It may not take much for Jose Mourinho to blow his top but, after almost two months of what must have felt like unbearable pressure, the ‘P’ word finally erupted from his mouth.
“I think any other manager would be speaking about Pogba every day,” said Mourinho earlier this week, before mentioning Paul Pogba another five times.
‘Oh I don’t have Pogba. Oh, when I have Pogba. Oh, 10 matches without Pogba. Oh, all the Champions League group phase without Pogba. Oh, all the big matches against Liverpool, against Chelsea, against Spurs without Pogba.’
And breathe. To give Mourinho credit he has indeed kept shtum on Pogba for the most part since that hamstring injury in September – and he would have found very few sympathetic ears outside the corridors of Carrington if he hadn’t.
That United have the creativity of tracing paper without their record signing is no excuse given the millions they have chucked at other areas of their attack. United scored two goals in three Premier League games last month, a number even rudderless Everton managed to beat.
Mourinho’s tactics have come under fire – although it’s rather bizarre that anyone was surprised by his trademark pragmatism against Liverpool – and now he has lobbed a verbal grenade at the fans who have questioned Romelu Lukaku’s form.
Mourinho is right to leap to Lukaku’s defence even if he was wrong to go on the attack. The Belgian has in fact been United’s biggest creative outlet of late, whipping in the cross that gave them hope against Huddersfield before his superb flicked header helped Anthony Martial down Tottenham.
Behind the big man is where the dysfunction lies. Henrikh Mkhitaryan has lost his head, and frequently possession, since his early spurt of form. Juan Mata elicits nothing more than a faint shrug when he’s in the team – a pretty player lacking substance.
Marouane Fellaini may be the least pretty of them all but he was certainly make things happen before his injury and the replacement of Pogba’s replacement, Ander Herrera, looks utterly bereft of form as his contract standoff drags on.
Ultimately there will always be a disconnect between the swashbuckling tradition of the club and Mourinho’s percentage game but in Pogba, the Portuguese has a player that bridges the divide.
Pogba is so talented that Mourinho enables him to play just a little outside his structure, as he twirls around his markers and makes improbable passes seem impossibly easy.
If Manchester City are powered by Kevin De Bruyne, and Tottenham lean on Christian Eriksen, then it stands to reason those teams would feel the loss of their entertainer-in-chief too.
It is fitting that the fan disgruntlement boiled to the surface just ahead of Mourinho’s return to a Chelsea, a place he insists still loves him no matter the enmity that has since arisen from managing the world’s most ‘hated’ club.
When the Stamford Bridge support think of Mourinho’s cherished Chelsea sides they summon images of John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba. Perform the same thought experiment with United and do you yet credit him for the rise of Marcus Rashford? Has he turned Phil Jones into a titanic Terry-like figure? Not quite.
You instead may think of the man with many haircuts and the easy-going smile who softens Mourinho’s rough edges. For both his and the fans’ sake, Pogba’s return could not come soon enough.
Alvaro Morata and Romelu Lukaku will be under pressure to fire their teams back into the Premier League title race when the misfiring strikers clash in Chelsea‘s showdown with Manchester United on Sunday.
Chelsea forward Morata and United front man Lukaku were the toast of their clubs after celebrating their close-season transfers with a barrage of goals.
But, with Chelsea and United battling to keep pace with leaders Manchester City, Morata and Lukaku have lost their midas touch at the wrong moment, putting them under the microscope at Stamford Bridge this weekend.
United manager Jose Mourinho splashed out £75million to sign Lukaku from Everton after persuading the Belgium international to snub interest from Blues boss Antonio Conte.
Lukaku was off to a fast start, netting 11 times in his first 10 games. However, the 24-year-old finds himself in the midst of a barren spell stretching back six games to the end of September.
United fans have grown frustrated by Lukaku’s lack of contributions outside the penalty area, prompting Mourinho to chastise Old Trafford crowd for failing to give the striker enough support in last weekend’s win over Tottenham.
Lukaku responded to the doubters by admitting he is still a work in progress.
“You can’t judge me as the finished article. I’d rather have a career where year after year I improve rather than going to the top and decline,” he said.
“I know I have a lot of talent, but I want to have more assists, I want to make sure when my team is in difficulties they can count on me.”
After missing out on Lukaku, Conte settled for Morata as an expensive consolation prize. Morata hit the ground running with seven goals in his first seven games following his club record £58million move from Real Madrid.
But, like Lukaku, the 25-year-old Spaniard has failed to score in his last six games, earning criticism for some lethargic displays.
Morata also had to claim he had been misquoted after an interview in which he appeared to hint he wouldn’t stay with Chelsea for long because he doesn’t enjoy London’s hectic lifestyle.
– High stakes –
In the circumstances, Morata and Lukaku could do with silencing the critics by producing a priceless winner at the Bridge. Both players carried hefty price tags because of the belief they were ready to deliver when the stakes are highest.
That will be the case in west London this weekend as champions Chelsea try to claw their way back into the title race. Fourth placed Chelsea are four points behind second placed United and nine points adrift of table-toppers City.
Conte’s side crashed to a 3-0 defeat at Roma in the Champions League on Tuesday, erasing the momentum from successive league wins over Watford and Bournemouth.
United are five points behind City after winning only one of their last three league games, although they made it three successive wins in all competitions by beating Benfica in midweek.
Mourinho will be hoping for better luck on his latest return to Chelsea — the club where he won three English titles and was sacked twice — after United lost both their visits last season.
Abused by Chelsea fans during United’s 4-0 and 1-0 defeats, Mourinho insists he doesn’t attach special significance to the fixture.
“It isn’t a big thing. It’s normal, it’s football. One day you are in one club, the next day you’re in another club,” he said.
Conte, who will give N’Golo Kante a late fitness test on his hamstring injury, admits Chelsea no longer have any margin for error if they are to overhaul United and City.
“Now there is a big problem for all the teams that want to fight for the title and this big problem is Manchester City,” Conte said.
“If they continue in this way it will be very difficult to fight for the title.”
Provided by AFP Sport
The UAE will contest the fifth-place play-off at the Intercontinental Beach Soccer Cup against Egypt on Saturday after beating Paraguay 4-1 in Dubai.
Having finished bottom of Group A behind Egypt, the hosts will once again go up against the North Africans as a Haitham Alkaabi brace helped ensure the points against a somewhat lacklustre Paraguay side, who will meet Mexico on the final day seeking to avoid an eight-place finish.
After a goalless first period of few chances for either side, Haitham Alkaabi volleyed in the opener at the far post less than two minutes into the second.
Things continued to remain tense, with clear-cut chances few and far between, although it was the home nation who remained the more clinical as Hasham Almuntaser sent his side into at the final frame with a 2-0 lead.
Midfielder Jesus Rolon halved the arrears 30 seconds after the restart with Paraguay enjoying the better of the possession in the latter stages – Carlos Carballo glancing a header wide as the South Americans went in search of an equaliser.
However, an impressive run and assist from Waleed Beshr allowed Haitham to tap in his second and give the UAE a cushion going into the final two minutes before a superb strike from Ahmed Beshr capped the scoring, as the UAE picked up their first win of the tournament at the fourth attempt.
Goals: 0-1: Haitham, min. 10 (2); 0-2: 7, min. Hasham, min. 3 (2); 1-2: J. Rolon, min. 11 (2); 1-3: Haitham, min. 2 (3); 1-4: A. Beshr, min. 0 (3)