Jose Mourinho playing dangerous games at a testing time for Manchester United

Jose Mourinho has once again decided to take on a big-name player
Updated 24 February 2018
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Jose Mourinho playing dangerous games at a testing time for Manchester United

LONDON: There is a strand of Manchester United fan, those in thrall to the cult of Jose Mourinho, that insists that the situation he inherited at Old Trafford was much worse than the squad Pep Guardiola took over at the Etihad.
It is a slightly mystifying claim given the widespread perception at the time that City were aging while United had a scattering of extremely exciting emerging young talent. But what has given that notion legs has been the shambolic nature of United’s spending. And that has added edge to the unease between Mourinho and Paul Pogba.
City have made mistakes with their spending. Nolito did not work out. Danilo has struggled. Claudio Bravo was awful. But, for the most part, their signings have thrived. It is true that roughly €400 million ($491 million) has been spent net, but City have got full value for that spending. Most of those they have brought in have been young and upcoming, not unknowns by any means, but players still climbing toward a peak.
That cannot be said of United since Sir Alex Ferguson left, with new parts constantly being bolted on with very little sign of advance thought of cohesive planning. And most troubling is that the two most expensive signings, Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba, have both to some extent failed.
Lukaku has scored 22 goals for United in all competitions but none of those have come against other members of the big six. He did score against Real Madrid in the European Super Cup, but nothing he has yet done at Old Trafford has done anything to allay the fears that he is not quite at the elite level to make a difference in big games. What was striking at Sevilla on Wednesday as that Alex Sanchez cross came to him in the first half was how, even though the ball was on his preferred foot, it never seemed plausible that he might score.
Pogba, meanwhile, has managed eight goals and 13 assists in 45 Premier League starts since joining in the summer of 2016 which, on the face of it, sounds good. But the problem is the disruption he causes. In the 4-2-3-1 Mourinho seems these days to favor, Pogba is neither disciplined enough to play in one of the deeper positions — a point Mourinho made forcibly to him on the touchline in the defeats against both Tottenham and Newcastle — nor technically good enough with his back to goal to play behind a striker.
He is a rampaging, surging presence, a player to thrill the heart when he takes hold of a game, but an anachronism in the modern game as a box-to-box player in an era that has essentially separated midfield into two distinct bands.
Perhaps the most troubling evidence of his misfit status came at Arsenal when his red card paradoxically seemed to make United more secure in their lead as they could retreat into their bunker without anybody leading heroic charges at the opposition.
In that sense, the player he is most reminiscent of is Steven Gerrard, whom Rafa Benitez ended up playing wide or as the most creative of three central midfielders at Liverpool. Mourinho’s switch to a 4-3-3 in Seville, but with Pogba on the bench, seemed a point being calculatedly made. Yet when Pogba did come on, after Ander Herrera had suffered a hamstring injury after 16 minutes, his impact was minimal — as it had been on the left of a 4-3-3 at Basel in the group stage.
Mourinho’s frustration with Pogba is understandable, but his decision to take him on is intriguing. When he described Scott McTominay earlier this week as having “a normal haircut, no tattoos, no big cars, no big watches ... ” it was pretty obvious whom he was really talking about.
With his extended contract now signed, Mourinho presumably feels emboldened, able to take radical action to try to shape the squad as he wants. But we have seen this political game-playing before, most notably at Real Madrid when he ousted the sporting director Jorge Valdano and then ostracized the goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas.
Then it was the beginning of the end for Mourinho at the club. With Chelsea visiting Old Trafford today these are dangerous games he is playing.


Brazil edge toward World Cup knockouts after Costa Rica late show

Updated 4 min 43 sec ago
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Brazil edge toward World Cup knockouts after Costa Rica late show

  • The Central Americans looked likely to hold on for a hard-earned draw, particularly after Neymar had a penalty award chalked off by referee Bjorn Kuipers after he consulted the Video Assistant Referee.
  • But Coutinho and Neymar finally broke through, scoring in the 91st and 97th minutes to put Tite’s side on the brink of the knockout stages.

SAINT PETERSBURG: Philippe Coutinho and Neymar broke down dogged Costa Rica in injury time on Friday, sealing a 2-0 win for Brazil that propels the five-time champions toward the World Cup last 16.
The Central Americans looked likely to hold on for a hard-earned draw, particularly after Neymar had a penalty award chalked off by referee Bjorn Kuipers after he consulted the Video Assistant Referee.
But Coutinho and Neymar finally broke through, scoring in the 91st and 97th minutes to put Tite’s side on the brink of the knockout stages.
At the final whistle, Neymar sat down on the grass and wept, with the emotion of victory hitting home after the tense Group E contest at the Saint Petersburg Stadium.
Neymar started despite limping out of training on Tuesday with a hurt ankle, which the Brazilian FA said was sustained as a result of snapping Swiss defenders.
After a ponderous start, Brazil enjoyed a gradual crescendo during the first period but their dominance in possession was not reflected in chances created.
Neymar faced the most devoted of markers in Costa Rica’s Cristian Gamboa, the Brazilian spending most of the half hopping over scything tackles or dodging past a barging shoulder.
It was a compelling battle. One sumputous Neymar flick sent the ball flying over Gamboa’s head and later he made an excellent run onto Coutinho’s pass, only to squander the chance with a heavy touch.
Marcelo, Coutinho and Neymar, however, hardly make for the most conscientious combination out wide and when Johan Venegas ran clear down the right, his pullback should have been converted by Celso Borges, who skewed past the post.
Brazil might have had a penalty when Oscar Duarte blocked Paulinho at a corner and Costa Rica rode their luck again after the break, as Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Coutinho all went close.
Jesus’s header crashed against the crossbar and after some excellent work by Paulinho, Coutinho’s follow-up hit the ever-present Gamboa on the line.
Neymar fired over from Paulinho’s cutback and Coutinho shot straight at Keylor Navas after, again, Paulinho had teed it up.
With 20 minutes left, Gamboa made his first mistake and Neymar should have capitalized. A sloppy touch allowed the striker to cut inside from the left but his bending finish curved around the outside of the post.
There was more drama to come. With just over 10 minutes left, Neymar’s turn prompted Giancarlo Gonzalez to lose his footing and put his arm across the Brazilian’s chest.
Neymar arched back as if losing his balance before falling to the ground. Kuipers pointed to the spot but after reviewing the video replay, reversed his decision.
Frustration brewed but Costa Rica’s resistance was finally ended in the 91st minute.
Marcelo’s deep cross was kept alive by Roberto Firmino and a loose touch by Jesus dribbled perfectly into Coutinho’s path. Six yards out, he sidefooted home.
Costa Rica conceded again right at the death. Substitute Douglas Costa squared for Neymar to finally find the net.