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Vote of confidence? Woodward says Mourinho, players ‘fully united’

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If you thought a Manchester derby defeat would be the final nail in the coffin for Jose Mourinho’s tenure at Manchester United, think again.

[ MORE: Fulham hire Claudio Ranieri after firing Slavisa Jokanovic ]

Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward put to bed any speculation that Mourinho would be fired during the current international break — as many had speculated might be the case — despite the club’s poor start to the Premier League season. The Red Devils sit eighth in the table, a dozen points back of leaders Manchester City after as many games played.

Not only is Mourinho going nowhere this week, Woodward insists everyone at the club remains “fully united” and pulling in the same direction — quotes from the Mirror:

“On the pitch we remain well-positioned in the Champions League, and although we’ve had a mixed start to our domestic campaign, the squad and the manager are fully united in their determination to regain our momentum in the Premier League.”

Woodward would hardly come out and say, “We’re far from pleased with the performances of Mourinho and the players, if things don’t turn around he’s gone in [X-number of] games,” but the fact he’s been forced to speak about the topic indicates Mourinho’s place at the club is hardly secure or guaranteed.

Man United’s biggest problem ignored amid Mourinho’s excuses

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MANCHESTER — Jose Mourinho refused to blame his players for a sub-par display in the Manchester Derby on Sunday, as his Manchester United team lost 3-1 at Manchester City and are now closer to the bottom three of the Premier League than the top.

[ MORE: 4 things we learned ] 

Instead, Mourinho rattled off excuse after excuse as United lost for the fourth team in 12 games this season after yet another slow start. In the aftermath of the defeat, instead of highlighting United’s issues, Mourinho delivered excuse after excuse. He took the easy option.

City are 12 points ahead of United and along with Liverpool, Chelsea and even Tottenham they look set for a title tussle. United are so far from that it is scary as they’ve had to rely on late comebacks to drag them up the table in recent weeks. The wins over Bournemouth and Everton, plus the miraculous late comeback at Juventus in the UEFA Champions League, have given United’s fans false hope that this season could still be a success.

[ MORE: Player ratings ]  

Despite their late shows, the Red Devils are seven points off the top four and currently sit in eighth place in the Premier League. They’ve now conceded 21 goals in their opening 12 games of the season and for the first time since 1977 they have a negative goal difference at this stage of a campaign. That porous defense is a stain on Mourinho’s proud record as a defensive mastermind, and the fact he is ignoring that issue is most concerning as United continue to struggle.

Once again United could not carry out Mourinho’s defensive plan as he set his team up in a 4-5-1 formation and had three scrappers in midfield (Matic, Herrera and Fellaini) and the pace of Marcus Rashford to unleash on the break. It didn’t work, at all, and United looked far better when they chucked players forward in the second half as they tried to get back in the game after going 2-0 down. In truth, it was Ederson who handed them the initiative with a poor challenge to give United a penalty kick.

After the game Mourinho was asked if the derby summed up why City are pushing for a second-straight title and United, who finished a distant second behind them last season, are now solely focused on trying to finish in the top four.

“If you focus on all of the game today. The game was open for 80 something minutes, I think nobody left the stadium before their third goal, for sure, because the game was open until then,” Mourinho told reporters. “In a week where Man City played at home three matches and we played three matches away, in a week where they enjoyed two 6-0 and 6-1 victories, relaxed, no pressure, no mental effort, everything nice and easy. We played two matches away, difficult ones and the second one was like a final for us against one of the best teams in Europe, a game that demanded from us everything we had to give physically and mentally.

“When I analyze the game today I think the difference was — you can go for stats, that is the way people that don’t understand football analyze football, is with stats — but I don’t go for stats. I go for what I felt and what I watch in the game. The game was there until minute 80 something. I consider the performance of my team as a performance with mistakes. That is different than a bad performance. We made mistakes, we were punished for these mistakes. The performances, the mentality, the togetherness, belief, the fight until the end is something we are building and we are not going to lose that because of a defeat.”

That excuse about suffering from fatigue surfaced again and although United’s four-game PL unbeaten run is over, Mourinho is adamant they’re moving in the right direction.

After being asked if their poor defensive record shows he should have been handed a new center back in the summer transfer window, Mourinho praised the displays of center back pairing Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof and said he would not hammer Luke Shaw as he has played week in, week out this season.

“The game against Juventus was hard physically and mentally. I am with my players,” Mourinho said. “I am even with my players that today made the mistakes that led to Man City’s goals. We are together. We are not going to be effected by this. I am sorry we don’t play the next match soon and we have to wait 15 days for that but we are improving. We are improving and we go together until the end.”

What is at the end of this season remains to be seen, but United’s slim chances of winning the title are now over and a top four would now be a remarkable achievement.

Mourinho was asked about Paul Pogba being out injured for the derby and how that impacted his team. Another excuse soon arrived.

“I don’t like to lose a game and talk about this player who wasn’t here. But he is important for us in many aspects of the game. Because he didn’t play we had to play Fellaini who wasn’t ready to play for 90 minutes,” Mourinho said. “I can imagine when the result was 2-1, if we bring a fresh Fellaini on, I think they (Man City) would be in big, big trouble. When the result was 2-1 and it was the moment we had that final push, it was the moment Fellaini was doing an incredible effort to stay on the pitch. Not fit at all. Risking his injury and his condition and giving everything to the team. Clearly one thing is to have a fresh Fellaini and another to play him for 90 minutes in this match. Yes, we missed Paul but that doesn’t mean with Paul we win the game. That is not an excuse.”

The fact is, Mourinho delivered many excuses as to why United didn’t turn up for the derby and why they were dominated by Man City. The one thing he hasn’t delivered answers to are the same issues which have plagued United so far this season and leave them languishing outside the top four.

Mourinho: Man United drained, made mistakes vs. Man City

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Jose Mourinho wasn’t too bothered by Manchester United’s 3-1 loss to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, calling it, “Not a bad performance [but] a performance with mistakes.”

[ MORE: Match recap ]

The United manager said the team’s three-match away week coupled with an injury to Paul Pogba and a less than 100 percent Romelu Lukaku hampered his Red Devils.

Oh, and he wasn’t about to let the rivals’ midweek difference in opponent and venue go by unnoticed. From the BBC:

“We had two matches away [Juventus and then City], it is not the physical effort but the mental pressure,” he said. “I think some of the boys felt it a little bit.”

“Everybody has to agree. It is one thing to go to Juventus and play against one of the best teams in the world for 90 minutes. Another thing to beat Shakhtar Donetsk at home 6-0 and be very relaxed. We arrive in different circumstances.

[ MORE: 4 things | Player ratings ]

As for Pogba, well, this is a very Mourinho answer.

Mourinho explains Pogba’s Manchester Derby absence

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Jose Mourinho lavished praise on Paul Pogba in explaining why the Manchester United midfielder is missing from Sunday’s Manchester Derby.

Pogba was injured during his starring role in Manchester United’s memorable UEFA Champions League win over Juventus this week.

WATCH THE MANCHESTER DERBY LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

“Paul is injured,” he told Sky Sports. “He was injured during the game in Turin. He resisted. He felt that he could resist. He felt that it was such a crucial match for the team. He made that sacrifice for us, and then it was impossible for him to recover for this match.

“He is a very important player for us. People sometimes like to focus on the little problems in his performance, and we do the same. We try to make him the complete player. But his qualities are so, so good, and so important for the team at many different levels.”

Pogba was not just the star of the Juve win, but also the comeback defeat of City last Spring. Mourinho is starting Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini, and Nemanja Matic in the midfield of his 4-3-3.

Top Premier League storylines for Week 12

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The UEFA Champions League and Europa League midweek action has only set the table for what should be a remarkable weekend of movement on the Premier League table, highlighted by one of the best chess matches in recent managerial memory.

[ MORE: PL Club Power Rankings ]


The Manchester Derby, subtitled Pep vs. Mou, Round 3
Man City vs. Manchester United, 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

Manchester City is firing on all cylinders ahead of this one, with a 12-1 combined scoreline in its last two matches and just a single goal allowed in its last seven matches in all competitions, but its rivals have had that little bit of something to get the job done against the odds in recent weeks (Most recently a 2-1 smash-and-grab comeback defeat of Juventus in the Champions League).

Since Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho ascended to the top chairs of Manchester City and Manchester United, the home team has a record of 1W-1D-3L in the derby. The lone win is United’s 1-0 League Cup ouster of City in 2016.

The last one, of course, was the memorable 3-2 comeback win punctuated by a Paul Pogba– and Alexis Sanchez-authored “not so fast” as Man City attempted to clinch its Premier League title on April 7.

The Foxes return home from owner’s funeral for King Power tribute
Leicester City vs. Burnley, 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN
[ STREAM ]

Leicester’s defeat of Cardiff City one week after the death of owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was emotional, but the heavy hearts extended into a trip to Thailand for his funeral and now a first home match without their beloved leader. It’s difficult to imagine what it will be like playing in the building for the first time since the helicopter crash outside the ground that claimed five lives including Srivaddhanaprabha following the 1-1 draw with West Ham. Our thoughts remain with the Leicester community.

Marco Silva‘s Toffees meet massive test at Stamford Bridge
Chelsea vs. Everton, 9:15 a.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN
 [ STREAM ]

Everton is really finding itself, with Richarlison and Gylfi Sigurdsson the standout performers for new boss Marco Silva. But its another first year manager who is exceeding expectations on the job. Given Man City’s task in facing United for a derby, it’s not crazy to think Maurizio Sarri will have Chelsea atop the Premier League table if it can handle the Toffees.

Reds hope to find mojo against defensively-challenged Fulham
Liverpool vs. Fulham, 7 a.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN
[ STREAM ]

The Reds just haven’t been right of late, and that’s underlined, italicized, and bolded by the 2-0 Champions League setback in Serbia. On paper, there is no way Liverpool doesn’t explode for a bunch of goals.

Palace looks to shake slump with derby date against Spurs
Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur, 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC
[ STREAM ]

It’s been 1-0 the last five times these teams have met, with Spurs on a four-match winning run. Tottenham came back to topple PSV Eindhoven earlier this week and kept its Champions League dreams alive, and it heads into Selhurst Park to meet an Eagles team which desperately needs a good and memorable performance.