a vote of confidence via the boss’s own agent to quiet the noise – Fulham could do significant damage to the Portuguese manager should they achieve a rare result at Old Trafford. It would also be a significant boost to the Whites’ relegation battle, currently sitting bottom of the table with nine points, below Southampton and Burnley on goal differential.

Claudio Ranieri has come on board in place of the departed Slavisa Jokanovic and done well to steady the ship, earning four points in his first three matches in charge, instilling a greater defensive discipline within the squad. Still, the Whites have the league’s worst defensive record by a considerable margin, and could be just what the doctor ordered for a Manchester United team that has scored five goals over the four-match winless run.

Manchester United comes into the match with significant questions on the injury front, with Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw, Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly and Phil Jones all facing an uphill battle to prove fit. Alexis Sanchez and Victor Lindelof have both already been ruled out with longer term problems. Fulham, meanwhile, looks likely to have both Kevin McDonald and Floyd Ayite back fit, although Timothy Fosu-Mensah is not eligible to face his parent club.

What they’re saying

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho on Fulham:¬†“The game is not eleven versus zero, it’s going to be eleven versus eleven, with good players on the other side, the position and points [total] don’t say much about [the] potential of the team. They have one of the two most important managers in Premier League history, they have the potential to come here and give us a difficult match.”

Fulham manager Claudio Ranieri on Jose Mourinho:¬†“He was the first who sent me a message to say welcome back. He is a very friendly friend. I know him for a long time, when he came to Chelsea and in Italy, and he was very polite with me. He’s a great man, coach, manager.”

Prediction

This is a tough one to predict, as many possibilities are in play. Manchester United could succumb to its most embarrassing defeat of the season if Ranieri can devise a plan to take advantage of a wounded squad, or the talent of the Red Devils could prove too much for a Fulham side that is only recently beginning to build confidence. The latter is more likely, and the young internationals at the head of the United attack will hold serve at home for a 2-1 victory and leave Fulham still with more work to do in the relegation battle.

Five things we learned from midweek PL

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Before we start with the specifics, we learned that the midweek games were crazy in the Premier League.

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For the first matchday since 2010 all 20 teams scored, as there were upsets, goals galore, huge mistakes and plenty of talking points.

Lets dig in on five specific things we learned from what occurred over the past 48 hours.


1. Gutsy Liverpool prove the strength of their squad
Trailing at Burnley in the second half, this was a huge test of Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool. They passed with flying colors. Klopp left Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino out of his starting lineup and it looked like they could pay the price. But Salah and Firmino came on in the second half after James Milner pulled Liverpool level and the rest is history. Alisson made a fine save late on to keep the score at 2-1 and Xherdan Shaqiri finished plucky Burnley off. Klopp hit out at Burnley’s rough tactics after the game as Joe Gomez suffered a lower leg fracture in the first half, and it was a gruelling test to win at Burnley even if the Clarets are nowhere near the team they were last season. Shaqiri, Divock Origi, Daniel Sturridge, Joel Matip, Alberto Moreno, Naby Keita and others stepped up to help Liverpool get the job done as they sit two points behind leaders Manchester City heading into the busy festive period. Liverpool’s squad this season is so much stronger than last year and they have considerable, and game-changing, options on the bench each game.


2. Man United’s defensive issues likely to cost them top four spot
Jose Mourinho wanted two new center backs in the summer and he didn’t get them. At every opportunity Manchester United’s manager is reminding Ed Woodward what a monumental mistake he made for not releasing the funds for United to buy new defenders. Then again, Mourinho did want Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof to join United… Before the game against Arsenal he said he had no center backs fit. He played three of them in Bailly, Smalling and Rojo on Wednesday. Individuals aside, the 2-2 draw with Arsenal underlined the good and the bad about United. The good: they have a wealth of attacking options who are actually scoring goals and creating opponents problems. The bad: they can’t defend for toffee. That is very unlike a Mourinho team. David De Gea‘s blunder and an own goal from Marcos Rojo gifted Arsenal two goals at Old Trafford and Mourinho lambasted the defensive play of his side. If they’re going to reach the top four this season at all (not just by Mourinho’s previous prediction of early January) they will have to shore things up defensively. As bad as United have been this season, and leaving the Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku situation to one side, they are only eight points off the top four. But they do have the sixth-worst defensive record and also have a negative goal difference. That says it all.


3. Chelsea’s title charge may already be over
The way Chelsea folded at newly-promoted Wolves on Wednesday suggests they are nowhere near ready for a title push. Maurizio Sarri said he is “very worried” after watching his side surrender a 1-0 lead as they were pushed over and roughed up by a hungry, out-of-form, Wolves to lose 2-1. Chelsea’s tremendous early-season form relied heavily on Eden Hazard and the Belgian has been off the boil in recent weeks. He hasn’t scored since early October and unlike Liverpool, those who Sarri brought into the team at Wolves struggled. Alvaro Morata had another off day, Cesc Fabregas was overpowered and Andreas Christensen was hardly rock solid. 10 points behind Man City who they face on Saturday at Stamford Bridge, it is fair to say Chelsea’s title bid is pretty much over before it ever began.


4. Hasenhuettl has plenty of defensive work to do too
Southampton’s new manager Ralph Hasenhuettl met the media on Thursday and he has quite the way with words. He also knows the one area where he needs to improve the team immediately: defense. It is often cliche to say a manager ‘needs to sort the defense out’ when he first comes in midseason, but this is so very true in this case. Saints lost 3-1 at Tottenham and trailed 3-0 early in the second half before Spurs stopped playing.¬†Hasenhuettl has a bloated squad at Saints and the likes of Yoshida, Stephens, Vestergaard, Bednarek and Hoedt have all been used this season without finding a successful combination. Sorting out their backline is the main issue for¬†Hasenhuettl early on as Saints have let in seven goals in their last three games in the PL, although they have scored five in that period. Going forward they have weapons to hurt their opponents but building a solid foundation is key. Then, and only then, will¬†Hasenhuettl be able to promote his 4-2-2-2 formation which relies on high-pressing and relentless running. Southampton will be hoping Hasenhuettl has the same impact as the last manager they brought in midseason, Mauricio Pochettino back in January 2013.


5. Fulham improving slowly under Claudio Ranieri
Even though they coughed up a late goal at home against Leicester, the signs are good for Fulham under Claudio Ranieri. Fulham led the Foxes 1-0 and although they will be disappointed to not open up with two wins from Ranieri’s first three games in charge, there are encouraging signs that the players are grasping his ideas. Fulham’s defense has conceded just three times over the past two games and after the 2-0 defeat at Chelsea at the weekend, Ranieri revealed he was more pleased with how his team played there than he was in the 3-2 home win against Southampton on his debut. They look solid in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Chambers and Seri shoring things up in front of the back four. Ranieri is getting this Fulham side back to basics and the pace of Kamara and Sessegnon on the break works well with Mitrovic’s hold-up play. Working Andre Schurrle back into the team will also help, but shoring up Fulham’s defense is key to Ranieri’s philosophy.