The relegation-threatened Magpies scrapped their way to a 1-0 win at St James’ Park on Sunday courtesy of Matt Ritchie’s 65th-minute strike, although they were indebted to fine goalkeeping from debutant Martin Dubravka and some last-ditch defending as the visitors launched an onslaught.
Mourinho told Sky Sports: “They fought like animals – and animal is a good word in football and I hope they take it as a compliment.”
He added during his post-match press conference: “I think first of all that the Newcastle United players and obviously staff, they gave what they have and what they don’t have and I think that’s a beautiful thing in football.
“I think they came here today to fight for a point, but they found themselves in the position of winning 1-0 and in that moment, they went over all the limits of the effort, of the sacrifice, of everything a manager likes to see in his team.
“I saw that in my team at 1-0, that desire to play and to try and to go until the last seconds, which we did.
“I can imagine that [Rafael] Benitez is more than pleased with the efforts of his players. Were they lucky? Yes, they were, yes, they were. But sometimes you attract that luck with your state of mind and at 1-0, the Newcastle players fought for their lives and I think that’s a beautiful thing in football.”
Ritchie’s decisive strike came in the midst of a storm as United attempted to turn the screw, and it could hardly have been more timely on a day when Huddersfield’s earlier win had plunged Benitez’s men into the bottom three.
The Spaniard said: “We knew that they had won and at the same time, we knew we needed to try to win the game, that’s it.
“We were very close in a lot of games, but we were unlucky; today, we were working even harder if it’s possible and then we were a little but lucky at the end.
“But it wasn’t because they won that we needed to win. We needed to win anyway and my message to our players before the game was to forget about the other games, just concentrate on this one and try to get three points.”
Victory eased the Magpies into 13th place in the table, while United now trail leaders Manchester City by 16 points.
Real Madrid star Ronaldo won the prestigious world player of the year award for a record-equalling fifth time in December, meaning either he or Barcelona playmaker Messi have claimed the prize every year since 2008.
But the form of De Bruyne in Manchester City‘s outstanding season has elevated the Belgium midfielder to the elite level in the eyes of his manager, and Guardiola believes is a potential winner.
“No doubt,” said Guardiola after watching De Bruyne lay on three more assists in Saturday’s 5-1 thrashing of Leicester. “He is not (just doing it in) one game. It’s the whole season, every three days playing that way. Every three days.
“But he knows and everyone knows, to be there you have to win titles – and titles and titles, especially one. But the way he’s played it’s difficult to find one (better) in Europe.”
When asked if the ‘one’ title he was referring to was the Champions League, Guardiola said: “Of course. You have to be there in the latter stages. Without the latter stages you will not be nominated.”
Guardiola, however, is not looking too far ahead just yet. The quadruple-chasing Premier League leaders resume their Champions League campaign at the last-16 stage in Basel on Tuesday and Guardiola is well aware City exited at this point last season. His immediate aim is negotiating a path into the next round.
He said: “The next step forward from last season is to achieve the quarter-finals. That is our only concern. Against Basel we try to make two good games and do it better than last season.
“We arrive good but we have to know the Champions League is another competition, completely different.
“The Champions League is (about) how you control the bad moments and the emotions. That is the Champions League. We scored six goals last season in the last 16 and were out.”
De Bruyne, who has now provided 18 assists for team-mates in all competitions this season, insists he is not interested in individual praise or talk of the Ballon d’Or.
The influential midfielder said: “To be fair, when I am busy playing football I don’t care (about that).
“I am doing what I have to do. It is something you reflect on after you get something like that. I am not busy with that before.
“I do everything to win titles with the team. What happens after is an extra.
“I am very pleased with the way everything is going for me. I am playing this way because the team is playing this way. It makes it easier for me, it makes it easier for them.
“At the end, if you get an individual honour, it is beautiful.”
Arsene Wenger admitted his side could not afford to lose the north London derby after Harry Kane’s winner for Tottenham on Saturday left Arsenal clinging onto their top-four ambitions.
The Gunners are now six points off the top four – and a return to the Champions League looks to be slipping away.
With the spotlight firmly on Wenger’s side, the question in our Monday debate is: Will Arsenal be able to secure a place in the Premier League’s top four?
Let us know your thoughts as our two writers discuss the topic.
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NIALL MCCAGUE, SAYS YES
Arsenal’s hopes of securing Champions League football were dealt a significant blow after a 1-0 defeat to Tottenham on Saturday.
But, although a sceptic would suggest their form and style of play is diminishing, the Gunners should seal a top four spot with 11 matches remaining. All but two of those games – against Manchester City (home) and Manchester United (away) – are winnable games and history shows they are strong finishers to the season.
In the last four campaigns, Arsenal have won or drawn an average of 75% of their last 10 remaining games and although they were shaded for fourth place by Liverpool last term Arsene Wenger’s side look a more organised outfit this time around.
January signings will certainly add confidence and boost aspirations between now and the end of the current campaign.
In Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the Gunners boast two ace attackers who are capable of scoring 15 goals between them before the middle of May. All it takes is two or three wins to gather some momentum and to allow the new players sufficient time to click – and this will kick-start more positive results and increase morale in North London.
Having no FA Cup and Champions League will keep the players fresher than their rivals, and fewer games lower the risk of injuries to marquee names in the squad. Bar Santi Cazorla, they don’t have any big injuries which is rare for Arsenal.
As it stands, Chelsea and Liverpool are vying for that fourth spot – both of whom are playing in the last-16 of the Champions League this week and have a similar run-in to the end of the season. The Gunners do have the Carabao Cup final against City later this month and Europa League action, but Wenger will not be bothered by how his team fares in that competition as he puts his full attention on the league.
The Frenchman will surely have a point to prove – and with 18 months left on his current contract, he will want to do everything he can to be playing Champions League football in his final year at the Emirates.
STUART APPLEBY, SAYS NO
“We have to continue to fight.” The words of Arsene Wenger following Saturday’s limp display, a performance Arsenal fans have become used to for many years whilst the rest of the footballing world takes a comfy watching brief, laughing at their expense and refreshing the post-match uploads page on Arsenal Fan TV in great expectation.
It’s part of the Frenchman’s job to try and move things on and seek a positive from a defeat, but in truth, the Gunners haven’t shown much or any bottle for a long time now. Not the kind, anyway, to go with such a rallying cry.
It can, of course, be all too easy to blame the manager for everything that is going wrong but Wenger, it’s sad to say after all his former glories, is at the heart of all the problems.
The failure to strengthen a leaking defence, tactical naivety (for example, remember how open they were against Liverpool earlier on this season), letting soon-to-be out of contract stars rule the roost, big game wobbles, outmuscled against the lesser sides, mystery over Wenger’s safe position in the board, fan arrest, player loyalty… the list just goes on and on.
Ultimately, nothing’s changed and change is what the Arsenal board is scared of, with the thought of sacking Wenger being central to that. What signs have we seen from the manager that he can correct his mistakes and turn it around? Very few. The reality is Arsenal won’t be able to progress until he’s gone.
It is those same issues that’ll see Arsenal fail to qualify for the Champions League for the second successive season with most fans and followers, although divided in some quarters, counting down the minutes until Wenger’s final year of his contract is up. If it wasn’t for Chelsea’s struggles, the north Londoners wouldn’t even be in the top four debate.
The caveat of recent domestic cup triumphs means the Emirates trophy room will regularly need a spring clean but Arsenal’s dining spot at Europe’s top table will be gathering plenty of dust for at least a few more years.