Romelu Lukaku place under threat as Jose Mourinho eyes rotation policy

Updated 16 December 2017
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Romelu Lukaku place under threat as Jose Mourinho eyes rotation policy

LONDON: Jose Mourinho has admitted it will be “almost impossible” to avoid rotating his squad as Manchester United bid to stay in touch with runaway title rivals Manchester City in the coming weeks.
As his United side get ready to face struggling West Brom in Sunday’s crucial Premier League clash, the recent poor form of striker Romelu Lukaku, who the Reds splashed £75 million ($99 million) on during the summer, has given Mourinho a selection headache after Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s return to fitness in November came sooner than expected.
“There will be a bit of rotation,” said Mourinho without directly addressing the Lukaku situation.
“I’ll change a few players from match to match, because I think it is almost impossible for players to play all these matches in December and the beginning of January,” he added.
Lukaku did score the first-half winner on Wednesday as United beat Bournemouth, 1-0, at Old Trafford, but has looked below par for the past two months, with just three goals in 15 games.
Mourinho, however, is reluctant to rush Ibrahimovic’s return from knee ligament damage he sustained in April, which many feared might be a career-ending injury for the Swede. United’s manager suggested a week ago that the striker, who has yet to score since his comeback, is not yet ready to play a full 90 minutes.
A further setback off the pitch came with Mourinho’s confirmation that center-back Eric Bailly, who has not played since Nov. 5, needs ankle surgery and is likely to be out for the next three months.
The United manager is under pressure to get results and back into the title race during the notoriously busy December-January period after losing ground to Pep Guardiola’s City in the Manchester derby a week ago. The result left United 11 points behind the leaders. But the Portuguese attempted to put the 38 points his side have accrued into perspective.
“We are second. The number of points could be first in other seasons, but we are second. We go one match at a time and let’s see at the end of the season how many points we have and where we are,” he said.
Sunday’s visit to The Hawthorns may not necessarily offer an any respite for Mourinho and his side. Albion are on a club-record run of 16 matches without a victory, and have not scored in three games since Alan Pardew took charge, but they drew 0-0 at Liverpool on Wednesday with a disciplined display. Before that they dropped five points against fellow strugglers Crystal Palace in a 0-0 home draw and a 1-0 defeat at Swansea.


'We want to make Saudi Arabia proud': Pizzi promises better showing against Egypt

Updated 28 min 41 sec ago
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'We want to make Saudi Arabia proud': Pizzi promises better showing against Egypt

  • Saudi Arabia cannot progress from Group A even if they defeat Egypt in their final game on Monday
  • Wednesday’s overall performance was much improved, yet a lack of penetrative passing was obvious

ROSTOV-ON-DON: “Keeping possession of the ball seems to be the absolute and most important thing, but then when you sometimes find issues in getting the ball into your opponent’s half, you have to find other movements and ways of doing that,” said Oscar Tabarez after watching his lackluster Uruguay rely on a solitary Luis Suarez goal to eliminate Saudi Arabia from the World Cup. 
Tabarez was talking about his own team’s struggles, yet the assessment is considerably more applicable to the Green Falcons, who dominated possession and retained the ball with ease in midfield, yet for the second match running looked absolutely bereft of ideas in the final third. With Uruguay and Russia now on six points, Saudi Arabia cannot progress from Group A even if they defeat Egypt in their final game on Monday.
The Green Falcons coach Juan Antonio Pizzi confirmed he intends to stay at the helm of the side for the long-haul, yet is only too aware that the potential of this team is being hamstrung by its inability to score. He called it “our weakness”, adding that his side enjoyed “good ball possession, but no effectiveness”. They, he said, did not have the sufficient “weapons or tools” to equalize.
Pizzi’s side have found the net now just twice in their past five games and against Uruguay managed only three shots on target in 90 minutes — two of which came in added time and were so tame they would hardly have troubled the opposition goalkeeper Fernando Muslera had he been relaxing at his far post sipping a drink. In the 5-0 defeat to Russia last week, they failed to muster a single shot on target. 
Wednesday’s overall performance was much improved, yet a lack of penetrative passing was obvious. One passage of play in the opening exchanges saw Saudi Arabia complete 16 passes untroubled without the ball entering the opposition penalty box. When Uruguay finally won possession, they required only four quick exchanges to find Edinson Cavani on the left wing drilling the ball across the front of goal. 
“I don’t share that assessment,” said Pizzi, when it was put to him that his team was too slow to attack. “We played at the speed that was necessary. We need to be accurate, but if you step up the speed you lose accuracy with your passes. We had control of the game and that was why.”
Striker Mohammed Al-Sahlawi had been the focal point of much criticism from Turki Al-Sheikh, the head of Saudi’s General Sports Authority, after the Russia “fiasco” and was dropped from the side against Uruguay. So too was goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf, another who Al-Sheikh name-checked as having been at fault.
Pizzi, asked whether the scathing assessment from his bosses had forced his hand when it came to team selection, calmly dismissed the suggestion. He also ruled out the notion that administrative issues between the players and the country’s football federation had caused unrest in his squad.
“I have a list of 23 players here and they are all available to play. We are here together and pushing in the same direction. 
“I wanted — and still want — to make the Saudi Arabian people feel proud of our energy and the desire we show in matches. Unfortunately we were unable to do that against Russia and will be playing our next match without any hope of progressing. I hope now they will feel a little more proud even though we are out of the World Cup,” he said.