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.


India and Pakistan ready to renew rivalry in Dubai showdown

Updated 18 September 2018
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India and Pakistan ready to renew rivalry in Dubai showdown

  • India brace for Pakistan after surviving stern test against minnows Hong Kong
  • Usman Shinwari: Any player who performs well in an India-Pakistan match will find his career reaches a new high

DUBAI: As delirium sweeps the UAE ahead of the mouth-watering encounter between arch rivals India and Pakistan in the Asia Cup, it seems one man — at least outwardly — is not as excited as the rest of the country and cricketing fans the world over.
India captain Rohit Sharma played with a straight bat when asked about the biggest clash in world cricket, set to take place today at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. On his first Asia Cup media outing the 31-year-old seemed unconcerned by the impending showdown with their fiercest opponents, his focus instead on facing Hong Kong, who Sharma and Co. had a big scare against on Tuesday.
“Right now, we are not focusing on Pakistan as (first) we are playing Hong Kong,” Sharma said on Sunday. “Obviously we have to focus on that particular team but once we have finished that game we will focus on Pakistan and what their strengths and weaknesses are.”
These are clearly the words of a man so media trained that by now he could easily be on the other side of the desk, asking the same questions he and his colleagues sometimes enjoy batting back with crafted clichés that speak of focusing on “one game at a time” or the like.
Sharma was clearly right to not take his eyes off the ball with Hong Kong — they are not here to merely make up the numbers, as their brilliant, battling performance on Tuesday illustrated. But at the same time, Sharma will be all too aware that as India skipper the one match you do not want to lead your side to defeat in is the one against Pakistan, regardless of competition and location.
Clearly India are not leaving Pakistan preparations to the 14 hours or so (sleep included) between the close of the Hong Kong clash and the toss prior to resuming Indo-Pak cricketing rivalry. To suggest they are would be naive at best.
A year on from Pakistan’s show-stealing Champions Trophy final victory over the old enemy in June last year, and a whole five years since the two sides met outside of an ICC or ACC event due to strained political relations, the appetite for the first of potentially three matches at this year’s Asia Cup is huge and one borne out of starved hunger.
Pakistan’s Usman Shinwari, fresh off defeating Hong Kong on Sunday, was more candid than Sharma.
“Any player who performs well in an India-Pakistan match will find his career reaches a new high, and every player dreams of doing well in this contest,” the fast bowler said. “I took three wickets (against Hong Kong), I hope that can be five wickets against India.”
Shinwari’s sentiments were echoed by his captain, Sarfraz Ahmed, who is absolutely clear on the levels of expectation that this fixture demands from fans on both sides of the border.
“The passion is always there,” said Sarfraz. “When you play against India everyone wants us to win as it’s against India.
“The fans say that whatever happens you have to win but as a captain I have to win against every team. It would be the same for India whose fans want them to win. It has happened in the past that any player who performs in the Indo-Pak match becomes a national hero.”
UAE cricket fans cannot wait for the clash. It took just a few hours for the first batch of tickets to be snapped up, the second bought in equally ravenous fashion. It has left a huge number of tickets now being touted across online marketplaces, social media platforms and, ultimately, will likely see the inflated resales being pawned outside the stadium on matchday too.
An expected 25,000 fans will swell the Ring of Fire, set to deal not only with cricket’s most fierce rivalry but also with all the unpredictability that will be thrown their way.
The famed traffic jams around Hessa Street, leading up to the stadium, and local entrances of Dubai Sports City will heave and efforts have been made to ease the burden of vehicles that will cart both sets of fans in and out of the area. Gates will open from 12p.m. local time, a whole three and a half hours before the first ball has been bowled. In an emirate where the last-minute rush is a daily fact of life, this will be not be an easy thing to execute but that, alongside the immense presence of volunteers and security, should prove welcome additions to the day’s running order.
This, though, is India vs Pakistan. Anything could happen.